Otago Peninsula

Winter has been chugging along for us in the bus. Wayne’s working and Oliver and I are busy with his learning. But on the weekends we have been keeping ourselves really busy with all the things that we want to do while we are based in Dunedin. One place that has lots to offer and has required a few visits to tick them all off is the Otago Peninsula. I’ve found a few places on this journey that have claimed a wee piece of my heart and this is the latest place to do that. It’s just a really beautiful piece of this country of mine. If you want somewhere to go that you can disconnect from the hustle of everyday life and ground yourself in the flow of nature, then this could be your spot. It has beautiful harbour walkways to roam, wild beaches to explore, epic lookouts to soak in the views, a castle and a plethora of wildlife. All this and it’s less than an hours drive from Dunedin city to Taiaroa Heads.

On our first visit to the peninsula we came with a clear purpose, to find some Sea lions. We had seen plenty of signs at various beaches around Dunedin telling us what to do if we encountered one but we had yet to see one in the flesh. So after a bit of googling we headed to Sandfly Bay, this is not the first sandfly bay I have encountered and I was happy we were visiting in winter when the small biting creatures aren’t present. But on arriving we discovered that this bay is named for the sand that is often flying across the bay because of high winds. Thankfully it wasn’t to bad the day we went, there was a strong, cold wind but no sand flying! As we are discovering at many beach walks in the area the walk down to the beach was via a very steep, sandy track and then down across some massive sand dunes. But it was all worth it when we got to the beach and there were actually sea lions sleeping on the beach. We saw a few lone males snoozing away and a small family with a pup making their way higher up the beach to a sheltered spot.

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Sea lion family at Sandfly bay

At the opposite end to which we accessed Sandfly bay is Sandymount Reserve. The advantage of such hilly terrain is clear when you visit here. The views are breathtaking from the carpark alone. But a short climb up to a lookout or quick walk to Lovers leap and they get immesaurably better.

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View from lovers leap

Of course we had to pay a visit to Larnach Castle on one of our visits to the peninsula. This is the only castle you will find in New Zealand and it has a suitably interesting history to go along with that status. Once you have finished wandering the rooms of the castle, taking in the views from the tower and letting your child climb the small winding staircase to the tower repeatedly then the gardens here are well worth a stroll around.

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Larnach Castle

By far my favourite thing we did on the peninsula was watch the little blue penguins come in for the night at Pukekura. When we spent our night in a hut on the Abel Tasman we met a young couple on our evening beach walk who were hoping to see penguins, it was not to be but Oliver remembers that moment and ever since he has often asked if we can go somewhere that he can see them. At the albatross centre at the very end of the peninsula they do evening penguin watching tours so we decided it was something we really wanted to do while we were here. We were lucky enough to be able to do it while my brother and his family were here visiting which only made it even more special. Right on dark you are taken down to a large viewing platform by the beach, they have special lights that won’t harm the penguins eyes so you can see the beach and the well worn path the tiny little penguins are going to take up to their nests. Then you wait for the penguins to arrive, trying to distinguish if that thing floating in the water, in the dark is a penguin or just a piece of sea weed bobbing around. The penguins gather in groups called rafts then make their way on shore in groups and I am not sure there is anything more adorable than the worlds smallest penguin waddling it’s way on to the shore. Unless it’s the way they launch their bodies over the patch of rocks that lie between them and their cosy nests. These are the worlds smallest penguins and clearly designed to move better in the ocean then on land they do not let any of this deter them for long. We made the drive back to Dunedin that night with one little boy so happy that the penguins had been just as wonderful as he imagined, though a whole lot smaller.

Again I am struck with that feeling of how much we have seen and done on this journey of ours. We started with such a big wish list of places to go, things to see and experience. To be honest I didn’t know how many of them we would actually do it was just all part of the fun of dreaming up this new life and a great way to get Oliver involved in the process. But there are some pretty big, happy ticks against that list now and some pretty big happy memories to go along with them. The fact that some of those memories happened in this little part of the country is probably how it stole a piece of my heart.

 

Into the wilderness we go

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.

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A gorgeous day for a walk

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.

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Mirror lakes
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just a boy with his binocolaurs
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our backyard for the night

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.

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watching the water
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Humboldt Falls
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Mountain views at every stop

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.

School on the move.

After four nights at the Gentle Annie we reluctantly left that magical spot behind. We headed back to Westport for a night so we could do some of the everyday jobs that needed to be done. Top up on some groceries, empty and refill our water tanks and collect some mail my Mum was forwarding on to us. Oliver’s school work mostly comes by mail so this is a fairly regular part of our lives now, Mum will send a package with everything that has arrived for us to the post office wherever we are going to be and we simply collect it from there.

When we were travelling at the beginning of the year Oliver wasn’t enrolled in Te Kura yet so fitting in school work around our adventures wasn’t a consideration. These last few weeks have been our first attempt at fitting it all in. The first week we were a bit casual, missing some days, doing just a little bit on others. Because it’s our first week with Wayne back in the mix and Oliver was just so excited about that it just felt right to go with the flow. Also that’s the whole point of doing correspondence, of living this way, that you can decide when you are going to do things. But after that things naturally just found a little rhythm. If it’s a wet day then of course we do quite a bit of school work! The days that we are busy we do around an hours worth of work in the morning before we head out or on the odd day we have slotted that hour in the afternoon, but it does generally go smoother earlier in the day. And at least once a week we try to stay in one spot for more than one night and not do heaps on the day where we aren’t moving. This day serves lot’s of purposes. We catch our breath, have a bit of a rest. We can do some school work without rushing through it to get on to something more fun.

After we left Westport we had one of these quiet days that ended up feeling like days like this were the best thing about our new life. We had spent a night in Charleston a little town not far from Westport and taken a train trip into the bush that they have there. For our little train lover it was a real hit. After that we ambled just a little further down the coast and found a freedom camping spot that is one of our best finds so far. It’s just a carpark beside a river mouth with a view of an old bridge and some fairly nice new loos. But if you take a quick stroll down past the old bridge and under a new one you are on the beach. A rather lovely beach with sea caves you can get to at low tide.

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It was an easy choice to spend another night here. We woke up slowly the next morning and eventually made our way through some school work. Around eleven we headed down to the beach for a walk. As we strolled in the windy, overcast day that we had been given I felt deep down how incredible it is to live this way. I have said before I am not sure how we will go back to a normal life, lets just say I still wonder that! Moments like this make me very aware that we actually require very little to be our happiest. Being together, feeling like we have achieved something with our day and a bit of time spent in nature, it is really all it took to feel completely and utterly content with life.

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A letter to my five year old

Five years ago I was lucky enough to become a Mum. It was something I had hoped for and dreamed of for a long time before it became a reality, before you became a reality. And once you were here it was like the missing piece of my life’s puzzle had arrived. The life that Wayne and I had built together was a great one, but it was even better to be able to share it. From the minute the midwife placed you on my chest we were in awe of this tiny force of nature that had arrived in our lives. The love, the wonder that you brought to our lives has only grown from there. It’s almost hard now to clearly remember what life felt like before you were in it, who I was before you were in my life. I know a trip like this at this stage in my life was never on the cards before you came along. But part of my journey as a Mum has taught me that life does not always go the way you had hoped it would. We had never planned to only one have one child, but it turns out this is what our family is meant to look like, the three of us – a tight loving little family.

For a while this was very hard to accept and I still have moments where I am so sad we can’t give you a brother or sister to grow with. But the fact that there is only you is a big factor in what opened the door for this new life and perhaps selfishly, a big reason why a few more years spent enjoying your company is something I am completely ok with. Your life as a five year old will look very different to other children’s, something I know you realise. There have been many questions about what children do at school all day and perhaps a few doubts that you are missing out on something by having Mum as your teacher. I can assure you my love that what ever you do miss out on will be more than compensated by what you gain in our travelling. I was fairly certain of this before we started, now two months in I am completely convinced.

Our life is richer in so many ways now. Our bond as a family is closer than it has ever been, the confined space and so much time spent together has worked well for us all. We are all a lot happier living this way, it is only early days still but there is so much more smiles, laughter and good vibes now. We have experienced some wonderful things together and seen so many beautiful places. The people we are meeting is an experience within itself, both the other travellers and the locals in the places we stay. I know this is still our country but for a little boy who has only ever lived in one place it is great to see different ways that people choose to live and conduct their lives.

Of course like all parents we are only making the choices that sit the best with us and hoping that in the long term these will work well for you. I also now hope that you will remember this time when you grow up and not in a fuzzy background, you were told about it so many times you think you remember it way. I hope it holds enough impact to be a clear memory. And I hope it’s as good a memory for you as it is for me.

 

 

Four nights at lake Rotoiti

We left Murchison amidst a torrential downpour and decided that a morning pitstop at a nearby restaurant for a strong coffee and a time warming our selves in front of there fire was completely justified. This was our fifth day in a row with little to no sun and the futures forecast looked just as bleak so our plans to freedom camp a few nights at our next destination had to change a little. When we arrived at the completely adorable little lakeside camp at Lake Rotoiti we could almost feel the weather had done us a favour. There is not much at Lake Rotoiti and the little town of St Arnaud that sits beside the lake. A general store/petrol station, a few places to eat and a wonderful information centre to help you explore the array of tracks that are on offer here. There are three camps around the lake but at this time of year only the small one at Kerr bay that also offers some powered sites is open. We found a spot tucked in the trees where we could plug in to power and ride out whatever weather was thrown at us over the next couple of days. That first afternoon was very wet, we managed one short excursion to the lake front but even wrapped up in jackets it wasn’t much fun. But then again we experienced that sudden ceasing of the rain and the sense of release it brings as you explore this place the rain was hiding from you.

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That night was one of the wettest we have spent in the bus and with the fresh snow on the mountains around us it was the coldest so far. Collecting firewood to keep our little fire burning has become a part of our weekly routine, luckily it is something that Oliver enjoys helping with and so far we have found no shortage of pinecones to collect.

Our second day at the lake we had enough of a break in the weather to do the short honeydew walk close to the camp. Lake Rotoiti is a significant area for the countries conservation efforts, it is one of six mainland predator free islands, where essentially they use the things they have learnt on these off shore sanctuarys and put them in to practise on the mainland. They have a lot of beech forest here and it is part of the reason this spot was picked. There is a bug that lives on the beech trees and creates honeydew, before introduced pests the honeydew played an important part in our countries eco system as it is a great source of food for the birds. Wasps have largely hijacked the honeydew for themselves so here as well as trapping the four legged pests they try to eliminate the wasps as well. It is clearly working as the bird life here is abundant and even in the cold, damp weather we had you could smell a strange sweetness in the air from the honeydew.

The next day we walked from Kerr bay to West bay. It was a pleasant lake side track and the sun even attempted to shine through at some points. We decided as we walked that we were not quite ready to leave and we would stay two more nights. We were all in love with this spot, the view of the snow covered mountains towering over the misty lake was a sight that would never get old. As well as having a multitude of walking tracks to keep us busy. So with the next days forecast looking like our clearest yet we planned a walk to Whiskey falls. It was three hours return but by now that is well within Oliver’s capabilities. We woke to a fairly cold morning so took our time to get ready and head on our way. The track was relatively flat and after the initial part leading down from the road followed the lake quite closely, this side of the lake was quite different to where we were camped. There were several exposed rocky portions to cross and you could feel the air getting cooler and cooler as you gradually turned the corner towards those snowy peaks at the far end of the lake. Oliver was the first up the hill to the falls and his cries of joy would have made the long walk worth it even if the falls weren’t as beautiful as they are.

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Just like that our time here had been filled. We had enjoyed it all, even the rainy times spent stomping in puddles. One of the things I did worry about a bit when coming to live in a bus is how we would find the rainy times in a confined space. But this week has been a joy! Hopefully it is a sign of what the rest of winter will bring us…

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A night in a hut

Before we had Oliver one of our favourite ways to spend a weekend was to find a hut to walk to and stay the night at. There is something about heading into the bush with only what you can fit in your packs, only your own two feet to get you there and back that is just appealing to me on a lot of levels. In the early stages of our relationship I know that the time spent tramping helped Wayne and I build a strong bond, it gave us time out from lives in which we normally worked a lot and often only had the same days off once a month. And when Oliver came along it was a part of our life that I sorely missed. When he was around two, big enough that I knew he would sleep through the night without disturbing other hut goers but still small enough to fit in the carrier on our backs we did a few overnight tramps. But then he grew to tall for that and we got really busy trying to sell our house and organise moving in to a bus. So now that we have the time and before it starts to get to cold we were keen to try an overnight tramp in the south island.

The Abel Tasman track is a a multi day tramp that starts at Marahau and goes all the way to Wainui Inlet past Totaranui bay. Because it’s a coastal track and there are plenty of water taxi’s available it makes it very easy to do just a section of the track. Our plan was to catch a water taxi from Marahau to Torrent Bay, walk to Anchorage where there is a hut that we would stay at for the night, then walk out to Marahau the following day.

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Once again we were remarkably lucky with the weather and as we headed to catch our water taxi we were greeted with a lovely sunny day. After a pleasant little boat ride with a few stops to point out some local landmarks and the seals at Adele Island we were dropped at Torrent Bay. It was low tide, so the boots had to come off and Oliver had to get carried in to shore since the boat couldn’t get in as close. What we hadn’t realised is that striking low tide had other implications to, we had a choice of the low tide track across the mud flats which would take 35 minutes or the high tide track which would take nearly two hours. Deciding that there were lots of other side tracks for us to do from Anchorage we took the easy option and where at the hut well before lunch time. This gave us time to explore the amazing beach a little and get first pick of which bunks we wanted. Oliver was thrilled to get a top bunk with Daddy and I was just as thrilled that I didn’t have a top bunk. The hut at Anchorage is fairly new having been opened in 2013, it has 34 bunks spread over four rooms and a roomy kitchen area with a gorgeous view out to the water. It has quite a few modern conveniences as far as huts go, filtered drinking water, flushing toilets and solar powered lights in the kitchen area, even somewhere to charge your phone. It’s just a few steps off the beach and well used by people doing the tramp or kayaking in the Abel Tasman.

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After enjoying lunch with the resident wekas we headed off for a walk to a lookout. The walk to Pitt head is worth the climb for the glorious view of Torrent Bay and Bark bay beyond it, you can’t quite see Anchorage tucked in around the corner of the headland. From there the track looped around finally coming to another picturesque little bay, the Abel Tasman just seems to have an endless supply of little beaches, most small but perfectly formed.

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When we arrived back at the hut it was to find it and the beach beyond extremely busy. There are some large boats that do tours from Kaiteriteri and in the time we had been away they had dropped off a large school group and quite a few day tripping tourists. Along with them were lot’s of kayakers who get picked up from Anchorage by boat at the end of their days paddling. Certainly you are under no illusions that you are to far from civilization. Oliver decided that a swim was a good idea, though judging by the piercing screams he let out every time he got in over his bottom I would say even he is starting to feel the crispness of the water. We walked the length of the beach and explored the rocks at one end of it as we watched all the people boarding their boats to head home. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and a few games of Uno as the sun started to dip behind the hills. We couldn’t resist one last beach walk before bed and Oliver had a ball with his torch on his head chasing it’s light down the beach. We saw stingrays swimming in close to shore and at the far end of the beach saw glow worms in a sea cave. Oliver couldn’t resist a second look at the glow worms and I found a comfy log to sit on while I waited for them. The moon was up and the stars were just starting to flood the sky, it felt like a perfect moment, exploring a beach at night, feeling the peacefulness that the sound of waves lapping on a beach brings you. It struck me how grateful I am that we took this leap into this new life, it would have been so easy to just let it be a dream, something we thought would be amazing but felt there were to many unknowns holding us back. There are still a lot of unknowns around the corner for us and still some moments where I wonder if we can keep doing this, but those moments are so fleeting. It is easy to chase them away when you have beaches to explore and trails to walk with your family. And whatever those challenges end up being they are worth it for these perfect moments we get to share with Oliver.

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The next day Oliver was up bright and early at 5am, not unusual for him, he has been an early riser since forever. Something I have just learnt to live with, in a hut full of lots of sleeping people it was a bit more challenging. But after breakfast, a few dozen games of uno and watching the sun come up from the beach, everyone else started to stir as well. By 9.30 we had our packs on our backs and were starting the long walk back to Marahau. The suggested time was four hours so we were expecting this to be a big day. The track went inland to start with and climbed quite considerably for a while. Then you dropped down and follow the coast more closely with quite a few beaches you had the option of walking down to and exploring. For some reason Oliver struggled a bit with this walk, he just wasn’t his usual motivated little self, it wasn’t an easy walk and though we explored one of the beaches we simply didn’t have the time to go down to every one of them. This felt like a bit of tease to me and I know it was hard for him to. I feel for me kayaking would have been the prime way to explore this section, that way the beaches and the views would have all been much more accessible. It took us seven hours to get back to Marahau and there were quite a few ‘I can’t do this mummy’s’ by the end of it. But in the end he did and this is probably one of the greatest feelings tramping gives. When you have genuine moments of wondering if you can get there, your feet are sore, your pack is heavy, you feel like your steps are getting smaller and smaller, you are moving slower and slower. But you trudge on because there is no other option and then of course you do make it. You achieve something that you genuinely did not think that you could, you surprise yourself and teach yourself that you are much more capable than you imagined. My hope is that these experiences we are having now will stay with us once life has stopped being quite so exciting. That we will never forget how much we actually can achieve.

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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.