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Day 133: Weekday Getaway | Visiting Lake Rotoiti

Yesterday began slowly, with the languid pace that comes with a full day off from work and other responsibilities. I moved unhurriedly from the bed to the yoga mat, gently waking my tired muscles up for a new day and setting my headspace with meditation and prayer. I took time to journal and catch up on culling the latest batch of photos before we started packing up and preparing to leave.

Since I had one full day off and did not not have to return to work until 5pm the next, we decided to plan a short trip away to recharge and get a change of scenery. After some discussion and research, we landed on Lake Rotoiti: just an hour and a half from home, an ideal spot for an overnight trip in the van. We took a backroad to get there, winding up and over hills covered in neat rows of pine trees at various ages.

These forests are strange and it’s easy to sense that they don’t quite belong on these islands. I encountered one of these puzzling woods on our first date. Leo took us to a spot that he used to regularly go for forest walks, and was surprised to find that much of it had been clear-cut. The trees that were still standing were spaced out a little too much, a little too evenly, to be naturally growing. I’ve since learned that these familiar pines are not native to Aotearoa. The ones we drive past now tug on my memories of driving up the west coast of the US—and with good reason. These are Radiata Pines, imported from California in the 1850s. The forestry boom of the 1920s-30s landed radiata (also known as Monterey pine) as the preferred plantation pine, and today it makes up about 89% of New Zealand’s forestry plantations.

Even with the odd sensation that these imported forests give me, it’s still nice to drive through the winding green hills. Soon enough, we arrive at the Nelson Lakes visitor center and spend several minutes wandering and reading the informational exhibits. Then we head to lake and are pleasantly surprised to find a small trailer with a sign up for kayak rentals—just $30 for a one-hour rental of a double kayak.

This had been the original idea: Leo was itching to go kayaking, and we scoured Golden Bay for options and decided that sea kayaking was maybe a little out of reach for us currently. I looked around Lake Rotoiti for kayak rentals, and found nothing, but we went ahead knowing that we would enjoy sitting in the sunshine on the lakeshore and going for a walk in the forest. So when we saw the rental sign and row of bright yellow kayaks on the round stones of the shore, we excitedly donned life jackets and were quickly out on the calm water.

Our paddles moved smoothly through the dark water that looked almost oily in its deep color, catching the sunlight and shining back at us. We headed straight out for a better view of the mountains ahead, and spent a few minutes relaxing and letting the water gently move us where it pleased. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon, and just the kind of peaceful experience in nature that we both needed.

When our hour of bliss on the water was up, we paddled up the shore until we bottommed-out on the rocks. Since I was in sandals and Leo was wearing boots, I hopped out into the ankle-deep water and pulled the kayak further up so he could climb out onto the beach. We smiled graciously to the rental trailer host (a very relaxed man who seemed quite content with his lakeside job), then stopped by the van for a drink of water. I grabbed my camera and we headed into the forest for a short walk. Children’s laughter echoed through the trees as we moved closer to a young group of stand-up paddle-boarders having a blast in a shallow area of the lake near the trail.

Further down the path, their noise became distant and we sank into the comfort of bird and insect calls, sunlight streaming through leaves, and the scent of damp earth. We paused to watch a fantail dance among the moss and low branches, and saw some striking purple mushrooms.

At the end of our walk, we were both feeling hungry so we got back in the van and drove a short way to the other side of the lake to make camp. We found a decently sheltered area and paid the DoC fee, then began setting up to cook dinner. Opportunistic sandflies quickly found their way in, persuading us to enjoy our dinner inside the shelter of the van. (We’ll test out those new folding chairs next time…).

After some cozy time reading and relaxing in the van, we headed out into the golden light of evening so I could experiment with photos of the sunset. I had my fingers crossed that I could try some astro-photography, but the clouds rolled in thick as the sun dipped behind the mountains. Better luck next time. Still, I enjoyed sitting among the ducks with my camera, and was even surprised to find some large eels in the shallow water by the pier.

All-in-all, it was a great way to spend a day with some new scenery and no agenda. I’m grateful for all the chances I have to get out and enjoy nature as a way to replenish and reconnect. We had a hard time sleeping in the van, and I was pretty exhausted and sore by the time we got up in the cold morning air. But lately my mood has been brighter and I’m feeling much more resilient to little annoyances like this. It did not dampen the fact that yesterday was spectacular. We had a nice cloudy drive home this morning and stopped at a small town bakery so I could warm up with a cup of coffee. Back to work tonight, but we’ve got plenty more on our Nelson-area checklist to explore during our time here, and I’m looking forward to our next trip!

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