On the move again.

The last few weeks before we left Blenheim flew by incredibly fast. All of a sudden we were visiting favorite spots for one last time, stocking up on groceries and supplies in preparation for heading to smaller towns for a while and counting down the sleeps till we hit the road again. I would say it was almost more exciting than when we left Tauranga in March, this time there was no hint of sadness at leaving the people we loved behind to temper our excitement, just pure enjoyment of the moment.

We left Blenheim on a perfectly sunny saturday morning and sticking to our rule of no more than an hours travel a day we headed for a spot close to St Arnaud. The drive was full of snowy mountains to admire and paddocks full of sheep with spring lambs in tow. We arrived in St Arnaud at lunch time and decided that we would stop for lunch beside Lake Rotoiti before heading to our camp for the night. We had spent most of a week staying right on the lake at the beginning of winter, it had stolen our hearts with its misty, moody beauty but today it’s beauty was sun drenched, sparkling and just as magnificent. We picnicked with the ducks and enjoyed a walk in the forest before heading on to find our spot for the next two nights at a spot called the Teetotal campsite. It’s a basic DOC camp situated right beside the ice skating pond. Sadly we were a little late in the season for it to be completely frozen over but there was one permanently shady corner where Oliver could play with the remaining ice. It was such a warm spring day that we pulled out the bbq and even ate dinner outside complete with a snowy mountain to gaze upon.

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The next morning as if to remind us that it wasn’t quite summer yet we woke to our most frozen morning yet. There was even ice on the inside of the windows at the back of the bus and an impressive amount of ice on the pond as well. We didn’t have time to linger in the frozen wonderland as we had booked a shuttle to go up a nearby ski field for one last day playing in the snow before we headed away from the mountains. Rainbow ski field was busier than when we had visited Mt Lyford and had two different areas set up for sledding so Oliver was in heaven. He spent the whole day running up and sliding down the hills, barely even stopping to eat his lunch and reluctantly handing the sled back to the hire place only on the threat of missing the shuttle back down the mountain. There is nothing quite like tucking your child in to bed at the end of a long, busy day that they have enjoyed immensely and watching them drift off to sleep within mere moments of their head hitting the pillow.

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The next morning was a lot milder than the previous one and made tidying up to get on the road again an easier, quicker task. We needed one more stop to break up the driving before we made it to the west coast so we stopped at an area called the Lyell historic area. In the late 1800’s it was the sight of a bustling mining community and the start of a road that led through the bush to several gold mines. Now there is a campground and picnic area there at the start of what they call the old ghost road, a cycle trail and tramping track that follows what used to be the road. We weren’t prepared to do the cycling or complete the whole tramp but we did a really worthwhile walk to a spot called the Croesus battery, the closest of the old mining sites. On the way you passed the old Lyell cemetery, a handful of old graves, some with headstones intact that tell tales of hardworking men and women who didn’t live the long lives we expect today. Some others have been overgrown by the bush a little and in one a tree had grown up in the exact spot the headstone would have been, I hope that who ever lies beneath its strong roots can appreciate the beauty of such an addition to there final resting place.

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As he gets older Oliver is finding walks like this more interesting and is more able to grasp the history side of it. The battery itself is rather intact due to the fact that it was simply to hard for the metal components to be hauled away for scrap once the mine closed, having that visual evidence for him to see really helps to bring everything to life in his young mind. So much so that he was a horse hauling a cart down the old ghost road on the way back to the bus, then we all had to have turns at being the ghost chasing the others off our road and competing as to who had the scariest ghost sounds. This was a great little adventure on our way through to the west coast, so far being back on the road was living up to all our expectations.

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Whispering Falls

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A short drive from Nelson we found a great little walk to fill one of our mornings with. It was an estimated hours walk to the falls. The track followed a quiet forestry road to start with before you find the track which continues to follow along side the river. The track is relatively flat and there is a swingbridge to cross over the river in one spot. There is one bridge that has been washed away so a brief but bone chilling walk through the water is necessary. The river itself is clear and blue with lot’s of deep swimming hole’s that would be wonderful in summer.

After an hours easy walk you cross a bridge to see a small trickle of water coming down the hill. For a moment it’s unclear where the track continues on and we all questioned if we had just walked to see the worlds tiniest waterfall. But from here it’s a short climb up the hill and around the corner for a walk through a very enchanting piece of bush. The water flows through part of the track so it’s a bit soggy, but short lived and slightly damp toes are worth it for what you find.

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The name whispering falls feels very appropriate, the water falling like a natural shower along the cliff sounds like a million soft drops falling rather than the dull roar of larger falls. You can climb right up under the falls though we didn’t, but again this would be a great summer time destination for a cool off.

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The falls are situated firmly in the shade at this time of the year, so much so that the hill you climb up from the river that is probably just as damp as the track further up in summer, is full of ice and frozen mud. So it was not a long visit to the falls, just long enough to take in its soothing beauty and then back down to find a dry rock to perch on for our lunch. Then it was an easy walk back out on the same track, a repeat of our cold walk across the river being the most challenging part. This was the first bush walk we had done since St Arnaud and watching Oliver on the way out reminded me of how important it is that this is a regular part of our life. From a very young age he has always seemed to find time in the outdoors very enjoyable, its evident if you just stand back and watch for a moment how good it is for his mental well-being. No matter how grumpy or un motivated he is at the start of a walk, by the end of it he is smiling, normally brimming over with energy and quite content with what the day has brought him. He is not the only one who feels it’s benefits. So even now in this time where we don’t have every day to do with as we want we will make the effort to fit in a bush walk once a week. In the interest of our mental clarity, well being and of course in the interest of fun.

Devil’s Boots

Every now and then when walking you will come across a track that takes you considerably longer than the suggested time frame. Maybe the track isn’t well maintained, maybe the suggested time frame is a bit optimistic and maybe you just move a bit slower than the people they thought would attempt this track. Now normally with Oliver in tow we add half an hour to most times when planning, so the suggested time of 2 hours and 40 minutes was probably going to take us 3 and a bit. When we arrived at the track we found you had to park up and walk around ten minutes through farm land to get to the start of the track.

This whole walk had been Wayne’s suggestion, he spied a place on the map called Devils boots and a track there to the Aorere caves and Druggans Dam and it was somewhere he just had to explore. On our drive in Oliver had renamed the track the devil track – perhaps he knew something we did not?

The first part of the walk to the caves was quite a climb and took us much longer than the 45 minutes suggested. But was all worth it on finding two caves, one quite large called the ballroom cave, you can easily walk inside and explore a smaller tunnel, all safe and achievable for children and Mum’s who sometimes struggle with their balance. If I was to do this track again I would turn around here, which is probably what a lot of people do.

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We wanted to have lunch by the dam so carried on. The track became narrower and narrower and very overgrown with gorse in places. So after finding the dam and enjoying a well earned lunch, we decided to head back via the 4wd track (something I would normally avoid!) it had the same suggested. And then Wayne tempted fate and said ‘It can’t be any worse than the gorse’ Well in my opinion it sure was; very muddy, slippery, very slow going. The only redeeming feature was going this way we did get some awesome views.

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Just on five hours later we made it back to the car. And as I peeled Oliver’s muddy shoes and wet socks off his little feet while he devoured whatever snacks were closest at hand I was so proud of this kid. I know he found this walk really hard at times, but he didn’t once say he couldn’t do it, he didn’t once ask to be carried. He simply kept going and even at the very end he had a smile on his little face and was making silly little boy jokes. This kid amazes me and he inspires me, because if he can do these things I sure can to….

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.

 

Totaranui Bay

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At the end of a windy, narrow dirt road about 30 kms from Takaka is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been lucky enough to visit. Totaranui Bay is home to a gorgeous big Doc campsite, the most golden sandy beach I have ever seen, crystal clear water and tons of walking tracks. It’s the place where a lot of people start the Abel Tasman coastal track, a walk that follows the coastline along the length of the Abel Tasman national park and takes between 3-5 days.

We found a wonderful spot to set up camp, views of the water from the front windows, views of the estuary from the bedroom and most importantly just a short stroll down to that beach. Our first afternoon was filled on that beach. We built sandcastles, explored the estuary when the tide was out and even though it’s late april and the water is rather crisp we all swam.

Our second day here we were keen to do one of the walks that were on offer. So mid morning we headed off to Goat Bay, it was about a 40 minute walk with a stop off at Skinner point for some great views back to Totaranui Bay. I had packed Oliver’s togs knowing he would want to swim at Goat Bay but not ours a move I did regret a little after the climb over to the bay on a surprisingly warm autumn day. We settled for paddling our feet in the ocean and very quickly killed a couple of hours before climbing back over to Totaranui bay and finally having the swim we wanted.

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Another great thing about this camp is that they have fireplaces all around the camp so you can have an open fire. Toasting marshmallows over an open fire was a pretty great way to end such a nice day and I know it’s one of Oliver’s favorite memories from our stay here.

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The next day we opted for a bit of a quieter day, most of our morning was spent riding our bikes around the camp and the little area behind the carpark that has been made in to a little bmx track. Then we took a walk with the Doc ranger and fed some extremely big eels. And in the afternoon it was back to the beach, more sandcastles, more swimming. This day is the pattern many of our camping holidays normally take, it feels familiar in its routine no matter where we are and what beach we are swimming on. Perhaps this is why Oliver is taking to our new life like a duck to water? He seems very content with this new normal, in fact I would go so far as to say he thinks this new life is much better than the old. And I can see his little mind taking in everything around him, there are moments where I can see the learning happening right in front of me. It’s not in a so called conventional way but it is learning all the same and what’s more so much of it is self-directed. As he walks through the bush he tells me ‘tree starts with t mummy’ and then spends a good 15 minutes naming things around him and what letter they start with. We write words on the beach with sticks and he counts things constantly, sometimes even doing basic addition without even really knowing what it is that he is doing. It’s amazing how much a child can just learn all by themselves if you just give them a loving supportive environment, surround them with plenty of varied opportunities to explore the world around them, read to them on a daily basis and give them as much time to play as you possibly can. For Oliver learning seems to be an almost natural thing, always evolving, always growing, always searching for new knowledge. I hope he never stops searching, growing and evolving and I hope I always take the time to see it happening.

Caves, waterfalls and mazes, Oh my!

As soon as we arrived at our camp at Port Tarakohe, just past Takaka I knew this was a place we would enjoy spending time in. We were staying at an NZMCA camp and the location was gorgeous, view of the water, large area for Oliver to ride his bike and close to plenty of bush walks.

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On our trip in I had seen a sign that said Labrinth Rocks, so we decided this was a great thing to check out with the afternoon we had left. If you are in this area with children (or are just in touch with your inner child) you must check this spot out! It is a natural rock formation that is basically a maze and hidden throughout the rocks and trees are all sorts of toys. We spent a good hour walking, spotting hidden treasures and playing a hilarious game of hide and seek. Some parents have clearly had a laugh while hiding toys with there children. I’m undecided which is my favourite, the severly underdressed barbie, the lego man perched in the skull or the many toys artfully suspended in branches – poised for action.

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The next day we were up early and on our way to our first walk of the day. Something I haven’t mentioned about Wayne is he has a bit of a fascination with tunnels and caves. If there’s one within walking distance it’s normally on the agenda for us to go see it. Todays cave was the Rawhiti Cave and had a suggested time frame of two hours return. The track followed the river for a while before climbing steeply for around half an hour. Oliver was like a little mountain goat scrambling up the track, literally leaving me in the dust in this rush to get to the cave, maybe the obsession runs in the family? Once there the climb proved to be worth it, Rawhiti cave is a phytokarst where plants and calcium work together to ‘grow’ the stalagtites and stalagmites. It’s large and open and the water dripping down from the ceiling as the morning sun streams in is quite a pretty picture.

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Once we had rested a bit back at the bus we headed to Wainui Falls. As we drove to the start of the track we got our first look at the golden sandy beaches that give Golden Bay its name. And as we followed the well maintained and obviously well used track to the waterfall we got our first look at the lush rainforest, full of Nikau palms that is common in this area. It is so different to the bush we are used to walking in, it’s so green and vibrant, so alive. It was a pleasant and easy walk to the falls with a swing bridge to cross just to make it a bit more interesting for Oliver.

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That night we took advantage of the fact that the boat club next to our camp opens for dinner on a sunday night and wandered over for a meal. The people who ran the restaurant were all very friendly and full of tips for places to see and things to do while we are in the area. They made Oliver a little man made out of marshmallows to go with his ice cream sundae and let him ride in the service elevator downstairs when we left. I truly think the people we are meeting along the way are just as much a treasured part of this journey as the sights we are seeing. I love to think about what it is teaching Oliver meeting people like this, kind, helpful people who go out of there way to make a small childs day just that little bit more special. I hope it teaches him that we are only strangers until someone makes the effort to smile and say hello. And that no matter how different people might appear from the outside, once you say hello it isn’t hard to find common ground.

The next day we followed one of the suggestions we had been given and did a walk at the Grove. It’s a very short but very worthwhile thing to do in this area. Lovely bush to walk through, lots of interesting rock formations and a great view from the top.

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Our three nights here went so quickly because there was simply so much to do. It had all been great and as if to finish it all off nicely on our last night as we went for our evening walk down past the boat ramps we saw a seal sleeping on the rocks in the last of the days sun. It was the first time Oliver had seen a seal that close up and there is something about there big beautiful eyes that never gets old for me. Truly the perfect ending to three perfect days.