THE WESTCOAST’s Lake Brunner is warmly tinged in many happy family holiday memories for me. Maybe such sentiments makeme biased, but I’d happily rate Brunner as one of New Zealand’s greatest lakeside escapes. Gouged out by a branch of the Taramakau Glacier, the deep inky waters of the West Coast’s largest lake groan with wild brown trout, lending itself to yearround fishing. Most of the brown trout in this lake simply die of old age – or so the locals will tell you. Bracketed by unblemished views of the serrated peaks of the Southern Alps, they alpine vistas are sharply reflected in the lake’s dark and inky mirror surface. The water can reach 25C in summer because the 120m-deep lake is mountain fed, not snow fed. The tannin-stained darkness of the water helps absorb the solar heat. The lakeside township of Moana is as cuteas-a-button, ensuring modern comforts are within ready reach, while enjoying a taste of the wild. With only 80permanent residents but 300 holiday homes, Moana is a byword for holiday haven. The centrally situated Moana hotel (Hotel Lake Brunner) is a hospitality hotspot with live entertainment and excellent modern cuisine. Directly opposite the Moana Railway Station, the Stationhouse Cafe is another inviting destination for with a la carte evening dining, genuine West Coast tucker or a more casual blackboard selection for lunch. The Thai chicken is a big-seller but you can’t go wrong with their whitebait fritters. Speaking of the railway, the Tranz Alpine calls into Moana to and from Greymouth, on its day-return excursion from Christchurch. But what I love most about Lake Brunner is the stirring platter of walking tracks, leading you deep into the heart of its podocarp forested grandeur, edged by the wondrous lake, in addition to the wetlands and abundant birdlife. The 2km-long Lakeside Walk is a great introductory, threading its way around the pebble beach to the fabulous swing bridge across the Arnold River, which is the lake’s outfall. Another great option is the 30-minute return Rakaitane Track, which includes the Arnold River swingbridge. This walk is a botanical treasure with dramatic changes in the flora and fauna over a short period. At the southern end of the lake, take the one-hour return walk to Carew Falls. The Carew Creek waterfall has a year-round flow. However, in the late spring, it’s spectacular with winter runoff. Enormous water sculptured granite boulders are sun warmed natural seats to relax and take in the views. The lake’s western edges can be viewed. Old pipes seen along the track are from a small hydro scheme that once provided power for the Mitchells Hotel (now Lake Brunner Lodge). But my absolute favourite is the Bain Bay Walk. The full circuit is 7kmlong, but even doing a chunk of it will reward you handsomely. Before stepping out, check with the locals about the lake’s water level because it’s impassable at higher levels. For the first kilometre, the track runs around the swampy lake margin mostly on boardwalk, with the option of walking on the lake beach in between. The track leads you into incredibly dense forest, studded with giant ancient trees including kahikatea, matai and rimu, along with tall tree ferns and tangles of vines to tantalise your inner-Tarzan. At Bain Bay, the boardwalk gives way to a gravel track running close to the lake edge and those bewitching dark inky waters. Return via the same track. Lake Brunner Lodge is the lakeside legend, beginning life in 1868 as Mitchell’s Hotel, rebuilt in the 1930s and recently refurbished. Lake Brunner Lodge boasts the classic architecture of yesteryear with the comforts and furnishings of today. Comprising eight ensuited rooms, you’ll be basking in luxurious accommodation, graciously blending old-world charm with contemporary comfort, wrapped in breathtaking scenery. Arange of dine and stay packages are on offer for over summer, when the lure of wide open spaces and wilderness escapes will hold extra appeal.