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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A new chapter…

A new chapter has begun in the Robertson household. It’s exciting, scary and sad all at the same time. Aonghas turned 18 last October, he passed NCEA Level 3 and has finished school. He is still at home, working as an out of school care assistant (OSCAR) for the YMCA after school hours, coaching his old secondary school 2nd XI hockey team and mostly, for the rest of the time, playing computer games.  Transition is a hard time. Frustrating, confusing, unsettled.  Well, it is for the parents, anyway. Not sure Aonghas is bothered! Lachlan is in his final year of university (hopefully), he is between houses so he is back at home. Living in my office, so I have decamped to the living room. The house and garage is full of ‘stuff’.  They are good kids, they will get there, wherever ‘there’ is, sometime.

Family of two sons, parents and aunty in a restaurant.
All ‘growed up’

Why is it exciting? Well, we are ‘free’ of being a taxi service now that driving licenses have been acquired, although our cars are still required … not sure how that happened! So we can get away for weekends, no need to ferry boys to sports matches, no need to stand freezing on the sidelines. We can plan our weekends around ourselves and our own needs. Our boys have exciting adventures ahead of them, when they work out what they are, that is. They have new life experiences to look forward to.

Why is it scary? So much unknown territory. We have been ‘four’ then ‘three’, now we are ‘two’ again. Time to rediscover ourselves, each other. Can we find ourselves again after years of our focus being on two boys and not ourselves? Scary too, that we don’t know where the boys are. How do we keep them safe? How did we ever keep them safe? Are they spending too much time on computer games? Are they drinking too much? Are they taking drugs? Are they driving too fast? Are they doing stupid stuff? Where do they go when they answer the question, “What did you do with your mates?’ with “Oh, just hanging out, doing stuff.’ ? Hell’s teeth – what is ‘stuff’? and where were you hanging out?

Now I know what/how my parents felt.

Why is it sad? There is a hole. A hole which was once filled with hugs and cuddles, and new experiences that were shared and enjoyed together, and conversations, and worry about friends and school, and laughter, and I am unsure that it can be filled again. I miss my boys. I miss the spontaneity that seems to have gone now they are older. There is a hole where there were football matches and hockey games and mountain biking and lawn bowls and squash.  And binge watching of Star Wars and Harry Potter. Oh, I know it filled our weekends, but now it’s not there, I miss it. I miss standing on the sideline cheering them on, chatting to other parents, being an embarrassing parent – “Mum, do you have to shout so loud!?” I miss watching ‘George of the Jungle’ for the umpteenth time. I miss the noise, I miss the excruciating pain of standing on the lego brick in barefeet, I miss the lego creations and the battlefields of monsters, soldiers, and strange creatures arranged across the living room.  I miss the bedtime reads, the treasure hunts,  the looking after, and  … well, I miss being ‘needed’.

I am not ‘needed’ anymore.

My boys are ‘all growed up’.  They are pretty much independent. So I am not needed, at least not in the way that I have been ‘needed’ for the last 23 years.

So, we have found a way to fill the hole.

white camper van parked by the beach. Sun is setting, sky is pinky orange in the background.
First evening in ‘Vera’. Kaikoura.

We have bought a camper van so we can escape whenever we feel like it. There are so many places to explore that we haven’t been to yet.  More time to rediscover who we are, in new places.

It’s only a wee thing, and it’s pretty old and battered. But it’s ours. She is ours. Vera is ours. Okay, the name is not fixed yet and Nigel isn’t convinced but I’m working on it! She came with a free panda – Pete the Panda. (Name courtesy of William!)  I bought her when I was in Christchurch for work and then parked her at a friend’s house for a few weeks until we could fly down and pick her up.  That was our first camper van adventure.

 

 

 

 

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!

Car

Spent another Saturday searching for a car. Not our favourite activity at all 😦

Anne had gone round some yards during the week and had found one with a reasonable selection of stuff and a guy running it who seemed OK (well for a car salesman anyway!)

The problem when there is a wide choice is it makes it harder to choose – bit of a paradox really! We had gone with the intention of driving some Mazda MPVs and Honda Odysseys and had done a fair bit of online research as to what years etc to go for. After climbing through various ones, sitting in seats, working how the back seats rearranged themselves, we ended up taking out a Toyota Estima! Fortunately we had also researched this, just hadn’t come across any on our previous weeks foray round the yards. The Estima seemed to have more room all round and a reasonable seating arrangement.

Like lots of the car yards, this one had two other sites within 2 or 3 miles (there are lots of car yards in Hamilton) so we went for a drive over to one of them to see what else might be available. We weren’t too happy with the Estima as it seemed to pull to the side a bit and was a bit ‘used’ inside. At the second yard, however, was another Estima, slightly different model, slightly older but $2000 cheaper. Decided to take that for a spin to compare with the one that we had just driven. This second one was much better, no pulling, tidy inside, even has electric curtains!!

Had a good drive about in this and by the end were happy to sign the dotted line. Most second hand cars go in for an AA service before purchase so ours was booked in for Monday. Main note from the examiner was that the air conditioner fan was a bit noisy! Our new car!This was at the end of Monday when the guy from the yard phoned up. He arranged to come and pick Anne up on Tuesday morning (today), took her to the bank to get a cheque and then to pick the car up. It’s now sitting in the drive so Hooray! we can drive off somewhere this weekend.

Sunday

Took taxis, buses, trains and then a 5.4km cable car ride up to see the “Big Buddha” – very touristy but, hey, why not? This is supposedly the largest seated Buddha in the world and yes, it is big! We sampled the “delights” of the Buddhist vegetarian food in the Monastery. As the Chinese New Year is soon upon us, the monastery was busy with people giving thanks for the year past. Huge incense burners smoked everywhere – you could buy incense ‘sticks’ 6 inches across and 3 or 4 foot long!

Had a demonstration of the proper way to make Chinese tea. Think it explains why I was never too impressed in the past when I had bought some and tried to make it pretty much in the western fashion.

Saturday

Went in the funicular up Mount Victoria. Pretty hazy unfortunately but still the views were impressive – especially the building that was still as tall as we were most of the way up the hill.

Came back and toured round Kowloon. Every time we went out Nigel was harangued by Chinese tailors offering to make him a suit – not sure what that says about his style – but it became a bit of a joke, especially to Lachlan who found it highly amusing!

Friday

Besides the stunning skyline, there is so much jammed in between the buildings roads, tramways, elevated roads, elevated walkways, huge escalators. It’s actually possible to get about on the island. without hitting the roads at all. Saw all the sights in Hong Kong, the boys loved it as we travelled by Star ferry Star Ferry across the harbour and then rode the tram from one end of the line to the other. Wandered about shops on the island and jostled our way through the melee of people in the narrow streets – the noise of street vendors, car horns, mobile phones ringing, the smells of street corner food stalls, the bright colours of the neon signs and shop displays as well as all the Chinese New Year decorations everywhere was quite overwhelming but also exciting.

Thursday

Well we have got here! Gus and Luggage

After all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks a few days of luxury in Hong Kong are really welcome.

What an amazing place! We weren’t quite sure about going to a big city but the skyline is terrific and we have a great view from our 20th floor room in the Harbour Plaza Metropolis Hotel. Got bamboozled into a “package” when we arrived which meant that we had access to the “Club Lounge” where we had an even better view of the harbour, buffet breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and free internet access plus a pile of other extras that we didn’t really use! It was lovely to be pampered for a short time!Hong Kong at night