This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in March 1998
Lake Wairarapa Family Camping Trip
Waitangi Weekend: 5-8 February 1998
On Thursday the first families pitched camp in a still, clear, warm evening, amidst mature pines in the Lake Wairarapa Domain. The last time we had visited there had been a gale force northerly, so we were glad to see it could be calm. The other campers seemed to be regular visitors and were very friendly and welcoming - although noise from generators and from latecomers pitching tents made sleep difficult until 2am.
On Friday morning the lake was calm under a clear blue sky. Clouds hung over the Rimutakas - as they did the whole weekend. The children found the lake to be shallow up to 150m offshore, very warm, the colour of milky tea and the home of occasional small leeches. Ashore, they found sticks, climbable trees and very tenacious pine gum. After careful planning and provisioning, Eleanor, Anne and Tamsin went off on a canoe expedition to discover the headwaters of the Wairarapa. They explored channels and found a shallow lake fringed with bulrushes, full of mud and birds.
After lunch the wind sprang up, sails were rigged, and sailors both experienced and novice, raced up and down. The Lake quickly got choppy, but warm wind, warm water and sunshine made the sheets of spray enjoyable. Fast runs, strengthening gusts, near capsizes, horizontal hiking out and hulls planing - sailing as it should be!
That evening, the wind roared through the trees and buffeted the tents. The regular Domain campers held a meeting to discuss plans for the area. Apparently DoC would like to start charging for camping (it's currently FREE), and local naturalists would like to turn it into a bird reserve. The other campers' pleasures seemed largely mechanically focused - with trail-bikes, 4-wheel farm-bikes, and home-made 4-wheel drives - though I must say that apart from a mini farm-bike buzzing round the camp with several very small children on board, mostly it wasn't too noisy.
Saturday was fine and windy enough to blow the beached boats over and streak the brown water all over with white. Most families took off to the Ruamahanga River below Martinborough. We hired 3 Canadian and 2 kayaks from Kahutara Canoes ($40 and $20 per day respectively) and paddled down the river, which was very gentle and placid.
There is limited public access to the river, and we had the choice of a 30-40 minute trip or a 4-5 hour trip. Normally Kahutara Canoes will pick up from two hours down (needs 4-wheel drive and farmer's permission), but today they were too busy with guided trips. Another time we'll investigate starting higher up. This time we kayaked a 3km stretch, in two parties, ferrying the canoes back to the start. After a swim, we headed to the Martinborough Fair. Very hot, very crowded.
After tea, traditional motor-camp cricket. I'm used to Kiwi cricket, which is very civilised. Everyone gets two overs batting, bowling etc.; you divide the number of runs by the number of wickets lost to find the winner. In comparison, motor-camp cricket is red in tooth and claw! after the game finished without major injury or too many harsh words, we followed the tracks around the wetlands through the dusk.
I can see why they want to turn it into a bird sanctuary. Some of the stream diversions and drainage have been allowed to revert and there is a whole series of shallow ponds and reed banks. We didn't see many birds - I'd seen more earlier - but did see many tyre tracks along the flats and old shotgun cartridges. There is little wetland left in New Zealand, and the area around Lake Wairarapa could become very important.
The whole area used to flood regularly, with the lake level rising more than 4 metres in wet winters. NZ's largest flood control project diverted the Ruamahanga River, so now the lake averages one metre all year. Much farmland was gained, but there is still extensive marginal land on the east side, and I would think there is room for campers (there is another DoC site there), bird reserves, shooters and 4-wheel drives, if properly managed. A management plan is being prepared.
Sunday - after another calm night, another clear sunny day. The wind returned, at first gently for new sailors and canoeists, later brisk enough for the competitive types. Iain soloed in an Optimist, Ray and Carol's third spinnaker run was impressively slick, with spinnaker being hoisted, controlled and retrieved with practised ease. They'd practised on the first two runs...
Then back over hot tarmac into the clouds and humidity of Wellington. There is talk of returning next year...
How to get there: For Lake Wairarapa Domain, take the Martinborough road and turn right onto Murphy's Line, then Domain Road. Open grass and large pine trees, some scrub providing shelter from the north but open to the prevailing south-westerly wind. A flush toilet and tap, but bring drinking water. Dry and dusty at present. Probably very quiet outside of holiday weekends.
- Trip members were
- Ray, Carol, Anne, Stephen and Clare Molineux; Bill, Alison, Christopher and Jonathan Stephenson; Peter; Christine, Andrew and Aaron Whiteford; Trish Gardiner and Pete, Stewart and Nigel Srnith; Jackie Challis and Gordon, Julian and Brittany Vickers; Elizabeth Stipkovits and Tony, Simon, Martin and Nigel Hay; Claire Douglas and Geoff, Iain, Ella and Megan Dangerfield; Euan and Vivien Pincot and their two children; William (leader and scribe), Daphne, Eleanor, Tamsin and Ian Dashfield. (18 adults, 22 children, 4 canoes, 3 Sunbursts, 2 Optimists and 1 rowing boat.)