Christmas at the beach

When we found out Wayne would have a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period it was a fairly easy decision about which way we wanted to head. If we traveled through Arthurs Pass and then back towards Christchurch through the Lewis Pass then we would have explored the final places in the South Island that we so far hadn’t got around to. When we left we were unsure whether we would loop around via Lake Brunner or go all the way to the coast. It is one of the wonderful things about traveling this way, even at a busy time of year you can choose to just play it by ear and hope there’s a spot wherever you decide to stop. A lot of the camps we were staying at run on a first come, first served basis, no bookings and they were we guessed the kind of places that wouldn’t get to busy until after Christmas day.

So we set off with very little plans, enough groceries to last us a couple of weeks and one very excited wee boy. We set off from Christchurch close to midday so our first days plans were purely to get to the first camp we planned to stay at so we would be ready to head out the next morning and see the sights. We arrived at the first spot to find it small and rather busy, essentially it was just a carpark where you can stay overnight as well. We debated carrying on to the next spot which wasn’t far away but since Wayne didn’t really want to reverse the bus out we decided to settle in and see if the majority of the cars would clear out as the day went on. Luckily our patience paid off and we found a spot that suited us perfectly and left us facing in the right direction for a speedy getaway the next day. We eased into our holiday with an afternoon playing platonk and slapping on copious amounts of insect repellent.

The next day we had a slight bit of back tracking to do so that we could visit Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill. Easily visible from the road this is a fascinating little stop. There’s a short well maintained track from the carpark to the start of the large limestone rock formations and then a myriad of unmarked but well worn little paths to wander along as you explore this wonderful area. This is one of those wonderful places that you can really spend as little or as much time as you have and still enjoy the place. With small children in tow it’s the sort of place you could happily while away most of the day playing amongst the rocks. We settled for a fun hour or so before heading back to the bus to carry on with our adventures. As sometimes happens we didn’t end up going very far at all. Probably not much more than ten minutes down the road we pulled in to Lake Pearson to have lunch and decided that actually we’d just stop here for the night. Wayne had been working a lot of hours in the lead up to Christmas and been away from us more nights than we would normally like so I think we were drawn to a much slower pace of travel this time around. So apart from a small drive down a dirt road to find nearby Lake Sarah our afternoon was full of playing on the edge of the lake, trying to entice the mother ducks to bring their ducklings closer and sipping a few cold drinks while we took in the views.

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Home for the night at Lake Pearson

When we set off the next morning it was Monday and we had two nights until Christmas. We moved the bus to Klondike Corner and found a great spot beside the beautiful river with views up the valley to one of the last peaks with snow still clinging to its top. We had one walk that we definetly wanted to do in Arthurs Pass and it was the Devils Punchbowl falls, so this was our first destination for the day. You can actually see the falls from the carpark but it’s more than worth the climb up for a closer peek.

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Devils punchbowl falls
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Taking in the views from above the viaduct

After that we wandered through the little town and took a drive to the lookout at Deaths corner to look at the view of the viaduct we would be crossing as we made our way to the West coast. This was about where Oliver decided he’d had enough of playing tourist for the day, he remembered that gorgeous river we had parked the bus beside and the only way he was interested in spending the rest of his day involved that river. Luckily as it turns out his parents more than share his love of icy cold rivers. By the end of the day we had all had a very refreshing swim and a good dose of time spent basking in the sunlight, soaking in natures beauty.

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Klondike corner and some epic bus manouvering for a great spot
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The last of the lupins and a small dusting of snow remains

That night we decided that this was where we would leave our exploring of Arthurs Pass. We were all feeling like spending Christmas at the beach would be a great idea so the next day we got up early to get ahead of the traffic and headed for Westport. We had stayed at a beautiful NZMCA camp there when we explored the west coast, right beside the beach it would be the perfect spot to celebrate on christmas day. Once we made our way down to the coast we were travelling through areas we had already visited so we opted to just keep driving with a lunch stop beside the beach at Fox river being pretty much our only stop. It was so worth it to arrive in Westport, find a nice spot and settle in to just enjoy what Christmas is ultimately all about. Time spent with the ones you love.

Our second Christmas with our wee family just by ourselves was just as lovely as the first. Oliver is still completely in love with the magic of Santa and Christmas but I am at the point where I can see that we may not have many more of those years left. I think I was more mindful this year of just enjoying those little things while they are there to enjoy. Then of course the big plus of having no where to rush off to and only three people to cook for is that we all got to spend most of the day on the beach. So once the presents were all opened and properly inspected, we swam. Then we had a BBQ lunch and of course we swam some more. It was obviously a winning formula because we decided to spend two more nights at Westport and that was pretty much how all our days went. It’s truly amazing to me how many hours of entertainment you can get out of a long stretch of sand, some water and whatever the waves have washed in. By the time we left, despite our best efforts there was sand creeping it’s way from the front of the bus right up to the back. It was even managing to infiltrate the bed. But all the vacuuming it would take to get rid of it was more than worth it for those four days beside that beach.

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Making the most of beach side living
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Table with a view

Once we left Westport we were right in the middle of the busiest holiday week of the year. We could still find places to stay but they were definetly more crowded than we prefer. So we stopped in Reefton and explored a little of the towns history. Then we stopped in the Lewis Pass and enjoyed the views from the top of the pass, whiled away a few hours beside the river and checked out the wall that’s built on top of the Alpine Fault. After this we opted to head back to Christchurch and spend our last days of Wayne’s holiday somewhere we knew would be relatively quiet. As 2019 drew to a close it felt really wonderful that with this last trip we have slowly worked our way all around the South Island. It may have taken us a lot longer than we originally thought but we did it and I for one would not trade one single moment of it.

 

A wandering Christmas – Part One

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.

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Spoonbills at Fortrose

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.

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Off to explore at Waipapa Point
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Waipapa Point Lighthouse
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Oyster catcher nesting on the bank
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My little beach boy
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Weir bay

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.

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As far south as we can possibly drive
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Rugged coastlines
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The best of views

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.

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Curio Bay
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Inspecting the petrified forest
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spot the starfish

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.

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Waikawa Harbour

Revisiting an old favourite

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Before we head off to explore lots of new places we really want to spend time at some of our favourite local spots while they are still on our back door step. So after spending a wonderful xmas day with my family having a picnic at the beach we decided a quick get away was in order.

Roughly an hour and a half from where we live is a campsite beside Lake Tarawera at a spot called the Tarawera outlet. It’s a spot we have camped at many, many times and is a spot that never disapoints. Stunningly beautiful lake, crisp clear swimming water in the lake and in the river and a relatively easy walk to a nearby waterfall. Really what more could you ask for?

It is a little bit of a drive in through unsealed forestry roads and was quite late by the time we arrived. But the joy of our new way of travelling is that within 15 minutes of arriving I was serving up xmas day leftovers to my tired wee boy and with no real set up of camp required we had time for a stroll down to the lake before bed to wind down from our very busy day.

We woke the next morning to rain and a learning experience of having parked sideways on a sloping site and spent the night slowly sliding out of bed. So after breakfast we shifted to a slightly flatter spot where we could park where the front of the bus was pointing downhill and not the side. A much more comfortable position. With the bus sorted we decided to head off for a little walk along the river.

DSC05610There is a track that follows the river until it goes through an underground tunnel and comes out at the Tarawera Falls, very beautiful with a neat swimming hole enroute but for this walk we decided just to go until Oliver had had enough and wanted to turn around. It’s rather lovely walking through the NZ bush on a rainy day, cool and damp but sheltered from the worst of the wetness. We found a spot for morning tea on some mossy boulders and hung out for some photo’s.

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Luckily in the afternoon the weather cleared and we managed a crisp but refreshing swim in the lake and the river. It was the perfect little getaway after the excitement of xmas day, a great way to shift the focus from presents and over indulgence to family and nature. And the start in a way of our farewell of to our old home and old life as we ease our way into our new one.

A semi wandering Christmas

DSC05485From the moment Oliver came into our lives we started building little traditions around all those special times of year. Birthdays, Easter and one of Oliver’s particular favourites xmas. For us those traditions involve a lot of time with family and knowing that next year our family won’t be so close at hand it has made this xmas extra special.

Even though we are both completely sure that what we are doing is going to be an amazing experience for our whole family and a wonderful learning time for Oliver in particular, it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes have doubts and worries about what we are doing. I worry that he will miss his life we are leaving behind, his kindy, his friends, our family! I worry that perhaps this is just something I want to do so much that I have convinced myself it is great for Oliver as well. I worry about him not starting regular school when he turns five and any impact that could have on him long-term.

Then I start to remind myself of all the wonderful things I believe he will gain from this experience. I remind myself that my family are amazing and they will make sure Oliver’s bond with them stays alive from a distance and he still feels their love for him no matter where we are in the country. I remind myself that he will have the invaluable experience of making new friends where ever we go and that this will be an asset to him in later life. Then most importantly I remind myself that for him to see his parents chasing a dream of there’s and striving hard to make an incredible life for our family is a very powerful lesson in itself.

So then I do what I have found I have to do many times as a mother. I push the big picture long term worries to the back of my mind and I focus on the little things, the day to day things that I actually can do something about in the moment to make a difference.

So this christmas season is being filled with special visits with our good friends. With making the most of the time we have with our family. With a picnic at the beach on xmas day. With enjoying all the local christmas activities that we have done in the past because next year we will have new ones to discover and new traditions to start. And of course with trying so hard to just slow down a little in the mad rush that this time of year can become and truly enjoy the precious four year old enjoyment of that special christmas magic.