A few nights in Wanaka

Our next stop was one I was really looking forward to, Wanaka! Wanaka is simply stunning and after a few weeks of lots of small towns it felt like we were heading back into civilization. The sun was still out for us and I will be forever grateful that we got to make the most of the views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea as we wound our way towards our destination. I also love that Oliver was just as excited as us to jump out of the car at all the lookouts and take in the views of lake with mountains beyond. He is a seasoned traveller now and quite happy to chat away in the back seat, see what he can spy out the window and just enjoy the trip.

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We arrived in Wanaka around lunch time and easily found a place to stay at the Albert town camp. Our spot was right next to the river and had plenty to keep Oliver occupied so our first afternoon didn’t take much to fill. The next day we headed into the town which sits right on the edge of the most beautiful lake and spent a few hours at the playground on the lakes edge.

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You could easily spend a whole day wandering the paths along the lake edge, eating at one of the nearby restaurants with a lake view and there were plenty of people doing just that. We were organised and had a picnic lunch and a plan. There are lots of walks to do right on Wanakas doorstep and we were going to do the Diamond Lake lookout track. We walked up to the Diamond Lake and then carried on to the first lookout where if the conditions are right you can see the mountains reflected in the lake. There were no reflections the day we were there but the view was still worth the climb and made the perfect place for a picnic. You can climb further up to another lookout where you got views of Wanaka as well but on this day it had already been hard work getting Oliver up the first climb, we decided a further hours climbing with a reluctant kid wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved and quit while it was still a good experience.

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We finished our day back at the bus with a BBQ and a play in the river. Wanaka had lived up to all our expectations and a little bit more. Even as we were getting ready to leave we were toying with plans of visiting again on our way through the middle of the island. Places this gorgeous are hard to leave and would be easy to settle in and stay at far longer. But for now we were heading on to see what new sights awaited us around the next bend.

 

Beachside living.

Some days the drive is as much of an experience as the destination. The drive through the Buller gorge to Westport is one of those times, you wind along beside the river all the way down to the coast and it is not short on stunning views. When there is enough to keep a five year old boy entertained just by looking out the window, chatting about what he can see you know it is a good drive.

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We arrived in Westport and made our way to our first spot on the west coast. It was an NZMCA camp, right on the beach and with bike tracks running right behind it. For only $6 a night it really feels like we have won the lottery when we arrive at these spots and find we get a view of the ocean from our lounge, that we can have sand between our toes within mere moments of stepping out of the bus. It has been a good while since we have had a spot beside the beach so we were all a little excited to get some beach time in. And this beach proved to be a goody, sandy, big and with an impressive amount of driftwood running the length of the high tide mark, more scattered higher from past storms. Oliver had the joy of being the first to spot a seal on this beach. We were strolling along, I was taking photos and Wayne was skimming stones when Oliver’s little voice calmly says ‘Mum I see a seal on that log’. There it was probably only 15 metres away, a young seal lounging in the driftwood trying to have its afternoon nap.

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Westport is only a small town but it was extremely easy to fill the days we spent there. The museum that is attached to the information centre is well worth a visit, small but well put together displays about the local coal mining history kept us all amused for almost an hour. We spent a morning on the cycle trails behind our camp, rode out to the river mouth and watched a ship come in, watched the huge waves tossing a tree in towards the shore and marvelled at the power of the ocean. We built sand castles, collected driftwood and built a shelter around one of the many big logs that are scattered along the beach, roamed the beach in the morning and at night. We also did the Cape Foulwind walkway. The walk goes from one bay up to a view of a seal colony and then along the cliff tops to a lighthouse. It took us just on an hour to get to the light house with plenty of stops along the way to read information panels and gaze at seals.

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But I would say the highlight of our time in Westport for Oliver was that there was another family staying at our camp at the same time as us with two children, one of whom was a five year old boy. We saw a few young children during the first school holidays that we were away but since then we just don’t seem to have come across any. So Oliver had a great time playing on the beach, riding bikes and playing monster trucks with our temporary neighbours. He is now keen to see if we can find other children at every new camp that we arrive at and I am glad that it is coming in to summer soon when this is going to be a more regular occurrence. I have no doubt that he is thriving with his main play mates being Mum and Dad, but everyone craves connection with their peers sometimes. For now though it was time to leave Westport behind and head further up the west coast in search of some more beaches to call our temporary home.

A letter to my five year old

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.

 

 

Our first month on the road

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.

Most thrilling beach walk of my life…

Our time in golden bay was coming to an end, we had loved everything about our time here and it was hard to think of leaving just yet. So we decided that three nights at a place called Wharariki beach past Cape Farewell would be a great way to finish of our time in this special part of the country. It is literally at the end of the road and there is a small camp ground there, a cafe that opens up over the summer and as we would discover a magical beach.

Once Wayne had dazzled me with his expert parking skills and squeezed the bus in to the most awkward spot to date, we had been impressed by the spotlessly clean campsite facilities and said hello to the resident peacocks and horses. It was time to go check out the beach. The beach is only accessible by a twenty minute walk through the surrounding farm land so timing it that we would arrive at low tide we headed off. Oliver is getting used to these little excursions and he was keen to get to the beach so it was a quick trip in. Once we made it to the top of the first sand dune and saw the beach start to unfold before us he took off running, smile so wide with excitement at what he had discovered.

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The whole place is just immense, huge expanses of sand dunes, enormous rocks jutting out of the beach and the sea and when the tide is fully out it seems to take forever just to walk to the water’s edge. The boys took off at a run and I got distracted trying to catch all the beauty on camera, by the time I caught up they were in their first sea cave pretending to hold up the roof like some miniature super hero.

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From there we made our way along the beach and found baby seals frolicking in the tidal pools left by the outgoing tide. They are obviously used to people stopping to watch them as the one female seal who was sitting on a nearby rock watching all the babies didn’t do much more than open one lazy eye to check what all the oh-ing and ah-ing was about as everyone on the beach gathered to watch the babies playing in the water.

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When Oliver had lost interest in watching seals swim we moved on down the beach to explore the rocks at the far end of the beach. It was a dull, overcast day and the gray skies only made the whole place seem more wild and untamed. Not many people had come any further on to the beach once they had seen the seals and snapped a few photo’s so we had this part of the adventure all to ourselves. I feel sorry for those who came so far only to miss some of the best bits this place had to offer. This end of the beach the rocks became a maze of huge sea caves, really just a small childs paradise and over an hour easily slipped away weaving in and out of the rocks, exploring rock pools and soaking in all the raw beauty around us.

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It was after 4pm by the time we convinced our wet and tired little boy to start heading back towards the other end of the beach. We stopped by the seal pool for one last look at the gorgeous babies. As if by magic as we started to walk slowly away all the seals hopped out of there little pool and headed back towards the ocean where the rest of the adult seals were. Incredible how these tiny little creatures need no mother calling to them, no sign they had communicated in any way what so ever and they all knew it was time to head home, even the one that had wandered off around the corner alone followed the same internal call. So with that it was time for us to head home too, my baby needed slightly more encouragement than the seals after all his climbing through caves but we made it back all the same.

This beach was such a contrast to all the golden little bays we have been enjoying in this area, you can see how the harsh winds, rains and tides have left there mark on the place. Building the towering sand dunes you climb over to get to the beach itself, carving its mark in the rocks in the water and on the beach, smoothing away everyone’s footprints at the end of the day and bringing it back to the way it should be. Pure, unspoilt beauty.

This would sadly be our only visit to Wharariki beach. The next day the wonderful weather we had been experiencing came to an end and it rained so much that by the day after that the road in to the camp was completely flooded. Luckily we had planned on staying another night anyway, so we spent a day playing card games, checking on the flood waters and getting friendly with the two horses that were living in the campground. Not what we had hoped for but nice to have a couple of quiet days where we didn’t do too much before we began the journey back to Nelson. Wharariki was the perfect end to our time in Golden bay and it truly showed me you just never know what you might find at the end of the road.

 

Totaranui Bay

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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.

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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.

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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.

The wanderings begin

Now it’s finally happening, we are officially living in a bus, travelling the country. Of course the big decision is where do we go first? We decided a little while ago that we would travel the south island first and when we set a leaving date we booked a ferry crossing and planned for a fairly quick trip to Wellington so we would have a couple of days to hang out and explore the capital. It all went pretty much as we had hoped, we spent our first night in Taupo so we wouldn’t have too much driving on the first day. The next morning we spent a bit of time at the playground to run off some of Oliver’s endless energy before a big drive to Himatangi beach. Being in the car we travel a bit faster than Wayne does in the bus so we arrived before him. So it was an easy choice to find the beach and go for a bit of a walk while we waited for the bus to arrive.

It was quite a windy afternoon and they drive cars along the beach at Himatangi, so it was quite an exhilarating walk. Just what we needed after a long drive and a not so exciting day for a four year old. And a vital reminder for me that this is why we are doing this, for these moments we will get to share together now all the time.

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Our night at Himatangi was our first experience of what you call a pop or park over property. We joined the NZ Motor home association and along with that gives you access to a whole lot of different options for places to park your self contained vehicles, one of those options is other members who have enough room on their properties will let you stay at their property for a small fee, in this case $5 and for that grand sum we also plugged in to their power for the night and enjoyed a cuppa and a bit of a chat with the older couple after Oliver was asleep. Very quickly it has become clear to us that we will not lack for social interaction on the road, if anything I would say we will have more than before.

The next morning after a bit of a morning bike ride we left Himatangi and headed towards Wellington. We decided to stop at the tram museum on the outskirts of Wellington and take a tram ride to the beach and back. Oliver is fairly keen on trains so this was definitely for his benefit, but it was actually really interesting for us to. A small but well set out little display on the history of trams in Wellington and then the actual tram ride takes you down to a the beach where you can hop off, go for a walk or picnic and catch a later tram back to your car when you are finished.

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Once we had arrived back at the station it was just a short drive further in to Wellington where we would stay for a couple of nights. This time in a domain that allows freedom camping and luckily for us had big enough spaces for us to fit in. We decided on arriving that we had done enough driving for the day so spent the afternoon playing at the playground that was literally right next to where we were parked and a little walk to explore where we were staying.

The next day we headed in to the city to do a bit of sightseeing. Wellington isn’t somewhere we have spent much time so we were keen to see some of it while we were passing through. Our first plan was to catch a ride on the cable car, with a nearly five year old boy in tow any large vehicle you can ride in is sure to be a hit and this one was no exception. From there we caught a free shuttle to Zealandia which is an area in Wellington that is protected by a predator free fence, the idea of these is that you eliminate all the possums, cats, rats, mice and stoats – all the introduced pests that kill our native bird life or destroy the native bush that the birds use as their habitats. Once you get rid of all the pests the bush can regenerate and the bird life can thrive, giving the opportunity for birds, that in some cases only live off shore on islands that we have managed to keep predator free to establish a population on the mainland again. It was perhaps a bit too much a tourist’s version of a bush walk for our tastes but had an easter egg hunt going on so was a great way for Oliver to feel like he wasn’t missing out on all the easter fun because we had run away in a bus. After that we went for a little bit of a drive to a lookout and around Oriental Bay, which although windy was very beautiful.

We were staying in the same spot again that night and it was wonderful to be able to head home to the bus in the afternoon and have a bit of a rest, watch the kite surfers who were making the most of the wind that had picked up during the day and do a few little chores. The next day was our last full day in the north island and we wanted to move the bus to a spot a little bit closer to the ferry terminal since our sailing was at 8am. This proved not as easy as we had thought, the first place we checked out wasn’t big enough for us and the second though it was big, was also busy and just a car park by a marina so not ideal for Oliver. We left the bus there and went off to grab some lunch and something fun for Oliver after a morning of driving around a city. But while we were out we decided that actually this wouldn’t suit us and Wayne had an idea of a spot we could park from when he used to do long haul truck driving, it was just a little spot in an industrial area but it was perfect for our needs. We had one other camper parked up with us and it was close to a cycle path so we had a good ride before dinner to finish off our day. And as if mother nature knew that for us the next day was the start of a new chapter as we headed off to the south island she put on a fantastic sunset to end the day with. And though we had really enjoyed our time in Wellington we were looking forward to a complete change of pace and to actively slowing our lives down to enjoy our time together.

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