“June, July, August – the winter months”. It’s an excellent song by the Skeptics, but a disheartening prospect viewed from the end of chilly May. Yet the gloom magically disperses with the promise of a holiday. Planning with friends, sending each other shortlists of baches, debating the merits of kayaks versus spa pools quite takes away the dreariness. There are some excellent things about winter after all: perfect mountain bike trails, tamarillos, the International Film Festival, snow. We set off in pursuit of the first, to Rotorua.
We booked “The Treehouse”, beside Lake Okareka – large enough for two families, and close to mountain biking and hot pools. The log fire meant someone had to chop wood, but once it was going the whole house was toasty warm, and the littlies happily gurgled, crawled or ran about each as they were able.
In the morning the view was autumnal, with red- and gold-leafed trees on the hills around the lake. There is something very pleasing about being up early, with the sun warming your face and a wood pigeon flying about, the beating of its wings the only sound in the still morning air.
Mountain biking in the Redwoods was fantastic, as always. The trail, aptly named “Be Rude Not To”, swoops and loops exhilaratingly down through pungas and redwoods. There’s nothing like careening down a bush track with sun shining through the canopy and big lungfuls of forest air to make you feel alive. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Baby Huia enjoyed the acres of carpet for high-speed crawling, and the carpeted stairs for climbing. In the evening we reciprocated the babysitting while our friends went off to soak in the mineral waters of the Polynesian Pools, at the edge of Lake Rotorua.
The next day we had another wonderful ride at Whakarewarewa. On the way back to Auckland we visited the Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park. A flyer advertised lion feeding at 2.30, with a picture of a lion ripping into a gory leg of something. The lions padded about their enclosure, looking rather dismal in the rain, while the Lion-Feeding-Man threw chunks of meat over the electric fence.
“Raaaoar!” we said, and pointed, for the baby. You can’t help but feel sorry for any lion in a cage, particularly in the rain.
We struck off down the path to the springs, armed with bags of pellets to feed the animals. The path meandered beside the Ngongotaha Stream. “This is the major trout spawning stream for Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti,” we read, “and approximately 20,000 trout spawn in this stream annually. The trout are totally wild and are free to come and go as they wish.” Some of them must have gone, perhaps with a latch-key. Others lay about, swimming lazily in clear, shallow pools.
It rained gently, and everything was wet and green under the pungas. We enjoyed the boardwalks through the bush, and reflected that was probably where a good part of the $26 per adult went. Very nice boardwalks. We liked the Elevated Treetops walk, with informative signs about native trees.
We fed the pigs, Captain Cookers squealing and trotting about in the mud, catching pellets in their open, grinning mouths. We fed a group of soft, furry wallabies, who batted their long eyelashes as they poked their noses through the fence, their little paws held up daintily before their chests. We fed shy deer and bold goats. A black llama nibbled very delicately from our hands, his narrow face tapering elegantly to an inky snout.
Finally we fed ourselves, picnicking on baps, cheese and persimmons in the warm fug of the car, while outside the Lion-Feeding-Man cleaned the car-park in the rain and a distant lion roared disconsolately. I remember visiting Paradise Valley as a child, being delighted with the seething trout, the crystalline springs. We drove back home to Auckland as the evening drew in, and I thought how having a child can return you, not quite, to childhood.