Even now nearly three years on I can vividly remember all the stress and emotional upheaval I felt in those last few weeks before we left Tauranga in our big white bus. I never really imagined that circumstances would arise that would put us in a very similar situation again, only this time more stressful and more intense. But somehow this strange year that is 2020 managed to do just that. Lockdown, bus repairs, bus breakdowns, last minute hiccups, casual jobs becoming way less reliable than they have been for us in the past and spending way longer than we ever planned living with family. It all combined to a point where I actually wondered if the best move was just to sell the bus as she was and move on with our life. Because for most of this year it has very much felt like our life was not going anywhere, both in the literal sense and otherwise. For people who are very used to setting goals, making plans and getting on with life it’s been a super frustrating position to be in. Thankfully after one last incredibly stressful day it finally happened. We had a little sticker on the window with the right date on it and we were free to move again. We spent our last night in Tauranga parked at Memorial park, enjoying one of the awesome freedom camping spots that the area has and saying our goodbyes to good friends who are very hard to leave behind.
So where do you go first when you feel like life has wrung a whole lot of the energy out of you and you desperately want to get it back? Well we go to the beach of course. We beach hopped our way from Omokoroa to Waihi beach, freedom camping and getting back in to the swing of living full time in a moveable vehicle. There was plenty of time spent wandering on beaches and letting the sound of waves hitting the sand sooth my frazzled nerves. There was also a whole heap of appreciating the fact that we were in fact free to go wherever we wanted.
On our second day at Waihi beach we woke to black skys that promised rain was not far away so we traded our plans of a walk and more beach time. Instead we headed in to Waihi and visited the gold discovery centre. Which I have to say exceeded any expectations I had of it. It was interactive, fun and full of lots to keep both a busy young child and a couple of parents entertained for a couple of hours on a wet day. We also learnt a few things about the history of the Martha mine and the mining that continues there today.
After a night spent with family who live close by it was going to be time for us to move on again. But we still had no real firm plans for where we were going, we decided to go with it and just enjoy waking up in the morning, looking out the window to see what the day had brought us and decide where we wanted to drive to that day. Perhaps this was the delicious cure to all the frustrations of having no control that we had suffered so far this year. It sounded to us like a really good thing to try.
Our time in the South Island was drawing to a close slightly earlier than expected and we may have had just a few days to make our way to Picton. But it was still entirely possible to turn it into a bit of family fun and make it feel like a mini holiday. It felt like a chance for a little farewell to the time we have spent here in the south and all that it has given us. So we left Christchurch after a busy morning of returning uniforms, stocking up on groceries and running errands. We didn’t go far that day, we stayed at a little place called Parnassus at an NZMCA camp which in a previous life used to be a school. It’s a great spot for people like us making the drive north to the ferry and needing to break the drive up a little. We had a memorable visit to Gore bay after dinner and then hunkered down for the night so we would be ready for a bit more driving the next day.
It was just a short trip the next day to Kaikoura where we had decided to spend a night, we had loved our visits here and couldn’t resist one more night. We stayed at one of the Kaikoura coastal camps which we had pretty much to ourselves and was just lovely. With a view of the ocean out our windows and plenty of rocks to climb on and explore around it was the perfect spot for us. We did venture in to Kaikoura briefly for a visit to there museum but most of our day was spent around the bus enjoying the beach.
Stopping in Kaikoura meant that the next day we had a bit more driving to do but we had a plan to drive out to Marfells beach for a lunch stop somewhere nice to break up the day. We had heard plenty of good things about Marfells, they were all proved true when we arrived. A perfect little stretch of sand that we instantly wished we had a night to stay at. But instead we had beach views to eat our lunch and we braved the ocean for a swim before waving goodbye to our last south island beach.
Our last night was spent beside a river just north of Blenheim. Nice and quiet and most importantly just a short drive to Picton the next day for our 8am ferry crossing. Everything went smoothly the next morning with our early drive in the dark to Picton and the sun came up properly as we queued to board the ferry. By the time we were on board it was clear it was going to be a gorgeous day to cross the Cook Strait. The sea’s were calm as can be and there wasn’t even much of a breeze blowing. So we made the most of it with plenty of time outside enjoying the experience. As we watched the South Island disappear from our view I felt so grateful for the time we’ve shared here. I’ve been awed by it’s beauty on many occasions and found lots of places that are so peaceful that simply being there has done my heart good. We have about a million photo’s. A box full of rocks, shells, feathers and other treasure we’ve picked up on our adventures. Most of all we have memories, so many beautiful memories.
We wind our way down the road. Past trees and paddocks full of sheep. House’s tucked away behind their fences sit around every other bend. Then we round another corner and the ocean appears. It looks a faded, gentle kind of blue from this distance, bathed in the soft evening light.
The car sweeps around a big corner, across a bridge and we are there. Of course Oliver is first out of the car but he gets distracted by the playground so I am the first to see this wildly glorious beach. I could actually hear it the moment the cars engine stopped, long before I climbed up the small bank to it’s rocky shores. The waves are pounding in. Churning the rocks over and over in a raucous display of their strength.
Shortly the boys join me on the beach. We meander along, discovering the bounty this sea has brought in on other evenings when the waves tossed their treasures high above the tide line. Treasure left to dry in the sun until another storm see’s them whisked away on another surging wave. Rocks are tested for splashing capabilities. Wobbling stone towers are built then knocked over with shrieks of six year old delight. Sticks become swords, then spears, then guns. We hunt make believe prey with our small child whose imagination is bigger than all of us. We let ourselves get sucked into that magical world of his where everything is possible.
Then we see a hammock strung between some trees and the moment shifts. Wayne and Oliver climb into the hammock. I find a log a short distance away to sit on and listen to the roar of the waves. My thoughts drift for a while and when I look back to the hammock I see a miraculous thing. The boy who was so full of energy, movement and noise a moment ago now lies in the hammock safe in his fathers arms. Their heads rest against each other and I can see they are talking. I could go over and join the conversation but decide that it is enough to watch this moment from here.
Far to soon it is over. We are back in the car. Winding our way past trees and paddocks full of sheep. Heading away from this magic evening on a rocky beach.
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.