When we left our family in Waihi we headed to somewhere we had stayed before but not in the bus, as it turns out there would be a fair bit of that in this trip. But though those places were familiar to us, they were new to Oliver and as usual seeing them new through his eyes brought fresh perspective and fresh enjoyment. Wentworth Valley is a DOC campground nestled in a valley not far from Whangamata. Much to Oliver’s delight there is a ford crossing on the way in and the river runs right alongside where you camp. At this time of year it was quiet and we found ourselves a gorgeous spot nestled amongst the trees to spend a night.
It was afternoon by the time we arrived and we were unsure if we really had enough day left to do the walk that goes from the camp to Wentworth falls. We headed off thinking we would just stretch our legs and do a little bit of the walk. But enthusiasm got the best of us and we ended up going the whole way. It’s moments like this where I really appreciate this new stage of parenting we are in. Oliver is getting a bit older and a bit hardier now. We set off totally unprepared without even a drink bottle but it was fine, we all enjoyed ourselves and arrived back at the bus about 5.30 to enjoy water and a nice cold iceblock while we cooked dinner. The days of having to plan and prepare for even the shortest of adventures are disappearing. In our pre child days Wayne and I were big on spur of the moment fun, we didn’t plan that but it’s there, we’re keen, lets do it. I can see that being a part of our lives again more often now and I’m ready for it.
The next morning we said goodbye to Wentworth valley but we weren’t going far. Just down the road to Whangamata in fact. I have so many childhood holiday memories of this place. For a while there it was a regular holiday destination for my family. I remember fondly days spent playing at the estuary or swimming amongst the waves on the surf beach. Perhaps this is why when Oliver’s eyes lit up and he begged for us to have a swim with him I just couldn’t say no. Even though it was only September and the water was really not that warm yet. Even though the gorgeous sun seemed to hide itself behind a cloud the moment we got into our togs. We had our first swim for the summer (even though it’s not summer yet). Our day in Whangamata ended as all days should when you are holidaying by the beach, with a walk along the beach and one last moment with sand between your toes before you climb into bed.
The next day we headed to another DOC campsite called Broken hills. Wayne and I had spent a long weekend here years ago in a leaking tent in the rain. We still had fond memories of the place and the walks here so were keen to visit in finer weather. Thankfully that’s just what we got when we arrived. Sunshine turning the river a lovely golden hue and enticing Oliver to wade deeper and deeper into the water. A campsite all to ourselves and only a handful of people out on the walking tracks as we did our exploring. Broken hills is an area with a lot of old historic gold mines. We did a really fun walk here that follows the river for a spell then loops up and you walk through a couple of short tunnels before following the old water race back towards where you started. The boys also explored another short track that had lots of little caves to poke your head in and check out the wetas. We ended our day with a laughter filled game of spotlight and finally a plan starting to take shape for where we were actually heading next.
Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
Since our Christmas holiday in the Catlin’s the furthest the bus has been is to Invercargill to sit in a mechanics for a few weeks. So when we discovered that Wayne would have five days off over the Easter weekend it was a very easy decision that we would be heading away. We quickly decided on a destination, the plan was to head down the coast to Riverton then slowly make our way to Te Anau before heading back to Gore via Lumsden. We left Gore as soon as Wayne finished work on the Thursday afternoon and made our way down the coast to Riverton. We found a spot at the local golf clubs car park and settled in for our first night away. The next morning we all woke raring to get out and explore somewhere new. The golf club was only one street back from the beach so our first task was of course a stroll on the beach. Our time spent at beaches has been way to little so far this year and it felt incredibly good to be back strolling along the sand.
It was a glorious sunny morning and very easy to fill it in a little seaside town like Riverton. Playgrounds are normally high on the list of places to visit first when you travel with children, it’s a bonus to find one right on the beach so we can take in the scenery while Oliver gets his dose of play. After that we hit all the hot spots of Riverton, the old train in the center of town, a stroll up to a good viewpoint of the coast and then along the river. Then it was time to head off to our next destination. We headed down the coast further, past Tuatapere and on to Lake Hauroko.
Lake Hauroko is New Zealands deepest lake, it is completely stunning, it is also a long drive down a dirt road to get there. Perhaps that is why it is not as busy with visitors as other lakes in this area. There were a few other people coming and going when we arrived in the afternoon and a few cars in the car park of people making the most of the long weekend and doing some tramping. But by the time we settled down for the night we had the place all to ourselves. This is such a rare occurence and it makes driving down those dirt roads more than worth it. On our drive in to the lake the weather changed and by the time we parked up the rain had started. The great thing about traveling in your home is that we could simply wait the rain out inside the bus and wait for a break in the weather. Which we got just before dinner and managed a short bush walk as well as a look at the lake. Of course with the rain it was shrouded in cloud and all the mountains were well hidden. So we settled in for the night and crossed our fingers that the next day we would wake to a brighter sky.
You can imagine how happy we were to wake to see sunshine breaking through the clouds. But unfortunately by the time we’d taken a few pictures, packed a few things in a backpack and headed to the start of a walking track the rain was starting again. We had wanted to walk up to a lookout while we were here and we set off to see how far we could get and if the weather was going to clear or get worse. We made it about half an hour down the track before deciding that it the rain was settling in and there was no point walking for another hour to get some lovely views of clouds in the rain. So we made our way down to the lake edge and began to walk back to the bus. As if just to reward us for getting out and giving it a go a gorgeous rainbow appeared across the far side of the lake.
Between the intermittent showers we spent the rest of our day visiting the Clifden suspension bridge and doing a bit of caving at some limestone caves nearby. We had planned on spending the night at Lake Monowai but after a tip from some locals we took an exploratory drive in the car first to check out how full the camp was. We decided that though there was plenty of room there it wasn’t the flattest or the driest place to spend a night. So we settled for a late afternoon bush walk to a look out. Again the clouds were thick on the hills around the edges of this lake. But the bush itself was amazing, lush, mossy, full of a huge variety of mushrooms and a few very friendly South Island Robins that utterly entranced our little boy. Once we got back to the bus we settled for the closest spot to park the bus for the night, it was essentially a car park surrounded by a ton of gorse. But when it’s five o’cklock at night and raining all we need is a reasonably flat and firm piece of dirt to park our home for the night, this is where being completely self contained is a truly wonderful thing.
The next day was Easter Sunday and when we woke to torrential rain the best thing to do was pack up so we could get on the road. It was a short drive to Lake Manapouri from where we were so by 11.00 we had the bus all settled in to the new spot we would be staying at that night and we were off to explore Manapouri. After the huge day we had had the day before we were all ready for a change of pace. Miraculously the sun had come out and it was a glorious day. We strolled the lake side path, spent a few hours playing beside the lake and willing the hills to shrug off those pesky clouds. Then of course being easter sunday an egg hunt was needed.
The next day we made sure we were up and on the road relatively early. We were planning to spend our last night in Te Anau and had heard the park we were wanting to stay at could get very busy. Being easter we didn’t want to miss out on a spot. Our plan worked perfectly, the bus was safely settled in well before lunch time and we were off to explore the bustling little tourist town of Te Anau. We braved the town centre long enough for Oliver to explore the playground he had spied on our way in. Then we headed to the wildlife centre which was definetly a highlight for us all. It’s nothing fancy but if you are the least bit interested in birds there is something here for you. It’s one of the few places you will see Takahe, they are an ancient looking bird with their huge beaks and glorious blue plumage. The Kaka’s are both cheeky and stunning. But Neil the Tui was the star of the show for us, I knew that Tui were wonderful mimics often imitating other birds and had heard they could imitate car horns or human speech but so far had never heard it. Neil hopped right on up to the edge of the cage and proceeded to clearly try to talk. This bird had so much character that Oliver insisted on looping back around to say goodbye to him before we left.
After this we made our way out to the control gates which is where you can start the Kepler track from, we intended to walk one of the closer bays and back. But our littlest wanderer was completely not on board with our plan. After about fifteen minutes of urging him on we stopped at the lake edge to see if a bit of a play beside the water would improve his mood. And while we were stopped something we had been hoping for at every lake we had visited finally happened. The clouds began to lift and they kept lifting until you could see all the glorious views. By this time it was well in to the afternoon so we decided the rest of the walk was just not meant to be. We headed back to the car and drove to the other side of Te Anau, the boys found a playground beside the boatramp and I wandered down to the lake to admire the stunning views. The lake and mountains beyond with an array of trees all dressed in their autumn colours was truly a sight to behold. Our whole easter trip had felt like a vivid reminder of why we are doing this, why we are a million miles from everyone we know and living in a bus. To see as much of our own country as we can and to share our love of the beautiful wild places with Oliver. When the clouds lifted it felt like the truly perfect note to end what had been a great trip.
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.
Now it’s finally happening, we are officially living in a bus, travelling the country. Of course the big decision is where do we go first? We decided a little while ago that we would travel the south island first and when we set a leaving date we booked a ferry crossing and planned for a fairly quick trip to Wellington so we would have a couple of days to hang out and explore the capital. It all went pretty much as we had hoped, we spent our first night in Taupo so we wouldn’t have too much driving on the first day. The next morning we spent a bit of time at the playground to run off some of Oliver’s endless energy before a big drive to Himatangi beach. Being in the car we travel a bit faster than Wayne does in the bus so we arrived before him. So it was an easy choice to find the beach and go for a bit of a walk while we waited for the bus to arrive.
It was quite a windy afternoon and they drive cars along the beach at Himatangi, so it was quite an exhilarating walk. Just what we needed after a long drive and a not so exciting day for a four year old. And a vital reminder for me that this is why we are doing this, for these moments we will get to share together now all the time.
Our night at Himatangi was our first experience of what you call a pop or park over property. We joined the NZ Motor home association and along with that gives you access to a whole lot of different options for places to park your self contained vehicles, one of those options is other members who have enough room on their properties will let you stay at their property for a small fee, in this case $5 and for that grand sum we also plugged in to their power for the night and enjoyed a cuppa and a bit of a chat with the older couple after Oliver was asleep. Very quickly it has become clear to us that we will not lack for social interaction on the road, if anything I would say we will have more than before.
The next morning after a bit of a morning bike ride we left Himatangi and headed towards Wellington. We decided to stop at the tram museum on the outskirts of Wellington and take a tram ride to the beach and back. Oliver is fairly keen on trains so this was definitely for his benefit, but it was actually really interesting for us to. A small but well set out little display on the history of trams in Wellington and then the actual tram ride takes you down to a the beach where you can hop off, go for a walk or picnic and catch a later tram back to your car when you are finished.
Once we had arrived back at the station it was just a short drive further in to Wellington where we would stay for a couple of nights. This time in a domain that allows freedom camping and luckily for us had big enough spaces for us to fit in. We decided on arriving that we had done enough driving for the day so spent the afternoon playing at the playground that was literally right next to where we were parked and a little walk to explore where we were staying.
The next day we headed in to the city to do a bit of sightseeing. Wellington isn’t somewhere we have spent much time so we were keen to see some of it while we were passing through. Our first plan was to catch a ride on the cable car, with a nearly five year old boy in tow any large vehicle you can ride in is sure to be a hit and this one was no exception. From there we caught a free shuttle to Zealandia which is an area in Wellington that is protected by a predator free fence, the idea of these is that you eliminate all the possums, cats, rats, mice and stoats – all the introduced pests that kill our native bird life or destroy the native bush that the birds use as their habitats. Once you get rid of all the pests the bush can regenerate and the bird life can thrive, giving the opportunity for birds, that in some cases only live off shore on islands that we have managed to keep predator free to establish a population on the mainland again. It was perhaps a bit too much a tourist’s version of a bush walk for our tastes but had an easter egg hunt going on so was a great way for Oliver to feel like he wasn’t missing out on all the easter fun because we had run away in a bus. After that we went for a little bit of a drive to a lookout and around Oriental Bay, which although windy was very beautiful.
We were staying in the same spot again that night and it was wonderful to be able to head home to the bus in the afternoon and have a bit of a rest, watch the kite surfers who were making the most of the wind that had picked up during the day and do a few little chores. The next day was our last full day in the north island and we wanted to move the bus to a spot a little bit closer to the ferry terminal since our sailing was at 8am. This proved not as easy as we had thought, the first place we checked out wasn’t big enough for us and the second though it was big, was also busy and just a car park by a marina so not ideal for Oliver. We left the bus there and went off to grab some lunch and something fun for Oliver after a morning of driving around a city. But while we were out we decided that actually this wouldn’t suit us and Wayne had an idea of a spot we could park from when he used to do long haul truck driving, it was just a little spot in an industrial area but it was perfect for our needs. We had one other camper parked up with us and it was close to a cycle path so we had a good ride before dinner to finish off our day. And as if mother nature knew that for us the next day was the start of a new chapter as we headed off to the south island she put on a fantastic sunset to end the day with. And though we had really enjoyed our time in Wellington we were looking forward to a complete change of pace and to actively slowing our lives down to enjoy our time together.
So when we dropped our bus off to be renovated we were hoping it would take a month for all the work to be completed. Just to continue the theme of our journey in to bus living the renovations have taken much longer than we wanted as well. But finally almost seven weeks after we dropped her off the day had arrived to pick her up. Wayne had been popping in most weeks to check on the progress but I had only visited once and at that time everything was still pulled apart and not yet put back together. So I was actually a little nervous of what I would find, would I like it? Because if I didn’t there was no changing it now.
Thankfully I absolutely loved the end result. A lovely bathroom, surprisingly compact but still roomy enough to be usable. Lots of extra ventilation, a nice new oven and fridge installed and lots of little touches like extra draws under the bed, a shelf above the kitchen window, a pull out spice rack in an empty space we had beside the oven. And then the fire, I am so incredibly grateful we decided to just go ahead and put in the fire. With a lovely stone tile hearth and timber surround it really turns the space into a little house. Instantly my mind is drawn to those south island winter nights that we will be experiencing soon and how wonderful it will feel snuggled up in front of that fire.
I know the last few months I have questioned at times if we should have just brought a bus that was already in a livable state and didn’t need renovations. I am 100% glad now that we chose to take the risk and buy this bus, we have something now that is far nicer than what I had ever imagined we would be travelling in and something that we hope we will find a place for in our lives long after we settle down again.
It is incredibly hard to take photo’s in such a long narrow space and I fully intend to spend some time figuring out the best way to do it with the camera. I will probably leave that until I have had a chance to put all our stuff in and get all the little finishing touches in place. But for now I actually had better luck on my phone, so here’s a few of what the inside looks like now.
At the moment it feels like I have a huge amount of things to do before we leave and a very small amount of time to do it in. But the reward is definetly worth it at the end so we will just put our heads down and get it sorted. For now I am enjoying all the little exciting things along the way, like turning our fridge on for the first time today and tucking Oliver up in his bed in the bus knowing that this time there’s no countdown until it goes away to be fixed. That this time it’s our home for as long as we choose to be on the road.