When we left Te Anau this time we were all keen for a few quiet days somewhere that we could spend some time in nature and not be to busy for a spell. We thought we had the perfect place in mind. If you take a detour off the main highway and go for a drive down some dusty gravel roads you’ll find Mavora Lakes. Here there are walking tracks, two beautiful lakes, mountains to gaze at as you sip your coffee and a really great camping area. There’s also no cell reception and at this time of year very few other people. For us that sounded like the perfect ingredients for a few days of relaxing time as a family.
The area you have to camp in here is so immense that our normal walk around to pick the best spot was just not an option. So after a bit of a drive around and some excited discussions over the walkie talkies we found the perfect spot. Flat, a great view out the front windows, lake just a short stroll away and a fair distance from where the other campers had set up. This last one may seem a little anti-social but when you live this way you often have to deal with other people parked fairly closely to you and lack of privacy is just something you have to deal with at times. So when you have the opportunity to be parked on your own boy do you take it!
Oliver was particularly happy to find outdoor fireplaces at this camp. They are becoming one of his favorite parts of places like this and I can’t say I blame the kid. There is just something about an open fire in a big wild place like this. Our first afternoon was easily filled with a wander by the lake, a stone skimming competition and a good dose of firewood collection for the evenings entertainment. I have never seen a dinner be consumed more quickly or with less complaint then when he knows it is all that stands in the way of him and lighting that fire. Then wrapped up against the cold we toasted marshmallows, gazed at stars and played spotlight until we could finally convince our little man to come in to bed.
The best part of being parked in places like this with no huge plans for the day is that it really gives Oliver time to explore all the wonderful things that are right there on our doorstep. It’s amazing how much time he can spend really wrapped up in little things. Trying to master the art of skimming a stone which normally turns into an experiment of how high he can splash the water. Stomping in puddles is a current favourite, or just wandering amongst the trees finding fallen logs to climb and balance on. A whole day can disappear easily filled with these kind of things. When we are parked in places like this his toys are ignored, the desire for tv is non existent. I’m so glad he finds as much value here as we do, it would not be as easy to live this way if he did not.
So after a day filled with just enjoying our surroundings, another evening filled with a fire and outside fun. We snuggled down for our last night by the beautiful Mavora Lakes. If we had been in a different mood we could easily have done some serious walking here, there were plenty of options. But we were content with the many short strolls along the lake that we had taken instead. Our next destination was going to be Queenstown, a serious change of pace from the isolation of Milford and Mavora lakes. So this little time of quiet and rest felt like the perfect transition.
On our last full day in Milford we woke early and were on the road just after 8am. We had a boat trip booked to explore the actual sounds and a fair bit of ground to cover between our camp and where we would board the boat. There was plenty of thick cloud hanging around as we set off and a few people heading in the same direction we were. Some one had been up long before us all setting out cones and black ice signs on any sections of the road you needed to take extra care on so we were happy to have the extra time to pull over and let impatient people past or see anything that caught our eye. It didn’t take long for us to find something worth stopping for. We rounded a bend and sitting in some car parks at the side of the road were a group of kea’s. Kea are a parrot native to NZ, they are incredibly intelligent and will actually seek out interaction with humans. Sadly their numbers are also dwindling so we were pretty happy to run into a group of eight of them here. We spent a good 15 minutes here watching these delightful birds interacting with anyone who stopped and their vehicles.
Eventually we pulled ourselves away from these glorious birds and headed on towards the Sounds. There’s only one road in here and one of the highlights of the drive is a trip through the Homer Tunnel. Once you’re through the tunnel and the mountain that it takes you through the valley seems to unfold before you. You zig zag down and down into this epic landscape. This is a corner of my country that really drives home to me how small a part of this big world we are, it’s easy to feel dwarfed by the size and grandeur of the peaks and valleys that surround you. Once you make your way down it’s a pretty glorious drive through bush and alongside the river until you finally make it to the end of the road. By this time it already felt like we had seen enough sights for one day but luckily for us it was just the beginning of our days adventure.
There was still a fair bit of cloud around the hills as we got on our boat and started cruising but Milford is one of those places that is stunning no matter what the weather. We had opted for the cruise that had the longest time on the water so we had plenty of time to wander around the boat and take in the views. The boys joined in with all the other tourists and stood at the front of the boat when they went in super close to a waterfall, I was quite happy to stay dry and watch from inside. The clouds lifted as we turned around to make our way back and the views were amazing.
After a stop at the underwater observatory our time on the sounds was shortly over. All that was left was to hop back in the car and make our way back to the bus. We made a few brief stops to look at things that had caught our attention on the way in but to be honest we were all feeling ready to just be home so we could enjoy the mountain views from our front window for a while before we moved on.
The next day was a bit of a special one in the bus, it was Oliver’s sixth birthday. He woke to pelting rain which was the perfect excuse for a slow morning opening presents and eating pancakes. Then it was time to head back to Te Anau where we planned to spend a night before heading on to somewhere new. I have to say I love celebrating our special moments in this low key way. Sure we did our best to include things in the day that Oliver would enjoy, a trip to the local bike park and a special birthday dinner. But it’s much less effort and work for me than I would have previously put in to birthday celebrations. Which it turns out equals a lot more time to actually spend with the birthday boy. It also turns out that just having time with us is what Oliver actually wants most as well. Our time in Milford left me feeling completely recharged on every level. It had been the perfect way to spend Oliver’s last few days of being a five year old. Starting our holiday on such a great note also meant we had high hopes for what the rest of our trip would bring.
Our last week before we left Gore we had the worst stretch of weather we have probably had in the whole time we have lived in the bus. It was very wet, very windy and just generally cold and miserable. For six long days. It made the week feel like it was stretching on and on for ever. It tested my patience and the limits of how long Oliver can spend cooped up in a small space. But finally Friday arrived, Wayne toddled off to work for the last time and we celebrated as we saw the sun coming out. We made the most of Wayne finishing up a few hours early, said our goodbyes to the other campers and headed off to Lumsden. Lumsden is really unique in that they allow freedom camping right in there town centre. We arrived just as the sun was going down and settled in to our spot with a view of the playground out one window and an old train out the other.
The next morning we were keen to get moving. For the first part of this trip we were heading to spend some time exploring Milford Sounds. I’ve been lucky enough to visit here before and couldn’t wait to do it with a bit more time up my sleeve. I also couldn’t wait to share it with Oliver. So when we arrived in Te Anau to find more rain we hunkered down in the bus for the afternoon and hoped for the weather to clear for us. We got all we hoped for and more the next day when we woke to a frosty morning and clear skies.
You lose cell phone reception not long after leaving Te Anau and then you begin to wind your way in towards this special piece of the country. Our first stop for the day was at Lake Mistletoe for a short but charming walk around this little lake and through the surrounding bush to be serenaded by some resident bellbirds who were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.
By mid afternoon we had arrived at the Totara campsite the first spot we had chosen to stay at on our way in to Milford. We had views of mountains, a gorgeous river alongside us and much to Oliver’s delight outdoor fireplaces for campers to use. The rest of the afternoon was easily filled with a drive down the road to the mirror lakes and a bit more sightseeing along the way. Then we had just enough time left to collect firewood and explore our camp a little before dinner, followed by roasting marshmallows on our fire then a quick game of spotlight before bed.
The next day we were all up and ready to go early, a good thing considering how much we wanted to see. First up we moved the bus a bit further down the valley to the last available DOC camp site the cascades. Even at the time of year that we are travelling in there is a steady trickle of visitors to Fiordland, the size and scope of the cascades campsite gives you a clear idea of how busy it must be in the peak season. This camp was pretty amazing, with stunning mountain views from every window of the bus. After a short time looking around we headed out to explore a little bit down the Hollyford Valley. There is so much you could do here, walks for every age, capability and time frame. Picking which ones you want to tackle is probably the hard part. We stopped at the Lake Marian track and did a section that led to viewing platforms along a cascading section of the river. Oliver was completely absorbed here watching the power of the water tumbling below us. Then after a bit more of a drive down the valley we did a short climb to see Humboldt Falls. They are a large three tiered waterfall and they are a stunning specimen amidst the many that you will find in the Milford Valley.
After a few stops on the way home to gaze at mountains we arrived back at the bus. Since we were staying in a valley the sun had dropped early and we were quite happy to tuck ourselves inside by the fire for the rest of the afternoon. Living in places with all these mountains is still a novelty for me. The landscape here is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real at times, every corner there’s a new peak to marvel at, another waterfall to look at, another piece of this valley carved by some ancient glaciers. Spending time in all that natural beauty was rejuvenating for the soul, coupled with being disconnected from technology it was the perfect way to start this holiday for us. A visceral reminder of why we wanted to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. Spending time in places like this was high on the list of things that motivated us. If just two days here had been this good we were keen to see what the next day and more exploring might discover.
How lucky am I that you have now been in my life for six whole years? All those years have been special but right now as this one draws to a close I think there is something about it that is just a little bit extra. Time has slowed and stretched out a little for us this year. I am so grateful for that. Grateful that you being five hasn’t sped away from me in a haze of school drop offs and small stolen family moments. I’m grateful for the big moments we have shared together this year. But also for all the little ones.
The chance to really have the time to be with you is something I don’t take for granted. It’s so wonderful to watch you growing in every way. Six year old you is truly a wonderful person. You love bike rides and beaches, books and still you have a fascination for vehicles of any description. You enjoy nature, often telling me a lake is beautiful or a bird is cute. You love to dance and have the cutest little bum wriggle I ever saw. From somewhere you have picked up a fascination for Michael Jackson, you plead for his songs every time we are choosing music. You are smart my little man, you have learnt to read like it was second nature and you love maths. You also still love jumping in puddles on rainy days, dreaming about finding the treasure at the bottom of a rainbow and imagining pictures in the clouds. Most of all you love fiercely and with so much depth, I hope this never changes.
Now we are a year in to our bus adventure I can see that it truly works for you as much as it does for us. I worried a lot that it was a choice we made more for ourselves but you have thrived on this journey. You have grown in every way imaginable. But I love that in some ways you are still delightfully small and precious. I look forward to where the next year takes us and who you will be when it is over. Happy birthday my little man and happy wandering too.
Autumn at this end of the country is much more dramatic and definite than it is where we are from. The trees are quickly a riot of all the rich autumnal colours and I can already see that they will fall just as quickly as they changed colour. Perhaps it is a bit more time spent inside on the not so nice days, but something about this change of season has had me reflecting a little on our journey so far and all the change it has wrought in my life. Not just the obvious change that is out there for everyone to see but the little ways that things have changed as well. I suppose it is only natural that big life change has a ripple affect on all the little ways you do things and the way you see things in life. I think perhaps for me some of these things were always going to happen but shifting out of our little comfort zone of house, community and support system I had built for myself has sped up the process a bit. One of the things in my life that has had a bit of an overhaul is the way that I approach and manage my parenting. I thought I would share a bit because I wish I had done some of these things years ago. So if you are just here for the bus and the adventures fair warning this one may not be for you.
Some of the things I changed was a concious thing. I was completely aware that I would now be spending all my days with Oliver. My two days a week where he went to kindy and I had a chance to focus entirely on things I wanted to were over. The weekends he would spend staying at his Nanas every couple of months where I caught my breath and we got some couple time were not going to be an option anymore. Here is probably where I should admit that since being a Mum I have never been good at making sure I get the things I need to keep me happy. I don’t know why because before Oliver I really was good at it, I took the time out for long walks by myself, fed my soul with music I loved, books I enjoyed, did the things that helped me give to the other areas of my life. So why once I had a tiny little human who needed me to give more than I ever had before did I drop myself off that list of people that need looking after? I don’t have that answer really. Perhaps it was partly because when Oliver arrived Wayne’s job had him working 70 hour weeks. I would kiss him goodnight on a Sunday everning and most weeks wouldn’t see him until late Friday night or Saturday afternoon if I was lucky. Out of neccessity I got really good at coping by myself.
Anyway fast forward to us buying the bus. I don’t want to end up stressed out, grumpy and not coping with the close living spaces. My current way of dealing with this is not 100% working for me and it’s got to change now anyway. So I did conciously decide we needed a strategy to try and avoid this becoming a problem. We decided that the healthiest thing would be to plan in times where each of us would have some time out from being with Oliver. As it turns out when we are all traveling together it’s not such a big deal, it tends to happen quite naturally that one or the other of us will take Oliver off to do something alone. It’s when we are stationary and Wayne is working that I really need it. Wayne is a night owl so would much rather take his time out in the form of a sleep in the next morning on a weekend. This works for me as sleeping in just isn’t something I do. But for me the last few months the little outings on the weekends that my boys go on are absolutely life changing. I love them both to absolute pieces but I just naturally like being alone sometimes. That time to read or write or go for a walk or do some baking without a tiny helper measuring my ingredients for me is the best present my husband has ever given me.
So the other things we changed were not such a conscious choice, they have just sort of evolved as we built our new life around the way we were now living. Most afternoons now Oliver will find something he wants to occupy himself with for an hour or so, get some toys out or puzzles. Anything that requires little to no input from me in regards to set up and that he can do entirely on his own. This took a little coaxing to begin with but now he often says himself that it’s time for some quiet time and asks me for what he wants to do that afternoon. My son has always been a helper, loves to do all the household chores with me and now at almost six he is actually a wonderful help. He dries the dishes most mornings, he does a great job of vacuuming or sweeping the steps and is always keen to help in the kitchen or fold the clothes. This is actually a great side to homeschooling, you can develop a real sense of teamwork around the work of everyday life. But that helper drive coupled with the fact that he is an only child mean I do need to make sure he plays independently sometimes.
The other things I do differently now are more about mindset really and I think they flow from the fact that I am taking more care of my mental health so I have a clearer head, more patience, less stress. I work quite hard now to approach everything positively, because it’s amazing how much the way you frame something can influence your experience. And on those days where for what ever reason my beautiful son does not have such a beautiful disposition I try to make the most of the fact that I have the freedom to choose what our days look like and go somewhere or do something that we both get a lot of joy from. For us at the moment in Gore that means a walk to the river, going to the pools for a swim, visiting the aviary at the gardens or a visit to the library. And on the wet days it might mean putting on some music for an impromptu dance party or putting on gumboots to go jump in puddles. Because being in those spaces we both enjoy can make all the difference in the world to how we both feel and interact with each other.
Thanks for reading today’s ramblings, I’m certainly no expert or perfect parent but those are not normally the kinds of parenting stories I like reading either. Do you have any things you’ve found that really work for your family? I’d love to hear what you do that helps your family keep ticking over.
Since our Christmas holiday in the Catlin’s the furthest the bus has been is to Invercargill to sit in a mechanics for a few weeks. So when we discovered that Wayne would have five days off over the Easter weekend it was a very easy decision that we would be heading away. We quickly decided on a destination, the plan was to head down the coast to Riverton then slowly make our way to Te Anau before heading back to Gore via Lumsden. We left Gore as soon as Wayne finished work on the Thursday afternoon and made our way down the coast to Riverton. We found a spot at the local golf clubs car park and settled in for our first night away. The next morning we all woke raring to get out and explore somewhere new. The golf club was only one street back from the beach so our first task was of course a stroll on the beach. Our time spent at beaches has been way to little so far this year and it felt incredibly good to be back strolling along the sand.
It was a glorious sunny morning and very easy to fill it in a little seaside town like Riverton. Playgrounds are normally high on the list of places to visit first when you travel with children, it’s a bonus to find one right on the beach so we can take in the scenery while Oliver gets his dose of play. After that we hit all the hot spots of Riverton, the old train in the center of town, a stroll up to a good viewpoint of the coast and then along the river. Then it was time to head off to our next destination. We headed down the coast further, past Tuatapere and on to Lake Hauroko.
Lake Hauroko is New Zealands deepest lake, it is completely stunning, it is also a long drive down a dirt road to get there. Perhaps that is why it is not as busy with visitors as other lakes in this area. There were a few other people coming and going when we arrived in the afternoon and a few cars in the car park of people making the most of the long weekend and doing some tramping. But by the time we settled down for the night we had the place all to ourselves. This is such a rare occurence and it makes driving down those dirt roads more than worth it. On our drive in to the lake the weather changed and by the time we parked up the rain had started. The great thing about traveling in your home is that we could simply wait the rain out inside the bus and wait for a break in the weather. Which we got just before dinner and managed a short bush walk as well as a look at the lake. Of course with the rain it was shrouded in cloud and all the mountains were well hidden. So we settled in for the night and crossed our fingers that the next day we would wake to a brighter sky.
You can imagine how happy we were to wake to see sunshine breaking through the clouds. But unfortunately by the time we’d taken a few pictures, packed a few things in a backpack and headed to the start of a walking track the rain was starting again. We had wanted to walk up to a lookout while we were here and we set off to see how far we could get and if the weather was going to clear or get worse. We made it about half an hour down the track before deciding that it the rain was settling in and there was no point walking for another hour to get some lovely views of clouds in the rain. So we made our way down to the lake edge and began to walk back to the bus. As if just to reward us for getting out and giving it a go a gorgeous rainbow appeared across the far side of the lake.
Between the intermittent showers we spent the rest of our day visiting the Clifden suspension bridge and doing a bit of caving at some limestone caves nearby. We had planned on spending the night at Lake Monowai but after a tip from some locals we took an exploratory drive in the car first to check out how full the camp was. We decided that though there was plenty of room there it wasn’t the flattest or the driest place to spend a night. So we settled for a late afternoon bush walk to a look out. Again the clouds were thick on the hills around the edges of this lake. But the bush itself was amazing, lush, mossy, full of a huge variety of mushrooms and a few very friendly South Island Robins that utterly entranced our little boy. Once we got back to the bus we settled for the closest spot to park the bus for the night, it was essentially a car park surrounded by a ton of gorse. But when it’s five o’cklock at night and raining all we need is a reasonably flat and firm piece of dirt to park our home for the night, this is where being completely self contained is a truly wonderful thing.
The next day was Easter Sunday and when we woke to torrential rain the best thing to do was pack up so we could get on the road. It was a short drive to Lake Manapouri from where we were so by 11.00 we had the bus all settled in to the new spot we would be staying at that night and we were off to explore Manapouri. After the huge day we had had the day before we were all ready for a change of pace. Miraculously the sun had come out and it was a glorious day. We strolled the lake side path, spent a few hours playing beside the lake and willing the hills to shrug off those pesky clouds. Then of course being easter sunday an egg hunt was needed.
The next day we made sure we were up and on the road relatively early. We were planning to spend our last night in Te Anau and had heard the park we were wanting to stay at could get very busy. Being easter we didn’t want to miss out on a spot. Our plan worked perfectly, the bus was safely settled in well before lunch time and we were off to explore the bustling little tourist town of Te Anau. We braved the town centre long enough for Oliver to explore the playground he had spied on our way in. Then we headed to the wildlife centre which was definetly a highlight for us all. It’s nothing fancy but if you are the least bit interested in birds there is something here for you. It’s one of the few places you will see Takahe, they are an ancient looking bird with their huge beaks and glorious blue plumage. The Kaka’s are both cheeky and stunning. But Neil the Tui was the star of the show for us, I knew that Tui were wonderful mimics often imitating other birds and had heard they could imitate car horns or human speech but so far had never heard it. Neil hopped right on up to the edge of the cage and proceeded to clearly try to talk. This bird had so much character that Oliver insisted on looping back around to say goodbye to him before we left.
After this we made our way out to the control gates which is where you can start the Kepler track from, we intended to walk one of the closer bays and back. But our littlest wanderer was completely not on board with our plan. After about fifteen minutes of urging him on we stopped at the lake edge to see if a bit of a play beside the water would improve his mood. And while we were stopped something we had been hoping for at every lake we had visited finally happened. The clouds began to lift and they kept lifting until you could see all the glorious views. By this time it was well in to the afternoon so we decided the rest of the walk was just not meant to be. We headed back to the car and drove to the other side of Te Anau, the boys found a playground beside the boatramp and I wandered down to the lake to admire the stunning views. The lake and mountains beyond with an array of trees all dressed in their autumn colours was truly a sight to behold. Our whole easter trip had felt like a vivid reminder of why we are doing this, why we are a million miles from everyone we know and living in a bus. To see as much of our own country as we can and to share our love of the beautiful wild places with Oliver. When the clouds lifted it felt like the truly perfect note to end what had been a great trip.
Recently we had to have some repairs done on the bus so it could pass it’s latest Cof. We knew before we even had it checked that it would need some fairly major work done on the brakes this time around and this is one of the reasons we have ended up staying in Gore quite a long time. Because there is one thing that we have learnt in our time as the owners of an older model bus, that repairs are not always an easy fix and they don’t come cheap. We are fine with that, it’s our home as well as a vehicle and we need it to be safe, usable and able to get us to all the places we want to explore. But the hardest thing about having repairs done, apart from parting with your hard earned coin, is that sometimes we can’t live in the bus while we are having the repairs done.
This time we were faced with possibly two weeks of having to find somewhere else to stay. There were not a lot of options that were a price we were willing to pay and still close to Gore so Wayne could get to work every day. We ended up in a town called Wyndham, renting a little old motorhome at the campground there. Wyndham has around 900 residents, a couple of shops and a penchant for naming streets after items of clothing. The locals were very friendly though and the advantage of small towns is that everything is literally right on your doorstep, playground, tennis courts, little picturesque creek to throw rocks in, all just a short stroll away.
In the end we were out of our bus for ten nights and I missed it more than words can really describe. Sleeping in a double bed whose mattress has really seen better days, using the shared kitchen facilities and having to make early morning dashes for the loo on the other side of the camp all made me appreciate again what a lovely home we have. Funnily enough during this time out of the bus was the first time that I have really felt like I missed having a normal home. We had been out for lunch in Invercargill and there was a garden centre and pet store attached to the cafe. So of course we wandered round the pet store afterwards. And here I was struck by a sudden longing for the time that we’ll have a place of our own again, enough earth to plant a garden and let Oliver have a pet. I’m happy to say that as soon as we were back in our bus that feeling disapeared. Yes one day it will be nice to settle down again, one day, but not yet!
So now we have that all important little sticker that means we are free to move the bus around for another six months. Of course that means our time in Gore is drawing to an end, we have been here so much longer than we originally thought we would be. Of course now that we have actually set a leaving date it’s safe to say our excitement levels are pretty high. The hard work is nearly over for a spell and all three of us are ready for some quality time together and as always some new places to explore.