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.
Some days the drive is as much of an experience as the destination. The drive through the Buller gorge to Westport is one of those times, you wind along beside the river all the way down to the coast and it is not short on stunning views. When there is enough to keep a five year old boy entertained just by looking out the window, chatting about what he can see you know it is a good drive.
We arrived in Westport and made our way to our first spot on the west coast. It was an NZMCA camp, right on the beach and with bike tracks running right behind it. For only $6 a night it really feels like we have won the lottery when we arrive at these spots and find we get a view of the ocean from our lounge, that we can have sand between our toes within mere moments of stepping out of the bus. It has been a good while since we have had a spot beside the beach so we were all a little excited to get some beach time in. And this beach proved to be a goody, sandy, big and with an impressive amount of driftwood running the length of the high tide mark, more scattered higher from past storms. Oliver had the joy of being the first to spot a seal on this beach. We were strolling along, I was taking photos and Wayne was skimming stones when Oliver’s little voice calmly says ‘Mum I see a seal on that log’. There it was probably only 15 metres away, a young seal lounging in the driftwood trying to have its afternoon nap.
Westport is only a small town but it was extremely easy to fill the days we spent there. The museum that is attached to the information centre is well worth a visit, small but well put together displays about the local coal mining history kept us all amused for almost an hour. We spent a morning on the cycle trails behind our camp, rode out to the river mouth and watched a ship come in, watched the huge waves tossing a tree in towards the shore and marvelled at the power of the ocean. We built sand castles, collected driftwood and built a shelter around one of the many big logs that are scattered along the beach, roamed the beach in the morning and at night. We also did the Cape Foulwind walkway. The walk goes from one bay up to a view of a seal colony and then along the cliff tops to a lighthouse. It took us just on an hour to get to the light house with plenty of stops along the way to read information panels and gaze at seals.
But I would say the highlight of our time in Westport for Oliver was that there was another family staying at our camp at the same time as us with two children, one of whom was a five year old boy. We saw a few young children during the first school holidays that we were away but since then we just don’t seem to have come across any. So Oliver had a great time playing on the beach, riding bikes and playing monster trucks with our temporary neighbours. He is now keen to see if we can find other children at every new camp that we arrive at and I am glad that it is coming in to summer soon when this is going to be a more regular occurrence. I have no doubt that he is thriving with his main play mates being Mum and Dad, but everyone craves connection with their peers sometimes. For now though it was time to leave Westport behind and head further up the west coast in search of some more beaches to call our temporary home.
The weekend we had my Mum visiting we went to Kaikoura for a few nights. We hoped to have another day at the snow but the weather on Saturday just didn’t co-operate. It wasn’t really hard to fill a day in Kaikoura. We wandered through the charming little town centre. Had a walk around the rocks at Point Keam and saw a few friendly seals.
When we were planning what we wanted to do on our trip we wrote a bucket list of the things that we really wanted to do. A lot of them were little things like toasting marshmallows over an open fire and swimming in a west coast river. But we did pick a few big things to put on there that we absolutely must do. One of those things was to go whale watching but on the Saturday afternoon as we wandered around the beach and watched the wild waves smashing against the rocks it did not look hopeful that this would be our chance to do it.
Thankfully Sunday morning arrived with clear blue sky’s and much calmer seas. We had our tour booked for 1.15 so did a little more sightseeing to fill the morning. Kaikoura on a sunny day is truly beautiful, the mountains with their snowy peaks glisten in the sun and the whole place almost seems to glow with the light reflecting off the snow. Add to that the fact that everywhere you are in the town also has a view of the beach, a view of the ocean spreading endlessly out to the horizon and it is a fairly amazing combination.
When we checked in for our tour we were informed there was a sea sickness warning and though we all decided we were confident enough not to take any thing to aid in preventing motion sickness, when we were warned again at the safety briefing I did have a moment of wondering how rough it was going to be. Once we got on board and headed out of the harbour it became clear that we had struck it very lucky, we had all been out in much smaller boats in much worse conditions and coped fine so today would not be a problem. It would become clearer that we had struck it lucky in a lot of ways as we cruised around looking for whales and other wildlife to look out. We had only been cruising for around ten minutes when we slowed down to take in a pod of dusky dolphins that had come to investigate the boat. After a little while of watching them we were informed that the other boat they had out had sighted a whale so we should find something to hold onto as the boat picked up speed to reach the whale.
As we approached the other boat, a sight seeing plane circled overhead and you could see the whale spouting occasionally even from a distance. When you get closer you can only see around a third of the whales length on the surface, the rest is still submerged. It’s hard to grasp how huge these creatures actually are and even harder to get a photo that does justice for how incredible seeing them actually is. The whales come to the surface for between five to ten minutes to breath before disappearing below with one flick of their powerful tail where they will remain for around an hour. So you can watch them move around on the surface a little, see the water flying up away from their blow-hole as they breath out. And then the moment you are waiting for arrives and that gorgeous tail is up in the air for a sweet, short moment. Once that first whale dove we saw another three in quite quick succession, apparently the average to see is two whales so four felt like hitting the jackpot.
After the whales we went in search of some Hectors dolphins and found a few, though the Hectors dolphins are very rare and live in murkier water where they can hide from their predators. They were very different to the playful, friendly dolphins we have encountered before. They would approach the boat and swim under it to go past but not linger to play in the wake or swim alongside. Almost as if they were aware of there dwindling numbers and tenuous grip on existence and not willing to get to close to something as big as the boat we were in. We even got to see a few seals sunbathing on our way in and got a good view of a seal feeding in the ocean, a first for me. This day felt like the best possible way to tick whale watching off our bucket list. Oliver got to share it with his Nana, we saw an abundance of wildlife and couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. I hope all our bucket list get’s ticked off in such spectacular fashion.
We had spent three weeks in Nelson and after over two months of travelling it felt like the longest time. Luckily for us the opportunity for work in Blenheim came up and we were on the move again. So we left Nelson on a friday hoping to find somewhere off grid and interesting to spend the weekend. The first spot we stopped at would have been a lovely summer spot, but one of winter’s major drawbacks for us is a lot of grassy camps are just to waterlogged and soft for us now, this one we gave a wide berth as you could clearly see other people had been stuck. We arrived at Rarangi beach just before the sun started to drop and just in time to squeeze in a short walk on the beach. Instantly we knew we had hit the jackpot again in this camping spot. The campsite itself is a perfect winter site – gravel to park on! Though we didn’t quite get a beach view from our spot it was just a few steps away and it’s a glorious rocky affair, with views of the hills and snowy mountains in the distance.
Saturday morning passed quickly, Oliver is well used to what new spots mean now and he is quick to jump on his bike, grab Dad and head off to see what they can find. Here there was a playground and pump track just up the road and a cave at the far end of the beach. I made the most of a bit of quiet time at the bus, gave everything a good clean and tidy up, did some baking and enjoyed a small break from the million questions a five year old continually fires your way. After lunch we were keen for a walk so we headed to Wither hills farm park in Blenheim. There are lots of walks in the park and we easily found one to suit our needs. Oliver was charmed by the stepping stones over the stream that we had to cross numerous times and the occasional sighting of some sheep. We squeezed in a short visit to Pollard park to try out the playground before heading back to our spot for the night.
Sunday was another gorgeous sunny day, even the last few nights had not been that cold, I now think the weather was lulling us in to a false sense of security before it delivered another wintry blast. We checked out the Blenheim farmers market in the morning, which was small but had a good range of produce and a few other bits and pieces. Oliver really enjoys shopping at farmers markets now, he’s keen to help pick out the apples he wants and choose the biggest broccoli he can find, like me I think he finds it a far more appealing way to shop than a supermarket. Once we had made it back to the bus with our purchases we decided to head to the end of the beach where the boys had found there cave and then go for a short walk around to a spot called Monkey bay. Monkey bay was tiny but interesting, it had a sea cave that you could walk a small way in to when the tide was out and sea the waves washing through from the other side. Also some more of those views you could just stand and stare at for the longest time.
From Rarangi beach it’s just a short ten minute drive to White’s Bay, a beach we had visited with my parents on our second day in the south island and we did head there for a short time that afternoon to walk on the beautiful sandy beach and explore the rock pools along the edge of the bay. I find it fascinating that these two beaches are so close together yet polar opposites, one white sand and fairly sheltered beach, the other a vast stretch of rocks as far as the eye can see and waves that you can hear crashing in on the beach at night. This diversity and contrast is where a lot of the famed south island beauty lies I think. You don’t have a chance to get bored with the views because they change often.
This weekend made me appreciate our moveable home on a new level. Even when we are having to remain in one spot for work we still have the ability to just head somewhere interesting and spend a few days exploring, no need to pack bags or book accommodation. No extra expense apart from the petrol which in this case we would have used anyway coming to Blenheim for work. Most of all the luxury of having your home with you wherever it is you choose to stop, so whatever the weather brings or what mood strikes you once you are there you are prepared for it all. This freedom means that it doesn’t have to feel like we have stopped travelling for a while, the adventure doesn’t have to pause just because we have.
Since we are spending quite a bit of time in the one spot I thought I would do a little round up of the best things we have found to do in Nelson. Bear in mind these all have to be child friendly, I am sure there is another perhaps more sophisticated side to Nelson that is just not ready to have a five year old unleashed on it. They are not in any particular order, I find it hard to pick just one favourite in any part of my life.
- Tahunanui Beach – This spot makes it very easy to fill a day. The beach is beautiful and with views of the mountains as you take your beach side stroll it’s just that little bit special. Tahunanui also boasts a large and varied playground. With a nature park, miniature train track, beach side cafe, even a library, this is the perfect place to hang out with your little ones.
- Explore the markets – Nelson has so many markets and we have explored a few in our time here. I love a good market so have really enjoyed this side of Nelson’s culture. The weekend markets in the city are amazing and we also really liked a market that we went to in Isel Park. But I think you could pick any one and find something great to come away with.
- Taste of Nelson cycle trail – The place we have been based at in Richmond backs on to part of this track so we have spent a bit of time on it. We in particular enjoy the sections that follow the water, makes for interesting (and flat!) riding.
- Rabbit Island – Just a short drive from Richmond is Rabbit Island. Another great spot for a stroll on the beach, or a ride/walk through the pine forest. There are plenty of picnic facilities out here and I imagine it’s a busy place in summer.
- Matai Valley – Tucked up in the hills the Matai Valley has a bunch of cycle trails and walking tracks. Lot’s of opportunity’s to picnic and enjoy the outdoors.
- Kina Beach – One of the best spot’s we have camped at so far. Literally beach front parking, $5 a night per person to stay and miles of rocky beach to explore at low tide. And if you strike better weather than we did you might try out the outdoor bath tub that you can light a fire under for a lovely warm soak. It’s also a short drive from here to Mapua, a charming little waterside town with a handful of interesting shops and eatery’s.
- Founders Heritage Park – We went here one saturday lured with the promise of a train ride. But we found enough to fill most of our day. There are rail car rides on Saturday’s, displays of old fire engines, buses and even a huge old plane that was used to carry mail across the cook strait, as well as an array of displays on Nelson’s history. Next door is a japanese garden’s and it is close to a well paved, very scenic part of cycle trail.
After our big few days on the Abel Tasman track we were keen for a bit of a rest and relaxation. As our travels after this were heading inland we decided on two nights at Kaiteriteri beach at the camping ground there which is just a short stroll across the road from one of the areas trademark golden beaches. It is literally just around the corner from Marahau where we stayed after completing our tramp so it was a very relaxed drive there and an early check in. And our first day disapeared easily catching up on washing, strolling on the beach and playing on the flying fox at the playground next door. The perfect contrast to the busyness of our previous day.
The next morning we woke to the sound of rain on the roof and the feeling that the winter weather is on it’s way. Deciding that a bit of a day out in the car would be a good way to kill our rainy day we headed back up the Takaka hill planning to visit Harwoods Hole. But when we arrived the rain got much heavier so the 45 minute walk to the viewing area was just not going to happen. Instead we headed to the nearby Ngarua caves.
As we drove down the driveway to the caves it was very foggy and the area really couldn’t have looked less inspiring. But it was something to get us out of the car before driving back and it wouldn’t be raining in the caves so we brought tickets for the next tour. Well as sometimes happens when you go into something with low expectations this cave tour was actually a very cool experience. Oliver knew it would be from the minute they gave us special hard hats to wear, perhaps Mum took a little more convincing.
With only two other people joining us on our guided tour we had plenty of time to make our way through the cave and we spent around 45 minutes walking through, being told the history of the caves and a little about how they are formed. The cave had lots of cave coral as well as stalagtites and stalagmites and one large open area in the middle of the cave which they call the cathedral. Apparently all caves have a cathedral and this is normally the most beautiful part of the cave, this one definetly was. The formations in the cave are made of marble so even the stalagtites that have broken are beautiful because you can see the marble inside. We even got to see some moa bones that had been discovered in the cave and hold a thigh bone of a moa. And at the end we climbed out via a little ladder just to add that little bit more adventure to the whole experience.
It was the perfect way to spend a rainy morning and only made better by the fact that once we arrived back at the bus the sun had miraculously come out. So Oliver and Wayne jumped on their bikes and I put on my walking shoes and we headed for a lookout at one end of the beach. When you live in such a small space there is a real magic feeling when the rain clears and the sun comes out. The outdoors has become so much more a part of our living space now that our house has become so much smaller, so the impact of a rainy day is amplified. Hence seeing that glorious sun breaking through after such a wet morning makes your steps feel lighter and your whole day feel better.
We truly have had an extended summer during our time exploring these golden beaches but it has finally drawn to a close. Perhaps now was the perfect time to move away from the beaches for a while and see what the inland parts of the south island have to offer as well. If it is half as amazing as what we have seen so far I am sure we will love it.