If you have even a fleeting relationship with social media then the odds are that some places you visit you will have seen photos of from someone else’s happy holiday snaps long before you actually set eyes on it. Lake Tekapo is a place most New Zealanders would probably recognise even if they have never been there. The combination of a gorgeous lake flanked by the mountains and a well placed little stone church have made this a must do photo opportunity for visitors from near and far. I think if we had visited a couple of years ago Tekapo would have felt like a different little town and I think if we visit again in a couple more years it will have grown in size quite considerably. In fact we could see it growing right before our eyes with new houses galore in various states of development. As well as the waterfront area and town getting a lot of major changes. This is progress I know and a neccesary thing when you are going to have to accommodate any ever increasing number of tourists each year. Perhaps even a welcome thing for people who call this place home to see their businesses growing. But it is undeniable that it changes the tone of a place. Don’t get me wrong Tekapo is undeniably lovely. But don’t be fooled by those perfect shots with church, lake, mountains and not a soul in shot. To get a shot without the crowds of tourists takes a bit of creative shooting and quick clicking when you get a person free shot. The best I could do is one with only my own child in the picture.
We spent two nights in Tekapo but didn’t do heaps. I think after cramming so much in to a short spell we were ready for a quiet day. Our good luck with the weather finally came to a pause on our second day here as well. So though we went for a bit of a stroll along the lakefront and a bit of a drive in the car to see the other side of the lake we didn’t take advantage of all the bike tracks here. We did find the most picturesque flying fox ever. The lake levels were quite low when we visited so Oliver also had a ball playing in the mud this had revealed.
It was a grim old morning when we left Lake Tekapo so the trip to Timaru didn’t take us that long. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover when you aren’t stopping along the way to explore. Timaru was really where the ‘holiday’ ended for us and we started trying to figure out what our next move was. We spent a few nights here, briefly exploring the idea of working here or moving on to either Ashburton or Christchurch. I think perhaps because we had a few options we were very indecisive and it took us a while to decide what we wanted to do. But in the end we settled on Christchurch. So we enjoyed a few days in Timaru then headed on to the next place we would call home.
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.
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.
Our last week before we left Gore we had the worst stretch of weather we have probably had in the whole time we have lived in the bus. It was very wet, very windy and just generally cold and miserable. For six long days. It made the week feel like it was stretching on and on for ever. It tested my patience and the limits of how long Oliver can spend cooped up in a small space. But finally Friday arrived, Wayne toddled off to work for the last time and we celebrated as we saw the sun coming out. We made the most of Wayne finishing up a few hours early, said our goodbyes to the other campers and headed off to Lumsden. Lumsden is really unique in that they allow freedom camping right in there town centre. We arrived just as the sun was going down and settled in to our spot with a view of the playground out one window and an old train out the other.
The next morning we were keen to get moving. For the first part of this trip we were heading to spend some time exploring Milford Sounds. I’ve been lucky enough to visit here before and couldn’t wait to do it with a bit more time up my sleeve. I also couldn’t wait to share it with Oliver. So when we arrived in Te Anau to find more rain we hunkered down in the bus for the afternoon and hoped for the weather to clear for us. We got all we hoped for and more the next day when we woke to a frosty morning and clear skies.
You lose cell phone reception not long after leaving Te Anau and then you begin to wind your way in towards this special piece of the country. Our first stop for the day was at Lake Mistletoe for a short but charming walk around this little lake and through the surrounding bush to be serenaded by some resident bellbirds who were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.
By mid afternoon we had arrived at the Totara campsite the first spot we had chosen to stay at on our way in to Milford. We had views of mountains, a gorgeous river alongside us and much to Oliver’s delight outdoor fireplaces for campers to use. The rest of the afternoon was easily filled with a drive down the road to the mirror lakes and a bit more sightseeing along the way. Then we had just enough time left to collect firewood and explore our camp a little before dinner, followed by roasting marshmallows on our fire then a quick game of spotlight before bed.
The next day we were all up and ready to go early, a good thing considering how much we wanted to see. First up we moved the bus a bit further down the valley to the last available DOC camp site the cascades. Even at the time of year that we are travelling in there is a steady trickle of visitors to Fiordland, the size and scope of the cascades campsite gives you a clear idea of how busy it must be in the peak season. This camp was pretty amazing, with stunning mountain views from every window of the bus. After a short time looking around we headed out to explore a little bit down the Hollyford Valley. There is so much you could do here, walks for every age, capability and time frame. Picking which ones you want to tackle is probably the hard part. We stopped at the Lake Marian track and did a section that led to viewing platforms along a cascading section of the river. Oliver was completely absorbed here watching the power of the water tumbling below us. Then after a bit more of a drive down the valley we did a short climb to see Humboldt Falls. They are a large three tiered waterfall and they are a stunning specimen amidst the many that you will find in the Milford Valley.
After a few stops on the way home to gaze at mountains we arrived back at the bus. Since we were staying in a valley the sun had dropped early and we were quite happy to tuck ourselves inside by the fire for the rest of the afternoon. Living in places with all these mountains is still a novelty for me. The landscape here is so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real at times, every corner there’s a new peak to marvel at, another waterfall to look at, another piece of this valley carved by some ancient glaciers. Spending time in all that natural beauty was rejuvenating for the soul, coupled with being disconnected from technology it was the perfect way to start this holiday for us. A visceral reminder of why we wanted to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. Spending time in places like this was high on the list of things that motivated us. If just two days here had been this good we were keen to see what the next day and more exploring might discover.
Since our Christmas holiday in the Catlin’s the furthest the bus has been is to Invercargill to sit in a mechanics for a few weeks. So when we discovered that Wayne would have five days off over the Easter weekend it was a very easy decision that we would be heading away. We quickly decided on a destination, the plan was to head down the coast to Riverton then slowly make our way to Te Anau before heading back to Gore via Lumsden. We left Gore as soon as Wayne finished work on the Thursday afternoon and made our way down the coast to Riverton. We found a spot at the local golf clubs car park and settled in for our first night away. The next morning we all woke raring to get out and explore somewhere new. The golf club was only one street back from the beach so our first task was of course a stroll on the beach. Our time spent at beaches has been way to little so far this year and it felt incredibly good to be back strolling along the sand.
It was a glorious sunny morning and very easy to fill it in a little seaside town like Riverton. Playgrounds are normally high on the list of places to visit first when you travel with children, it’s a bonus to find one right on the beach so we can take in the scenery while Oliver gets his dose of play. After that we hit all the hot spots of Riverton, the old train in the center of town, a stroll up to a good viewpoint of the coast and then along the river. Then it was time to head off to our next destination. We headed down the coast further, past Tuatapere and on to Lake Hauroko.
Lake Hauroko is New Zealands deepest lake, it is completely stunning, it is also a long drive down a dirt road to get there. Perhaps that is why it is not as busy with visitors as other lakes in this area. There were a few other people coming and going when we arrived in the afternoon and a few cars in the car park of people making the most of the long weekend and doing some tramping. But by the time we settled down for the night we had the place all to ourselves. This is such a rare occurence and it makes driving down those dirt roads more than worth it. On our drive in to the lake the weather changed and by the time we parked up the rain had started. The great thing about traveling in your home is that we could simply wait the rain out inside the bus and wait for a break in the weather. Which we got just before dinner and managed a short bush walk as well as a look at the lake. Of course with the rain it was shrouded in cloud and all the mountains were well hidden. So we settled in for the night and crossed our fingers that the next day we would wake to a brighter sky.
You can imagine how happy we were to wake to see sunshine breaking through the clouds. But unfortunately by the time we’d taken a few pictures, packed a few things in a backpack and headed to the start of a walking track the rain was starting again. We had wanted to walk up to a lookout while we were here and we set off to see how far we could get and if the weather was going to clear or get worse. We made it about half an hour down the track before deciding that it the rain was settling in and there was no point walking for another hour to get some lovely views of clouds in the rain. So we made our way down to the lake edge and began to walk back to the bus. As if just to reward us for getting out and giving it a go a gorgeous rainbow appeared across the far side of the lake.
Between the intermittent showers we spent the rest of our day visiting the Clifden suspension bridge and doing a bit of caving at some limestone caves nearby. We had planned on spending the night at Lake Monowai but after a tip from some locals we took an exploratory drive in the car first to check out how full the camp was. We decided that though there was plenty of room there it wasn’t the flattest or the driest place to spend a night. So we settled for a late afternoon bush walk to a look out. Again the clouds were thick on the hills around the edges of this lake. But the bush itself was amazing, lush, mossy, full of a huge variety of mushrooms and a few very friendly South Island Robins that utterly entranced our little boy. Once we got back to the bus we settled for the closest spot to park the bus for the night, it was essentially a car park surrounded by a ton of gorse. But when it’s five o’cklock at night and raining all we need is a reasonably flat and firm piece of dirt to park our home for the night, this is where being completely self contained is a truly wonderful thing.
The next day was Easter Sunday and when we woke to torrential rain the best thing to do was pack up so we could get on the road. It was a short drive to Lake Manapouri from where we were so by 11.00 we had the bus all settled in to the new spot we would be staying at that night and we were off to explore Manapouri. After the huge day we had had the day before we were all ready for a change of pace. Miraculously the sun had come out and it was a glorious day. We strolled the lake side path, spent a few hours playing beside the lake and willing the hills to shrug off those pesky clouds. Then of course being easter sunday an egg hunt was needed.
The next day we made sure we were up and on the road relatively early. We were planning to spend our last night in Te Anau and had heard the park we were wanting to stay at could get very busy. Being easter we didn’t want to miss out on a spot. Our plan worked perfectly, the bus was safely settled in well before lunch time and we were off to explore the bustling little tourist town of Te Anau. We braved the town centre long enough for Oliver to explore the playground he had spied on our way in. Then we headed to the wildlife centre which was definetly a highlight for us all. It’s nothing fancy but if you are the least bit interested in birds there is something here for you. It’s one of the few places you will see Takahe, they are an ancient looking bird with their huge beaks and glorious blue plumage. The Kaka’s are both cheeky and stunning. But Neil the Tui was the star of the show for us, I knew that Tui were wonderful mimics often imitating other birds and had heard they could imitate car horns or human speech but so far had never heard it. Neil hopped right on up to the edge of the cage and proceeded to clearly try to talk. This bird had so much character that Oliver insisted on looping back around to say goodbye to him before we left.
After this we made our way out to the control gates which is where you can start the Kepler track from, we intended to walk one of the closer bays and back. But our littlest wanderer was completely not on board with our plan. After about fifteen minutes of urging him on we stopped at the lake edge to see if a bit of a play beside the water would improve his mood. And while we were stopped something we had been hoping for at every lake we had visited finally happened. The clouds began to lift and they kept lifting until you could see all the glorious views. By this time it was well in to the afternoon so we decided the rest of the walk was just not meant to be. We headed back to the car and drove to the other side of Te Anau, the boys found a playground beside the boatramp and I wandered down to the lake to admire the stunning views. The lake and mountains beyond with an array of trees all dressed in their autumn colours was truly a sight to behold. Our whole easter trip had felt like a vivid reminder of why we are doing this, why we are a million miles from everyone we know and living in a bus. To see as much of our own country as we can and to share our love of the beautiful wild places with Oliver. When the clouds lifted it felt like the truly perfect note to end what had been a great trip.
Our time in the Catlins had been an absolute dream, beaches, sunshine and lot’s of time together, but boxing day was our day to head back to Gore so Wayne could get back to work the next day. There were plenty of walks and places we could stop on our way back to break up the driving but we had chosen just two to keep the day a bit more enjoyable. Our first stop was a short walk to Matai falls, they were pleasant enough and the walk was nice but after the three-tiered majesty of the Purakaunui falls we saw the day before to be honest I wouldn’t have missed these one’s if we hadn’t stopped.
From here it was a big climb over some hills for our old bus until we popped out by yet more gorgeous beaches. Here we found a spot to park the bus and headed off in the car to Nugget Point. It’s moments like this that I am so grateful we have a car, the road was narrow and windy then once we got there really busy. Throw in a bit of questionable parking by a few people and even some of the smaller motor homes were finding it hard to manoeuvre their way into a spot.
The sun was out making the water shine the most glorious shades of blue and green as we made the easy walk out to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. And there were plenty of seals and their pups on the rocks down below, lazing in the sun, frolicking in the rock pools their cries echoing up to us on the track high above them. It’s not a long or hard walk to begin with but all this makes it a great walk for families with plenty to keep children interested.
Even though it was really busy when we were here the viewing platform below the lighthouse has been very well designed, with a few different levels to give plenty of spots to snap pictures and take in the view without getting in the way of every one else. The wind picked up a little as we were heading back to the car so it was an easy choice to head back to the comfort of the bus for a bit of lunch before we decided what our next move was. In the end we simply decided that a bit of time playing on the beach we were parked next to would cap our time in the Catlins of perfectly before we headed back to Gore.
For us and our beach loving ways this trip was probably the best Xmas gift we could have given ourselves. I’m not really keen to pick a favourite place we have been or thing we have done during our time in the bus, primarily because it really is too hard. Just when you feel there is one that really stands out you go somewhere new and it steals a spot in your heart as well. Well the Catlins has carved out a little corner in my memories and my heart that’s for sure. And until we go somewhere else that has a bit of that magic feeling to it I will think back on our time there and wonder if we can top that experience.