We woke to find yet another lovely day on our last morning at the Whitehorse campsite. With weather like this we just had to squeeze in one more walk before we left so we headed to the Tasman Glacier. This was the perfect little walk to round off our time here. It gave us a look at a different part of the valley and a view of Aoraki from the opposite side to which we had been looking at it in the Hooker Valley. It was also a relatively short little climb up and back. Which was easier to coax Oliver in to after the previous days efforts. It also left us enough time to stop in at the showers in the village and treat ourselves to a well earned real shower before we said our goodbyes to this magical spot.
By lunch time we had settled in at a freedom camping spot beside Lake Pukaki. It was a bit of a challenge finding a flat spot here large enough for us but with a location this grand a slight lean was really a small price to pay for the night. We found a walk nearby to a kettle hole which we did largely out of curiosity because we had no idea what a kettle hole was. The walk through farm paddocks felt incredibly uninspiring on the backs of the walks we had done at Mt Cook. The kettle hole itself was pretty uninspiring as well, basically a large hole with a small amount of not to pleasant looking water at the bottom. I am guessing the name comes from a time when you would make the trek down the steep slopes into the hole to fill your kettle. With this one’s location so close to the pristine looking waters of Lake Pukaki it was hard to imagine that trek being worthwhile. The views when you turned away from the delightful kettle hole and looked towards the lake are a far better reason to do this walk.
Our day ended with us all by the lake. It was yet another of those incredibly warm spring days. All three of us had dipped our tired feet in the water. Of course with all those mountains nearby it was icy cold but the day was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant. It really shouldn’t have surprised me because Oliver has such a love for the water. But before long he was venturing so deep into the water that we just stripped him down to his underwear and let him swim. With shrieks of delight he would go as far under the water as he could then he would climb out on to one of the sun warmed rocks and lie in the sunshine lapping up the warmth. Before of course jumping in to repeat the whole process again. Sitting watching Oliver delight in the simple joy of a cold lake and a sunny afternoon gave me just about as much enjoyment as it did him. It was another perfect little moment from a trip that had been full of them.
If you are like us and enjoy spending time in the outdoors then you will know that the weather can have a huge impact on your experiences. I’ve heard completely differing opinions from people on what a place was like solely based on the fact that one had great weather for their visit and one had horrible weather. Historically Wayne and I don’t have the best of luck with the weather gods. We’ve tramped around Lake Waikaremoana in rain that varied from drizzle to downpour and only cleared on our fourth and final day. We did the first day of the Humpridge track in weather so bad the helicopter couldn’t fly up with supplies for the hut and we made it all the way back to sea level without seeing any of the glorious views. We canoed the Whanganui River and it rained every day of our trip. I could go on but you get the point. A little (or a lot) of rain doesn’t scare us, or stop us enjoying ourselves. As long as it’s not a safety issue we still get out there and make the most of it. But there are some places that you really want the weather to play ball. Mt Cook was one of those spots. So when we stopped in Twizel to empty our tanks and top up our groceries we were very excited to see nothing but sunshine in the forecast for the next few days.
It doesn’t take long after making the turn and heading in towards Mt Cook that the views open up. With Lake Pukakis gleaming blue waters beside us and the mountains growing ever larger before us it’s a drive worth putting on your list of must do experiences. By lunch time we had arrived and found ourselves a spot in the DOC camp where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Not only was the sun out in force the day we arrived but it was incredibly warm for an early spring day. We were all itching to get out exploring now that we had arrived so we headed up to Kea point. It’s a short climb up a well used and maintained track. Once you reach the top you can see the Mueller glacier and the terminal lake, as well as a whole lot of mountains. It was such a beautiful afternoon and a glorious spot that we sat here in the sunshine for about an hour enjoying our surroundings. Then when we finally pulled ourselves away to head back down the valley we discovered that your view coming down is just as stunning. I think for me this was my favourite part of exploring here. That no matter which direction you turned in there was beauty.
The next day we had our boots on and were on the track before 9am. We were tackling the Hooker Valley track which is perhaps the most popular day walk in the area. Our plan was that the early start would mean we beat the worst of the crowds. Again this track is well maintained, it’s also relatively flat most of the way so makes the three hour return walk very family friendly. Our little guy found it such a fun track with plenty of swing bridges to cross and rocks to scale along the way. The highlight for all of us was arriving at the lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier. One end of the lake was filled with chunks of ice from the glacier. It was another radiantly clear day and Aoraki Mount Cook is a sight that only becomes more magnificent the closer you venture to it. It was a pretty magical sight and Oliver had a ball playing with the ice on the edges of the lake, it took a bit of convincing to lure him away.
The return journey took us slightly longer than on the way out as tired little legs slowed down. But the few extra stops just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery.
When we did get our tired legs back to the bus we filled the rest of the day with a visit to the information centre in the village which has some really interesting displays about the area and the history of the mountain. It would have been easy to tuck our tired little boy into bed early after this day but instead we sat up long enough for the stars to come out so he could see how magnificent the skys are here. Thankfully it was a clear night and we sat snuggled together in a blanket trying to point out the few constellations we know. But mostly just admiring the milky way and how beautiful the sky really is when you are somewhere as remote as this. We were leaving the next day. Even though we had only spent two nights here this place has a magic that seems to make the time stretch out. In fact it is one of those places that has a special feeling to it, far beyond it’s stunning natural beauty. For me it felt peaceful, quiet and still. Like somehow it has managed to stay whole. To resist any big change by people. To me there is a magic in that, in a place that will remain largely as nature intended it to be. A place that will remain wild. Our days spent walking around these mountains with people I love left my heart full to overflowing. It was moments like this I dreamed of when we dreamed this crazy life into existence. It’s moments like this that make the whole thing worth doing.
We woke at our camp beside the river. Mountains gleaming white and glorious in the morning sun. It was early as it normally is when Oliver stirs. This morning I purposefully lit the fire and bundled him into our bed for cuddles, stories and a slower start to our day. He had left Dunedin with a nasty cold and though he refused to let it slow him down a quieter day was called for. We literally have all the comforts of home with us when we’re on holiday so it makes it easier to push pause no matter where we are, slow down a little and make sure we all last the distance of the adventure. It’s such a great thing when you are traveling with a child in tow. I know this lazy morning meant we all felt a lot more energetic when we did set off for the day. Before we moved on though we wanted to visit a spot nearby called the clay cliffs. After a quick drive down the road and through some private farm land we arrived at the start of the walk. The cliffs are visible from the start and impressive enough even from the car. But once you walk down further you can walk through into an area that has a dramatic ‘badlands’ like landscape. The scale of the cliffs is really hard to capture in a photo but we had a bit of fun walking through it and seeing how far we could climb.
Once we retrieved the bus we headed for Lake Ohau. There are moments when I am driving behind the bus with a beautiful place unfolding itself before my eyes as we drive towards it that I just know it’s a memory I will hold very clearly long after that moment has finished. Long after we are done living in a bus. Probably long after my little boy has grown and gone. This drive in to Lake Ohau was one of those times. It was a crisp, clear day. The mountains were snow capped and lovely. The lake water was the most beautiful shade of blue, a color so lovely that its hard to believe it’s real. The bus with my two loves in it slowly winding it’s way down towards this beautiful spot. In that moment I felt like a very lucky lady.
It was a bit of a drive around the lake to the spot we wanted to stay at. All worth it when we arrived to find we were the only ones there. This is great for us in our big old bus it gives us plenty of choices and room to manouvre into the ideal spot. It’s even better when it stays empty for the whole afternoon and only a few other people come in for the night. I know I am greedy but places like this are just that little bit more special when you don’t have to share them with to many other people. In keeping with our desire for a slower day we didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon. We strolled along the beach and spent a lot of time enjoying the magnificent backdrop. Then once again it was time to tuck Oliver in for the night and make plans for the next day. The next adventure.
We had enjoyed a great first day of our holiday. Waking up the next day. Beside the ocean, the sound of waves on the beach. A glorious sunrise to watch while I sipped my coffee was just about perfection. Oliver had a bit of a cold so I tried to slip out for a walk along the beach by myself but he was having none of that. In fact halfway through our walk he couldn’t resist dipping his feet in the water. Which shortly ended with him running joyfully along in the shallows completely oblivious to the temperature of the water, his current state of health or the affect it was having on the lovely clean clothes he had so recently put on. I chose to borrow a little of his attitude and simply appreciate the beautiful picture my child made frolicking in the waves. Once our walk was over and Oliver was once again dressed in clean, dry clothes we headed on to Oamaru.
Oamaru claims to be the steampunk capital of NZ and we were keen to see what this was all about. So we headed along to the Steampunk HQ. From the moment we slipped a coin into the train outside we knew we were in for a bit of fun. It came to life with lights flashing, sirens clanging, smoke pouring from numerous pipes and even flames erupting from the chimney. Inside Steampunk HQ you are free to wander around, touch what you would like and enjoy this little fantasy world they have created. For us it was all a hit. I really enjoyed the sculptures. While Oliver loved the outdoor area with plenty of things he could climb inside or on top of. Afterwards we strolled lesuirly through the Victorian precinct and down to the pretty amazing playground which is of course steampunk inspired. For us Oamaru was one of those small towns that delivers much more than you expect.
The next day we were up early again. Still full of the excitement of our latest adventure. Today we were beginning to head inland towards Mt Cook. We intended on covering a bit of distance today, which is not normal for us! As well as fitting in a few stops along the way. So our early start was probably a good thing. Our first stop was a tiny little town called Duntroon. We parked the bus and headed off to look for fossils. There are several interesting spots not very far apart here and all just a short walk once you arrive. We stopped at Earthquakes Valley and saw a whale fossil. Then the Elephant rocks where due to the bitterly cold and strong wind our stay was brief. Lastly we stopped to see some Maori rock drawings. Back in Duntroon we visited the Vanished World Centre. To be honest we actually debated whether to stop here or not and I’m so glad we did. With an impressive collection of fossils, including shark toothed dolphins. A knowledgeable proprietor. Even the opportunity to unearth your own fossilized shells. This place was super interesting and very educational.
From Duntroon we headed on past Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore. We stopped at Benmore to snap a few photos of the lovely turquoise waters. Take in the huge dam. Then we were on our way again, keen to find our spot for the night. Just past Omarama we settled in beside a river with a lovely mountain backdrop. Thanks to our early start there was still enough day left for a stroll and a few rocks skimmed. Time to reflect on everything we had seen so far. Plan for what the next few days would look like. Since we had left Oamaru that morning we had been in an area I hadn’t visited before. These are always my favourite trips. Where everything I’m seeing is new to my eyes and you just don’t know what delight may be around that next bend in the road.
When we talk to people about the way we are living I know their minds instantly take them to images of all our fun times and imagining all this free time to just do what we want. And yes there is lots of fun and a whole lot more free time then what we had in our old lives. But Wayne’s still working hard a lot of the time and finding work and juggling how long we will stay in each place is sometimes a bit of a tricky decision to make. It can feel like rolling the dice, stay here with a job earning this known amount but with these factors that make us want to move on, or go on to somewhere new where you have no idea what job you might get. We’ve also realised in the past eighteen months that it’s actually hard for us to say no to work, that urge to take a good opportunity and further your career is very ingrained. This winter Wayne has had weeks here and there were the company he was working for didn’t have a full weeks work for him. Somewhere in the midst of this we decided Wayne would apply for a fixed term contract that we had seen advertised. It would mean staying in Dunedin longer than we planned but we thought that we would have a break before it began and then come back for it, it was after all a very good opportunity. Then the application process was a lot more drawn out then we had imagined it would be so the holiday before it began wasn’t a possibility. I was really ready to leave but didn’t want to stop Wayne from taking the job if he really wanted it. Then the week rolled around where we would find out on the friday if Wayne had the job or not. It just so happened that this was a week where he didn’t have work until later in the week. So we headed to Brighton beach for a couple of nights to make the most of his days off. I am not sure if it was the ocean breeze or the feeling of being parked somewhere new again reminded us of how good the travel is but by lunch time Monday we had decided that actually we were leaving. Sitting around for a week waiting to hear if we had a job lost out to spending that week traveling and enjoying some time together. In the end it was the right decision to make, there are always more jobs and more opportunity’s in the next town we stop at.
Less than 24 hours after making our decision we had left Dunedin, it was a vivid and wonderful reminder of all the advantages of living in a bus. It also felt in some delicious way like we were just running off on some big adventure. Not surprisingly our spirits were all high when we arrived at our first stop for this trip and it was absolute beachfront. After lunch with our fabulous views we headed off in the car to visit a few things nearby. First we stopped at Shag Point to see a few seals lazing in the sun. Then it was on to the Moeraki boulders which we timed perfectly as the tide was on it’s way out. We spent a bit of time exploring these unusual rocks and waiting as the tide went out a bit further to reveal some more.
Then there was one more place to stop before heading back to the bus. By this stage it was well in to the afternoon and Oliver was asking to just head back to the bus so he could play on the beach. I actually considered just doing that but am so glad that we carried on and visited Katiki point instead. We headed past the lighthouse and down the track to what they call the neck, seeing the signs that said we might see penguins but actually not thinking we would, our experience so far has been that normally our timing is wrong for these sorts of things. Today however our timing was so right. It was hard to believe it when we rounded a corner and there were three yellow eyed penguins within quite close distance to us sunning themselves on the hillside. These birds are extremely endangered, so much so that there are predictions that within the next twenty years we may no longer have them on the mainland of New Zealand, only on off shore predator free islands. As I watched my son stand patiently and take in this rare creature it really struck me how horrible a prediction that is.
After that Oliver did get his play on the beach before it was time to tuck him in to bed. I love the first day of a trip. It never stops being full of excitement. There’s always a stupid smile plastered on my face as I drive along behind the bus watching my whole world heading off down the road in front of me. Then that first night after Oliver is snoring contented, tired snores from his little bed, we sit and work out where we are heading the next day. What we want to do on the way and where our stops will likely be. This is pretty much a nightly ritual while we are on the move but that first night has an extra layer of excitement with the whole trip stretched out before us, so much to see and so much to look forward to. This trip was one I was really looking forward to as we were heading for the Mackenzie country and back in to an area I had never visited before. Safe to say that when my head hit the pillow that night I was very glad we had decided it was time to leave Dunedin.
Winter has been chugging along for us in the bus. Wayne’s working and Oliver and I are busy with his learning. But on the weekends we have been keeping ourselves really busy with all the things that we want to do while we are based in Dunedin. One place that has lots to offer and has required a few visits to tick them all off is the Otago Peninsula. I’ve found a few places on this journey that have claimed a wee piece of my heart and this is the latest place to do that. It’s just a really beautiful piece of this country of mine. If you want somewhere to go that you can disconnect from the hustle of everyday life and ground yourself in the flow of nature, then this could be your spot. It has beautiful harbour walkways to roam, wild beaches to explore, epic lookouts to soak in the views, a castle and a plethora of wildlife. All this and it’s less than an hours drive from Dunedin city to Taiaroa Heads.
On our first visit to the peninsula we came with a clear purpose, to find some Sea lions. We had seen plenty of signs at various beaches around Dunedin telling us what to do if we encountered one but we had yet to see one in the flesh. So after a bit of googling we headed to Sandfly Bay, this is not the first sandfly bay I have encountered and I was happy we were visiting in winter when the small biting creatures aren’t present. But on arriving we discovered that this bay is named for the sand that is often flying across the bay because of high winds. Thankfully it wasn’t to bad the day we went, there was a strong, cold wind but no sand flying! As we are discovering at many beach walks in the area the walk down to the beach was via a very steep, sandy track and then down across some massive sand dunes. But it was all worth it when we got to the beach and there were actually sea lions sleeping on the beach. We saw a few lone males snoozing away and a small family with a pup making their way higher up the beach to a sheltered spot.
At the opposite end to which we accessed Sandfly bay is Sandymount Reserve. The advantage of such hilly terrain is clear when you visit here. The views are breathtaking from the carpark alone. But a short climb up to a lookout or quick walk to Lovers leap and they get immesaurably better.
Of course we had to pay a visit to Larnach Castle on one of our visits to the peninsula. This is the only castle you will find in New Zealand and it has a suitably interesting history to go along with that status. Once you have finished wandering the rooms of the castle, taking in the views from the tower and letting your child climb the small winding staircase to the tower repeatedly then the gardens here are well worth a stroll around.
By far my favourite thing we did on the peninsula was watch the little blue penguins come in for the night at Pukekura. When we spent our night in a hut on the Abel Tasman we met a young couple on our evening beach walk who were hoping to see penguins, it was not to be but Oliver remembers that moment and ever since he has often asked if we can go somewhere that he can see them. At the albatross centre at the very end of the peninsula they do evening penguin watching tours so we decided it was something we really wanted to do while we were here. We were lucky enough to be able to do it while my brother and his family were here visiting which only made it even more special. Right on dark you are taken down to a large viewing platform by the beach, they have special lights that won’t harm the penguins eyes so you can see the beach and the well worn path the tiny little penguins are going to take up to their nests. Then you wait for the penguins to arrive, trying to distinguish if that thing floating in the water, in the dark is a penguin or just a piece of sea weed bobbing around. The penguins gather in groups called rafts then make their way on shore in groups and I am not sure there is anything more adorable than the worlds smallest penguin waddling it’s way on to the shore. Unless it’s the way they launch their bodies over the patch of rocks that lie between them and their cosy nests. These are the worlds smallest penguins and clearly designed to move better in the ocean then on land they do not let any of this deter them for long. We made the drive back to Dunedin that night with one little boy so happy that the penguins had been just as wonderful as he imagined, though a whole lot smaller.
Again I am struck with that feeling of how much we have seen and done on this journey of ours. We started with such a big wish list of places to go, things to see and experience. To be honest I didn’t know how many of them we would actually do it was just all part of the fun of dreaming up this new life and a great way to get Oliver involved in the process. But there are some pretty big, happy ticks against that list now and some pretty big happy memories to go along with them. The fact that some of those memories happened in this little part of the country is probably how it stole a piece of my heart.
There is something about this time of year that always makes me really aware of how much of the year has passed us by already. Wayne’s birthday is on the 30th of June and I know this plays a big part in this for me. From there on in it always feels like the year is just sliding away in a huge rush towards christmas. I find myself taking a mental tally of all the things we’ve managed to tick off that list of things we hoped to do this year because even living like this I have a to do list for the year, it’s just infinitely more interesting than its ever been before. This year even though it felt like we were slow to get started on it at the time we are working our way through that list quite nicely.
Of course the only choice when you live in a bus and it’s your birthday is to go away somewhere new. So we spent the weekend beside Warrington beach for Wayne’s birthday. Even in the bus it’s not a long drive to get there from Dunedin and there’s a great little freedom camping spot which is just a short stroll through the sand dunes to the most perfect beach. We had the most beautiful winter days while we were there. Days so crisp and clear the sun sparkles on the water and you shed your heavy winter layers in the afternoons warmth. From the moment we woke on the Saturday morning Oliver knew how he wanted to fill his day, he wanted his spade and he wanted to head to the beach. I love when we are parked somewhere that he can just head out the door with a clear purpose in mind for what he wants to do and go fill his day with it. So that’s how most of our Saturday was spent, sitting on the beach, walking on the beach and watching Oliver dig holes on the beach. Not a bad way to spend a sunny winters day in my opinion.
We have in fact been in beach heaven since arriving in Dunedin. There are so many little bays and hidden treasures to explore. The drive out to Port Chalmers and Aramoana was a highlight for me, with views across the harbour to the Otago Peninsula it’s just gorgeous. We walked out along the breakwater at Aramoana and saw some seals lounging in the afternoon sun. There’s also a short boardwalk out onto the salt marsh here that I think in the right season could be a great place to bird watch, unfortunately a few ducks and the odd seagull was about all we saw.
Oliver’s favourite beach to visit so far has been Tunnel beach. Like a lot of walks in Dunedin it’s a fairly steep track down to the beach but well worth the effort of hauling yourself back up the hill after you’ve seen the beach. I imagine this walk is hugely busy in the summer months as even in the middle of winter there were still a few tourists heading here and a few locals as well. The views continue to get better and better as you head down the hill towards the beach. But it’s not until you are almost right on top of it that you can see the man made tunnel you use to access the little beach below. The tunnel was made by a family that owned the land I think in the late 1800’s so they could have access to a private beach. The beach below is pretty and Oliver loved having a tunnel to go through to get to it, but for me the views of the rugged coastline unfurling before us as we walked down were the star of the show. That is one of the great things for us about doing these sorts of things as a family. Even when we all loved a walk it’s often for completely different reasons. As Oliver is getting older it’s really interesting to hear his take on things we do together and what he’s noticed or enjoyed the most. Sometimes he see’s or points out things that I have completely missed. Sometimes it’s just that simple delight children can find in things that we as adults have forgotten was there. But once reminded it’s easy to see it through there new fresh eyes and share in that delight as well. I hope that even after he is not my little boy anymore I remember how to see the world through that fresh, shiny, joyful filter he’s reminded me of.