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.
We had enjoyed a great first day of our holiday. Waking up the next day. Beside the ocean, the sound of waves on the beach. A glorious sunrise to watch while I sipped my coffee was just about perfection. Oliver had a bit of a cold so I tried to slip out for a walk along the beach by myself but he was having none of that. In fact halfway through our walk he couldn’t resist dipping his feet in the water. Which shortly ended with him running joyfully along in the shallows completely oblivious to the temperature of the water, his current state of health or the affect it was having on the lovely clean clothes he had so recently put on. I chose to borrow a little of his attitude and simply appreciate the beautiful picture my child made frolicking in the waves. Once our walk was over and Oliver was once again dressed in clean, dry clothes we headed on to Oamaru.
Oamaru claims to be the steampunk capital of NZ and we were keen to see what this was all about. So we headed along to the Steampunk HQ. From the moment we slipped a coin into the train outside we knew we were in for a bit of fun. It came to life with lights flashing, sirens clanging, smoke pouring from numerous pipes and even flames erupting from the chimney. Inside Steampunk HQ you are free to wander around, touch what you would like and enjoy this little fantasy world they have created. For us it was all a hit. I really enjoyed the sculptures. While Oliver loved the outdoor area with plenty of things he could climb inside or on top of. Afterwards we strolled lesuirly through the Victorian precinct and down to the pretty amazing playground which is of course steampunk inspired. For us Oamaru was one of those small towns that delivers much more than you expect.
The next day we were up early again. Still full of the excitement of our latest adventure. Today we were beginning to head inland towards Mt Cook. We intended on covering a bit of distance today, which is not normal for us! As well as fitting in a few stops along the way. So our early start was probably a good thing. Our first stop was a tiny little town called Duntroon. We parked the bus and headed off to look for fossils. There are several interesting spots not very far apart here and all just a short walk once you arrive. We stopped at Earthquakes Valley and saw a whale fossil. Then the Elephant rocks where due to the bitterly cold and strong wind our stay was brief. Lastly we stopped to see some Maori rock drawings. Back in Duntroon we visited the Vanished World Centre. To be honest we actually debated whether to stop here or not and I’m so glad we did. With an impressive collection of fossils, including shark toothed dolphins. A knowledgeable proprietor. Even the opportunity to unearth your own fossilized shells. This place was super interesting and very educational.
From Duntroon we headed on past Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore. We stopped at Benmore to snap a few photos of the lovely turquoise waters. Take in the huge dam. Then we were on our way again, keen to find our spot for the night. Just past Omarama we settled in beside a river with a lovely mountain backdrop. Thanks to our early start there was still enough day left for a stroll and a few rocks skimmed. Time to reflect on everything we had seen so far. Plan for what the next few days would look like. Since we had left Oamaru that morning we had been in an area I hadn’t visited before. These are always my favourite trips. Where everything I’m seeing is new to my eyes and you just don’t know what delight may be around that next bend in the road.
When we talk to people about the way we are living I know their minds instantly take them to images of all our fun times and imagining all this free time to just do what we want. And yes there is lots of fun and a whole lot more free time then what we had in our old lives. But Wayne’s still working hard a lot of the time and finding work and juggling how long we will stay in each place is sometimes a bit of a tricky decision to make. It can feel like rolling the dice, stay here with a job earning this known amount but with these factors that make us want to move on, or go on to somewhere new where you have no idea what job you might get. We’ve also realised in the past eighteen months that it’s actually hard for us to say no to work, that urge to take a good opportunity and further your career is very ingrained. This winter Wayne has had weeks here and there were the company he was working for didn’t have a full weeks work for him. Somewhere in the midst of this we decided Wayne would apply for a fixed term contract that we had seen advertised. It would mean staying in Dunedin longer than we planned but we thought that we would have a break before it began and then come back for it, it was after all a very good opportunity. Then the application process was a lot more drawn out then we had imagined it would be so the holiday before it began wasn’t a possibility. I was really ready to leave but didn’t want to stop Wayne from taking the job if he really wanted it. Then the week rolled around where we would find out on the friday if Wayne had the job or not. It just so happened that this was a week where he didn’t have work until later in the week. So we headed to Brighton beach for a couple of nights to make the most of his days off. I am not sure if it was the ocean breeze or the feeling of being parked somewhere new again reminded us of how good the travel is but by lunch time Monday we had decided that actually we were leaving. Sitting around for a week waiting to hear if we had a job lost out to spending that week traveling and enjoying some time together. In the end it was the right decision to make, there are always more jobs and more opportunity’s in the next town we stop at.
Less than 24 hours after making our decision we had left Dunedin, it was a vivid and wonderful reminder of all the advantages of living in a bus. It also felt in some delicious way like we were just running off on some big adventure. Not surprisingly our spirits were all high when we arrived at our first stop for this trip and it was absolute beachfront. After lunch with our fabulous views we headed off in the car to visit a few things nearby. First we stopped at Shag Point to see a few seals lazing in the sun. Then it was on to the Moeraki boulders which we timed perfectly as the tide was on it’s way out. We spent a bit of time exploring these unusual rocks and waiting as the tide went out a bit further to reveal some more.
Then there was one more place to stop before heading back to the bus. By this stage it was well in to the afternoon and Oliver was asking to just head back to the bus so he could play on the beach. I actually considered just doing that but am so glad that we carried on and visited Katiki point instead. We headed past the lighthouse and down the track to what they call the neck, seeing the signs that said we might see penguins but actually not thinking we would, our experience so far has been that normally our timing is wrong for these sorts of things. Today however our timing was so right. It was hard to believe it when we rounded a corner and there were three yellow eyed penguins within quite close distance to us sunning themselves on the hillside. These birds are extremely endangered, so much so that there are predictions that within the next twenty years we may no longer have them on the mainland of New Zealand, only on off shore predator free islands. As I watched my son stand patiently and take in this rare creature it really struck me how horrible a prediction that is.
After that Oliver did get his play on the beach before it was time to tuck him in to bed. I love the first day of a trip. It never stops being full of excitement. There’s always a stupid smile plastered on my face as I drive along behind the bus watching my whole world heading off down the road in front of me. Then that first night after Oliver is snoring contented, tired snores from his little bed, we sit and work out where we are heading the next day. What we want to do on the way and where our stops will likely be. This is pretty much a nightly ritual while we are on the move but that first night has an extra layer of excitement with the whole trip stretched out before us, so much to see and so much to look forward to. This trip was one I was really looking forward to as we were heading for the Mackenzie country and back in to an area I had never visited before. Safe to say that when my head hit the pillow that night I was very glad we had decided it was time to leave Dunedin.
Winter has been chugging along for us in the bus. Wayne’s working and Oliver and I are busy with his learning. But on the weekends we have been keeping ourselves really busy with all the things that we want to do while we are based in Dunedin. One place that has lots to offer and has required a few visits to tick them all off is the Otago Peninsula. I’ve found a few places on this journey that have claimed a wee piece of my heart and this is the latest place to do that. It’s just a really beautiful piece of this country of mine. If you want somewhere to go that you can disconnect from the hustle of everyday life and ground yourself in the flow of nature, then this could be your spot. It has beautiful harbour walkways to roam, wild beaches to explore, epic lookouts to soak in the views, a castle and a plethora of wildlife. All this and it’s less than an hours drive from Dunedin city to Taiaroa Heads.
On our first visit to the peninsula we came with a clear purpose, to find some Sea lions. We had seen plenty of signs at various beaches around Dunedin telling us what to do if we encountered one but we had yet to see one in the flesh. So after a bit of googling we headed to Sandfly Bay, this is not the first sandfly bay I have encountered and I was happy we were visiting in winter when the small biting creatures aren’t present. But on arriving we discovered that this bay is named for the sand that is often flying across the bay because of high winds. Thankfully it wasn’t to bad the day we went, there was a strong, cold wind but no sand flying! As we are discovering at many beach walks in the area the walk down to the beach was via a very steep, sandy track and then down across some massive sand dunes. But it was all worth it when we got to the beach and there were actually sea lions sleeping on the beach. We saw a few lone males snoozing away and a small family with a pup making their way higher up the beach to a sheltered spot.
At the opposite end to which we accessed Sandfly bay is Sandymount Reserve. The advantage of such hilly terrain is clear when you visit here. The views are breathtaking from the carpark alone. But a short climb up to a lookout or quick walk to Lovers leap and they get immesaurably better.
Of course we had to pay a visit to Larnach Castle on one of our visits to the peninsula. This is the only castle you will find in New Zealand and it has a suitably interesting history to go along with that status. Once you have finished wandering the rooms of the castle, taking in the views from the tower and letting your child climb the small winding staircase to the tower repeatedly then the gardens here are well worth a stroll around.
By far my favourite thing we did on the peninsula was watch the little blue penguins come in for the night at Pukekura. When we spent our night in a hut on the Abel Tasman we met a young couple on our evening beach walk who were hoping to see penguins, it was not to be but Oliver remembers that moment and ever since he has often asked if we can go somewhere that he can see them. At the albatross centre at the very end of the peninsula they do evening penguin watching tours so we decided it was something we really wanted to do while we were here. We were lucky enough to be able to do it while my brother and his family were here visiting which only made it even more special. Right on dark you are taken down to a large viewing platform by the beach, they have special lights that won’t harm the penguins eyes so you can see the beach and the well worn path the tiny little penguins are going to take up to their nests. Then you wait for the penguins to arrive, trying to distinguish if that thing floating in the water, in the dark is a penguin or just a piece of sea weed bobbing around. The penguins gather in groups called rafts then make their way on shore in groups and I am not sure there is anything more adorable than the worlds smallest penguin waddling it’s way on to the shore. Unless it’s the way they launch their bodies over the patch of rocks that lie between them and their cosy nests. These are the worlds smallest penguins and clearly designed to move better in the ocean then on land they do not let any of this deter them for long. We made the drive back to Dunedin that night with one little boy so happy that the penguins had been just as wonderful as he imagined, though a whole lot smaller.
Again I am struck with that feeling of how much we have seen and done on this journey of ours. We started with such a big wish list of places to go, things to see and experience. To be honest I didn’t know how many of them we would actually do it was just all part of the fun of dreaming up this new life and a great way to get Oliver involved in the process. But there are some pretty big, happy ticks against that list now and some pretty big happy memories to go along with them. The fact that some of those memories happened in this little part of the country is probably how it stole a piece of my heart.
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.
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!
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.
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.