Thursday, 20 June 2019

Inspirational Beings & Kindred Spirits

As you might imagine, living this life among the varied, the weird and wonderful, I get inspired a lot, both as a writer and as a human being.  A complete stranger can totally make your day, and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary. But when they turn out to be kindred spirits, well that's just marvellous!  We don't meet many 'people like us' outside of campground or motorhoming life, but the other day we had the pleasure of meeting Guy and Olive Lloyd, the new managers of Gore Motor Camp.  I was interviewing them for Stuff and felt a little bad for not confessing I was staying at a rival campground but I wanted them to see me simply as a writer, not sussing out the competition or clouding their judgement.

This big, beautiful world and its people inspire me every day!

Besides, the sole reason I was there was to raise awareness of their business and who they are.  You see, until Guy and Olive took over in April, the Motor Camp had been managed by someone who wasn't really all that well suited to the hospitality business.  As a result, Gore Motor Camp had hit the news for all the wrong reasons. Having heard of their recent replacement, I knew whoever took over the place would have a big job on their hands trying to give the place and its reputation an overhaul and wanted to help get the word out there that guests would now be assured of a warm welcome.

Guy, the new manager is larger than life in every sense of the word - in the best possible way.  Huge in stature, with an equally huge personality and laugh and an easy smile that spreads across his entire face.  You simply can't help instantly liking him and his petite wife, Olive. They are an open book and what you see is what you get.  So refreshing!  What we didn't realise, as they invited us into their lounge and we all settled into comfy chairs, was that they were just like us - except on a much bigger scale!  Originally from the UK, Guy spent 15 years as a primary school teacher in Indonesia, where he met Olive, also a teacher.  He also previously managed a camp in Iraq in 2006, looking after 250 people.  No wonder he felt more than capable of being able to run the Motor Camp! 

'I've been to 86 - no, 87 countries', he smiled.  'I'd urge everyone to travel.  You learn so much about the world, about life.  Honestly, I'm like a little boy when I go to a new place.  It makes me feel alive again'.  'You should be the one writing the books, not me!' I laughed.  'I've had a lot of amazing adventures, for sure', Guy replied.  'One of the most memorable however was when I had an encounter with a sea turtle whilst scuba diving.  That was a really beautiful experience'.  'We love scuba diving!  We do it a lot in Bali', smiles Olive.  Ah, that explained the big yellow scuba diving tank in the corner of the lounge.  

As we talked, for well over an hour, Gareth and I were in no doubt these were the perfect people to manage the Motor Camp and turn its reputation around.  'Our travel experience really helps in the hospitality industry.  You get so accustomed to communicating with all kinds of people.  We get such a huge cross section here.  You never know who's going to turn up at the reception desk.  We love having a chat and a laugh with people and take each person as we find them.  I'll admit, we do struggle with having a routine now, after living without one for so long.  And the house is too big, we only live in this one room', Guy said, pointing out the bed in the corner.  Gareth and I couldn't believe it.  Here were people just like us!  People who live in a house always laugh at us when we go house sitting and only ever end up living in one room, camped out in the lounge by the fire.  It just feels foreign and unnecessary to us to be floating around in so much space.  'We don't need it', agreed Guy.  'Right here, in this room is everything we own.  It's more than enough for us.  We've got a little plaque outside the back door which has a quote on it by Ghandi.  It says "Live simply, so that others can simply live".  I look at it every day and remember it'.

We could have happily stayed all afternoon in the Lloyd's interesting and jovial company and listen to all their tales from around the world!  But it was time to go and visit our friends who we are house and pet sitting for next week, so they could show us the ropes.  We met Mike and Irene quite by chance one day when we were still in the van.  We got talking and to my complete amazement they were not only originally from Thames, where I used to live years ago, but they actually used to live on the exact same road as I did, when I very first arrived in New Zealand!  I arrived in April and they left in October of the same year.  To our knowledge, we had never crossed paths but knew a lot of the same people.  'We're getting married in a couple of days!  Want to come?' we asked.  They did indeed and ever since we have stayed in touch.

Me with my eldest, Liam. Nothing beats special times with family!

It had been a while since we had a good catch up and the four of us were having a good chinwag around the dining table.  I'd forgotten the reason for the house sit but soon remembered it was Mike's 60th birthday and a huge crowd of them were celebrating it by enjoying a holiday together in Rarotonga.  All the family, their children, grandchildren, friends - I thought it sounded absolutely wonderful.  To be so loved and to have such a huge network of people who loved one another to celebrate with all together and enjoy such a special time. 'Life's too short', Mike said in his usual matter-of-fact way.  'We're losing friends now, at our age! You never know when your time is up. Gotta make the most of it.  I saw a mate just the other week in the supermarket who I hadn't seen for a while.  We got talking and I told him of our holiday plans.  He'd lost a couple of his friends too and by the time we'd finished the conversation he'd decided he would book an overseas holiday for him and his wife next year.  You've got to do these things while you can'.  He's so right.

Life is one big adventure, if you let it be so!

Gareth and I felt truly inspired and full of warm fuzzies after spending the day in the company of these four warm, wonderful people.  As different as chalk and cheese, yet so alike in their outlook and philosophy on life.  We can't take any of it with us when we go, but whether you go to Rarotonga or Rotorua, Bali or Balclutha, we can all experience and love as much of it as we possibly can while we're here. That's what this brilliant thing called life - this amazing gift we are given - is all about.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Meet TravellingK!

Hard to believe we're almost half way through the year already!  A few months back, we were fortunate to have the delightful Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK - as a neighbour for a few days.  At 36, Karen is one of a growing number of young motorhomers who are taking to the road and finding creative and effective ways to support themselves in their chosen lifestyle.  Currently busy planning a trip to the UK, we managed to catch up with her for an interview recently before heading off:

Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK

After two-and-a-half years on the road, you must be an old hand at the lifestyle!  In what ways do you support yourself?

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for over 10 years and have been freelancing since I started caravanning. Sometimes it's just a short contract in an office and sometimes it's online while I travel around New Zealand. I’ve started earning with my TravellingK brand, mainly through Patreon where people who like my YouTube videos can contribute monthly.
I’ve been earning a tiny amount through YouTube ads, selling photos on Shutterstock and selling branded merchandise.

Like us, Karen's home on wheels doubles as an office

Why motorhoming? Was it something you had experience of before?

We stayed in a stationery Kiwi caravan once for a family holiday where I was sick the whole time, but apart from that, I had no previous experience at all. I was saving for a house in Auckland and eventually realised that wasn’t going to happen. I was watching a lot of vanlife and tiny house YouTube videos and started seriously considering this as an option. The more I looked into it, the more a secondhand UK caravan seemed my best solution. It looked like a little apartment on wheels, and had a decent amount of space. I could easily stay at campgrounds or on some land and move around until I found a nice place to base myself. Except I’ve enjoyed travelling so much, I have no plans to stop.

Were you aware of the 'usual' age demographic associated with motorhoming before you started doing it?

I didn’t know a whole lot about the lifestyle before I started. It was just what I saw on YouTube and while wandering around at the Covi Supershow. I was aware that I didn’t know anyone my own age doing this in New Zealand.

Taking in the view at Milford Sound

Do you think there is a stereotype of sorts regarding motorhomers?

Yes, I think there is. It’s generally thought to be the thing you do when you retire or if you are a hippy.

Do you find because of your age that other motorhomers interact with you differently?

Sometimes, yes. I’ve had a few older members assume that I need help because I’m a younger female on my own… but I soon show my competence. There have been a few surprised faces when I first turn up for campground group drinks, but people are welcoming and soon I’m in the thick of things talking about motorhoming issues! I’m currently at a campground with a great community which never happened when I lived in a city. I’m the youngest by far, but made to feel welcomed.

Karen loves chatting with the people she meets, both in person and through her
online following

Do you wish there were more people around your age on the road?

Yes. But I’ve started a Facebook group called ‘Young RVing Kiwis’ and the numbers are growing. A lot of people are either weekend warriors or are strongly considering this lifestyle themselves. I know there is a lot of interest and as house prices increase and make it harder for people to get onto the property ladder, more will start this lifestyle.  There is a movement in America where it’s becoming more common for people my age to have a home on wheels and I’m hopefully more in New Zealand will decide to join. There is a great group of Americans sharing their permanent RVing experience on social media.

How do your family and friends view your choice to live in a) a caravan and b) a life on the move?

Most of my friends and family weren’t surprised at my choice to live in a caravan and thought it suited me better than a mortgage in Auckland. I’ve done quite a lot of overseas travelling and have lived in London and Melbourne. I think they could more easily imagine me in a caravan than with a mortgage in Auckland. My father was imagining a run down caravan that would devalue quickly like a car. He also wasn’t keen on it sitting in his driveway. But once he actually saw the caravan, he’s changed his mind and is proud of what I’m sharing on YouTube.

As for living my life on the move, I was working, saving and travelling solidly for eight years to places like Europe, Russia, India, Iran and South America, so the idea of travelling around NZ in a caravan was actually a little tamer. My parents were wanting me to settle down and buying some land or a property instead of travelling overseas and I’m not ruling that out… I just need to figure out where!

Wherever she goes, Karen has a window on the world

Would you encourage others to take up the lifestyle?

Yes.  So many New Zealanders haven’t even seen their own country. There’s still plenty for me to explore, but I feel like I know the different parts of our country now. I enjoy being at a great location and experiencing the different light and weather throughout the day from the comfort of home. It’s also a good idea if you want to lower your costs and try a new business or finally have the time to write that book.  

I’m now more aware of my water and power usage and how much stuff I actually need. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the need for a large house after living in my small caravan. A caravan is a comfortable home and is affordable. It gives me a lot of flexibility with my location and is perfect for slow travel.

Can she fix it?  Yes, she can!

What do you like best about the lifestyle?

Always doing something new and learning new skills. I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt about maintaining the caravan and giving it a go when something breaks.

Seeing our beautiful country and being more aware of my surrounds. I find when you’re in a house, you don’t experience sunrises and sunsets as much as when you’re in a caravan out in nature. You just close the curtains and turn on the TV. I find when I am living in one place, I stop noticing my surroundings, but moving locations all the time makes me more aware.

Meeting different people and the sense of community. Before this, I always lived in a city. There are some campgrounds that have a great sense of community. This current campground, people keep an eye on things and I comfortably leave my windows open. I’ve met so many different people as well, that I would not have talked to while living in a city.

Freedom to develop a business. Because my expenses have dropped, I’m able to work part-time and have the time to focus on my ‘passion project’ – TravellingK. I don’t think I would have progressed this far if I was still living in Auckland.

Where to go, what to do?  Decisions, decisions!

Are there any downsides to living this way?

I’m not a huge fan of my combination toilet / shower. The shower just isn’t the same as a house shower. And emptying the toilet is a new chore that I’d happily avoid!  I’ve also learnt that if something breaking in the caravan, it’s not always easy to fix because the parts come from the UK.

I was travelling intensely for a while and that can become tiring. The continuous decision making with finding shops and facilities in your area. But the great thing is, you have control and can decide when to stay in one place for a while.

Sometimes I’ll suddenly want a garden or wish I had a large work area with a sewing machine or an arts and craft cupboard. With a caravan, you’re always aware of the weight limit and lack of space which can be restrictive with some hobbies.

Do you have a best and worst campground which stand out from all your travels?

The best have either been the most welcoming community or the most scenic location:

Gore A&P Showgrounds with its sense of community, very relaxed atmosphere and easy facilities.

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp. I’ve already stayed twice and sure to be back. It’s a huge campground outside of Wanaka. The best views out onto the water, an easy drive into town but plenty of impressive hikes and views nearby.

And a couple of POPs (Park Over Properties) that I might keep to myself!

My two worst are both in larger towns with semi-permanent RVers.

Beach Road Holiday Park just outside on Invercargill. There were a lot of run down vehicles that had obviously been there a while and it didn’t have a friendly feel.

Also Beach Grove Holiday Park in Tauranga. Lots of permanent caravans, also with a run down feel. I felt trapped in my caravan.

Can you imagine going back to a house?

Maybe more of a tiny house rather than a traditional house. I daydream about having a little cabin next to my caravan with an amazing bathroom / laundry and an office with a bit of storage space.

It's a wonderful life

Do you have a favourite tip you've learned in your time on the road?

If something goes wrong, you can deal with it. I think I’ve personally become more self-confident.  And that we live in a beautiful country.

What advice would you give to others considering making the switch to a mobile life?

Do it. Don’t overthink it.

To follow Karen's adventures, check out her regular blog posts and videos at:

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Marjorie Jean - A Proper Introduction

As I sit here this morning, in what is fast taking shape as our new office, it's still a wonderful novelty to be sitting on a proper chair, on a proper table, looking out of the window at the sunshine.  Minnie is also content, sleeping on the cool vinyl floor.  She loves having so much room and even has a whole couch to herself to sleep on at night!  Although we have to make it into a sort of playpen for her as she's not used to having so much room and has rolled off a few times in the middle of the night.  Gives us a heck of a fright, I can tell you!  But I'm rambling as usual, let's go back to the beginning.  I can't believe it, but I haven't even told you the full story behind Marjorie Jean!

Our wee Marjorie Jean, out in the sunshine

My last operation (no point sugar coating it, was a hysterectomy) was a success, although it turned out to be a much bigger deal recovery wise than I thought it was.  As someone who was back on the farm feeding calves 10 days after my youngest was born by caesarean, I envisaged a similar scenario this time around.  Boy was I wrong!  Going back to the van was terrifying, I didn't think I was ready, or would ever be.  Whereas poor Gareth couldn't wait to get back to the van, I never wanted to leave the motel and cried a LOT.  How would we possibly cope in such a tiny space?  I really don't know how my long suffering hubby managed to get through the first week post surgery without throttling me, but as it turned out, we coped amazingly well.  It didn't take long to settle back in and it was a brilliant feeling to be able to get through something so major in our beloved van.  I felt as though if we could make it through that, we could handle anything.  So it came as a major fright to discover that once the pain from surgery had subsided, there was still something very wrong.  To say I wasn't in a good head space during that time would be the understatement of the century.  It took numerous visits to the doctors with no success until three of them put their heads together and diagnosed me with something called pudendal neuralgia.  A flash term for what basically means quite literally, a pain in the bum!  As soon as they passed me the literature I knew they had hit the nail on the head.  'That's it!  That's me!'  At last we had the final piece of the puzzle.  However the more I learned about the condition, the more I realised that we were now in a right old predicament.

Pudendal neuralgia is a condition which is most commonly suffered by cyclists, in particular spin cyclists, as they are sitting in the same position for long periods of time.  Just like I had been doing all these months in the van, because let's face it, it's all I could do.  As a writer I sat to work and because it was impossible to stand up in the van, I also did everything else from cooking to brushing my teeth in a sitting position.  And therein lay the problem.  Sitting is the worst thing you can do for pudendal neuralgia.  The more you do it, the more you aggravate it.  To my horror, I realised that all the while we continued living in the van, I wasn't going to get better.  Excuse the pun, but this really was a bummer.  I mean, we loved our van!  It was perfect for us, it was home and despite copping heaps of flack over the past two years from fellow motorhomers saying 'You'll be wanting something bigger soon, won't you?'  and failing to see how we could possibly be happy living full time in such a small vehicle, we really were ridiculously happy.  If we had had the choice, we would have continued just as we were, for as long as we could.

But now that choice was being taken away from us.  Gareth, in typical laid back style took it all in his stride.  'We'll look for something bigger then', he shrugged, and that was that.  We didn't know exactly what we wanted but were leaning towards a caravan, maybe a retro one?  Whatever it was, we wanted something with plenty of character, yet was still enough of a blank canvas that we could make our own.  The only other condition was that while we were now on the lookout for a new home, we wouldn't look too hard.  The right one would come to us, just as Batty and Ken had.  We didn't know how long it would take for that to happen, but we would wait as long as it took.

The very next evening, our friend Margaret called out as she was walking past.  'There's a caravan for sale just around the corner', she said.  'Go and have a look, it could be just what you're after!'  With a budget as tiny as ours, I very much doubted we would be able to afford it.  But after more than 22 years on the road Margaret knew her stuff, so instead of procrastinating like usual, we forced ourselves to go for a stroll and have a look.  Margaret was right, the dear little 1970's green and white caravan was exactly what we were after - and to my amazement and delight, the price was right in our bracket too!  As we peered through the window we saw that with the exception of a double bed and two couches, the interior was also just waiting for someone like us to transform it into a cosy home.  We knew we had no time to waste, so texted the owner and he arranged to meet us the next day.  As Steven, the owner gave us a tour, with his young daughter looking on, we could see how very well loved and looked after this little caravan was.  The family of five had enjoyed many summer holidays and getaways in it together, before recently upsizing to a larger, newer model to accommodate the now teenage children.  Even the original ownership papers had been kept in pristine condition, showing its very first registration in 1975.

We keep Marjorie's original papers in a little frame on the wall!

'We love it!', we told Steven.  'I knew they would!' grinned his daughter.  There was just one thing stopping us from snapping it up right on the spot.  We needed to sell Batty, our first van, before we could afford the caravan.  Luckily for us, a long weekend was just beginning and Steven and his family were going away for a few days in their new caravan.  Even so, the pressure was still on, Steven had already had other enquiries from people wanting to come and view.  While Gareth was unphased, I was panicking.  There was no way we would be able to find a buyer for Batty in just a few days!  But just as had happened for us with the caravan, everything just fell in to place, right when we needed it to.  A chap from Invercargill had been looking for a van exactly like Batty for some time, and having spotted our For Sale notice on Facebook, came and picked it up just like that.  I couldn't believe everything had happened so easily.  After so many months of disasters and dramas, I had almost stopped believing that good things happened to us any more!  But despite me still panicking and anticipating all kinds of last minute problems, everything went through without a hitch and just six days after we first saw her, Steven delivered Marjorie Jean to her new spot in our campground.

We could hardly believe Marjorie Jean was ours!

As if upsizing to a caravan wasn't enough, we also have a huge awning which is almost as big again as the caravan and divides into two rooms!

It probably sounds funny but I felt dreadfully guilty to be moving out of Ken.  After all, he wasn't just a car, he had been our home and everything we had in the world for so long.  Living in Ken had been wonderful, it wasn't his fault that we had to leave.  It's just as well everything happened so fast, as I would no doubt have found the whole moving out experience to have been far more difficult and emotional.  As it was, we had only a few hours between periods of heavy rain to transfer everything out of Ken into our new home.  Being in Marjorie Jean felt right straight away.  As I busied myself with playing house and finding the perfect place for everything, I had to chuckle when Gareth gently chided me.  'Just because we have more room now, doesn't mean we have to go and fill it with a load more stuff', he reminded me.  'Look around at all this already!'  'What do you mean?  I haven't bought any more stuff!  All this was in the van!  It's just we couldn't see it before', I laughed, looking around at our tiny array of ornaments; the bride and groom from our wedding cake, a seashell from Whangamata beach and the little jade Buddha my mum had brought me back from Asia.

Admittedly I did end up treating myself to one small folly the very next day.  I spent a whole $4 at The Warehouse on a battery operated light up cactus.  I figured everyone needs one of those.  At least, everyone needs to remember the words on it.

A little reminder, just in case we ever forget!

We lost count of new joys and differences we noticed in the caravan that day.  For starters, it was quite a sight to see Gareth get out of bed, STAND up and WALK over to the fridge to get a drink.  For the past two years all he had been able to do was roll over and perch on the edge of the bed!  Although we didn't even have a kitchen yet, it was an immediate joy to sit at the table to cook and to eat together.  When we were in the van, we could only sit facing one another at meal times when the weather was nice enough to sit outside.  When it wasn't, one of us had to sit at the back of the van on one end of the bed, while the other perched on the other end with their back to them, preparing the evening meal.  Much as we loved Ken, we quickly began to wonder, how in heaven's name had we managed to live that way for so long?!

We still love you Ken!  Even if you do smell...

Talking of Ken, I never realised how God awful he smelled all the while we had been living in him.  Upon leaving the caravan the next day to drive Ken into town, I opened the door and was immediately hit with the stench of 1000 dinners.  That, and the indescribable scent of an unwashed couple and a dog, who had occupied it almost constantly for the last 700 odd days.  Thank goodness we had never had room for visitors in there!  So many new things to delight in that almost anyone else would take for granted.  I will think of more as we go along; even now, weeks later I still smile at the simple act of turning the key in the lock and quietly opening and closing the little hinge door, rather than cringe at the earth shattering SCREEEEK Ken would make whenever we used the sliding door.  At least now we're up to date on how Marjorie came about and how we found her.  We adore our little home and have been busy bees renovating the inside so that she has the kitchen and office that we so desperately need.  I can't wait to show you some of our finds!  Gareth has been doing an awesome job of transforming objects and giving them a new purpose and lease of life.  To be honest, after such a dreadful few months, I think our Marjorie Jean has given us a new lease of life too!

Our adorable new home, with its super quiet door!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Silver Spoons

I may not be able to travel too far myself right now, but it's given me the ideal opportunity to tell you about some of the wonderful people we have met on the road.  Today's blog is well overdue!  We met Tony Hamilton back at the start of the year.  He and his wife, Beth parked next to us for several days in their adorable gypsy style house truck.  Every morning, Tony would unload boxes and boxes onto a large table and would spend most of the day working with various pieces of machinery.  I didn't like to be too nosey, he was obviously busy but one of the boxes looked as though they contained spoons.  I couldn't imagine why anyone would want so many spoons, let alone living in a mobile home but I figured there must be a good reason!

When is a spoon not a spoon?  When it's in the hands of Tony Hamilton!

The following day we got talking, as we campers do, and after the usual sort of chat he said 'Ah well, I'd better get back to work.  I've got some bracelets to make'.  Instantly my curiosity was piqued.  'Bracelets? Ooh lovely!' I said.  'Come and have a look if you like', he said, leading me over to the table.  And I learned what the spoons were for.  Pretty much anything except to eat with!  Where most people see cutlery as something purely plain and functional, Tony sees countless opportunities to turn them into something precious and beautiful.

As Tony set about his work, he was kind enough to let Gareth and I watch.  Born in Christchurch and raised in Upper Hutt, he and Beth have been living on the road for 16 years.  Before then, the couple were mortgage free with no kids.  For some that may sound the perfect scenario, but Tony hated his job.  'Why were we slogging our guts out full time, for only three weeks off a year?  We knew it was time to change'.  That change came when they purchased their first house truck, back in 1995.  'It came up on Trade Me and we bought it unseen, apart from a mechanic check', Tony says of their leap of faith.  'We knew who built it and it was his third build, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting'.

'The best advice we were given was that the first year would be the hardest, and it was', Tony said, remembering when they first started out.  'When your dream becomes a reality, you lose the dream.  You need some sort of plan, or every beach starts to look the same'.  Fortunately Beth and Tony had no shortage of skills between them and were soon able to find plenty of work to keep them busy and support their new lifestyle.

Silver cutlery makes ornate and surprisingly effective windchimes!

One of Tony's delightfully unique oil burners

Even the coat hooks have character!

Tony's first foray into silverware art and crafts was in 2004.  'I made six windchimes', he smiled at the memory.  'I took them along to markets but wasn't having much luck selling them, so I made more while I was sitting there to pass the time.  I ended up with 74!'  From there he started making oil burners, coat hooks, cell phone stands - you wouldn't believe what this guy can make out of silver spoons!  And then there is the jewellery.  It turns out that spoons really do make beautiful bracelets!  I loved looking at the huge array and began to see the ornate knives, forks and spoons I remembered as a little girl in a completely different way.  How I wish I had kept them!  They don't make them like that any more, I frowned, thinking of the bland, mass produced stuff from Kmart or The Warehouse we all tend to eat with these days.

Just some of the huge array of hand made rings

They don't make cutlery like this any more!  

'No two pieces of anything I make are the same', Tony told me.  'I come up with new ideas all the time.  You get to know what people want'.  Honestly, you have no idea how gorgeous jewellery made from cutlery can be, you have to see it to believe it.  But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense; after all, it is silver!  While we were talking, a lady came along to pick up a ring which had caught her eye and Tony was adjusting to fit her.  I asked to see more of the rings and was instantly charmed by an adorable ring made from a fork and shaped to look like a tiny elephant.  I'd never seen anything like it!  Needless to say, it was on my finger that afternoon and I haven't taken it off since.

Tony can make anything from pendants to bangles and rings to earrings

Every piece Tony makes undergoes a painstaking and careful process to restore the silver to its former beauty

'Do you do online orders, or have a website?' I asked.  'Nope, we only sell in person or at markets.  Summer is an incredibly busy time for us, travelling around the market circuit.  You get to know where people go on holiday and which are the best ones to go to'.  Indeed, that was how Beth and Tony came to be parked next to us, in preparation for one of Gore's biggest events of the year, the annual A & P Show.  In addition to Tony's amazing silverware skills, Beth also makes a staggering range of beautiful dreamcatchers.  What struck me most about this lovely couple however, was how incredibly content they are.  And how could they not be?  What nicer way is there to live than travelling around this wonderful country of ours, making beautiful things and bringing happiness to others?   It was a pleasure getting to know this lovely couple.  Hopefully one of these days our paths will cross again!

Look out for Beth's bright and beautiful dreamcatchers at a market near you!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Parsley Day at Lake Monowai

Now we're back home and on the way to recovery, I need to back up the van a few weeks so I can tell you all about a lovely day out we recently had!  September 8th is Parsley Day, which is our affectionate term for the day Gareth and I met.  We wanted to do something nice, and the weather looked promising so we decided to pay a visit to Lake Monowai.  This beautiful place marks the gateway to Fiordland, coming from the Southern end but is more off the beaten track than its touristy counterparts, Te Anau and Manapouri.  

Am thoroughly enjoying being a passenger!

For new driver Gareth, it was going to be a great chance for him to experience a wide variety of roads and conditions, the first of which was fog.  Fortunately it wasn't long before the sun decided to make an appearance, by which time we were well on our way.  The only downside to Lake Monowai is that dogs aren't allowed there, so we softened the blow for poor Minnie by first taking her to one of her favourite places, Fraser's Beach at Manapouri.  I have to say, it's one of my favourite places too and Gareth always has quite a job trying to prise both Minnie and I away from there!

Minnie in her happy place

But there were new places to explore today and so we enjoyed a spot of lunch and then continued on.  For me, being a passenger is still quite a novelty and I really enjoyed looking at everything with fresh, new eyes along the way.  There had been a heavy snowfall the night before and there was plenty of snow on the mountains.  Eventually we turned off to Lake Monowai and proceeded along the next six kilometres of gravel road.  The further we went along, the more it felt as though we were really out in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing around for miles!  But at last we arrived and I was surprised to see not the usual tourists, but half a dozen boat trailers parked at the ramp.  Years before now, this had been a common sight for me in the North Island and I would have been in a boat just like them.  It made me realise how much my life had changed and how many more lakes I see these days, just for fun, to simply enjoy their beauty.  

The long, gravel road to Lake Monowai

There is heaps to do at Lake Monowai and indeed the whole Borland area.  You can explore it by boat, kayak, mountain bike or on foot.  The Borland Road provides access to trampers, hunters, mountain bikers and other recreational users of Fiordland National Park, passing through beech forest to the Borland Saddle and further on to the Grebe Valley and Lake Manapouri.  If you enjoy hiking, you're spoilt for choice, with options to suit everyone, from a 30 minute stroll to a full day tramp.  There are also plenty of places to camp, courtesy of several Department of Conservation huts, or the freedom camp at Lake Monowai itself.  On this day it was quiet but we have it on good authority from others who have stayed there that tourists are packed in like sardines in the summer!  While there are toilets there, making it suitable for both self contained and non-self contained vehicles, there is no water available for miles, so if planning to stay, make sure you've got plenty on board.

The Lake Monowai forest walk is so soft and fluffy!

You'll probably want to spend more than 30 minutes here!

While I would have loved to do the six-hour hike to Green Lake, my body was far from up to anything of the sort!  Besides, we had Minnie with us, so we had to keep the schedule simple and content ourselves with the 30 minute nature walk to the Lake Monowai lookout.  This gorgeous and well maintained track starts at the main carpark and while I had been looking forward to it, it was even better than we both expected.  You may remember me mentioning Lake Gunn before now.  It's one of our favourite places on the road to Milford Sound.  The forest walk at Lake Monowai put us very much in mind of that incredible place.  The bonus to Monowai however, is that you don't have to drive for hours on the Milford Road, crawling along like ants and shuffling for space among thousands of tourists.  Here, you get to enjoy all the amazing otherworld-liness the easy way!  Both Gareth and I were enchanted with the fairy-like forest, all soft spongy moss and winding trees and grottos and consequently spent closer to two hours there, rather than the estimated 30 minutes!

A peek at Lake Monowai from the boat ramp

No amount of photography can do this place justice!

Gareth doing his best to get close to the action!

Lake Monowai looks beautiful enough from the carpark and we were impressed enough with the view simply standing on the bridge next to the boat ramp.  However nothing could have prepared us for the view from the lookout.  You know that feeling when you just know that you're going to see something spectacular, but when you get there, you couldn't possibly have imagined just how much?  That.  As we emerged through the trees and on to the lakefront, we were both just gobsmacked.  Talk about ethereal.  Everything was completely silent, except for the gentle trickle of the water.  We climbed onto the rocks and just stood and looked at it for ages.  You can never see enough of a view like that.  Every time we do something like this, it makes me so very glad I changed my life!  You just can't put a price on this stuff.   Once upon a time the giant moa used to inhabit this very forest, and you can just imagine it looking around.  Indeed the area is rich in cultural history and was very important to the indigenous Māori, who frequented it on food gathering expeditions, hunting the poor old moa and kakapo and fishing for eels. Lake Monowai itself also powers one of the South Island's oldest hydroelectric stations, which opened in 1925.  We went to take a look before returning back to the car, stopping every now and then to chat to the friendly anglers returning back from a day's trout fishing in the sunshine.  

The hydro station is one of the country's oldest

By the time we got home it was well after dark.  We were both beyond wanting to cook dinner - besides, it was Parsley Day!  But there wasn't much open at that time of night, especially for a couple of picky vegans!  Fortunately we found a fish and chip shop still open.  '$10 chips?  Are you sure that's all you want?' the owner said at the other end of the phone.  'Yes, that's right!' I replied.  It was all we could have from the menu, and besides we were starving!  Years ago, $10 chips would have fed a kids' rugby team and $2 chips would have bought you a feast, but not any more.  We knew we were going to need more than a dozen fries each!  What we didn't know was that this takeaway was a family business, ran by people who knew what $10 chips used to look like.  As I handed over my $10 I was presented with two enormous paper wrapped parcels, enough to feed an army!  We didn't have a hope of being able to eat even half of them, and Gareth enjoyed another three feeds out of them over the next couple of days!  It made us smile to see such good old fashioned value.  All in all, it was a wonderful day.  I'm not sure how different Lake Monowai may be in the height of summer, but I have no desire to find out.  As far as we're concerned, it's perfect right now, just as it is.

We had a wonderful Parsley Day!

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Last Hurrah

Firstly, thank you so much once again for your kind messages and words of support.  I am one lucky lady to have so many wonderful caring friends, even though I have never met many of you!  And I apologise that so many of my posts have been health related lately on what is supposed to be a travel blog.  But we are real people, still living a real life.  Packing up one lifestyle and exchanging it for another, albeit simpler one doesn't stop things from happening or prevent fate from stepping in every now and then.  Anyone who lives on the road will tell you it's not perfect all the time.  But I reckon it's pretty bloody close.  Even with all its challenges, we live a truly blessed life.

Looking quite chuffed to be driving this beasty!

And one of the most brilliant things about living a mobile life is that even when the chips are down, you don't have to stop the adventures.  As long as you can still drive, or have someone to drive you, there is still no end to the exciting new places and beautiful views you can still visit and appreciate.  It doesn't matter if you have to stop and have a rest or a snooze if you feel a bit pooped, even for several days, when you have your whole house with you!  So when I got the chance recently to take a beautiful big motorhome for a whole day out, courtesy of our friend Murray at Southern Campers, I jumped at the opportunity.  My mission was simple, yet very enjoyable.  All I had to do was drive us around as much beautiful scenery as I could manage in a day, while Gareth concentrated on getting as much glorious footage as possible to make Murray some promotional videos.  That much I could do!  Even if it meant strapping my ever-present hot water bottle in tightly under my seatbelt with the rest of me.  It worked a treat and we set off excitedly.  

Our route was all planned out.  We would head off along the Southern Scenic Route, and explore Western Southland, ticking off several as yet unseen destinations along the way, then make our way up to one of our favourite parts of the country, Fiordland!  Western Southland is host to some of the most popular and well known freedom camping spots in the south and I couldn't wait to check them out.  All these months we had farewelled many a traveller off to the likes of Cosy Nook, Colac Bay and Monkey Island and at last it was our turn to follow in their footsteps.  

We travelled in style all across Western Southland

The road to Invercargill was characteristically grey as we set out, but the weather promised to improve and by the time we reached Riverton, known as the 'Riviera of the South', the sun was poking out from behind the clouds.  For me, driving a vehicle of this size was a big thing and it felt great to be finally facing one of my fears.  I had never driven anything bigger than Ken, and at 3.3 metres high and over 7 metres long, this four-berth motorhome was a heck of a lot bigger!  My newfound height was one of the first important things I was to become aware of when I casually went to park outside the local petrol station to get some supplies.  'Trees!'  Gareth made me almost jump out of my skin, mercifully in the nick of time!  Crikey, I wasn't used to having to worry about things like tree branches sticking out, or whether I could fit my vehicle underneath them!  After that I was incredibly mindful of every single twig that threatened to invade my precious aura.  And as a complete newbie at driving such a large vehicle, I could see at last why it is that motorhomers often don't pull over; even when they have queues of angry drivers behind them, who have been following them for miles.  You're so conscious of how much room you take up on the road and so busy making sure you're not too far over to the left, or to the right and that you're not going to hit anything sticking out of the roadside, you can become completely oblivious of the poor souls behind you, desperately wishing you would move over!  But once I realised I became more mindful of it, and determined not to be one of 'those' motorhomers, did my best to pull over and let others pass, earning myself many grateful beeps and waves as a result.  Not that I was going slow mind, as it turns out, motorhomes of this size are surprisingly grunty and I had no problem maintaining the speed limit!  

Colac Bay.  Sort of.

Driving a motorhome really is just like driving a car and I was chuffed to bits with myself for taking to it like a duck to water.  At least when it came to driving forwards!  However I was soon thrown when I steered us expertly down the first road to Colac Bay and discovered too late that the road was closed.  I had no choice but to try out my first three-point turn, on an incredibly narrow road, with the tide fully in just a few feet behind me!  Fortunately, with the help of Gareth yelling instructions behind me and my reversing camera, we were soon on our way again, but there were several more times in the course of the day where we both agreed a co-driver was incredibly helpful, and for the first time I could see why so many motorhoming couples often joke about bickering when it comes to parking and other manoeuvres!

With the tide being so far in, our ideas of a leisurely stroll along the renowned surf beach were quashed.  Sadly it was the same when we went to turn off to Cosy Nook.  Again the road was closed and I was sad to be unable to visit the adorable little settlement I had heard so much about.  Our run of luck continued when we arrived at Gemstone Beach.  As the name suggests, this beach is really quite stunning and semi-precious gems such as quartz, jasper, garnet and nephrite are commonly found when walking along the sand  But once again the tide was against us and the only thing we were going to get from our visit was wet feet.  Still, it didn't really worry us.  We just made a note to go back and enjoy them all again another time - and this time we would check the tides first!

I love the Southland landscape!

Besides, we still had plenty more places to visit, and the stunning landscape which was accompanying us the whole way was only reigniting our love for Southland even more.  There really is nothing like the mountains of the Deep South, at least not to us.  The absolute freaking hugeness of them is just mindblowing and it just makes me so glad to be in this beautiful part of the world.  Sometimes they're dark and brooding, other times warm and welcoming.  But on any given day they're spectacular and before long we could my favourite kind of mountains of all - snowy ones!

Nothing makes me smile like the sight of snow!

Before long we had reached our next stop, Monkey Island. To date I had heard only two things about the place; one that it was full to capacity with cars, vans and motorhomes of every description, every night during the tourist season.  Two, that it is incredibly windy and exposed all year round!  While I had no desire to stay there for both reasons, I was keen to check out this freedom camping Mecca.  As I parked the motorhome at the edge of the beach and looked out at the little island a short way out to sea, I could definitely see the appeal.  The beach was stunning and for once it wasn't even that windy!  Monkey Island got its name from the fact you can climb up it, which a lot of people do, just like monkeys.  There is even a staircase leading up to the top, which is accessible at low tide, however once again we had timed it wrong.  It really didn't matter though, the view in itself was enough, with the ocean in the foreground and the snowy mountains behind.  We were pretty much the only monkeys there too, and it was awesome to see this gorgeous spot at this time of year in all its glory, before the hordes would soon descend for the summer months.

Winter is the perfect time to visit Monkey Island!

Sea and snow in the same view?  Where else but Southland!

Monkey Island.  If you look closely you can see the steps up to the top

As we pulled back out onto the main road, Gareth wound down the window.  'Ugh, silage!' he said as he sniffed the air.  'Where else but Southland do you get sea, snow AND silage!' I laughed.  A short distance down the road I pulled in at the Clifden Suspension Bridge.  This historic structure was built in 1899 and given my fear of both heights and suspension bridges I didn't plan to set foot on it!  However I was pleasantly surprised at the workmanship of this old relic and we took a pleasant stroll both on the bridge and around the reserve.  Definitely worth the stop!  

Minnie and me on the Clifden Bridge.  She had a great day out too!

We were getting some serious kilometres under our belt now and I was enjoying the journey immensely.  It felt so good to be out and about!  We laughed and sang as we went along and as we made our way to Fiordland and more and more motorhomes and campervans began to appear, we were surprised to see how many tourists were already about for the time of year.  I was even more surprised when another rental motorhome drove towards us, with two young girls sitting in the front.  'They're giving me the finger!' I said to Gareth, shocked.  'Oh hang on, no they're not, they're waving!' I laughed, waving back enthusiastically in the nick of time.  The next motorhome waved at us too, and the next.  'They think we're overseas tourists, like them!' we giggled.  From then on I waved at every motorhome and campervan we encountered.  But you know what?  Of all the travellers we waved at, not one NZMCA member waved back.  Come on Kiwis, lift your game!

Fraser's Beach, Lake Manapouri

Lake Manapouri, Fiordland

A visit to Fiordland wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of my favourite places, Lake Manapouri.  Time was getting on now but we managed to fit in a walk at Fraser's Beach before we moved on to Te Anau.  We'd never been to Te Anau out of peak season and it was lovely to see the little town so quiet.  By now I'd become well used to parking my lovely big motorhome and was particularly impressed at how well I had positioned it into a parking space in the Subway carpark.  I even asked Gareth to take a photo, but he refused me bragging rights, pointing out that, with the exception of us, the carpark was in fact completely empty.  

I've got enough memories to last this passenger for quite a while!

From there we headed home, still singing all the way.  It was the best day I'd had in a long time and we so much appreciated Murray's kindness in trusting me with his motorhome!  I guess you could say it was just what the doctor ordered and it made me realise I wasn't quite as useless as I thought I was.  After all, I'd just driven hundreds of kilometres!  What I didn't realise at the time was that would be the last time I was allowed to drive, at least for the foreseeable future.  The very next day I was put on a bunch of pain medication which no longer allows me behind the wheel.  That was something I could never have predicted - but what a last hurrah!