If you have even a fleeting relationship with social media then the odds are that some places you visit you will have seen photos of from someone else’s happy holiday snaps long before you actually set eyes on it. Lake Tekapo is a place most New Zealanders would probably recognise even if they have never been there. The combination of a gorgeous lake flanked by the mountains and a well placed little stone church have made this a must do photo opportunity for visitors from near and far. I think if we had visited a couple of years ago Tekapo would have felt like a different little town and I think if we visit again in a couple more years it will have grown in size quite considerably. In fact we could see it growing right before our eyes with new houses galore in various states of development. As well as the waterfront area and town getting a lot of major changes. This is progress I know and a neccesary thing when you are going to have to accommodate any ever increasing number of tourists each year. Perhaps even a welcome thing for people who call this place home to see their businesses growing. But it is undeniable that it changes the tone of a place. Don’t get me wrong Tekapo is undeniably lovely. But don’t be fooled by those perfect shots with church, lake, mountains and not a soul in shot. To get a shot without the crowds of tourists takes a bit of creative shooting and quick clicking when you get a person free shot. The best I could do is one with only my own child in the picture.
We spent two nights in Tekapo but didn’t do heaps. I think after cramming so much in to a short spell we were ready for a quiet day. Our good luck with the weather finally came to a pause on our second day here as well. So though we went for a bit of a stroll along the lakefront and a bit of a drive in the car to see the other side of the lake we didn’t take advantage of all the bike tracks here. We did find the most picturesque flying fox ever. The lake levels were quite low when we visited so Oliver also had a ball playing in the mud this had revealed.
It was a grim old morning when we left Lake Tekapo so the trip to Timaru didn’t take us that long. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover when you aren’t stopping along the way to explore. Timaru was really where the ‘holiday’ ended for us and we started trying to figure out what our next move was. We spent a few nights here, briefly exploring the idea of working here or moving on to either Ashburton or Christchurch. I think perhaps because we had a few options we were very indecisive and it took us a while to decide what we wanted to do. But in the end we settled on Christchurch. So we enjoyed a few days in Timaru then headed on to the next place we would call home.
We woke to find yet another lovely day on our last morning at the Whitehorse campsite. With weather like this we just had to squeeze in one more walk before we left so we headed to the Tasman Glacier. This was the perfect little walk to round off our time here. It gave us a look at a different part of the valley and a view of Aoraki from the opposite side to which we had been looking at it in the Hooker Valley. It was also a relatively short little climb up and back. Which was easier to coax Oliver in to after the previous days efforts. It also left us enough time to stop in at the showers in the village and treat ourselves to a well earned real shower before we said our goodbyes to this magical spot.
By lunch time we had settled in at a freedom camping spot beside Lake Pukaki. It was a bit of a challenge finding a flat spot here large enough for us but with a location this grand a slight lean was really a small price to pay for the night. We found a walk nearby to a kettle hole which we did largely out of curiosity because we had no idea what a kettle hole was. The walk through farm paddocks felt incredibly uninspiring on the backs of the walks we had done at Mt Cook. The kettle hole itself was pretty uninspiring as well, basically a large hole with a small amount of not to pleasant looking water at the bottom. I am guessing the name comes from a time when you would make the trek down the steep slopes into the hole to fill your kettle. With this one’s location so close to the pristine looking waters of Lake Pukaki it was hard to imagine that trek being worthwhile. The views when you turned away from the delightful kettle hole and looked towards the lake are a far better reason to do this walk.
Our day ended with us all by the lake. It was yet another of those incredibly warm spring days. All three of us had dipped our tired feet in the water. Of course with all those mountains nearby it was icy cold but the day was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant. It really shouldn’t have surprised me because Oliver has such a love for the water. But before long he was venturing so deep into the water that we just stripped him down to his underwear and let him swim. With shrieks of delight he would go as far under the water as he could then he would climb out on to one of the sun warmed rocks and lie in the sunshine lapping up the warmth. Before of course jumping in to repeat the whole process again. Sitting watching Oliver delight in the simple joy of a cold lake and a sunny afternoon gave me just about as much enjoyment as it did him. It was another perfect little moment from a trip that had been full of them.
If you are like us and enjoy spending time in the outdoors then you will know that the weather can have a huge impact on your experiences. I’ve heard completely differing opinions from people on what a place was like solely based on the fact that one had great weather for their visit and one had horrible weather. Historically Wayne and I don’t have the best of luck with the weather gods. We’ve tramped around Lake Waikaremoana in rain that varied from drizzle to downpour and only cleared on our fourth and final day. We did the first day of the Humpridge track in weather so bad the helicopter couldn’t fly up with supplies for the hut and we made it all the way back to sea level without seeing any of the glorious views. We canoed the Whanganui River and it rained every day of our trip. I could go on but you get the point. A little (or a lot) of rain doesn’t scare us, or stop us enjoying ourselves. As long as it’s not a safety issue we still get out there and make the most of it. But there are some places that you really want the weather to play ball. Mt Cook was one of those spots. So when we stopped in Twizel to empty our tanks and top up our groceries we were very excited to see nothing but sunshine in the forecast for the next few days.
It doesn’t take long after making the turn and heading in towards Mt Cook that the views open up. With Lake Pukakis gleaming blue waters beside us and the mountains growing ever larger before us it’s a drive worth putting on your list of must do experiences. By lunch time we had arrived and found ourselves a spot in the DOC camp where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Not only was the sun out in force the day we arrived but it was incredibly warm for an early spring day. We were all itching to get out exploring now that we had arrived so we headed up to Kea point. It’s a short climb up a well used and maintained track. Once you reach the top you can see the Mueller glacier and the terminal lake, as well as a whole lot of mountains. It was such a beautiful afternoon and a glorious spot that we sat here in the sunshine for about an hour enjoying our surroundings. Then when we finally pulled ourselves away to head back down the valley we discovered that your view coming down is just as stunning. I think for me this was my favourite part of exploring here. That no matter which direction you turned in there was beauty.
The next day we had our boots on and were on the track before 9am. We were tackling the Hooker Valley track which is perhaps the most popular day walk in the area. Our plan was that the early start would mean we beat the worst of the crowds. Again this track is well maintained, it’s also relatively flat most of the way so makes the three hour return walk very family friendly. Our little guy found it such a fun track with plenty of swing bridges to cross and rocks to scale along the way. The highlight for all of us was arriving at the lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier. One end of the lake was filled with chunks of ice from the glacier. It was another radiantly clear day and Aoraki Mount Cook is a sight that only becomes more magnificent the closer you venture to it. It was a pretty magical sight and Oliver had a ball playing with the ice on the edges of the lake, it took a bit of convincing to lure him away.
The return journey took us slightly longer than on the way out as tired little legs slowed down. But the few extra stops just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery.
When we did get our tired legs back to the bus we filled the rest of the day with a visit to the information centre in the village which has some really interesting displays about the area and the history of the mountain. It would have been easy to tuck our tired little boy into bed early after this day but instead we sat up long enough for the stars to come out so he could see how magnificent the skys are here. Thankfully it was a clear night and we sat snuggled together in a blanket trying to point out the few constellations we know. But mostly just admiring the milky way and how beautiful the sky really is when you are somewhere as remote as this. We were leaving the next day. Even though we had only spent two nights here this place has a magic that seems to make the time stretch out. In fact it is one of those places that has a special feeling to it, far beyond it’s stunning natural beauty. For me it felt peaceful, quiet and still. Like somehow it has managed to stay whole. To resist any big change by people. To me there is a magic in that, in a place that will remain largely as nature intended it to be. A place that will remain wild. Our days spent walking around these mountains with people I love left my heart full to overflowing. It was moments like this I dreamed of when we dreamed this crazy life into existence. It’s moments like this that make the whole thing worth doing.
We woke at our camp beside the river. Mountains gleaming white and glorious in the morning sun. It was early as it normally is when Oliver stirs. This morning I purposefully lit the fire and bundled him into our bed for cuddles, stories and a slower start to our day. He had left Dunedin with a nasty cold and though he refused to let it slow him down a quieter day was called for. We literally have all the comforts of home with us when we’re on holiday so it makes it easier to push pause no matter where we are, slow down a little and make sure we all last the distance of the adventure. It’s such a great thing when you are traveling with a child in tow. I know this lazy morning meant we all felt a lot more energetic when we did set off for the day. Before we moved on though we wanted to visit a spot nearby called the clay cliffs. After a quick drive down the road and through some private farm land we arrived at the start of the walk. The cliffs are visible from the start and impressive enough even from the car. But once you walk down further you can walk through into an area that has a dramatic ‘badlands’ like landscape. The scale of the cliffs is really hard to capture in a photo but we had a bit of fun walking through it and seeing how far we could climb.
Once we retrieved the bus we headed for Lake Ohau. There are moments when I am driving behind the bus with a beautiful place unfolding itself before my eyes as we drive towards it that I just know it’s a memory I will hold very clearly long after that moment has finished. Long after we are done living in a bus. Probably long after my little boy has grown and gone. This drive in to Lake Ohau was one of those times. It was a crisp, clear day. The mountains were snow capped and lovely. The lake water was the most beautiful shade of blue, a color so lovely that its hard to believe it’s real. The bus with my two loves in it slowly winding it’s way down towards this beautiful spot. In that moment I felt like a very lucky lady.
It was a bit of a drive around the lake to the spot we wanted to stay at. All worth it when we arrived to find we were the only ones there. This is great for us in our big old bus it gives us plenty of choices and room to manouvre into the ideal spot. It’s even better when it stays empty for the whole afternoon and only a few other people come in for the night. I know I am greedy but places like this are just that little bit more special when you don’t have to share them with to many other people. In keeping with our desire for a slower day we didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon. We strolled along the beach and spent a lot of time enjoying the magnificent backdrop. Then once again it was time to tuck Oliver in for the night and make plans for the next day. The next adventure.
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.