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.
It had been six weeks since we left Blenheim behind in search of new sights to see and places to explore. Now as we left Wanaka our travels were drawing to a close for a bit as we planned to stop for another stint of work. We were heading for Invercargill as Wayne had a few contacts there he could approach about work. Slowly we made our way along the Clutha river, we found a spot beside the Clyde dam to stay a few nights and enjoy the cool blue beauty of the water. Then we headed on through Roxburgh and then to Gore where we stopped for the weekend before heading in to Invercargill to job hunt.
One of the first and biggest questions we get about the way we live is how we earn money, how we find work. It is to be honest the part of this whole journey that in the planning stages we just had to confidently tell ourselves we would make it work even though we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to go. Our experience finding work in Invercargill is probably the easiest it could possibly be. Wayne headed out on a Monday morning to start looking for work, by lunch time he was back at the bus having visited a few businesses and employment agencies he had a possibility of a job. By three o’clock he had a phone call confirming he had a job in Gore and would start Wednesday. I now would confidently tell anyone that finding work is the easy part of this kind of life. Not being fixed to one particular town/place is actually such an advantage the fact that the work is an hours drive away is no problem at all and if we are ever somewhere that work isn’t readily available we can simply move on to somewhere that it is.
So now we are settling in at Gore, the funny thing is that this is a town we probably wouldn’t have even stopped at on a normal holiday where time is short. But it is a lovely little rural town, there are plenty of options here for camping and the people here have been incredibly friendly. We even get delivered a local paper twice a week by a nice old gentleman on a mobility scooter flying a pirate flag, nothing says welcome like an old pirate delivering you a paper! We’re also looking forward to plenty of weekends away during this stint of work as there are plenty of places within a few hours drive that we can make it to for a weekend.
The week Wayne started his new job it marked one year since we moved out of our house and in with my parents. I look back now and can so clearly remember how busy, how hard that time was on so many levels, but I also have lots of great memories from that stage of our lives. I’m also so grateful we were brave enough to make that leap of faith, sell up, move back home with my family and then set to work making our big dream a reality. It’s amazing how much a year can change your lives, amazing how much a year can change you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.