When we left our family in Waihi we headed to somewhere we had stayed before but not in the bus, as it turns out there would be a fair bit of that in this trip. But though those places were familiar to us, they were new to Oliver and as usual seeing them new through his eyes brought fresh perspective and fresh enjoyment. Wentworth Valley is a DOC campground nestled in a valley not far from Whangamata. Much to Oliver’s delight there is a ford crossing on the way in and the river runs right alongside where you camp. At this time of year it was quiet and we found ourselves a gorgeous spot nestled amongst the trees to spend a night.
It was afternoon by the time we arrived and we were unsure if we really had enough day left to do the walk that goes from the camp to Wentworth falls. We headed off thinking we would just stretch our legs and do a little bit of the walk. But enthusiasm got the best of us and we ended up going the whole way. It’s moments like this where I really appreciate this new stage of parenting we are in. Oliver is getting a bit older and a bit hardier now. We set off totally unprepared without even a drink bottle but it was fine, we all enjoyed ourselves and arrived back at the bus about 5.30 to enjoy water and a nice cold iceblock while we cooked dinner. The days of having to plan and prepare for even the shortest of adventures are disappearing. In our pre child days Wayne and I were big on spur of the moment fun, we didn’t plan that but it’s there, we’re keen, lets do it. I can see that being a part of our lives again more often now and I’m ready for it.
The next morning we said goodbye to Wentworth valley but we weren’t going far. Just down the road to Whangamata in fact. I have so many childhood holiday memories of this place. For a while there it was a regular holiday destination for my family. I remember fondly days spent playing at the estuary or swimming amongst the waves on the surf beach. Perhaps this is why when Oliver’s eyes lit up and he begged for us to have a swim with him I just couldn’t say no. Even though it was only September and the water was really not that warm yet. Even though the gorgeous sun seemed to hide itself behind a cloud the moment we got into our togs. We had our first swim for the summer (even though it’s not summer yet). Our day in Whangamata ended as all days should when you are holidaying by the beach, with a walk along the beach and one last moment with sand between your toes before you climb into bed.
The next day we headed to another DOC campsite called Broken hills. Wayne and I had spent a long weekend here years ago in a leaking tent in the rain. We still had fond memories of the place and the walks here so were keen to visit in finer weather. Thankfully that’s just what we got when we arrived. Sunshine turning the river a lovely golden hue and enticing Oliver to wade deeper and deeper into the water. A campsite all to ourselves and only a handful of people out on the walking tracks as we did our exploring. Broken hills is an area with a lot of old historic gold mines. We did a really fun walk here that follows the river for a spell then loops up and you walk through a couple of short tunnels before following the old water race back towards where you started. The boys also explored another short track that had lots of little caves to poke your head in and check out the wetas. We ended our day with a laughter filled game of spotlight and finally a plan starting to take shape for where we were actually heading next.
Even now nearly three years on I can vividly remember all the stress and emotional upheaval I felt in those last few weeks before we left Tauranga in our big white bus. I never really imagined that circumstances would arise that would put us in a very similar situation again, only this time more stressful and more intense. But somehow this strange year that is 2020 managed to do just that. Lockdown, bus repairs, bus breakdowns, last minute hiccups, casual jobs becoming way less reliable than they have been for us in the past and spending way longer than we ever planned living with family. It all combined to a point where I actually wondered if the best move was just to sell the bus as she was and move on with our life. Because for most of this year it has very much felt like our life was not going anywhere, both in the literal sense and otherwise. For people who are very used to setting goals, making plans and getting on with life it’s been a super frustrating position to be in. Thankfully after one last incredibly stressful day it finally happened. We had a little sticker on the window with the right date on it and we were free to move again. We spent our last night in Tauranga parked at Memorial park, enjoying one of the awesome freedom camping spots that the area has and saying our goodbyes to good friends who are very hard to leave behind.
So where do you go first when you feel like life has wrung a whole lot of the energy out of you and you desperately want to get it back? Well we go to the beach of course. We beach hopped our way from Omokoroa to Waihi beach, freedom camping and getting back in to the swing of living full time in a moveable vehicle. There was plenty of time spent wandering on beaches and letting the sound of waves hitting the sand sooth my frazzled nerves. There was also a whole heap of appreciating the fact that we were in fact free to go wherever we wanted.
On our second day at Waihi beach we woke to black skys that promised rain was not far away so we traded our plans of a walk and more beach time. Instead we headed in to Waihi and visited the gold discovery centre. Which I have to say exceeded any expectations I had of it. It was interactive, fun and full of lots to keep both a busy young child and a couple of parents entertained for a couple of hours on a wet day. We also learnt a few things about the history of the Martha mine and the mining that continues there today.
After a night spent with family who live close by it was going to be time for us to move on again. But we still had no real firm plans for where we were going, we decided to go with it and just enjoy waking up in the morning, looking out the window to see what the day had brought us and decide where we wanted to drive to that day. Perhaps this was the delicious cure to all the frustrations of having no control that we had suffered so far this year. It sounded to us like a really good thing to try.
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.