I remember the bow of the fizz-boat lifting as we set off across the lake from Moana, on the wet side of the Southern Alps. The biscuit, like a large, sturdy inner tube with a rubber floor, skimmed behind us, bounced across the wake of the boat as the tow rope snapped taut. All I could see of the children in the biscuit were arms and legs, and all I could hear above the singing of the outboard were their screams. The signal to slow down, their father said, was an up and down movement of a hand. "And" he added casually, "you'd better tell me if one of them falls out."
The chillibin nestled under tote-bags bulging with wet-suits, towels, spare clothes. Water skis and kneeboard were wedged behind our feet. The glove box held sunnies, hats, chapstick, bottles of SPF30, ready for a day on, in and beside Lake Brunner. We were headed for the family's favourite secluded beach.
The lake is what makes Moana special. It's huge. Magnificent. Tempting. The bush tumbles down the slopes of the embracing hills to the water's edge and many of its beaches are accessible only by boat. Choose one and stake your claim by unloading the gear. No one will trouble you – there are plenty of other beaches. There will almost certainly be driftwood – enough to build a small fire to char the sausages by anyway. Even in wet weather Lake Brunner can be magical in the mist. And although a beach isn't much fun when it's cold, a night-time barbecue beside a driftwood fire with freshly caught trout smoking nearby is an experience which, even in winter time, is unforgettably precious.
Wekas, wise in the ways of picnickers, gather in the nearby bushes, ready to help themselves to anything edible. We watched once as a determined bird pounced on half a loaf of bread and hauled it backwards inch by inch into the bush. Wekas have learned to lift towels, rummage in plastic bags and knock off any lids not screwed down tight.
In a good mood the surface of the lake is silky. Floating in a metre or so of clear water you can peer at the pebbly bottom and, if you're lucky, see the sinuous shadow of a trout. Turn over onto your back and the ringing calls of bellbird and tui will fill your heart. Gazing at the dense, billowing green of the bush you can drift into a trance-like state – like staring into one of those magic eye pictures.