We’ve had the most blissful few days. Four days ago (really only four?), we drove north out of Wanaka, heading towards the Haast Pass to cross over to the West Coast. At the top of Lake Wanaka, we pulled into a Department of Conservation campsite to spend the night. Having stayed in well-groomed Holiday Parks for most of the winter, it was with a feeling of wonder that we stepped out of Liberty to explore our surroundings. The place was deserted apart from the birds, and we headed straight for the stony beach.IMG_6778 IMG_6725Without a breath of wind the water was glassy and the boys immediately settled into doing their things – Otis fishing with a perfect hooky stick he’d found, and Elliott just pottering and filling his gumboots with freezing cold water. It was one of those perfect evenings where everything makes sense about this journey. As the sun disappeared, Thomas and Otis collected up armloads of wood for the fire and I made our go-to dinner of bacon and cheesey pasta (with kale thrown in to pretend it’s anywhere near a balanced meal). No internet or cellphone coverage was a wonderful treat, and Otis stayed up to make a campfire with Thomas before being piled into bed smelling like an adventure.

IMG_6775The next morning brought with it a pretty blustery wind, but we decided to stay on another night in this perfect spot. Around the corner from the beach we’d explored the evening before is where Boundary Creek flows into the lake. The spit of land on which the campsite sits has been formed by the creek, and the whole beach is covered in mountains of driftwood. We got busy building a sort of shelter to protect us from the wind, and, being robbers as we were, were instructed to collect gold from the beach and put it in the special treasure shelf. Of course, we were rich by the end of the morning, and went back inside leaving most of the loot for other buccaneers.

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Day three at Boundary Creek brought more campers, and after having a Chinese family and a French family through the bus for a look around and a play, we made friends with Oli and his mum Sarah who are over from Australia. My first glimpse of Oli out the window he was dressed as a pirate, and I knew this was going to be a good thing. As suspected, Otis and Oli clicked straightaway and have spent the last few days just enjoying being with another child, and sharing their fact-driven, detail-oriented natures. I loved chatting with Sarah – as it turned out, we seem to be pretty like-minded as well.

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Sharing bread with (pirate) friends

 

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Trying to figure out weaving. I need lessons.

   

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On the fourth morning, we all packed up our things and said goodbye, refreshed and inspired by new friendships. Winter feels like it’s coming to an end and the West Coast is calling. It seems like this phase of the journey finishes at Haast Pass, and I’m excited to see what the next few months will bring.

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Wanaka

After our Queenstown “on holiday” week (no work… well, not much work, baths every single day, going to the loo inside. LUXURY!), we upped sticks and drove to Wanaka. For whatever reason, this little town seems to sit in the eye of whatever nasty weather pattern is currently hitting the region, so we’ve enjoyed beautiful, sunny weather since being here.

IMG_1070The first two nights were spent in the campsite closest to town, but we moved 3km out to Aspiring Holiday Park, and were greeted by FREE SAUNA AND SPAS! Also FREE HOT CHOCOLATE EVERY MORNING! And FREE WIFI! And not pretending free either – we actually paid less to stay here than the other place, which only gives a discount if you stay for more than a month. Weird. Service oriented businesses will win me over every single time.

Incidentally, if you’re ever camping in NZ, it’s always worth asking for discounts. Often if you’re staying multiple nights they will do you some deal – for example, they won’t charge for the children, or will do 10% off or something. Our NZMCA membership also helps us save on fees, and gives us access to lots of free or low-cost options. You need to own a self-contained camper/ caravan to be a member though.

We’ve done a couple of touristy things since being here – Puzzling World, and the National Toy and Transport Museum (on the same premises as the local brewery, Beerworks). Both are ok, and maybe even great for slightly older kids, but for our age children, I don’t know if it’s even really worth doing stuff like this. At the T & T museum, another child ran over to a swing set, and his father scolded, “Get off it, we didn’t come all the way to New Zealand to play on a swing set”.

It pretty much summed up the antithesis of my attitude towards parenting. In my opinion, the less we (as parents) do and organise, the better. And not just because I’m lazy. Mucking around is the place where focus is developed, and real, engaged, self-initiated learning happens. The more “hands off”, the better!

Harpooning: WanakaSo for the last few days we’ve just been parked up at the lakefront, Otis working on his “trick biking” at the skate park and harpooning whales in the lake, and Elliott working on running onto the road and into the water. Obviously, we’re a little more “hands on” at some times than others.

We haven’t really ventured out to make connections with the place on a personal level yet. Despite the stunning days, when the sun goes it really is chilly, and it’s definitely cold and flu season, so it feels like we’ve retreated into domesticity and family life a bit. In the trenches in a constant battle against snot (I don’t know how to say that less graphically), I made some  seed milk for our morning porridge. This stuff tastes good, is great for you, doesn’t build mucous like its animal counterpart, and you can use the leftover pulp as a base for the most amazing little truffles.

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Seed milk

1 C seeds (I used pumpkin, sesame and sunflower)
3 C filtered water

Blend for a couple of minutes, then strain through a cheesecloth (I used a serviette – not ideal). Use as you would cow’s milk. Kept in the fridge it will last 3-4 days (I’m guessing).

Chocolate Seed Truffles (No photo, sorry!)

3/4 C (or however much you have) seed pulp. The least moisture in the pulp the better – because of my lack of cheesecloth, I had to heat it in a pan for a bit to dry it out.
1/2 C dates
1-2 T Cocoa powder
Chopped nuts/ dried fruit/ coconut/ whatever your heart desires

Soak half a cup or more of dates for half an hour. Drain and blend.

Mix dates, cocoa and seed pulp together. This is the base that sticks all your other chunky bits together.

Add your goodies – I used walnuts because we’d collected some the day before, but use whatever you have on hand.

Roll into balls.

Roll balls in sesame seeds to stop them sticking, and pop into the fridge for later. Or your mouth for now.

Queenstown ice rink

After three months, through winter, Liberty has withstood the test of time and we have moved past the novel feeling of life on the road. Romantic notions of frosty days, woodfiry nights, homebaked bread and an overall gypsy vibe have become reality for us. This is now our life.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, it was a treat to enjoy a week of luxury and spacious living in Hannah’s aunt and uncle’s holiday home in Queenstown. Queenstown, while not subtle in its grand natural setting, has subtly nudged me to warm up to it in unexpected ways. Just like in Arrowtown, and to mirror Hannah’s previous post on ‘becoming a local’, I’ve been on a couple of runs (to dive into the scenery), visited a few cafes, and met some locals. All this gives me an insight into a place, but Queenstown has offered me more:

1. The ice skating rink has transported me to a time of adventures in my childhood, even though we mostly played on naturally frozen lakes in the woods. But seeing Otis so excited about ice skating, and seeing his first steps on ice and in the skate park, made me connect to him, and to this place, in a special way.

2. Walking along the peninsula’s shores, I couldn’t help but thinking of a different, bigger place. I pinpointed it to:

  • boats in the harbour (Wellington, Hamburg)
  • mountains, Douglas Firs and Sequoias (Vancouver and Stanley Park)

The lake is big enough to fool you into thinking that it could be a fiord. But now I’m really longing for the sea again.

We had a great break here of catching up with whanau and friends, while having some family time by ourselves, too.

After lots of pretty mountain views and polished lake fronts I’m eager to get into more rugged territory again, to have sandy toes and saltwatery hair. Real New Zealand, here we come!

PS Recommended song while looking at the pictures, hee hee: Wolves by Phosphorescent.

 

Going for a run

Going for a run

Crabs and sharks!

Crabs and sharks!

Boat pier

Booh

Booh!

He's a lumberjack

He’s a lumberjack

Indoor/outdoor flow

Indoor/outdoor flow

Reading time

Reading time

Cycling expedition to the skate park

Cycling expedition to the skate park

Louge practice

Luge practice

Queenstown ice rink

Queenstown ice rink – they have seals!

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Remarkables

Remarkables

Across Lake Wakatipu

Across Lake Wakatipu

Good morning

Good morning

At the waterfront

At the waterfront

TSS Earnslaw

TSS Earnslaw

Peninsula walk

Peninsula walk

Queenstown beach

Queenstown beach

Under trees

‘Hmm, how can I pounce on him unexpectedly…’

One can jump

‘..hhhyah!’

This week I’m grateful for:

Friendly, fast and affordable puncture repair by Bridgestone in Frankton

Friendly, fast and affordable puncture repair by Bridgestone in Frankton, which also doubled as entertainment.

A care package including coffee, food and jackets from my old workmate and Arrowtown local (who knew?!) Anna.

A care package including coffee, food and jackets from my old workmate and Arrowtown local (who knew?!) Anna.

Unexpected Saturday afternoon naps (I even had one too!)

Unexpected Saturday afternoon naps (I even had one too!)

A bag of fruit from departing campers

A bag of fruit from campers heading home,

plus pantry staples from another departing crowd.

plus pantry staples from another departing crowd.

I’m also grateful for the jobs we’ve got chugging along at the moment. I hadn’t tried it before, but working from home is pretty great. It is entirely possible to combine family and work, and actually get things done!

My last thank you this week is to Shannon, whose words “comfortable in my own skin” came up in my Facebook feed last night, and made me realise that I am. That’s a pretty cool place to be.

Ironically, I’ve often found travelling quite hard work. I find myself disappointed as a tourist because I am an outsider – I don’t have a local pub (no matter what Lonely Planet recommends), I can’t meet a good friend for a chat at my favorite cafe and I don’t know where to find people doing creative stuff.

There is a big difference between being a tourist and actually living somewhere. In theory, having our home with us  we can “live” where ever we park up. The problem, though, is the compressed nature of our stays; I don’t like only scratching the surface in a place – having to judge from appearances, so it’s important to figure out how to become locals quickly where ever we are.

In real life (the one where people live in houses), I have made friends through work, or through shared interests. I work from home, so I decided to make a quick list of things that interest me.

list

  • Does Arrowtown have a playcentre? No.
  • Playgrounds? Yes – not many children, but will keep trying.
  • Craft shop? Yes – and The Stitching Post has a sign in the window for Knit and Natter night – BINGO!

I don’t knit, but making is making, right? I went along and had a really relaxing evening – chocolate, chatting, the odd bit of half-arsed crafting, but it was incredibly fruitful regarding my Secret Mission.

I met four locals (from around the Queenstown area). I’ve subsequently met up with two of them (Abi and Susan) and their children (BINGO) for a playdate, and have scheduled a bus craft night for next Friday evening (please come if you’re in the area!), plus another playdate. Abi works at the Queenstown Arts Center, so I’m getting a jump on our coming week Queenstown too.

On top of that, the creative tap that was turned on that evening has produced the following:

needle felted dolls

I have started these two wee needle felted dolls…

Otis painting

We got the paints out

The biggest easel in town

The biggest easel in town

The shooting stars were jumping on each other"

“The shooting stars were jumping on each other”

merboys

The beginnings of two salty dreams

In our travels so far, we’ve seen fish and seaweed and toadstools and colour palettes to die for, but spending time with other creative people is what has teased these random parts out for me to work with.

Walking through Arrowtown on our first day, I was a bit put off by the place. It’s beautiful, but it seemed like everyone was from somewhere else. I felt grumpy. It seemed to me that they were all shopping, staring, being loud and brash and generally spending lots of money. I wasn’t really into the vibe, and was keen to move on pretty quickly.

We’ve been here close to three weeks now though and the friendly staff at the campground, one Knit and Natter, two Irish music nights at The Fork and Tap, and being greeted by name at Provisions when we pop in for a coffee has changed everything.

I’m excited. I’m inspired. I’m not quite a local, but I’m definitely not just a tourist anymore.

Winter in Arrowtown

Not having written a gratitude post a week hasn’t been due to the lack of people to be grateful for.

We’re parked up in Arrowtown at the moment, a pretty place to be in winter. Because of low temperatures and short days, a lot of our activities revolve around food preparation and eating, so it was especially humbling to be given food by strangers twice in the last few days.

Chris

Thanks, Chris and Julia from Auckland

In both occasions the people were just about to go back home and had leftovers to deal with. Now, some might think “big deal,” to pass on food if it’s going to be thrown out anyway, but we’ve been honestly so excited about it. At times when money is short, receiving an armful of food is like getting a bag full of Christmas presents.

And there’s the surprise part as well: what’s it gonna be?

Coffee, meat, chocolate – luxury items, very much treasured.
Honey, jam, milk, oil – always good.
Instant soup, packaged juice, cereal, 2 minute noodles – great to have in dire times.

Two days ago I had just run out of coffee and was trying to figure out coping mechanisms for the few days ’til our next shopping trip. The jar of instant coffee in the unexpected care package was a life saver. I don’t recall your names, unfortunately, but thanks anyway, you people from Scotland and Australia living in Singapore.

Chairity

Chairity

Also, thanks Franzi, Martin and Fiona from the campground for letting me watch soccer in the kitchen in the middle of the night, and for letting me use pieces of wood to build a seat for computer work (in use right now!).

It’s this attitude of giving without asking for anything back that makes the world a friendlier place.

While I was pondering what to write today, a post came up in my Facebook feed (seldom a helpful tool in getting things done) entitled “Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Child”. I clicked on the link, skimmed through it in under 5 seconds, and clicked away again. I already know why. I didn’t need to read it and ponder it, and feel vindicated or challenged by it. We already have Fewer Toys. I’d even be happy with Fewerer Toys.

Lounge

The play area: toy shelf, animal box and vehicle box on the left, blackboard which folds down into the art table, books on the right and puzzles under the couch.

Living in a house, I bemoaned the fact that Otis had exactly no interest in drawing; that he didn’t play with his lovely blocks, invitingly presented in a cane basket; that the duplo, which he’s had since he was one, remained completely untouched. His imagination was by no means stunted – when asked who he was, the majority of the time it would be a Common Toad, or a Thorny Devil Lizard, or a Yellow Eyed Penguin, or Peter Pan – only very occasionally would he respond with “Otis”. But the creating and the building and the making – oh! I was aching for the making!

Piccasso is quoted as saying “Every child is an artist. The problem is, how to remain an artist when he grows up.” What was I missing here?

Since being in the bus a handful of things have changed regarding play. We don’t have as many toys out (not that we had that many anyway), they are better displayed, the art supplies are more available, and we are outside a lot more.

The outcome so far? Two days ago I watched as Otis built with Duplo. First a pukeko and then an ostrich. And then, using all the blocks left, he made an aviary for them. He has built a hammerhead shark and a toucan and a giraffe and countless other birds. I’ve watched him lie on his stomach and draw detailed pictures of a dragon, fire, shooting stars, jellyfish. He has painted – paper, sticks and hands. He cuts and glues and stamps and staples. This may not be out of the ordinary in your home, but for us it’s incredible.

When he tells me he needs to have some important Thing (usually some animal), I say, “Hmmm”, and he says “how could we make that?” (ok, sometimes he says we have to go to the shop RIGHT NOW, but you know, on balance…).

There’s a fantastic little book by Pennie Brownlee called Magic Places – the adults’ guide to young children’s creative artwork. In it she says that there are four aspects to creativity – experience, focus, the creative process and the art product.

My hope is that our bus journey provides rich, layered experiences and the stripped-back toy shelf provides focus. It’s up to me to provide the materials, and watch what unfolds.

The last month has been unbelievably wonderful at times. It has honestly also been awful at times. When the boys have been screaming all day, and we’re worrying about getting enough design jobs in to keep us going, and it’s cold and wet, we ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this?”.  Looking back over the last few weeks, though, we have already gained so much. This is a selection of things for which I’ve been grateful since we’ve been on the road. These are the answers I’ve found. This is why.

  • For the red cod from a stranger on a beach
  • For two dinners and a bed for a night with James, Janet and Kashmir
  • For a place to park and the loan of a truck by Sherryl just out of Dunedin when the bus wouldn’t start
  • For an invitation to Playcentre in Portobello while going for a stroll
  • For a bag of Jerusalem artichokes from Kitty and Dan at Portabello Playcentre
  • For the offer of firewood and a cup of tea by Simon in Portobello
  • For unexpected friendships
  • For freedom camping
  • For campsites for when everyone gets a tummy bug and you need to wash all the bedding and towels in the bus
  • For the red cod and the ride with Gary along the beach to the sealions at Surat Bay
  • For cheap entry into the Invercargill swimming pool ($3 per preschooler, parents get in for nix, free sauna!)
  • For free internet for a week and a huge $5 sack of firewood from the campsite owner in Invercargill
  • For swede honesty boxes on the side of the road
  • For the ability to bake without an oven (our Bessemer pot – a post in itself!)
  • For having experienced winter in Germany, and really getting to now why a winter celebration matters.
Our dinner

Generosity of strangers

plum pudding

Stovetop plum pudding

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Stovetop baked bread in the sun

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Stovetop pizza

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This guy.

this guy,

this guy,

and this guy.

and this guy.

These gratitude posts may not be the most interesting ones to read, but for me, they are a really important way of remembering how wonderful life is. If I don’t post again next Saturday, please remind me!

Kitchen storage

Yesterday we celebrated midwinter Christmas. A collection of all kinds of comfort food and punch filled our table, accompanied by Bing Crosby Christmas songs. Hannah brought up the idea of everyone sharing why they’re grateful for the other people in our family, and also for themselves. Elliott declined to comment.

The hardest part of course is to be grateful to yourself for something. In any case, I said that I was grateful for having built the home we live in now, and for having all this time with the family.

I noticed that children need to be told once in a while that you are grateful for them being around and that you will always be there for them. This may seem obvious to an adult, but kids need to hear it and it calms them down. I realized that to them at times their world seems like a big, wide, wild ocean. I, as a parent, am their rock and anchor point. Besides, being cherished makes you feel good at any stage in your life.

Our bus I certainly cherish, for all its crannies and spaces it provides for us. Here is a record of some final features of our home that hadn’t made it into previous posts yet.

 

Lounge lamp

This was the very first thing we got for the bus, even before we had the bus: A metal casing of some rotting electric switchboard from the farm – restored as a lampshade.

Open shelves

Thanks, Nina and Martin from Hamburg for this cute picture.

Compass

True north – Heidi and Arne gave us this compass upon our departure from Hamburg

Even in calm waters

Rimu boards finish on the ceiling edge. “Even in calm waters waves will rise.”

Sofa

Sofa – folds up against the wall if more playing or yoga space is needed

Dining

Seating and eating. The table is made out of two old bedheads and some original bus pole, and lifts off for driving.

Lounge

Play area

Play area. Frame folds down into table.

Null and Thomas

Null, the dog and Thomas, the sock.

Open ceiling shelf

Kitchen storage

Bottled storage in kitchen.

Kitchen and hallway

Kitchen and hallway

Otis' bed

Otis’ bed

Elliott's bed

Elliott’s bed

Bunk beds

Bunk beds with ladder

Hallway

Vancouver Island art in hallway

Bunks

Bunks

Cupboards and strings

My grandfather’s Waldzither. He’d be happy to see its continued use.

Hallway

Hallway and back

Open kitchen shelf

Open kitchen shelf

Kitchen and bunks

Kitchen and bunks

Kitchen and back

Our kitchen and the back

There were all sorts of things I was looking forward to about living and travelling in a bus. Meeting new people in unexpected situations – inviting strangers in for a coffee, going to Playcentre in a town I don’t know, or being offered food just because we are there to receive it. I dreamed of stumbling on amazing hidden corners of New Zealand, seeing the sun come up and go down, walking more and talking more. Of watching the children as they live outside, becoming engrossed in that incredibly rich play where piles of plastic toys have no place. Taking the opportunity in these precious pre-school, pre-desk years to spend the majority of the learning day discovering the natural world – this is what excited me. This is what I knew I would enjoy.

Driving to ManapouriWhat has taken me by surprise, though, is how much I enjoy the actual driving. Sitting in that seat, with my home in tow and a panorama stretched out in front of me; the rumble of the motor, and the soft press and release of a good gear change. Driving empties my mind and gives me space.

IMG_6057IMG_6041Steering Liberty inland today, leaving the edge of the world behind us, the sun decided to join us on the drive. It made the entire trip to Manapouri breathlessly beautiful. We arrived at the sweetest campsite, Possum Lodge, and eyes shining, stumbled down the bank to the water. After the hum and rumble of the bus, the silence of the lake was otherworldly. I’d been really empty this morning, but after a day driving Liberty through an ever-changing painting I was filled to bursting. And being greeted by this wiped away any residual gray-week feelings.

Lake Manapouri IMG_4722

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