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.
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.
Our last week before we left Gore we had the worst stretch of weather we have probably had in the whole time we have lived in the bus. It was very wet, very windy and just generally cold and miserable. For six long days. It made the week feel like it was stretching on and on for ever. It tested my patience and the limits of how long Oliver can spend cooped up in a small space. But finally Friday arrived, Wayne toddled off to work for the last time and we celebrated as we saw the sun coming out. We made the most of Wayne finishing up a few hours early, said our goodbyes to the other campers and headed off to Lumsden. Lumsden is really unique in that they allow freedom camping right in there town centre. We arrived just as the sun was going down and settled in to our spot with a view of the playground out one window and an old train out the other.
The next morning we were keen to get moving. For the first part of this trip we were heading to spend some time exploring Milford Sounds. I’ve been lucky enough to visit here before and couldn’t wait to do it with a bit more time up my sleeve. I also couldn’t wait to share it with Oliver. So when we arrived in Te Anau to find more rain we hunkered down in the bus for the afternoon and hoped for the weather to clear for us. We got all we hoped for and more the next day when we woke to a frosty morning and clear skies.
You lose cell phone reception not long after leaving Te Anau and then you begin to wind your way in towards this special piece of the country. Our first stop for the day was at Lake Mistletoe for a short but charming walk around this little lake and through the surrounding bush to be serenaded by some resident bellbirds who were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.
By mid afternoon we had arrived at the Totara campsite the first spot we had chosen to stay at on our way in to Milford. We had views of mountains, a gorgeous river alongside us and much to Oliver’s delight outdoor fireplaces for campers to use. The rest of the afternoon was easily filled with a drive down the road to the mirror lakes and a bit more sightseeing along the way. Then we had just enough time left to collect firewood and explore our camp a little before dinner, followed by roasting marshmallows on our fire then a quick game of spotlight before bed.
The next day we were all up and ready to go early, a good thing considering how much we wanted to see. First up we moved the bus a bit further down the valley to the last available DOC camp site the cascades. Even at the time of year that we are travelling in there is a steady trickle of visitors to Fiordland, the size and scope of the cascades campsite gives you a clear idea of how busy it must be in the peak season. This camp was pretty amazing, with stunning mountain views from every window of the bus. After a short time looking around we headed out to explore a little bit down the Hollyford Valley. There is so much you could do here, walks for every age, capability and time frame. Picking which ones you want to tackle is probably the hard part. We stopped at the Lake Marian track and did a section that led to viewing platforms along a cascading section of the river. Oliver was completely absorbed here watching the power of the water tumbling below us. Then after a bit more of a drive down the valley we did a short climb to see Humboldt Falls. They are a large three tiered waterfall and they are a stunning specimen amidst the many that you will find in the Milford Valley.
After a few stops on the way home to gaze at mountains we arrived back at the bus. Since we were staying in a valley the sun had dropped early and we were quite happy to tuck ourselves inside by the fire for the rest of the afternoon. Living in places with all these mountains is still a novelty for me. The landscape here is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real at times, every corner there’s a new peak to marvel at, another waterfall to look at, another piece of this valley carved by some ancient glaciers. Spending time in all that natural beauty was rejuvenating for the soul, coupled with being disconnected from technology it was the perfect way to start this holiday for us. A visceral reminder of why we wanted to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. Spending time in places like this was high on the list of things that motivated us. If just two days here had been this good we were keen to see what the next day and more exploring might discover.
How lucky am I that you have now been in my life for six whole years? All those years have been special but right now as this one draws to a close I think there is something about it that is just a little bit extra. Time has slowed and stretched out a little for us this year. I am so grateful for that. Grateful that you being five hasn’t sped away from me in a haze of school drop offs and small stolen family moments. I’m grateful for the big moments we have shared together this year. But also for all the little ones.
The chance to really have the time to be with you is something I don’t take for granted. It’s so wonderful to watch you growing in every way. Six year old you is truly a wonderful person. You love bike rides and beaches, books and still you have a fascination for vehicles of any description. You enjoy nature, often telling me a lake is beautiful or a bird is cute. You love to dance and have the cutest little bum wriggle I ever saw. From somewhere you have picked up a fascination for Michael Jackson, you plead for his songs every time we are choosing music. You are smart my little man, you have learnt to read like it was second nature and you love maths. You also still love jumping in puddles on rainy days, dreaming about finding the treasure at the bottom of a rainbow and imagining pictures in the clouds. Most of all you love fiercely and with so much depth, I hope this never changes.
Now we are a year in to our bus adventure I can see that it truly works for you as much as it does for us. I worried a lot that it was a choice we made more for ourselves but you have thrived on this journey. You have grown in every way imaginable. But I love that in some ways you are still delightfully small and precious. I look forward to where the next year takes us and who you will be when it is over. Happy birthday my little man and happy wandering too.
Autumn at this end of the country is much more dramatic and definite than it is where we are from. The trees are quickly a riot of all the rich autumnal colours and I can already see that they will fall just as quickly as they changed colour. Perhaps it is a bit more time spent inside on the not so nice days, but something about this change of season has had me reflecting a little on our journey so far and all the change it has wrought in my life. Not just the obvious change that is out there for everyone to see but the little ways that things have changed as well. I suppose it is only natural that big life change has a ripple affect on all the little ways you do things and the way you see things in life. I think perhaps for me some of these things were always going to happen but shifting out of our little comfort zone of house, community and support system I had built for myself has sped up the process a bit. One of the things in my life that has had a bit of an overhaul is the way that I approach and manage my parenting. I thought I would share a bit because I wish I had done some of these things years ago. So if you are just here for the bus and the adventures fair warning this one may not be for you.
Some of the things I changed was a concious thing. I was completely aware that I would now be spending all my days with Oliver. My two days a week where he went to kindy and I had a chance to focus entirely on things I wanted to were over. The weekends he would spend staying at his Nanas every couple of months where I caught my breath and we got some couple time were not going to be an option anymore. Here is probably where I should admit that since being a Mum I have never been good at making sure I get the things I need to keep me happy. I don’t know why because before Oliver I really was good at it, I took the time out for long walks by myself, fed my soul with music I loved, books I enjoyed, did the things that helped me give to the other areas of my life. So why once I had a tiny little human who needed me to give more than I ever had before did I drop myself off that list of people that need looking after? I don’t have that answer really. Perhaps it was partly because when Oliver arrived Wayne’s job had him working 70 hour weeks. I would kiss him goodnight on a Sunday everning and most weeks wouldn’t see him until late Friday night or Saturday afternoon if I was lucky. Out of neccessity I got really good at coping by myself.
Anyway fast forward to us buying the bus. I don’t want to end up stressed out, grumpy and not coping with the close living spaces. My current way of dealing with this is not 100% working for me and it’s got to change now anyway. So I did conciously decide we needed a strategy to try and avoid this becoming a problem. We decided that the healthiest thing would be to plan in times where each of us would have some time out from being with Oliver. As it turns out when we are all traveling together it’s not such a big deal, it tends to happen quite naturally that one or the other of us will take Oliver off to do something alone. It’s when we are stationary and Wayne is working that I really need it. Wayne is a night owl so would much rather take his time out in the form of a sleep in the next morning on a weekend. This works for me as sleeping in just isn’t something I do. But for me the last few months the little outings on the weekends that my boys go on are absolutely life changing. I love them both to absolute pieces but I just naturally like being alone sometimes. That time to read or write or go for a walk or do some baking without a tiny helper measuring my ingredients for me is the best present my husband has ever given me.
So the other things we changed were not such a conscious choice, they have just sort of evolved as we built our new life around the way we were now living. Most afternoons now Oliver will find something he wants to occupy himself with for an hour or so, get some toys out or puzzles. Anything that requires little to no input from me in regards to set up and that he can do entirely on his own. This took a little coaxing to begin with but now he often says himself that it’s time for some quiet time and asks me for what he wants to do that afternoon. My son has always been a helper, loves to do all the household chores with me and now at almost six he is actually a wonderful help. He dries the dishes most mornings, he does a great job of vacuuming or sweeping the steps and is always keen to help in the kitchen or fold the clothes. This is actually a great side to homeschooling, you can develop a real sense of teamwork around the work of everyday life. But that helper drive coupled with the fact that he is an only child mean I do need to make sure he plays independently sometimes.
The other things I do differently now are more about mindset really and I think they flow from the fact that I am taking more care of my mental health so I have a clearer head, more patience, less stress. I work quite hard now to approach everything positively, because it’s amazing how much the way you frame something can influence your experience. And on those days where for what ever reason my beautiful son does not have such a beautiful disposition I try to make the most of the fact that I have the freedom to choose what our days look like and go somewhere or do something that we both get a lot of joy from. For us at the moment in Gore that means a walk to the river, going to the pools for a swim, visiting the aviary at the gardens or a visit to the library. And on the wet days it might mean putting on some music for an impromptu dance party or putting on gumboots to go jump in puddles. Because being in those spaces we both enjoy can make all the difference in the world to how we both feel and interact with each other.
Thanks for reading today’s ramblings, I’m certainly no expert or perfect parent but those are not normally the kinds of parenting stories I like reading either. Do you have any things you’ve found that really work for your family? I’d love to hear what you do that helps your family keep ticking over.
When people find out about the way we are living there are a few questions that are always bound to come up. What we do about school for Oliver is one that we have been asked about lots lately. I have answered this question more times in the last few weeks since school went back then I have in the eight months prior to that. I think that is due in large part to the fact that he has grown a whole heap over the summer break and it’s very clear he’s not a pre schooler anymore. Some people are very puzzled by the whole notion of a school age child not automatically being at a normal school and some of the conversations I’ve had have had me pondering our journey so far with school on the road.
Before we decided to buy the bus the plan was for Oliver to toddle off to school after his fifth birthday as majority of children do here in New Zealand. Since school in one fixed place was off the table we were left with two options. Home schooling where we would apply for an exemption from sending Oliver to school and be responsible for deciding ourselves what curriculum to teach. Our other option was Te Kura which is New Zealands correspondence school and because we are itinerant we qualified for Oliver to be enrolled. I opted for Te Kura for a few reasons, one that it makes my life a bit easier. I did not have to research, plan and purchase resources. Also because the plan is to eventually settle back down and then send Oliver to school I wanted him to be following the same curriculum so he will slot right in with no worries. I have to say that now we have six months of learning under our belt and a new year freshly under way I would actually have the confidence to apply for an exemption and go the other route if Te Kura was not an option.
I feel I have learnt almost as much as Oliver so far in our journey. It has been a marvel to watch him learn to read. Books have always been a huge part of Oliver’s life, he is always down for being read a story, loves a good audio book and we have a bedtime story routine that is near and dear to his heart. It’s been amazing to watch the process through the next steps, from his first eager reading of the simple books they first sent to now just six months of school in where he has a rather impressive amount of words he knows well, some he stumbles over a little and an ever-growing confidence of how to work out new words for himself. There have been several moments with his learning where I can just see a concept click in his brain and a dramatic improvement in something we have been working on, it’s like seeing your child learn to walk all over again in moments like that. And whilst he is busy learning these life long skills I am learning how best to support him and communicate the information to him in a way that he can learn it.
Te Kura has so far worked really well for us, I have found Oliver’s teacher really good and the amount of work they expect us to complete is more than achievable. The fact that Oliver is doing his work at home with no distractions or interruptions means that the school portion of our day doesn’t have to take up that much time. Whilst Wayne is working we have a loose kind of routine, Oliver is the most focused in the mornings so we try to get his school work done then and most days it takes around two hours to do. Sometimes less if he works quickly, sometimes more if the weather is bad and we are stuck in the bus. After that our days are not to planned out. I do try to go out and about somewhere most days even if it’s just down the road to the playground to burn off some energy for a while. I also try to have one kind of fun activity for the afternoon most days. Maybe going to the library or the swimming pools or getting out some paints or on hot days even just a big bucket full of water, bubbles and a few cups for pouring.
I am a big believer in learning through play and try really hard to make sure it still has a place in his days. This comes really naturally when we are travelling and parked somewhere interesting with natural places to explore. He can spend all day absorbed at a beach or building dams in a rocky creek, these are the moments where I know 100% how great this life is for him. But then this summer he has had a great time getting his toolbox out and tackling a couple of little carpentry projects as well as endlessly tightening any screws he can find in the bus that need tightening. I think this is a great side effect of living a life where we have lots of time, time to let him follow his interests and explore the ideas that come into his head.
Probably one of the biggest things people question about Oliver not attending school is how he copes without other children for company. Personally I am not to worried about this side of things. From the moment he was born we attended music groups, were heavily involved in Playcentre for a few years and then he attended Kindergarten from 3 until just before we left Tauranga. He has had plenty of experiences of being around other children his own age, both with me and without me. He has had the experience of making and having friends. Now he’s having the experience of meeting lots of new people all the time of all different ages and walks of life. And when he does run into some children somewhere that we are staying or at a playground or a swimming pool he makes the most of playing with them. Perhaps the fact that Oliver’s Dad is probably the biggest and most fun playmate around makes this less of an issue for our family. Any one who actually knows Wayne will know exactly what I am talking about. He has always and probably will always be a kid magnet, at a family get together if you want to find my husband just look for the trail of children following along behind in whatever game he is currently playing with them.
So far there is nothing in regards to our way of doing school that I look at and think Oliver is really missing out. Sure there are things that are different. But when making a choice to live alternatively it’s really just about whether what you are gaining brings more to the table for you than what you can’t have. And at the end of the day the things that Oliver is not experiencing now he will one day once we are settled down. Personally I would say that for any one out there contemplating doing something with school age children that would require alternative schooling for a time, don’t let it hold you back from your dreams. You might surprise yourself with how good a teacher you actually are! Children are so much more adaptable than you might think and seeing their parents make their own dreams happen is a pretty valuable lesson in itself. If living his own dreams and making the most of time with those he loves is all that bus life teaches Oliver than I am more than satisfied with that.
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.