I have been meaning to write this for a while now. Turning over in my head how I write about the last chapter of what has been such an amazing experience for my family. The last thing I wrote here was when we were leaving Hamilton. As you can probably guess lots has happened in the time between then and now. When we left Hamilton we were headed for Taranaki with a slightly different purpose in mind then we have had for the past three years of travelling. This time we had settling down on our minds.
For us, right from the start, this adventure always had an end date. We actually thought perhaps a year or 18 months would have been ample time to spend living in a bus. As it turns out it was a little bit longer then that. But at the start of 2020 we decided that it would be our last year of this gypsy life. It just felt like we were all ready for something new. Right from the start we always new that we wouldn’t be settling back in Tauranga when we stopped traveling. We had a few options in mind at the start but settled on Taranaki after a few visits early on in our travels.
When we left Hamilton and started the drive to New Plymouth I have to admit I had more than a few doubts in my head. We had only visited this area a handful of times. Would we actually enjoy living here or were we big mistake. Our plans for here felt so permanent and like such a commitment after living in a way where you could literally decide you wanted to move on and be somewhere new the next day. Now after a few months of sinking our toes into the wild, black sands of these west coast beaches and slowly finding our place in this new life, I’m happy to report that those worries were needless. Turns out this settling down again stuff is not to bad.
We’re doing it slowly though. Still in the bus for now, just with a bit of a permanent spot to base ourselves until we find a house. And that urge to explore and discover that has driven us on this whole big journey right from the start is still getting a chance to stretch it’s feet here. We have a huge stretch of the coast that’s easily accessible. That gorgeous mountain to explore. And when what’s on our doorstep isn’t enough we know how easily we can travel further in this beautiful country of ours.
I started this blog because I wanted to document our travels and have a record of the whole experience. It’s been it’s own journey for me, rediscovering how much I love to write. I’ve done a lot of it, both on here and just for myself. Filling pages of books with stories. Trying my hand at poetry. Scribbling away in a journal. I know that my writing will continue now, even if it’s just purely for my own enjoyment from here on in. Thank you for following along with our wanderings and reading my ramblings along the way. If anyone reading has done so because you have some wild crazy dream to live in a bus, or travel with children, or really any dream that you think you just shouldn’t do because it’s a bit outside the normal. I encourage you to just do it. Our big crazy dream has given us so much that is good and very little that is not. Happy wanderings people, wherever they might take you.
We always seem to settle in to a bit of a rythym when we travel, the first few mornings of getting up and sorting the bus always seem a bit hurried, like they don’t quite flow properly. But after that everyone seems to remember there roles in the process and it all clicks in to place. We were well and truly in that good rythym when we left Broken hills. The bus wheels were turning by just after 8am. It was another gloriously sunny day and we decided to pull in to Tairua for a look around. To be honest this is a place I’ve driven through plenty of times and often thought it looked lovely but have never actually stopped. I’m very glad we’ve rectified that situation now after our short stop here and have mentally listed it as a place to visit again in the future.
It was one of those wonderfully warm spring mornings and to be honest it was tempting to find a spot to park the bus for the night so we could spend the day swimming in the crystal clear waters that were feeling very much a swimmable temperature. But the night before while Oliver was sleeping soundly in his bed Wayne and I had dreamed up a plan for the day. So we spent a few hours playing and dipping our feet in the ocean here. Then we headed on to Hot water beach with a plan to dig ourselves a hot pool at low tide so we could spend the afternoon lounging in it. This is something Wayne and I can both remember attempting with our families as children, with varying levels of success! We have also visited Hot water beach a couple of times together but never been organised enough and arrived at the wrong tide. So this time we decided to stay at the Top ten campground that is right by the beach so there was no chance of getting it wrong this time.
At 3 ocklock we headed for the beach, spades in hand to dig ourselves a hot pool. There were already a few people digging steaming pools by the time we arrived and once we picked our spot it took us a while to master the art of digging the pool while your feet are sinking into the sometimes burning hot water that is bubbling it’s way up through the sand. But eventually we had ourselves a passable hot pool to sit in. We even got fancy and dug a channel from a pool that someone had kindly dug in a cold spot and promptly abandoned once they discovered there error. The whole experience was a huge hit with Oliver. There’s something about hot water bubbling up from the sand on a perfectly normal looking surf beach that is magical even to fully grown adults. Pair it with a spade, the opportunity to dig a big hole in the sand and have a swim afterwards. That just ticks all of my little guys boxes.
The next day we woke to more glorious sun but the forecast for the next day was looking decidedly less friendly. Again we were up early and heading on to make the most of the weather while it was in our favour. We stopped off in Whitianga to stretch our legs, have some lunch and pick up a few supplies. To our absolute delight when we were leaving we saw some dolphins cruising around the harbour and stopped to watch them until they headed out of sight. Then we headed to Coromandel. It was a slow climb in places for our big old bus and a good test for all the repairs it had recently had. But we made it without any drama and coincidentally found my parents staying at the same place we were. Completely unplanned as we hadn’t spoken since the day we left Tauranga. But it was nice to share one last meal together that night and one final goodbye. With the weather turning as predicted this was the end of our time in this part of the country for now. I’ve been lucky enough to have plenty of holidays in the Coromandel over the years, it’s a special place for me, full of lot’s of beautiful places and lots of beautiful memories. This short visit added a few more of those to tuck away somewhere that they won’t be forgotten. The best souvenirs from all our trips.
When we left our family in Waihi we headed to somewhere we had stayed before but not in the bus, as it turns out there would be a fair bit of that in this trip. But though those places were familiar to us, they were new to Oliver and as usual seeing them new through his eyes brought fresh perspective and fresh enjoyment. Wentworth Valley is a DOC campground nestled in a valley not far from Whangamata. Much to Oliver’s delight there is a ford crossing on the way in and the river runs right alongside where you camp. At this time of year it was quiet and we found ourselves a gorgeous spot nestled amongst the trees to spend a night.
It was afternoon by the time we arrived and we were unsure if we really had enough day left to do the walk that goes from the camp to Wentworth falls. We headed off thinking we would just stretch our legs and do a little bit of the walk. But enthusiasm got the best of us and we ended up going the whole way. It’s moments like this where I really appreciate this new stage of parenting we are in. Oliver is getting a bit older and a bit hardier now. We set off totally unprepared without even a drink bottle but it was fine, we all enjoyed ourselves and arrived back at the bus about 5.30 to enjoy water and a nice cold iceblock while we cooked dinner. The days of having to plan and prepare for even the shortest of adventures are disappearing. In our pre child days Wayne and I were big on spur of the moment fun, we didn’t plan that but it’s there, we’re keen, lets do it. I can see that being a part of our lives again more often now and I’m ready for it.
The next morning we said goodbye to Wentworth valley but we weren’t going far. Just down the road to Whangamata in fact. I have so many childhood holiday memories of this place. For a while there it was a regular holiday destination for my family. I remember fondly days spent playing at the estuary or swimming amongst the waves on the surf beach. Perhaps this is why when Oliver’s eyes lit up and he begged for us to have a swim with him I just couldn’t say no. Even though it was only September and the water was really not that warm yet. Even though the gorgeous sun seemed to hide itself behind a cloud the moment we got into our togs. We had our first swim for the summer (even though it’s not summer yet). Our day in Whangamata ended as all days should when you are holidaying by the beach, with a walk along the beach and one last moment with sand between your toes before you climb into bed.
The next day we headed to another DOC campsite called Broken hills. Wayne and I had spent a long weekend here years ago in a leaking tent in the rain. We still had fond memories of the place and the walks here so were keen to visit in finer weather. Thankfully that’s just what we got when we arrived. Sunshine turning the river a lovely golden hue and enticing Oliver to wade deeper and deeper into the water. A campsite all to ourselves and only a handful of people out on the walking tracks as we did our exploring. Broken hills is an area with a lot of old historic gold mines. We did a really fun walk here that follows the river for a spell then loops up and you walk through a couple of short tunnels before following the old water race back towards where you started. The boys also explored another short track that had lots of little caves to poke your head in and check out the wetas. We ended our day with a laughter filled game of spotlight and finally a plan starting to take shape for where we were actually heading next.
Even now nearly three years on I can vividly remember all the stress and emotional upheaval I felt in those last few weeks before we left Tauranga in our big white bus. I never really imagined that circumstances would arise that would put us in a very similar situation again, only this time more stressful and more intense. But somehow this strange year that is 2020 managed to do just that. Lockdown, bus repairs, bus breakdowns, last minute hiccups, casual jobs becoming way less reliable than they have been for us in the past and spending way longer than we ever planned living with family. It all combined to a point where I actually wondered if the best move was just to sell the bus as she was and move on with our life. Because for most of this year it has very much felt like our life was not going anywhere, both in the literal sense and otherwise. For people who are very used to setting goals, making plans and getting on with life it’s been a super frustrating position to be in. Thankfully after one last incredibly stressful day it finally happened. We had a little sticker on the window with the right date on it and we were free to move again. We spent our last night in Tauranga parked at Memorial park, enjoying one of the awesome freedom camping spots that the area has and saying our goodbyes to good friends who are very hard to leave behind.
So where do you go first when you feel like life has wrung a whole lot of the energy out of you and you desperately want to get it back? Well we go to the beach of course. We beach hopped our way from Omokoroa to Waihi beach, freedom camping and getting back in to the swing of living full time in a moveable vehicle. There was plenty of time spent wandering on beaches and letting the sound of waves hitting the sand sooth my frazzled nerves. There was also a whole heap of appreciating the fact that we were in fact free to go wherever we wanted.
On our second day at Waihi beach we woke to black skys that promised rain was not far away so we traded our plans of a walk and more beach time. Instead we headed in to Waihi and visited the gold discovery centre. Which I have to say exceeded any expectations I had of it. It was interactive, fun and full of lots to keep both a busy young child and a couple of parents entertained for a couple of hours on a wet day. We also learnt a few things about the history of the Martha mine and the mining that continues there today.
After a night spent with family who live close by it was going to be time for us to move on again. But we still had no real firm plans for where we were going, we decided to go with it and just enjoy waking up in the morning, looking out the window to see what the day had brought us and decide where we wanted to drive to that day. Perhaps this was the delicious cure to all the frustrations of having no control that we had suffered so far this year. It sounded to us like a really good thing to try.
Since we made our hurried trip from Wellington to the comfort and safety of my parents home in Te Puke it feels like the time has just flown by. Those first weeks in complete lock down were strange and uncharted territory for everyone no matter your life circumstances. The progression out of lock down had an extra element of excitement for us. When we got to level two and could break our bubble we got to reconnect with people we hadn’t seen in over two years. Friends and family that we had missed with all our hearts. I have been pleasantly surprised over the course of our travels how well our little family of three has supported and sustained each other without all those extra connections you make around you, without the community you build and often rely on. But it has been a most welcome thing to share real life moments with that community we left behind, to share conversations, hugs and a whole lot of love.
We’ve ended up being based in this area a whole lot longer than we ever imagined. A need for a few repairs and a whole lot of very busy repairers who we’ve had to wait patiently to have time for our big old bus has meant that even once we were free to move around the country again we have had to stay on a little longer. After the freedom and sometimes spontaniety with which we have lived the last two years it has been hard being somewhat stuck and having so much of what’s happened this year being largely out of our control. Not that things have always gone to plan while we’ve been travelling. We’ve made lots of little adjustments to plans and done things differently than we imagined many times. This time with a global pandemic, a country in complete lockdown and then what has seemed like a never ending string of things conspiring to keep us immobile it has definetly been the biggest hurdle yet.
One of my favourite childrens books is Dr Seuss ‘Oh the places you will go’. The line ‘You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes you can steer yourself any direction you choose’ speaks straight to my soul! But there’s a page in that book about being stuck in the waiting place, full of people just waiting for everyday things to happen that really doesn’t speak to any part of me. For a large portion of this year that’s what life for us has felt like. Stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the life we really wanted to be available again. I’m hopeful and positive though that Dr Suess is right and somehow we will escape all that waiting and staying, we’ll find the bright places where boom bands are playing.
We arrived in Wellington thinking we would be there for three months as that’s how long the work Wayne had would last. When we were making our decisions to leave Christchurch the corona virus was a concern, but a distant one, there still weren’t any cases in the country. In the days between making that choice and getting to Wellington that changed.
The day Wayne started his new job he was warned that they couldn’t guarantee his role would continue if the situation worsened. He’s been employed as a casual worker for two years now so for us that wasn’t as alarming as it might be to others, it is the very nature of casual employment. By the end of the week there were confirmed covid 19 cases in Wellington and there were clear warning signs that if it continued to progress then the places we were staying would likely close to force people to head home. To me the other option of staying at a holiday park where you are normally crammed in closer to your fellow campers didn’t feel like an appealing or safe way to ride out what was coming.
On Monday morning Wayne headed off to start his second week of his new job. We could see that things were going to all change at some point but Wayne wanted to stick with the job until they did, I agreed because ideally you don’t want to leave people in the lurch but really I would have been happy to jump in the bus and leave right then. For the first time in our whole journey being in the bus didn’t feel completely safe. We have an ever changing set of neighbours, sometimes parked just over three metres away and during the week Oliver and I rely heavily on getting out of the bus as much as possible to fill our days, but even a simple thing like a playground wasn’t really safe. So when it was announced that the country was heading in to lockdown I felt overwhelming relief. I also felt overwhelming gratitude because we had somewhere to go.
So the next morning we left Wellington after just over a week and made the long drive to Te Puke to my parents orchard. We hadn’t seen my parents in just over a year so any reunion was going to feel good. Add to that all the other emotions that this strange situation had prevoked and I can safely say I have never felt so grateful to see my beautiful Mum.
Perhaps that gratitude has helped us through the lockdown as our experience has so far not been to bad. We were lucky that there is plenty of truck driving work that is classed as essential and Wayne picked up a new role quickly as being a casual worker meant there was no wage subsidy to carry us through. The first two weeks we had gorgeous sunny days and made the most of them on my parents orchard. Rain has made it feel less fun but we have a well established school routine to help those days pass quicker and grandparents to share the load. What the future will look like for us now is a complete unknown. But I guess it is best to just not dwell on that to much for now and wait to see what the next few months bring our way. I hope you are all finding your way through this strange, strange experience. Lots of love from my bubble to yours!
Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
We wind our way down the road. Past trees and paddocks full of sheep. House’s tucked away behind their fences sit around every other bend. Then we round another corner and the ocean appears. It looks a faded, gentle kind of blue from this distance, bathed in the soft evening light.
The car sweeps around a big corner, across a bridge and we are there. Of course Oliver is first out of the car but he gets distracted by the playground so I am the first to see this wildly glorious beach. I could actually hear it the moment the cars engine stopped, long before I climbed up the small bank to it’s rocky shores. The waves are pounding in. Churning the rocks over and over in a raucous display of their strength.
Shortly the boys join me on the beach. We meander along, discovering the bounty this sea has brought in on other evenings when the waves tossed their treasures high above the tide line. Treasure left to dry in the sun until another storm see’s them whisked away on another surging wave. Rocks are tested for splashing capabilities. Wobbling stone towers are built then knocked over with shrieks of six year old delight. Sticks become swords, then spears, then guns. We hunt make believe prey with our small child whose imagination is bigger than all of us. We let ourselves get sucked into that magical world of his where everything is possible.
Then we see a hammock strung between some trees and the moment shifts. Wayne and Oliver climb into the hammock. I find a log a short distance away to sit on and listen to the roar of the waves. My thoughts drift for a while and when I look back to the hammock I see a miraculous thing. The boy who was so full of energy, movement and noise a moment ago now lies in the hammock safe in his fathers arms. Their heads rest against each other and I can see they are talking. I could go over and join the conversation but decide that it is enough to watch this moment from here.
Far to soon it is over. We are back in the car. Winding our way past trees and paddocks full of sheep. Heading away from this magic evening on a rocky beach.
There’s a lesson that our time in the bus keeps teaching me, over and over. It’s that things can change, incredibly quickly. Opportunities can just appear from no where when you keep your feelers out and are willing to consider everything that comes your way. Then it’s up to you do you decide that the change is to much or to fast. Or do you jump in and take whatever has been offered. Perhaps the second half of that lesson is that Wayne and I are, most of the time, absolutely the type to jump on board and take the opportunity. It probably explains how we could make such drastic changes to the way we lived in the first place.
When we arrived back in Christchurch after our xmas break we had a plan. The job Wayne had been doing had finished up but he would find something else and we would stay in Christchurch until the end of April. Then we’d head off and be back in the North Island by Olivers birthday in May. Since then Wayne’s had plenty of work through a couple of places but none of it would be our ideal, so he has kept his eyes and ears out in case something better came along. Well last week it did. Only it wasn’t in Christchurch, it wasn’t even in the South Island. The job was in Wellington and starting as soon as possible. I was more than ready to be back in the North Island so it was a fairly easy and enthusiastic yes from me. Wayne didn’t need much more of a reason than that to make it a yes from him as well. Five days later we had booked a ferry crossing, said our goodbyes to Christchurch and were on our way to Picton.
It feels like I haven’t shared a lot about our time in Christchurch. That’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed it. I’ve got some very fond memories from our time here. We’ve made the most of having some gorgeous beaches on our doorstep this summer. I’ve also enjoyed having a closer look at how this city is choosing to rebuild after the earthquakes. I look forward to coming back in the future and seeing it all finished. And our trips to Banks Peninsula left us wishing we had more time to spend out there. We are all leaving this city with a few favorite places that we will miss not having on our doorstep anymore. But by now we all know that Wellington is bound to have some special places for us to discover and a whole lot of fun to be had while we discover them.
There is a campground in Christchurch that has wormed it’s way in to my heart. It’s a fairly simple affair. It has toilets both of the long drop and the flushing variety. It also has an extra big sink in one part of the camp for those people who don’t bring their dish washing facilities with them and a few big rubbish bins. That’s about where the modern luxuries end. What it does have is lots of green space, plenty of big shady trees and a river that winds its way through it. For a gold coin donation per night anyone can come and stay for up to 28 days. When so many areas we have visited are constantly tightening their restrictions on these types of camps it’s a welcome sight to see a council choose to offer this. Whats more welcome is that this camp is open to everyone, big vehicles, small vehicles, caravans or tents. It’s wonderful to see this place full of families from near and far. As well as the usual assortment of retired motorhomer’s, overseas tourists and a few full timers like us. This wonderful mingling of everyone enjoying this place is one of the things that makes it so appealing to me.
Another big thing is of course that beautiful river. When we first stayed here it was November, the water was icy cold but Oliver was quite happy to swim and play in it on the sunny spring days. As summer arrived and things got warmer, then hotter, I braved the still fairly cold waters. Between dips in that refreshingly cool water and strategically parking to catch the shade in the afternoons we have spent a large portion of this summers hottest days here in relative comfort.
Oliver has explored this river in so many ways in the time we’ve been here. He’s spent hours building dams and experimenting with redirecting little streams of water through the rocks. Digging little pools at the edge of the water that will warm up slightly in the sun. Floating on a tube down the river then jumping off, making his way back up river and doing it all over again. Scooping up the tiny fish out of the river, watching them swim around in a bucket for a time before releasing them back into the river again. Making boats out of sticks and twigs and having boat races. Skimming stones and throwing sticks. His imagination when he is playing in places like this is endless.
Having this place as our backyard guarantees a week that flows smoothly. With plenty of time in nature, as well as those moments of connection and shared enjoyment when we go swimming together, our metaphorical cups are both full to the brim. It’s the first time we have stayed somewhere like this while Wayne is working. Because I always kind of thought that being places like this on our own during the week with no car to go anywhere just wouldn’t work. We’d feel isolated and kind of trapped or maybe even not safe. But I was so wrong. Oliver and I even spent some nights here just the two of us while Wayne was away for work. There was always enough of a mix of people around that I felt just fine. As for feeling isolated, well it turns out that I don’t mind that at all. Actually when you’ve been on the road for almost two years you welcome a camp that clears out during the day and gives you a quiet, almost private moment.
I know that when I am looking back at our time in Christchurch our weeks here at Coes Ford will be one of my highlights. Slow, quiet days, spent enjoying everything you could do down by the river.