Chapter 21: Rowing Round Rotorua

Staying with Cousin Bear was always an adventure. By now, the Worsnop Cousins had shifted from Wakarara to Ngongotaha near Rotorua. And Ray had joined their family, and become a real cousin too. He was a bit younger than Bear and me.

So in the May holidays we went to stay at Ngongotaha. It was a brilliant day. You could see Lake Rotorua from the Worsnop farm. It was the first sapphire I had seen, other than in coloured encyclopedias.

Now at tea time Cousin Jane and Francie announced that tomorrow they were going to bike around the lake. So Bear, Ray and I decided that we were going to row around the lake in a little boat. It quickly turned into a challenge. We would row around the lake keeping to the shoreline not further than a hundred yards and arrive home before Francie and Jane on the bicycles.

Early next day Uncle Bert took us down to the lake in the car with the boat on the roof. France and Jane set off on their bikes, and Leo and Cousin Rachel stayed home and played on the horse. They were having enough trouble climbing the fence to get on the horse without galloping around the lake on it.

Off we rowed, taking turns with the rowing. So confident were we, that we took Uncle Bert's expensive fishing rod for a spot of fishing on the way. We had a packed lunch and some fruit, and after about half an hour of rowing it was about nine o'clock and time to eat. In the distance we could not see Jane and France, but we could see a bit of road winding up a steep hill. We laughed because we could imagine them pushing their bikes up the hills in a silly attempt to beat us.

Setting out
Setting out

Lake Rotorua is shallow and was almost as flat as a pancake, so we drifted a bit while we ate our sandwiches, then took up rowing again. Very soon we got stuck on an island of weed. The boat sat solid about an inch above water on top of this green growth, and no matter how we prodded and poked with the oars, the weed simply floated the boat two feet in any direction. It was impossible. For as far as we could see on every side there was weed and it looked like we were marooned forever.

"Ha ha my Hearties!" roared Bear, who could turn any situation into something different. Instantly we were turned into Pirate Kings. It was decided that I would get out of the boat into the weed and push, and if I sank forever into the weed, Bear and Ray would hold me up and cry "Help!" The whole world would hear in the stillness of the lake morning.

I crept over the side of the boat very carefully, prepared to be eaten up by the trifid weed, only to discover that the lake was no deeper than my knees. Bear and Ray jumped out and we carried the boat for about fifty yards until it got deeper and we were free. From a distance it would have looked like three boys carrying their boat on water. So we set off again, this time a bit further out in the lake to escape the entanglement of the weed.

A little while later we passed a bay, and then another and another. It was the May school holidays, as I said, and therefore the duck shooting season, but it was alright because each bay had a sign that said NO SHOOTING. So we stopped in the middle of a bay because it was time for a spot of fishing. And besides, we needed a rest from rowing.

We put down the anchor, which was some rocks in an old paint tin on a string that Bear had made. We got out Uncle Bert's expensive fishing rod and waited for the trout to bite. And the lake was as blue as a crystal, and the air was clear, and the occasional distant duck went quack, quack, quack as it flew from this place to another. Was that a bite? Nothing. So we ate our biscuits while we waited. Still no bite.

Suddenly there was the crack of gunshot and a million shotgun pellets pelted the boat. Quack, quack, quack went the distant duck. The anchor was hauled and we rowed at eighty million miles an hour to the next safe bay. Then we noticed that in the rush to safety, Uncle Bert's expensive fishing rod had gone. We would have to search for it. We rowed back and began dredging - pulling the paint tin of rocks behind the boat in the hope of hooking the line.

For half an hour we rowed back and forth across the bay, pulling the tin as meticulously as a farmer ploughs a field. But no luck. The rod was gone. We set off again, towards Ohau Channel which we reckoned was about half way.

We were now entering the dangerous part because there were rocks, and some were submerged just below the surface. So Ray was posted as look out, and Bear and I rowed. There was no beach, for the shore line had changed to rocky cliffs.

That was when the squall hit. A gale came from no where, and the flat, flat lake changed from a mill pond to a milk churn. Shallow lakes do that. Up we'd go on a gigantic wave, and plunge down into the trough.

"A rock!" cried Ray. And the little boat would sweep down the valley of the wave, missing the rock by inches. Up we'd go again, and down between two more rocks. We'd be smashed to bits and drown. Row! Row!

"Ha ha my Hearties!" roared Bear. It was great fun! It was better than before! Another rock! Missed! And we rowed and rowed, and escaped to where the cliff face ended, and another flat shoreline showed.

We beached our boat, hauling it up from the waves and leaving it upside down in sight of the road so that Uncle Bert could see it if he came driving. Then we climbed a tree and waited.

We didn't have to wait long, for soon Uncle Bert came driving with Mum and Leo and Rachel. And when they saw the upturned boat Mum cried "They've drowned! They've drowned!"

But we weren't. We were waiting up the tree. France and Jane had been home for hours and hours and gloated at our late return.

"Girls are better than boys," announced Jane. The next day Bear, Ray and I biked around the lake to prove that boys were just as good.

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