Since we made our hurried trip from Wellington to the comfort and safety of my parents home in Te Puke it feels like the time has just flown by. Those first weeks in complete lock down were strange and uncharted territory for everyone no matter your life circumstances. The progression out of lock down had an extra element of excitement for us. When we got to level two and could break our bubble we got to reconnect with people we hadn’t seen in over two years. Friends and family that we had missed with all our hearts. I have been pleasantly surprised over the course of our travels how well our little family of three has supported and sustained each other without all those extra connections you make around you, without the community you build and often rely on. But it has been a most welcome thing to share real life moments with that community we left behind, to share conversations, hugs and a whole lot of love.
We’ve ended up being based in this area a whole lot longer than we ever imagined. A need for a few repairs and a whole lot of very busy repairers who we’ve had to wait patiently to have time for our big old bus has meant that even once we were free to move around the country again we have had to stay on a little longer. After the freedom and sometimes spontaniety with which we have lived the last two years it has been hard being somewhat stuck and having so much of what’s happened this year being largely out of our control. Not that things have always gone to plan while we’ve been travelling. We’ve made lots of little adjustments to plans and done things differently than we imagined many times. This time with a global pandemic, a country in complete lockdown and then what has seemed like a never ending string of things conspiring to keep us immobile it has definetly been the biggest hurdle yet.
One of my favourite childrens books is Dr Seuss ‘Oh the places you will go’. The line ‘You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes you can steer yourself any direction you choose’ speaks straight to my soul! But there’s a page in that book about being stuck in the waiting place, full of people just waiting for everyday things to happen that really doesn’t speak to any part of me. For a large portion of this year that’s what life for us has felt like. Stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for the life we really wanted to be available again. I’m hopeful and positive though that Dr Suess is right and somehow we will escape all that waiting and staying, we’ll find the bright places where boom bands are playing.
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.
We wind our way down the road. Past trees and paddocks full of sheep. House’s tucked away behind their fences sit around every other bend. Then we round another corner and the ocean appears. It looks a faded, gentle kind of blue from this distance, bathed in the soft evening light.
The car sweeps around a big corner, across a bridge and we are there. Of course Oliver is first out of the car but he gets distracted by the playground so I am the first to see this wildly glorious beach. I could actually hear it the moment the cars engine stopped, long before I climbed up the small bank to it’s rocky shores. The waves are pounding in. Churning the rocks over and over in a raucous display of their strength.
Shortly the boys join me on the beach. We meander along, discovering the bounty this sea has brought in on other evenings when the waves tossed their treasures high above the tide line. Treasure left to dry in the sun until another storm see’s them whisked away on another surging wave. Rocks are tested for splashing capabilities. Wobbling stone towers are built then knocked over with shrieks of six year old delight. Sticks become swords, then spears, then guns. We hunt make believe prey with our small child whose imagination is bigger than all of us. We let ourselves get sucked into that magical world of his where everything is possible.
Then we see a hammock strung between some trees and the moment shifts. Wayne and Oliver climb into the hammock. I find a log a short distance away to sit on and listen to the roar of the waves. My thoughts drift for a while and when I look back to the hammock I see a miraculous thing. The boy who was so full of energy, movement and noise a moment ago now lies in the hammock safe in his fathers arms. Their heads rest against each other and I can see they are talking. I could go over and join the conversation but decide that it is enough to watch this moment from here.
Far to soon it is over. We are back in the car. Winding our way past trees and paddocks full of sheep. Heading away from this magic evening on a rocky beach.
We had enjoyed a great first day of our holiday. Waking up the next day. Beside the ocean, the sound of waves on the beach. A glorious sunrise to watch while I sipped my coffee was just about perfection. Oliver had a bit of a cold so I tried to slip out for a walk along the beach by myself but he was having none of that. In fact halfway through our walk he couldn’t resist dipping his feet in the water. Which shortly ended with him running joyfully along in the shallows completely oblivious to the temperature of the water, his current state of health or the affect it was having on the lovely clean clothes he had so recently put on. I chose to borrow a little of his attitude and simply appreciate the beautiful picture my child made frolicking in the waves. Once our walk was over and Oliver was once again dressed in clean, dry clothes we headed on to Oamaru.
Oamaru claims to be the steampunk capital of NZ and we were keen to see what this was all about. So we headed along to the Steampunk HQ. From the moment we slipped a coin into the train outside we knew we were in for a bit of fun. It came to life with lights flashing, sirens clanging, smoke pouring from numerous pipes and even flames erupting from the chimney. Inside Steampunk HQ you are free to wander around, touch what you would like and enjoy this little fantasy world they have created. For us it was all a hit. I really enjoyed the sculptures. While Oliver loved the outdoor area with plenty of things he could climb inside or on top of. Afterwards we strolled lesuirly through the Victorian precinct and down to the pretty amazing playground which is of course steampunk inspired. For us Oamaru was one of those small towns that delivers much more than you expect.
The next day we were up early again. Still full of the excitement of our latest adventure. Today we were beginning to head inland towards Mt Cook. We intended on covering a bit of distance today, which is not normal for us! As well as fitting in a few stops along the way. So our early start was probably a good thing. Our first stop was a tiny little town called Duntroon. We parked the bus and headed off to look for fossils. There are several interesting spots not very far apart here and all just a short walk once you arrive. We stopped at Earthquakes Valley and saw a whale fossil. Then the Elephant rocks where due to the bitterly cold and strong wind our stay was brief. Lastly we stopped to see some Maori rock drawings. Back in Duntroon we visited the Vanished World Centre. To be honest we actually debated whether to stop here or not and I’m so glad we did. With an impressive collection of fossils, including shark toothed dolphins. A knowledgeable proprietor. Even the opportunity to unearth your own fossilized shells. This place was super interesting and very educational.
From Duntroon we headed on past Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore. We stopped at Benmore to snap a few photos of the lovely turquoise waters. Take in the huge dam. Then we were on our way again, keen to find our spot for the night. Just past Omarama we settled in beside a river with a lovely mountain backdrop. Thanks to our early start there was still enough day left for a stroll and a few rocks skimmed. Time to reflect on everything we had seen so far. Plan for what the next few days would look like. Since we had left Oamaru that morning we had been in an area I hadn’t visited before. These are always my favourite trips. Where everything I’m seeing is new to my eyes and you just don’t know what delight may be around that next bend in the road.
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’s hard to believe that this photo was taken a whole year ago. I remember this moment so clearly, so vividly that it just doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed us by. It was the end of our second day of traveling, Easter Sunday and we had driven straight through from Lake Taupo to Himatangi beach just out of Wellington. Wayne was a little bit behind us so Oliver and I made a beeline for the beach to run off some of his energy. It was windy, the beach was big and wild looking. We were still in the midst of figuring out how we fit in this new life of ours, the days leading up to actually leaving home had been hectic, stressful and a bit hard on our little boy. He had lots of questions about where we were going and how long for, questions that no longer had firm, definite answers we could give. Up till this point that hadn’t sat well with Oliver, but I look back and I can so clearly remember him asking me where we were staying that night, where the bus would be with a confused, uncertain look on his face. I looked at him, took his hand and in one of those parenting miracles I found the words he needed to hear. ‘Lets go find Daddy, I’ll show you where we are staying’ Somehow this knowledge that we wouldn’t always know exactly where we were going but that we would always know where to find Daddy and the bus. Somehow this was all he needed to feel safe and secure in our new life. There would be other minor things to adjust to in the following weeks but from this moment on Oliver was 100% on board with bus life.
So the big question is after a year, was it all worth it? The answer is a resounding and definite yes. Even if for some reason we packed it all in tomorrow and settled down again it would have been the best decision we ever made. Our biggest goal when we set out was to see how much time we could have together and in twelve months of travelling Wayne has had over four months off work. And when he has been working it has been largely Monday to Friday jobs where he is home for dinner every evening. Coming from a background of shift work and crazy early starts this for us has been absolutely life changing. Wayne’s relationship with Oliver has really blossomed with all the time spent together. Our marriage has benefited from the changes to, in fact I think our whole little family unit is stronger. It’s been wonderful to discover that our little unit of three can sustain each other when we are miles away from all the other people who make up our lives. All the beautiful places we have visited, the experiences we have had they are all just the icing on the cake to these even stronger bonds we have formed with each other.
But don’t get me wrong we have enjoyed the icing as well! We have seen more of this country in a year than I imagined we would ever get to show Oliver while he was still a child. We’ve seen so much that sometimes I read back through my journal from last year and there are things that already I didn’t quite remember without a little prompting. Perhaps that is just a sign I am getting old however as Oliver has lots of very clear memories from the past year. I really hope his memories continue to be clear and they are something he can look back on happily as he grows.
It seems kind of fitting that our one year anniversary should roll around just as we were getting the bus all sorted with its new COF, all ready for us to finish up our time here in Gore and travel on to new places. Also fitting that just before our one year anniversary we were visited by my parents. It’s probably no secret to anyone that the person Oliver and I miss most is Oliver’s Nana. So getting to spend a few weeks with them was pretty special. I almost feel this was as necessary as the repairs on the bus, a little spiritual top up only time with someone you love can bring you.
I remember this time last year as we were exploring Golden bay it felt like the summer was never going to end. This year in Gore the summer has ended with a glaring finality. The leaves are falling from the trees and already the mornings are starting with a layer of frost to greet you. I have to admit I am far more at home in the endless summer than these cooler climes, but I am bravely telling myself that it will not be as bad as I imagine. We will light the fire and pile on lots of layers of clothing and delight in a nice hot water bottle at the end of the bed and all will be fine. After all that is one of the things that this new life is about, trying new things and pushing out of our comfort zone. If we are not all fine then I guess a drive to the warmer end of the south island is always an option!
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 time in Gore is going really fast, it’s a strange thing because life really seems to slow down when Wayne is not working and we are free to take life at our own pace. But within a week or so of getting back to work life is flying by as quickly as it ever did. This time around however we are trying to fill our weekends exploring around the area we are staying in, there is so much that is easily reachable for a days visit that we have been keeping ourselves quite busy.
Invercargill is less than an hours drive away and by far the biggest city that we have been near in quite some time so we have spent a few weekends here. I actually quite like Invercargill, it has plenty of character and charm. We’ve had numerous visit’s to Queens park which is a huge area of gardens, playgrounds, an animal park and an aviary and lots of paths to meander through it all. In fact it is a city that is full of green spaces and gardens galore, when you travel with children you inevitably visit a lot of parks in search of a playground it’s great to be somewhere were the playgrounds are flanked by lush gardens full of peonies and rambling roses. A visit to Oreti beach was an interesting experience for us, where we come from you simply don’t drive vehicles on the beach but here it’s just what they do. We were probably the only one’s who opted to park in the carpark and walk down to the beach the day we visited. A choice we were glad we made after seeing four cars get stuck in the short space of time we were there. Oreti is a big, long stretch of sand with a wild sea on its doorstep. And if you happen to visit Invercargill on a Sunday a visit to the local market will reward you with a plethora of options for lunch, Thai, Korean, Indian as well as many others. All capped off with plenty of tables adorned with cheerful bunches of flowers to enjoy your Sunday lunch time feast at.
Apart from our visits to the big city we have done a few walks in the local area and on one weekend we took a drive to find an orchard to pick cherries. This was actually something I have been looking forward to ever since we came to the South Island. I love cherries but have never lived anywhere that they grow. So we headed in the direction of Roxburgh knowing that we had seen plenty of orchards in that area when we made our way to Gore from Wanaka. It was a scenic drive and really not a long one before the orchards started to appear, many with road side stalls and a couple of options for pick your own fruit. At ten dollars a kilo they were the cheapest cherries this North Islander has ever brought, even cheaper when you factor in the many sun warmed, juicy morsels that never made it in the bags to be paid for. Oliver loved climbing the ladders to reach the ones on the higher branches and all up I would say our visit to a cherry orchard was just as much fun as I expected it to be.
As our time in Gore is coming closer to being over all three of us are ready for our next stint of travel to begin. The planning and anticipating is half the fun of traveling and there’s worse ways to spend an evening than studying maps to find interesting spots to visit. It feels in some ways like we are in a similar space to what we were this time last year, working, getting a few jobs done on the bus while we are in one place and dreaming endlessly of where the road will take us next.
We woke on the morning of Christmas eve and we had one very excited little boy bouncing around the bus with dreams of Santa in his little head. I was extremely happy that we had a busy day ahead that would hopefully give all that energy a good outlet and the ultimate in parenting wins a happy but tired little person who would fall straight to sleep that night. Because owing to limited places to hide presents and limited time away from child to procure and hide said presents I had hidden them all away unwrapped, and unwrapped they still were. A rookie parenting mistake really leaving all the wrapping till Xmas eve.
Our first stop of the day was only accessible an hour and a half either side of low tide which on this day was at ten thirty. So we were on the road bright and early before joining the crowds of people who were also exploring the Cathedral Cave that morning. The cave is a sea cave and access is through private land so there is a small charge to use the road and track down to the beach. After a quick chat with the friendly parking attendant and a pleasant 1 km walk down through the bush we emerged onto a gorgeous beach.
When the tide is in it comes right up to the cliffs where the caves are so there’s only a small window each day where they are able to be explored, we arrived with plenty of time to wander around and I am so glad we did. The first cave you come to is the Cathedral cave and it’s actually two caves that have joined so you can walk in one entrance and out the other. But there are numerous caves as you stroll along the cliffs edge, some large, some small, some very wet and some awfully smelly. And yes in case you were wondering we poked our noses in all of them.
This spot was by far my favourite place we visited on the Catlins, it’s truly amazing how nature can create something like this with just the water, the weather and a whole lot of time. I don’t always agree with being charged to visit beaches, they just feel like places that everyone should be free to visit, but in this case I can see why. The number of people who were there in the time we visited and how dangerous it would be if people went on the wrong tide mean it needs to be monitored. And if the $11 we paid helps to preserve this place and keep it as pristine as it was then I am more than happy to pay.
After the caves we stopped at a couple of short walks, one to the Tautoko Estaury and one to Lake Wilkie. Then all that was left was a stop at a lookout to admire another sweet little beach down and on to where we would spend Xmas day. Papatowai is a DOC site that’s nestled right beside the estuary and we conveniently found a space right by the track to the beach to make camp. The remainder of our day was spent at the beach where we all braved the icy waters for a swim. Then after the food had been set out for Santa and his trusty reindeer, Oliver headed off to bed and fell asleep in the delightfully quick way that only a tired child can.
The big day itself was the most relaxed and enjoyable day. Of course there was the fun of watching Oliver wake to discover the presents under the tree and the joyous excitement of discovering what’s in those parcels. Then after breakfast we headed out for a walk to some waterfalls and a visit to Purakaunui beach. There’s a DOC camp at Purakaunui and it would be an amazing place to stay but it would take a while to get the bus in along the dirt road so really not worth it for the two nights we had. But the beach and the big rocky cliffs beyond are a sight to behold. After a bit of time playing at Purakaunui we headed back to the bus for a late bbq lunch, an afternoon spent playing with Oliver’s new toys, another swim and a bit more yummy food to end our day. This night as we tucked our tired boy into bed he told us it was the best christmas ever. It’s the most wonderful, reassuring thing to know that just the three of us, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each other is really all that he needs to achieve that. That for me is the best Xmas gift I could have received.
This time last year we were literally spending every spare minute with family. Partly because we were temporarily without our own home and partly because we knew that soon it would just be the three of us in the bus. Now I am so glad that we spent that time cramming in all those moments together, I think it helps in our lonelier moments to have those shared memories to remember. So this years challenge for me as a Mum is that we are about as far away as we can get from everybody that we love without actually leaving the country – so a trip home for Xmas is not an option. So how do I make this an amazing christmas for us as a family and more importantly for a little boy who is still very much in love with all of the christmas magic.
We have always tried hard to make Oliver’s idea of christmas be just as much about the time spent with the people he loves most as it is about all the trimmings and trappings and presents. Because for me that is where the real magic of this time of year is. So the answer seemed to be some time away from our temporary home in Gore so we could make some great memories of our first wandering christmas. We had five nights and there was no question where we were going to spend them. The Catlins had been high on our list of places we wanted to see ever since we arrived in Southland but we knew it was a spot that we wanted more than just a quick weekend visit to, so now we had five nights and it was the perfect chance to tick this off the list. We left Gore on a friday night and made our way to Fortrose, the closest freedom camping spot in the Catlins. We arrived fairly late and the spot was busy but still more than enough room for us to spend a night. After an evening walk along the beach, taking in some Spoonbills feeding at low tide and the few remaining pieces of a shipwreck, we tucked a very excited little boy in to bed with promises of more beaches tomorrow.
The next day we weren’t travelling far. Even with a stop at Waipapa Point lighthouse and a play on the delightful little beach on its doorstep we were at our new spot by just after lunch. Weir bay reserve was another little freedom camping spot, this one beside a beautiful harbour. The tide was very close to being all the way in when we arrived so of course the priority was a play on the beach and a swim for Oliver while there was still sand to dig in.
Once the tide came all the way in and stole all the beach away for a spell we headed off to visit one last spot before the end of the day. Slope Point was just a short drive away from our camp and since it is the southern most point of New Zealand we decided it was worth a visit. It was only about a twenty-minute walk out to slope point and back to the car park, twenty minutes I’m so glad we took as it was surprisingly cool. Rugged, windswept and with no islands lounging offshore in your line of vision it certainly felt like you were on the edge of the earth. I am however very grateful the weather was relatively nice when we visited here, the land and trees tell their own stories of how harsh the weather here can be.
The next day we were visiting one of the main attractions on the Catlins coast, Curio Bay. Curio Bay is home to a petrified forest that is around 175 million years old. You can walk right down on to the rocks and get an up close look at it as well as the fascinating rock pools that have developed beside them. It is also the home to some yellow eyed penguins and if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse of the adults coming home to feed their chicks, we were unfortunately far to early in the day for this delight.
This was another day where we didn’t have very far to travel so we were settled in to our next freedom camping spot overlooking the Waikawa Harbour in time for lunch with the absolute waterfront views. Our afternoon wasn’t hard to fill with water on our doorstep and Oliver enjoying his extra time with Wayne. The Catlins was proving to be just as amazing as we had hoped it would be, I know if we had explored here when Wayne wasn’t working there were a few places that would have tempted us in to staying longer than we had planned. With Xmas eve arriving the next day we enjoyed a quiet evening drinking in the views, with a warm relaxed feeling inside that is so typical of a holiday by the beach.