It had been six weeks since we left Blenheim behind in search of new sights to see and places to explore. Now as we left Wanaka our travels were drawing to a close for a bit as we planned to stop for another stint of work. We were heading for Invercargill as Wayne had a few contacts there he could approach about work. Slowly we made our way along the Clutha river, we found a spot beside the Clyde dam to stay a few nights and enjoy the cool blue beauty of the water. Then we headed on through Roxburgh and then to Gore where we stopped for the weekend before heading in to Invercargill to job hunt.
One of the first and biggest questions we get about the way we live is how we earn money, how we find work. It is to be honest the part of this whole journey that in the planning stages we just had to confidently tell ourselves we would make it work even though we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to go. Our experience finding work in Invercargill is probably the easiest it could possibly be. Wayne headed out on a Monday morning to start looking for work, by lunch time he was back at the bus having visited a few businesses and employment agencies he had a possibility of a job. By three o’clock he had a phone call confirming he had a job in Gore and would start Wednesday. I now would confidently tell anyone that finding work is the easy part of this kind of life. Not being fixed to one particular town/place is actually such an advantage the fact that the work is an hours drive away is no problem at all and if we are ever somewhere that work isn’t readily available we can simply move on to somewhere that it is.
So now we are settling in at Gore, the funny thing is that this is a town we probably wouldn’t have even stopped at on a normal holiday where time is short. But it is a lovely little rural town, there are plenty of options here for camping and the people here have been incredibly friendly. We even get delivered a local paper twice a week by a nice old gentleman on a mobility scooter flying a pirate flag, nothing says welcome like an old pirate delivering you a paper! We’re also looking forward to plenty of weekends away during this stint of work as there are plenty of places within a few hours drive that we can make it to for a weekend.
The week Wayne started his new job it marked one year since we moved out of our house and in with my parents. I look back now and can so clearly remember how busy, how hard that time was on so many levels, but I also have lots of great memories from that stage of our lives. I’m also so grateful we were brave enough to make that leap of faith, sell up, move back home with my family and then set to work making our big dream a reality. It’s amazing how much a year can change your lives, amazing how much a year can change you.
Our next stop was one I was really looking forward to, Wanaka! Wanaka is simply stunning and after a few weeks of lots of small towns it felt like we were heading back into civilization. The sun was still out for us and I will be forever grateful that we got to make the most of the views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea as we wound our way towards our destination. I also love that Oliver was just as excited as us to jump out of the car at all the lookouts and take in the views of lake with mountains beyond. He is a seasoned traveller now and quite happy to chat away in the back seat, see what he can spy out the window and just enjoy the trip.
We arrived in Wanaka around lunch time and easily found a place to stay at the Albert town camp. Our spot was right next to the river and had plenty to keep Oliver occupied so our first afternoon didn’t take much to fill. The next day we headed into the town which sits right on the edge of the most beautiful lake and spent a few hours at the playground on the lakes edge.
You could easily spend a whole day wandering the paths along the lake edge, eating at one of the nearby restaurants with a lake view and there were plenty of people doing just that. We were organised and had a picnic lunch and a plan. There are lots of walks to do right on Wanakas doorstep and we were going to do the Diamond Lake lookout track. We walked up to the Diamond Lake and then carried on to the first lookout where if the conditions are right you can see the mountains reflected in the lake. There were no reflections the day we were there but the view was still worth the climb and made the perfect place for a picnic. You can climb further up to another lookout where you got views of Wanaka as well but on this day it had already been hard work getting Oliver up the first climb, we decided a further hours climbing with a reluctant kid wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved and quit while it was still a good experience.
We finished our day back at the bus with a BBQ and a play in the river. Wanaka had lived up to all our expectations and a little bit more. Even as we were getting ready to leave we were toying with plans of visiting again on our way through the middle of the island. Places this gorgeous are hard to leave and would be easy to settle in and stay at far longer. But for now we were heading on to see what new sights awaited us around the next bend.
We left the west coast behind us on a gorgeous sunny morning with high expectations for an interesting day ahead. We planned to spend the night at a DOC camp around half way through the Haast pass so had plenty of time to stop and look at things along the way. The drive through the Haast pass has to be up there with one of the most beautiful one’s in the country and you are spoilt for choice with places to stop at and enjoy the beauty. Our first stop for the day was the Roaring Billy falls, as the name would suggest you can hear them long before you see these falls. It’s not a long walk down to the river where you can gaze across at the falls but when you have a child with a growing rock obsession, a river bank full of river stones and a beautiful river to practise skimming stones, you can spend quite a chunk of time here.
We stopped at two other waterfalls along the way. Fantail falls and Thunder creek falls, after the recent bad weather there were plenty of waterfalls for Oliver to spot even from the road. I officially saw the best names for waterfalls ever, Trickle No 1 and Trickle No 2, perhaps made a little better because when we saw them they were slightly more substantial than a trickle.
Once we had finished visiting waterfalls we arrived at Cameron flat where we were going to spend the night. This is a pretty basic little DOC camp but the location is really stunning. After a slow mornings drive from the coast we were in a valley nestled amongst the mountains. We had views of snow capped mountains from every window in the bus and a pretty nice river view if you got sick of the mountains. Also you could walk from here to the start of the blue pools track in less than half an hour. The blue pools are one of the most popular stops in the Haast pass so for us this was a much better option than trying to find room to park the bus in the busy parking lot at the start of the track.
The walk to the blue pools is easy and not long, but very busy. We were now officially at the start of the busy tourist season and we were beginning to feel that our plans to stop soon for a spell of work were well timed. Exploring new places is just more appealing to me when there aren’t to many other people there with us. But in saying that it is wonderful to see people from all over the world enjoying our country and marvelling in it’s beauty. The blue pools is the perfect place to enjoy a bit of natural beauty. The pools are a section of the river that is the most stunning shade of blue and if you are brave enough to dare the freezing cold waters they are calm enough to swim in. A swim was definetly not on our agenda but there were a few brave souls taking a dip, though judging by there screams I think we were right to skip it.
After walking back to the bus all that was on the agenda was collecting a bit of kindling for a fire and settling in for the night. I have been grateful many times that we put in a fire. When we woke the next morning to a world white with frost and ice, I had never been more grateful for that choice. Lighting the fire in the morning and enjoying a cup of coffee sitting in front of it while looking out at snowy mountains has to be up there with one of my best bus memories so far. It’s funny how it really is those small everyday moments lived in such a remarkable setting that make me appreciate this new life we live. As if they bring it all in to focus in some way. I know I will remember that little moment along with all the bigger ones long after we have finished wandering.
Once we made the decision to leave the rainy places behind we moved on from the glaciers and headed towards Haast. We spent one very wet night at a DoC camp by Lake Paringa and when we woke to more drizzle we pushed on towards Haast. When we checked in to a campground in Haast the owner told us the weather was supposed to clear in the afternoon and we both quietly thought it would never happen. After lunch we decided to take a drive out to Jackson Bay, Wayne and I had fond memories of visiting here on a holiday before we had Oliver. That holiday had been very, very wet and the day we arrived in Jackson Bay the sun had come out showing the beautiful bay at it’s finest, in a holiday filled with drippy moments this is one of our few shining golden memories. On our second visit, as if this spot holds some special weather magic, the sun came out again and the little bay was just as beautiful as we remembered.
This far corner of Westland is isolated to say the least. There’s not a lot here apart from a small town with a few accommodation options, a few places to eat and a small grocery store. It felt like as we meandered down the coast the towns had been progressively growing smaller, so it was quite fitting that the final afternoon on this coast be spent in a sleepy little spot like Jackson Bay.
As our trip down this part of the country wound to a close it coincided with our six month anniversary of living on the road. I feel like we have crammed a whole lot of living, travelling and adventuring into those six months. This time last year our life was crazy busy, in the midst of selling our house and getting ready to embark on our new life. Even if we decided tomorrow that our bus days were over the last six months were worth all the stress and hard work it took to shed our old life for this one. Luckily I don’t see our journey being over any time soon, in fact I think our original estimation of two years travelling fell woefully short of what we will actually spend living this way. We are six months in and have really only scratched the surface of what the south island has to offer. And of course we have a whole other island to explore as well.
The weeks were disappearing as we made our way down the west coast, it was almost October and that feeling you get in the last few months of the year of things drawing to a close was starting to settle in. Usually at this stage of the year I have this sense of unbelief, of shock at how quickly the year has gone. But this year things haven’t seemed to rush by quite so much.
The weather had turned bad again as we left Hokitika and since there really wasn’t much we could do in the rain we moved a little quicker than we previously had been, making it all the way to Franz Josef in one drive. There was no way we were passing through Franz without seeing the glacier so we hunkered down at a motor camp for a couple of nights hoping that the forecast was right and a fine day was on its way. On our second afternoon the sun started to come out and the clouds started to lift revealing the mountains. As if it was a sign of good things to come there were some pretty epic rainbows that afternoon, their colours so vibrant they almost didn’t look real.
The next morning thankfully we woke to the clearest skies we had seen in days. As you drive past the little township of Franz Josef and round the corner the view up the valley towards the glacier just opens up and it is stunning. You drive up the valley a little way before reaching the car park and then it’s just under an hours walk to the glacier view point. I actually think the valley itself is almost as impressive as the glacier, rocky, wide and peppered with perfect little waterfalls. To be honest there is not a lot of difference in the view that you get from the first viewing area that is just a twenty minute walk and the last viewing area that takes the better part of an hour, slightly closer, but still the same view.
There is so much more we could have done in around here but by the time we did this walk Oliver had very clearly had enough for the day. Like all little kids sometimes he’s just not in the mood for a whole day of walking, so we headed back to the bus for the afternoon and settled for a bike ride into the little town once he’d had a rest. Unfortunately the next day the weather had turned on us again so we headed on to Fox Glacier in the hopes that it would be slightly better there, alas it was not so again we spent the night at a campground crossing our fingers for a clearer day the next morning. It was slightly better the next day so we decided that we would head up to see Fox glacier a decision we do slightly question now in hindsight. The weather didn’t stay clear, so the walk really wasn’t much fun in the rain and for the first time in a long time Oliver almost gave up half way there. It was around this point in our trip that we decided we just needed to move on a bit quicker until we found some sunshine, this part of the west coast would just have to be revisited in finer weather. The weather was getting to us all by this point, normally a bit of rain doesn’t bother us but I think in this case it was because we just couldn’t do a lot of the things that we were wanting to do. The frustration of having interesting things right there on your back door step and not being able to do them was a bit like torture. We didn’t want to push through doing things in bad weather with an unhappy child, those weren’t the memories we wanted to make. I’m 100% happy we made that choice now, the west coast is just to beautiful to not do properly.
There are many things you have to rethink and do a little differently when you live in a smaller space. One of the big changes is not accumulating new things. My view on consuming and owning things has completely changed in the last year. We really do not need half the things we buy and fill our homes with, I don’t miss any of the many objects that we sold or gave away when we moved out of our house and am determined to not accumulate new things I don’t need. So now we are very selective about bringing new things in to the bus. For the most part it’s actually not that hard, once you make a conscious choice not to buy you simply don’t go in to shops, you don’t put the temptation in your path. And when you do need something you make sure you just buy what you came in for, no impulse buying. Birthdays and gifts just have to be done a bit differently. It either needs to be something you can consume or something you can do.
For Fathers day Oliver chose something we could do during our time on the West Coast and gave Wayne a voucher to do the tree tops walk just out of Hokitika. So before we left Hokitika behind we headed off to all enjoy Wayne’s present. The walkway is set in a piece of bush next to Lake Mahinapua and you stroll along 20 metres high literally amongst the tops of the towering Rimus, gazing down at the lower canopy below. When you are used to walking at the feet of these giant trees it is a novel experience to be able to reach out and touch their leafy tops.
The highlight for Oliver was definitely the tower that climbs 40 metres high to a point where you are even looking down on the tops of the Rimu. He was up those stairs so quickly, calling for us to catch up and see the view from the top.
We stopped in at Lake Mahinapua on our way back to the bus and I was thrilled to find some white heron right on the edge of the lake, slowly strolling around the shallows and searching for fish. These graceful, elegant creatures are one of my absolute favourite birds and their breeding grounds lie not to far down the coast which is probably why we saw a few of them here. Normally you only see them on their own, a bird which prefers its own company. For me those quiet moments watching the herons just do what they always do, unbothered by my presence will be a highlight when I look back at our time in this area, made better because Wayne and Oliver stood quietly beside me taking in the moment as well.
As we moved further south we had spent a few nights in Greymouth parked right by the ocean. The weather was a bit stormy while we were there and watching the huge waves pounding in on the beach was a great way to pass the time. In the end we decided that waiting out the weather just wasn’t possible here, so we headed in land slightly to Lake Brunner. It was only a quick half hour drive there with an interesting stop at the Brunner mine site to stretch our legs on the way. It seemed somewhat hopeful we may leave the rain behind as we arrived at our spot at the lake amidst actual sunshine. So even though we didn’t really do much in our day here apart from a little bush walk and a look around the sleepy little lake side town we really enjoyed our time here.
We wound our way around the lake the next day stopping on our way to walk up to Carew Falls.
Once we left the lake behind we headed to a DOC camp called the Goldsborough campsite. It was right next to a river where you could pan for gold and had plenty of walking tracks to explore from here as well. We tried our hand at the gold panning but no trace of gold lingered in the bottom of our pans at the end. I fear we are destined to be unlucky miners. The next morning we were up early and headed in to Hokitika to find a base for the next two nights. The forecast was telling us that although the sun was out in full force it was not meant to last, so we really wanted to make the most of it while it was here.
Ever since we passed through Punakaiki we had noticed an ever growing number of tourists had joined us at all the places we were exploring, this morning after we dropped the bus we headed to the Hokitika Gorge and it was clear that it was no longer the off season, we would have to get used to sharing our travels with a whole lot more people. The gorgeous blue of this river is worth putting up with some crowds to see though. It is so vibrant a colour it’s almost hard to believe its natural.
After snapping a few pictures of the gorge we left most of the crowds behind and took a drive around Lake Kaniere. We stopped to take in a waterfall and have a stroll down to the lake edge, found a great little DOC camp that would be a wonderful summer spot to camp and then headed back in to Hokitika.
We absolutely fell in love with Hokitika, a small town but it just had such a nice feel to it and the locals have done a very good job of making it visitor friendly. The waterfront is easily accessed from town and there are a few food trucks right by the beach. We wandered along the beachfront a bit then headed to the Hokitika wildlife centre for a bit of kid friendly entertainment. This place far exceeded any expectations I had for it, we fed and touched eels, saw kiwi being fed and had a ball in a great little area where you could catch a crawly – a fresh water crayfish. To top it off if you found a picture of Nemo on your way around the kid’s (big and little) got a chocolate fish on the way out. To top off this perfect day we wandered to a glow worm dell and waited until it got dark and the bush came alive with all the little glowing lights. Oliver walked home after this babbling happily about how great the glow worms were and all the other things he’d loved that day. Like he does at many places he enjoys Oliver asked if we could stay longer and this time I have to say I agreed with him. This is one of the greatest things about travelling your own country so extensively, finding towns like this one and building a long list of places that hold a little piece of our heart.