Our first adventure; Part 1 Christchurch to Kaikoura

So, we flew to Christchurch and met ‘Vera’. Although I had bought her just a few weeks ago, I have to confess, I was a little worried that I might have been sold a pup! It all happened so quickly.

Nigel: There’s a camper van in CHCH, see if you can arrange to view.

Anne: OK.  Contacts vendors, they bring it to my hotel, I look around it. Test drive it around Christchurch on roads I don’t know, scared to go too far in case I get lost! Decide the vendors sound legit, WoF and history seems ok, bit tatty, but engine seems fine, drives ok. Deal done! Money transferred. 24 hours later, they deliver it to work. We are the owners of a 25 yr old Toyota Hiace camper van!

Now what? Well, I won’t go into the details of driving the wrong way up a one way three lane street, nor the narrow missing of a huge boulder rolling down the hill and landing on the other side of the garage where we parked the van for safekeeping for a few weeks.

We’ll start the story as we head north with our new acquisition.

Part 1: Christchurch to Kaikoura (the naming of names)

Camper vans have to have names. Don’t they? So my friends say, anyway. And my Dad always named his cars. Kevin, who looked after the van, whose own car even more narrowly missed being hit by aforementioned large boulder, has two very tiny, very cute dogs. One of whom is Vera. Seems to fit! Nigel isn’t sure…

Pandas also need names. Not entirely sure what panda’s history is but he (she?) came with the van.  On the way north we stopped for coffee with the rellies. They had a tour of the van and when William asked what Panda’s name was, we asked him to do the naming honours. Pete it was. Pete the Panda.

Panda soft toy looking out of a white campervan
Pete the Panda

Apart from the coffee detour we also had a whiskey detour. Who would have imagined a whisky distillery in the middle of suburban Kaiapoi? We didn’t, but it would have been rude not to have called in! And even ruder not to have bought any!

The Kaikoura coast really has been decimated. In 2016, it was the centre of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which pretty much cut the place off.  Subsequent ‘weather events’ have undone some of the remedial work that was done on the roads and when we drove north, it had just been re-opened, albeit with a curfew.  Access was only in daylight hours, – 7 am to 7pm.  The landslides and the damage to the road and coastline are incredible and progress is slow with lots of the road operating one way only with traffic lights or Stop Go signs.  It has been difficult to imagine what the road looked like from the constant news articles, and I think that it is worse than we ever thought.

mountain landscape in the background, repairs being made to a road, cranes and diggers working on the road. Bottom right hand corner is the reflection in the wing mirror of the car of the photographer taking the photo.
Roadworks

We stopped at Kaikoura itself for a break and a wander along the seal colony. It is 13 years since I was last there and so memories are a little hazy.  But we saw plenty of seals basking like large slugs in the sunshine. However, there is evidence of the earthquake apart from the obvious shift of the level of the coastline. In one section of the trail, we noticed skeletons of young seabirds, in situ, seemingly in nests. It was quite eerie. We have struggled to find any documentation specifically and it may well be that these are victims of a weather event subsequent to the earthquake.

skeleton still with feathers of a seabird nestled in the remains of a nest in the white pebbles on the beach
Young seabird skeleton: Kaikoura
man wearing a red tee short and shorts walking across the rocky beach area at the coast. Mountains in the background with wisps of cloud in front of them.
Nigel at Kaikoura

folded white rock whic looks like it is waves. A single windswept tree stands on the horizon on a hill

As 7pm drew close, we needed to make it off the road. The NZ Campervan Association manual told us that there were several possible overnight campsites along the road. Unfortunately, it didn’t tell us that they were no longer available because of the damage to the road. Maybe because the NZ campervan association is almost entirely analogue and so can’t easily update. However, eyes peeled we scanned the coastline and soon saw the telltale white of another van parked up close to the beach. The railway track was now conveniently on our left and so we easily pulled off, followed our noses and found a sweet spot right on the beach. We nudged Vera backwards so that we could open the tailgate and have a view of the ocean. Set for the night.

Sunset, fire, sleep, sunrise. Magic. #campervanlife

panorama of the sunset over a beach.

fire on the beach with a glass and a bottle of whisky in the foreground
Fire and Kaiapoi whisky – sweet combination

sunrising over the ocean, turbulent waves in the forground

 

 

 

 

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Heading into winter…

So we’re settled into our new house, started to get to grips with the garden – even bought some plants, a shredder to mulch the prunings and the falling autumn leaves.  We have plans to create a veggie plot and swap some of the decorative perennials for fruit trees.  Aonghas has already planted some carrots and marigolds ( or marlegods as he calls them!) in the boxes outside his window.  The early Camellias are starting to flower and we have a carpet of deep pink petals in our garden.  Roses are still blooming but the trees are wearing their autumnal colours and looking glorious in rich shades of yellow red, red rosethrough orange to red.

Well, what have we been up to..?  Boys have finished summer sports and are training for their chosen winter sports.  Lachlan is continuing with rugby, but has taken up squash and, as he is in Year 10 he is allowed to use the weights room at school.  Aonghas has decided to try hockey this year and is enjoying that – he even scored a goal last week!  Lachlan is also running regularly and still cycling.  Next weekend he is heading to Rotorua to take part in the Moon Ride – a 12 hour mountain biking marathon.  He is riding as part of a team and they will take it in turns to do the 15km circuits from 10amAonghas playing hockey to 10pm.  We were down there a couple of weekends ago and all had a go on the tracks. The Redwoods is a great forest with masses of mountain bike tracks of all levels.  Aonghas coped really well with them and ventured down the Dipper which even I braved, though Nigel decided that caution was the better part of valour and chickened out!  (we won’t hold it against him!)

We were down in Rotorua as I was taking part in a Duathlon, we decided to make a weekend of it as it was the last weekend of the Easter holidays, and our friends Liz and Chaz were also there with their boys, Jamie and Josh.  Liz was competing in the Duathlon too, as well as a couple more of our friends.  We stayed in the Thermal Holiday park – the same one we stayed in when we Aonghas on the "Dipper"were here on holiday in 2005. We rented a self contained unit which, in estate agent speak, made good use of space – compact and bijou!  The advantage of the park are the hot pools, plenty of running around space for energetic boys, a games room as well as a television! After a couple of weeks of glorious weather we had a weekend of rain and wind, so the going was soft and muddy!  We set off with the wind and rain lashing our faces, but once on the way and into the forest, we soon warmed up.  The pressure was off as far as times go because of the weather conditions so we just relaxed and went with the flow.  Obviously a good move because I ended up with a time 5 minutes faster than the last duathlon I did and a top 10 finish!  We hung around in the cold and wet for the spot prizes because you never know ……. that $2000 bike might just have your name on it!  Sadly it wasn’t to be..maybe next time!  But, boy were those hot pools good when we got back to the holiday park!  A couple of hours later and nicely coddled we emerged to head back home!

We stopped off at what has become a bit of a regular, favourite spot for us – the Fat Dog cafe.  Huge portions of scrummy food and plenty of veggie options for Nigel.  Heaps of sald with home made burgers as well as BLATs, fries, wedges ….mmm,  my mouth is watering just thinking of it!

Beach bums!

Back to work and school after a short break at the ocean. Wow! We headed up to the Coromandel over the Easter holidays – just a 5 day break here as there are 4 equal (ish) length school terms. Great to have an extended weekend in the middle of the term though. We went straight up to Cook’s Beach on Thursday after work and put up the tent in the dark! Went to bed with the Morepork serenading us and the trill of cicadas ringing in our ears! After a relaxed start to the day we went off to the beach where we had an idyllic time body boarding, diving through the waves and generally doing what you do on a beach. Gus - a job well done!The Nigel - soaking up the sun(burn)!weather was glorious and Nigel ended up looking a bit like a lobster by the end of the day despite having slopped sun block all over whereas Lachlan just looks even more like a native! (Pleased to say that the redness has gone down and Nige is looking a healthy brown now!) Cook’s Bay is holiday home mecca – most of the people we have met in Hamilton have a “Bach” somewhere along the Coromandel coast – there are some fantastic properties and loads of sections being developed for sale. However there are also some very simple almost caravan type baches – just a place to sleep in between sailing and surfing. Very tempting!

Flaxmill BayOn Saturday we decided to try Flaxmill Bay – just 5 mins North of Cook’s Beach. The boys were initially disappointed as itNigel and Gus is a much more sheltered bay with little in the way of surf. However we planted ourselves by the stream flowing into the sea by the cliff edge and found we could wade out and round a corner to some large rocks and little bays. It really was beautiful and we could swim/wade through the channels between the large rocks and explore. It was a bit like above ground caving! The boys decided that it was a great adventure and had a lovely time pottering about. I went back for the camera and Aonghas persuaded Nigel to come too as you could wade most of it! The tide was going out fast and the water was barely knee deep most of the way by now. What a lovely place to swim and relax and just nose around!

Blues FestIn the evening we went over to Whitianga on the ferry from Ferry Landing to go to the Blues Festival. We had read on the website that no “professional” cameras were allowed so didn’t take the SLR and big lens, it also stated that no food or drink was to be taken into the area as there would be traders. However nobody checked our bags and then we found out that you had to buy tokens for beer and you had to buy a minimum of ten tokens at $3 each! (it cost 1 token for a beer!) Since we had to drive back we were a bit disgruntled that you couldn’t buy single units. Anyway it transpired that the beer came in cans so we decided that whatever we didn’t drink we could take back with us! Found some food – not a wide choice but it kept the boys happy and settled down to listen to some music. Keb Mo was playing on the main stage when we arrived and he was pretty good. He was followed by KT Tunstall who was great – very natural, and Aonghas was amazed that someone he has heard on a CD actually exists as a real person and he just stood and watched in awe! He joined in all the songs he knew singing loudly and enthusiastically. There was a bit of a wait then as the stage was rearranged for Ian Brown, by this time it was nearly 10pm and the boys were getting tired. They both curled up and went to sleep during what personally I thought was a pretty uninspiring set. Buddy Guy was the main reason we had decided we had to go up to the Coromandel this weekend and it was well worth the wait. He eventually came on stage at 11 o’clock -ish and just blew everyone away. Awesome! We woke the boys up and though still sleepy they enjoyed the music and the performance too. I tried to take some video with sound with my mobile phone – you get an idea of the atmosphere but the quality is pretty bad! What an amazing guy, so much energy and stage presence and just sheer skill. His “duels” with the pianist were exceptional and being able to see it on a big screen as well as on the stage meant that you could see all his facial expressions and the fingerwork on the piano. At the end of the show we made our way back through the throng to get the shuttle bus to the ferry and finally got back to the tent in the early hours tired but happy!

The weather turned overnight and Sunday was a bit cooler and cloudier, a few showers broke the day up so we took advantage of the change in temperature to go for a bit of a walk. We went back to Flaxmill Bay to walk over Shakespeare Cliff. Where there’s a trig point …..A pleasant walk through the bush up to a vantage point marked with a trig point and a stone marking the landing of Captain Cook in HMS Endeavour. We then walked down a track to the beautiful Lonely Bay. An isolated little sandy crescent shaped beach with huge rocks, rock pools, sea caves and arches. A brilliant place to explore; we paddled in the sea, climbed over and through rocks, swung on tree branches, explored the rock pools and the caves and I delighted in the array of shells which abounded. I spent quite a long time rearranging shells, seaweed and pebbles to create Goldsworthy-esque pictures in the sand – very satisfying!

Lonely BayLachlan testing himselfNigel - Lonely Bayshells!crab!my own little monkeys!

Then I realised that the boys and Nigel had disappeared so chased after them to the rock pools where I was startled by the scurrying and scuttling of a couple of large red crabs! Managed to get a couple of shots of them and then realised that they were everywhere! They were being washed into the spaces under the rocks by the sea and then finding their way into the crevices ntil the tide came back in to let them back out to sea. Caught up with the boys and told them what I’d found and we all went back to be fascinated by them – all sizes from tiny little ones to others twice the size of your hand! Some had yellow spots and some were red and some had stripes – really beautiful!

Once back at the car we decided to go for a coffee in a cafe called Eggcentric – it had a good write up in the Rough Guide. Lovely cakes and as the book said a quirky setting – some impressive sculptures decorate the gardens and the restaurant itself but we weren’t impressed with the service. To be fair we arrived as they were setting up for the evening session (about 5pm) but it was no excuse for their rather rude and unfriendly manner. Probably won’t go back!

We packed up on Monday morning and set off for home stopping on the way at a place called Onemana. Very posh holiday home spot – we’d decided on there because Nigel had seen some photos on Flickr with that tag and thought it looked nice. Turned out the photos he’d seen were of another beach just down the coast from there! Nevertheless we had a pleasant sea bird - to be identified!afternoon playing in the sea – big waves and quite a strong current. There was only a small area which was safe to swim in as there is a dangerous rip. The murk of the morning had passed and once again we basked in the sunshine. Whilst we were enjoying playing in the ocean Nigel went for a stroll along the beach and took some brilliant pictures of the sea birds. When the boys tired of the sea they dug a castle with impressive sea defences to keep the encroaching waves out! It didn’t last though – another lesson learnt about the power of nature!

Back to the realities of everyday life unpacking more boxes and work. I have an interview for a Maternity leave job in about an hour’s time so I guess I’d better go and get ready! Booked in for relief work for the next two weeks at the same school so no time to sit around ….. tum te tum! (Tiddle I po… as Winnie ther Pooh would say!)

P.S. Got the job!