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.
When we found out Wayne would have a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period it was a fairly easy decision about which way we wanted to head. If we traveled through Arthurs Pass and then back towards Christchurch through the Lewis Pass then we would have explored the final places in the South Island that we so far hadn’t got around to. When we left we were unsure whether we would loop around via Lake Brunner or go all the way to the coast. It is one of the wonderful things about traveling this way, even at a busy time of year you can choose to just play it by ear and hope there’s a spot wherever you decide to stop. A lot of the camps we were staying at run on a first come, first served basis, no bookings and they were we guessed the kind of places that wouldn’t get to busy until after Christmas day.
So we set off with very little plans, enough groceries to last us a couple of weeks and one very excited wee boy. We set off from Christchurch close to midday so our first days plans were purely to get to the first camp we planned to stay at so we would be ready to head out the next morning and see the sights. We arrived at the first spot to find it small and rather busy, essentially it was just a carpark where you can stay overnight as well. We debated carrying on to the next spot which wasn’t far away but since Wayne didn’t really want to reverse the bus out we decided to settle in and see if the majority of the cars would clear out as the day went on. Luckily our patience paid off and we found a spot that suited us perfectly and left us facing in the right direction for a speedy getaway the next day. We eased into our holiday with an afternoon playing platonk and slapping on copious amounts of insect repellent.
The next day we had a slight bit of back tracking to do so that we could visit Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill. Easily visible from the road this is a fascinating little stop. There’s a short well maintained track from the carpark to the start of the large limestone rock formations and then a myriad of unmarked but well worn little paths to wander along as you explore this wonderful area. This is one of those wonderful places that you can really spend as little or as much time as you have and still enjoy the place. With small children in tow it’s the sort of place you could happily while away most of the day playing amongst the rocks. We settled for a fun hour or so before heading back to the bus to carry on with our adventures. As sometimes happens we didn’t end up going very far at all. Probably not much more than ten minutes down the road we pulled in to Lake Pearson to have lunch and decided that actually we’d just stop here for the night. Wayne had been working a lot of hours in the lead up to Christmas and been away from us more nights than we would normally like so I think we were drawn to a much slower pace of travel this time around. So apart from a small drive down a dirt road to find nearby Lake Sarah our afternoon was full of playing on the edge of the lake, trying to entice the mother ducks to bring their ducklings closer and sipping a few cold drinks while we took in the views.
When we set off the next morning it was Monday and we had two nights until Christmas. We moved the bus to Klondike Corner and found a great spot beside the beautiful river with views up the valley to one of the last peaks with snow still clinging to its top. We had one walk that we definetly wanted to do in Arthurs Pass and it was the Devils Punchbowl falls, so this was our first destination for the day. You can actually see the falls from the carpark but it’s more than worth the climb up for a closer peek.
After that we wandered through the little town and took a drive to the lookout at Deaths corner to look at the view of the viaduct we would be crossing as we made our way to the West coast. This was about where Oliver decided he’d had enough of playing tourist for the day, he remembered that gorgeous river we had parked the bus beside and the only way he was interested in spending the rest of his day involved that river. Luckily as it turns out his parents more than share his love of icy cold rivers. By the end of the day we had all had a very refreshing swim and a good dose of time spent basking in the sunlight, soaking in natures beauty.
That night we decided that this was where we would leave our exploring of Arthurs Pass. We were all feeling like spending Christmas at the beach would be a great idea so the next day we got up early to get ahead of the traffic and headed for Westport. We had stayed at a beautiful NZMCA camp there when we explored the west coast, right beside the beach it would be the perfect spot to celebrate on christmas day. Once we made our way down to the coast we were travelling through areas we had already visited so we opted to just keep driving with a lunch stop beside the beach at Fox river being pretty much our only stop. It was so worth it to arrive in Westport, find a nice spot and settle in to just enjoy what Christmas is ultimately all about. Time spent with the ones you love.
Our second Christmas with our wee family just by ourselves was just as lovely as the first. Oliver is still completely in love with the magic of Santa and Christmas but I am at the point where I can see that we may not have many more of those years left. I think I was more mindful this year of just enjoying those little things while they are there to enjoy. Then of course the big plus of having no where to rush off to and only three people to cook for is that we all got to spend most of the day on the beach. So once the presents were all opened and properly inspected, we swam. Then we had a BBQ lunch and of course we swam some more. It was obviously a winning formula because we decided to spend two more nights at Westport and that was pretty much how all our days went. It’s truly amazing to me how many hours of entertainment you can get out of a long stretch of sand, some water and whatever the waves have washed in. By the time we left, despite our best efforts there was sand creeping it’s way from the front of the bus right up to the back. It was even managing to infiltrate the bed. But all the vacuuming it would take to get rid of it was more than worth it for those four days beside that beach.
Once we left Westport we were right in the middle of the busiest holiday week of the year. We could still find places to stay but they were definetly more crowded than we prefer. So we stopped in Reefton and explored a little of the towns history. Then we stopped in the Lewis Pass and enjoyed the views from the top of the pass, whiled away a few hours beside the river and checked out the wall that’s built on top of the Alpine Fault. After this we opted to head back to Christchurch and spend our last days of Wayne’s holiday somewhere we knew would be relatively quiet. As 2019 drew to a close it felt really wonderful that with this last trip we have slowly worked our way all around the South Island. It may have taken us a lot longer than we originally thought but we did it and I for one would not trade one single moment of it.
If you have even a fleeting relationship with social media then the odds are that some places you visit you will have seen photos of from someone else’s happy holiday snaps long before you actually set eyes on it. Lake Tekapo is a place most New Zealanders would probably recognise even if they have never been there. The combination of a gorgeous lake flanked by the mountains and a well placed little stone church have made this a must do photo opportunity for visitors from near and far. I think if we had visited a couple of years ago Tekapo would have felt like a different little town and I think if we visit again in a couple more years it will have grown in size quite considerably. In fact we could see it growing right before our eyes with new houses galore in various states of development. As well as the waterfront area and town getting a lot of major changes. This is progress I know and a neccesary thing when you are going to have to accommodate any ever increasing number of tourists each year. Perhaps even a welcome thing for people who call this place home to see their businesses growing. But it is undeniable that it changes the tone of a place. Don’t get me wrong Tekapo is undeniably lovely. But don’t be fooled by those perfect shots with church, lake, mountains and not a soul in shot. To get a shot without the crowds of tourists takes a bit of creative shooting and quick clicking when you get a person free shot. The best I could do is one with only my own child in the picture.
We spent two nights in Tekapo but didn’t do heaps. I think after cramming so much in to a short spell we were ready for a quiet day. Our good luck with the weather finally came to a pause on our second day here as well. So though we went for a bit of a stroll along the lakefront and a bit of a drive in the car to see the other side of the lake we didn’t take advantage of all the bike tracks here. We did find the most picturesque flying fox ever. The lake levels were quite low when we visited so Oliver also had a ball playing in the mud this had revealed.
It was a grim old morning when we left Lake Tekapo so the trip to Timaru didn’t take us that long. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover when you aren’t stopping along the way to explore. Timaru was really where the ‘holiday’ ended for us and we started trying to figure out what our next move was. We spent a few nights here, briefly exploring the idea of working here or moving on to either Ashburton or Christchurch. I think perhaps because we had a few options we were very indecisive and it took us a while to decide what we wanted to do. But in the end we settled on Christchurch. So we enjoyed a few days in Timaru then headed on to the next place we would call home.
We woke to find yet another lovely day on our last morning at the Whitehorse campsite. With weather like this we just had to squeeze in one more walk before we left so we headed to the Tasman Glacier. This was the perfect little walk to round off our time here. It gave us a look at a different part of the valley and a view of Aoraki from the opposite side to which we had been looking at it in the Hooker Valley. It was also a relatively short little climb up and back. Which was easier to coax Oliver in to after the previous days efforts. It also left us enough time to stop in at the showers in the village and treat ourselves to a well earned real shower before we said our goodbyes to this magical spot.
By lunch time we had settled in at a freedom camping spot beside Lake Pukaki. It was a bit of a challenge finding a flat spot here large enough for us but with a location this grand a slight lean was really a small price to pay for the night. We found a walk nearby to a kettle hole which we did largely out of curiosity because we had no idea what a kettle hole was. The walk through farm paddocks felt incredibly uninspiring on the backs of the walks we had done at Mt Cook. The kettle hole itself was pretty uninspiring as well, basically a large hole with a small amount of not to pleasant looking water at the bottom. I am guessing the name comes from a time when you would make the trek down the steep slopes into the hole to fill your kettle. With this one’s location so close to the pristine looking waters of Lake Pukaki it was hard to imagine that trek being worthwhile. The views when you turned away from the delightful kettle hole and looked towards the lake are a far better reason to do this walk.
Our day ended with us all by the lake. It was yet another of those incredibly warm spring days. All three of us had dipped our tired feet in the water. Of course with all those mountains nearby it was icy cold but the day was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant. It really shouldn’t have surprised me because Oliver has such a love for the water. But before long he was venturing so deep into the water that we just stripped him down to his underwear and let him swim. With shrieks of delight he would go as far under the water as he could then he would climb out on to one of the sun warmed rocks and lie in the sunshine lapping up the warmth. Before of course jumping in to repeat the whole process again. Sitting watching Oliver delight in the simple joy of a cold lake and a sunny afternoon gave me just about as much enjoyment as it did him. It was another perfect little moment from a trip that had been full of them.
If you are like us and enjoy spending time in the outdoors then you will know that the weather can have a huge impact on your experiences. I’ve heard completely differing opinions from people on what a place was like solely based on the fact that one had great weather for their visit and one had horrible weather. Historically Wayne and I don’t have the best of luck with the weather gods. We’ve tramped around Lake Waikaremoana in rain that varied from drizzle to downpour and only cleared on our fourth and final day. We did the first day of the Humpridge track in weather so bad the helicopter couldn’t fly up with supplies for the hut and we made it all the way back to sea level without seeing any of the glorious views. We canoed the Whanganui River and it rained every day of our trip. I could go on but you get the point. A little (or a lot) of rain doesn’t scare us, or stop us enjoying ourselves. As long as it’s not a safety issue we still get out there and make the most of it. But there are some places that you really want the weather to play ball. Mt Cook was one of those spots. So when we stopped in Twizel to empty our tanks and top up our groceries we were very excited to see nothing but sunshine in the forecast for the next few days.
It doesn’t take long after making the turn and heading in towards Mt Cook that the views open up. With Lake Pukakis gleaming blue waters beside us and the mountains growing ever larger before us it’s a drive worth putting on your list of must do experiences. By lunch time we had arrived and found ourselves a spot in the DOC camp where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Not only was the sun out in force the day we arrived but it was incredibly warm for an early spring day. We were all itching to get out exploring now that we had arrived so we headed up to Kea point. It’s a short climb up a well used and maintained track. Once you reach the top you can see the Mueller glacier and the terminal lake, as well as a whole lot of mountains. It was such a beautiful afternoon and a glorious spot that we sat here in the sunshine for about an hour enjoying our surroundings. Then when we finally pulled ourselves away to head back down the valley we discovered that your view coming down is just as stunning. I think for me this was my favourite part of exploring here. That no matter which direction you turned in there was beauty.
The next day we had our boots on and were on the track before 9am. We were tackling the Hooker Valley track which is perhaps the most popular day walk in the area. Our plan was that the early start would mean we beat the worst of the crowds. Again this track is well maintained, it’s also relatively flat most of the way so makes the three hour return walk very family friendly. Our little guy found it such a fun track with plenty of swing bridges to cross and rocks to scale along the way. The highlight for all of us was arriving at the lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier. One end of the lake was filled with chunks of ice from the glacier. It was another radiantly clear day and Aoraki Mount Cook is a sight that only becomes more magnificent the closer you venture to it. It was a pretty magical sight and Oliver had a ball playing with the ice on the edges of the lake, it took a bit of convincing to lure him away.
The return journey took us slightly longer than on the way out as tired little legs slowed down. But the few extra stops just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery.
When we did get our tired legs back to the bus we filled the rest of the day with a visit to the information centre in the village which has some really interesting displays about the area and the history of the mountain. It would have been easy to tuck our tired little boy into bed early after this day but instead we sat up long enough for the stars to come out so he could see how magnificent the skys are here. Thankfully it was a clear night and we sat snuggled together in a blanket trying to point out the few constellations we know. But mostly just admiring the milky way and how beautiful the sky really is when you are somewhere as remote as this. We were leaving the next day. Even though we had only spent two nights here this place has a magic that seems to make the time stretch out. In fact it is one of those places that has a special feeling to it, far beyond it’s stunning natural beauty. For me it felt peaceful, quiet and still. Like somehow it has managed to stay whole. To resist any big change by people. To me there is a magic in that, in a place that will remain largely as nature intended it to be. A place that will remain wild. Our days spent walking around these mountains with people I love left my heart full to overflowing. It was moments like this I dreamed of when we dreamed this crazy life into existence. It’s moments like this that make the whole thing worth doing.
We woke at our camp beside the river. Mountains gleaming white and glorious in the morning sun. It was early as it normally is when Oliver stirs. This morning I purposefully lit the fire and bundled him into our bed for cuddles, stories and a slower start to our day. He had left Dunedin with a nasty cold and though he refused to let it slow him down a quieter day was called for. We literally have all the comforts of home with us when we’re on holiday so it makes it easier to push pause no matter where we are, slow down a little and make sure we all last the distance of the adventure. It’s such a great thing when you are traveling with a child in tow. I know this lazy morning meant we all felt a lot more energetic when we did set off for the day. Before we moved on though we wanted to visit a spot nearby called the clay cliffs. After a quick drive down the road and through some private farm land we arrived at the start of the walk. The cliffs are visible from the start and impressive enough even from the car. But once you walk down further you can walk through into an area that has a dramatic ‘badlands’ like landscape. The scale of the cliffs is really hard to capture in a photo but we had a bit of fun walking through it and seeing how far we could climb.
Once we retrieved the bus we headed for Lake Ohau. There are moments when I am driving behind the bus with a beautiful place unfolding itself before my eyes as we drive towards it that I just know it’s a memory I will hold very clearly long after that moment has finished. Long after we are done living in a bus. Probably long after my little boy has grown and gone. This drive in to Lake Ohau was one of those times. It was a crisp, clear day. The mountains were snow capped and lovely. The lake water was the most beautiful shade of blue, a color so lovely that its hard to believe it’s real. The bus with my two loves in it slowly winding it’s way down towards this beautiful spot. In that moment I felt like a very lucky lady.
It was a bit of a drive around the lake to the spot we wanted to stay at. All worth it when we arrived to find we were the only ones there. This is great for us in our big old bus it gives us plenty of choices and room to manouvre into the ideal spot. It’s even better when it stays empty for the whole afternoon and only a few other people come in for the night. I know I am greedy but places like this are just that little bit more special when you don’t have to share them with to many other people. In keeping with our desire for a slower day we didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon. We strolled along the beach and spent a lot of time enjoying the magnificent backdrop. Then once again it was time to tuck Oliver in for the night and make plans for the next day. The next adventure.
We had enjoyed a great first day of our holiday. Waking up the next day. Beside the ocean, the sound of waves on the beach. A glorious sunrise to watch while I sipped my coffee was just about perfection. Oliver had a bit of a cold so I tried to slip out for a walk along the beach by myself but he was having none of that. In fact halfway through our walk he couldn’t resist dipping his feet in the water. Which shortly ended with him running joyfully along in the shallows completely oblivious to the temperature of the water, his current state of health or the affect it was having on the lovely clean clothes he had so recently put on. I chose to borrow a little of his attitude and simply appreciate the beautiful picture my child made frolicking in the waves. Once our walk was over and Oliver was once again dressed in clean, dry clothes we headed on to Oamaru.
Oamaru claims to be the steampunk capital of NZ and we were keen to see what this was all about. So we headed along to the Steampunk HQ. From the moment we slipped a coin into the train outside we knew we were in for a bit of fun. It came to life with lights flashing, sirens clanging, smoke pouring from numerous pipes and even flames erupting from the chimney. Inside Steampunk HQ you are free to wander around, touch what you would like and enjoy this little fantasy world they have created. For us it was all a hit. I really enjoyed the sculptures. While Oliver loved the outdoor area with plenty of things he could climb inside or on top of. Afterwards we strolled lesuirly through the Victorian precinct and down to the pretty amazing playground which is of course steampunk inspired. For us Oamaru was one of those small towns that delivers much more than you expect.
The next day we were up early again. Still full of the excitement of our latest adventure. Today we were beginning to head inland towards Mt Cook. We intended on covering a bit of distance today, which is not normal for us! As well as fitting in a few stops along the way. So our early start was probably a good thing. Our first stop was a tiny little town called Duntroon. We parked the bus and headed off to look for fossils. There are several interesting spots not very far apart here and all just a short walk once you arrive. We stopped at Earthquakes Valley and saw a whale fossil. Then the Elephant rocks where due to the bitterly cold and strong wind our stay was brief. Lastly we stopped to see some Maori rock drawings. Back in Duntroon we visited the Vanished World Centre. To be honest we actually debated whether to stop here or not and I’m so glad we did. With an impressive collection of fossils, including shark toothed dolphins. A knowledgeable proprietor. Even the opportunity to unearth your own fossilized shells. This place was super interesting and very educational.
From Duntroon we headed on past Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore. We stopped at Benmore to snap a few photos of the lovely turquoise waters. Take in the huge dam. Then we were on our way again, keen to find our spot for the night. Just past Omarama we settled in beside a river with a lovely mountain backdrop. Thanks to our early start there was still enough day left for a stroll and a few rocks skimmed. Time to reflect on everything we had seen so far. Plan for what the next few days would look like. Since we had left Oamaru that morning we had been in an area I hadn’t visited before. These are always my favourite trips. Where everything I’m seeing is new to my eyes and you just don’t know what delight may be around that next bend in the road.