Fogged up goggles were the only things preventing Wanaka Lake Swimmers from enjoying panoramic views yesterday (Saturday March 2) as they completed the club’s first adventure swim “in the lake on the island in the lake on the island’’ – or Mou Waho 2013.
Eleven swimmers enjoyed the romance of swimming to the island in the Arethusa Pool on top of Mou Waho Island, in the middle of Lake Wanaka, which – as everyone knows – is in the South Island of New Zealand.
We decided to take just 12 swimmers because of limited resources and because the swim was a “test run’’ to see what might be involved in organising an adventure event for a larger number of club members next year. The main issue for the club was the “terrain’’, making safety a key issue, and we had never organised anything like this before. Usually, we just stick to the Roys Bay buoys or the stretch to The Rock, though we have done a few laps of the easily accessible Ruby Island, off the beach at Waterfall Creek.
Everyone who knows something about boating on Lake Wanaka will tell you the stretch of water we chose to swim across on Saturday is the most notorious part of the lake. Nor-west winds blow up fast around Mou Waho, creating massive 2m swells and making sailing and boating dangerous. There have been all manner of strandings on the island, and some unfortunates have had to have unplanned island sleepovers while waiting for conditions to improve. The lake is at its deepest near Mou Waho – some 300m – and if something sinks, it’s gone.
Fortunately, the weather gods approved of our plans and provided a light south-westerly breeze, which did not chop the water. The change to nor-west did not occur until later in the day, when we were long gone.
Initially, there were 16 swimmers keen to be “experimented’’ on and swim under the watch of Coastguard, yacht club and waterways patrol volunteers. When a few swimmers withdrew voluntarily through injury or ill health, the dilemma about turning people down was resolved.
We left Wanaka Marina just after 7.30am for a 20 minute boat ride to a beach on the narrow isthmus connecting Stevenson’s Peninsula to the mainland. The swimmers started just after 8.15am and swam 2km in perfect, millpond conditions (water temperature 16degC) to Mou Waho Island, a Department of Conservation reserve that is home to the rare and inquisitive native bird, the buff weka. (Weka don’t fly but do swim.)
The quickest to complete the crossing were Steve and Logan, in about 25 minutes, although at one point they needed a little shepherding by skipper Johnny Rogers, as they seemed determined to swim to Makarora instead. Everyone had finished by about 9am.
After a short snack, the swimmers took a 15 minute stroll up to the 250m-long Arethusa Pool for another dip. This pool was slightly warmer than the lake and sports three tiny islands, just big enough for small groups to stand on.
There are some of the most beautiful, panoramic views from the pools, and combined with the regenerating native habitat that DOC has been nurturing for many years, it is easy to see why Mou Waho is a popular eco-tourism destination. As we made our way back down the hill, we met tourist operator Chris Riley and a group of visitors carrying native trees to plant somewhere in the forest during their guided tour of the island.
Back at the picnic area, all that needed to be done was to defend our picnic from the wekas. This was easily done: we ate the whole lot ourselves.
One thing we could have done was charge for our double act as strippers for Aidan Butler’s stag do, which was taking place on the island the same morning. However, Aidan and his Wanaka Soccer Club mates missed out on the performance because they were late. The two barbecue chefs who had been sent ahead to prepare the lads’ feast seemed happy to see us though – and they had a lovely lump of venison on their barbecue too!
As for Mou Waho 2014 – we’ll have a debrief soon, consider the logistics and decide how best to proceed. So watch this space. In the meantime, please send me your feedback.
Thanks to Johnny and Liz Rogers, Alan McKay, Peter Rhodes, David Knowles (boat safety team); Kevin and Sharyn Gingell-Kent (barbecue), Claire O’Connell, Anna Kate Hutter and Jackie Boyd (baking and pies), and everyone who attended and made it such a pleasant morning.
Mou Waho 2013 were: Claire O’Connell, Sharyn and Kevin Gingell-Kent, Marie Ford, Nicole Meldrum, Dave Crawford, Gwen Hendry, Logan Curtis, Steve Brown, Jackie Boyd, Anna-Kate Hutter, Rachael Beattie, Marjorie Cook (all WLS); Johnny and Liz Rogers, Alan McKay, Peter Rhodes and David Knowles (coastguard/yacht club/waterways patrol).
For more information on Mou Waho: