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

A day on the spit

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At the northern end of golden bay is the Farewell spit, it’s New Zealands longest sandspit at 35 km long. It’s also a nature reserve and because the wetlands is such an important breeding grounds for so many birds it’s more protected than our national parks. The only vehicles apart from Doc vehicles that are allowed access are from one tour company, you are also only allowed to walk on the first 4 km of the spit, though after driving out there on those miles and miles of sand I am quite sure I would have had more than enough after walking those 4 km. So we decided that this was something worth doing and put our tourist hats on for the day and joined the tour.

It is hard to actually grasp how long the spit is when you are driving towards it and looking out, because you actually can’t see most of it, some of it disappears in a mirage and then you see what you would likely guess is an island where there are a patch of trees growing, then past that there is a good ten kilometres that you again can’t see. Even once the driver had told us all this it wasn’t until we were actually on the beach driving along that you fully grasp how big this sandspit truly is. Our first stop on the beach is Fossil point, this is the end of the beach where visitors can walk to so being a fine day there are plenty of people wandering around, exploring the rock pools and the beach. I quickly regretted my choice of putting Oliver in socks and shoes as he tore around the beach splashing in every puddle he could find, luckily I was quick enough to stop him before he went in further than his knees and double lucky I had popped in his jandals in case he got hot in the afternoon.

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After this stop it was time to head towards the lighthouse, with over 20 km of sand to negotiate it was an entertaining trip. A few seal sightings, plenty of birds and sand that seems to stretch on forever.

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There has been a lighthouse here on the spit since 1869 and originally there were three lighthouse keepers stationed out here to man it. It is now automated but the three houses the keepers family’s lived in still remain and the trees that were planted to make their life on a giant sandspit more bearable have transformed the area in to a lovely little green oasis. You can see why they say the lighthouse keepers were devastated when the lighthouse was automated and there jobs there ended, it was no doubt a fairly idyllic life for people who were well suited to its challenges. We had lunch and an explore around the lighthouse, Oliver’s main disappointment was that the second tour bus got stuck coming through the soft sand to the lighthouse and our bus didn’t! But he was quickly consoled by the fact that our bus travelled faster on the sand so we were the first to get places. He was also rather impressed with the array of huge whale bones they have around the house where we ate lunch, there are a large number of whale strandings in Golden Bay probably due to the bay being so shallow, the tide going out very quickly and more than likely the spit itself.

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Once we left the lighthouse behind we drove a small bit further down the beach, as far as they can safely drive but far enough to grasp how far that sand actually extends and how much it curves around. After turning around and heading back the way we had come there was one final stop on the spit, perhaps the most fun part of the trip for the smaller people on board, time to run down some giant sand dunes! Wayne was a champ running up and down those dunes a good dozen times, I went down twice, up once and that was more than enough of a workout for me.

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It took a bit to convince Oliver to leave those sand dunes behind, they were the perfect thing to unleash some of his boundless four year old energy on. I imagine those mothers of young children at the lighthouse sending them to run up and down the dunes when they got restless and tucking them in to bed at night well and truly worn out. For us there was a bit more driving and a quick stop at Cape Farewell, the northern most point of the south island.

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This trip exceeded any expectation I had of it. The spit is its own little world out there and it’s amazing to see the amount of bird life that is living out there, left alone their environment not being interfered with by humans. It makes you wonder if this is not the tactic we need to take more often to help some of our endangered birds, reserve some important areas that are solely for there use so they can just do what they have been doing for their entire existence before we started changing there environment for our own purposes. What ever the solution is I know that exposing our children to the beauty of the world around them can only help when it is their time to be the caretakers of it. Because if they don’t see the world and the creatures in it they will never know they need saving.