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.
It’s hard to believe that this photo was taken a whole year ago. I remember this moment so clearly, so vividly that it just doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed us by. It was the end of our second day of traveling, Easter Sunday and we had driven straight through from Lake Taupo to Himatangi beach just out of Wellington. Wayne was a little bit behind us so Oliver and I made a beeline for the beach to run off some of his energy. It was windy, the beach was big and wild looking. We were still in the midst of figuring out how we fit in this new life of ours, the days leading up to actually leaving home had been hectic, stressful and a bit hard on our little boy. He had lots of questions about where we were going and how long for, questions that no longer had firm, definite answers we could give. Up till this point that hadn’t sat well with Oliver, but I look back and I can so clearly remember him asking me where we were staying that night, where the bus would be with a confused, uncertain look on his face. I looked at him, took his hand and in one of those parenting miracles I found the words he needed to hear. ‘Lets go find Daddy, I’ll show you where we are staying’ Somehow this knowledge that we wouldn’t always know exactly where we were going but that we would always know where to find Daddy and the bus. Somehow this was all he needed to feel safe and secure in our new life. There would be other minor things to adjust to in the following weeks but from this moment on Oliver was 100% on board with bus life.
So the big question is after a year, was it all worth it? The answer is a resounding and definite yes. Even if for some reason we packed it all in tomorrow and settled down again it would have been the best decision we ever made. Our biggest goal when we set out was to see how much time we could have together and in twelve months of travelling Wayne has had over four months off work. And when he has been working it has been largely Monday to Friday jobs where he is home for dinner every evening. Coming from a background of shift work and crazy early starts this for us has been absolutely life changing. Wayne’s relationship with Oliver has really blossomed with all the time spent together. Our marriage has benefited from the changes to, in fact I think our whole little family unit is stronger. It’s been wonderful to discover that our little unit of three can sustain each other when we are miles away from all the other people who make up our lives. All the beautiful places we have visited, the experiences we have had they are all just the icing on the cake to these even stronger bonds we have formed with each other.
But don’t get me wrong we have enjoyed the icing as well! We have seen more of this country in a year than I imagined we would ever get to show Oliver while he was still a child. We’ve seen so much that sometimes I read back through my journal from last year and there are things that already I didn’t quite remember without a little prompting. Perhaps that is just a sign I am getting old however as Oliver has lots of very clear memories from the past year. I really hope his memories continue to be clear and they are something he can look back on happily as he grows.
It seems kind of fitting that our one year anniversary should roll around just as we were getting the bus all sorted with its new COF, all ready for us to finish up our time here in Gore and travel on to new places. Also fitting that just before our one year anniversary we were visited by my parents. It’s probably no secret to anyone that the person Oliver and I miss most is Oliver’s Nana. So getting to spend a few weeks with them was pretty special. I almost feel this was as necessary as the repairs on the bus, a little spiritual top up only time with someone you love can bring you.
I remember this time last year as we were exploring Golden bay it felt like the summer was never going to end. This year in Gore the summer has ended with a glaring finality. The leaves are falling from the trees and already the mornings are starting with a layer of frost to greet you. I have to admit I am far more at home in the endless summer than these cooler climes, but I am bravely telling myself that it will not be as bad as I imagine. We will light the fire and pile on lots of layers of clothing and delight in a nice hot water bottle at the end of the bed and all will be fine. After all that is one of the things that this new life is about, trying new things and pushing out of our comfort zone. If we are not all fine then I guess a drive to the warmer end of the south island is always an option!
When people find out about the way we are living there are a few questions that are always bound to come up. What we do about school for Oliver is one that we have been asked about lots lately. I have answered this question more times in the last few weeks since school went back then I have in the eight months prior to that. I think that is due in large part to the fact that he has grown a whole heap over the summer break and it’s very clear he’s not a pre schooler anymore. Some people are very puzzled by the whole notion of a school age child not automatically being at a normal school and some of the conversations I’ve had have had me pondering our journey so far with school on the road.
Before we decided to buy the bus the plan was for Oliver to toddle off to school after his fifth birthday as majority of children do here in New Zealand. Since school in one fixed place was off the table we were left with two options. Home schooling where we would apply for an exemption from sending Oliver to school and be responsible for deciding ourselves what curriculum to teach. Our other option was Te Kura which is New Zealands correspondence school and because we are itinerant we qualified for Oliver to be enrolled. I opted for Te Kura for a few reasons, one that it makes my life a bit easier. I did not have to research, plan and purchase resources. Also because the plan is to eventually settle back down and then send Oliver to school I wanted him to be following the same curriculum so he will slot right in with no worries. I have to say that now we have six months of learning under our belt and a new year freshly under way I would actually have the confidence to apply for an exemption and go the other route if Te Kura was not an option.
I feel I have learnt almost as much as Oliver so far in our journey. It has been a marvel to watch him learn to read. Books have always been a huge part of Oliver’s life, he is always down for being read a story, loves a good audio book and we have a bedtime story routine that is near and dear to his heart. It’s been amazing to watch the process through the next steps, from his first eager reading of the simple books they first sent to now just six months of school in where he has a rather impressive amount of words he knows well, some he stumbles over a little and an ever-growing confidence of how to work out new words for himself. There have been several moments with his learning where I can just see a concept click in his brain and a dramatic improvement in something we have been working on, it’s like seeing your child learn to walk all over again in moments like that. And whilst he is busy learning these life long skills I am learning how best to support him and communicate the information to him in a way that he can learn it.
Te Kura has so far worked really well for us, I have found Oliver’s teacher really good and the amount of work they expect us to complete is more than achievable. The fact that Oliver is doing his work at home with no distractions or interruptions means that the school portion of our day doesn’t have to take up that much time. Whilst Wayne is working we have a loose kind of routine, Oliver is the most focused in the mornings so we try to get his school work done then and most days it takes around two hours to do. Sometimes less if he works quickly, sometimes more if the weather is bad and we are stuck in the bus. After that our days are not to planned out. I do try to go out and about somewhere most days even if it’s just down the road to the playground to burn off some energy for a while. I also try to have one kind of fun activity for the afternoon most days. Maybe going to the library or the swimming pools or getting out some paints or on hot days even just a big bucket full of water, bubbles and a few cups for pouring.
I am a big believer in learning through play and try really hard to make sure it still has a place in his days. This comes really naturally when we are travelling and parked somewhere interesting with natural places to explore. He can spend all day absorbed at a beach or building dams in a rocky creek, these are the moments where I know 100% how great this life is for him. But then this summer he has had a great time getting his toolbox out and tackling a couple of little carpentry projects as well as endlessly tightening any screws he can find in the bus that need tightening. I think this is a great side effect of living a life where we have lots of time, time to let him follow his interests and explore the ideas that come into his head.
Probably one of the biggest things people question about Oliver not attending school is how he copes without other children for company. Personally I am not to worried about this side of things. From the moment he was born we attended music groups, were heavily involved in Playcentre for a few years and then he attended Kindergarten from 3 until just before we left Tauranga. He has had plenty of experiences of being around other children his own age, both with me and without me. He has had the experience of making and having friends. Now he’s having the experience of meeting lots of new people all the time of all different ages and walks of life. And when he does run into some children somewhere that we are staying or at a playground or a swimming pool he makes the most of playing with them. Perhaps the fact that Oliver’s Dad is probably the biggest and most fun playmate around makes this less of an issue for our family. Any one who actually knows Wayne will know exactly what I am talking about. He has always and probably will always be a kid magnet, at a family get together if you want to find my husband just look for the trail of children following along behind in whatever game he is currently playing with them.
So far there is nothing in regards to our way of doing school that I look at and think Oliver is really missing out. Sure there are things that are different. But when making a choice to live alternatively it’s really just about whether what you are gaining brings more to the table for you than what you can’t have. And at the end of the day the things that Oliver is not experiencing now he will one day once we are settled down. Personally I would say that for any one out there contemplating doing something with school age children that would require alternative schooling for a time, don’t let it hold you back from your dreams. You might surprise yourself with how good a teacher you actually are! Children are so much more adaptable than you might think and seeing their parents make their own dreams happen is a pretty valuable lesson in itself. If living his own dreams and making the most of time with those he loves is all that bus life teaches Oliver than I am more than satisfied with that.
Our time in Gore is going really fast, it’s a strange thing because life really seems to slow down when Wayne is not working and we are free to take life at our own pace. But within a week or so of getting back to work life is flying by as quickly as it ever did. This time around however we are trying to fill our weekends exploring around the area we are staying in, there is so much that is easily reachable for a days visit that we have been keeping ourselves quite busy.
Invercargill is less than an hours drive away and by far the biggest city that we have been near in quite some time so we have spent a few weekends here. I actually quite like Invercargill, it has plenty of character and charm. We’ve had numerous visit’s to Queens park which is a huge area of gardens, playgrounds, an animal park and an aviary and lots of paths to meander through it all. In fact it is a city that is full of green spaces and gardens galore, when you travel with children you inevitably visit a lot of parks in search of a playground it’s great to be somewhere were the playgrounds are flanked by lush gardens full of peonies and rambling roses. A visit to Oreti beach was an interesting experience for us, where we come from you simply don’t drive vehicles on the beach but here it’s just what they do. We were probably the only one’s who opted to park in the carpark and walk down to the beach the day we visited. A choice we were glad we made after seeing four cars get stuck in the short space of time we were there. Oreti is a big, long stretch of sand with a wild sea on its doorstep. And if you happen to visit Invercargill on a Sunday a visit to the local market will reward you with a plethora of options for lunch, Thai, Korean, Indian as well as many others. All capped off with plenty of tables adorned with cheerful bunches of flowers to enjoy your Sunday lunch time feast at.
Apart from our visits to the big city we have done a few walks in the local area and on one weekend we took a drive to find an orchard to pick cherries. This was actually something I have been looking forward to ever since we came to the South Island. I love cherries but have never lived anywhere that they grow. So we headed in the direction of Roxburgh knowing that we had seen plenty of orchards in that area when we made our way to Gore from Wanaka. It was a scenic drive and really not a long one before the orchards started to appear, many with road side stalls and a couple of options for pick your own fruit. At ten dollars a kilo they were the cheapest cherries this North Islander has ever brought, even cheaper when you factor in the many sun warmed, juicy morsels that never made it in the bags to be paid for. Oliver loved climbing the ladders to reach the ones on the higher branches and all up I would say our visit to a cherry orchard was just as much fun as I expected it to be.
As our time in Gore is coming closer to being over all three of us are ready for our next stint of travel to begin. The planning and anticipating is half the fun of traveling and there’s worse ways to spend an evening than studying maps to find interesting spots to visit. It feels in some ways like we are in a similar space to what we were this time last year, working, getting a few jobs done on the bus while we are in one place and dreaming endlessly of where the road will take us next.
Our time in the Catlins had been an absolute dream, beaches, sunshine and lot’s of time together, but boxing day was our day to head back to Gore so Wayne could get back to work the next day. There were plenty of walks and places we could stop on our way back to break up the driving but we had chosen just two to keep the day a bit more enjoyable. Our first stop was a short walk to Matai falls, they were pleasant enough and the walk was nice but after the three-tiered majesty of the Purakaunui falls we saw the day before to be honest I wouldn’t have missed these one’s if we hadn’t stopped.
From here it was a big climb over some hills for our old bus until we popped out by yet more gorgeous beaches. Here we found a spot to park the bus and headed off in the car to Nugget Point. It’s moments like this that I am so grateful we have a car, the road was narrow and windy then once we got there really busy. Throw in a bit of questionable parking by a few people and even some of the smaller motor homes were finding it hard to manoeuvre their way into a spot.
The sun was out making the water shine the most glorious shades of blue and green as we made the easy walk out to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. And there were plenty of seals and their pups on the rocks down below, lazing in the sun, frolicking in the rock pools their cries echoing up to us on the track high above them. It’s not a long or hard walk to begin with but all this makes it a great walk for families with plenty to keep children interested.
Even though it was really busy when we were here the viewing platform below the lighthouse has been very well designed, with a few different levels to give plenty of spots to snap pictures and take in the view without getting in the way of every one else. The wind picked up a little as we were heading back to the car so it was an easy choice to head back to the comfort of the bus for a bit of lunch before we decided what our next move was. In the end we simply decided that a bit of time playing on the beach we were parked next to would cap our time in the Catlins of perfectly before we headed back to Gore.
For us and our beach loving ways this trip was probably the best Xmas gift we could have given ourselves. I’m not really keen to pick a favourite place we have been or thing we have done during our time in the bus, primarily because it really is too hard. Just when you feel there is one that really stands out you go somewhere new and it steals a spot in your heart as well. Well the Catlins has carved out a little corner in my memories and my heart that’s for sure. And until we go somewhere else that has a bit of that magic feeling to it I will think back on our time there and wonder if we can top that experience.
We woke on the morning of Christmas eve and we had one very excited little boy bouncing around the bus with dreams of Santa in his little head. I was extremely happy that we had a busy day ahead that would hopefully give all that energy a good outlet and the ultimate in parenting wins a happy but tired little person who would fall straight to sleep that night. Because owing to limited places to hide presents and limited time away from child to procure and hide said presents I had hidden them all away unwrapped, and unwrapped they still were. A rookie parenting mistake really leaving all the wrapping till Xmas eve.
Our first stop of the day was only accessible an hour and a half either side of low tide which on this day was at ten thirty. So we were on the road bright and early before joining the crowds of people who were also exploring the Cathedral Cave that morning. The cave is a sea cave and access is through private land so there is a small charge to use the road and track down to the beach. After a quick chat with the friendly parking attendant and a pleasant 1 km walk down through the bush we emerged onto a gorgeous beach.
When the tide is in it comes right up to the cliffs where the caves are so there’s only a small window each day where they are able to be explored, we arrived with plenty of time to wander around and I am so glad we did. The first cave you come to is the Cathedral cave and it’s actually two caves that have joined so you can walk in one entrance and out the other. But there are numerous caves as you stroll along the cliffs edge, some large, some small, some very wet and some awfully smelly. And yes in case you were wondering we poked our noses in all of them.
This spot was by far my favourite place we visited on the Catlins, it’s truly amazing how nature can create something like this with just the water, the weather and a whole lot of time. I don’t always agree with being charged to visit beaches, they just feel like places that everyone should be free to visit, but in this case I can see why. The number of people who were there in the time we visited and how dangerous it would be if people went on the wrong tide mean it needs to be monitored. And if the $11 we paid helps to preserve this place and keep it as pristine as it was then I am more than happy to pay.
After the caves we stopped at a couple of short walks, one to the Tautoko Estaury and one to Lake Wilkie. Then all that was left was a stop at a lookout to admire another sweet little beach down and on to where we would spend Xmas day. Papatowai is a DOC site that’s nestled right beside the estuary and we conveniently found a space right by the track to the beach to make camp. The remainder of our day was spent at the beach where we all braved the icy waters for a swim. Then after the food had been set out for Santa and his trusty reindeer, Oliver headed off to bed and fell asleep in the delightfully quick way that only a tired child can.
The big day itself was the most relaxed and enjoyable day. Of course there was the fun of watching Oliver wake to discover the presents under the tree and the joyous excitement of discovering what’s in those parcels. Then after breakfast we headed out for a walk to some waterfalls and a visit to Purakaunui beach. There’s a DOC camp at Purakaunui and it would be an amazing place to stay but it would take a while to get the bus in along the dirt road so really not worth it for the two nights we had. But the beach and the big rocky cliffs beyond are a sight to behold. After a bit of time playing at Purakaunui we headed back to the bus for a late bbq lunch, an afternoon spent playing with Oliver’s new toys, another swim and a bit more yummy food to end our day. This night as we tucked our tired boy into bed he told us it was the best christmas ever. It’s the most wonderful, reassuring thing to know that just the three of us, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each other is really all that he needs to achieve that. That for me is the best Xmas gift I could have received.
This time last year we were literally spending every spare minute with family. Partly because we were temporarily without our own home and partly because we knew that soon it would just be the three of us in the bus. Now I am so glad that we spent that time cramming in all those moments together, I think it helps in our lonelier moments to have those shared memories to remember. So this years challenge for me as a Mum is that we are about as far away as we can get from everybody that we love without actually leaving the country – so a trip home for Xmas is not an option. So how do I make this an amazing christmas for us as a family and more importantly for a little boy who is still very much in love with all of the christmas magic.
We have always tried hard to make Oliver’s idea of christmas be just as much about the time spent with the people he loves most as it is about all the trimmings and trappings and presents. Because for me that is where the real magic of this time of year is. So the answer seemed to be some time away from our temporary home in Gore so we could make some great memories of our first wandering christmas. We had five nights and there was no question where we were going to spend them. The Catlins had been high on our list of places we wanted to see ever since we arrived in Southland but we knew it was a spot that we wanted more than just a quick weekend visit to, so now we had five nights and it was the perfect chance to tick this off the list. We left Gore on a friday night and made our way to Fortrose, the closest freedom camping spot in the Catlins. We arrived fairly late and the spot was busy but still more than enough room for us to spend a night. After an evening walk along the beach, taking in some Spoonbills feeding at low tide and the few remaining pieces of a shipwreck, we tucked a very excited little boy in to bed with promises of more beaches tomorrow.
The next day we weren’t travelling far. Even with a stop at Waipapa Point lighthouse and a play on the delightful little beach on its doorstep we were at our new spot by just after lunch. Weir bay reserve was another little freedom camping spot, this one beside a beautiful harbour. The tide was very close to being all the way in when we arrived so of course the priority was a play on the beach and a swim for Oliver while there was still sand to dig in.
Once the tide came all the way in and stole all the beach away for a spell we headed off to visit one last spot before the end of the day. Slope Point was just a short drive away from our camp and since it is the southern most point of New Zealand we decided it was worth a visit. It was only about a twenty-minute walk out to slope point and back to the car park, twenty minutes I’m so glad we took as it was surprisingly cool. Rugged, windswept and with no islands lounging offshore in your line of vision it certainly felt like you were on the edge of the earth. I am however very grateful the weather was relatively nice when we visited here, the land and trees tell their own stories of how harsh the weather here can be.
The next day we were visiting one of the main attractions on the Catlins coast, Curio Bay. Curio Bay is home to a petrified forest that is around 175 million years old. You can walk right down on to the rocks and get an up close look at it as well as the fascinating rock pools that have developed beside them. It is also the home to some yellow eyed penguins and if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse of the adults coming home to feed their chicks, we were unfortunately far to early in the day for this delight.
This was another day where we didn’t have very far to travel so we were settled in to our next freedom camping spot overlooking the Waikawa Harbour in time for lunch with the absolute waterfront views. Our afternoon wasn’t hard to fill with water on our doorstep and Oliver enjoying his extra time with Wayne. The Catlins was proving to be just as amazing as we had hoped it would be, I know if we had explored here when Wayne wasn’t working there were a few places that would have tempted us in to staying longer than we had planned. With Xmas eve arriving the next day we enjoyed a quiet evening drinking in the views, with a warm relaxed feeling inside that is so typical of a holiday by the beach.