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.
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.
It had been six weeks since we left Blenheim behind in search of new sights to see and places to explore. Now as we left Wanaka our travels were drawing to a close for a bit as we planned to stop for another stint of work. We were heading for Invercargill as Wayne had a few contacts there he could approach about work. Slowly we made our way along the Clutha river, we found a spot beside the Clyde dam to stay a few nights and enjoy the cool blue beauty of the water. Then we headed on through Roxburgh and then to Gore where we stopped for the weekend before heading in to Invercargill to job hunt.
One of the first and biggest questions we get about the way we live is how we earn money, how we find work. It is to be honest the part of this whole journey that in the planning stages we just had to confidently tell ourselves we would make it work even though we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to go. Our experience finding work in Invercargill is probably the easiest it could possibly be. Wayne headed out on a Monday morning to start looking for work, by lunch time he was back at the bus having visited a few businesses and employment agencies he had a possibility of a job. By three o’clock he had a phone call confirming he had a job in Gore and would start Wednesday. I now would confidently tell anyone that finding work is the easy part of this kind of life. Not being fixed to one particular town/place is actually such an advantage the fact that the work is an hours drive away is no problem at all and if we are ever somewhere that work isn’t readily available we can simply move on to somewhere that it is.
So now we are settling in at Gore, the funny thing is that this is a town we probably wouldn’t have even stopped at on a normal holiday where time is short. But it is a lovely little rural town, there are plenty of options here for camping and the people here have been incredibly friendly. We even get delivered a local paper twice a week by a nice old gentleman on a mobility scooter flying a pirate flag, nothing says welcome like an old pirate delivering you a paper! We’re also looking forward to plenty of weekends away during this stint of work as there are plenty of places within a few hours drive that we can make it to for a weekend.
The week Wayne started his new job it marked one year since we moved out of our house and in with my parents. I look back now and can so clearly remember how busy, how hard that time was on so many levels, but I also have lots of great memories from that stage of our lives. I’m also so grateful we were brave enough to make that leap of faith, sell up, move back home with my family and then set to work making our big dream a reality. It’s amazing how much a year can change your lives, amazing how much a year can change you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are many things you have to rethink and do a little differently when you live in a smaller space. One of the big changes is not accumulating new things. My view on consuming and owning things has completely changed in the last year. We really do not need half the things we buy and fill our homes with, I don’t miss any of the many objects that we sold or gave away when we moved out of our house and am determined to not accumulate new things I don’t need. So now we are very selective about bringing new things in to the bus. For the most part it’s actually not that hard, once you make a conscious choice not to buy you simply don’t go in to shops, you don’t put the temptation in your path. And when you do need something you make sure you just buy what you came in for, no impulse buying. Birthdays and gifts just have to be done a bit differently. It either needs to be something you can consume or something you can do.
For Fathers day Oliver chose something we could do during our time on the West Coast and gave Wayne a voucher to do the tree tops walk just out of Hokitika. So before we left Hokitika behind we headed off to all enjoy Wayne’s present. The walkway is set in a piece of bush next to Lake Mahinapua and you stroll along 20 metres high literally amongst the tops of the towering Rimus, gazing down at the lower canopy below. When you are used to walking at the feet of these giant trees it is a novel experience to be able to reach out and touch their leafy tops.
The highlight for Oliver was definitely the tower that climbs 40 metres high to a point where you are even looking down on the tops of the Rimu. He was up those stairs so quickly, calling for us to catch up and see the view from the top.
We stopped in at Lake Mahinapua on our way back to the bus and I was thrilled to find some white heron right on the edge of the lake, slowly strolling around the shallows and searching for fish. These graceful, elegant creatures are one of my absolute favourite birds and their breeding grounds lie not to far down the coast which is probably why we saw a few of them here. Normally you only see them on their own, a bird which prefers its own company. For me those quiet moments watching the herons just do what they always do, unbothered by my presence will be a highlight when I look back at our time in this area, made better because Wayne and Oliver stood quietly beside me taking in the moment as well.
Convincing Oliver that leaving the spot at Fox river was a good idea wasn’t easy. Luckily for us the place we were heading to next was really interesting so once we got going his disappointment faded fast. Punakaiki or the pancake rocks are a fairly major tourist attraction on the west coast, they are a natural formation of flat rocks stacked one on top of the other a bit like a stack of pancakes. We timed our arrival perfectly getting there right on high tide, the best time to see the impressive blowholes that are also a part of Punakaiki. The rocks themselves are interesting to look at as you wind your way around the little path and the various view points. But what really caught Oliver’s attention was the huge waves pounding against the rocks and the water blasting up through the blowholes. We spent quite a bit of time watching the waves build and build and the resulting water spouts get bigger and bigger.
Wayne and I had both visited here before but only briefly to walk around the pancake rocks so we wanted to see what else the area had to offer this time around. So we opted to stay the night at the camp ground in Punakaiki. On checking in we were told that a walk called the Truman track was a must do so after lunch and an explore of the beach we headed off to find it. It’s not a long walk down to the bay, only about ten minutes or so and best done at low tide or you won’t be able to go down on to the beach at all. The view back along the coast towards Punakaiki is worth the short walk by itself, but what you find once you venture around the corner and down the steps in to the little bay is nothing short of magical.
Our good timing seemed to be a theme for the day because we had the place all to ourselves as we wandered down to look at the little waterfall trickling delicately over on to the beach. Around a curve in the cliff there was another little piece of the bay with a few small caves that Oliver enjoyed climbing up in to. The beach was made up of millions of tiny pebbles, smaller worn down versions of the beautiful rocks you find on lots of west coast beaches. We spent the better part of an hour sifting through them, picking out our favourite colours and then taking turns at burying each others feet in them.
We took other people arriving as our cue to leave this little slice of paradise. The rest of the afternoon was filled with a trip to a cavern for the boys to clamber through but our time at that perfect little beach was by far the highlight of the afternoon. I love seeing Oliver’s appreciation for the world around him growing and growing with all the new places he gets to see time in. He will sometimes stop and tell me that something is beautiful, delightfully mispronouncing it just a little so it sounds like ‘bootiful’. Something about that statement coming from my little boy who is so often splashing in mud puddles, wrestling with Dad and obsessed with doing skids on his bike. Something about it is like a delightful affirmation that although he is growing and changing my sweet little boy is still in there.