Sailing away at Lake Tarawera

For 21 years, committed volunteers have made learning to sail accessible and free for all ages at Lake Tarawera.

Picturesque Lake Tarawera is one of 13 lakes in the Rotorua region and New Zealand’s 20th largest lake.

Geographically, it’s inextricably intertwined with the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886 when the famed pink and white terraces were destroyed.

With a surface area of around 40 square kilometres, the deep lake is roughly one-sixteenth the size of Lake Taupo but bats well above its weight from a recreational point of view.

The idyllic spot is favoured by holiday makers who come to camp at one of many camping grounds in the area, relishing the natural geothermal springs and hot water outlets along the lake’s edge, fishing for rainbow trout, walking or hiking the many trails and making the most of the calm lake for water sports.

An unassuming boat shed at Te Karamea Bay holds the key to making Lake Tarawera accessible to those wishing to learn to sail and this year, the volunteer organisation behind the initiative is celebrating 21 years of community service.

The Lake Tarawera Sailing Trust was founded in 2000 by retired couple and long-time property owners at the lake, Pat and the late Ian Thorpe.

“Ian and I bought our first Lake Tarawera property in 1960 along an unsealed road 25 kilometres from Rotorua,” explains Pat.

“While we lived overseas for many years stationed in various places due to Ian’s military career, we always knew that Lake Tarawera would eventually be our permanent place of residence.

“We called it ‘home’ and our three children grew up holidaying here with sailing their favourite activity, and it was later a haven for all three of them and our grandchildren while Ian and I were living in Fiji.”

Retiring to Lake Tarawera in the late 1990s, Pat says she recalls Ian looking out at the lake and exclaiming “where are the yachts?”

“That was the start of creating a working group to set up a sailing scheme to encourage all families to enjoy sailing on Lake Tarawera under the guidelines for water safety,” Pat says.

“The scheme is now called the Lake Tarawera Sailing Trust and Te Karamea Bay, accessed from Cliff Road, was selected as a safe corner of the lake for sailing – well away from power boat ramps.

“The Rotorua Lakes Council gave us permission for a base and in 2003, a storage shed was built to house boats, sailing equipment and the inflatable safety boat.”

When the sailing trust was initially set up in 2000, three Firebug sailing dinghies were purchased with donated funds from the Lake Tarawera community.

“The Firebug is still our core training craft, but over the years the fleet has grown to around 30 boats including Microns, Vikings, Lasers, Catamarans, and the essential inflatable safety boat,” explains Pat.

“These boats have all been donated or sponsored by enthusiastic supporters which we are so grateful for as membership of the sailing trust remains free.

“Our trust income is derived from charities, private donations and fundraising at the annual Spring Fair, with funds used for maintenance, new equipment, rental and insurance.

“My daughter, Jenny Donne from Bayleys Rotorua, has actively assisted us with fundraising and donating boats and allows the trust to share her tent at the Labour Weekend Spring Fair where we also take enrolments.”

The trust’s instructional programme was devised by Ian to include water safety, sailing theory, and practical sailing.

New families who have made the Rotorua district home are always welcome, and participants range in age from seven years to 90-plus.

They all start by attaining their Crew’s Certificate and work their way through four more levels to instructor.

“We meet each Sunday at 2pm from mid-November to April and it’s very much a family affair, with parents and grandparents invited to sail and help with safety and supervision.

“Unlike most sailing clubs, the emphasis is not on racing but rather on learning to be confident and safe on the water while having fun – racing can come later.”

At the end of each season, the sailing trust holds a regatta with a lottery race, a pirate relay and racing at all levels followed by a sausage sizzle and prize-giving.

“All sailors taking part in the regatta receive a certificate of achievement and over the years some special adventures have happened – a trip to Auckland to sail on the America’s Cup boat, a picnic at Hot Water Beach, a trip to Raglan to race with the local sailing club there and a return visit from them.

“Senior sailors also sailed Elliot racing yachts on the Waitemata Harbour and in 2014, the Mayor of Rotorua, Steve Chadwick, was our guest of honour – it’s a real community initiative.”

In 2003, Ian and Pat received a Rotorua District Community Award for Outstanding Service and Carol Gilchrist, who is now the trust’s coordinator, received the award in 2014.

Pat says it has been so rewarding to see the enjoyment and sense of achievement among the sailors across all age levels – and to hear the success stories.

“One of our sailors was selected to crew an America’s Cup boat while he was attending the University of Auckland, and another enterprising sailor spent a year in Germany as skipper of a tourist yacht after producing his Instructor’s Certificate from Lake Tarawera Sailing.”

Community goodwill, generosity and time is essential for the trust’s activities and they’re always looking for helpers, whether for on-shore tasks or manning the safety boat.

“Two Lake Tarawera locals, Ray and Patrice Gatland, have kindly taken over responsibility for the maintenance of the boats, the upkeep of the grounds and helping with teaching,” says Pat.

“Ray would like to add another inflatable to the fleet to enable teaching to be done on the water, so that’s our focus now.”

Lake Tarawera Sailing Trust can be contacted through Carol and Dave Townsend on (07) 362 8489.

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