There is a campground in Christchurch that has wormed it’s way in to my heart. It’s a fairly simple affair. It has toilets both of the long drop and the flushing variety. It also has an extra big sink in one part of the camp for those people who don’t bring their dish washing facilities with them and a few big rubbish bins. That’s about where the modern luxuries end. What it does have is lots of green space, plenty of big shady trees and a river that winds its way through it. For a gold coin donation per night anyone can come and stay for up to 28 days. When so many areas we have visited are constantly tightening their restrictions on these types of camps it’s a welcome sight to see a council choose to offer this. Whats more welcome is that this camp is open to everyone, big vehicles, small vehicles, caravans or tents. It’s wonderful to see this place full of families from near and far. As well as the usual assortment of retired motorhomer’s, overseas tourists and a few full timers like us. This wonderful mingling of everyone enjoying this place is one of the things that makes it so appealing to me.
Another big thing is of course that beautiful river. When we first stayed here it was November, the water was icy cold but Oliver was quite happy to swim and play in it on the sunny spring days. As summer arrived and things got warmer, then hotter, I braved the still fairly cold waters. Between dips in that refreshingly cool water and strategically parking to catch the shade in the afternoons we have spent a large portion of this summers hottest days here in relative comfort.
Oliver has explored this river in so many ways in the time we’ve been here. He’s spent hours building dams and experimenting with redirecting little streams of water through the rocks. Digging little pools at the edge of the water that will warm up slightly in the sun. Floating on a tube down the river then jumping off, making his way back up river and doing it all over again. Scooping up the tiny fish out of the river, watching them swim around in a bucket for a time before releasing them back into the river again. Making boats out of sticks and twigs and having boat races. Skimming stones and throwing sticks. His imagination when he is playing in places like this is endless.
Having this place as our backyard guarantees a week that flows smoothly. With plenty of time in nature, as well as those moments of connection and shared enjoyment when we go swimming together, our metaphorical cups are both full to the brim. It’s the first time we have stayed somewhere like this while Wayne is working. Because I always kind of thought that being places like this on our own during the week with no car to go anywhere just wouldn’t work. We’d feel isolated and kind of trapped or maybe even not safe. But I was so wrong. Oliver and I even spent some nights here just the two of us while Wayne was away for work. There was always enough of a mix of people around that I felt just fine. As for feeling isolated, well it turns out that I don’t mind that at all. Actually when you’ve been on the road for almost two years you welcome a camp that clears out during the day and gives you a quiet, almost private moment.
I know that when I am looking back at our time in Christchurch our weeks here at Coes Ford will be one of my highlights. Slow, quiet days, spent enjoying everything you could do down by the river.
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.