A wandering Christmas – Part two

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.

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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.

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coming out of the cathedral caves
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a cave monster
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Even the cold, cold water didn’t stop us

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.

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Rock climbing

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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.

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Purakaunui Falls
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Purakaunui Beach
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A boy and a beach

 

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.

 

 

Back at the beach

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.

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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.

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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.

A night in a hut

Before we had Oliver one of our favourite ways to spend a weekend was to find a hut to walk to and stay the night at. There is something about heading into the bush with only what you can fit in your packs, only your own two feet to get you there and back that is just appealing to me on a lot of levels. In the early stages of our relationship I know that the time spent tramping helped Wayne and I build a strong bond, it gave us time out from lives in which we normally worked a lot and often only had the same days off once a month. And when Oliver came along it was a part of our life that I sorely missed. When he was around two, big enough that I knew he would sleep through the night without disturbing other hut goers but still small enough to fit in the carrier on our backs we did a few overnight tramps. But then he grew to tall for that and we got really busy trying to sell our house and organise moving in to a bus. So now that we have the time and before it starts to get to cold we were keen to try an overnight tramp in the south island.

The Abel Tasman track is a a multi day tramp that starts at Marahau and goes all the way to Wainui Inlet past Totaranui bay. Because it’s a coastal track and there are plenty of water taxi’s available it makes it very easy to do just a section of the track. Our plan was to catch a water taxi from Marahau to Torrent Bay, walk to Anchorage where there is a hut that we would stay at for the night, then walk out to Marahau the following day.

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Once again we were remarkably lucky with the weather and as we headed to catch our water taxi we were greeted with a lovely sunny day. After a pleasant little boat ride with a few stops to point out some local landmarks and the seals at Adele Island we were dropped at Torrent Bay. It was low tide, so the boots had to come off and Oliver had to get carried in to shore since the boat couldn’t get in as close. What we hadn’t realised is that striking low tide had other implications to, we had a choice of the low tide track across the mud flats which would take 35 minutes or the high tide track which would take nearly two hours. Deciding that there were lots of other side tracks for us to do from Anchorage we took the easy option and where at the hut well before lunch time. This gave us time to explore the amazing beach a little and get first pick of which bunks we wanted. Oliver was thrilled to get a top bunk with Daddy and I was just as thrilled that I didn’t have a top bunk. The hut at Anchorage is fairly new having been opened in 2013, it has 34 bunks spread over four rooms and a roomy kitchen area with a gorgeous view out to the water. It has quite a few modern conveniences as far as huts go, filtered drinking water, flushing toilets and solar powered lights in the kitchen area, even somewhere to charge your phone. It’s just a few steps off the beach and well used by people doing the tramp or kayaking in the Abel Tasman.

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After enjoying lunch with the resident wekas we headed off for a walk to a lookout. The walk to Pitt head is worth the climb for the glorious view of Torrent Bay and Bark bay beyond it, you can’t quite see Anchorage tucked in around the corner of the headland. From there the track looped around finally coming to another picturesque little bay, the Abel Tasman just seems to have an endless supply of little beaches, most small but perfectly formed.

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When we arrived back at the hut it was to find it and the beach beyond extremely busy. There are some large boats that do tours from Kaiteriteri and in the time we had been away they had dropped off a large school group and quite a few day tripping tourists. Along with them were lot’s of kayakers who get picked up from Anchorage by boat at the end of their days paddling. Certainly you are under no illusions that you are to far from civilization. Oliver decided that a swim was a good idea, though judging by the piercing screams he let out every time he got in over his bottom I would say even he is starting to feel the crispness of the water. We walked the length of the beach and explored the rocks at one end of it as we watched all the people boarding their boats to head home. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and a few games of Uno as the sun started to dip behind the hills. We couldn’t resist one last beach walk before bed and Oliver had a ball with his torch on his head chasing it’s light down the beach. We saw stingrays swimming in close to shore and at the far end of the beach saw glow worms in a sea cave. Oliver couldn’t resist a second look at the glow worms and I found a comfy log to sit on while I waited for them. The moon was up and the stars were just starting to flood the sky, it felt like a perfect moment, exploring a beach at night, feeling the peacefulness that the sound of waves lapping on a beach brings you. It struck me how grateful I am that we took this leap into this new life, it would have been so easy to just let it be a dream, something we thought would be amazing but felt there were to many unknowns holding us back. There are still a lot of unknowns around the corner for us and still some moments where I wonder if we can keep doing this, but those moments are so fleeting. It is easy to chase them away when you have beaches to explore and trails to walk with your family. And whatever those challenges end up being they are worth it for these perfect moments we get to share with Oliver.

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The next day Oliver was up bright and early at 5am, not unusual for him, he has been an early riser since forever. Something I have just learnt to live with, in a hut full of lots of sleeping people it was a bit more challenging. But after breakfast, a few dozen games of uno and watching the sun come up from the beach, everyone else started to stir as well. By 9.30 we had our packs on our backs and were starting the long walk back to Marahau. The suggested time was four hours so we were expecting this to be a big day. The track went inland to start with and climbed quite considerably for a while. Then you dropped down and follow the coast more closely with quite a few beaches you had the option of walking down to and exploring. For some reason Oliver struggled a bit with this walk, he just wasn’t his usual motivated little self, it wasn’t an easy walk and though we explored one of the beaches we simply didn’t have the time to go down to every one of them. This felt like a bit of tease to me and I know it was hard for him to. I feel for me kayaking would have been the prime way to explore this section, that way the beaches and the views would have all been much more accessible. It took us seven hours to get back to Marahau and there were quite a few ‘I can’t do this mummy’s’ by the end of it. But in the end he did and this is probably one of the greatest feelings tramping gives. When you have genuine moments of wondering if you can get there, your feet are sore, your pack is heavy, you feel like your steps are getting smaller and smaller, you are moving slower and slower. But you trudge on because there is no other option and then of course you do make it. You achieve something that you genuinely did not think that you could, you surprise yourself and teach yourself that you are much more capable than you imagined. My hope is that these experiences we are having now will stay with us once life has stopped being quite so exciting. That we will never forget how much we actually can achieve.

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A walk with a nearly five year old

Right from the start this day felt like adventure was in the air. We had a plan – to walk to Anapai Bay, which if we crossed the estuary at low tide and used the low tide track would take us about 45 minutes. So we were all ready to go by 8.30 when the tide was just starting to creep back in.

I’ve always loved walking in the bush in the mornings. Everything seems cool and fresh in the morning air and the birds singing in the trees as the sun slowly sinks through the canopy is like a joyous celebration of the new day. Getting to introduce Oliver to morning bush walks is one of the things we are enjoying lately. He’s really starting to enjoy walking now, as he gets physically stronger and quicker he seems to be taking the time to just enjoy all the things around him as he walks. Considering I am a bit of a bird lover it’s not surprising he’s learning all their names and gaining a little bit of bird love himself. This particular morning the bellbirds were out in force putting on a wonderful morning chorus.

Oliver had picked up a stick along the way, as he is quite often known to do. On hearing the bellbirds song he held the stick up behind him pretending he was a bird, even making up his own little birdsong to sing us. Once he’s done with that he periodically uses the stick to sweep leaves from the track. An extremely friendly fantail starts following us along the track, coming so close at times that you almost imagine you can reach out and catch it. Oliver begins holding his stick out in the vain hope it would land on it. He switches between this and towing it behind him, because he’s ‘a tanker truck’ until we see the sand appear between the trees. Then there is a mad run to get his first glimpse of the beach. And a mad rush by me to get him into his togs/out of his shoes so he has dry clothes left to walk back in.

I had read that this beach was ‘arguably the most beautiful in Golden Bay’ and since we are all totally in love with Totaranui Bay we were all disbelieving it could beat it. At first glance though beautiful we failed to see how it lived up to the title ‘most beautiful’. Then we found the second part of Anapai Bay, hidden behind some large rocks, a smaller beach, small but completely perfect. After swimming, exploring, picnicking and just gazing at the pristine beach and stunningly clear water, we decided an argument could be made for this being the most beautiful beach.

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On heading back to the main beach we discovered quite a few people had joined us at Anapai Bay. So after a bit more swimming, a little encounter with a shag and an attempt at making a dam in a stream, it was time to head home.

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The return journey required a little bit more encouragement for Oliver after all his days busyness. But I’m not above bribing a tired child to the top of a hill with the promise of a few lollies. And a game of Boo, hide and seek – where Oliver and Dad go ahead, hide and jump out to scare Mum when she comes along – get’s him the rest of the way down.

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It is nearly 3.30 by the time we get back to the bus. And Oliver is not the only one ready for a bit of quiet time with his feet up. But it is a happy, fulfilled kind of tiredness after a day like this. And all three of us will end it hoping for another day like this soon.