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.

 

 

 

 

Rakiura Track

Another beautiful day in paradise. Not sure where the forecasters got their info from but the 5 days of clouds, rain and wind were not really what we got. Maybe it’s all part of the plan to gear you up for dreadful weather so that when it isn’t quite so bad you feel like it’s amazing!

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Early morning at Ringaringa Beach

The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  The 32km is usually covered over 2 or 3 days but we planned just to walk out to Port William which is usually the first leg and then back again.  The walk starts at the anchor chain at Lee Bay and follows the coast line climbing up over headlands and across swing bridges at beautiful sandy bays.  There are low tide routes across some of the bays but at high tide you need to take alternative routes. At the sign at the top of the steep steps leading down to the beach at Little River on the way back we considered whether we wanted to risk going down to have to come all the way back up or whether we should just take the high tide route.  Just as well we chose the high road as the beach we had walked across on the way there was completely covered with thigh deep water!

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Crossing Little River

We stopped for a while at Maori Beach to explore the old sawmill. Logging and milling went on here until the early 1930s and it seems that a thriving community grew up around it. Today, all that is left are a few rusting hulks – the remains of the boiler and the twin-cylinder steam engine that was the heart and lungs of the enterprise – half buried in the native bush.   It always amazes me how technology and industry come and go and, in time, nature reclaims its place.  It is fascinating to think that this now tranquil place with Tui and butterflies flitting around, the sound of birdsong, cicadas and the waves lapping the golden sands was once a hive of industry with the rhythmic chugging of a steam engine and people’s voices and steam and smoke filling in the air.

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Maori Beach
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Remnants of the sawmill at Maori Beach

After reaching Maori Beach which took us just an hour, I suggested either continuing on to Port William (another 4km there and back) or going up and over Garden Mound (less distance, more climbing but supposedly a great view!) on the way back to Lee Bay.  They opted for the distance although, as they suspected from experience of taking options provided by me, there was still a fair degree of climbing to do on the coastal track!  Onwards then, across the swing bridge which crossed the river at the far end of the beach and up the steep climb into the bush.

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Swing Bridge at end of Maori Beach

The forest here was cool and dark with tall trees reaching skywards towards the light whilst those in the understorey filled the gaps . Lush ferns scattered the forest floor, splashes of bright green as they caught the sunlight.  As with lots of NZ DoC tracks, this one is well maintained with plenty of cut steps.  I don’t like steps though, as they force you to stride at a length which is not your own; I much prefer picking my own path over steep ground but I understand that providing a route helps to prevent erosion and keeps people to the path to allow vegetation and wildlife to develop.

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Walking through the Bush
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Boardwalk along the coast

We soon popped out of the bush and onto the long Port William Beach.  Another golden bay with clear blue water so enticing that I just could not resist! But not yet…. We walked through the campsite, pausing to have a chat with some folk who were just packing up to head on to North Arm. They had arrived on the island the day before and were leaving the day after, so had literally just come to walk the Rakiura Track.  It seems many people do that but it does seem, to me, a waste of the quite expensive ferry fare to only be on the island for two days and a waste of the opportunity to savour so much more of such a beautiful island.

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Port William

As well as the campsite, there is a hut just a few hundred yards further on.  We chatted to the warden, a young volunteer just there for a few weeks (maybe that could be a retirement project – volunteer for DoC and “man” huts in isolated places!) and he said that they had seen kiwi in the grounds the previous evening and penguin on the beach that morning.  For the first time in our two weeks “down south” we were pestered by the huge sand flies we had been warned about, but then it was the first day we had really got well into double figure temperatures and little wind!   Since the place was uninhabited and the tide was close in, I stripped down to my knickers (much to the embarrassment of my teenage son!) and dived into the crystal clear waters.  Sheer Bliss!

The walk back, as there, was punctuated with stops to watch the birds and admire the views.  Interestingly, there was less birdsong here than we had heard on our previous walks but still plenty of Tui, Kereru, Fantails and a host of other small birds.

The plaques in the ground at the start of the track by the anchor chain carry thoughtful quotations. Interesting that Leonard Cockayne‘s message  “The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, then, is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.” suggests that the natural environment in 1909 was already under threat, if not gone altogether.  A hundred years on and Stewart Island is still relatively unspoilt and, according to Neville Peat  in 1992 holds the “hopes of generations unborn that places like this will always exist”.

It certainly is a beautiful, unspoilt place. A haven of tranquility, a chance to get back to nature.