Lazy days in a room with a view

Twilight finds the Lady Pembroke in the sheltered haven of Fisherman's Bay. Photo by Bruce Munro.
Twilight finds the Lady Pembroke in the sheltered haven of Fisherman's Bay. Photo by Bruce Munro.
Bruce Munro takes his family on a Lake Wanaka adventure.

Sensory overload aptly sums up our fabulous long weekend on stunning Lake Wanaka aboard the houseboat MV Lady Pembroke.

The lakeside trees are at the height of their golden late-autumn glory when our family vehicle draws up at the Wanaka marina where Graham Tompkins, the builder of the four-berth luxury houseboat, and its present manager Russell Allan, who works for the UK-based owners, are waiting on the vessel's gangway.

My wife and I, and our four children, have been eagerly anticipating this adventure for several months, so only take a few minutes to relocate the boot-load of bags, food and oddments to the catamaran.

What first strikes me during the familiarisation tour is the size of the 16m by 7msteel-hulled houseboat.

That, and the comparative smallness of the two shiny chrome levers with which I am supposed to steer and propel the whole 22-tonne kit and caboodle.

Russell assures me a current driver's licence is all that is required, and it seems like no time at all before the demonstration and test drive are over, Graham and Russell have disembarked, and I am doing it for real.

There is a coarse colloquialism which I discourage my children from using.

"... ," I think as I try to get comfortable with how the two 60hp high-thrust Mercury outboard motors respond to the throttle levers.

" ... , ... ," I think several more times, body tense and eyes on stalks, as the split-screen radar depth finder and GPS map gleefully record the trail left by our somewhat wonky progress up the lake.

Navigational aids include a shoulder-height cardboard-backed map marked with felt-pen crosses pinpointing safe havens.

We hope to reach Mou Waho (also known as Harwich or Pigeon Island), but as the late sun threatens to disappear behind Mt Aspiring we chose to divert to the closer mooring of Fisherman's Bay at the north end of the peninsula.

The beauty of Lake Wanaka and the grandeur of its surrounding geography does not touch me until the next morning.

When it does, it shakes me hard.

Lady Pembroke has four bedrooms in addition to an open living, kitchen, dining area, a bathroom and toilet.

I wake to the sound of our two youngest boys setting up a game in the lounge, so sneak from bed to check they are warm.

My noble parental intentions, however, are hijacked by the scene beyond the boat's windows.

Instead, I snatch my camera and step outside.

Our cove is still steeped in the black and steel grey of pre-dawn, but across the lake the unseen sun stretches peach-coloured fingers along the tops of the barren mountain range.

Completing the ethereal scene, clouds drift mere tens of metres above the lake surface.

The growing light unveils another gorgeous scene close at hand.

Directly in front and to the right of our tethered vessel a stony beach surrenders to native bush coating the lower flanks of soaring, craggy hills.

On our right, bare rock and bush-covered cliffs plunge headlong into brilliant turquoise and teal waters.

After breakfast we set a course for Mou Waho, pausing only briefly to drift in the middle of the lake while we phone Russell to check why the GPS map shows a skull and crossbones near our intended destination, a small beach near the northeast tip of the island.

A reef of rocks, but plainly visible, he says, and so it proves to be.

The next few hours pass extremely pleasantly.

Francesca and I prepare lunch while the younger boys explore the immediate coastline and their two older siblings bring the kayaks down from the top deck and paddle out to the reef.

We then all walk the track up through the bush towards the Arethusa Pools.

On the way we are lucky enough to have a close encounter with one of the inquisitive weka which have been re-introduced to Mou Waho from the Chatham Islands via nearby Stevenson's Island.

Sitting atop Mou Waho is a lesson in scale and mortality - our puny and transient presence amid these giant landforms scoured and wreathed by the body and arms of this ancient glacial lake.

Fishing is on the must-do list for the weekend for my wife because a fishing rod that was a family Christmas present is still waiting to be christened, and for myself because I have invested time and money in fishing licences and a couple of lures the salesman assures me are almost irresistible to the brown and rainbow trout and Chinook salmon found in these waters.

Before sunset we have returned to Fisherman's Bay which we've been told is not misnamed, and chance our arm at trolling.

But to no avail.

The next morning Fran and the boys try again while our daughter cooks up a storm and I start packing because I know it just is not going to happen.

Then comes a muffled yell from the back deck.

Fran's rod is bending as she swiftly draws in whatever is on the 6lb line.

And then there it is - a beautiful brown trout about 40cm long.

But just as quickly it is gone, taking the lure with it as it flees down into the lake's dark depths.

The missed opportunity is disappointing, but the excitement of having a real fish on our own line lingers longer.

After an early lunch we take the long way back to Wanaka township, around Mou Tapu (Crescent Island) and past Roy's Peninsula, eking every last moment of pleasure out of these three wonderful days.

If ever there is a right way to experience this spectacular lake, Lady Pembroke has shown us how.

Star journalist Bruce Munro and his family enjoyed their weekend aboard Lady Pembroke courtesy of Wanaka Houseboats Ltd.