Killing time in Southland

Our time in Gore is going really fast, it’s a strange thing because life really seems to slow down when Wayne is not working and we are free to take life at our own pace. But within a week or so of getting back to work life is flying by as quickly as it ever did. This time around however we are trying to fill our weekends exploring around the area we are staying in, there is so much that is easily reachable for a days visit that we have been keeping ourselves quite busy.

Invercargill is less than an hours drive away and by far the biggest city that we have been near in quite some time so we have spent a few weekends here. I actually quite like Invercargill, it has plenty of character and charm. We’ve had numerous visit’s to Queens park which is a huge area of gardens, playgrounds, an animal park and an aviary and lots of paths to meander through it all. In fact it is a city that is full of green spaces and gardens galore, when you travel with children you inevitably visit a lot of parks in search of a playground it’s great to be somewhere were the playgrounds are flanked by lush gardens full of peonies and rambling roses. A visit to Oreti beach was an interesting experience for us, where we come from you simply don’t drive vehicles on the beach but here it’s just what they do. We were probably the only one’s who opted to park in the carpark and walk down to the beach the day we visited. A choice we were glad we made after seeing four cars get stuck in the short space of time we were there. Oreti is a big, long stretch of sand with a wild sea on its doorstep. And if you happen to visit Invercargill on a Sunday a visit to the local market will reward you with a plethora of options for lunch, Thai, Korean, Indian as well as many others. All capped off with plenty of tables adorned with cheerful bunches of flowers to enjoy your Sunday lunch time feast at.

Apart from our visits to the big city we have done a few walks in the local area and on one weekend we took a drive to find an orchard to pick cherries. This was actually something I have been looking forward to ever since we came to the South Island. I love cherries but have never lived anywhere that they grow. So we headed in the direction of Roxburgh knowing that we had seen plenty of orchards in that area when we made our way to Gore from Wanaka. It was a scenic drive and really not a long one before the orchards started to appear, many with road side stalls and a couple of options for pick your own fruit. At ten dollars a kilo they were the cheapest cherries this North Islander has ever brought, even cheaper when you factor in the many sun warmed, juicy morsels that never made it in the bags to be paid for. Oliver loved climbing the ladders to reach the ones on the higher branches and all up I would say our visit to a cherry orchard was just as much fun as I expected it to be.

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our little cherry picker at work
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peeking through the leaves

 

As our time in Gore is coming closer to being over all three of us are ready for our next stint of travel to begin. The planning and anticipating is half the fun of traveling and there’s worse ways to spend an evening than studying maps to find interesting spots to visit. It feels in some ways like we are in a similar space to what we were this time last year, working, getting a few jobs done on the bus while we are in one place and dreaming endlessly of where the road will take us next.

Waterfalls, waterfalls everywhere

We left the west coast behind us on a gorgeous sunny morning with high expectations for an interesting day ahead. We planned to spend the night at a DOC camp around half way through the Haast pass so had plenty of time to stop and look at things along the way. The drive through the Haast pass has to be up there with one of the most beautiful one’s in the country and you are spoilt for choice with places to stop at and enjoy the beauty. Our first stop for the day was the Roaring Billy falls, as the name would suggest you can hear them long before you see these falls. It’s not a long walk down to the river where you can gaze across at the falls but when you have a child with a growing rock obsession, a river bank full of river stones and a beautiful river to practise skimming stones, you can spend quite a chunk of time here.

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We stopped at two other waterfalls along the way. Fantail falls and Thunder creek falls, after the recent bad weather there were plenty of waterfalls for Oliver to spot even from the road. I officially saw the best names for waterfalls ever, Trickle No 1 and Trickle No 2, perhaps made a little better because when we saw them they were slightly more substantial than a trickle.

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Once we had finished visiting waterfalls we arrived at Cameron flat where we were going to spend the night. This is a pretty basic little DOC camp but the location is really stunning. After a slow mornings drive from the coast we were in a valley nestled amongst the mountains. We had views of snow capped mountains from every window in the bus and a pretty nice river view if you got sick of the mountains. Also you could walk from here to the start of the blue pools track in less than half an hour. The blue pools are one of the most popular stops in the Haast pass so for us this was a much better option than trying to find room to park the bus in the busy parking lot at the start of the track.

The walk to the blue pools is easy and not long, but very busy. We were now officially at the start of the busy tourist season and we were beginning to feel that our plans to stop soon for a spell of work were well timed. Exploring new places is just more appealing to me when there aren’t to many other people there with us. But in saying that it is wonderful to see people from all over the world enjoying our country and marvelling in it’s beauty. The blue pools is the perfect place to enjoy a bit of natural beauty. The pools are a section of the river that is the most stunning shade of blue and if you are brave enough to dare the freezing cold waters they are calm enough to swim in. A swim was definetly not on our agenda but there were a few brave souls taking a dip, though judging by there screams I think we were right to skip it.

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After walking back to the bus all that was on the agenda was collecting a bit of kindling for a fire and settling in for the night. I have been grateful many times that we put in a fire. When we woke the next morning to a world white with frost and ice, I had never been more grateful for that choice. Lighting the fire in the morning and enjoying a cup of coffee sitting in front of it while looking out at snowy mountains has to be up there with one of my best bus memories so far. It’s funny how it really is those small everyday moments lived in such a remarkable setting that make me appreciate this new life we live. As if they bring it all in to focus in some way. I know I will remember that little moment along with all the bigger ones long after we have finished wandering.

 

 

On the move again.

The last few weeks before we left Blenheim flew by incredibly fast. All of a sudden we were visiting favorite spots for one last time, stocking up on groceries and supplies in preparation for heading to smaller towns for a while and counting down the sleeps till we hit the road again. I would say it was almost more exciting than when we left Tauranga in March, this time there was no hint of sadness at leaving the people we loved behind to temper our excitement, just pure enjoyment of the moment.

We left Blenheim on a perfectly sunny saturday morning and sticking to our rule of no more than an hours travel a day we headed for a spot close to St Arnaud. The drive was full of snowy mountains to admire and paddocks full of sheep with spring lambs in tow. We arrived in St Arnaud at lunch time and decided that we would stop for lunch beside Lake Rotoiti before heading to our camp for the night. We had spent most of a week staying right on the lake at the beginning of winter, it had stolen our hearts with its misty, moody beauty but today it’s beauty was sun drenched, sparkling and just as magnificent. We picnicked with the ducks and enjoyed a walk in the forest before heading on to find our spot for the next two nights at a spot called the Teetotal campsite. It’s a basic DOC camp situated right beside the ice skating pond. Sadly we were a little late in the season for it to be completely frozen over but there was one permanently shady corner where Oliver could play with the remaining ice. It was such a warm spring day that we pulled out the bbq and even ate dinner outside complete with a snowy mountain to gaze upon.

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The next morning as if to remind us that it wasn’t quite summer yet we woke to our most frozen morning yet. There was even ice on the inside of the windows at the back of the bus and an impressive amount of ice on the pond as well. We didn’t have time to linger in the frozen wonderland as we had booked a shuttle to go up a nearby ski field for one last day playing in the snow before we headed away from the mountains. Rainbow ski field was busier than when we had visited Mt Lyford and had two different areas set up for sledding so Oliver was in heaven. He spent the whole day running up and sliding down the hills, barely even stopping to eat his lunch and reluctantly handing the sled back to the hire place only on the threat of missing the shuttle back down the mountain. There is nothing quite like tucking your child in to bed at the end of a long, busy day that they have enjoyed immensely and watching them drift off to sleep within mere moments of their head hitting the pillow.

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The next morning was a lot milder than the previous one and made tidying up to get on the road again an easier, quicker task. We needed one more stop to break up the driving before we made it to the west coast so we stopped at an area called the Lyell historic area. In the late 1800’s it was the sight of a bustling mining community and the start of a road that led through the bush to several gold mines. Now there is a campground and picnic area there at the start of what they call the old ghost road, a cycle trail and tramping track that follows what used to be the road. We weren’t prepared to do the cycling or complete the whole tramp but we did a really worthwhile walk to a spot called the Croesus battery, the closest of the old mining sites. On the way you passed the old Lyell cemetery, a handful of old graves, some with headstones intact that tell tales of hardworking men and women who didn’t live the long lives we expect today. Some others have been overgrown by the bush a little and in one a tree had grown up in the exact spot the headstone would have been, I hope that who ever lies beneath its strong roots can appreciate the beauty of such an addition to there final resting place.

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As he gets older Oliver is finding walks like this more interesting and is more able to grasp the history side of it. The battery itself is rather intact due to the fact that it was simply to hard for the metal components to be hauled away for scrap once the mine closed, having that visual evidence for him to see really helps to bring everything to life in his young mind. So much so that he was a horse hauling a cart down the old ghost road on the way back to the bus, then we all had to have turns at being the ghost chasing the others off our road and competing as to who had the scariest ghost sounds. This was a great little adventure on our way through to the west coast, so far being back on the road was living up to all our expectations.

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Whispering Falls

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A short drive from Nelson we found a great little walk to fill one of our mornings with. It was an estimated hours walk to the falls. The track followed a quiet forestry road to start with before you find the track which continues to follow along side the river. The track is relatively flat and there is a swingbridge to cross over the river in one spot. There is one bridge that has been washed away so a brief but bone chilling walk through the water is necessary. The river itself is clear and blue with lot’s of deep swimming hole’s that would be wonderful in summer.

After an hours easy walk you cross a bridge to see a small trickle of water coming down the hill. For a moment it’s unclear where the track continues on and we all questioned if we had just walked to see the worlds tiniest waterfall. But from here it’s a short climb up the hill and around the corner for a walk through a very enchanting piece of bush. The water flows through part of the track so it’s a bit soggy, but short lived and slightly damp toes are worth it for what you find.

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The name whispering falls feels very appropriate, the water falling like a natural shower along the cliff sounds like a million soft drops falling rather than the dull roar of larger falls. You can climb right up under the falls though we didn’t, but again this would be a great summer time destination for a cool off.

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The falls are situated firmly in the shade at this time of the year, so much so that the hill you climb up from the river that is probably just as damp as the track further up in summer, is full of ice and frozen mud. So it was not a long visit to the falls, just long enough to take in its soothing beauty and then back down to find a dry rock to perch on for our lunch. Then it was an easy walk back out on the same track, a repeat of our cold walk across the river being the most challenging part. This was the first bush walk we had done since St Arnaud and watching Oliver on the way out reminded me of how important it is that this is a regular part of our life. From a very young age he has always seemed to find time in the outdoors very enjoyable, its evident if you just stand back and watch for a moment how good it is for his mental well-being. No matter how grumpy or un motivated he is at the start of a walk, by the end of it he is smiling, normally brimming over with energy and quite content with what the day has brought him. He is not the only one who feels it’s benefits. So even now in this time where we don’t have every day to do with as we want we will make the effort to fit in a bush walk once a week. In the interest of our mental clarity, well being and of course in the interest of fun.

A letter to my five year old

Five years ago I was lucky enough to become a Mum. It was something I had hoped for and dreamed of for a long time before it became a reality, before you became a reality. And once you were here it was like the missing piece of my life’s puzzle had arrived. The life that Wayne and I had built together was a great one, but it was even better to be able to share it. From the minute the midwife placed you on my chest we were in awe of this tiny force of nature that had arrived in our lives. The love, the wonder that you brought to our lives has only grown from there. It’s almost hard now to clearly remember what life felt like before you were in it, who I was before you were in my life. I know a trip like this at this stage in my life was never on the cards before you came along. But part of my journey as a Mum has taught me that life does not always go the way you had hoped it would. We had never planned to only one have one child, but it turns out this is what our family is meant to look like, the three of us – a tight loving little family.

For a while this was very hard to accept and I still have moments where I am so sad we can’t give you a brother or sister to grow with. But the fact that there is only you is a big factor in what opened the door for this new life and perhaps selfishly, a big reason why a few more years spent enjoying your company is something I am completely ok with. Your life as a five year old will look very different to other children’s, something I know you realise. There have been many questions about what children do at school all day and perhaps a few doubts that you are missing out on something by having Mum as your teacher. I can assure you my love that what ever you do miss out on will be more than compensated by what you gain in our travelling. I was fairly certain of this before we started, now two months in I am completely convinced.

Our life is richer in so many ways now. Our bond as a family is closer than it has ever been, the confined space and so much time spent together has worked well for us all. We are all a lot happier living this way, it is only early days still but there is so much more smiles, laughter and good vibes now. We have experienced some wonderful things together and seen so many beautiful places. The people we are meeting is an experience within itself, both the other travellers and the locals in the places we stay. I know this is still our country but for a little boy who has only ever lived in one place it is great to see different ways that people choose to live and conduct their lives.

Of course like all parents we are only making the choices that sit the best with us and hoping that in the long term these will work well for you. I also now hope that you will remember this time when you grow up and not in a fuzzy background, you were told about it so many times you think you remember it way. I hope it holds enough impact to be a clear memory. And I hope it’s as good a memory for you as it is for me.

 

 

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 night in a hut

Before we had Oliver one of our favourite ways to spend a weekend was to find a hut to walk to and stay the night at. There is something about heading into the bush with only what you can fit in your packs, only your own two feet to get you there and back that is just appealing to me on a lot of levels. In the early stages of our relationship I know that the time spent tramping helped Wayne and I build a strong bond, it gave us time out from lives in which we normally worked a lot and often only had the same days off once a month. And when Oliver came along it was a part of our life that I sorely missed. When he was around two, big enough that I knew he would sleep through the night without disturbing other hut goers but still small enough to fit in the carrier on our backs we did a few overnight tramps. But then he grew to tall for that and we got really busy trying to sell our house and organise moving in to a bus. So now that we have the time and before it starts to get to cold we were keen to try an overnight tramp in the south island.

The Abel Tasman track is a a multi day tramp that starts at Marahau and goes all the way to Wainui Inlet past Totaranui bay. Because it’s a coastal track and there are plenty of water taxi’s available it makes it very easy to do just a section of the track. Our plan was to catch a water taxi from Marahau to Torrent Bay, walk to Anchorage where there is a hut that we would stay at for the night, then walk out to Marahau the following day.

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Once again we were remarkably lucky with the weather and as we headed to catch our water taxi we were greeted with a lovely sunny day. After a pleasant little boat ride with a few stops to point out some local landmarks and the seals at Adele Island we were dropped at Torrent Bay. It was low tide, so the boots had to come off and Oliver had to get carried in to shore since the boat couldn’t get in as close. What we hadn’t realised is that striking low tide had other implications to, we had a choice of the low tide track across the mud flats which would take 35 minutes or the high tide track which would take nearly two hours. Deciding that there were lots of other side tracks for us to do from Anchorage we took the easy option and where at the hut well before lunch time. This gave us time to explore the amazing beach a little and get first pick of which bunks we wanted. Oliver was thrilled to get a top bunk with Daddy and I was just as thrilled that I didn’t have a top bunk. The hut at Anchorage is fairly new having been opened in 2013, it has 34 bunks spread over four rooms and a roomy kitchen area with a gorgeous view out to the water. It has quite a few modern conveniences as far as huts go, filtered drinking water, flushing toilets and solar powered lights in the kitchen area, even somewhere to charge your phone. It’s just a few steps off the beach and well used by people doing the tramp or kayaking in the Abel Tasman.

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After enjoying lunch with the resident wekas we headed off for a walk to a lookout. The walk to Pitt head is worth the climb for the glorious view of Torrent Bay and Bark bay beyond it, you can’t quite see Anchorage tucked in around the corner of the headland. From there the track looped around finally coming to another picturesque little bay, the Abel Tasman just seems to have an endless supply of little beaches, most small but perfectly formed.

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When we arrived back at the hut it was to find it and the beach beyond extremely busy. There are some large boats that do tours from Kaiteriteri and in the time we had been away they had dropped off a large school group and quite a few day tripping tourists. Along with them were lot’s of kayakers who get picked up from Anchorage by boat at the end of their days paddling. Certainly you are under no illusions that you are to far from civilization. Oliver decided that a swim was a good idea, though judging by the piercing screams he let out every time he got in over his bottom I would say even he is starting to feel the crispness of the water. We walked the length of the beach and explored the rocks at one end of it as we watched all the people boarding their boats to head home. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and a few games of Uno as the sun started to dip behind the hills. We couldn’t resist one last beach walk before bed and Oliver had a ball with his torch on his head chasing it’s light down the beach. We saw stingrays swimming in close to shore and at the far end of the beach saw glow worms in a sea cave. Oliver couldn’t resist a second look at the glow worms and I found a comfy log to sit on while I waited for them. The moon was up and the stars were just starting to flood the sky, it felt like a perfect moment, exploring a beach at night, feeling the peacefulness that the sound of waves lapping on a beach brings you. It struck me how grateful I am that we took this leap into this new life, it would have been so easy to just let it be a dream, something we thought would be amazing but felt there were to many unknowns holding us back. There are still a lot of unknowns around the corner for us and still some moments where I wonder if we can keep doing this, but those moments are so fleeting. It is easy to chase them away when you have beaches to explore and trails to walk with your family. And whatever those challenges end up being they are worth it for these perfect moments we get to share with Oliver.

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The next day Oliver was up bright and early at 5am, not unusual for him, he has been an early riser since forever. Something I have just learnt to live with, in a hut full of lots of sleeping people it was a bit more challenging. But after breakfast, a few dozen games of uno and watching the sun come up from the beach, everyone else started to stir as well. By 9.30 we had our packs on our backs and were starting the long walk back to Marahau. The suggested time was four hours so we were expecting this to be a big day. The track went inland to start with and climbed quite considerably for a while. Then you dropped down and follow the coast more closely with quite a few beaches you had the option of walking down to and exploring. For some reason Oliver struggled a bit with this walk, he just wasn’t his usual motivated little self, it wasn’t an easy walk and though we explored one of the beaches we simply didn’t have the time to go down to every one of them. This felt like a bit of tease to me and I know it was hard for him to. I feel for me kayaking would have been the prime way to explore this section, that way the beaches and the views would have all been much more accessible. It took us seven hours to get back to Marahau and there were quite a few ‘I can’t do this mummy’s’ by the end of it. But in the end he did and this is probably one of the greatest feelings tramping gives. When you have genuine moments of wondering if you can get there, your feet are sore, your pack is heavy, you feel like your steps are getting smaller and smaller, you are moving slower and slower. But you trudge on because there is no other option and then of course you do make it. You achieve something that you genuinely did not think that you could, you surprise yourself and teach yourself that you are much more capable than you imagined. My hope is that these experiences we are having now will stay with us once life has stopped being quite so exciting. That we will never forget how much we actually can achieve.

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