Could this be the best campground ever?

After a run of amazing spring weather that had us all breaking out the shorter sleeves and dipping our feet in the ocean to see just how cold it was we woke to the other side of spring a wet stormy day. It called for a slight adjustment in our plans and a straight trip through to our next destination instead of stopping to do a walk on the way. We were heading up around an hour passed Westport to a campground called the Gentle Annie, several people had recommended it to us and since it was in a good location for the things we wanted to do we were going to give it a go. It was pretty much love at first sight when we arrived, the love only deepened once we picked our parking spot overlooking the river mouth and the beach beyond. For us that is normally enough for a camp to rank fairly highly, great views and close to the beach. But this place also has a wonderful little area that in the summer is a cafe as well. Over winter it serves as the lounge area for campers complete with a fire, well supplied play area for children and unlimited free wifi – words that are guaranteed to bring a smile to Wayne’s face. There’s also a great outside area with a pizza oven and a fire pit that would be a fabulous place to relax with a few drinks over summer, also a pretty great place to toast a few marshmallows on a September evening.

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This is a spot where you could have filled your time easily without ever leaving the camp. A beach to roam, great spot to try to catch a fish and even some walking tracks to explore on the property. We did a bit of all these things but there were a few places we really wanted to explore from here. One of them was the Oparara Arches. The arches are past Karamea a tiny little town pretty much as far as the road goes north on the west coast and knowing that the road was a fairly steep windy affair we opted to just take the car and go for the day. Because we are normally staying right at or very close to the places we are visiting that day our mornings don’t normally have to start early. We can take our time, do a bit of school work and sort a few things around the bus before we head out to do something. This day however we made sure we were on our way by just after eight and we were so glad we did after the long drive there. All worth it once we arrived and started our first walk of the day.

We started with the smallest and arguably most interesting walk first, to a series of caves that they call the crazy paving cave and box canyon cave. As the name would suggest the floor in the crazy paving cave is cracked and broken like some kind of randomly arranged paving stones. This cave is not to big and you walk through it and then up a flight of stairs to make your way down in to the box canyon cave. Luckily we had brought our torches because this cave went in quite a way and both the boys wanted to explore every inch of it. Once we managed to tear Oliver away from the caves we walked in to the Oparara Arch the biggest of the limestone arches in this area. It is very hard to catch the scale of this arch in a photo as it is just so huge, towering above you like a giant window in a natural ceiling.

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The other arch that you can see here is the Moria Gate arch, it’s smaller but you can actually climb down inside this one to a cave like area, sit inside and look out through both sides of the arch. The fascinating system of caves in this area have taken millions of years to develop and in the quiet, coolness of Moria Gate you get a real feel for that. It feels like a place that has been relatively unchanged by people and I hope it remains that way.

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After a day spent in such a fascinating part of the country we got to go back to our home parked right beside a gorgeous beach. It almost felt too much to hope for a great sunset to end our day but perhaps this truly is the best camp ever because we got one anyway.

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Back at the beach

We had spent three weeks in Nelson and after over two months of travelling it felt like the longest time. Luckily for us the opportunity for work in Blenheim came up and we were on the move again. So we left Nelson on a friday hoping to find somewhere off grid and interesting to spend the weekend. The first spot we stopped at would have been a lovely summer spot, but one of winter’s major drawbacks for us is a lot of grassy camps are just to waterlogged and soft for us now, this one we gave a wide berth as you could clearly see other people had been stuck. We arrived at Rarangi beach just before the sun started to drop and just in time to squeeze in a short walk on the beach. Instantly we knew we had hit the jackpot again in this camping spot. The campsite itself is a perfect winter site – gravel to park on! Though we didn’t quite get a beach view from our spot it was just a few steps away and it’s a glorious rocky affair, with views of the hills and snowy mountains in the distance.

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Saturday morning passed quickly, Oliver is well used to what new spots mean now and he is quick to jump on his bike, grab Dad and head off to see what they can find. Here there was a playground and pump track just up the road and a cave at the far end of the beach. I made the most of a bit of quiet time at the bus, gave everything a good clean and tidy up, did some baking and enjoyed a small break from the million questions a five year old continually fires your way. After lunch we were keen for a walk so we headed to Wither hills farm park in Blenheim. There are lots of walks in the park and we easily found one to suit our needs. Oliver was charmed by the stepping stones over the stream that we had to cross numerous times and the occasional sighting of some sheep. We squeezed in a short visit to Pollard park to try out the playground before heading back to our spot for the night.

Sunday was another gorgeous sunny day, even the last few nights had not been that cold, I now think the weather was lulling us in to a false sense of security before it delivered another wintry blast. We checked out the Blenheim farmers market in the morning, which was small but had a good range of produce and a few other bits and pieces. Oliver really enjoys shopping at farmers markets now, he’s keen to help pick out the apples he wants and choose the biggest broccoli he can find, like me I think he finds it a far more appealing way to shop than a supermarket. Once we had made it back to the bus with our purchases we decided to head to the end of the beach where the boys had found there cave and then go for a short walk around to a spot called Monkey bay. Monkey bay was tiny but interesting, it had a sea cave that you could walk a small way in to when the tide was out and sea the waves washing through from the other side. Also some more of those views you could just stand and stare at for the longest time.

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From Rarangi beach it’s just a short ten minute drive to White’s Bay, a beach we had visited with my parents on our second day in the south island and we did head there for a short time that afternoon to walk on the beautiful sandy beach and explore the rock pools along the edge of the bay. I find it fascinating that these two beaches are so close together yet polar opposites, one white sand and fairly sheltered beach, the other a vast stretch of rocks as far as the eye can see and waves that you can hear crashing in on the beach at night. This diversity and contrast is where a lot of the famed south island beauty lies I think. You don’t have a chance to get bored with the views because they change often.

This weekend made me appreciate our moveable home on a new level. Even when we are having to remain in one spot for work we still have the ability to just head somewhere interesting and spend a few days exploring, no need to pack bags or book accommodation. No extra expense apart from the petrol which in this case we would have used anyway coming to Blenheim for work. Most of all the luxury of having your home with you wherever it is you choose to stop, so whatever the weather brings or what mood strikes you once you are there you are prepared for it all. This freedom means that it doesn’t have to feel like we have stopped travelling for a while, the adventure doesn’t have to pause just because we have.

Whispering Falls

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

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

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

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

A few last days at the beach

After our big few days on the Abel Tasman track we were keen for a bit of a rest and relaxation. As our travels after this were heading inland we decided on two nights at Kaiteriteri beach at the camping ground there which is just a short stroll across the road from one of the areas trademark golden beaches. It is literally just around the corner from Marahau where we stayed after completing our tramp so it was a very relaxed drive there and an early check in. And our first day disapeared easily catching up on washing, strolling on the beach and playing on the flying fox at the playground next door. The perfect contrast to the busyness of our previous day.

The next morning we woke to the sound of rain on the roof and the feeling that the winter weather is on it’s way. Deciding that a bit of a day out in the car would be a good way to kill our rainy day we headed back up the Takaka hill planning to visit Harwoods Hole. But when we arrived the rain got much heavier so the 45 minute walk to the viewing area was just not going to happen. Instead we headed to the nearby Ngarua caves.

As we drove down the driveway to the caves it was very foggy and the area really couldn’t have looked less inspiring. But it was something to get us out of the car before driving back and it wouldn’t be raining in the caves so we brought tickets for the next tour. Well as sometimes happens when you go into something with low expectations this cave tour was actually a very cool experience. Oliver knew it would be from the minute they gave us special hard hats to wear, perhaps Mum took a little more convincing.

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With only two other people joining us on our guided tour we had plenty of time to make our way through the cave and we spent around 45 minutes walking through, being told the history of the caves and a little about how they are formed. The cave had lots of cave coral as well as stalagtites and stalagmites and one large open area in the middle of the cave which they call the cathedral. Apparently all caves have a cathedral and this is normally the most beautiful part of the cave, this one definetly was. The formations in the cave are made of marble so even the stalagtites that have broken are beautiful because you can see the marble inside. We even got to see some moa bones that had been discovered in the cave and hold a thigh bone of a moa. And at the end we climbed out via a little ladder just to add that little bit more adventure to the whole experience.

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It was the perfect way to spend a rainy morning and only made better by the fact that once we arrived back at the bus the sun had miraculously come out. So Oliver and Wayne jumped on their bikes and I put on my walking shoes and we headed for a lookout at one end of the beach. When you live in such a small space there is a real magic feeling when the rain clears and the sun comes out. The outdoors has become so much more a part of our living space now that our house has become so much smaller, so the impact of a rainy day is amplified. Hence seeing that glorious sun breaking through after such a wet morning makes your steps feel lighter and your whole day feel better.

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We truly have had an extended summer during our time exploring these golden beaches but it has finally drawn to a close. Perhaps now was the perfect time to move away from the beaches for a while and see what the inland parts of the south island have to offer as well. If it is half as amazing as what we have seen so far I am sure we will love it.

Our first month on the road

Unbelievably we have been living in the bus for a whole month now. So far it has been a pretty dreamy experience, it is everything I hoped it could be and a little bit more. There have not been as many issues with adjusting to it as I thought, at first there was a lot of organising to do since we had a bit of a rushed and messy final move in to the bus. But gradually over the month most things have found a place, there are still a few boxes lurking in the boot of the bus that I haven’t opened yet, perhaps a sign they are things we simply don’t need in this new life? Time will tell. Establishing a bit of a routine for Oliver is an evolving thing, we have the bed time one sorted, a major for me since Oliver will not be going to kindy or school now. At the moment with Wayne around all the time I am getting lots of time to sneak off for a walk or take some time to myself. When he’s working, night time will be my only chance for this and particularly when you live in close quarters that time to myself, to not be Mum for a while is precious.

There are still day’s where we will be somewhere, walking down a beach or through the bush and I almost have to pinch myself. It is hard to believe we are living like this now when a year ago a two week camping holiday was all the time away we could manage. I am fully expecting this experience to change a little once we have been doing it for longer, at the moment it is pretty idyllic. Moving around lots, seeing lots of interesting things and Wayne being free not to work. The periods where he is working will perhaps resemble our old life a whole lot more. I think Oliver will really miss him when he is at work now, he has had a taste of having Dad around all the time and he loves it! I am pretty sure he is not the only one. There are days where they will both just ride off together and sometimes not appear again for a few hours, normally both itching to tell me whatever fun they have discovered. I can see Oliver blossoming under all the one on one time with his Dad and I can see Wayne enjoying being a father more now that he isn’t always tired from starting work at 1am or distracted by something else he has to get done. The gift of time together is the biggest gift this lifestyle will give us.

So the goal now is to find ways to make sure we make the most of that gift and ensure we can work less and travel more. Luckily bus living is proving to be quite economical so that part of our strategy is working out. We are exploring options for a cheap or free place to park the bus while we are working in Nelson, really this is where we can save the most money. And that is after all the whole point of spending money installing a solar system and bathroom etc so that we can save money in the long run with cheaper places to park, because we don’t need the facilities at a motor camp. Although it is nice every now and then to have a real shower and laundry facilities on your doorstep. I have a new appreciation for unlimited supplies of water and washing machines that’s for sure.

We are spending most of this week in Nelson, starting the job hunting process, buying birthday presents for a certain little boy and just enjoying this beautiful city by the sea. After this we have another three weeks of freedom before coming back to Nelson for our first stint of work. This may be the last of the nicer, warmer weather before winter really kicks in so we are keen to keep moving and make the most of it. I am hopeful that the second month on the road will be just as good as the first and if we are really lucky maybe even a little bit better.

A day on the spit

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At the northern end of golden bay is the Farewell spit, it’s New Zealands longest sandspit at 35 km long. It’s also a nature reserve and because the wetlands is such an important breeding grounds for so many birds it’s more protected than our national parks. The only vehicles apart from Doc vehicles that are allowed access are from one tour company, you are also only allowed to walk on the first 4 km of the spit, though after driving out there on those miles and miles of sand I am quite sure I would have had more than enough after walking those 4 km. So we decided that this was something worth doing and put our tourist hats on for the day and joined the tour.

It is hard to actually grasp how long the spit is when you are driving towards it and looking out, because you actually can’t see most of it, some of it disappears in a mirage and then you see what you would likely guess is an island where there are a patch of trees growing, then past that there is a good ten kilometres that you again can’t see. Even once the driver had told us all this it wasn’t until we were actually on the beach driving along that you fully grasp how big this sandspit truly is. Our first stop on the beach is Fossil point, this is the end of the beach where visitors can walk to so being a fine day there are plenty of people wandering around, exploring the rock pools and the beach. I quickly regretted my choice of putting Oliver in socks and shoes as he tore around the beach splashing in every puddle he could find, luckily I was quick enough to stop him before he went in further than his knees and double lucky I had popped in his jandals in case he got hot in the afternoon.

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After this stop it was time to head towards the lighthouse, with over 20 km of sand to negotiate it was an entertaining trip. A few seal sightings, plenty of birds and sand that seems to stretch on forever.

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There has been a lighthouse here on the spit since 1869 and originally there were three lighthouse keepers stationed out here to man it. It is now automated but the three houses the keepers family’s lived in still remain and the trees that were planted to make their life on a giant sandspit more bearable have transformed the area in to a lovely little green oasis. You can see why they say the lighthouse keepers were devastated when the lighthouse was automated and there jobs there ended, it was no doubt a fairly idyllic life for people who were well suited to its challenges. We had lunch and an explore around the lighthouse, Oliver’s main disappointment was that the second tour bus got stuck coming through the soft sand to the lighthouse and our bus didn’t! But he was quickly consoled by the fact that our bus travelled faster on the sand so we were the first to get places. He was also rather impressed with the array of huge whale bones they have around the house where we ate lunch, there are a large number of whale strandings in Golden Bay probably due to the bay being so shallow, the tide going out very quickly and more than likely the spit itself.

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Once we left the lighthouse behind we drove a small bit further down the beach, as far as they can safely drive but far enough to grasp how far that sand actually extends and how much it curves around. After turning around and heading back the way we had come there was one final stop on the spit, perhaps the most fun part of the trip for the smaller people on board, time to run down some giant sand dunes! Wayne was a champ running up and down those dunes a good dozen times, I went down twice, up once and that was more than enough of a workout for me.

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It took a bit to convince Oliver to leave those sand dunes behind, they were the perfect thing to unleash some of his boundless four year old energy on. I imagine those mothers of young children at the lighthouse sending them to run up and down the dunes when they got restless and tucking them in to bed at night well and truly worn out. For us there was a bit more driving and a quick stop at Cape Farewell, the northern most point of the south island.

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This trip exceeded any expectation I had of it. The spit is its own little world out there and it’s amazing to see the amount of bird life that is living out there, left alone their environment not being interfered with by humans. It makes you wonder if this is not the tactic we need to take more often to help some of our endangered birds, reserve some important areas that are solely for there use so they can just do what they have been doing for their entire existence before we started changing there environment for our own purposes. What ever the solution is I know that exposing our children to the beauty of the world around them can only help when it is their time to be the caretakers of it. Because if they don’t see the world and the creatures in it they will never know they need saving.

Welcome to sunny Nelson

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It was a glorious, sunny autumn day when we arrived in Nelson. All the more glorious because the day before had been wet, windy and bitterly cold. But that cold day seemed a small price to pay to get to see snow on the mountains as we drove in to Nelson.

Nelson was the first decent sized city we had been in since Wellington so our first plans were to get some groceries and then find a place to stay for a couple of nights. We needed a little it of time to decide on exactly where we were going to next. After getting supplies and finding a spot to stay the night it was time to take Oliver to the playground we had spied on our way in. The playground was right on the waterfront so it wasn’t long before we ended up on the beach. It also wasn’t long before my son was soaked from head to toe, frolicking in the waves. The mountains with their dusting of snow looked gorgeous from the beach and as we walked, played and admired we decided this would be the first place we looked for work. It seems easier to make decisions like this now that we are actually on the road, I think the fact that we have made it this far gives us confidence that we can make anything work out if we put our minds to it.

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But we have only been travelling a few weeks and we are not ready to stop moving just yet. So we simply paused a few days, caught our breath and caught up on washing, did some research and planning as to where we were headed next and enjoyed a little taste of what Nelson has to offer. When we left we were headed towards Takaka with high hopes of adventures to be found.