The South Island had been particularly windy for most of the summer. I waited for a gap before loading the kayak onto the camper truck. The straggle of huts at the bottom end of the lake were basked in sunshine when I pulled up on the shoreline and put the kayak in the water. I knew there was not much other habitation at the lake especially at the top end. Indeed, the surrounding hills seem to be particularly barren and devoid of vegetation or signs of mankind. The lake is 2,000 feet high in the foothills of the Southern Alps and just seven kilometres (four miles) long, but as a place to get away from it all, it would turn out to be very special indeed. I loaded up the kayak in the morning in a light breeze and with barely a cloud in the sky. Happy to be under way, I kept more or less to western edge and made leisurely progress. Conditions freshened a little and small white caps began to appear as I moved up the lake.
I turned into a sheltered bay behind a headland and found a haven of calm water laden with water birds including black swans. Some of them took offence at my approach and with a great flapping of their white underwings, they charged across the water, as swans do, eventually getting airborne only to land again two hundred yards away. The edges of the lake were thick with foliage and dense bull rushes. Back in the main lake I found a sheltered landing site and pulled the kayak ashore.
The headland was a delightful place to camp with a small tarn in the middle. The surroundings were stunningly beautiful; no buildings, fences or other signs of humanity- a perfect spot. And all around were deserted hills and distant mountains some with tips of snow. I was well prepared with plenty of food and for the next two days I walked the hills, swam in the lake au naturel and explored all the edges by kayak. Early in the first evening I looked across the flat water of the lake in the last lingering rays of sunlight. I turned off the kettle and launched the kayak to take a turn around a small island in the middle of the lake. It was crowded with trees and mangrove-like edges. I couldn’t see anywhere to allow a landing and I wondered if anyone ever did? The water was like glass; what a breathtakingly beautiful place this is.
Still in my sleeping bag at first light on the second morning, I heard a gentle rustling that grew steadily; the wind was from the north-west and was getting stronger. Soon it was a full-blown gale and I began wondering whether I might be staying a third night. But then the wind began to diminish and I scrambled out of the tent; it did seem to be dying down. By the time I broke camp and loaded the kayak it was good to go- still a bit gusty but it would be a tail wind. The rain began soon after I shoved off. Light and showery at first but then periods of heavier rain swept in. I took shelter by the bank for a short while but then pressed on to within 400 yards from end of the lake and the finish when I was suddenly hit by a mini squall. Torrential rain and strong wind, thankfully still from astern. I dug the paddles in deep and fast. For the first time I was conscious of the weight the kayak was carrying and the possibility of a capsize. I was thankful when the bow ground to a halt on the shingle- at some speed!
It had been a remarkable few days, spent in a rather special place. I had not seen another soul the whole time and I felt at ease with the natural world. An extraordinary unfettered slice of serenity and that is perfectly alright.