Monkey Island

Perhaps the best thing about living in a bus is that even when life is almost normal; your husband has a job, you’re busy teaching your son during the week and keeping the domestic side of life ticking over. The best thing is that the minute friday night rolls around you can crank the old bus into life and head off for anywhere your heart desires for the next two days. Well anywhere within a couple of hours drive! But luckily for us being based in Gore that leaves us with plenty of options to choose from. Now sometimes choosing a destination can take a while, reading about the pro’s and con’s of each spot, weighing your options. But sometimes it can be as simple as reading the name Monkey Island, smiling at such a name given to a beach side spot in a country that isn’t home to any monkeys at all and deciding that finding out why it had that particular name was a priority in your life.

As we made our way out to Riverton and along the coast it was a perfect evening. We hadn’t been at a beach in about six weeks and it was the best feeling to see sea and sand again as we neared our destination. Monkey Island is a freedom camping spot and open to people in tents to so was really busy by the time we arrived. We nabbed one of the last spots with relief before heading down to check out the beach. Monkey Island which gives the spot it’s moniker is a small little island accessible by foot at low tide and by a short swim at other times. Luckily for us it was low tide and the sun was preparing to set so a short stroll across the beach, a clamber over a few rocks and up a few steps gave us the perfect vantage point to take in the sunset.

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The next morning Oliver was up early, the beach was calling to him so we left Wayne to have a bit more sleep while we went for a bit of a walk on the beach. There were a couple of brave tourists taking a brief morning swim but apart from that the beach was ours as we tested the water, explored the little creeks that made their way out to the ocean and enjoyed the feeling of sand between our toes. Once I lured Oliver back to the bus he only really paused long enough to eat some breakfast, change into his togs and drag Wayne out of bed so he could take him back to the beach. When I joined them they had settled in beside the top of the creek, Oliver had his spade and a few little toys to play with in the sand. Wayne had found a log to sit on. Apart from a quick dash to move the bus to a beach side spot once some of the previous nights campers left that’s where we spent our whole morning. Oliver dug and paddled in the water, we chatted, relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful spot. Then just to add to the perfection of the whole place we saw a group of dolphins swimming and jumping just off shore. They swam and played for about 15 minutes where we could see them.

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Convincing Oliver to leave this beach behind for a bit in the afternoon was not easy, but with the promise of other beaches to explore he got in the car for the short drive to see the nearby gemstone beach and cozy nook. These two beaches are both just a few minutes drive in either direction from Monkey Island. While Monkey Island is smooth sandy and sheltered enough to make it a great beach for kids to play at, gemstone beach is slightly more exposed with glorious windswept cliffs, a rocky stream to fossick in and when we were there a few hopeful surfers. The aptly named Cozy Nook is a small, sleepy little bay with a few fishing cottages, a long drop, a rocky beach and perfectly blue waters.

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We returned back to the bus with enough day left to take the plunge and have our first swim of the summer. For me it was a short, freezing affair. I’m not sure how but the boys spent a good few hours swimming and playing in the water. By the time we had a BBQ and tucked our tired little boy into bed it felt like our summer had officially started. The next day we spent a lot of the day much the same way we had spent saturday, stretching our wonderful weekend out just a little bit longer before we headed back to Gore for another week of work, school and the bustle of everyday life. But now with a few more photo’s to add to our growing collection, a few more golden memories to smile over and as always, more adventures to plan.

Gold fever

Not surprisingly to go along with his deep love of caves my husband also has a love of old tunnels. Gold mining, coal mining, train tunnels, really just any old hole in the ground that you can walk (or even crawl) through. I find the history behind the tunnels often fascinating and don’t mind a walk through the bush to find them, my tolerance for clambering through them is not as high, luckily now Oliver is keen to clamber through with his Dad I am able to opt out of the darker, more dingy looking tunnels in favour of a quiet moment in the bush while they explore. Our last few weeks Wayne and Oliver have been in absolute heaven with all the old mining areas we have come across to explore, the history of mining here on the coast is extensive. So to avoid all my west coast posts sounding like mines, mines and more mines I’m going to write about them all together – the mining extravaganza you could say!

In the early 1800’s they started mining coal around the Westport area and for many years coal was king here. We visited two really interesting coal mining areas, the first of which was Charming creek. There is a walking/mountain biking track here that follows the old train tracks that were used to cart coal from the mine down to the coast. If you do it in its entirety the track is 3 hours one way to walk, we decided that we would walk to a waterfall just over an hour along the track and turn back there, then drive up to the other end of the track where the mine was to have a look at that. There are actual tracks along quite a lot of the walking track and plenty of mining relics along the way to keep it interesting. There are some places along the track where the track is literally covered in coal and also a few small tunnels to walk through. Just before the waterfall you cross an old swingbridge that was built to replace the old rail bridge in the 1970’s, about halfway across the bridge you start to see Mangatini falls. Even in the spring rain shower that chose this exact moment to arrive the falls were pretty.

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Right beside the viewing area of the falls there is a tunnel to walk through that rather conveniently for us had a board walk built through it and was a surprisingly dry spot to wait out the rain. It eased quickly as spring showers tend to do and then it was an easy walk out the way we had come.

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The second coal mining area that we visited was Denniston. When they found coal here the biggest problem was how to get it down through the steep hills, through the bush to the coast where it could be loaded on ships. So they built a railway line up through the bush, up inclines so steep your head spins a little staring down them, built bridges to span the places to rough to build track on and they lowered the coal down in carts attached to cables. The workers and there families lived on the top of the hill, for years the only way to or from that mine was up those inclines. You imagine those mothers with children in tow making that long treacherous trip, living with the constant worry of the danger their husbands jobs put them in and you see so clearly how much life has changed for us.

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On top of that hill now there is plenty of relics and rubble to wander through. And a great job has been done with information boards dotted around with pictures of what it looked like in its prime, what life was like for the people who spent their lives here. Further up the road we did an easy little walk along another old rail line and after passing lots of fallen chimney stacks from old miners cottages, piles of old rusted cables  that were used to pull the coal carts and plenty of other debris we finally found one thing that is still largely intact. The old fan house that was used to pump fresh air down into the mine.

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To even things out as we have travelled further down the coast there have been lots of old gold mines to explore. We visited a great little spot in Charleston called Mitchells gully mine, the tunnels here loop through the hill like a little maze and the owner gives a basic but informative chat about the mine, all for the grand sum of $10 per adult. Once you get to Greymouth/Hokitika area the bush is full of walks that boast some mining history. Our favourites where the Cold creek walk, which is a bit of a drive in from Greymouth and the Terrace tunnel track close to the Goldsborough DOC camp. At the Goldsborough camp there is a section of river where you can fossick or pan for gold. On seeing Oliver attempting to pan for gold with a plastic bowl another visitor gave us an old pan he had spare and the boys spent a bit of time trying to strike it rich. You can see how men got swept away with dreams of finding gold and went to these amazing lengths to do so. They dug these tunnels through the earth and the rock a lot of the times with just a pick, a spade and their own back breaking work. I for one find it inspiring, but it also makes me grateful that my time for life is now and I have the freedom to run away in a bus. I wonder if these hardworking men would have understood the way we live and what drives us to do it if it was them looking in at my life the way I look back at theirs.

 

A big tick off the bucket list.

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The weekend we had my Mum visiting we went to Kaikoura for a few nights. We hoped to have another day at the snow but the weather on Saturday just didn’t co-operate. It wasn’t really hard to fill a day in Kaikoura. We wandered through the charming little town centre. Had a walk around the rocks at Point Keam and saw a few friendly seals.

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When we were planning what we wanted to do on our trip we wrote a bucket list of the things that we really wanted to do. A lot of them were little things like toasting marshmallows over an open fire and swimming in a west coast river. But we did pick a few big things to put on there that we absolutely must do. One of those things was to go whale watching but on the Saturday afternoon as we wandered around the beach and watched the wild waves smashing against the rocks it did not look hopeful that this would be our chance to do it.

Thankfully Sunday morning arrived with clear blue sky’s and much calmer seas. We had our tour booked for 1.15 so did a little more sightseeing to fill the morning. Kaikoura on a sunny day is truly beautiful, the mountains with their snowy peaks glisten in the sun and the whole place almost seems to glow with the light reflecting off the snow. Add to that the fact that everywhere you are in the town also has a view of the beach, a view of the ocean spreading endlessly out to the horizon and it is a fairly amazing combination.

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When we checked in for our tour we were informed there was a sea sickness warning and though we all decided we were confident enough not to take any thing to aid in preventing motion sickness, when we were warned again at the safety briefing I did have a moment of wondering how rough it was going to be. Once we got on board and headed out of the harbour it became clear that we had struck it very lucky, we had all been out in much smaller boats in much worse conditions and coped fine so today would not be a problem. It would become clearer that we had struck it lucky in a lot of ways as we cruised around looking for whales and other wildlife to look out. We had only been cruising for around ten minutes when we slowed down to take in a pod of dusky dolphins that had come to investigate the boat. After a little while of watching them we were informed that the other boat they had out had sighted a whale so we should find something to hold onto as the boat picked up speed to reach the whale.

As we approached the other boat, a sight seeing plane circled overhead and you could see the whale spouting occasionally even from a distance. When you get closer you can only see around a third of the whales length on the surface, the rest is still submerged. It’s hard to grasp how huge these creatures actually are and even harder to get a photo that does justice for how incredible seeing them actually is. The whales come to the surface for between five to ten minutes to breath before disappearing below with one flick of their powerful tail where they will remain for around an hour. So you can watch them move around on the surface a little, see the water flying up away from their blow-hole as they breath out. And then the moment you are waiting for arrives and that gorgeous tail is up in the air for a sweet, short moment. Once that first whale dove we saw another three in quite quick succession, apparently the average to see is two whales so four felt like hitting the jackpot.

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After the whales we went in search of some Hectors dolphins and found a few, though the Hectors dolphins are very rare and live in murkier water where they can hide from their predators. They were very different to the playful, friendly dolphins we have encountered before. They would approach the boat and swim under it to go past but not linger to play in the wake or swim alongside. Almost as if they were aware of there dwindling numbers and tenuous grip on existence and not willing to get to close to something as big as the boat we were in. We even got to see a few seals sunbathing on our way in and got a good view of a seal feeding in the ocean, a first for me. This day felt like the best possible way to tick whale watching off our bucket list. Oliver got to share it with his Nana, we saw an abundance of wildlife and couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. I hope all our bucket list get’s ticked off in such spectacular fashion.

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.

Our favourite places in Nelson

Since we are spending quite a bit of time in the one spot I thought I would do a little round up of the best things we have found to do in Nelson. Bear in mind these all have to be child friendly, I am sure there is another perhaps more sophisticated side to Nelson that is just not ready to have a five year old unleashed on it. They are not in any particular order, I find it hard to pick just one favourite in any part of my life.

  • Tahunanui Beach – This spot makes it very easy to fill a day. The beach is beautiful and with views of the mountains as you take your beach side stroll it’s just that little bit special. Tahunanui also boasts a large and varied playground. With a nature park, miniature train track, beach side cafe, even a library, this is the perfect place to hang out with your little ones.DSC06097
  • Explore the markets – Nelson has so many markets and we have explored a few in our time here. I love a good market so have really enjoyed this side of Nelson’s culture. The weekend markets in the city are amazing and we also really liked a market that we went to in Isel Park. But I think you could pick any one and find something great to come away with.
  • Taste of Nelson cycle trail – The place we have been based at in Richmond backs on to part of this track so we have spent a bit of time on it. We in particular enjoy the sections that follow the water, makes for interesting (and flat!) riding.
  • Rabbit Island – Just a short drive from Richmond is Rabbit Island. Another great spot for a stroll on the beach, or a ride/walk through the pine forest. There are plenty of picnic facilities out here and I imagine it’s a busy place in summer.
  • Matai Valley – Tucked up in the hills the Matai Valley has a bunch of cycle trails and walking tracks. Lot’s of opportunity’s to picnic and enjoy the outdoors.sdrcof
  • Kina Beach –¬† One of the best spot’s we have camped at so far. Literally beach front parking, $5 a night per person to stay and miles of rocky beach to explore at low tide. And if you strike better weather than we did you might try out the outdoor bath tub that you can light a fire under for a lovely warm soak. It’s also a short drive from here to Mapua, a charming little waterside town with a handful of interesting shops and eatery’s.DSC07345DSC07365
  • Founders Heritage Park – We went here one saturday lured with the promise of a train ride. But we found enough to fill most of our day. There are rail car rides on Saturday’s, displays of old fire engines, buses and even a huge old plane that was used to carry mail across the cook strait, as well as an array of displays on Nelson’s history. Next door is a japanese garden’s and it is close to a well paved, very scenic part of cycle trail.

 

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.