A few nights in Wanaka

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Waterfalls, waterfalls everywhere

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Hello sunshine!

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.

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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.

 

A walk in the tree tops.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Punakaiki

Convincing Oliver that leaving the spot at Fox river was a good idea wasn’t easy. Luckily for us the place we were heading to next was really interesting so once we got going his disappointment faded fast. Punakaiki or the pancake rocks are a fairly major tourist attraction on the west coast, they are a natural formation of flat rocks stacked one on top of the other a bit like a stack of pancakes. We timed our arrival perfectly getting there right on high tide, the best time to see the impressive blowholes that are also a part of Punakaiki. The rocks themselves are interesting to look at as you wind your way around the little path and the various view points. But what really caught Oliver’s attention was the huge waves pounding against the rocks and the water blasting up through the blowholes. We spent quite a bit of time watching the waves build and build and the resulting water spouts get bigger and bigger.

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Wayne and I had both visited here before but only briefly to walk around the pancake rocks so we wanted to see what else the area had to offer this time around. So we opted to stay the night at the camp ground in Punakaiki. On checking in we were told that a walk called the Truman track was a must do so after lunch and an explore of the beach we headed off to find it. It’s not a long walk down to the bay, only about ten minutes or so and best done at low tide or you won’t be able to go down on to the beach at all. The view back along the coast towards Punakaiki is worth the short walk by itself, but what you find once you venture around the corner and down the steps in to the little bay is nothing short of magical.

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Our good timing seemed to be a theme for the day because we had the place all to ourselves as we wandered down to look at the little waterfall trickling delicately over on to the beach. Around a curve in the cliff there was another little piece of the bay with a few small caves that Oliver enjoyed climbing up in to. The beach was made up of millions of tiny pebbles, smaller worn down versions of the beautiful rocks you find on lots of west coast beaches. We spent the better part of an hour sifting through them, picking out our favourite colours and then taking turns at burying each others feet in them.

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We took other people arriving as our cue to leave this little slice of paradise. The rest of the afternoon was filled with a trip to a cavern for the boys to clamber through but our time at that perfect little beach was by far the highlight of the afternoon. I love seeing Oliver’s appreciation for the world around him growing and growing with all the new places he gets to see time in. He will sometimes stop and tell me that something is beautiful, delightfully mispronouncing it just a little so it sounds like ‘bootiful’. Something about that statement coming from my little boy who is so often splashing in mud puddles, wrestling with Dad and obsessed with doing skids on his bike. Something about it is like a delightful affirmation that although he is growing and changing my sweet little boy is still in there.

 

 

Gold fever

Not surprisingly to go along with his deep love of caves my husband also has a love of old tunnels. Gold mining, coal mining, train tunnels, really just any old hole in the ground that you can walk (or even crawl) through. I find the history behind the tunnels often fascinating and don’t mind a walk through the bush to find them, my tolerance for clambering through them is not as high, luckily now Oliver is keen to clamber through with his Dad I am able to opt out of the darker, more dingy looking tunnels in favour of a quiet moment in the bush while they explore. Our last few weeks Wayne and Oliver have been in absolute heaven with all the old mining areas we have come across to explore, the history of mining here on the coast is extensive. So to avoid all my west coast posts sounding like mines, mines and more mines I’m going to write about them all together – the mining extravaganza you could say!

In the early 1800’s they started mining coal around the Westport area and for many years coal was king here. We visited two really interesting coal mining areas, the first of which was Charming creek. There is a walking/mountain biking track here that follows the old train tracks that were used to cart coal from the mine down to the coast. If you do it in its entirety the track is 3 hours one way to walk, we decided that we would walk to a waterfall just over an hour along the track and turn back there, then drive up to the other end of the track where the mine was to have a look at that. There are actual tracks along quite a lot of the walking track and plenty of mining relics along the way to keep it interesting. There are some places along the track where the track is literally covered in coal and also a few small tunnels to walk through. Just before the waterfall you cross an old swingbridge that was built to replace the old rail bridge in the 1970’s, about halfway across the bridge you start to see Mangatini falls. Even in the spring rain shower that chose this exact moment to arrive the falls were pretty.

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Right beside the viewing area of the falls there is a tunnel to walk through that rather conveniently for us had a board walk built through it and was a surprisingly dry spot to wait out the rain. It eased quickly as spring showers tend to do and then it was an easy walk out the way we had come.

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The second coal mining area that we visited was Denniston. When they found coal here the biggest problem was how to get it down through the steep hills, through the bush to the coast where it could be loaded on ships. So they built a railway line up through the bush, up inclines so steep your head spins a little staring down them, built bridges to span the places to rough to build track on and they lowered the coal down in carts attached to cables. The workers and there families lived on the top of the hill, for years the only way to or from that mine was up those inclines. You imagine those mothers with children in tow making that long treacherous trip, living with the constant worry of the danger their husbands jobs put them in and you see so clearly how much life has changed for us.

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On top of that hill now there is plenty of relics and rubble to wander through. And a great job has been done with information boards dotted around with pictures of what it looked like in its prime, what life was like for the people who spent their lives here. Further up the road we did an easy little walk along another old rail line and after passing lots of fallen chimney stacks from old miners cottages, piles of old rusted cablesĀ  that were used to pull the coal carts and plenty of other debris we finally found one thing that is still largely intact. The old fan house that was used to pump fresh air down into the mine.

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To even things out as we have travelled further down the coast there have been lots of old gold mines to explore. We visited a great little spot in Charleston called Mitchells gully mine, the tunnels here loop through the hill like a little maze and the owner gives a basic but informative chat about the mine, all for the grand sum of $10 per adult. Once you get to Greymouth/Hokitika area the bush is full of walks that boast some mining history. Our favourites where the Cold creek walk, which is a bit of a drive in from Greymouth and the Terrace tunnel track close to the Goldsborough DOC camp. At the Goldsborough camp there is a section of river where you can fossick or pan for gold. On seeing Oliver attempting to pan for gold with a plastic bowl another visitor gave us an old pan he had spare and the boys spent a bit of time trying to strike it rich. You can see how men got swept away with dreams of finding gold and went to these amazing lengths to do so. They dug these tunnels through the earth and the rock a lot of the times with just a pick, a spade and their own back breaking work. I for one find it inspiring, but it also makes me grateful that my time for life is now and I have the freedom to run away in a bus. I wonder if these hardworking men would have understood the way we live and what drives us to do it if it was them looking in at my life the way I look back at theirs.

 

On the move again.

The last few weeks before we left Blenheim flew by incredibly fast. All of a sudden we were visiting favorite spots for one last time, stocking up on groceries and supplies in preparation for heading to smaller towns for a while and counting down the sleeps till we hit the road again. I would say it was almost more exciting than when we left Tauranga in March, this time there was no hint of sadness at leaving the people we loved behind to temper our excitement, just pure enjoyment of the moment.

We left Blenheim on a perfectly sunny saturday morning and sticking to our rule of no more than an hours travel a day we headed for a spot close to St Arnaud. The drive was full of snowy mountains to admire and paddocks full of sheep with spring lambs in tow. We arrived in St Arnaud at lunch time and decided that we would stop for lunch beside Lake Rotoiti before heading to our camp for the night. We had spent most of a week staying right on the lake at the beginning of winter, it had stolen our hearts with its misty, moody beauty but today it’s beauty was sun drenched, sparkling and just as magnificent. We picnicked with the ducks and enjoyed a walk in the forest before heading on to find our spot for the next two nights at a spot called the Teetotal campsite. It’s a basic DOC camp situated right beside the ice skating pond. Sadly we were a little late in the season for it to be completely frozen over but there was one permanently shady corner where Oliver could play with the remaining ice. It was such a warm spring day that we pulled out the bbq and even ate dinner outside complete with a snowy mountain to gaze upon.

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The next morning as if to remind us that it wasn’t quite summer yet we woke to our most frozen morning yet. There was even ice on the inside of the windows at the back of the bus and an impressive amount of ice on the pond as well. We didn’t have time to linger in the frozen wonderland as we had booked a shuttle to go up a nearby ski field for one last day playing in the snow before we headed away from the mountains. Rainbow ski field was busier than when we had visited Mt Lyford and had two different areas set up for sledding so Oliver was in heaven. He spent the whole day running up and sliding down the hills, barely even stopping to eat his lunch and reluctantly handing the sled back to the hire place only on the threat of missing the shuttle back down the mountain. There is nothing quite like tucking your child in to bed at the end of a long, busy day that they have enjoyed immensely and watching them drift off to sleep within mere moments of their head hitting the pillow.

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The next morning was a lot milder than the previous one and made tidying up to get on the road again an easier, quicker task. We needed one more stop to break up the driving before we made it to the west coast so we stopped at an area called the Lyell historic area. In the late 1800’s it was the sight of a bustling mining community and the start of a road that led through the bush to several gold mines. Now there is a campground and picnic area there at the start of what they call the old ghost road, a cycle trail and tramping track that follows what used to be the road. We weren’t prepared to do the cycling or complete the whole tramp but we did a really worthwhile walk to a spot called the Croesus battery, the closest of the old mining sites. On the way you passed the old Lyell cemetery, a handful of old graves, some with headstones intact that tell tales of hardworking men and women who didn’t live the long lives we expect today. Some others have been overgrown by the bush a little and in one a tree had grown up in the exact spot the headstone would have been, I hope that who ever lies beneath its strong roots can appreciate the beauty of such an addition to there final resting place.

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As he gets older Oliver is finding walks like this more interesting and is more able to grasp the history side of it. The battery itself is rather intact due to the fact that it was simply to hard for the metal components to be hauled away for scrap once the mine closed, having that visual evidence for him to see really helps to bring everything to life in his young mind. So much so that he was a horse hauling a cart down the old ghost road on the way back to the bus, then we all had to have turns at being the ghost chasing the others off our road and competing as to who had the scariest ghost sounds. This was a great little adventure on our way through to the west coast, so far being back on the road was living up to all our expectations.

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