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.
Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
We wind our way down the road. Past trees and paddocks full of sheep. House’s tucked away behind their fences sit around every other bend. Then we round another corner and the ocean appears. It looks a faded, gentle kind of blue from this distance, bathed in the soft evening light.
The car sweeps around a big corner, across a bridge and we are there. Of course Oliver is first out of the car but he gets distracted by the playground so I am the first to see this wildly glorious beach. I could actually hear it the moment the cars engine stopped, long before I climbed up the small bank to it’s rocky shores. The waves are pounding in. Churning the rocks over and over in a raucous display of their strength.
Shortly the boys join me on the beach. We meander along, discovering the bounty this sea has brought in on other evenings when the waves tossed their treasures high above the tide line. Treasure left to dry in the sun until another storm see’s them whisked away on another surging wave. Rocks are tested for splashing capabilities. Wobbling stone towers are built then knocked over with shrieks of six year old delight. Sticks become swords, then spears, then guns. We hunt make believe prey with our small child whose imagination is bigger than all of us. We let ourselves get sucked into that magical world of his where everything is possible.
Then we see a hammock strung between some trees and the moment shifts. Wayne and Oliver climb into the hammock. I find a log a short distance away to sit on and listen to the roar of the waves. My thoughts drift for a while and when I look back to the hammock I see a miraculous thing. The boy who was so full of energy, movement and noise a moment ago now lies in the hammock safe in his fathers arms. Their heads rest against each other and I can see they are talking. I could go over and join the conversation but decide that it is enough to watch this moment from here.
Far to soon it is over. We are back in the car. Winding our way past trees and paddocks full of sheep. Heading away from this magic evening on a rocky beach.
We woke to find yet another lovely day on our last morning at the Whitehorse campsite. With weather like this we just had to squeeze in one more walk before we left so we headed to the Tasman Glacier. This was the perfect little walk to round off our time here. It gave us a look at a different part of the valley and a view of Aoraki from the opposite side to which we had been looking at it in the Hooker Valley. It was also a relatively short little climb up and back. Which was easier to coax Oliver in to after the previous days efforts. It also left us enough time to stop in at the showers in the village and treat ourselves to a well earned real shower before we said our goodbyes to this magical spot.
By lunch time we had settled in at a freedom camping spot beside Lake Pukaki. It was a bit of a challenge finding a flat spot here large enough for us but with a location this grand a slight lean was really a small price to pay for the night. We found a walk nearby to a kettle hole which we did largely out of curiosity because we had no idea what a kettle hole was. The walk through farm paddocks felt incredibly uninspiring on the backs of the walks we had done at Mt Cook. The kettle hole itself was pretty uninspiring as well, basically a large hole with a small amount of not to pleasant looking water at the bottom. I am guessing the name comes from a time when you would make the trek down the steep slopes into the hole to fill your kettle. With this one’s location so close to the pristine looking waters of Lake Pukaki it was hard to imagine that trek being worthwhile. The views when you turned away from the delightful kettle hole and looked towards the lake are a far better reason to do this walk.
Our day ended with us all by the lake. It was yet another of those incredibly warm spring days. All three of us had dipped our tired feet in the water. Of course with all those mountains nearby it was icy cold but the day was warm enough that it wasn’t unpleasant. It really shouldn’t have surprised me because Oliver has such a love for the water. But before long he was venturing so deep into the water that we just stripped him down to his underwear and let him swim. With shrieks of delight he would go as far under the water as he could then he would climb out on to one of the sun warmed rocks and lie in the sunshine lapping up the warmth. Before of course jumping in to repeat the whole process again. Sitting watching Oliver delight in the simple joy of a cold lake and a sunny afternoon gave me just about as much enjoyment as it did him. It was another perfect little moment from a trip that had been full of them.
If you are like us and enjoy spending time in the outdoors then you will know that the weather can have a huge impact on your experiences. I’ve heard completely differing opinions from people on what a place was like solely based on the fact that one had great weather for their visit and one had horrible weather. Historically Wayne and I don’t have the best of luck with the weather gods. We’ve tramped around Lake Waikaremoana in rain that varied from drizzle to downpour and only cleared on our fourth and final day. We did the first day of the Humpridge track in weather so bad the helicopter couldn’t fly up with supplies for the hut and we made it all the way back to sea level without seeing any of the glorious views. We canoed the Whanganui River and it rained every day of our trip. I could go on but you get the point. A little (or a lot) of rain doesn’t scare us, or stop us enjoying ourselves. As long as it’s not a safety issue we still get out there and make the most of it. But there are some places that you really want the weather to play ball. Mt Cook was one of those spots. So when we stopped in Twizel to empty our tanks and top up our groceries we were very excited to see nothing but sunshine in the forecast for the next few days.
It doesn’t take long after making the turn and heading in towards Mt Cook that the views open up. With Lake Pukakis gleaming blue waters beside us and the mountains growing ever larger before us it’s a drive worth putting on your list of must do experiences. By lunch time we had arrived and found ourselves a spot in the DOC camp where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Not only was the sun out in force the day we arrived but it was incredibly warm for an early spring day. We were all itching to get out exploring now that we had arrived so we headed up to Kea point. It’s a short climb up a well used and maintained track. Once you reach the top you can see the Mueller glacier and the terminal lake, as well as a whole lot of mountains. It was such a beautiful afternoon and a glorious spot that we sat here in the sunshine for about an hour enjoying our surroundings. Then when we finally pulled ourselves away to head back down the valley we discovered that your view coming down is just as stunning. I think for me this was my favourite part of exploring here. That no matter which direction you turned in there was beauty.
The next day we had our boots on and were on the track before 9am. We were tackling the Hooker Valley track which is perhaps the most popular day walk in the area. Our plan was that the early start would mean we beat the worst of the crowds. Again this track is well maintained, it’s also relatively flat most of the way so makes the three hour return walk very family friendly. Our little guy found it such a fun track with plenty of swing bridges to cross and rocks to scale along the way. The highlight for all of us was arriving at the lake at the base of the Hooker Glacier. One end of the lake was filled with chunks of ice from the glacier. It was another radiantly clear day and Aoraki Mount Cook is a sight that only becomes more magnificent the closer you venture to it. It was a pretty magical sight and Oliver had a ball playing with the ice on the edges of the lake, it took a bit of convincing to lure him away.
The return journey took us slightly longer than on the way out as tired little legs slowed down. But the few extra stops just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery.
When we did get our tired legs back to the bus we filled the rest of the day with a visit to the information centre in the village which has some really interesting displays about the area and the history of the mountain. It would have been easy to tuck our tired little boy into bed early after this day but instead we sat up long enough for the stars to come out so he could see how magnificent the skys are here. Thankfully it was a clear night and we sat snuggled together in a blanket trying to point out the few constellations we know. But mostly just admiring the milky way and how beautiful the sky really is when you are somewhere as remote as this. We were leaving the next day. Even though we had only spent two nights here this place has a magic that seems to make the time stretch out. In fact it is one of those places that has a special feeling to it, far beyond it’s stunning natural beauty. For me it felt peaceful, quiet and still. Like somehow it has managed to stay whole. To resist any big change by people. To me there is a magic in that, in a place that will remain largely as nature intended it to be. A place that will remain wild. Our days spent walking around these mountains with people I love left my heart full to overflowing. It was moments like this I dreamed of when we dreamed this crazy life into existence. It’s moments like this that make the whole thing worth doing.