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!