Some 40 years ago, dairy farmer Barry Denize spotted a piece of land while out sight-seeing at Lake Tarawera. The site had a humble bach on it and some cheeky pigs eating fallen apples from trees that were part of a former orchard.
The property ran down to the lake’s edge, at the end of a road and was extremely secluded. Barry had a ‘light bulb’ moment. One day, he mused, he and his now late wife, Margaret, would retire to a spot just like that once they had done their dash with farming.
Synchronicity came into play. When Barry and Margaret put their Pukekawa dairy farm on the market in 1998, they discovered that the Spencer Road property at Lake Tarawera – the very one he’d spied four decades earlier – was also for sale.
The die was cast and the deal was done. Barry and Margaret sold their farm, moved to their lakeside property as permanent residents, and began a new phase of their lives.
It was a life that did not revolve around dairy cows, milking schedules and seasonal climatic challenges, but rather one that took on a gentle rhythm based around the largest of a series of lakes surrounding Mt Tarawera, close to Rotorua.
Since first spotting the property, the wee bach had gone and a new house had been built on the site. Barry and Margaret later added onto this at either end, creating a roomy and comfortable home which was perfect for the two of them yet could accommodate their three children and eight grandchildren at Christmas and Labour Weekend when the families would descend on Lake Tarawera.
A farmer since he was 18 years old, Barry adapted well to a life by the lake, as did Margaret who took on the garden as a personal challenge. They loved fishing, and hours were spent harling and jigging for the rainbow trout Lake Tarawera is renowned for.
A boat lifter was installed at their private jetty – unusual at the time, and based on an American idea popular around waterways there. As the lake is not tidal, the concept works well and means that no fiddly launching is required.
The lifter holds the boat or jet ski out of the water – ready to go at a moment’s notice, and ensuring everyone stays dry while boarding and disembarking.
Son Phillip Denize, says Margaret was the proud owner of a jetski and and would take herself off to fish at her favourite spot.
“She loved going by jetski to Humphries Bay at the northern arm of the lake and often came back with a nice fish or two.
“Over the years mum and dad caught some lovely trout, but they would often release them back into the lake.
“Mind you, dad was a dab hand at smoking trout, too, and he had a smoker rigged up back at the house for that.”
At the southern arm of the lake is another special spot known by locals as Hot Water Beach where thermal activity has created warm outlets - great for
swimming. The Denize family would often go by boat there for a day trip, with the grandchildren looking forward to a spot of water skiing or “biscuit-ing” as well.
“It’s a great recreational lake,” says daughter-in-law, Tracey Denize.
“Our kids have loved kayaking here, going on the biscuit behind the boat and, as they got older, they were sometimes allowed to ride nana’s jetski.
“We also used to take the boat or jetski to the café at The Landing which is the departure point for scenic boat tours. We’d have a glass of wine or dinner there then head home enjoying the amazing scenery on the way.”
Near The Landing, at a special place known as Tarawera Orchard, there are traditional Maori paintings on a rock face – a treasured archaeological site.
Solitaire Lodge – one of New Zealand’s first luxury lodges – is also in the ‘neighbourhood’ and is the retreat of international guests seeking trout fishing and adventure tourism buzzes, or the opportunity to switch off and relax.
Phillip recalls that for special family occasions such as significant birthdays, his parents would hire the Lake Tarawera stalwart catamaran Spirit and go out for a day on the lake.
“They were fun times and gave us the chance to really explore the lake in comfort and style.”
Days at this idyllic Lake Tarawera property are bookended by a dawn and dusk chorus from a proliferation of native bird life.
The Denize grandchildren have spent many an hour feeding ducks and swans from the jetty, and the sight of around 80 quail congregating on the front lawn has gone down in family folklore. The glow worms near the water and along the driveway have intrigued the young ones, and from time to time, deer wandering down to the lake’s edge have provided a conversation point.
With Margaret having passed away four years ago, Barry has plans to move closer to his children in the Coromandel, so the Lake Tarawera property is reluctantly up for sale.
The Denize family say they’ll be sad to see the end of their lake holidays which have given three generations plenty of good memories.
“We know that whoever is lucky enough to end up living here will love it as much as mum and dad did,” says Phillip.
“Time stands still here and it makes you realise just how amazing this country is.”
This article is from the Bayley's annual Waterfront Magazine.