Christmas at the beach

When we found out Wayne would have a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period it was a fairly easy decision about which way we wanted to head. If we traveled through Arthurs Pass and then back towards Christchurch through the Lewis Pass then we would have explored the final places in the South Island that we so far hadn’t got around to. When we left we were unsure whether we would loop around via Lake Brunner or go all the way to the coast. It is one of the wonderful things about traveling this way, even at a busy time of year you can choose to just play it by ear and hope there’s a spot wherever you decide to stop. A lot of the camps we were staying at run on a first come, first served basis, no bookings and they were we guessed the kind of places that wouldn’t get to busy until after Christmas day.

So we set off with very little plans, enough groceries to last us a couple of weeks and one very excited wee boy. We set off from Christchurch close to midday so our first days plans were purely to get to the first camp we planned to stay at so we would be ready to head out the next morning and see the sights. We arrived at the first spot to find it small and rather busy, essentially it was just a carpark where you can stay overnight as well. We debated carrying on to the next spot which wasn’t far away but since Wayne didn’t really want to reverse the bus out we decided to settle in and see if the majority of the cars would clear out as the day went on. Luckily our patience paid off and we found a spot that suited us perfectly and left us facing in the right direction for a speedy getaway the next day. We eased into our holiday with an afternoon playing platonk and slapping on copious amounts of insect repellent.

The next day we had a slight bit of back tracking to do so that we could visit Kura Tawhiti or Castle Hill. Easily visible from the road this is a fascinating little stop. There’s a short well maintained track from the carpark to the start of the large limestone rock formations and then a myriad of unmarked but well worn little paths to wander along as you explore this wonderful area. This is one of those wonderful places that you can really spend as little or as much time as you have and still enjoy the place. With small children in tow it’s the sort of place you could happily while away most of the day playing amongst the rocks. We settled for a fun hour or so before heading back to the bus to carry on with our adventures. As sometimes happens we didn’t end up going very far at all. Probably not much more than ten minutes down the road we pulled in to Lake Pearson to have lunch and decided that actually we’d just stop here for the night. Wayne had been working a lot of hours in the lead up to Christmas and been away from us more nights than we would normally like so I think we were drawn to a much slower pace of travel this time around. So apart from a small drive down a dirt road to find nearby Lake Sarah our afternoon was full of playing on the edge of the lake, trying to entice the mother ducks to bring their ducklings closer and sipping a few cold drinks while we took in the views.

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Home for the night at Lake Pearson

When we set off the next morning it was Monday and we had two nights until Christmas. We moved the bus to Klondike Corner and found a great spot beside the beautiful river with views up the valley to one of the last peaks with snow still clinging to its top. We had one walk that we definetly wanted to do in Arthurs Pass and it was the Devils Punchbowl falls, so this was our first destination for the day. You can actually see the falls from the carpark but it’s more than worth the climb up for a closer peek.

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Devils punchbowl falls
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Taking in the views from above the viaduct

After that we wandered through the little town and took a drive to the lookout at Deaths corner to look at the view of the viaduct we would be crossing as we made our way to the West coast. This was about where Oliver decided he’d had enough of playing tourist for the day, he remembered that gorgeous river we had parked the bus beside and the only way he was interested in spending the rest of his day involved that river. Luckily as it turns out his parents more than share his love of icy cold rivers. By the end of the day we had all had a very refreshing swim and a good dose of time spent basking in the sunlight, soaking in natures beauty.

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Klondike corner and some epic bus manouvering for a great spot
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The last of the lupins and a small dusting of snow remains

That night we decided that this was where we would leave our exploring of Arthurs Pass. We were all feeling like spending Christmas at the beach would be a great idea so the next day we got up early to get ahead of the traffic and headed for Westport. We had stayed at a beautiful NZMCA camp there when we explored the west coast, right beside the beach it would be the perfect spot to celebrate on christmas day. Once we made our way down to the coast we were travelling through areas we had already visited so we opted to just keep driving with a lunch stop beside the beach at Fox river being pretty much our only stop. It was so worth it to arrive in Westport, find a nice spot and settle in to just enjoy what Christmas is ultimately all about. Time spent with the ones you love.

Our second Christmas with our wee family just by ourselves was just as lovely as the first. Oliver is still completely in love with the magic of Santa and Christmas but I am at the point where I can see that we may not have many more of those years left. I think I was more mindful this year of just enjoying those little things while they are there to enjoy. Then of course the big plus of having no where to rush off to and only three people to cook for is that we all got to spend most of the day on the beach. So once the presents were all opened and properly inspected, we swam. Then we had a BBQ lunch and of course we swam some more. It was obviously a winning formula because we decided to spend two more nights at Westport and that was pretty much how all our days went. It’s truly amazing to me how many hours of entertainment you can get out of a long stretch of sand, some water and whatever the waves have washed in. By the time we left, despite our best efforts there was sand creeping it’s way from the front of the bus right up to the back. It was even managing to infiltrate the bed. But all the vacuuming it would take to get rid of it was more than worth it for those four days beside that beach.

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Making the most of beach side living
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Table with a view

Once we left Westport we were right in the middle of the busiest holiday week of the year. We could still find places to stay but they were definetly more crowded than we prefer. So we stopped in Reefton and explored a little of the towns history. Then we stopped in the Lewis Pass and enjoyed the views from the top of the pass, whiled away a few hours beside the river and checked out the wall that’s built on top of the Alpine Fault. After this we opted to head back to Christchurch and spend our last days of Wayne’s holiday somewhere we knew would be relatively quiet. As 2019 drew to a close it felt really wonderful that with this last trip we have slowly worked our way all around the South Island. It may have taken us a lot longer than we originally thought but we did it and I for one would not trade one single moment of it.

 

A wandering Christmas – Part two

We woke on the morning of Christmas eve and we had one very excited little boy bouncing around the bus with dreams of Santa in his little head. I was extremely happy that we had a busy day ahead that would hopefully give all that energy a good outlet and the ultimate in parenting wins a happy but tired little person who would fall straight to sleep that night. Because owing to limited places to hide presents and limited time away from child to procure and hide said presents I had hidden them all away unwrapped, and unwrapped they still were. A rookie parenting mistake really leaving all the wrapping till Xmas eve.

Our first stop of the day was only accessible an hour and a half either side of low tide which on this day was at ten thirty. So we were on the road bright and early before joining the crowds of people who were also exploring the Cathedral Cave that morning. The cave is a sea cave and access is through private land so there is a small charge to use the road and track down to the beach. After a quick chat with the friendly parking attendant and a pleasant 1 km walk down through the bush we emerged onto a gorgeous beach.

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When the tide is in it comes right up to the cliffs where the caves are so there’s only a small window each day where they are able to be explored, we arrived with plenty of time to wander around and I am so glad we did. The first cave you come to is the Cathedral cave and it’s actually two caves that have joined so you can walk in one entrance and out the other. But there are numerous caves as you stroll along the cliffs edge, some large, some small, some very wet and some awfully smelly. And yes in case you were wondering we poked our noses in all of them.

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coming out of the cathedral caves
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a cave monster
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Even the cold, cold water didn’t stop us

This spot was by far my favourite place we visited on the Catlins, it’s truly amazing how nature can create something like this with just the water, the weather and a whole lot of time. I don’t always agree with being charged to visit beaches, they just feel like places that everyone should be free to visit, but in this case I can see why. The number of people who were there in the time we visited and how dangerous it would be if people went on the wrong tide mean it needs to be monitored. And if the $11 we paid helps to preserve this place and keep it as pristine as it was then I am more than happy to pay.

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Rock climbing

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After the caves we stopped at a couple of short walks, one to the Tautoko Estaury and one to Lake Wilkie. Then all that was left was a stop at a lookout to admire another sweet little beach down and on to where we would spend Xmas day. Papatowai is a DOC site that’s nestled right beside the estuary and we conveniently found a space right by the track to the beach to make camp. The remainder of our day was spent at the beach where we all braved the icy waters for a swim. Then after the food had been set out for Santa and his trusty reindeer, Oliver headed off to bed and fell asleep in the delightfully quick way that only a tired child can.

The big day itself was the most relaxed and enjoyable day. Of course there was the fun of watching Oliver wake to discover the presents under the tree and the joyous excitement of discovering what’s in those parcels. Then after breakfast we headed out for a walk to some waterfalls and a visit to Purakaunui beach. There’s a DOC camp at Purakaunui and it would be an amazing place to stay but it would take a while to get the bus in along the dirt road so really not worth it for the two nights we had. But the beach and the big rocky cliffs beyond are a sight to behold. After a bit of time playing at Purakaunui we headed back to the bus for a late bbq lunch, an afternoon spent playing with Oliver’s new toys, another swim and a bit more yummy food to end our day. This night as we tucked our tired boy into bed he told us it was the best christmas ever. It’s the most wonderful, reassuring thing to know that just the three of us, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each other is really all that he needs to achieve that. That for me is the best Xmas gift I could have received.

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Purakaunui Falls
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Purakaunui Beach
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A boy and a beach

 

Taranaki part two

DSC05709One of the things we are learning about travelling in a bus is that it is quite easy to just head off to a destination without to much of a firm itinerary for once you get there. Though I do think this is definitely something I will grow to love, the sense of freedom and flexibility, it is not something I have been used to the last four years since having a child to consider. Travelling has been quite carefully planned to ensure the most enjoyable trip and holiday for everyone involved. But the theory is in the bus that we can decide at any point in the day that we have had enough and simply find a spot to park up for the remainder of the day. This was our first time putting this in to practise as we woke at Okato domain with no firm plans for the day.

Over breakfast we decided that a visit to Pukekura park was our first stop as Oliver had been such a star on our big day of travelling he deserved to do something he would enjoy. Pukekura park is a huge gardens in New Plymouth, it has walking and cycling tracks and is also home to the Brooklands Zoo which was what we were going to check out. We arrived to the pleasant surprise that the zoo was free to enter and once we got Oliver past the playground in the center of the zoo we began to explore all the exhibits. There was a petting zoo area with all your standard farm animals, several different types of monkeys, meerkats, otters and a free flight aviary with several types of parrots. We spent several hours playing and watching the animals and with all the picnic spaces provided and huge gardens surrounding the zoo you could easily spend a whole day here with your family.

Wanting to check out part of the coastal walkway next we headed to the Waiwakaiho River mouth. The coastal walkway is 12.7kms of pathway that stretches from the port on one side of New Plymouth right through the city itself and quite a considerable distance along up the coast. It has several points of interest along the way and one of them is Te Rewa Rewa bridge which crosses over the Waiwakaiho river.

DSC05686DSC05719The bridge they say is supposed to resemble a wave or a whale skeleton, both of which I would say it does, it also in my opinion is quite beautiful. The large metal structure with its gorgeous curves somehow appears delicate against the rugged wildness of the coastline it sits beside. We spent the remainder of our day wandering the beach and playing in the river when we needed to cool off. Deciding that this spot was far to beautiful to leave just yet we stayed in the reserve beside the lake you drove past to get to the river mouth.

DSC05708DSC05699This coast is very different from where we live in the bay of plenty, our beaches are all soft golden sands and waves that beg to be swum and played in. The sea is rough on this coast, the waves crash and warn you to be wary of their power, there are rocks and miles on miles of black sand and driftwood. But in all that wildness and energy there is beauty and they are beaches you could roam and explore for hours on end, always finding something new the sea has brought in or the waves have altered.

The next day we decided to head down the surfers highway with the goal of ending up in Hawera for the night. We stopped at a replica lighthouse that holds the old light from the Cape Egmont lighthouse, well worth a stop for the views from the top of the lighthouse alone. But very interesting with lots of information about the history of the lighthouse and how the light works. And for a few dollars you can turn the light on and watch it work for a few minutes.

After lunch at the pub in Opunake it was a short drive on to Hawera. The joy of small towns is finding ample parking close to the supermarket and the laundromat handily situated right across the road so we can restock on groceries and clean the mountain of washing we seem to have produced in just a few days. Yet again a taste of something that will become part of our everyday lives once we are travelling full time.

This nights camping spots has to be my all time favourite in the bus so far, a spot called Waihi beach reserve just five minutes drive from Hawera. It is just a parking lot at the top of the cliffs with a track that leads down to the beach below. But we got the prime parking spot with an uninterrupted view out to what looked like an endless expanse of ocean. The beach itself is another rugged beauty, stark cliffs, huge boulders to sit on and bathe your feet as the tide went out – really all you could ask for on a hot summers afternoon. And in the morning when I managed to sneak out of the bus before anyone else woke and headed for a morning stroll along the pathway back towards Hawera I was finally treated to spectacular views of Mt Egmont, gorgeous sunrise showing her off in all her beauty not a cloud in sight. Unfortunately by the time I got back, cleaned up and breakfast sorted the clouds had rolled in again and not a picture taken to share. Selfishly perhaps this moment feels all the more special because it was mine alone, my husband and son sleeping blissfully, to wrapped up in how gorgeous it was to think of whipping my phone out for a quick snap.

From here we started to slowly head home, we had one gloriously sunny day to explore Hawera a bit more and then the rain came back. So we took the scenic route home along the forgotten world highway to Taumarunui and then passed lake Taupo, we spent a few nights at DOC campsites along the way to break the travelling up as much as we could. Even more than ever we are longing for the day we head off, these little snippets of travel just confirm to us what we have hoped for. That this is going to be an amazing way to travel and we long to experience it without the time constraints and rush of a short little week long holiday.

Taranaki here we come!

With the first of february looming and knowing that we would be without our bus for at least a few weeks while it had its renovations done we decided on a weeks long holiday in the Taranaki region before that happened. It would be our longest trip in the bus to date and we would also be away on my birthday, brilliant timing really.

Keen to break the travelling down up a bit we set off after Wayne finished work with the goal of making it to a place called Lake Whakamaru. We had dinner on the way and arrived to find a very large tree filled campsite beside a lake with stunning views across the other side of the lake. Oliver was keen to explore so we crammed in a swim (for him) and a walk along part of the cycle trail that passes by the campsite before bed.

The next day was my birthday and we woke to rain on the roof of the bus and clouds that promised a very wet day. So it was an early start to our days journey and the decision was made that we would cover a lot of ground in the rain and make it all the way to New Plymouth. Our first stop was a little town called Piopio, we stretched our legs down the main street and found a charming little art gallery/gift shop to kill some time in. This of course isn’t of much interest to a four year old boy (or his father!) so the next stop needed to include a bit of adventure. Wayne had a spot in mind that he had driven past many times when he used to travel for work but never had the opportunity to stop at.

Not long after we came out to the coast we found it, the three sisters and elephant rock. We arrived at lunch time and on reading the signs realised it was a walk you could only do at low tide as you had to walk along the edge of the water. Deciding that the tide was on its way out but still had a long way to go we settled on having our lunch and a play on the small beach by the car park instead. But after an hour had passed and we watched how quickly the tide was receding we re-thought this plan and decided to just get in our togs, give the tide another half hour to go out and go for it. Most of the ten minute walk around the water was only knee deep so definitely safe. We got to a point where we could see the beach just around the corner and thought our plans may be foiled as the water looked to get considerably deeper. But a few metres through water just above my waist and we were at a delightful little sea cave.

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DSC05618Once we had explored that it was just a short wade through waist high water to the beautiful black sandy beach. Strewn with drift wood and rocks, turbulent surf ahead and high cliffs gouged with small caves at the base to the side, it was a wonderful beach to explore and hunt for treasures as we made our way around to the three sisters.

DSC05643It was just a short and easy walk around to where you could see the three sisters and elephant rock and with the beach all to ourselves it only added to the sense of adventure and discovery.

DSC05656The three straight pillar like rocks are the three sisters and the rock shaped like an upside down v is the one called elephant rock. Maybe it was the rain or our imaginations working very well but while we were there we all could see a vague resemblance to an elephant like creature. Something I now fail to see in any of my photo’s, but for a brief moment on the beach it was there! So we headed back exploring more on our way and enjoying the relative calm and much lower water to wade through on our way back.

DSC05626It was a pleasant drive through to New Plymouth from there and that night as we settled in for a night of freedom camping at the Okato Domain we all agreed that this is exactly what we signed up for when we brought the bus. The time and opportunity to share these little treasures with each other, to explore and enjoy the beauty our country has at pretty much every corner of the road. And to expose Oliver to that sense that he can step off the footpath, wade through the water and find a beautiful little spot hidden just around the next bend. To top off a pretty amazing 36th birthday the clouds lifted briefly off Mt Egmont and we got a glimpse of the beautiful Maunga before bed. This holiday I knew already was going to be everything we had hoped and more.

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Revisiting an old favourite

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Before we head off to explore lots of new places we really want to spend time at some of our favourite local spots while they are still on our back door step. So after spending a wonderful xmas day with my family having a picnic at the beach we decided a quick get away was in order.

Roughly an hour and a half from where we live is a campsite beside Lake Tarawera at a spot called the Tarawera outlet. It’s a spot we have camped at many, many times and is a spot that never disapoints. Stunningly beautiful lake, crisp clear swimming water in the lake and in the river and a relatively easy walk to a nearby waterfall. Really what more could you ask for?

It is a little bit of a drive in through unsealed forestry roads and was quite late by the time we arrived. But the joy of our new way of travelling is that within 15 minutes of arriving I was serving up xmas day leftovers to my tired wee boy and with no real set up of camp required we had time for a stroll down to the lake before bed to wind down from our very busy day.

We woke the next morning to rain and a learning experience of having parked sideways on a sloping site and spent the night slowly sliding out of bed. So after breakfast we shifted to a slightly flatter spot where we could park where the front of the bus was pointing downhill and not the side. A much more comfortable position. With the bus sorted we decided to head off for a little walk along the river.

DSC05610There is a track that follows the river until it goes through an underground tunnel and comes out at the Tarawera Falls, very beautiful with a neat swimming hole enroute but for this walk we decided just to go until Oliver had had enough and wanted to turn around. It’s rather lovely walking through the NZ bush on a rainy day, cool and damp but sheltered from the worst of the wetness. We found a spot for morning tea on some mossy boulders and hung out for some photo’s.

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Luckily in the afternoon the weather cleared and we managed a crisp but refreshing swim in the lake and the river. It was the perfect little getaway after the excitement of xmas day, a great way to shift the focus from presents and over indulgence to family and nature. And the start in a way of our farewell of to our old home and old life as we ease our way into our new one.

A semi wandering Christmas

DSC05485From the moment Oliver came into our lives we started building little traditions around all those special times of year. Birthdays, Easter and one of Oliver’s particular favourites xmas. For us those traditions involve a lot of time with family and knowing that next year our family won’t be so close at hand it has made this xmas extra special.

Even though we are both completely sure that what we are doing is going to be an amazing experience for our whole family and a wonderful learning time for Oliver in particular, it doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes have doubts and worries about what we are doing. I worry that he will miss his life we are leaving behind, his kindy, his friends, our family! I worry that perhaps this is just something I want to do so much that I have convinced myself it is great for Oliver as well. I worry about him not starting regular school when he turns five and any impact that could have on him long-term.

Then I start to remind myself of all the wonderful things I believe he will gain from this experience. I remind myself that my family are amazing and they will make sure Oliver’s bond with them stays alive from a distance and he still feels their love for him no matter where we are in the country. I remind myself that he will have the invaluable experience of making new friends where ever we go and that this will be an asset to him in later life. Then most importantly I remind myself that for him to see his parents chasing a dream of there’s and striving hard to make an incredible life for our family is a very powerful lesson in itself.

So then I do what I have found I have to do many times as a mother. I push the big picture long term worries to the back of my mind and I focus on the little things, the day to day things that I actually can do something about in the moment to make a difference.

So this christmas season is being filled with special visits with our good friends. With making the most of the time we have with our family. With a picnic at the beach on xmas day. With enjoying all the local christmas activities that we have done in the past because next year we will have new ones to discover and new traditions to start. And of course with trying so hard to just slow down a little in the mad rush that this time of year can become and truly enjoy the precious four year old enjoyment of that special christmas magic.

Lovely Lake Arohena

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My husband and I have long had a passion for camping and exploring in places a bit off the beaten track. We have done plenty of it in the eleven years we have known each other and though the addition of Oliver to the mix slowed us down a little it never stopped us. Luckily he has just as much of a love for it as we do. So naturally we were dying to take the bus somewhere we had never been before.

The opportunity presented itself this week when we had to head to Hamilton to see if we could have a towbar fitted on the bus so we could tow a car with us when we head off on our big trip. We convoyed over to Te Awamutu after work and spent our first night freedom camping in the carpark at Lake Ngaroto, our first experience of what will probably be many at freedom camping. Unfortunately our trip to Hamilton didn’t give us the answer we wanted, to fit a towbar to our bus would be a very expensive job if they could do it at all, so the dream of all travelling in our bus together just has to shift slightly and we will convoy together instead.

A short scenic drive from Hamilton out to the Arapuni lakes and around to Lake Arohena was enough to cheer us up. Oliver informed me as I was following behind Wayne in the bus that I shouldn’t lose sight of Daddy because he was our ‘favourite friend’ and we did not want to lose him. On seeing him manoeuver the bus down a winding, steep and narrow dirt road to our campsite I agreed that he was rather a handy chap to keep with us!

We secured a park right by the water as the camp only had a few other occupants and fairly quickly enjoyed an afternoon dip in the lake. After years of tenting the ease of travelling in the bus feels very luxurious, within minutes of arriving and unlatching a few drawers, moving a couple of containers we are all set up. No tents to set up, no cars and trailers to unpack. A part of me fears going back to tenting will be very hard after this experience is over.

DSC05568.JPGBest view so far from the bus windows, not bad at all to wake up to this.

Lake Arohena was far more picturesque than I had imagined. It’s a DOC (department of conservation) campsite so fairly basic, this one had the luxury of flushing toilets, a small shelter with some sinks and running water probably intended for cleaning fish as we were told by other campers it was a great spot for trout fishing and a few picnic tables and fireplaces for outdoor fires. definitely a great place to forget about the disappointment of not being able to tow our car and truly begin to appreciate how wonderful this new life in our bus is going to be.

The next day one very excited Oliver had his togs on and his Dad in the water with him before I had even washed the breakfast dishes. We didn’t have to go far or do all that much before it was time to tidy up and leave this little slice of paradise with a promise that we will definitely be back.

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Early morning swims are the best