We woke to find yet another lovely day on our last morning at the Whitehorse campsite. With weather like this we just had to squeeze in one more walk before we left so we headed to the Tasman Glacier. This was the perfect little walk to round off our time here. It gave us a look at a different part of the valley and a view of Aoraki from the opposite side to which we had been looking at it in the Hooker Valley. It was also a relatively short little climb up and back. Which was easier to coax Oliver in to after the previous days efforts. It also left us enough time to stop in at the showers in the village and treat ourselves to a well earned real shower before we said our goodbyes to this magical spot.
By lunch time we had settled in at a freedom camping spot beside Lake Pukaki. It was a bit of a challenge finding a flat spot here large enough for us but with a location this grand a slight lean was really a small price to pay for the night. We found a walk nearby to a kettle hole which we did largely out of curiosity because we had no idea what a kettle hole was. The walk through farm paddocks felt incredibly uninspiring on the backs of the walks we had done at Mt Cook. The kettle hole itself was pretty uninspiring as well, basically a large hole with a small amount of not to pleasant looking water at the bottom. I am guessing the name comes from a time when you would make the trek down the steep slopes into the hole to fill your kettle. With this one’s location so close to the pristine looking waters of Lake Pukaki it was hard to imagine that trek being worthwhile. The views when you turned away from the delightful kettle hole and looked towards the lake are a far better reason to do this walk.
Our day ended with us all by the lake. It was yet another of those incredibly warm spring days. All three of us had dipped our tired feet in the water. Of course with all those mountains nearby it was icy cold but the day was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant. It really shouldn’t have surprised me because Oliver has such a love for the water. But before long he was venturing so deep into the water that we just stripped him down to his underwear and let him swim. With shrieks of delight he would go as far under the water as he could then he would climb out on to one of the sun warmed rocks and lie in the sunshine lapping up the warmth. Before of course jumping in to repeat the whole process again. Sitting watching Oliver delight in the simple joy of a cold lake and a sunny afternoon gave me just about as much enjoyment as it did him. It was another perfect little moment from a trip that had been full of them.
If you are like us and enjoy spending time in the outdoors then you will know that the weather can have a huge impact on your experiences. I’ve heard completely differing opinions from people on what a place was like solely based on the fact that one had great weather for their visit and one had horrible weather. Historically Wayne and I don’t have the best of luck with the weather gods. We’ve tramped around Lake Waikaremoana in rain that varied from drizzle to downpour and only cleared on our fourth and final day. We did the first day of the Humpridge track in weather so bad the helicopter couldn’t fly up with supplies for the hut and we made it all the way back to sea level without seeing any of the glorious views. We canoed the Whanganui River and it rained every day of our trip. I could go on but you get the point. A little (or a lot) of rain doesn’t scare us, or stop us enjoying ourselves. As long as it’s not a safety issue we still get out there and make the most of it. But there are some places that you really want the weather to play ball. Mt Cook was one of those spots. So when we stopped in Twizel to empty our tanks and top up our groceries we were very excited to see nothing but sunshine in the forecast for the next few days.
It doesn’t take long after making the turn and heading in towards Mt Cook that the views open up. With Lake Pukakis gleaming blue waters beside us and the mountains growing ever larger before us it’s a drive worth putting on your list of must do experiences. By lunch time we had arrived and found ourselves a spot in the DOC camp where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Not only was the sun out in force the day we arrived but it was incredibly warm for an early spring day. We were all itching to get out exploring now that we had arrived so we headed up to Kea point. It’s a short climb up a well used and maintained track. Once you reach the top you can see the Mueller glacier and the terminal lake, as well as a whole lot of mountains. It was such a beautiful afternoon and a glorious spot that we sat here in the sunshine for about an hour enjoying our surroundings. Then when we finally pulled ourselves away to head back down the valley we discovered that your view coming down is just as stunning. I think for me this was my favourite part of exploring here. That no matter which direction you turned in there was beauty.
The next day we had our boots on and were on the track before 9am. We were tackling the Hooker Valley track which is perhaps the most popular day walk in the area. Our plan was that the early start would mean we beat the worst of the crowds. Again this track is well maintained, it’s also relatively flat most of the way so makes the three hour return walk very family friendly. Our little guy found it such a fun track with plenty of swing bridges to cross and rocks to scale along the way. The highlight for all of us was arriving at the lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier. One end of the lake was filled with chunks of ice from the glacier. It was another radiantly clear day and Aoraki Mount Cook is a sight that only becomes more magnificent the closer you venture to it. It was a pretty magical sight and Oliver had a ball playing with the ice on the edges of the lake, it took a bit of convincing to lure him away.
The return journey took us slightly longer than on the way out as tired little legs slowed down. But the few extra stops just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery.
When we did get our tired legs back to the bus we filled the rest of the day with a visit to the information centre in the village which has some really interesting displays about the area and the history of the mountain. It would have been easy to tuck our tired little boy into bed early after this day but instead we sat up long enough for the stars to come out so he could see how magnificent the skys are here. Thankfully it was a clear night and we sat snuggled together in a blanket trying to point out the few constellations we know. But mostly just admiring the milky way and how beautiful the sky really is when you are somewhere as remote as this. We were leaving the next day. Even though we had only spent two nights here this place has a magic that seems to make the time stretch out. In fact it is one of those places that has a special feeling to it, far beyond it’s stunning natural beauty. For me it felt peaceful, quiet and still. Like somehow it has managed to stay whole. To resist any big change by people. To me there is a magic in that, in a place that will remain largely as nature intended it to be. A place that will remain wild. Our days spent walking around these mountains with people I love left my heart full to overflowing. It was moments like this I dreamed of when we dreamed this crazy life into existence. It’s moments like this that make the whole thing worth doing.
We woke at our camp beside the river. Mountains gleaming white and glorious in the morning sun. It was early as it normally is when Oliver stirs. This morning I purposefully lit the fire and bundled him into our bed for cuddles, stories and a slower start to our day. He had left Dunedin with a nasty cold and though he refused to let it slow him down a quieter day was called for. We literally have all the comforts of home with us when we’re on holiday so it makes it easier to push pause no matter where we are, slow down a little and make sure we all last the distance of the adventure. It’s such a great thing when you are traveling with a child in tow. I know this lazy morning meant we all felt a lot more energetic when we did set off for the day. Before we moved on though we wanted to visit a spot nearby called the clay cliffs. After a quick drive down the road and through some private farm land we arrived at the start of the walk. The cliffs are visible from the start and impressive enough even from the car. But once you walk down further you can walk through into an area that has a dramatic ‘badlands’ like landscape. The scale of the cliffs is really hard to capture in a photo but we had a bit of fun walking through it and seeing how far we could climb.
Once we retrieved the bus we headed for Lake Ohau. There are moments when I am driving behind the bus with a beautiful place unfolding itself before my eyes as we drive towards it that I just know it’s a memory I will hold very clearly long after that moment has finished. Long after we are done living in a bus. Probably long after my little boy has grown and gone. This drive in to Lake Ohau was one of those times. It was a crisp, clear day. The mountains were snow capped and lovely. The lake water was the most beautiful shade of blue, a color so lovely that its hard to believe it’s real. The bus with my two loves in it slowly winding it’s way down towards this beautiful spot. In that moment I felt like a very lucky lady.
It was a bit of a drive around the lake to the spot we wanted to stay at. All worth it when we arrived to find we were the only ones there. This is great for us in our big old bus it gives us plenty of choices and room to manouvre into the ideal spot. It’s even better when it stays empty for the whole afternoon and only a few other people come in for the night. I know I am greedy but places like this are just that little bit more special when you don’t have to share them with to many other people. In keeping with our desire for a slower day we didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon. We strolled along the beach and spent a lot of time enjoying the magnificent backdrop. Then once again it was time to tuck Oliver in for the night and make plans for the next day. The next adventure.
Our last week before we left Gore we had the worst stretch of weather we have probably had in the whole time we have lived in the bus. It was very wet, very windy and just generally cold and miserable. For six long days. It made the week feel like it was stretching on and on for ever. It tested my patience and the limits of how long Oliver can spend cooped up in a small space. But finally Friday arrived, Wayne toddled off to work for the last time and we celebrated as we saw the sun coming out. We made the most of Wayne finishing up a few hours early, said our goodbyes to the other campers and headed off to Lumsden. Lumsden is really unique in that they allow freedom camping right in there town centre. We arrived just as the sun was going down and settled in to our spot with a view of the playground out one window and an old train out the other.
The next morning we were keen to get moving. For the first part of this trip we were heading to spend some time exploring Milford Sounds. I’ve been lucky enough to visit here before and couldn’t wait to do it with a bit more time up my sleeve. I also couldn’t wait to share it with Oliver. So when we arrived in Te Anau to find more rain we hunkered down in the bus for the afternoon and hoped for the weather to clear for us. We got all we hoped for and more the next day when we woke to a frosty morning and clear skies.
You lose cell phone reception not long after leaving Te Anau and then you begin to wind your way in towards this special piece of the country. Our first stop for the day was at Lake Mistletoe for a short but charming walk around this little lake and through the surrounding bush to be serenaded by some resident bellbirds who were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.
By mid afternoon we had arrived at the Totara campsite the first spot we had chosen to stay at on our way in to Milford. We had views of mountains, a gorgeous river alongside us and much to Oliver’s delight outdoor fireplaces for campers to use. The rest of the afternoon was easily filled with a drive down the road to the mirror lakes and a bit more sightseeing along the way. Then we had just enough time left to collect firewood and explore our camp a little before dinner, followed by roasting marshmallows on our fire then a quick game of spotlight before bed.
The next day we were all up and ready to go early, a good thing considering how much we wanted to see. First up we moved the bus a bit further down the valley to the last available DOC camp site the cascades. Even at the time of year that we are travelling in there is a steady trickle of visitors to Fiordland, the size and scope of the cascades campsite gives you a clear idea of how busy it must be in the peak season. This camp was pretty amazing, with stunning mountain views from every window of the bus. After a short time looking around we headed out to explore a little bit down the Hollyford Valley. There is so much you could do here, walks for every age, capability and time frame. Picking which ones you want to tackle is probably the hard part. We stopped at the Lake Marian track and did a section that led to viewing platforms along a cascading section of the river. Oliver was completely absorbed here watching the power of the water tumbling below us. Then after a bit more of a drive down the valley we did a short climb to see Humboldt Falls. They are a large three tiered waterfall and they are a stunning specimen amidst the many that you will find in the Milford Valley.
After a few stops on the way home to gaze at mountains we arrived back at the bus. Since we were staying in a valley the sun had dropped early and we were quite happy to tuck ourselves inside by the fire for the rest of the afternoon. Living in places with all these mountains is still a novelty for me. The landscape here is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real at times, every corner there’s a new peak to marvel at, another waterfall to look at, another piece of this valley carved by some ancient glaciers. Spending time in all that natural beauty was rejuvenating for the soul, coupled with being disconnected from technology it was the perfect way to start this holiday for us. A visceral reminder of why we wanted to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. Spending time in places like this was high on the list of things that motivated us. If just two days here had been this good we were keen to see what the next day and more exploring might discover.
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.
The last few weeks before we left Blenheim flew by incredibly fast. All of a sudden we were visiting favorite spots for one last time, stocking up on groceries and supplies in preparation for heading to smaller towns for a while and counting down the sleeps till we hit the road again. I would say it was almost more exciting than when we left Tauranga in March, this time there was no hint of sadness at leaving the people we loved behind to temper our excitement, just pure enjoyment of the moment.
We left Blenheim on a perfectly sunny saturday morning and sticking to our rule of no more than an hours travel a day we headed for a spot close to St Arnaud. The drive was full of snowy mountains to admire and paddocks full of sheep with spring lambs in tow. We arrived in St Arnaud at lunch time and decided that we would stop for lunch beside Lake Rotoiti before heading to our camp for the night. We had spent most of a week staying right on the lake at the beginning of winter, it had stolen our hearts with its misty, moody beauty but today it’s beauty was sun drenched, sparkling and just as magnificent. We picnicked with the ducks and enjoyed a walk in the forest before heading on to find our spot for the next two nights at a spot called the Teetotal campsite. It’s a basic DOC camp situated right beside the ice skating pond. Sadly we were a little late in the season for it to be completely frozen over but there was one permanently shady corner where Oliver could play with the remaining ice. It was such a warm spring day that we pulled out the bbq and even ate dinner outside complete with a snowy mountain to gaze upon.
The next morning as if to remind us that it wasn’t quite summer yet we woke to our most frozen morning yet. There was even ice on the inside of the windows at the back of the bus and an impressive amount of ice on the pond as well. We didn’t have time to linger in the frozen wonderland as we had booked a shuttle to go up a nearby ski field for one last day playing in the snow before we headed away from the mountains. Rainbow ski field was busier than when we had visited Mt Lyford and had two different areas set up for sledding so Oliver was in heaven. He spent the whole day running up and sliding down the hills, barely even stopping to eat his lunch and reluctantly handing the sled back to the hire place only on the threat of missing the shuttle back down the mountain. There is nothing quite like tucking your child in to bed at the end of a long, busy day that they have enjoyed immensely and watching them drift off to sleep within mere moments of their head hitting the pillow.
The next morning was a lot milder than the previous one and made tidying up to get on the road again an easier, quicker task. We needed one more stop to break up the driving before we made it to the west coast so we stopped at an area called the Lyell historic area. In the late 1800’s it was the sight of a bustling mining community and the start of a road that led through the bush to several gold mines. Now there is a campground and picnic area there at the start of what they call the old ghost road, a cycle trail and tramping track that follows what used to be the road. We weren’t prepared to do the cycling or complete the whole tramp but we did a really worthwhile walk to a spot called the Croesus battery, the closest of the old mining sites. On the way you passed the old Lyell cemetery, a handful of old graves, some with headstones intact that tell tales of hardworking men and women who didn’t live the long lives we expect today. Some others have been overgrown by the bush a little and in one a tree had grown up in the exact spot the headstone would have been, I hope that who ever lies beneath its strong roots can appreciate the beauty of such an addition to there final resting place.
As he gets older Oliver is finding walks like this more interesting and is more able to grasp the history side of it. The battery itself is rather intact due to the fact that it was simply to hard for the metal components to be hauled away for scrap once the mine closed, having that visual evidence for him to see really helps to bring everything to life in his young mind. So much so that he was a horse hauling a cart down the old ghost road on the way back to the bus, then we all had to have turns at being the ghost chasing the others off our road and competing as to who had the scariest ghost sounds. This was a great little adventure on our way through to the west coast, so far being back on the road was living up to all our expectations.
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.
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.
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…