Back at the beach

We had spent three weeks in Nelson and after over two months of travelling it felt like the longest time. Luckily for us the opportunity for work in Blenheim came up and we were on the move again. So we left Nelson on a friday hoping to find somewhere off grid and interesting to spend the weekend. The first spot we stopped at would have been a lovely summer spot, but one of winter’s major drawbacks for us is a lot of grassy camps are just to waterlogged and soft for us now, this one we gave a wide berth as you could clearly see other people had been stuck. We arrived at Rarangi beach just before the sun started to drop and just in time to squeeze in a short walk on the beach. Instantly we knew we had hit the jackpot again in this camping spot. The campsite itself is a perfect winter site – gravel to park on! Though we didn’t quite get a beach view from our spot it was just a few steps away and it’s a glorious rocky affair, with views of the hills and snowy mountains in the distance.

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Saturday morning passed quickly, Oliver is well used to what new spots mean now and he is quick to jump on his bike, grab Dad and head off to see what they can find. Here there was a playground and pump track just up the road and a cave at the far end of the beach. I made the most of a bit of quiet time at the bus, gave everything a good clean and tidy up, did some baking and enjoyed a small break from the million questions a five year old continually fires your way. After lunch we were keen for a walk so we headed to Wither hills farm park in Blenheim. There are lots of walks in the park and we easily found one to suit our needs. Oliver was charmed by the stepping stones over the stream that we had to cross numerous times and the occasional sighting of some sheep. We squeezed in a short visit to Pollard park to try out the playground before heading back to our spot for the night.

Sunday was another gorgeous sunny day, even the last few nights had not been that cold, I now think the weather was lulling us in to a false sense of security before it delivered another wintry blast. We checked out the Blenheim farmers market in the morning, which was small but had a good range of produce and a few other bits and pieces. Oliver really enjoys shopping at farmers markets now, he’s keen to help pick out the apples he wants and choose the biggest broccoli he can find, like me I think he finds it a far more appealing way to shop than a supermarket. Once we had made it back to the bus with our purchases we decided to head to the end of the beach where the boys had found there cave and then go for a short walk around to a spot called Monkey bay. Monkey bay was tiny but interesting, it had a sea cave that you could walk a small way in to when the tide was out and sea the waves washing through from the other side. Also some more of those views you could just stand and stare at for the longest time.

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From Rarangi beach it’s just a short ten minute drive to White’s Bay, a beach we had visited with my parents on our second day in the south island and we did head there for a short time that afternoon to walk on the beautiful sandy beach and explore the rock pools along the edge of the bay. I find it fascinating that these two beaches are so close together yet polar opposites, one white sand and fairly sheltered beach, the other a vast stretch of rocks as far as the eye can see and waves that you can hear crashing in on the beach at night. This diversity and contrast is where a lot of the famed south island beauty lies I think. You don’t have a chance to get bored with the views because they change often.

This weekend made me appreciate our moveable home on a new level. Even when we are having to remain in one spot for work we still have the ability to just head somewhere interesting and spend a few days exploring, no need to pack bags or book accommodation. No extra expense apart from the petrol which in this case we would have used anyway coming to Blenheim for work. Most of all the luxury of having your home with you wherever it is you choose to stop, so whatever the weather brings or what mood strikes you once you are there you are prepared for it all. This freedom means that it doesn’t have to feel like we have stopped travelling for a while, the adventure doesn’t have to pause just because we have.

Four nights at lake Rotoiti

We left Murchison amidst a torrential downpour and decided that a morning pitstop at a nearby restaurant for a strong coffee and a time warming our selves in front of there fire was completely justified. This was our fifth day in a row with little to no sun and the futures forecast looked just as bleak so our plans to freedom camp a few nights at our next destination had to change a little. When we arrived at the completely adorable little lakeside camp at Lake Rotoiti we could almost feel the weather had done us a favour. There is not much at Lake Rotoiti and the little town of St Arnaud that sits beside the lake. A general store/petrol station, a few places to eat and a wonderful information centre to help you explore the array of tracks that are on offer here. There are three camps around the lake but at this time of year only the small one at Kerr bay that also offers some powered sites is open. We found a spot tucked in the trees where we could plug in to power and ride out whatever weather was thrown at us over the next couple of days. That first afternoon was very wet, we managed one short excursion to the lake front but even wrapped up in jackets it wasn’t much fun. But then again we experienced that sudden ceasing of the rain and the sense of release it brings as you explore this place the rain was hiding from you.

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That night was one of the wettest we have spent in the bus and with the fresh snow on the mountains around us it was the coldest so far. Collecting firewood to keep our little fire burning has become a part of our weekly routine, luckily it is something that Oliver enjoys helping with and so far we have found no shortage of pinecones to collect.

Our second day at the lake we had enough of a break in the weather to do the short honeydew walk close to the camp. Lake Rotoiti is a significant area for the countries conservation efforts, it is one of six mainland predator free islands, where essentially they use the things they have learnt on these off shore sanctuarys and put them in to practise on the mainland. They have a lot of beech forest here and it is part of the reason this spot was picked. There is a bug that lives on the beech trees and creates honeydew, before introduced pests the honeydew played an important part in our countries eco system as it is a great source of food for the birds. Wasps have largely hijacked the honeydew for themselves so here as well as trapping the four legged pests they try to eliminate the wasps as well. It is clearly working as the bird life here is abundant and even in the cold, damp weather we had you could smell a strange sweetness in the air from the honeydew.

The next day we walked from Kerr bay to West bay. It was a pleasant lake side track and the sun even attempted to shine through at some points. We decided as we walked that we were not quite ready to leave and we would stay two more nights. We were all in love with this spot, the view of the snow covered mountains towering over the misty lake was a sight that would never get old. As well as having a multitude of walking tracks to keep us busy. So with the next days forecast looking like our clearest yet we planned a walk to Whiskey falls. It was three hours return but by now that is well within Oliver’s capabilities. We woke to a fairly cold morning so took our time to get ready and head on our way. The track was relatively flat and after the initial part leading down from the road followed the lake quite closely, this side of the lake was quite different to where we were camped. There were several exposed rocky portions to cross and you could feel the air getting cooler and cooler as you gradually turned the corner towards those snowy peaks at the far end of the lake. Oliver was the first up the hill to the falls and his cries of joy would have made the long walk worth it even if the falls weren’t as beautiful as they are.

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Just like that our time here had been filled. We had enjoyed it all, even the rainy times spent stomping in puddles. One of the things I did worry about a bit when coming to live in a bus is how we would find the rainy times in a confined space. But this week has been a joy! Hopefully it is a sign of what the rest of winter will bring us…

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A magical day

When we were making our decision to sell the house and buy a bus one of the things that swayed us towards taking the risk was the hope that we would get to share some amazing moments together and make some really special memories as a family. Well just a week in to our travels we found one of those moments that I know I will hold onto long after our bus days are over.

We had left Whatamango Bay behind the day before and travelled along Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock. Deciding that we needed to stay in a motor camp for a night so we could do some washing and have a real shower we ended up staying in Havelock, the proprietor was very friendly and helpful and following his recommendations we decided to stay two nights so we could go out on the Pelorus mail boat the next day. Part of our strategy for bus living is that we are trying to live quite economically, so most of the time our entertainment is going to be walking and playing on the beach, we don’t plan on doing all the tourist attraction type things. But in saying that, their are going to be some things that we will splurge on and take the opportunity to do.

The mail boat tour is quite unique, around the sounds there are houses that are only accessible by boat or walking track. So the mail boat does several different runs on various days of the week, they deliver the mail and groceries and to help them run at a profit they also take tourists. We were very lucky to have gorgeous weather as we sailed out of Havelock at around ten am and the first few hours passed very pleasantly with an interesting commentary and beautiful scenery.

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Then after a few stops delivering mail and a few passengers catching a ride home we were dropped off at one bay where we could walk across to the next bay and the boat would pick us up from there. It was a welcome opportunity for Oliver to stretch his legs after the confines of the boat and also an interesting contrast after looking at the land from the water to be enjoying the views out from the land again.

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From here it was a bit more cruising and a few more mail deliveries, which are all part of the tour. I have to say all the locals are incredibly good sports, it must be a bit strange to have a boat load of tourists snapping your picture every time you collect your mail. Then we reached our lunch stop, we had the choice of either stopping at a little shop/cafe where you can buy lunch or going to a nearby farm and having a little tour of the woolshed. We had packed a picnic so opted for a farm visit. It seems an idyllic life, living in these beautiful settings with the ocean literally on your doorstep, a farm that has been in their family for several generations and a woolshed with a view of the ocean has to be pretty special. But you get the sense that this is a hard life as well, that they work extremely hard to keep things going and when you hear that the eldest of their two children is 13 and now attends boarding school as the only school option where they live is correspondence you know that it would not be an easy life to live.

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After leaving the farm the weather had started to change, the wind had picked up and we were starting to head back to Havelock. So we settled inside the boat for our trip back. Oliver was sitting on Wayne’s knee, very relaxed, almost to the point of falling asleep and we were reminiscing over how he had always found being in a boat soothing. And then the magical part of the day happened, we saw dolphins! The captain slowed down to see if they would come over to the boat and when they did we spent about half an hour moving, slowing down and speeding up so they would swim alongside us. I have been lucky enough to see dolphins several times in my life and they are pretty special animals. But seeing Oliver see them for the first time was something I don’t think many things could beat. He was absolutely transfixed with them and listened so well to where he needed to stand and hold on to things that we even managed to stand right at the front of the boat and watch them keep pace with the boat, there noses just jutting out in front of us. There were some baby dolphins as well and though he had to stand and watch for quite a while, because they weren’t coming as close to the surface, he did see them too. Once we moved away from the dolphins and sped up to head back to Havelock Oliver looked at me, huge smile on his face and said ‘We have to tell Nana we saw dolphins!’ I knew then that it was every bit of an incredible experience for him as it was for me. And now that I write this I realize that I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t take a single photo of them, but maybe it wouldn’t be the pictures of the dolphins that would hold the best memories. Maybe it would be the look of awe on my sons face as he watched these creatures and absorbed their grace and power and playfulness. And now that we have had such a special moment so soon in our journey I can’t help thinking there are good odds for many more in the time we plan to spend on the road…..