A letter to my six year old

How lucky am I that you have now been in my life for six whole years? All those years have been special but right now as this one draws to a close I think there is something about it that is just a little bit extra. Time has slowed and stretched out a little for us this year. I am so grateful for that. Grateful that you being five hasn’t sped away from me in a haze of school drop offs and small stolen family moments. I’m grateful for the big moments we have shared together this year. But also for all the little ones.

The chance to really have the time to be with you is something I don’t take for granted. It’s so wonderful to watch you growing in every way. Six year old you is truly a wonderful person. You love bike rides and beaches, books and still you have a fascination for vehicles of any description. You enjoy nature, often telling me a lake is beautiful or a bird is cute. You love to dance and have the cutest little bum wriggle I ever saw. From somewhere you have picked up a fascination for Michael Jackson, you plead for his songs every time we are choosing music. You are smart my little man, you have learnt to read like it was second nature and you love maths. You also still love jumping in puddles on rainy days, dreaming about finding the treasure at the bottom of a rainbow and imagining pictures in the clouds. Most of all you love fiercely and with so much depth, I hope this never changes.

Now we are a year in to our bus adventure I can see that it truly works for you as much as it does for us. I worried a lot that it was a choice we made more for ourselves but you have thrived on this journey. You have grown in every way imaginable. But I love that in some ways you are still delightfully small and precious. I look forward to where the next year takes us and who you will be when it is over. Happy birthday my little man and happy wandering too.

 

A whole year on the road

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Oliver on Himatangi Beach March 2018

It’s hard to believe that this photo was taken a whole year ago. I remember this moment so clearly, so vividly that it just doesn’t seem like a whole year has passed us by. It was the end of our second day of traveling, Easter Sunday and we had driven straight through from Lake Taupo to Himatangi beach just out of Wellington. Wayne was a little bit behind us so Oliver and I made a beeline for the beach to run off some of his energy. It was windy, the beach was big and wild looking. We were still in the midst of figuring out how we fit in this new life of ours, the days leading up to actually leaving home had been hectic, stressful and a bit hard on our little boy. He had lots of questions about where we were going and how long for, questions that no longer had firm, definite answers we could give. Up till this point that hadn’t sat well with Oliver, but I look back and I can so clearly remember him asking me where we were staying that night, where the bus would be with a confused, uncertain look on his face. I looked at him, took his hand and in one of those parenting miracles I found the words he needed to hear. ‘Lets go find Daddy, I’ll show you where we are staying’ Somehow this knowledge that we wouldn’t always know exactly where we were going but that we would always know where to find Daddy and the bus. Somehow this was all he needed to feel safe and secure in our new life. There would be other minor things to adjust to in the following weeks but from this moment on Oliver was 100% on board with bus life.

So the big question is after a year, was it all worth it? The answer is a resounding and definite yes. Even if for some reason we packed it all in tomorrow and settled down again it would have been the best decision we ever made. Our biggest goal when we set out was to see how much time we could have together and in twelve months of travelling Wayne has had over four months off work. And when he has been working it has been largely Monday to Friday jobs where he is home for dinner every evening. Coming from a background of shift work and crazy early starts this for us has been absolutely life changing. Wayne’s relationship with Oliver has really blossomed with all the time spent together. Our marriage has benefited from the changes to, in fact  I think our whole little family unit is stronger. It’s been wonderful to discover that our little unit of three can sustain each other when we are miles away from all the other people who make up our lives. All the beautiful places we have visited, the experiences we have had they are all just the icing on the cake to these even stronger bonds we have formed with each other.

But don’t get me wrong we have enjoyed the icing as well! We have seen more of this country in a year than I imagined we would ever get to show Oliver while he was still a child.  We’ve seen so much that sometimes I read back through my journal from last year and there are things that already I didn’t quite remember without a little prompting. Perhaps that is just a sign I am getting old however as Oliver has lots of very clear memories from the past year. I really hope his memories continue to be clear and they are something he can look back on happily as he grows.

It seems kind of fitting that our one year anniversary should roll around just as we were getting the bus all sorted with its new COF, all ready for us to finish up our time here in Gore and travel on to new places. Also fitting that just before our one year anniversary we were visited by my parents. It’s probably no secret to anyone that the person Oliver and I miss most is Oliver’s Nana. So getting to spend a few weeks with them was pretty special. I almost feel this was as necessary as the repairs on the bus, a little spiritual top up only time with someone you love can bring you.

I remember this time last year as we were exploring Golden bay it felt like the summer was never going to end. This year in Gore the summer has ended with a glaring finality. The leaves are falling from the trees and already the mornings are starting with a layer of frost to greet you. I have to admit I am far more at home in the endless summer than these cooler climes, but I am bravely telling myself that it will not be as bad as I imagine. We will light the fire and pile on lots of layers of clothing and delight in a nice hot water bottle at the end of the bed and all will be fine. After all that is one of the things that this new life is about, trying new things and pushing out of our comfort zone. If we are not all fine then I guess a drive to the warmer end of the south island is always an option!

Killing time in Southland

Our time in Gore is going really fast, it’s a strange thing because life really seems to slow down when Wayne is not working and we are free to take life at our own pace. But within a week or so of getting back to work life is flying by as quickly as it ever did. This time around however we are trying to fill our weekends exploring around the area we are staying in, there is so much that is easily reachable for a days visit that we have been keeping ourselves quite busy.

Invercargill is less than an hours drive away and by far the biggest city that we have been near in quite some time so we have spent a few weekends here. I actually quite like Invercargill, it has plenty of character and charm. We’ve had numerous visit’s to Queens park which is a huge area of gardens, playgrounds, an animal park and an aviary and lots of paths to meander through it all. In fact it is a city that is full of green spaces and gardens galore, when you travel with children you inevitably visit a lot of parks in search of a playground it’s great to be somewhere were the playgrounds are flanked by lush gardens full of peonies and rambling roses. A visit to Oreti beach was an interesting experience for us, where we come from you simply don’t drive vehicles on the beach but here it’s just what they do. We were probably the only one’s who opted to park in the carpark and walk down to the beach the day we visited. A choice we were glad we made after seeing four cars get stuck in the short space of time we were there. Oreti is a big, long stretch of sand with a wild sea on its doorstep. And if you happen to visit Invercargill on a Sunday a visit to the local market will reward you with a plethora of options for lunch, Thai, Korean, Indian as well as many others. All capped off with plenty of tables adorned with cheerful bunches of flowers to enjoy your Sunday lunch time feast at.

Apart from our visits to the big city we have done a few walks in the local area and on one weekend we took a drive to find an orchard to pick cherries. This was actually something I have been looking forward to ever since we came to the South Island. I love cherries but have never lived anywhere that they grow. So we headed in the direction of Roxburgh knowing that we had seen plenty of orchards in that area when we made our way to Gore from Wanaka. It was a scenic drive and really not a long one before the orchards started to appear, many with road side stalls and a couple of options for pick your own fruit. At ten dollars a kilo they were the cheapest cherries this North Islander has ever brought, even cheaper when you factor in the many sun warmed, juicy morsels that never made it in the bags to be paid for. Oliver loved climbing the ladders to reach the ones on the higher branches and all up I would say our visit to a cherry orchard was just as much fun as I expected it to be.

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our little cherry picker at work
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peeking through the leaves

 

As our time in Gore is coming closer to being over all three of us are ready for our next stint of travel to begin. The planning and anticipating is half the fun of traveling and there’s worse ways to spend an evening than studying maps to find interesting spots to visit. It feels in some ways like we are in a similar space to what we were this time last year, working, getting a few jobs done on the bus while we are in one place and dreaming endlessly of where the road will take us next.

A wandering Christmas – Part One

This time last year we were literally spending every spare minute with family. Partly because we were temporarily without our own home and partly because we knew that soon it would just be the three of us in the bus. Now I am so glad that we spent that time cramming in all those moments together, I think it helps in our lonelier moments to have those shared memories to remember. So this years challenge for me as a Mum is that we are about as far away as we can get from everybody that we love without actually leaving the country – so a trip home for Xmas is not an option. So how do I make this an amazing christmas for us as a family and more importantly for a little boy who is still very much in love with all of the christmas magic.

We have always tried hard to make Oliver’s idea of christmas be just as much about the time spent with the people he loves most as it is about all the trimmings and trappings and presents. Because for me that is where the real magic of this time of year is. So the answer seemed to be some time away from our temporary home in Gore so we could make some great memories of our first wandering christmas. We had five nights and there was no question where we were going to spend them. The Catlins had been high on our list of places we wanted to see ever since we arrived in Southland but we knew it was a spot that we wanted more than just a quick weekend visit to, so now we had five nights and it was the perfect chance to tick this off the list. We left Gore on a friday night and made our way to Fortrose, the closest freedom camping spot in the Catlins. We arrived fairly late and the spot was busy but still more than enough room for us to spend a night. After an evening walk along the beach, taking in some Spoonbills feeding at low tide and the few remaining pieces of a shipwreck, we tucked a very excited little boy in to bed with promises of more beaches tomorrow.

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Spoonbills at Fortrose

The next day we weren’t travelling far. Even with a stop at Waipapa Point lighthouse and a play on the delightful little beach on its doorstep we were at our new spot by just after lunch. Weir bay reserve was another little freedom camping spot, this one beside a beautiful harbour. The tide was very close to being all the way in when we arrived so of course the priority was a play on the beach and a swim for Oliver while there was still sand to dig in.

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Off to explore at Waipapa Point
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Waipapa Point Lighthouse
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Oyster catcher nesting on the bank
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My little beach boy
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Weir bay

Once the tide came all the way in and stole all the beach away for a spell we headed off to visit one last spot before the end of the day. Slope Point was just a short drive away from our camp and since it is the southern most point of New Zealand we decided it was worth a visit. It was only about a twenty-minute walk out to slope point and back to the car park, twenty minutes I’m so glad we took as it was surprisingly cool. Rugged, windswept and with no islands lounging offshore in your line of vision it certainly felt like you were on the edge of the earth. I am however very grateful the weather was relatively nice when we visited here, the land and trees tell their own stories of how harsh the weather here can be.

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As far south as we can possibly drive
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Rugged coastlines
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The best of views

The next day we were visiting one of the main attractions on the Catlins coast, Curio Bay. Curio Bay is home to a petrified forest that is around 175 million years old. You can walk right down on to the rocks and get an up close look at it as well as the fascinating rock pools that have developed beside them. It is also the home to some yellow eyed penguins and if you are lucky you will catch a glimpse of the adults coming home to feed their chicks, we were unfortunately far to early in the day for this delight.

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Curio Bay
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Inspecting the petrified forest
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spot the starfish

This was another day where we didn’t have very far to travel so we were settled in to our next freedom camping spot overlooking the Waikawa Harbour in time for lunch with the absolute waterfront views. Our afternoon wasn’t hard to fill with water on our doorstep and Oliver enjoying his extra time with Wayne. The Catlins was proving to be just as amazing as we had hoped it would be, I know if we had explored here when Wayne wasn’t working there were a few places that would have tempted us in to staying longer than we had planned. With Xmas eve arriving the next day we enjoyed a quiet evening drinking in the views, with a warm relaxed feeling inside that is so typical of a holiday by the beach.

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Waikawa Harbour

School on the move.

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

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

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

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

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Beachside living.

Some days the drive is as much of an experience as the destination. The drive through the Buller gorge to Westport is one of those times, you wind along beside the river all the way down to the coast and it is not short on stunning views. When there is enough to keep a five year old boy entertained just by looking out the window, chatting about what he can see you know it is a good drive.

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We arrived in Westport and made our way to our first spot on the west coast. It was an NZMCA camp, right on the beach and with bike tracks running right behind it. For only $6 a night it really feels like we have won the lottery when we arrive at these spots and find we get a view of the ocean from our lounge, that we can have sand between our toes within mere moments of stepping out of the bus. It has been a good while since we have had a spot beside the beach so we were all a little excited to get some beach time in. And this beach proved to be a goody, sandy, big and with an impressive amount of driftwood running the length of the high tide mark, more scattered higher from past storms. Oliver had the joy of being the first to spot a seal on this beach. We were strolling along, I was taking photos and Wayne was skimming stones when Oliver’s little voice calmly says ‘Mum I see a seal on that log’. There it was probably only 15 metres away, a young seal lounging in the driftwood trying to have its afternoon nap.

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Westport is only a small town but it was extremely easy to fill the days we spent there. The museum that is attached to the information centre is well worth a visit, small but well put together displays about the local coal mining history kept us all amused for almost an hour. We spent a morning on the cycle trails behind our camp, rode out to the river mouth and watched a ship come in, watched the huge waves tossing a tree in towards the shore and marvelled at the power of the ocean. We built sand castles, collected driftwood and built a shelter around one of the many big logs that are scattered along the beach, roamed the beach in the morning and at night. We also did the Cape Foulwind walkway. The walk goes from one bay up to a view of a seal colony and then along the cliff tops to a lighthouse. It took us just on an hour to get to the light house with plenty of stops along the way to read information panels and gaze at seals.

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But I would say the highlight of our time in Westport for Oliver was that there was another family staying at our camp at the same time as us with two children, one of whom was a five year old boy. We saw a few young children during the first school holidays that we were away but since then we just don’t seem to have come across any. So Oliver had a great time playing on the beach, riding bikes and playing monster trucks with our temporary neighbours. He is now keen to see if we can find other children at every new camp that we arrive at and I am glad that it is coming in to summer soon when this is going to be a more regular occurrence. I have no doubt that he is thriving with his main play mates being Mum and Dad, but everyone craves connection with their peers sometimes. For now though it was time to leave Westport behind and head further up the west coast in search of some more beaches to call our temporary home.

It’s getting very, very cold….

When we left Kaiteriteri we had two and a half weeks to play with before we planned to be back in Nelson to do a bit of work. So we decided to head towards the Nelson Lakes national park. Our first night out we stayed at a freedom camping spot in the Moutere valley, it was a fairly basic affair, a long drop toilet which I was very grateful we didn’t have to use as it was in such a shocking state and a big grassy area next to the river. It was the first free spot we had found in a while as the Nelson area is not very freedom camping friendly and it felt good to get a free night in. As the day drew to a close the drop in temperature was much more pronounced here than what it had been on the coast and we got the feeling that this would be a growing trend for the next part of our travels.

It was raining the next day as we headed to Lake Rotoroa, so Oliver and I decided to follow behind Wayne in case we stumbled across something to do on the way. Oliver finds it quite amusing convoying this way with Wayne, there is normally a running commentary from the back seat about what he see’s the bus doing. We can also talk to each other on our walkie talkies which is a rather amusing way for a young boy to pass the time, this all serves to make our travelling not seem separate even though we aren’t in the same vehicles. Though to be honest I don’t mind having to drive the car and be apart when we move on from places. I did wonder if I would dislike it, but it is actually nice in some ways to have space from each other every now and then. And on the days where the roads are going to be steep or windy and the bus is going to be moving quite slowly it is good to have the option to just go ahead and find something to do to amuse ourselves at our destination. It was good we were together on this particular day because we found an old railway tunnel to walk through, a short enough walk to be achievable in the drizzly day we had but still an interesting break from the driving.

After that it was just a short drive on to Lake Rotoroa and by the time we got there the rain was quite heavy. The campsite unfortunately turned out to be quite water logged and deciding we didn’t want to risk the bus becoming a permanent fixture we found a spot to park up in the car park by the boat ramp so we could have lunch then formulate a new plan. But while we ate and then killed time watching a movie in the hopes the rain would clear long enough for us to at least look at the lake, we decided that the whole place was pretty empty, there were not even many day visitors around and those that came just snapped a picture and left.  So we spent the night there anyway just parked in the day visitors car park instead of the campsite. A little hard for me since on some deep, deep level I am a bit of a rule follower, but the worst that was going to happen is we be asked to move on if someone came to check on the camp – which they in the end did not. Once again the rain cleared suddenly in the late afternoon revealing a gorgeous view of mountains across the far end of the lake.

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The next day we hired a canadian canoe and spent a pleasant morning paddling on the lake in the misty but fine day that we had woken to. Even shrouded in clouds this lake was a little slice of paradise. The overwhelmingly green colour of the bush told it’s story of a place that see’s it’s fair share of rain. Spongy bright green moss wrapped around the trunks of the trees and across the ground, softer lighter green moss hanging from the branches. The lake itself is crisp and crystal clear. Just to top it all off it is home to the friendliest fantails I have ever come across. More than once they landed on my shoes or pants legs, flying so tantalizingly close you would swear that if you just held out your hand they would sit there for just a second before flittering away with a cheeky little chirp.

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From the lake it was just a quick trip to Murchison where we would stay for two nights. Murchison is only a small town but with a NZMCA camp right in the small town centre it was a great place to base ourselves. A short stroll to the shops if you need supplies, a small playground and even a skate park and bike track just down the road, these things are all a priority when travelling with a bike mad young boy. Unfortunately there was more of the wet stuff around during our time in Murchison so we had a bit of a quieter time. We did visit New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, the bridge itself was very, very long and a bit of fun. But I’m not sure it was worth the $10 an adult when what is on the other side is a lot of muddy tracks, a lot of blackberry and a ton of small biting insects. The upside to the rain is a bit of down time in the bus, it is tempting to be very, very busy all the time as if this was a holiday and you are trying to cram in the fun times while you can. Now that we are nearly two months in to this new life it is really necessary to make sure we do have some quiet days, too much all the time leads to one exhausted, grumpy little boy, not ideal when confined to a small space together. Our days are also continuing to get cooler and cooler, so a slow morning where we light the fire and stay cozy in the bus for a bit longer holds more appeal now. These moments are just as great as the things we are doing and the places we are seeing. It feels like such a luxury to have all this time together, to not wake up to a house that Wayne left while we were still fast asleep, to have no pressing jobs to do, no kindy to get Oliver to. It also feels like something that we want a lot more of in our life, even when we steer our lives back in a more conventional direction. But for now we will just enjoy what we currently have and keep wandering.