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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Charming lakes and a groovy little town

As we moved further south we had spent a few nights in Greymouth parked right by the ocean. The weather was a bit stormy while we were there and watching the huge waves pounding in on the beach was a great way to pass the time. In the end we decided that waiting out the weather just wasn’t possible here, so we headed in land slightly to Lake Brunner. It was only a quick half hour drive there with an interesting stop at the Brunner mine site to stretch our legs on the way. It seemed somewhat hopeful we may leave the rain behind as we arrived at our spot at the lake amidst actual sunshine. So even though we didn’t really do much in our day here apart from a little bush walk and a look around the sleepy little lake side town we really enjoyed our time here.

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We wound our way around the lake the next day stopping on our way to walk up to Carew Falls.

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Once we left the lake behind we headed to a DOC camp called the Goldsborough campsite. It was right next to a river where you could pan for gold and had plenty of walking tracks to explore from here as well. We tried our hand at the gold panning but no trace of gold lingered in the bottom of our pans at the end. I fear we are destined to be unlucky miners. The next morning we were up early and headed in to Hokitika to find a base for the next two nights. The forecast was telling us that although the sun was out in full force it was not meant to last, so we really wanted to make the most of it while it was here.

Ever since we passed through Punakaiki we had noticed an ever growing number of tourists had joined us at all the places we were exploring, this morning after we dropped the bus we headed to the Hokitika Gorge and it was clear that it was no longer the off season, we would have to get used to sharing our travels with a whole lot more people. The gorgeous blue of this river is worth putting up with some crowds to see though. It is so vibrant a colour it’s almost hard to believe its natural.

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After snapping a few pictures of the gorge we left most of the crowds behind and took a drive around Lake Kaniere. We stopped to take in a waterfall and have a stroll down to the lake edge, found a great little DOC camp that would be a wonderful summer spot to camp and then headed back in to Hokitika.

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We absolutely fell in love with Hokitika, a small town but it just had such a nice feel to it and the locals have done a very good job of making it visitor friendly. The waterfront is easily accessed from town and there are a few food trucks right by the beach. We wandered along the beachfront a bit then headed to the Hokitika wildlife centre for a bit of kid friendly entertainment. This place far exceeded any expectations I had for it, we fed and touched eels, saw kiwi being fed and had a ball in a great little area where you could catch a crawly – a fresh water crayfish. To top it off if you found a picture of Nemo on your way around the kid’s (big and little) got a chocolate fish on the way out. To top off this perfect day we wandered to a glow worm dell and waited until it got dark and the bush came alive with all the little glowing lights. Oliver walked home after this babbling happily about how great the glow worms were and all the other things he’d loved that day. Like he does at many places he enjoys Oliver asked if we could stay longer and this time I have to say I agreed with him. This is one of the greatest things about travelling your own country so extensively, finding towns like this one and building a long list of places that hold a little piece of our heart.

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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.

 

 

School on the move.

After four nights at the Gentle Annie we reluctantly left that magical spot behind. We headed back to Westport for a night so we could do some of the everyday jobs that needed to be done. Top up on some groceries, empty and refill our water tanks and collect some mail my Mum was forwarding on to us. Oliver’s school work mostly comes by mail so this is a fairly regular part of our lives now, Mum will send a package with everything that has arrived for us to the post office wherever we are going to be and we simply collect it from there.

When we were travelling at the beginning of the year Oliver wasn’t enrolled in Te Kura yet so fitting in school work around our adventures wasn’t a consideration. These last few weeks have been our first attempt at fitting it all in. The first week we were a bit casual, missing some days, doing just a little bit on others. Because it’s our first week with Wayne back in the mix and Oliver was just so excited about that it just felt right to go with the flow. Also that’s the whole point of doing correspondence, of living this way, that you can decide when you are going to do things. But after that things naturally just found a little rhythm. If it’s a wet day then of course we do quite a bit of school work! The days that we are busy we do around an hours worth of work in the morning before we head out or on the odd day we have slotted that hour in the afternoon, but it does generally go smoother earlier in the day. And at least once a week we try to stay in one spot for more than one night and not do heaps on the day where we aren’t moving. This day serves lot’s of purposes. We catch our breath, have a bit of a rest. We can do some school work without rushing through it to get on to something more fun.

After we left Westport we had one of these quiet days that ended up feeling like days like this were the best thing about our new life. We had spent a night in Charleston a little town not far from Westport and taken a train trip into the bush that they have there. For our little train lover it was a real hit. After that we ambled just a little further down the coast and found a freedom camping spot that is one of our best finds so far. It’s just a carpark beside a river mouth with a view of an old bridge and some fairly nice new loos. But if you take a quick stroll down past the old bridge and under a new one you are on the beach. A rather lovely beach with sea caves you can get to at low tide.

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It was an easy choice to spend another night here. We woke up slowly the next morning and eventually made our way through some school work. Around eleven we headed down to the beach for a walk. As we strolled in the windy, overcast day that we had been given I felt deep down how incredible it is to live this way. I have said before I am not sure how we will go back to a normal life, lets just say I still wonder that! Moments like this make me very aware that we actually require very little to be our happiest. Being together, feeling like we have achieved something with our day and a bit of time spent in nature, it is really all it took to feel completely and utterly content with life.

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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.

 

Could this be the best campground ever?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Beachside living.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.