We woke on the morning of Christmas eve and we had one very excited little boy bouncing around the bus with dreams of Santa in his little head. I was extremely happy that we had a busy day ahead that would hopefully give all that energy a good outlet and the ultimate in parenting wins a happy but tired little person who would fall straight to sleep that night. Because owing to limited places to hide presents and limited time away from child to procure and hide said presents I had hidden them all away unwrapped, and unwrapped they still were. A rookie parenting mistake really leaving all the wrapping till Xmas eve.
Our first stop of the day was only accessible an hour and a half either side of low tide which on this day was at ten thirty. So we were on the road bright and early before joining the crowds of people who were also exploring the Cathedral Cave that morning. The cave is a sea cave and access is through private land so there is a small charge to use the road and track down to the beach. After a quick chat with the friendly parking attendant and a pleasant 1 km walk down through the bush we emerged onto a gorgeous beach.
When the tide is in it comes right up to the cliffs where the caves are so there’s only a small window each day where they are able to be explored, we arrived with plenty of time to wander around and I am so glad we did. The first cave you come to is the Cathedral cave and it’s actually two caves that have joined so you can walk in one entrance and out the other. But there are numerous caves as you stroll along the cliffs edge, some large, some small, some very wet and some awfully smelly. And yes in case you were wondering we poked our noses in all of them.
This spot was by far my favourite place we visited on the Catlins, it’s truly amazing how nature can create something like this with just the water, the weather and a whole lot of time. I don’t always agree with being charged to visit beaches, they just feel like places that everyone should be free to visit, but in this case I can see why. The number of people who were there in the time we visited and how dangerous it would be if people went on the wrong tide mean it needs to be monitored. And if the $11 we paid helps to preserve this place and keep it as pristine as it was then I am more than happy to pay.
After the caves we stopped at a couple of short walks, one to the Tautoko Estaury and one to Lake Wilkie. Then all that was left was a stop at a lookout to admire another sweet little beach down and on to where we would spend Xmas day. Papatowai is a DOC site that’s nestled right beside the estuary and we conveniently found a space right by the track to the beach to make camp. The remainder of our day was spent at the beach where we all braved the icy waters for a swim. Then after the food had been set out for Santa and his trusty reindeer, Oliver headed off to bed and fell asleep in the delightfully quick way that only a tired child can.
The big day itself was the most relaxed and enjoyable day. Of course there was the fun of watching Oliver wake to discover the presents under the tree and the joyous excitement of discovering what’s in those parcels. Then after breakfast we headed out for a walk to some waterfalls and a visit to Purakaunui beach. There’s a DOC camp at Purakaunui and it would be an amazing place to stay but it would take a while to get the bus in along the dirt road so really not worth it for the two nights we had. But the beach and the big rocky cliffs beyond are a sight to behold. After a bit of time playing at Purakaunui we headed back to the bus for a late bbq lunch, an afternoon spent playing with Oliver’s new toys, another swim and a bit more yummy food to end our day. This night as we tucked our tired boy into bed he told us it was the best christmas ever. It’s the most wonderful, reassuring thing to know that just the three of us, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each other is really all that he needs to achieve that. That for me is the best Xmas gift I could have received.
Five years ago I was lucky enough to become a Mum. It was something I had hoped for and dreamed of for a long time before it became a reality, before you became a reality. And once you were here it was like the missing piece of my life’s puzzle had arrived. The life that Wayne and I had built together was a great one, but it was even better to be able to share it. From the minute the midwife placed you on my chest we were in awe of this tiny force of nature that had arrived in our lives. The love, the wonder that you brought to our lives has only grown from there. It’s almost hard now to clearly remember what life felt like before you were in it, who I was before you were in my life. I know a trip like this at this stage in my life was never on the cards before you came along. But part of my journey as a Mum has taught me that life does not always go the way you had hoped it would. We had never planned to only one have one child, but it turns out this is what our family is meant to look like, the three of us – a tight loving little family.
For a while this was very hard to accept and I still have moments where I am so sad we can’t give you a brother or sister to grow with. But the fact that there is only you is a big factor in what opened the door for this new life and perhaps selfishly, a big reason why a few more years spent enjoying your company is something I am completely ok with. Your life as a five year old will look very different to other children’s, something I know you realise. There have been many questions about what children do at school all day and perhaps a few doubts that you are missing out on something by having Mum as your teacher. I can assure you my love that what ever you do miss out on will be more than compensated by what you gain in our travelling. I was fairly certain of this before we started, now two months in I am completely convinced.
Our life is richer in so many ways now. Our bond as a family is closer than it has ever been, the confined space and so much time spent together has worked well for us all. We are all a lot happier living this way, it is only early days still but there is so much more smiles, laughter and good vibes now. We have experienced some wonderful things together and seen so many beautiful places. The people we are meeting is an experience within itself, both the other travellers and the locals in the places we stay. I know this is still our country but for a little boy who has only ever lived in one place it is great to see different ways that people choose to live and conduct their lives.
Of course like all parents we are only making the choices that sit the best with us and hoping that in the long term these will work well for you. I also now hope that you will remember this time when you grow up and not in a fuzzy background, you were told about it so many times you think you remember it way. I hope it holds enough impact to be a clear memory. And I hope it’s as good a memory for you as it is for me.
We left Murchison amidst a torrential downpour and decided that a morning pitstop at a nearby restaurant for a strong coffee and a time warming our selves in front of there fire was completely justified. This was our fifth day in a row with little to no sun and the futures forecast looked just as bleak so our plans to freedom camp a few nights at our next destination had to change a little. When we arrived at the completely adorable little lakeside camp at Lake Rotoiti we could almost feel the weather had done us a favour. There is not much at Lake Rotoiti and the little town of St Arnaud that sits beside the lake. A general store/petrol station, a few places to eat and a wonderful information centre to help you explore the array of tracks that are on offer here. There are three camps around the lake but at this time of year only the small one at Kerr bay that also offers some powered sites is open. We found a spot tucked in the trees where we could plug in to power and ride out whatever weather was thrown at us over the next couple of days. That first afternoon was very wet, we managed one short excursion to the lake front but even wrapped up in jackets it wasn’t much fun. But then again we experienced that sudden ceasing of the rain and the sense of release it brings as you explore this place the rain was hiding from you.
That night was one of the wettest we have spent in the bus and with the fresh snow on the mountains around us it was the coldest so far. Collecting firewood to keep our little fire burning has become a part of our weekly routine, luckily it is something that Oliver enjoys helping with and so far we have found no shortage of pinecones to collect.
Our second day at the lake we had enough of a break in the weather to do the short honeydew walk close to the camp. Lake Rotoiti is a significant area for the countries conservation efforts, it is one of six mainland predator free islands, where essentially they use the things they have learnt on these off shore sanctuarys and put them in to practise on the mainland. They have a lot of beech forest here and it is part of the reason this spot was picked. There is a bug that lives on the beech trees and creates honeydew, before introduced pests the honeydew played an important part in our countries eco system as it is a great source of food for the birds. Wasps have largely hijacked the honeydew for themselves so here as well as trapping the four legged pests they try to eliminate the wasps as well. It is clearly working as the bird life here is abundant and even in the cold, damp weather we had you could smell a strange sweetness in the air from the honeydew.
The next day we walked from Kerr bay to West bay. It was a pleasant lake side track and the sun even attempted to shine through at some points. We decided as we walked that we were not quite ready to leave and we would stay two more nights. We were all in love with this spot, the view of the snow covered mountains towering over the misty lake was a sight that would never get old. As well as having a multitude of walking tracks to keep us busy. So with the next days forecast looking like our clearest yet we planned a walk to Whiskey falls. It was three hours return but by now that is well within Oliver’s capabilities. We woke to a fairly cold morning so took our time to get ready and head on our way. The track was relatively flat and after the initial part leading down from the road followed the lake quite closely, this side of the lake was quite different to where we were camped. There were several exposed rocky portions to cross and you could feel the air getting cooler and cooler as you gradually turned the corner towards those snowy peaks at the far end of the lake. Oliver was the first up the hill to the falls and his cries of joy would have made the long walk worth it even if the falls weren’t as beautiful as they are.
Just like that our time here had been filled. We had enjoyed it all, even the rainy times spent stomping in puddles. One of the things I did worry about a bit when coming to live in a bus is how we would find the rainy times in a confined space. But this week has been a joy! Hopefully it is a sign of what the rest of winter will bring us…
Unbelievably we have been living in the bus for a whole month now. So far it has been a pretty dreamy experience, it is everything I hoped it could be and a little bit more. There have not been as many issues with adjusting to it as I thought, at first there was a lot of organising to do since we had a bit of a rushed and messy final move in to the bus. But gradually over the month most things have found a place, there are still a few boxes lurking in the boot of the bus that I haven’t opened yet, perhaps a sign they are things we simply don’t need in this new life? Time will tell. Establishing a bit of a routine for Oliver is an evolving thing, we have the bed time one sorted, a major for me since Oliver will not be going to kindy or school now. At the moment with Wayne around all the time I am getting lots of time to sneak off for a walk or take some time to myself. When he’s working, night time will be my only chance for this and particularly when you live in close quarters that time to myself, to not be Mum for a while is precious.
There are still day’s where we will be somewhere, walking down a beach or through the bush and I almost have to pinch myself. It is hard to believe we are living like this now when a year ago a two week camping holiday was all the time away we could manage. I am fully expecting this experience to change a little once we have been doing it for longer, at the moment it is pretty idyllic. Moving around lots, seeing lots of interesting things and Wayne being free not to work. The periods where he is working will perhaps resemble our old life a whole lot more. I think Oliver will really miss him when he is at work now, he has had a taste of having Dad around all the time and he loves it! I am pretty sure he is not the only one. There are days where they will both just ride off together and sometimes not appear again for a few hours, normally both itching to tell me whatever fun they have discovered. I can see Oliver blossoming under all the one on one time with his Dad and I can see Wayne enjoying being a father more now that he isn’t always tired from starting work at 1am or distracted by something else he has to get done. The gift of time together is the biggest gift this lifestyle will give us.
So the goal now is to find ways to make sure we make the most of that gift and ensure we can work less and travel more. Luckily bus living is proving to be quite economical so that part of our strategy is working out. We are exploring options for a cheap or free place to park the bus while we are working in Nelson, really this is where we can save the most money. And that is after all the whole point of spending money installing a solar system and bathroom etc so that we can save money in the long run with cheaper places to park, because we don’t need the facilities at a motor camp. Although it is nice every now and then to have a real shower and laundry facilities on your doorstep. I have a new appreciation for unlimited supplies of water and washing machines that’s for sure.
We are spending most of this week in Nelson, starting the job hunting process, buying birthday presents for a certain little boy and just enjoying this beautiful city by the sea. After this we have another three weeks of freedom before coming back to Nelson for our first stint of work. This may be the last of the nicer, warmer weather before winter really kicks in so we are keen to keep moving and make the most of it. I am hopeful that the second month on the road will be just as good as the first and if we are really lucky maybe even a little bit better.
At the end of a windy, narrow dirt road about 30 kms from Takaka is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been lucky enough to visit. Totaranui Bay is home to a gorgeous big Doc campsite, the most golden sandy beach I have ever seen, crystal clear water and tons of walking tracks. It’s the place where a lot of people start the Abel Tasman coastal track, a walk that follows the coastline along the length of the Abel Tasman national park and takes between 3-5 days.
We found a wonderful spot to set up camp, views of the water from the front windows, views of the estuary from the bedroom and most importantly just a short stroll down to that beach. Our first afternoon was filled on that beach. We built sandcastles, explored the estuary when the tide was out and even though it’s late april and the water is rather crisp we all swam.
Our second day here we were keen to do one of the walks that were on offer. So mid morning we headed off to Goat Bay, it was about a 40 minute walk with a stop off at Skinner point for some great views back to Totaranui Bay. I had packed Oliver’s togs knowing he would want to swim at Goat Bay but not ours a move I did regret a little after the climb over to the bay on a surprisingly warm autumn day. We settled for paddling our feet in the ocean and very quickly killed a couple of hours before climbing back over to Totaranui bay and finally having the swim we wanted.
Another great thing about this camp is that they have fireplaces all around the camp so you can have an open fire. Toasting marshmallows over an open fire was a pretty great way to end such a nice day and I know it’s one of Oliver’s favorite memories from our stay here.
The next day we opted for a bit of a quieter day, most of our morning was spent riding our bikes around the camp and the little area behind the carpark that has been made in to a little bmx track. Then we took a walk with the Doc ranger and fed some extremely big eels. And in the afternoon it was back to the beach, more sandcastles, more swimming. This day is the pattern many of our camping holidays normally take, it feels familiar in its routine no matter where we are and what beach we are swimming on. Perhaps this is why Oliver is taking to our new life like a duck to water? He seems very content with this new normal, in fact I would go so far as to say he thinks this new life is much better than the old. And I can see his little mind taking in everything around him, there are moments where I can see the learning happening right in front of me. It’s not in a so called conventional way but it is learning all the same and what’s more so much of it is self-directed. As he walks through the bush he tells me ‘tree starts with t mummy’ and then spends a good 15 minutes naming things around him and what letter they start with. We write words on the beach with sticks and he counts things constantly, sometimes even doing basic addition without even really knowing what it is that he is doing. It’s amazing how much a child can just learn all by themselves if you just give them a loving supportive environment, surround them with plenty of varied opportunities to explore the world around them, read to them on a daily basis and give them as much time to play as you possibly can. For Oliver learning seems to be an almost natural thing, always evolving, always growing, always searching for new knowledge. I hope he never stops searching, growing and evolving and I hope I always take the time to see it happening.
Our trip so far has felt a little bit fast and furious, now it was time to really slow things down a bit, that is after all the greatest advantage of living on the road permanently – there is no time line and no need to rush. One of our rules since we are convoying and not all in the bus is that an hours driving a day is enough, when we left Havelock we didn’t even get close to an hours worth of travel. We were aiming for a spot just past Rai Valley but when Oliver and I arrived it was much smaller than we had thought and very full of mainly non-self contained vehicles. Since it’s a spot that is only meant for self contained vehicles it’s a little annoying, purely because we have spent considerable time and money so we can camp responsibly then we can’t park in the spots council have said self contained vehicles can because of people who aren’t doing things properly. Freedom camping is really in the spotlight here at the moment and not normally in a positive way, we really don’t want to be lumped in with the people who are taking advantage and not doing it cleanly or responsibly, so we decided to backtrack a little to a Doc campsite at Pelorus bridge. Instantly we were so grateful we did, those pesky campers did us a favour on this occasion.
Most Doc camps are fairly basic affairs, long drop toilets, a few taps to get water and not much more. Pelorus bridge has a fairly new looking kitchen facility, flushing toilets and hot showers, even a coin operated laundry facility. On top of the modern conveniences it is right next to the most glorious river, an abundance of walking tracks and a cafe just a few minutes stroll away just to top it all off. Within half an hour of arriving Oliver had Dad down by the river and by the time I had the washing on the line and the bus a bit organised I looked out the window to see Oliver pants thoughtfully rolled up to his knees but wading in water that came up past his waist. And this is mainly what our day consisted of, a short walk after lunch to a swingbridge further down the river and then back to the bus to put on our togs and head back to our bit of the river. The water was completely freezing but Wayne managed a quick swim, I got up to my knees and that was more than enough for me.
The next morning we woke feeling like we weren’t quite ready to leave yet, it was so idyllic we just wanted one more night. So we decided to take a drive out to the French Pass in the car and leave the bus just where it was for the moment. This was a drive we were never going to do in the bus anyway as there is a long windy, narrow dirt road to get there. It was interesting enough passing other cars coming the other way on some parts of it, definitely wouldn’t have been suitable for our big beast. Once again we were left in awe of the stunning views as we drove in and once we got there it was actually hard to stop taking pictures of the perfect little bay.
Even after having to do the same long, windy drive all over again in reverse this was still a trip worth making. I have always been aware of how lucky I am to call this country my home but every time I think that we have found the most beautiful spot ever down here, we drive around another bend and it just gets even more amazing. I feel so lucky to be having this time to really enjoy all the little places that we find, to soak in all the things around us and at the same time to really enjoy my time with Oliver without a lot of the everyday distractions we used to have in our lives. He is going to be five in a little over a month and his growing personality makes me very aware that normally we would be getting him ready to head off to school. It also makes me very glad that for us this is not the end of our years with him at home, instead this is a time where Wayne can have some concentrated, uninterrupted time with him like I have been lucky enough to have for the last five years. And for Oliver and I our relationship is growing and changing to, he is moving out of that little boy stage where he was so dependent on me and asserting his independence more all the time. This of course brings challenges and a fair bit of boundary pushing some days, but that is just part and parcel of parenting really. For us I think the good bits outweigh the harder so much more now than they used to. Perhaps it’s because we are both around to share the load, or because we are just having so much fun all the time, or because we have eliminated a lot of the worry and stress from our lives now. Most likely it is a mixture of all these things and I hope that we keep getting the balance right for a lot longer.