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.
Perhaps the best thing about living in a bus is that even when life is almost normal; your husband has a job, you’re busy teaching your son during the week and keeping the domestic side of life ticking over. The best thing is that the minute friday night rolls around you can crank the old bus into life and head off for anywhere your heart desires for the next two days. Well anywhere within a couple of hours drive! But luckily for us being based in Gore that leaves us with plenty of options to choose from. Now sometimes choosing a destination can take a while, reading about the pro’s and con’s of each spot, weighing your options. But sometimes it can be as simple as reading the name Monkey Island, smiling at such a name given to a beach side spot in a country that isn’t home to any monkeys at all and deciding that finding out why it had that particular name was a priority in your life.
As we made our way out to Riverton and along the coast it was a perfect evening. We hadn’t been at a beach in about six weeks and it was the best feeling to see sea and sand again as we neared our destination. Monkey Island is a freedom camping spot and open to people in tents to so was really busy by the time we arrived. We nabbed one of the last spots with relief before heading down to check out the beach. Monkey Island which gives the spot it’s moniker is a small little island accessible by foot at low tide and by a short swim at other times. Luckily for us it was low tide and the sun was preparing to set so a short stroll across the beach, a clamber over a few rocks and up a few steps gave us the perfect vantage point to take in the sunset.
The next morning Oliver was up early, the beach was calling to him so we left Wayne to have a bit more sleep while we went for a bit of a walk on the beach. There were a couple of brave tourists taking a brief morning swim but apart from that the beach was ours as we tested the water, explored the little creeks that made their way out to the ocean and enjoyed the feeling of sand between our toes. Once I lured Oliver back to the bus he only really paused long enough to eat some breakfast, change into his togs and drag Wayne out of bed so he could take him back to the beach. When I joined them they had settled in beside the top of the creek, Oliver had his spade and a few little toys to play with in the sand. Wayne had found a log to sit on. Apart from a quick dash to move the bus to a beach side spot once some of the previous nights campers left that’s where we spent our whole morning. Oliver dug and paddled in the water, we chatted, relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful spot. Then just to add to the perfection of the whole place we saw a group of dolphins swimming and jumping just off shore. They swam and played for about 15 minutes where we could see them.
Convincing Oliver to leave this beach behind for a bit in the afternoon was not easy, but with the promise of other beaches to explore he got in the car for the short drive to see the nearby gemstone beach and cozy nook. These two beaches are both just a few minutes drive in either direction from Monkey Island. While Monkey Island is smooth sandy and sheltered enough to make it a great beach for kids to play at, gemstone beach is slightly more exposed with glorious windswept cliffs, a rocky stream to fossick in and when we were there a few hopeful surfers. The aptly named Cozy Nook is a small, sleepy little bay with a few fishing cottages, a long drop, a rocky beach and perfectly blue waters.
We returned back to the bus with enough day left to take the plunge and have our first swim of the summer. For me it was a short, freezing affair. I’m not sure how but the boys spent a good few hours swimming and playing in the water. By the time we had a BBQ and tucked our tired little boy into bed it felt like our summer had officially started. The next day we spent a lot of the day much the same way we had spent saturday, stretching our wonderful weekend out just a little bit longer before we headed back to Gore for another week of work, school and the bustle of everyday life. But now with a few more photo’s to add to our growing collection, a few more golden memories to smile over and as always, more adventures to plan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a run of amazing spring weather that had us all breaking out the shorter sleeves and dipping our feet in the ocean to see just how cold it was we woke to the other side of spring a wet stormy day. It called for a slight adjustment in our plans and a straight trip through to our next destination instead of stopping to do a walk on the way. We were heading up around an hour passed Westport to a campground called the Gentle Annie, several people had recommended it to us and since it was in a good location for the things we wanted to do we were going to give it a go. It was pretty much love at first sight when we arrived, the love only deepened once we picked our parking spot overlooking the river mouth and the beach beyond. For us that is normally enough for a camp to rank fairly highly, great views and close to the beach. But this place also has a wonderful little area that in the summer is a cafe as well. Over winter it serves as the lounge area for campers complete with a fire, well supplied play area for children and unlimited free wifi – words that are guaranteed to bring a smile to Wayne’s face. There’s also a great outside area with a pizza oven and a fire pit that would be a fabulous place to relax with a few drinks over summer, also a pretty great place to toast a few marshmallows on a September evening.
This is a spot where you could have filled your time easily without ever leaving the camp. A beach to roam, great spot to try to catch a fish and even some walking tracks to explore on the property. We did a bit of all these things but there were a few places we really wanted to explore from here. One of them was the Oparara Arches. The arches are past Karamea a tiny little town pretty much as far as the road goes north on the west coast and knowing that the road was a fairly steep windy affair we opted to just take the car and go for the day. Because we are normally staying right at or very close to the places we are visiting that day our mornings don’t normally have to start early. We can take our time, do a bit of school work and sort a few things around the bus before we head out to do something. This day however we made sure we were on our way by just after eight and we were so glad we did after the long drive there. All worth it once we arrived and started our first walk of the day.
We started with the smallest and arguably most interesting walk first, to a series of caves that they call the crazy paving cave and box canyon cave. As the name would suggest the floor in the crazy paving cave is cracked and broken like some kind of randomly arranged paving stones. This cave is not to big and you walk through it and then up a flight of stairs to make your way down in to the box canyon cave. Luckily we had brought our torches because this cave went in quite a way and both the boys wanted to explore every inch of it. Once we managed to tear Oliver away from the caves we walked in to the Oparara Arch the biggest of the limestone arches in this area. It is very hard to catch the scale of this arch in a photo as it is just so huge, towering above you like a giant window in a natural ceiling.
The other arch that you can see here is the Moria Gate arch, it’s smaller but you can actually climb down inside this one to a cave like area, sit inside and look out through both sides of the arch. The fascinating system of caves in this area have taken millions of years to develop and in the quiet, coolness of Moria Gate you get a real feel for that. It feels like a place that has been relatively unchanged by people and I hope it remains that way.
After a day spent in such a fascinating part of the country we got to go back to our home parked right beside a gorgeous beach. It almost felt too much to hope for a great sunset to end our day but perhaps this truly is the best camp ever because we got one anyway.