Hello sunshine!

Once we made the decision to leave the rainy places behind we moved on from the glaciers and headed towards Haast. We spent one very wet night at a DoC camp by Lake Paringa and when we woke to more drizzle we pushed on towards Haast. When we checked in to a campground in Haast the owner told us the weather was supposed to clear in the afternoon and we both quietly thought it would never happen. After lunch we decided to take a drive out to Jackson Bay, Wayne and I had fond memories of visiting here on a holiday before we had Oliver. That holiday had been very, very wet and the day we arrived in Jackson Bay the sun had come out showing the beautiful bay at it’s finest, in a holiday filled with drippy moments this is one of our few shining golden memories. On our second visit, as if this spot holds some special weather magic, the sun came out again and the little bay was just as beautiful as we remembered.

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This far corner of Westland is isolated to say the least. There’s not a lot here apart from a small town with a few accommodation options, a few places to eat and a small grocery store. It felt like as we meandered down the coast the towns had been progressively growing smaller, so it was quite fitting that the final afternoon on this coast be spent in a sleepy little spot like Jackson Bay.

As our trip down this part of the country wound to a close it coincided with our six month anniversary of living on the road. I feel like we have crammed a whole lot of living, travelling and adventuring into those six months. This time last year our life was crazy busy, in the midst of selling our house and getting ready to embark on our new life. Even if we decided tomorrow that our bus days were over the last six months were worth all the stress and hard work it took to shed our old life for this one. Luckily I don’t see our journey being over any time soon, in fact I think our original estimation of two years travelling fell woefully short of what we will actually spend living this way. We are six months in and have really only scratched the surface of what the south island has to offer. And of course we have a whole other island to explore as well.

 

Glacier country

The weeks were disappearing as we made our way down the west coast, it was almostĀ  October and that feeling you get in the last few months of the year of things drawing to a close was starting to settle in. Usually at this stage of the year I have this sense of unbelief, of shock at how quickly the year has gone. But this year things haven’t seemed to rush by quite so much.

The weather had turned bad again as we left Hokitika and since there really wasn’t much we could do in the rain we moved a little quicker than we previously had been, making it all the way to Franz Josef in one drive. There was no way we were passing through Franz without seeing the glacier so we hunkered down at a motor camp for a couple of nights hoping that the forecast was right and a fine day was on its way. On our second afternoon the sun started to come out and the clouds started to lift revealing the mountains. As if it was a sign of good things to come there were some pretty epic rainbows that afternoon, their colours so vibrant they almost didn’t look real.

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The next morning thankfully we woke to the clearest skies we had seen in days. As you drive past the little township of Franz Josef and round the corner the view up the valley towards the glacier just opens up and it is stunning. You drive up the valley a little way before reaching the car park and then it’s just under an hours walk to the glacier view point. I actually think the valley itself is almost as impressive as the glacier, rocky, wide and peppered with perfect little waterfalls. To be honest there is not a lot of difference in the view that you get from the first viewing area that is just a twenty minute walk and the last viewing area that takes the better part of an hour, slightly closer, but still the same view.

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There is so much more we could have done in around here but by the time we did this walk Oliver had very clearly had enough for the day. Like all little kids sometimes he’s just not in the mood for a whole day of walking, so we headed back to the bus for the afternoon and settled for a bike ride into the little town once he’d had a rest. Unfortunately the next day the weather had turned on us again so we headed on to Fox Glacier in the hopes that it would be slightly better there, alas it was not so again we spent the night at a campground crossing our fingers for a clearer day the next morning. It was slightly better the next day so we decided that we would head up to see Fox glacier a decision we do slightly question now in hindsight. The weather didn’t stay clear, so the walk really wasn’t much fun in the rain and for the first time in a long time Oliver almost gave up half way there. It was around this point in our trip that we decided we just needed to move on a bit quicker until we found some sunshine, this part of the west coast would just have to be revisited in finer weather. The weather was getting to us all by this point, normally a bit of rain doesn’t bother us but I think in this case it was because we just couldn’t do a lot of the things that we were wanting to do. The frustration of having interesting things right there on your back door step and not being able to do them was a bit like torture. We didn’t want to push through doing things in bad weather with an unhappy child, those weren’t the memories we wanted to make. I’m 100% happy we made that choice now, the west coast is just to beautiful to not do properly.

 

 

A walk in the tree tops.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Charming lakes and a groovy little town

As we moved further south we had spent a few nights in Greymouth parked right by the ocean. The weather was a bit stormy while we were there and watching the huge waves pounding in on the beach was a great way to pass the time. In the end we decided that waiting out the weather just wasn’t possible here, so we headed in land slightly to Lake Brunner. It was only a quick half hour drive there with an interesting stop at the Brunner mine site to stretch our legs on the way. It seemed somewhat hopeful we may leave the rain behind as we arrived at our spot at the lake amidst actual sunshine. So even though we didn’t really do much in our day here apart from a little bush walk and a look around the sleepy little lake side town we really enjoyed our time here.

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We wound our way around the lake the next day stopping on our way to walk up to Carew Falls.

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Once we left the lake behind we headed to a DOC camp called the Goldsborough campsite. It was right next to a river where you could pan for gold and had plenty of walking tracks to explore from here as well. We tried our hand at the gold panning but no trace of gold lingered in the bottom of our pans at the end. I fear we are destined to be unlucky miners. The next morning we were up early and headed in to Hokitika to find a base for the next two nights. The forecast was telling us that although the sun was out in full force it was not meant to last, so we really wanted to make the most of it while it was here.

Ever since we passed through Punakaiki we had noticed an ever growing number of tourists had joined us at all the places we were exploring, this morning after we dropped the bus we headed to the Hokitika Gorge and it was clear that it was no longer the off season, we would have to get used to sharing our travels with a whole lot more people. The gorgeous blue of this river is worth putting up with some crowds to see though. It is so vibrant a colour it’s almost hard to believe its natural.

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After snapping a few pictures of the gorge we left most of the crowds behind and took a drive around Lake Kaniere. We stopped to take in a waterfall and have a stroll down to the lake edge, found a great little DOC camp that would be a wonderful summer spot to camp and then headed back in to Hokitika.

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We absolutely fell in love with Hokitika, a small town but it just had such a nice feel to it and the locals have done a very good job of making it visitor friendly. The waterfront is easily accessed from town and there are a few food trucks right by the beach. We wandered along the beachfront a bit then headed to the Hokitika wildlife centre for a bit of kid friendly entertainment. This place far exceeded any expectations I had for it, we fed and touched eels, saw kiwi being fed and had a ball in a great little area where you could catch a crawly – a fresh water crayfish. To top it off if you found a picture of Nemo on your way around the kid’s (big and little) got a chocolate fish on the way out. To top off this perfect day we wandered to a glow worm dell and waited until it got dark and the bush came alive with all the little glowing lights. Oliver walked home after this babbling happily about how great the glow worms were and all the other things he’d loved that day. Like he does at many places he enjoys Oliver asked if we could stay longer and this time I have to say I agreed with him. This is one of the greatest things about travelling your own country so extensively, finding towns like this one and building a long list of places that hold a little piece of our heart.

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Punakaiki

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Gold fever

Not surprisingly to go along with his deep love of caves my husband also has a love of old tunnels. Gold mining, coal mining, train tunnels, really just any old hole in the ground that you can walk (or even crawl) through. I find the history behind the tunnels often fascinating and don’t mind a walk through the bush to find them, my tolerance for clambering through them is not as high, luckily now Oliver is keen to clamber through with his Dad I am able to opt out of the darker, more dingy looking tunnels in favour of a quiet moment in the bush while they explore. Our last few weeks Wayne and Oliver have been in absolute heaven with all the old mining areas we have come across to explore, the history of mining here on the coast is extensive. So to avoid all my west coast posts sounding like mines, mines and more mines I’m going to write about them all together – the mining extravaganza you could say!

In the early 1800’s they started mining coal around the Westport area and for many years coal was king here. We visited two really interesting coal mining areas, the first of which was Charming creek. There is a walking/mountain biking track here that follows the old train tracks that were used to cart coal from the mine down to the coast. If you do it in its entirety the track is 3 hours one way to walk, we decided that we would walk to a waterfall just over an hour along the track and turn back there, then drive up to the other end of the track where the mine was to have a look at that. There are actual tracks along quite a lot of the walking track and plenty of mining relics along the way to keep it interesting. There are some places along the track where the track is literally covered in coal and also a few small tunnels to walk through. Just before the waterfall you cross an old swingbridge that was built to replace the old rail bridge in the 1970’s, about halfway across the bridge you start to see Mangatini falls. Even in the spring rain shower that chose this exact moment to arrive the falls were pretty.

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Right beside the viewing area of the falls there is a tunnel to walk through that rather conveniently for us had a board walk built through it and was a surprisingly dry spot to wait out the rain. It eased quickly as spring showers tend to do and then it was an easy walk out the way we had come.

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The second coal mining area that we visited was Denniston. When they found coal here the biggest problem was how to get it down through the steep hills, through the bush to the coast where it could be loaded on ships. So they built a railway line up through the bush, up inclines so steep your head spins a little staring down them, built bridges to span the places to rough to build track on and they lowered the coal down in carts attached to cables. The workers and there families lived on the top of the hill, for years the only way to or from that mine was up those inclines. You imagine those mothers with children in tow making that long treacherous trip, living with the constant worry of the danger their husbands jobs put them in and you see so clearly how much life has changed for us.

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On top of that hill now there is plenty of relics and rubble to wander through. And a great job has been done with information boards dotted around with pictures of what it looked like in its prime, what life was like for the people who spent their lives here. Further up the road we did an easy little walk along another old rail line and after passing lots of fallen chimney stacks from old miners cottages, piles of old rusted cablesĀ  that were used to pull the coal carts and plenty of other debris we finally found one thing that is still largely intact. The old fan house that was used to pump fresh air down into the mine.

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To even things out as we have travelled further down the coast there have been lots of old gold mines to explore. We visited a great little spot in Charleston called Mitchells gully mine, the tunnels here loop through the hill like a little maze and the owner gives a basic but informative chat about the mine, all for the grand sum of $10 per adult. Once you get to Greymouth/Hokitika area the bush is full of walks that boast some mining history. Our favourites where the Cold creek walk, which is a bit of a drive in from Greymouth and the Terrace tunnel track close to the Goldsborough DOC camp. At the Goldsborough camp there is a section of river where you can fossick or pan for gold. On seeing Oliver attempting to pan for gold with a plastic bowl another visitor gave us an old pan he had spare and the boys spent a bit of time trying to strike it rich. You can see how men got swept away with dreams of finding gold and went to these amazing lengths to do so. They dug these tunnels through the earth and the rock a lot of the times with just a pick, a spade and their own back breaking work. I for one find it inspiring, but it also makes me grateful that my time for life is now and I have the freedom to run away in a bus. I wonder if these hardworking men would have understood the way we live and what drives us to do it if it was them looking in at my life the way I look back at theirs.