Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Bay of Stuff

After our leisurely few days in 'the village' we thought we had better start making some serious headway if we were going to reach the top of the North Island before Christmas!  So we hightailed it up to the Bay of Islands.  Gareth had never seen most of this part of the country before and I hadn't been there in over 20 years but we both remembered it as being a beautiful and charming part of the country and were keen to go back.  Hopefully it hadn't changed too much.  'Maybe Kerikeri has a bloody great McDonald's now, like Warkworth!' I said jokingly.  Like that would ever happen. As we both remembered it, Kerikeri was a gorgeous, quaint little town with only one main street which was peppered with delightful and quaint local shops.  No chain stores and fast food franchises here, no way!

The best way to travel between Russell and Paihia - ferry!

We arrived at Opua to catch the ferry across to Russell and I was delighted to see it was just as I remembered.  Even the price of crossing the channel hadn't changed too much!  The hardest thing we found throughout the Bay of Islands and indeed a large part of Northland was that the huge majority of places were not dog friendly due to the fact that this was Kiwi territory and those shy little beaky fellas are very much protected.  Fair enough, we totally understood that but it did make finding a place to stay very hard and the places we were able to stay were like military camps.  Whilst I really liked and respected the staunch conservation angle of these places, the facilities and customer service (or should I say lack of on both counts) were not worth the money at all, despite being some of the most expensive places we had stayed in.  I'm not going to 'out' the place we stayed at in Russell as their campground is beautiful and I feel they really do try their best but it really wasn't a warm or comfortable atmosphere here and we were gutted that we had got conned into taking advantage of a discount for staying two nights (which turned out not to be a discount at all as they were the only campground which charged us extra for having a dog - another thing not mentioned in the travel guide!)  Still, we made the best of it and we did stumble across a really beautiful bushwalk at the back of the campsite, which we all enjoyed and wouldn't have missed for the world.  We were just lucky to find it as nobody at the campground told us about it!

Real Kiwi country here!

Russell as a town also hadn't really changed.  It was still pretty and olde world-ey.  But what had changed in the past 20 years beyond belief was me.  No longer did I have any desire to spend hours lounging about in roadside cafes or mindlessly browsing shops full of hideously expensive 'stuff'. Sure, a lot of it was beautiful, but it was just stuff.  Nobody needed it - nobody!  Least of all a pair of nomads in a camper van who had just got rid of most of theirs.  Russell was best suited to wealthy retirees and DINKY's (Dual Income No Kids Yet) and we were neither.  Even the most mundane and everyday things were more expensive.  Our visits to the local Four Square showed that on average items cost around $4 more in Russell than they did everywhere else, which resulted in us eating both little and vegetarian during our time there.

A choppy morning sea at Russell

Another trip back on the ferry and we continued through the Bay of Islands to Paihia and then Waitangi.  They hadn't changed that much either, just more shops, more places to spend money.  Even the beautiful road past Waitangi consisted of a flipping great golf course with the main road running straight through the middle of it! Call us cynical but we found it just a little ironic and more than a bit sad that this place of historical national importance, where the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed between the British and the native Maori of NZ was entirely surrounded by extravagant displays of white man's wealth.  Just goes to show how much my values have changed that I never noticed it before.

Fortunately there was still Kerikeri to go and we both looked forward in anticipation to revisiting this lovely wee town.  Until we realised how much sooner than before it took to get there; this being because it had grown so much it was now coming out to meet us.  And there was the bloody McDonald's I had been joking about!  Along with pretty much every other major chain store you could think of.  The one main road we had fondly remembered was now such a maze of retailers that I actually lost my way a couple of times.  We had planned to stay in Kerikeri overnight but we were both too disheartened and disillusioned to stick around.  Come back Russell, all was forgiven!

There were a couple of good things to come out of our Bay of Islands experience however.  For one thing, it made me realise how far I've come as a person and how my values and perceptions have altered over the years.  I'm not saying any of these places are bad or not beautiful and I apologise if it comes across that way, I'm sure many people love them just the way they are.  They're just not for me and I guess that's because I'm completely comfortable with having no stuff and no longer see or feel the need for it.  Each to their own and now it was time for the other good thing - with the Bay of Islands now done and dusted it was time to venture into uncharted territory for both of us.  The heart of the Far North!

The Company of Strangers

I think most people would describe me as a friendly person.  However as outgoing as I seem, I'm actually quite an introvert.  I can quite happily go without seeing people for days on end; in fact I prefer it.  So one of the things I was most concerned about was meeting new people on the road and having to interact and make conversation with fellow travellers.  The funny thing is, as I was soon to discover, it's actually one of the best things about living on the road.  Everyone has a story to tell and some of the people we have met are already dear to us.  When you live on the road there are no barriers to race, age, nationality, social status; anything.  We're just all out there doing it, appreciating everything we have and every new adventure.  We're all just living.

The chap who gave us the smoked fish has turned out to be one of our favourite people for many reasons, you'll hear more about him in due course but as we were about to move on from Warkworth he told us about a little known place near to where we were thinking of going - but was free, peaceful and had good fishing.  Like many of the best places we have come across since, most people don't even know of its existence, you won't find it in the camping apps or NZMCA guides.  It's word of mouth and local knowledge which leads to the most unforgettable places.

Seeing as we had nothing to lose and no other particular place to go, we thought we might as well check it out.  The scenery along the winding road was beautiful enough but was leading us so far out of the way we were just about to give up and turn around when we reached the end and the view that greeted us was absolutely beautiful.  The water was crystal clear as far as the eye could see, there wasn't a breath of wind (unlike the place we had been thinking of going) and the gorgeous stretch of beach which ran along one side had no one on it.  That smoked fish guy knew what he was talking about!  There were just two other vehicles there, a 1970's Bedford camper van and a 7 metre house bus.  We parked up next to the water's edge and before long were sitting out on the bank enjoying the sunshine, just like they were.

The best things in life are free - like this place!

The couple in the Bedford were fishing and before long Minnie waddled up to see what they were doing.  'What's your dog's name?' the woman asked.  'Minnie!  Like Minnie Mouse!' she beamed when I told her.  To the right of her another woman - the owner of the bus appeared with two tiny dogs.  As happens, we got talking and were amazed to hear she and her husband had been living on the road for almost 40 years, raising a family in the process.  We were treated to a tour of their bus and it was easy to see why they had no need to live any other way.  It was beautiful, comfortable, spacious and cosy and had everything they could possibly need.  Colin and Mara, the other couple had an equally interesting background.  Mara was originally from the Phillipines and whilst they had a house in Manila, they just didn't like living in a house, preferring instead to travel the world and working as needed to support their lifestyle.  They had been living on the road in NZ for five years and had no intention of changing.

The sun goes down on another perfect day

The next morning we had planned to move on but the others (who had already been there for two days) talked us in to staying another night and indeed who was really in a rush to leave such a glorious spot and such enjoyable company?  We would definitely leave the next day.  And we were - until Margaret and Larry from the bus tapped on the window and said 'Morning tea at our place, 10.30!'  We arrived to find Margaret had baked the most amazing scones, which were sitting on the table, still warm, topped with jam and cream.  Who says you have to go without when you live on the road?  Morning tea turned into after lunch and before we knew it three hours had passed and we were all merrily sampling Margaret's prized port.  'We're not going anywhere are we!' Gareth and I looked at each other, laughing.  But it didn't matter, we couldn't have been any happier than we already were, among these wonderful, warm people.

Our little 'village' at sunrise.  Us on the left, Colin and Mara next to us,
Larry and Margaret in the bus and the red wagon on the right belongs
to a group of fishermen who live permanently on their boat.

We agreed that we all really would move on the next morning and we did.  It was sad to leave, as in just three days we had gone from being strangers to being like family but we all had places we needed to be.  Gareth and I needed to continue our mission to reach the top of the country, Larry and Margaret were going to the South Island to visit their son and Colin and Mara were about to embark on six weeks picking cherries and apricots even further south, heavily interspersed with some leisurely salmon fishing.  We all swapped details and have kept in touch ever since - with a bit of luck we hope to catch up with Colin and Mara over the coming weeks and get some salmon fishing lessons!

Our merry band of nomads

We have met so many interesting people in such a short time, from an American refusing to set foot back in his home country until Donald Trump is no longer in power, to a young Japanese medical student called Kaz who has just walked the entire country solo from Bluff to Cape Reinga raising money for arthritis.  We ran into him several times throughout his mission and it was amazing how his journey was mirroring ours exactly, yet we were in a camper and he was on foot!  You can read more about him here if you like.  As you can imagine, a huge number of people we come across are from overseas, just travelling around and passing through our beautiful country for a short time.  It's always interesting hearing where they are from, what they're up to and where they are headed but my favourites by far are the Kiwis who are living just like us.  As Margaret says, when you live on the road you never, ever stop learning - even after 40 years - and we all imparted valuable information to one another to make life a little easier and cheaper and helped each other out in some way.  We will always be grateful to the fisherman who told us about this special, secret place but as it turned out, it wasn't to be the last time we saw him either, not at all!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Price of Freedom

After our relaxing stint at Kuaotunu we were ready to really begin our travels properly and head up north.  No offence Auckland but we already knew you too well and wanted to visit somewhere different, so we settled on a little town called Warkworth, on the Hibiscus Coast.  Well, it used to be a little town when I was last there, 20 years ago.  Not so any more!  It was the first, but sadly not the last time I was disappointed to see a flipping great McDonald's had sprung up on the landscape. However it is still a very nice place but as is the case with many places around the Auckland area, finding a place you can camp with a dog is not easy.  Thank goodness then for Sheepworld!

The downside (and to my mind the only downside) about Sheepworld is the price.  At $50 per night to park up our campervan this was by far the most expensive place we have stayed.  But you can't put a price on happiness, or indeed memories and it was definitely one of my favourite places because despite the price tag, I felt completely free here.  As I have learned pretty quickly, BEING free and FEELING free are two very different things.

When I first began researching living on the road, I thought that we would be freedom camping all the way.  As we progress I still aim for this to be the case but the truth is I need to be at a powered campsite at least half the time in order to be able to work.  My birthday is in four days and I'm picking my present to myself will be an inverter and a spare car battery so that we can run our own power and charge our appliances more independently.  This will enable us to park up where we like and really take advantage of our self contained status, which is the requirement for freedom camping. There's no question it will pay for itself in a matter of days, I'm just too stingy.  And as it turns out, my idea of freedom is not everyone else's idea of freedom.  Take Whangamata's freedom camping spots for example.  Now I'm sorry but most of them are bloody awful!  I know this for a fact because Minnie and I investigated the possibilities extensively for almost three weeks while Gareth was at work. Call me picky, no doubt I am but I have no inkling to camp outside the rugby club on the side of the busy road, or in the supermarket or RSA carpark. Even at the beach reserve there is only room for three vehicles, you can never get a look in and you have to park so close together you can literally tap on each others' windows from your bed.  Not only that but I'm a local.  I know the stuff that goes on at night and the people who frequent these places.  No way am I putting myself, my loved ones and my possessions in such a vulnerable position.

But this blog isn't about Whangamata, it's about Warkworth, or Sheepworld to be exact.  And I absolutely loved the place.  Even though we didn't receive the warmest welcome initially.  According to our NZMCA bible, this place offered a discount to members, so I decided to make the most of it and wield my consumer power.  Unfortunately I didn't quite get the reaction I expected.  'Don't you mention those bastards to me!' the owner suddenly reared up.  'They're responsible for me losing business, them and their lobbying for freedom camping!  You're lucky I don't kick you out!'  So much for getting a discount!  In the end it was Minnie who saved the day.  The gruff campsite owner took one look at her and was instantly reminded of his own spaniel he had lost a few years before.  From then on, he was not putty in our hands, but certainly putty in her paws.

And even though we may not have got off to the most auspicious start, I instantly fell in love with our surroundings as our host showed us around.  He told us that he used to be a boat builder and this was evident in some of the construction and furnishings.  We were literally metres off State Highway 1, the main road running through the country, yet it felt as though we were a hundred miles away.  This was real old, authentic New Zealand.  Thank goodness I had Gareth to act as my human crowbar and prise me out three days later because I just did not want to leave!  Every spare inch of ground was utilised for growing food and every campervan site had its own ensuite.  I cannot emphasise enough how much you appreciate having your own toilet and a hot, FREE shower when you live on the road!

Cooking by moonlight - our adorable rustic kitchen 

Our 'restaurant' by day.  This also proved a most delightful place to work!

But what I loved most was the peace, the wildlife and the kitchen.  The latter was rustic to say the least.  There were actually two kitchens and both of them were equipped with everything you could possibly need; the surroundings were just really basic and you'd want to wash everything first. Saying that, I loved the little touches such as all the little vases of wild flowers and herbs dotted around which were replenished every day.  Being in the kitchen really was like living in a bygone era and one of my favourite memories of our trip I think will always be here.  When we arrived the first night it was fairly late.  We didn't have a huge amount of food but together we cobbled up a stirfry in the tiny kitchen and dined al fresco under the outdoor pergola.  Just the two of us, eating by lamplight, listening to the Inkspots over a plate of jazzed up two-minute noodles.  In all my years of expensive cafes and flashy restaurants, I have to say this was without a doubt the most romantic meal of my life. For this alone the camping fee was worth it.

Another of my favourite memories was waking up to hear jazz music and soft crooning coming from one of the nearby caravans.  This came from the groundsman who lived on the site.  He was the one responsible for planting and tending all the many gardens, from the large bank planted with various varieties of pumpkin to the myriad of potted colour outside his van.  He was also an avid fisherman, although he never ate it himself.  This I discovered to my delight when we got talking and he presented me with a freshly smoked snapper.  He's not the only one who doesn't eat fish, Gareth doesn't either so I had it all to myself!  Over the next few days we enjoyed talking to him many times and he revealed his secret of growing such wonderful produce - fish fertiliser of course!

All good things come to an end and eventually it was time to move on, but this adorable quirky step back in time will always have a special place in my heart.  Was it worth $50 a night?  To many, probably not but to me, for the peace, the surroundings, the characters and the memories, then yes, it was worth every cent.

PS: If you want to see more photos of this adorable place as well as many others, follow us on Instagram @parsleymonious

Say Yes to New Adventures

'Say Yes to New Adventures'.  That's what it says on Batty's keyring.  I don't know about you but I've been living in a bubble for a long time, years.  It happens a lot in a place like Whangamata.  It's beautiful, it's small, it's safe, it's miles from anywhere - and we get stuck in a nice little comfort zone (make that rut) and never get around to leaving it.  Of course your bubble can be anywhere, could just as easily be in the city, it doesn't have to be in a remote location.  What I mean is, it's easy to let life pass us by.  Maybe stress and worry has a lot to do with that.  We're too busy fretting and worrying about everyday life and the people around us to actually break out of our little bubbles and go off on an adventure; even just for one day; just to remind ourselves there's a much bigger world out there. For those of us who are natural worriers, or think that we are too busy and don't have time, sometimes you need a conscious reminder.  So when I saw that keyring on a shop counter shortly after I bought Batty, I snapped it up to remind me to make the most of each day and every opportunity.

So far it seems to be working.  You may remember me saying in the Heron Poo blog about going bush walking in Wentworth Valley.  This was the first time I used my keyring mantra.  There we were in this beautiful setting, surrounded by amazing scenery and as usual, I was procrastinating.  I try and tell myself that I am not a procrastinator, more simply a cruiser; however both Gareth and my mum assure me that I am actually a champion procrastinator.  And as usual I was procrastinating due to a combination of fear, guilt and worry.  Whilst we had not yet ventured far on our travels, there was every chance that we would not visit here again and Gareth had never seen the waterfall.  Now was the perfect opportunity to try out Minnie's playpen.  I should probably explain that for a dog, Minnie is a little old lady.  She has suffered from ill health for years and the vet always says it is a miracle she is even still with us, yet six years after she was first diagnosed with an auto immune condition, here she is travelling the length and breadth of the country with us, happy as you like.

Even so, long walks are totally out for Minnie, a short waddle is all she can manage so unless we can find someone to look after her, things such as long bush walks are pretty much off the cards.  This may well have turned out to be our one and only chance.  Our campsite was quiet, hardly anyone was even there and we were camped in an ideal spot with lots of shady trees and tons of space. Still, I was full of fear.  What if she got out and got lost?  What if some evil person stole her?  It was so quiet someone could snatch her away and nobody would ever see or know.  How could I leave my beloved wee dog alone in a forest campsite whilst I went off gallivanting and doing something for myself?

In the end, Gareth persuaded me that we really did need to try out the playpen and that this was the perfect place to do it.  Maybe we could just go for a little walk and then come back and check on her? Just for half an hour or so?  OK, I agreed, but that was IT.  So we set off and it was lovely.  In fact we were enjoying it so much we just kept going until we reached the waterfall.  But now here was another dilemma.  Now we were here we could simply turn back - or we could climb the steep track down to the bottom of that waterfall and really admire it in all its glory.  It would mean leaving Minnie for even longer.  Could we?  Should we?  I thought of my keyring and the words on it and as before realised that this could be our one and only opportunity.  For all I knew, I could go rushing back to the campground to find Minnie fast asleep and I would have been kicking myself forever more for not simply climbing down to that waterfall when we had the chance.

Bushwalking track in Wentworth Valley

So we did it.  We descended that steep goat track and stood in awe at the bottom of the massive waterfall and we were so glad we did it.  And we returned to the campsite to indeed find Minnie safely still inside, fast asleep in her little bed, quite unperturbed.  She hadn't tried to escape and no one had stolen her.  I had felt the fear and did it anyway!

It's a miracle!  She's safe!  :-D

Guilt is a big factor when it comes to stopping people from doing things.  Nobody wants to feel beholden to anyone else.  We feel bad much too easily.  Why is it, that we think nothing of doing something nice for another person and helping others out, yet we can't bear to have others do the same for us for fear of inconveniencing them?  This was the case recently when Corrina, the manager at Kuaotunu Campground offered to look after Minnie so that we could go and visit New Chum's Beach.  Even if Minnie had been up to the walk (which she most certainly would never have been), like many places on the Peninsula she would not even have been allowed out of the car as it was a wildlife reserve.  Corrina had a delightful old Labrador herself and knew that with Minnie in tow, New Chum's would be somewhere we would never get to see.  I was blown away by her kindness and would have jumped at the chance - if I hadn't felt so guilty.  Minnie was my responsibility, it was our choice to bring her on the road with us.  I didn't expect anyone else to look after her!  

Still, Corrina insisted it wasn't a problem.  In fact as a former spaniel owner herself she would LOVE to have her.  And I realised, she really was offering.  It really wasn't a huge inconvenience for her.  So I did it.  I said thank you very much and we drove to New Chum's Beach and we climbed over rocks and up over bush ridges, far off the beaten track until we were rewarded with the most beautiful, perfect beach we had ever seen.  The fact that the kindness of someone else had helped us to get there made us appreciate it even more and we made sure we walked every inch of the beach from one end to the other so we didn't miss a thing.  When we returned to pick up Minnie more than three hours later, we found her blissfully sitting on the couch with Corrina's daughter, enjoying a belly rub.

New Chum's Beach

Once again we were so glad for the opportunity to be able to go, but what struck Gareth and I more than anything as we drove the many winding roads around Coromandel and admired the scenery with its many beautiful bays and lush forests was that amazing place, this place where Hollywood directors come to film blockbusters, was barely more than a couple of hours away from where we had  both been living for the past six years.  How and why had we never got around to exploring all the incredible places that were literally on our back doorstep all this time?  Apart from the petrol to get there, everything was free!  What the heck had we been doing all these years?  Just working. Working and cleaning and gardening and worrying about when the lawns were going to get mowed; exciting stuff like that.  It was about now that I really began to be grateful for taking the plunge and having the courage to change my life.  

Before leaving Kuaotunu there was just one place I wanted to visit and that was Opito Bay.  Judging by the map it was a little out of the way but only around 20km or so and by now I was becoming used to telling myself to seize the opportunity whilst I had it.  Who knew when we would ever be up this way again?  And I had heard it was beautiful so off we went.  What I had also heard but had somehow forgotten until it was too late was that the road to Opito Bay is also rather challenging.  As in gravel. As in it has blind corners marked with 'EXTREME CAUTION' with a sheer drop over the edge and no fencing.  As in bloody well vertical.  With one lane wide to accomodate traffic coming both ways. I don't mind admitting, I shat myself.  This was hands down the scariest road I had ever driven in my whole life and here I was trying to do it in a bloody great campervan.  

Opito Bay.  I can laugh about it now!

'I love these hills!' Gareth said gleefully as we climbed.  All I can say is he must trust my driving a lot as he was the one on the outside, perilously close to the edge.  He didn't appear to notice that I was so terrified I was literally almost vomiting.  Somehow we arrived there safely and I have to say it really was worth the drive, Opito Bay was stunning.  We had the beach pretty much to ourselves and Minnie had her first swim of the summer in the glistening water.  'I might have a swim too', said Gareth.  'Anything you want to do while we're here?' He was relaxed and happy as Larry, whereas I on the other hand was far too busy being paralysed with fear at the thought of having to drive that same road back again too enjoy myself.  There was only one thing that was going to get me out of there without having a coronary - Robbie Williams.

I have no idea why but I have always loved Robbie Williams' jazz album, 'Swing When You're Winning'.  It always puts me in a good mood and leading up to the move Robbie got me through all manner of mind bogglingly boring tasks such as scrubbing walls and cleaning the top of the fridge. Seeing how petrified I was, the heavy metal loving, jazz loathing Gareth knew better than to object and soon I was happily wending my way back down that horrendous road, relaxed as anything, singing along to likes of Mack the Knife and Mr Bojangles.  We did it, we did it, we did it, YAY!  And as always, I was very glad that I did.  As an added bonus, my nervewracking experience also proved to stand me in good stead as we have travelled our way further up the country.  Every road we have encountered since has been super easy in comparison!   

Which brings me back to the message at the beginning of this blog.  Don't waste too many precious days living in a bubble.  Say yes to new adventures.  Even if you have to get Robbie Williams to help you!

Friday, 9 December 2016

A Relaxing Break with New Chums

After the ghastly heron poo debacle, we were at a bit of a loss what to do.  The original plan was to head up north, to exciting new uncharted territory.  The only thing was, neither of us felt like it just then.  All we really wanted was to simply relax - but where?  I remembered going to a campground years ago at a place called Kuaotunu (pronounced Koo-a-too-noo) which had been lovely.  There had been plenty of space, excellent facilities and was nice and quiet.  But that was heading in totally the wrong direction, we couldn't do that!  Could we?  We decided after much procrastinating that plans could change.  There were after all still places on the Coromandel Peninsula that we had never been and still wanted to explore and had planned to do this upon our return from up north.  However there was nothing wrong with us doing this now instead; in fact, we realised it was actually a better idea as the places we wanted to go would be much quieter now than upon our return, not to mention less dog restrictions too.

Journey along the coast road

So we set off along the Thames Coast.  Round and round the road continued to wind, up and up - until something very strange and unexpected happened to Gareth.  He suddenly transformed into a tourist and started taking photos of everything!  Not that I can blame him, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, had I been in the passenger seat I would have done the same.  Round and round we still went, past blink-and-you-miss-them villages and mussel farms until we arrived at Kuaotunu.  Immediately we started to relax; this was what we wanted!  Better still, the sun was shining over this side of the mountain, leaving behind the rain and gloom from where we had come.  Perfect timing too, as the first day of summer was approaching!  We set up camp and then headed off to the beach, just a stone's throw across the road.  For the first time since leaving Whangamata we could put our feet up and just 'be'.

Kuaotunu Beach.  Perfect for sunbathing, swimming, fishing - actually
we didn't have too much luck in the fishing department, blasted seagulls 
stole our bait!

I promised the owners of Kuaotunu Campground I would give them a plug and they really deserve it. If you haven't heard of it before, it's near Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. The grounds are immaculately kept, the staff are friendly and helpful and the fees are really reasonable, not to mention worth the money.  The facilities are excellent from kitchen to bathroom and you really do have everything you need there.  It's so peaceful and life there is so simple it's like going back in time.  The beach is lovely, there is excellent fishing to be had (no boat required, you can go off the rocks) and a stream backs on to the campground where you can go kayaking as far as the ocean if you like.  A group of friendly ducks are never far away either!  Dogs are very welcome all year round with the exception of December and January and Minnie loved it there.

Climbing the track to New Chum's Beach

New Chum's Beach.  No amount of flashy photography can do this place justice!

As it turned out, so did we and we ended up staying for four days.  It was so lovely we didn't want to leave!  The campground's manager, Corrina even offered to babysit Minnie for a few hours so that we could visit New Chum's Beach, a short distance down the road.  This was a real highlight of our trip.  New Chum's, near Whangapoua was featured in the magical Narnia movies and it's not hard to see why.  You have to walk about half an hour to reach it, climbing over rocks and along a bush track but it's worth every bit of effort.  It's rare to see anywhere so flawless in today's world - pure white sand, every inch is still unspoilt.  Minnie would never have made it there and neither would we without Corrina's kind offer.  This time it was the turn for us both to be struck with camera fever!

Our relaxing stint at Kuaotunu was just what we needed to recharge the batteries and prepare ourselves for our journey up north.  If there is one thing we have learned however before travelling to remote places such as these, it is STOCK UP AT A MAIN CENTRE FIRST so you don't get caught short or ripped off!  There is only one store in Kuaotunu village.  It stocks very little and charges a hell of a lot - and every single camper that we came across had been stung by them.  Places like these in the middle of nowhere have people over a barrel as they know perfectly well that visitors have no choice but to pay their insane marked up prices.  Some of the items such as meat even have the original price sticker on them from the supermarket, covered up with the new marked-up one!  That was the fastest $70 we had ever spent, with absolutely bugger all to show for it.

Still, you live and learn.  We won't do that again but apart from that we loved every minute and to top everything off, Corrina (seeing how much we loved the place) asked if we would like to come back next summer and help run the campground over the busy season!  We didn't need asking twice!

A Helluva Long Way for Heron Poo and a Beer...

When you live on the road you have to harden up pretty quickly.  For starters I soon had to overcome my aversion to using public toilets!  This was fairly easy as most of them are extremely good.  Even so, I discovered I would rather hold on for dear life rather than use a long drop.  This was the only downside at our first real camping stop.  Wentworth Valley is owned by the Department of Conservation and is absolutely beautiful.  Although it's only a few kilometres out of Whangamata, you feel as though you are deep in the bush, which is because you are!  At just $13 a night it was a lovely place to stay.  Quiet, spacious and private and very dog friendly too, which isn't the case with most DoC campgrounds.  And in all honesty the long drop wasn't too bad; it was more the all consuming fear of mosquitoes biting my bum (there were a LOT of mosquitoes) which was the problem.  Minnie absolutely loved it here and it was the perfect space to try out her 'playpen'.  This is quite simply a sturdy 3 metre square gazebo from Bunnings, which we surround with a 12 metre roll of plastic netting ($30 also from Bunnings) and secure into place with reuseable velcro straps.  This worked brilliantly and gave us the freedom to go tramping for a good couple of hours while she slept happily in the shade!

Our camping spot, with Minnie safely contained inside!

Typical Wentworth Valley scenery.  Gorgeous - just bring the mozzie repellent!

Wentworth Valley Falls - well worth the climb!

This was also the place where we christened our Weber Baby Q barbecue, affectionately known as Lieutenant Dan.  This was our other major investment apart from the gazebo and cost $459.  We did a lot of research before buying and found this was the most popular with others living on the road as you can literally cook anything on it from baking to a full roast, plus it is also really compact.  You can purchase it as is, which we did, or pay more for removable legs.  That's why we call ours Lieutenant Dan, because it's got no legs (you have to have seen Forrest Gump to get this one!) Anyway, with over 200 meals from a 9kg gas bottle, so far Dan has proved a very worthwhile investment.

Lieutenant Dan!

One thing Gareth and I had decided months ago was that as soon as all this house moving stuff was over and we hit the road, we were going to treat ourselves to a stay at Miranda Holiday Park. Miranda is the home of the largest natural hot mineral pool in the Southern Hemisphere and Gareth had never been.  I reckoned we were long overdue a relaxing soak after all the upheaval and was keen to show him the Seabird Coast, which as its name suggests is a sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife.  I stayed at the Holiday Park years before with my Mum and the boys when they were smaller and really enjoyed it.  I was really looking forward to going again.

But back then I didn't have a dog.  This time was very different and as we have learned, a four-star plus rating means nothing when it comes to real hospitality.  I swear to God the lady at reception took one look at Gareth with his long hair and me with my tattoos and thought 'Mm-hmm, I'm keeping THOSE two FAR out of the way!'  In fact she pretty much said as much.  'If you go over there in the corner you'll be out of the road', she said - whatever that was supposed to mean.  So over in the corner we went, to the special segregated area for people with dogs.  There were at least a dozen closer parks available but she couldn't have put us any further out of the way if she tried, right by the entrance under a large tree.

Seeing as we were treating ourselves to a hot soak, we also thought we would treat ourselves to a nice bottle of wine and some beer to celebrate finally getting on the road properly.  Not to mention fish and chips at Kaiaua.  This goes without saying.  One simply does not visit Kaiaua without getting fish and chips from the award winning takeaways - ask anyone!  And there was the bottle store right next door at the tavern.  Except today it was closed.  How could it be closed?  It was NEVER closed!  'It's Monday.  It's closed on a Monday', the chap at the takeaways explained.  'You'll have to go to the dairy at Waitakaruru 20 minutes away for wine and beer'.  Gareth and I looked at each other.  Well, we were planning to stay a couple of days, we guess it was worth the effort.  So off we went.  And as soon as we walked into the dairy we knew straight away it was a fruitless mission.  'We don't sell it any more', said the smiling staff.  'Next stop is Thames'.  What the hell, what was another 20 minutes out of our way after all?

So off we went to Thames and stocked up before finally returning to our isolated spot in the corner. Quite possibly the most expensive grog I have ever bought all things considered!  But in the end we were very glad of it, as not only were we stuck in the corner by ourselves, miles away from other guests and any amenities, we also had a pair of floodlights pointing directly into our van, so that we had to go out and cover the windows with towels in order to get any sleep.  Oh - and that tree we were parked under?  It had herons nesting in it.  In the morning when we woke up, Gareth went outside and poor Batty was absolutely SMOTHERED in heron poo.  The air turned a deep shade of blue as the poor chap had to climb onto the roof of the van in order to secure our bird-splattered belongings before moving on (as you can imagine, there was no way we were staying another night!) Our lovely new gazebo, our backpacks, you name it, they were all covered in poo.  Do you think that lady knew all along what she was doing?  We think she bloody did.

And so I went in to see her before we left.  'I'm sorry, but we will be checking out a little late', I smiled sweetly.  'Our van got absolutely covered in heron poo overnight and my partner needs a shower before we can leave'.  'Oh dear, that is unfortunate!' she chuckled.  'Yes, it really is', I agreed.  'You see, I'm a writer and I would have loved to take some photos but of course I can't possibly do that now', I said.  'Oh, well you could go and wash the van?' she immediately said.  'Go down the side of the building here and use our gear to wash it off.  You won't mention the heron poo though I hope?' she asked.  'Oh don't worry', I beamed at her before making an exit.  'I'm always honest!'

Riches Have Wheels!

Where oh where do I start?  We've been living in our campervan for exactly one month today and what a month it has been!  I am writing this from Russell in the Bay of Islands as we wend our way towards the very top of NZ.  It has taken a lot longer to reach here than planned, as in typical style we have had our fair share of obstacles on the way but we have finally made it this far and I wouldn't change a thing.  Besides, when you live on the road, there is no such thing as a schedule!

Even so, a heck of a lot has happened since I last wrote.  I'm still the same person but my situation couldn't be more different! I think the best way to bring everything up to date is to write several blogs according to their location, as each stage has its own story I guess, and you can decide for yourself how much or how little you want to read.  Not that it's overwhelmingly exciting, mind.  Just so that it brings us up to here.  Which starts with:


My home for the last six years until now.  This time last month, I was standing on my front deck, looking at a worryingly large array of essential possessions and wondering how the hell we were going to fit them all in our new home - a 2005 Nissan Elgrand.  'I don't know what to do!' I said to Gareth, casting my eyes around in blind despair.  'To be honest, neither do I!' came his frank response.  But somehow, thanks to a combination of Tetris and Jenga like skills, he managed it bless him and we drove away from the dear little house I had just sold with a rather bemused Cocker Spaniel in the back.

I didn't look back.  I had no problem leaving Nawtypoo Cottage.  I was more than ready but I think a lot of that was to do with its new owner Mary; a lovely lady with a beautiful, peaceful soul.  I knew my house was in loving hands and I couldn't have asked for anyone more perfect to take my place. Even so, moving day would still go down as being one of the worst of my life.  Unfortunately I ran into someone early on in the day who I did not expect to encounter.  That person told me that I was a failure as a person, that I made him sick.  That I had f**ked up the past four years and ruined everything for everyone.  I guess losing my home, my son and my pets all in the same day already wasn't enough for him.  I already felt like a failure, I didn't need anyone else to tell me that.  Some people just can't help kicking others when they're down though, can they?  If I never see that person again it will be too soon but at least now I don't have to.  Unfortunately that exchange just ruined me for the rest of the day.  That and seeing Ali hugging his beloved cat goodbye.  He never wanted to leave Nawtypoo and even though in the end I had no choice but to sell and really hadn't had for a long time, I don't think I will ever forgive myself for having to do that to him.  I cried watching him leave the house, I cried when I left Whangamata, leaving my boy behind and I was still crying three weeks later.  I'm even bloody crying all over again writing this!  I miss him every day.

But let's be honest, leaving was never going to be easy, was it?  And 24 hours later I was no longer a woman hopelessly drowning in debt and endless bills, who's card had been declined $18 for fish and chips the day before.  I was debt free!  Everyone was asking me how it felt - and the answer to that is a lot different to what I expected.  I did experience a few brief minutes of euphoria when I returned to my van after leaving the bank - and then I saw a chap walk past me down the street.  He bent down, picked up a cigarette butt off the ground, looked around furtively to see if I was watching, then put it in his pocket.  That put things into perspective, I can tell you.  And then I thought of a friend of mine who has been struggling for as long as I have known her.  For so long she didn't have a roof over her head and even though she finally has one every day is a constant battle.  Nothing ever seems to go her way.  In many ways we are very alike.  The difference is, I was able to sell my house to get me out of my situation.  She doesn't have a house of her own to sell, for her there is no end.  So in answer to that question, I felt lucky.  Very very lucky.  I wanted to go and give her some money.  In fact I wanted to go and give money to all the people I cared about who I knew were struggling like me. But I couldn't, I had to remember my bank manager's words.  'Promise me one thing Jackie', she had said.  'Don't go giving it all away!'  And I know that I have to do what she says.  I may not owe money to the world and his wife any more but I have to make that money last for the rest of my life.  I have to get it right this time.

Minnie at Whangamata Motor Camp.  She has her own special tent!

So now we were of no fixed abode, where to first?  Um, nowhere actually!  We were stuck in Whangamata for the next 10 days whilst Gareth had to finish fulfilling his work contract.  I won't lie, this was a very hard and challenging time for us both.  Poor Gareth was absolutely exhausted dividing himself between work and wherever we were staying.  I'll never forget one morning when he turned up to work in his flip flops instead of steel capped boots!  Not ideal attire when you're carting around timber and concrete and the like!  The main problem was that everything had happened so fast between selling the house, finding our camper and moving out, and with Gareth working throughout that we had spent absolutely no time prior to the move actually in the van, sorting out what we needed, where things were going to go and so on.  It really was a bloody nightmare.  Even such simple things as getting showered or making a coffee or toast before work was a huge hassle and often just didn't happen.  In addition to putting in a long working day, the poor bloke also had to come home to a very grumpy missus!  Every day whilst Gareth was away, Minnie and I were stuck in absolute chaos, barely able to move in our cluttered, hopelessly disorganised vehicle.  To make things worse, it rained constantly and blew a gale almost the entire time.  We weren't eating, sleeping or looking after ourselves properly and as you can imagine this soon caught up with us and just as Gareth finally finished work for good, we got sick.

In the end, it took a whopping 19 days from the day we moved until we were finally able to leave Whangamata!  We divided our time between Whangamata Motor Camp and Gareth's poor mum, who thought she was only getting us for a night or two and ended up being landed with us for a week as we both recovered from our various illnesses!  But in many ways it was a good thing, as the extra days gave us all the time we needed to work out exactly what we needed and what we didn't and to find a place for everything.  By the time we left, we were nowhere near as hopelessly green as we started and if anything the whole trying time had made us stronger.  After all this, we could pretty much survive anything!

When your car is also your house you use your noggin to 
make the most of every inch of available space.
This cute little pantry, custom made by Gareth maximises the gap under the
bench seat and the sliding door, so our dry goods are always easily available!

So here we are a month later, almost at the top of the North Island.  There are still many more stories to share to bring us up to date, and no doubt countless more to come as we scour the country in search of a new patch of paradise on which to build a tiny house.  For some of you, this may mean the end of the road.  I know that I no longer live a conventional life and you may no longer wish to follow me in this new change of direction.  However despite being debt free it will still take hard work and effort to stay this way and I will still be living off the smell of an oily rag, in fact more now than ever!  I shall leave that decision up to you.  But now, it really is time to leave Whangamata behind.  On to the next instalment!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Going Batty

Good grief it's just 10 days until we move, has life gone just a bit mental or what?  I can't believe how fast the time is going, I'm rushing around like a mad thing.  Unlike other house moves I've ever done previously, this time it's not just a question of packing things up in boxes to take to the next place. It's a question of packing up a bit of stuff for me but the basics such as washing machine, microwave and other essentials are all going to the boys for their respective flats.  Anything they don't want has been unearthed and listed on our local Buy and Sell Facebook page, which is a big job in itself as there is a surprising amount of stuff when you start emptying a house!  I'm sure the locals will be very glad when I'm gone and no longer swamping their Facebook news feeds but I am grateful to each and every person who has ever bought an item from me, no matter how small.  They made not realise it but they have not just been helping me declutter, but also helping me put food on the table and I honestly don't know what I would have done without them.

And there is still so much more to be done!  But I really wanted to stop packing for a moment so that I could at least introduce you to Batty.  Short for 'The Batmobile', Batty is not only our new vehicle but our new home for the next while at least.  She has been lovingly converted and certified fully self contained by her previous owner and she is beautiful.  We can't wait to start our adventures around NZ with her!  But I really wanted to share the story of how we came to find her - or perhaps she found us.

Looking for a vehicle was hard as you can imagine when we didn't have wheels ourselves to be able to go and check any out but nonetheless it didn't stop me from trawling the web endlessly for a suitable camper van.  Initially the plan was to go for a big motor home but once we realised that our plan to live permanently on the road had morphed into finding some land to build a tiny house, we decided that we would go for a camper van instead as it would enable us to invest more money into land and building rather than a vehicle. Most of the camper vans we saw were located at least two hours away or often half way down the country and it was getting a tad frustrating not being able to get to them. Just as I had almost given up hope of us being able to get sorted with anything, this gleaming black camper jumped out at me.  It looked perfect - and it was only 40 minutes away!  Already we really liked the look of this one, it looked exactly what we were after and so well cared for, with less than half the kilometres on the clock than any of the others we had seen.  As soon as the house went unconditional, we arranged to go and see the owners, who were selling on behalf of their daughter.

I'm a bit of a believer in signs, me, and from the start I rather liked the number plate, which was JAL.  'Jackie, Ali, Liam' I smiled to myself.  I also liked the owners straight away and as we checked out the interior I couldn't help but notice that the blinds at the windows had been beautifully handmade from the same material as our lounge curtains!  Even the squabs which made up the seats and mattress had been made by hand.  'Let's go for a test drive!' said the owner, Robin.  As we climbed in I noticed approvingly how spacious and comfortable it was.  'This will be perfect for me to work in', I smiled as we went along.  'What do you do?' asked Robin.  'I'm a writer', I replied somewhat shyly as I always feel that being a writer doesn't sound like a 'proper' job.  'Oh really? What sort of stuff do you write?' she asked.  'I work for a company in Australia, we teach people how to save money.  I also used to write for That's Life magazine', I explained.  I certainly didn't expect what came next.  'Are you Penny Wise?' Robin said, looking straight at me in surprise.  'Yes!  I am!' I said back, equally surprised.  'You've got the two little boys - well, big boys now!  I've read your stuff for years!' Robin laughed.  She even used to be a Simple Savings member!

We were still laughing when we got back to the house.  I'd already had a good feeling about the camper van but even more so now!  It really did seem as though it was meant for us.  Even so, as I went for one final walk around the outside I began feeling rather nervous.  This was it - I was about to exchange living in a house like a 'normal' person for living in this van.  Was it going to be big enough? Was I doing the right thing?  What the heck was I thinking?!' I was literally almost shaking. In the meantime, Gareth had thought of one more important thing we hadn't checked out yet.  'Does the stereo work any good?' he grinned.  'Yes, it goes great! See for yourself!' said Robin, switching it on.  And I almost fell backwards.

The song which blared out of the speakers was a song I hadn't heard in almost 20 years.  A song I hadn't been able to bring myself to listen to.  'Stranger on the Shore' by Acker Bilk was mine and my dad's special song.  When I was nine years old I learned to play the clarinet just so that I could play that song for him.  When I was 25 and half a world away when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer I played it endlessly as it brought me comfort and made me feel closer to him.  When he passed away a few months later, I put the song on a CD and sent it to the vicar in the UK so that he could play it at dad's funeral in the church I sang in as a kid, from me.  But from the day he died, I hadn't been able to listen to that song any more. Not since 1997.  For almost two decades I had been scared to listen to it as I couldn't bear the emotion it released and now here it was playing joyfully in front of Gareth and these people I had never met, who couldn't possibly know what it meant to me and I had to hold myself together.  But once I got over the shock I realised that hearing it wasn't making me sad.  It was making me happy!  It was as if Dad was saying 'Go for it Jack, it's going to be alright'.  If that wasn't a sign, I didn't know what was.

A few short days later, I met Robin and her husband half way and she handed me the keys.  As I sat behind the wheel of what we had affectionately named 'The Batmobile' it felt as though I had been driving her for ages!  We said our farewells and then Batty and I set off for our maiden voyage together along the windy mountain road in the sunshine.  Robin insisted I keep the CD with my special song on it and this time I had no reservations about listening to it; it just made me smile. Whilst neither Gareth or I profess to be mechanically minded, everyone who has seen Batty thinks she is a wonderful investment.  I love that she is so shiny and comfy but most of all I love the personal touches which make her extra special to us, such as the cushion and blanket Robin's daughter (Batty's previous owner) made for us and the black and white cat cushion given to us by our friend Victoria who runs the local cat rescue charity we volunteer for.  In just 10 days we will be not only passengers but inhabitants!  And we can't wait!

Thursday, 13 October 2016


Just five days until our house sale goes unconditional and I should really be packing and trying to work out how I'm going to fit our whole lives into a camper van but I don't want to jinx anything between now and next Wednesday.  When we reach the point of no going back, that's when I'll really swing into action.  For now, I'm just using this time as a quiet time of reflection.  A time for walking, a time for thinking.  Thinking about the past, thinking about the future, who I was and who I am.  I'm about to embark on a huge journey; but when I look back over the past few years I've actually been on one all along.

Tomorrow it will be six years to the day since I moved to Whangamata.  It's a funny old place, I love it and hate it at the same time.  It has been both my paradise and my prison.  It will always have a special place in my heart and I will miss it dreadfully - but I will also be glad to leave.  I never thought six years ago I would be saying that!  It doesn't matter how beautiful a place is though, if you are not happy there you might as well be anywhere.  This time I have no plans, no expectations.  My only wish is to live a peaceful life, a simple life.

Which is just as well because with each day that passes it occurs to me  what I am choosing to live without.  Every time I do the vacuuming or hang out an enormous load of washing from my 7kg washing machine I think to myself 'Wow, in a few weeks I'm never going to have to do this any more!'  I will no longer have to worry about mowing lawns, washing floors or a million other things I usually have to allocate my time to.  Instead I'm concerning myself more with things such as 'how am I going to get rid of all this stuff?', 'how many clothes should I pack?'  and 'will we have room for...?' It makes me happy, to be honest, the thought of not having much stuff any more.  It's very liberating.

When you're downsizing to the extent we are, you really do have to consider every little thing and the point of it, its use and its worth.  Even something as simple and mundane as a bottle of moisturiser has to be considered.  'Am I really going to need this?'  I ask myself.  'Yes Jack, you have wrinkles, you cannot live without it', comes the reply.  Fair call.  Not to mention it's the only product I actually use on my skin.  For several years now I have used nothing but water to cleanse my face and my skin has never been better.  A far cry from the old me who used to spend a fortune on Lush products and thought I could never survive without them!

And then there's my wardrobe.  I don't wear hardly any of the clothes in there now so the chances of wearing them any time in the future are even less.  I guess I'll just have to narrow it down to my favourites.  Same as shoes, I don't think I'll be getting too many opportunities to wear heels from now on!  I really don't care though.  I don't feel sad at having to leave any of my possessions behind.  I think I've been decluttering and unconsciously downsizing for so long that I don't have too much left anyway.  At least Ali will be set up for when he gets his own place - TV, microwave, washing machine, furniture, he can have it all!  The only thing I'm keeping is Roger the writing desk and a beautiful marble topped table I bought years ago which is going to be the main feature of my tiny house kitchen.  They'll both have to go in to storage until the time comes.

When I think about it, I've been an extreme minimalist for a long time time now; I've just been stuck in a regular house with all this other stuff because I've had to be.  Let's face it, an empty house looks a bit weird!  But the few things I do treasure bring me such immense joy and they will continue to do so in our tiny house when we get one.  One of the things I'm looking forward to most is the lack of screens and technology - oh lordy I'm looking forward to that!  Not wasting my time scrolling through crap on the Internet, not being constantly interrupted by messages, alarms, reminders or notifications.  Obviously I will still need a computer and Internet access to be able to do my work but I am planning for this to be as limited as possible.

What I am really looking forward to is cooking on the road.  Sure, it's a bit more challenging but that's half the fun!  I've been researching it a lot and I think we'll manage just fine.  I'm also looking forward to spending our time more simply; playing board games, listening to music, reading and being more creative rather than watching movies.  Finding new locations to explore and taking our fat little spaniel on leisurely strolls in beautiful places.  It will be a whole new lease of life for her as well as us!  And one thing we definitely intend to do is invest in a video camera so we can document and share our travels and our journey to finding the perfect spot for, and building our tiny home.

Living on the road may not be as easy as living in a comfortable house but I'm interested to see in how the change and pace in lifestyle will affect me healthwise.  I know Gareth is worried about me as my immune system isn't the best but I actually think the freedom of our new way of living will have a positive effect.  These past few years have really taken their toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally.  Most days I literally feel 100.  OK, intellectually I still feel about 12 but physically I am really not reflecting that!  I am hoping that the simplicity and reduction in stress levels will give me a new lease of life and an increase in vitality.

Most of all, I am excited to be embarking on this new chapter of my life with my soul mate.  Every day I still pinch myself that this beautiful, gentle soul chooses to share his life with me.  I never dreamed that I could be so ridiculously happy and content.  These past six years have been one hell of a rollercoaster and I have undergone a huge shift as a person.  I have hated myself, my situation, my decisions and my life to the point I have wanted to end it.  My children were the only thing that stopped me walking into the sea. The only other thing which really kept me going was the belief that I was a good person and that good things happen to good people.  And right when I started truly believing that and became comfortable with who I was, that's when I met Gareth.

Why am I sharing that?  I don't know.  I've never really told anyone, it's not the kind of thing you just casually bring up is it?  Certainly not when you're going through it anyway, I guess I feel able to now having been through the darkest times and come out the other side.  I guess I'm also sharing it to give people hope, because somebody out there might just need it.  If there's one thing I have learned through all these years of writing about my life it's that there's usually someone reading it who is going through the same, or worse.  And every time that happens I realise how important it is for us all to realise that we're not alone.  It's even more important for us all to realise that things do get better. Some people say that if you want your life to get better you have to make things happen.  I don't know if that's true or whether they just happen anyway but there's no harm in trying.  I may not have had a choice when it came to selling my house; but when it came to choosing my future I most certainly did.  In fact it's more than just a future, it's a dream!  Not bad for a ditzy chick like me ay? Just goes to show, when you hit rock bottom there really is only one direction you can go - and that's up!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

One Month's Notice (eeek!)

Well goodness gracious me and golly gosh.  What a crazy whirlwind of a week it's been and no mistake.  I'm still struggling to take everything in and my mind is one horrendous jumble of things I need to think about and things I really don't want to think about but have to deal with pronto.

In case you didn't see my Facebook post earlier in the week, Nawtypoo Cottage found a new owner on the very first day of listing - I think it actually took nine hours from the 'For Sale' sign going up that morning to the Sale and Purchase agreement being signed that night.  Whilst we still have another ten days until the sale goes unconditional, the moving date is exactly one month away so we have no time to waste.  Not long at all, is it!  No wonder I'm panicking.  But I'm also very, very happy.

No doubt some of you are thinking 'Call yourself a Simple Saver?  Why didn't you sell it yourself and save on commission?' Several reasons.  As I already explained previously, left up to me I would have never got around to listing the property.  It would never have been ready in my eyes.  Saying that, there is only one agent I would have ever trusted Nawtypoo with and that was the lady who sold her to me.  She also sold our previous home.  I trust her implicitly and I knew she would both look after me and find the right owner for my beloved little house.  We have been through a lot together and I don't just consider her an agent but also a dear friend.  She also REALLY knows her stuff.  Again, left up to me, I would never have been happy to list until I had painted every wall, fitted out the entire place with new curtains, restained all the timber - the list would have never ended.  In the end all it needed was a visit from Nancy who simply said  'mow the lawn, waterblast the outside and paint the kitchen ceiling and you'll be good to go'.  She was right, the difference was amazing.

Not that we didn't have our fair share of trials and tribulations getting there however!  Gareth and I worked tirelessly for three days straight from dawn til dusk, cleaning every inch of the house.  Whilst it was knackering it was also really rewarding to see how well we worked together as a team.  I don't know what I would have done without him.  We even learned how to fix holes in walls (which was necessary after recently acquiring a free couch for Ali's room and accidentally sticking one of its feet through the wall trying to manouevre it through the door).  A quick YouTube tutorial soon had Gareth gibbing and plastering like a pro!

Although the painting of the ceiling didn't go QUITE so smoothly.  We did find not having a vehicle a bit of a challenge at times when it came to cleaning up and getting the things that we needed quickly. Discovering too late that Ali had disposed of the paint roller, we had no choice but to use the brand new 'speed brush' pad to do the job.  It wasn't really intended for ceilings but it was all we had and couldn't afford to lose an hour walking to Bunnings to get another roller.  For Gareth it was his first time painting and he wasn't enjoying it one bit.  For starters the speed brush was proving hopelessly unsuitable and the paint was going on much too thick, resulting in a far from smooth finish.  However he also didn't notice until too late that despite putting dust sheets all over the floor, the paint was dripping all over them and he in turn was treading it through the dustsheets and all over the carpet. Can you imagine the horror on both our faces upon lifting the sheet and discovering splodge after splodge of white paint all over the deep charcoal carpet?!

Gareth called a cab and made a mercy dash to Bunnings to pick up a new roller whilst I rang Nancy in a panic and she called out a carpet cleaner.  Quick as a flash he came around and had a good old chuckle at our mishap!  Not only did he manage to make the carpet as good as new again, he also gave Gareth a painting lesson, helped us to fix the ceiling, left us a spare paint roller he had in the car AND didn't charge us for ANYTHING, not even the carpet!

It was people like him in the end who really made the stress of those few days not only bearable but really heartwarming and although there was a lot of swearing from both me and Gareth along the way, we both felt truly blessed to know and meet such kind and awesome souls.  After spending several months cooking in the dark and picking that the new owner would probably prefer lighting in the kitchen, I gave up on the bigger companies who had never returned my phone calls and instead rang a retired electrician who had been one of my favourite customers from my bartending days.  He came around the following morning, just as he said he would, and it cost me just $35 to repair three lights.  I dread to think how much the bigger companies would have charged me but I imagine it would have cost a lot more than that!

We could hardly believe it, we never dreamed we would make the Wednesday morning deadline in time but by Tuesday night as we looked around in satisfaction we realised, we had actually done it! We were so exhausted we were almost falling asleep where we stood (to the extent that at one stage I actually began painting the kitchen wall instead of the ceiling until Gareth asked nicely what the hell I was doing) but we had DONE it and it was looking fab.  All that remained was to run the vacuum cleaner around first thing in the morning and we would be ready for all the agents to parade through at 9am.

Which was fine in theory, until I went to turn on the vacuum cleaner that morning and discovered it was completely stuffed.  There was no saving it and with less than an hour until the house was due to open we were in a horrendous panic.  After three days of everyone traipsing through the house the floors were in a heck of a state, no way could we let anyone through looking like that!  There was nothing else we could do but SOS for a taxi again and Gareth made another dash in to Bunnings for a new vacuum cleaner.  Thank goodness for staff discount!  Before we knew it the job was done, the house was finally finished and the two of us took a deep breath, locked the door behind us and left Nawtypoo Cottage in the capable hands of our agent.

The rest as they say, is history.  A lot of people passed through the doors of our little home that day but one of them loved Nawtypoo just as much as I do.  I knew the instant I met her that she was the one.  The next month is going to be crazy.  There is so much to sort out!  We need to sort out a vehicle for us to live in.  We need to sort out storage for the few things we want to keep.  We need to sort out what the hell we are going to do with four cats.  It breaks my heart but I can't see how they are all going to be able to come with us.  Even putting them in a cattery isn't an option at $560 a week for all of them!  I really need to do something about that.  It's the only thing which really takes the shine off things for me.  We will miss them dreadfully.

 My biggest concern is helping Ali to find a new home.  He wants to stay in Whangamata, where his job and his friends are - but there are absolutely no rentals available in this town and hasn't been in longer than any of us can remember.  He would love to flat with some of his mates but they all still live at home.  You can imagine the guilt that I feel, not being able to provide the same for him.  I just hope we can find him something soon, where he will feel comfortable and happy.  He's a very responsible young chap.  Well trained and domesticated and a capable cook.  Loves really good coffee, hardly ever touches alcohol and if I say so myself has excellent taste in music.  When I know he's going to be OK and has a roof over his head, then I can finally allow myself to be excited.  He's been my right hand man for so long, it's going to be pretty weird without him.  But I hope it will be the making of him too.  It's been a hellishly rough few years.  Something good surely has to come out of all this!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Will the real Sad Sally please stand up?

It's proving to be a funny old week already and it's only Tuesday.  The whole of the Coromandel Peninsula is flooded and parts of it have been cut off since Sunday.  I couldn't go anywhere if I wanted to but it's just as well as today is my third day in bed with a horrible head/stomach virus.  The worst part is not being able to visit my mum in hospital and feeling so helpless and far away. Fortunately Liam is working in the same city as the hospital so has been able to go and visit her but as her only child I feel terrible at not being able to be with her during something so huge and traumatic.  Hopefully she is through the worst now but has had a couple of really horrendous days. Still, in typical Mum style she's managed to keep her sense of humour, although even she was a bit lost for words when the doctor asked if she would like to take her newly removed and far from healthy bowel home to bury in the garden!  One positive thing to come out of this is that keeping everyone updated on Mum's progress has put me back in touch with some family members on the other side of the world who I haven't spoken to for years.  It's lovely and just goes to show there really is nothing like family. It's been almost 25 years since I've seen most of mine and that's far too long.

It's a bit of a pain that all the dreadful weather and me being sick is also causing delays getting the house all ready for viewing.  You can't mow the lawns or weed the garden when it's full of puddles and this rotten weather is supposed to continue all week!  At least I can still write.  The great thing about working from home is that as long as your brain is still functioning you can still work, even if you're sick.  This morning I'm writing the Simple Savings newsletter propped up in bed with a snoring dog at my feet and a rescue kitten next to me chasing the raindrops as they run down the window.  The September one is already done but I don't know if it will go out in time as Matt and Fiona are away until October and unfortunately thanks to a last minute glitch as they were preparing to leave it was unable to be sent out.  Still, I hope people enjoy reading it when they get it!

Some subjects are harder to write about than others and the September theme of preparing for retirement was quite a challenge.  I did a lot of research on the subject for a long time and learned a huge amount but my overwhelming and recurring throught whilst doing my homework was WHY DOES NOBODY TELL US THIS AT SCHOOL?!!  According to both the NZ and Australian governments, we should all be aiming to retire with at least a million dollars in the bank.  This is not something that you want to be hearing about when you're 43 for God's sake!  At least I'm not alone there, I don't know anyone else with six figures in the bank either, not that it's the kind of thing you really ask people.  The point is, EVERYONE should be told this stuff before they even enter the workplace and WHY it is so important so that it doesn't get put on the backburner.  It's not freaking hard!  If someone had told me when I left school that I needed to save a million dollars by the time I was 65 I would have started a retirement fund then and there!  As it is, according to a recent documentary by Nigel Latta (himself a very smart and respectable chap who by his own admission will not have even half a million in the bank by the time he retires, no matter how hard he saves) a growing number of people quite simply will not be able to retire at all.  A sobering thought indeed.

Still, October's newsletter is already proving enjoyable to write and is always a lot easier when I have personal experience to draw upon.  You see the most evidence of this in the Sad Sally stories as her character is loosely based upon myself - or at least what I used to be like before I joined Simple Savings, just without the blonde hair and big boobs.   What Sally says and does comes very easily to me.  For years my kids have likened me to Bridget Jones and Sally is a bit like that too; disaster prone, disorganised and a hopelessly messy cook.  Always well meaning but a bit clueless, with a long suffering partner who is well aware of all her flaws but loves her anyway.  Sally and Hanna arrived in Simple Savings land in November 2004, shortly after I did.  When Fiona got me to write the first story I didn't really know what the heck she was getting at.  I certainly never thought I would still be writing them 12 years later!  But Fiona is a smart lady and knows that there is a Sad Sally or a Happy Hanna in each and every one of us.  Which one we choose to be is up to us - but we do have a choice.

When the stories first started they didn't even have illustrations, so all I could do was imagine how Sally would behave.  Back then it hadn't been too long since I myself had been the one hiding credit cards and statements from my husband and stretching the truth about how much things had cost (make that more like halving than stretching!) so channelling Sally the shopaholic was easy.  Hanna, on the other hand?  I didn't know anyone like Hanna.  I'd never met anyone back then who was living the dream and always got things right.  We used to have a standing joke that if Hanna was real we'd throw a stapler at her head for being too perfect, too much of a goody two shoes.  But I don't feel like that about her any more.  If Hanna was real these days I would hope to be her friend.  When I write as Hanna I think of her as being like some of my favourite Simple Savings members.  Sweet, kind and a genuinely good person who just values the things in life which are important.  When I think about it, I still write Sally as myself when in fact I've actually evolved into far more of a Hanna!  I guess that's the thing though isn't it?  That's been the point of the stories all along, to see if people can spot themselves in any of the characters and their traits.  The very first stories always used to end with 'Who are you most like, Sally or Hanna?  Which one would you rather be?'

I don't slip up too often these days but I did have a real Sad Sally experience last week I am still cringing about!  You may remember Gareth and I recently celebrating Parsley Day, which marked our first year together.  Seeing as he had only just started a new job that week and hadn't been paid yet, we celebrated in true romantic style with him shouting me a pie from the bakery.  The following week however, having received his first pay, he wanted to get me something a little more special to mark the occasion.  I'm not much of a jewellery person but I had recently mentioned seeing a beautiful ring at the local jewellers when getting a new watch battery.  It was from NZ brand Evolve and the bright blue of the stone really jumped out at me.  It made me think of blue sky and clear water and it just made me happy.  So he knew just what to get me and I love it!  Most definitely Number 1 on my 'favourite things' list.

I love the tiny diamonds too, to me they look like cute bubbles in the water.  I wanted to reciprocate in kind and knew just what I wanted to get him too.  Being Welsh, Gareth is proud of his Celtic heritage and I wanted to get him a ring to reflect that.  I found the perfect one online, a silver band with gold insert featuring an engraved pattern of Celtic knots and even better, a dragon.  What better could there be for a Welshman!


I had to move fast as there was only one left but it happened to be the right size, hooray!  It was a bargain too, at only $50.  I admit, the price did make me think twice but it was Trade Me after all and I had bought countless things from there over the years including jewellery with no problem. It never said in the description that the gold band was 9 carat or anything but that didn't matter.  Reluctantly I allowed Gareth to see the picture, just to make sure he would like it, which he did and promptly hit 'Buy Now'.  For the next few days we couldn't wait for the ring to arrive!  When it did he was at work.  I excitedly grabbed the package from the courier and took out the gift box.  Straight away I had a feeling that the ring inside may not be as we envisaged.  The tacky gold box with a bow looked like something out of one of the jewellery parties I used to go to with my mum as a kid.  I opened the box and... OK, well I admit I said 'What the f***?'

The ring, supposedly made of titanium looked almost plastic and was sealed over the top with this sort of clear resin stuff.  As for the gold band with the carvings?  No word of a lie, it looked like a sticker!  It was so bright and sparkly it looked like someone had gone to town with a bottle of glitter nail polish, and the Celtic knot and dragons which had appeared so beautifully etched in the photo above, you couldn't even see.  It even had bubbles in it and bits of 'gold' missing.  All in all it looked like something you would expect to find in a Christmas cracker.  I'd been had good and proper, and to top it off Gareth had had a rotten day at work.  'Ah well, day off tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to getting my ring, hope it arrives!' he said, brightening up at the thought.  'Um, yes.  About that', I said nervously.  From memory I think his reaction was the same as mine upon opening the box but by that time I found the whole scenario so bad that it was actually funny.  Needless to say I shall be sending the ring back and contacting Trade Me for false advertising! I have since seen the 'real thing' online at genuine Celtic jewellery retailers for around $1,400.   For now, the search goes on for a suitable replacement!