Aoraki Mount Cook

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.

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Views on the drive in
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Mountain views for a few 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.

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kea point lookout

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.

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Hooker valley track
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Hooker glacier and Aoraki looming in the background

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.

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Mueller glacier from a different angle

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.

Road Schooling- how we learn on the move.

When people find out about the way we are living there are a few questions that are always bound to come up. What we do about school for Oliver is one that we have been asked about lots lately. I have answered this question more times in the last few weeks since school went back then I have in the eight months prior to that. I think that is due in large part to the fact that he has grown a whole heap over the summer break and it’s very clear he’s not a pre schooler anymore. Some people are very puzzled by the whole notion of a school age child not automatically being at a normal school and some of the conversations I’ve had have had me pondering our journey so far with school on the road.

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Hitting the books

Before we decided to buy the bus the plan was for Oliver to toddle off to school after his fifth birthday as majority of children do here in New Zealand. Since school in one fixed place was off the table we were left with two options. Home schooling where we would apply for an exemption from sending Oliver to school and be responsible for deciding ourselves what curriculum to teach. Our other option was Te Kura which is New Zealands correspondence school and because we are itinerant we qualified for Oliver to be enrolled. I opted for Te Kura for a few reasons, one that it makes my life a bit easier. I did not have to research, plan and purchase resources. Also because the plan is to eventually settle back down and then send Oliver to school I wanted him to be following the same curriculum so he will slot right in with no worries. I have to say that now we have six months of learning under our belt and a new year freshly under way I would actually have the confidence to apply for an exemption and go the other route if Te Kura was not an option.

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School at the beach

I feel I have learnt almost as much as Oliver so far in our journey. It has been a marvel to watch him learn to read. Books have always been a huge part of Oliver’s life, he is always down for being read a story, loves a good audio book and we have a bedtime story routine that is near and dear to his heart. It’s been amazing to watch the process through the next steps, from his first eager reading of the simple books they first sent to now just six months of school in where he has a rather impressive amount of words he knows well, some he stumbles over a little and an ever-growing confidence of how to work out new words for himself. There have been several moments with his learning where I can just see a concept click in his brain and a dramatic improvement in something we have been working on, it’s like seeing your child learn to walk all over again in moments like that. And whilst he is busy learning these life long skills I am learning how best to support him and communicate the information to him in a way that he can learn it.

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Te Kura has so far worked really well for us, I have found Oliver’s teacher really good and the amount of work they expect us to complete is more than achievable. The fact that Oliver is doing his work at home with no distractions or interruptions means that the school portion of our day doesn’t have to take up that much time. Whilst Wayne is working we have a loose kind of routine, Oliver is the most focused in the mornings so we try to get his school work done then and most days it takes around two hours to do. Sometimes less if he works quickly, sometimes more if the weather is bad and we are stuck in the bus. After that our days are not to planned out. I do try to go out and about somewhere most days even if it’s just down the road to the playground to burn off some energy for a while. I also try to have one kind of fun activity for the afternoon most days. Maybe going to the library or the swimming pools or getting out some paints or on hot days even just a big bucket full of water, bubbles and a few cups for pouring.

I am a big believer in learning through play and try really hard to make sure it still has a place in his days. This comes really naturally when we are travelling and parked somewhere interesting with natural places to explore. He can spend all day absorbed at a beach or building dams in a rocky creek, these are the moments where I know 100% how great this life is for him. But then this summer he has had a great time getting his toolbox out and tackling a couple of little carpentry projects as well as endlessly tightening any screws he can find in the bus that need tightening. I think this is a great side effect of living a life where we have lots of time, time to let him follow his interests and explore the ideas that come into his head.

Probably one of the biggest things people question about Oliver not attending school is how he copes without other children for company. Personally I am not to worried about this side of things. From the moment he was born we attended music groups, were heavily involved in Playcentre for a few years and then he attended Kindergarten from 3 until just before we left Tauranga. He has had plenty of experiences of being around other children his own age, both with me and without me. He has had the experience of making and having friends. Now he’s having the experience of meeting lots of new people all the time of all different ages and walks of life. And when he does run into some children somewhere that we are staying or at a playground or a swimming pool he makes the most of playing with them. Perhaps the fact that Oliver’s Dad is probably the biggest and most fun playmate around makes this less of an issue for our family. Any one who actually knows Wayne will know exactly what I am talking about. He has always and probably will always be a kid magnet, at a family get together if you want to find my husband just look for the trail of children following along behind in whatever game he is currently playing with them.

So far there is nothing in regards to our way of doing school that I look at and think Oliver is really missing out. Sure there are things that are different. But when making a choice to live alternatively it’s really just about whether what you are gaining brings more to the table for you than what you can’t have. And at the end of the day the things that Oliver is not experiencing now he will one day once we are settled down. Personally I would say that for any one out there contemplating doing something with school age children that would require alternative schooling for a time, don’t let it hold you back from your dreams. You might surprise yourself with how good a teacher you actually are! Children are so much more adaptable than you might think and seeing their parents make their own dreams happen is a pretty valuable lesson in itself. If living his own dreams and making the most of time with those he loves is all that bus life teaches Oliver than I am more than satisfied with that.