When we left our family in Waihi we headed to somewhere we had stayed before but not in the bus, as it turns out there would be a fair bit of that in this trip. But though those places were familiar to us, they were new to Oliver and as usual seeing them new through his eyes brought fresh perspective and fresh enjoyment. Wentworth Valley is a DOC campground nestled in a valley not far from Whangamata. Much to Oliver’s delight there is a ford crossing on the way in and the river runs right alongside where you camp. At this time of year it was quiet and we found ourselves a gorgeous spot nestled amongst the trees to spend a night.
It was afternoon by the time we arrived and we were unsure if we really had enough day left to do the walk that goes from the camp to Wentworth falls. We headed off thinking we would just stretch our legs and do a little bit of the walk. But enthusiasm got the best of us and we ended up going the whole way. It’s moments like this where I really appreciate this new stage of parenting we are in. Oliver is getting a bit older and a bit hardier now. We set off totally unprepared without even a drink bottle but it was fine, we all enjoyed ourselves and arrived back at the bus about 5.30 to enjoy water and a nice cold iceblock while we cooked dinner. The days of having to plan and prepare for even the shortest of adventures are disappearing. In our pre child days Wayne and I were big on spur of the moment fun, we didn’t plan that but it’s there, we’re keen, lets do it. I can see that being a part of our lives again more often now and I’m ready for it.
The next morning we said goodbye to Wentworth valley but we weren’t going far. Just down the road to Whangamata in fact. I have so many childhood holiday memories of this place. For a while there it was a regular holiday destination for my family. I remember fondly days spent playing at the estuary or swimming amongst the waves on the surf beach. Perhaps this is why when Oliver’s eyes lit up and he begged for us to have a swim with him I just couldn’t say no. Even though it was only September and the water was really not that warm yet. Even though the gorgeous sun seemed to hide itself behind a cloud the moment we got into our togs. We had our first swim for the summer (even though it’s not summer yet). Our day in Whangamata ended as all days should when you are holidaying by the beach, with a walk along the beach and one last moment with sand between your toes before you climb into bed.
The next day we headed to another DOC campsite called Broken hills. Wayne and I had spent a long weekend here years ago in a leaking tent in the rain. We still had fond memories of the place and the walks here so were keen to visit in finer weather. Thankfully that’s just what we got when we arrived. Sunshine turning the river a lovely golden hue and enticing Oliver to wade deeper and deeper into the water. A campsite all to ourselves and only a handful of people out on the walking tracks as we did our exploring. Broken hills is an area with a lot of old historic gold mines. We did a really fun walk here that follows the river for a spell then loops up and you walk through a couple of short tunnels before following the old water race back towards where you started. The boys also explored another short track that had lots of little caves to poke your head in and check out the wetas. We ended our day with a laughter filled game of spotlight and finally a plan starting to take shape for where we were actually heading next.
Even now nearly three years on I can vividly remember all the stress and emotional upheaval I felt in those last few weeks before we left Tauranga in our big white bus. I never really imagined that circumstances would arise that would put us in a very similar situation again, only this time more stressful and more intense. But somehow this strange year that is 2020 managed to do just that. Lockdown, bus repairs, bus breakdowns, last minute hiccups, casual jobs becoming way less reliable than they have been for us in the past and spending way longer than we ever planned living with family. It all combined to a point where I actually wondered if the best move was just to sell the bus as she was and move on with our life. Because for most of this year it has very much felt like our life was not going anywhere, both in the literal sense and otherwise. For people who are very used to setting goals, making plans and getting on with life it’s been a super frustrating position to be in. Thankfully after one last incredibly stressful day it finally happened. We had a little sticker on the window with the right date on it and we were free to move again. We spent our last night in Tauranga parked at Memorial park, enjoying one of the awesome freedom camping spots that the area has and saying our goodbyes to good friends who are very hard to leave behind.
So where do you go first when you feel like life has wrung a whole lot of the energy out of you and you desperately want to get it back? Well we go to the beach of course. We beach hopped our way from Omokoroa to Waihi beach, freedom camping and getting back in to the swing of living full time in a moveable vehicle. There was plenty of time spent wandering on beaches and letting the sound of waves hitting the sand sooth my frazzled nerves. There was also a whole heap of appreciating the fact that we were in fact free to go wherever we wanted.
On our second day at Waihi beach we woke to black skys that promised rain was not far away so we traded our plans of a walk and more beach time. Instead we headed in to Waihi and visited the gold discovery centre. Which I have to say exceeded any expectations I had of it. It was interactive, fun and full of lots to keep both a busy young child and a couple of parents entertained for a couple of hours on a wet day. We also learnt a few things about the history of the Martha mine and the mining that continues there today.
After a night spent with family who live close by it was going to be time for us to move on again. But we still had no real firm plans for where we were going, we decided to go with it and just enjoy waking up in the morning, looking out the window to see what the day had brought us and decide where we wanted to drive to that day. Perhaps this was the delicious cure to all the frustrations of having no control that we had suffered so far this year. It sounded to us like a really good thing to try.
Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Any major life change is almost guaranteed to leave its mark on you and teach you things you will remember long after you have moved on with your life. This process of shedding our old life has already taught me a few.
1. We don’t need so many things!!!
Now I have never considered myself very materialistic and definitely am not a mindless consumer. But somehow in the eleven years since I arrived home from living in Brisbane with a suitcase full of clothes and really not much else we had managed to fill our large three bedroom house with a lot of possessions. A large amount of them we had never even purchased, things gifted or handed on to us in the early stages of our relationship that for some reason or other we had kept. I think the act of having to sort through, sell, donate and choose which things we really wanted to store until we settle down again has changed my attitude to life forever. No I am not so scarred that I will never shop again! I have in fact quite enjoyed a bit of shopping lately for little bits and pieces for the bus. But I do shop differently now, I am always mindful that I would rather a few nice things that I really enjoy having in our space then a lot of things that I don’t enjoy quite so much. I am also hoping that aiming for a lack of clutter will make living in a confined space much more pleasurable.
2. I have some amazing people in my life.
It is very easy sometimes to forget how truly blessed you are. The process of saying goodbye to everyone is reminding me how lucky I am. It makes me a little sad at times that I won’t be able to just turn up on these people’s doorsteps anymore, but I have faith that our relationships will survive the distance. And perhaps I will cherish them a little bit more because they are not so close at hand.
3. My husband and I make a great team.
This is more of a lesson reaffirmed, something we lost sight of in the last few years while we were busy becoming a family. Once we have a joint goal to work towards we are both very determined and happy working hard towards it. Next week will be a year since we first talked about running away in a bus, the minute we had the conversation I knew it was a life changing moment and that this was not a dream that would fizzle or change. At times it has felt like it is taking forever to get to the point where we need to be to go travelling, but I look at how much we have achieved in just a year and I marvel at how powerful we are when we are both 100% committed to the same goal. I think perhaps that this is one of the biggest things that was missing from our life and led to us making these changes. And I am full of plans now for us to work towards during and after this next stage of our lives.
4. A house is not home.
When we were trying to sell our house I was always a little sad at the thought of leaving it behind. This was our first home, we brought with having a family in mind and we had loved it from the minute we first saw it right up until we walked out the front door for the last time. But funnily enough I do not miss it at all, yes I still have lots of good memories from living there and always will, but once we are no longer living in the house it really isn’t anything more than bricks, wood and glass. As cliché as it is, home is wherever the people I love most are. I now know for sure that is true, even when it’s a bus or someone else’s house, as long as the three of us are together I am home.
I’m sure that these are just the first of many lessons this new life will teach me, I truly hope I can keep being mindful enough to remember them. Now the day we get the bus back from its alterations is getting incredibly close and will be closely followed by leaving day. It is all a little bit hard to believe that it is actually going to happen. I am eager and excited to see what bus life will be like, I can also feel a little bit of fear in the background as it is all such an unknown, but I think that is human and probably healthy.