Sunday 6 May 2018, and myself and my staff are preparing for our very first facilitated trip to Lake Rotoiti. A bit nervous, a little behind time, but super excited, we load all the gear up and pick up our 12-seater van from our favourite vehicle hire place, Rite Price Rentals.
3pm, we arrive to the second pick-up spot where all the Mount travellers met at one of their houses near Bayfair. I had earlier picked up our Tauranga traveller, and she got thrown in the deep end with helping to load, self-volunteered of course. So thankful.
Everyone introduced themselves, we said our karakia, and headed on the road. Lots of conversation and catch ups along the way, was hardly a quiet moment in our very comfortable van.
I informed the crew that we were entering the Lake from a private entrance. They were a little surprised when I pulled off State Highway 30 onto a gravel track leading into a forestry site with a clearly hand painted sign, "Private Property. Keep Out." I gave them a rundown of the whanau who own the whenua and my connection, which seemed to ease some nerves.
"It really is an adventure!", jeered one passenger, followed by laughs. We were very lucky to have a humorous and flexible crew to undertake our first Rotoiti trip with.
It was around 5pm when we reached our lake entry point - a clearing on private property. A couple of guys lingering in a white van gave us the heebies simply because of the cliché of it, but once approached, we were confident they had no shady agendas.
We all mucked in to unload the trailer and van, and prepare to enter the lake. Snacks were had, dry bags were packed, and head lamps were checked. We were set to go.
So freaking exciting! It was new to us all. Us ECP crew who have paddled the lake to the pools before, but never as responsible guides. And to our guests who were about to experience it for the first time.
It was going on dusk and the light was simply stunning. Sunset on Lake Rotoiti was the very first treat. We were assisted by the wind and a downwind chop, so it was a swift paddle, and reasonably easy for everyone.
We approached the Manupirua Hot Springs, accessible only by water. Everyone gasped at its sight, with the pools bellowing steam, promising a rewarding bone-warming soak. We excitedly paddled to the far side of the jetty, beaching our boards on the shore. A sign inviting us to take a walk somewhere up the hill tickled our curiosity, and it was unanimously decided we first must climb.
Beautiful. It was only short, but most appreciated.
We descended and entered the timber changing rooms, oohing and aahing as we walked past the pools.
Naomi screams, "Let's go for a dip in the lake first!" May, cold, lake freezing! Some horrified facials replaced zen smiles, but despite it, everyone took the plunge. Some squeaked down the steel slide for the full rude awakening of the wairua. Others played it cool and jumped off the jetty. While some took the safe route from the beach. Some lasted 5 minutes, the rest endured 15.
Then it was time for the ultimate blessing. The pools - omg the pools. Boy did we soak. Our bodies had already been through a few hurdles - emotional and physical. So the pools...
We felt so deserving, each and everyone of us, all for varying reasons. We soaked longer than expected, and long enough for it to feel it was long enough. Those waters were so comforting and soothing. It's an experience which lingers.
Completely drained of all stress, we hauled ourselves from the pools and dragged our heavy bodies to the changing rooms, feet cooling on the concrete. Once changed, we prepared ourselves for our all-exciting night paddle back to the van. Headlamps and torches were applied, and a thorough briefing given on the expected conditions and necessity to dig in on the paddle back into the light wind.
The return trip was doubled in time. A little unnerving for some, but we had alerted the pool staff of our paddle plans and they were expecting a call when we reach the van.
We laboured along and determined we were near our entry point. The sky was so clear and stars so present - Matariki. We'd come this far not to stop and merge our eyes with them for a moment. Utter appreciation.
Once our awareness rushed back from the universe, we paddled on and soon spotted our entry point, and then the van. Safe. A very quick collaborative loading of the equipment ensured we were back in the van, changed, warm, and ready for a feed.
On the trip back through the bush, we spotlighted healthy possums and bouncing wallabies. As pesky as they are, we fully delighted at their show.
On the corner of Te Ngae Rd and Tarawera Rd is a nice spot to stop for food. Good variety, although hearty burgers from Burger Fuel is what filled our cheeks. We were behind time, so it was quickly shoved into our gobs and we did a 2 minute drive into the Redwoods to experience our final activity - Redwood Nightlights.
We could have done without this activity. We were tired, it was a little cold, and it was yet another event which required rubber nerves. Heights. Some enjoyed, some didn't, but there was no denying that the lights were simply beautiful. A great added idea to the already popular forest.
By 10pm, we were all completely, wholly and potentially overly satisfied. It was a quiet trip home, all depleted of laughs, speech and excitement. We said our tiresome goodbyes and delivered 'good sleep' wishes with half closed eyes. One more mission for me was to gas up and return the van. Then it was home to sleep deeply.
I'll appreciate this trip for a long time. There'll be other trips with their own experiences and an equal level of excitement, for us all, but this trip truly was a treasure.
Thanks again to Lorelle, Joels, Kim, Carol, Naomi, Nicki and Steph for the perfect company.