Trout and Taniwha, Eels and Otty’s Place

987 Lake Brunner Motor Camp2
987 Lake Brunner Motor Camp2

Reprinted with permission from ACP Media. (Motorhomes and Caravans)

Even if you get yourself bushed in the Brunner backblocks, that’s still likely to hold true. Because Grahame, AKA Otty, is the chief of the local Search and Rescue team.

And if you’re injured, Jacki is a trained nurse, currently acting as the relieving district nurse for the West Coast.

They’ve been resident at the Lake Brunner camp in Moana for ten years now, providing seven cabins and 20 powered sites, plus another 150 tent sites. But the biggest thing this campground has going for it is its position, with unbeatable views over one of the most scenic lakes in New Zealand.

You may not know it, but Lake Brunner has gone crazy lately. Prices paid for sections and old baches on the lake frontage are so high, the oldtimers here are thinking seriously about moving on with a fatter bank balance than they ever dreamed possible.

Otty and Jacki have been watching the trend from what is locally known as “Otty’s Verandah”. That’s where many of their regular campers come to spend a quiet hour or two shooting the breeze with Otty, counting the boats queueing up at the ramp and once they’re back, guessing how many brown trout are heading for the barbecue.

The Otts came to Brunner on a whim, looking for a change of direction after driving taxis and nightshift nursing in Christchurch. But there are only about 80 permanent residents in Moana, and as is the case in other small towns, if they want to get things done, people have to double up a bit. Otty is a big influence in the fire brigade, and also monitors the Channel 77 marine radio band for people out on the lake.

If there was a bit more support for Lake Brunner coming from the citizens of Greymouth, this place could be as big on the tourist map as Punakaiki, he believes.

The sudden escalation of land prices has so far done little for the regular residents except put their rates up. Moana has to double in size, he says, before it can effectively meet the demand placed on its services. Some absentee owners have had to wait up to two years to get their houses built.

But watch out – this place is on the move. The Moana Hotel is in the initial stages of a big revamp, and Otty is crossing his fingers it will be successful.

“It is simply uneconomic for us to remain a sleepy hollow. But to get tourism cracking here, someone has to take a gamble so that there’s enough impetus to take us all through the winter season.”

The Lake Brunner weather pattern often brings rain in early summer – this year mostly in December and January – but in winter visitors can strike quite dry weather, with good frosts on beautiful days. Bush fires are more likely then than in summer, he says.

This is the warmest cold water lake in New Zealand, because there’s no snow feed, he explains. In midsummer the water temperature is about 24 degrees. A yacht club with about 30 boats operates in summer, but at any weekend of the year, there’s likely to be someone waterskiing or jetskiing.

Though an afternoon breeze can ripple the lake, the rest of the day it is like glass. That glassy surface is occasionally disturbed by an eerie 30m wide ripple, always in the same place, which has given rise to the legend of the Lake Brunner taniwha. Otty explains it is actually caused by an underwater wave originating on the other side of the lake and hitting a shelf on the lakebed.

On the subject of other monsters, not just the huge brown trout that are so cunning they die of old age, Otty says there is also rumoured to be a huge eel called Bertha living in the Arnold River flowing out of the lake.

Bertha is so vast she has to swim out into the lake to turn around, he jokes.

Of course, fishing for the elusive brown trout is a major reason to come to Lake Brunner, but for a bit more local colour, you might like to try the Inchbonnie Open golf tournament, where it’s compulsory to wear gumboots.

There used to be a “brilliant” little nine hole course at Moana, and there is now talk that it may be revived.

From the Lake Brunner camp, there are also wonderful walks and hikes to enjoy, as well as bigger challenges like the Te Kinga Walkway, right to the summit of the majestic mountain overlooking the lake.

His camp patrons can take their pick of sites on the bushline or out in the open, Otty says. “If you want the wekas and sandflies, go for it.”

But at this time of the year, in late April, there were no sandflies about that I could see. Otty, however, was a bit irritated that one got him under the thong of his jandal while he was on the computer.

Though his camp was devised decades ago when the 12’ caravan was the norm, Otty says he caters for everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous, everything from a home-fitted van to the big buses with Sky TV.

He hosts a lot of regulars, mainly Christchurch people who leave their caravans on site and come over to Moana most weekends.

The five acre camp offers a big kitchen, TV room and the best showers on the West Coast and probably in the South Island, he reckons, after having to rebuild the old block and install a much larger pressure pump than he needed, simply because it was the only one available.

About 30 percent of people book, the rest just turn up. It gets very busy in the Christmas holidays, but there is often another peak in February, when an older group lucky enough not to be tied down by fixed holiday times arrives.

Lots are fishing people, but last year, Otty says, his visitors came from 29 different countries.

“We have made some wonderful friends here. We’re pretty family oriented, but people can spread themselves out, and we go out of our way to make sure everyone has a happy time.”

Author: Lyn McKinnon