Monday, 30 January 2017

A long, LONG weekend!

In the past few days I have swam in the sea, climbed inside a cave, sat in a rock pool and had my feet tickled by baby fish and whiskery prawns.  I have also swam in a lake next to a volcano and slept next to a boiling hot bubbling stream.  Sounds idyllic, huh?  It is; but before you go thinking that life on the road is all rainbows and fluffy ducks, it can sometimes be anything but - and never more so than on a long weekend.

There are many, many more people living on the road than you think at any one time, but as you can imagine during the summer months, the number of tent dwellers, camper vans, rental wagons and motor homes multiply beyond belief.  Whilst it is brilliant to see so many people out there doing it and enjoying the sunshine and our beautiful country, for them it is a lovely wee novelty, a holiday.  For us however it is life and the massive influx of people and vehicles can make life very difficult.  You can drive around for hours and cover a couple of hundred kilometres just trying to find a place to park - and of course there are no guarantees that you will even find anything when you get there as no matter where you go, the spots are usually full.  I don't agree with breaking the freedom camping rules by any stretch, and we never have but you can really see sometimes why people do.  You can drive to a likely spot to find that there are only three spaces allocated for camping, yet you have at least twice that many vehicles vying for space.  And when you've driven two or three hours only to find no joy at the other end and nowhere you can simply STOP - let me tell you, by then you are just over it.

Such was the scenario when we planned what was supposed to be five days away in Rotorua at the weekend.  We did as much homework as we could beforehand as it's not always easy to find dog friendly camping spots, especially at this time of year when they are banned from so many beaches and public places.  We found one likely looking place which looked lovely at Lake Okareka and although it was chocka with cars and bathers, obviously they wouldn't ALL be staying overnight.  There was just one problem - Minnie wasn't allowed there until 7pm.  What were we going to do for the next few hours?  She'd already been in the car all afternoon poor thing!  Plus we would have to leave at 9am the next morning and with a magazine deadline the next day I really needed somewhere we could stay long enough to get my work done.  With no luck at any of the other freedom camping places we tried and me pooped from driving, there was no choice but to go to a campground.  Obviously the big bonus of staying at a paid campground is that you get to enjoy full facilities but when you're accustomed to freedom camping in relative peace and quiet, all the people and noise can be a bit of a shock to the system!

Still, we found a campground which sounded nice called the Cozy Cottage Kiwi Holiday Park.  Hopefully that would be nice and quiet!  At first glance it appeared not - in fact they were pretty much full and everyone was packed in like sardines, however the chap at reception was extremely helpful and even came out to the car to meet Minnie, albeit to check that she wasn't too big or ferocious.  I also had to sign a lengthy contract on her behalf, complete with paw prints!  Still, with so many people around, particularly children, it was understandable they wanted to keep their guests safe.  The man said he would put us in a nice, quiet spot down the end, right next to a grassy reserve where nobody was allowed to camp or park so that we could relax in peace and Minnie would have plenty of space.  It sounded ideal, especially with us being so tired, and although we baulked at having to pay $48 for one night, we just wanted to stop moving and put our feet up for a bit.

We reached our allocated spot and double checked the map we had been given.  There was the grassy reserve and there was our parking spot, at the end of a line of cars.  It seemed we had just parted with $48 for what was quite literally a car park.  Not exactly what we had envisaged but at least there were no other campers close to us and it was indeed peaceful as promised.  We were so exhausted after a hectic couple of days, all we had eaten all day was a sandwich for brunch and another for dinner but we didn't care, we had beer and wine!  The car next to us left to go out for a while and we put our feet up and enjoyed the sound of the boiling hot thermal creek bubbling merrily away right next to us.

Shortly before bed I went to the bathroom and returned in the dark five minutes later, somewhat bemused to find that where the car next to us had been, a campervan was now parked and seven people were spilling out of it.  Gareth and I looked at each other horrified as the sound of a baby screaming rang out of the van.  There goes our solitude.  We couldn't believe it.  It wasn't even that we had a problem with the people - they had just as much right to be there as we did, but it was ridiculously poor of the campground to keep taking people's money and charging full rate when they were obviously full and simply didn't have room.  Our two vans were parked so close together that there wasn't even elbow space between them, making it difficult for everyone to get in and out.  To top it all off, the grassy reserve we had been told nobody was allowed to camp or park on was now covered with six tents.  Now we had nowhere to take Minnie to the loo as they took up almost the entire space!

There was nothing we could do except go to bed and wait for the morning to come around so that we could leave.  Which came round at about 6.30 when we were suddenly awoken by a piercing scream and 'MUUUUUUM!  HE'S BEING SILLY!'  So much for a Sunday morning sleep-in!  Next thing we knew there were five children running around our van and there was nothing we could do but sit there helplessly as our space was noisily invaded from all sides.  We didn't even want to stick around for breakfast.  'Let's get the hell out of here', said Gareth and I reached to pull up the blinds.  There was just one problem.  'Um - we can't get out', I told him in despair.  The car which had vacated the parking spot last night before the van moved in had returned and was parked right behind us, along with another two cars which had also appeared in the night!  We were absolutely stuck and with most people still being asleep and us having no idea who the cars even belonged to, there was not a darn thing we could do about it.  Cozy Cottage was cosy alright - for all the wrong reasons!

It was almost three hours later before were able to leave.  At least the facilities were good, even if most of them were too crowded to use.  I thought a nice, hot shower would wake me up and wandered into the communal bathroom.  There was a hairdryer too, what a luxury!  I couldn't remember the last time I had used one of those and was looking forward to it - until I saw a German woman using it to dry under her armpits.  Next to her stood two immaculately dressed Asian women putting their make-up on in front of the mirror.  'They're camping!  How can they look so lovely!' I thought to myself.  I hadn't worn make-up since Christmas Day and goodness knows when before then. I caught sight of my own reflection and could have passed for Bridget Jones with my matted hair and sleepy expression.

We had planned to spend the day at the Redwoods forest, in hope of finding solitude and a place to finally write my magazine article, but the never ending stream of cars made it impossible to collect my thoughts.  By this time all we wanted to do was get out of the place, so we headed for - well, we didn't know, anywhere really!  With one last appointment to attend up north before we could leave for the South Island, we drove all the way to Bowentown, which neither of us had been to before.  We expected it to be busy, and it was but there were some lovely camping areas, spacious and beautiful and despite the people it was big enough for everyone to be comfortable and have their own space.  Unfortunately just as we were getting settled in, we read the sign said that camping was prohibited until February 7th, over a week away.  Bugger!

We tried all the other places in the area but they were either full, prohibited or not dog friendly. Eventually in desperation we tried a holiday park at Waihi Beach.  'Do you have room for a camper van for one night and a little dog?' we asked?  'Yes!', the receptionist smiled.  'That will be $64 for the two of you'.  We looked at each other, aghast.  $64?!  Even desperate as we were, there was no way we were paying such an exorbitant amount just for a place to park.  That's not what we got a self-contained vehicle for!  We drove away disheartened.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had a home to go to.  That was when I realised I still did.  So I did what any self-respecting 44-year-old would do.  I rang my mum and we parked in her driveway and enjoyed two peaceful nights of uninterrupted sleep, as well as lovely food and company until the long weekend was over!

Tomorrow we finally leave for our journey down south, starting with Taupo.  Liam moved back to Wellington last week and we can't wait to meet him down there and get a guided tour of the capital.  This past couple of years I have been nearer to Ali and further from Liam, now it will be the other way round!  We've had more than our fair share of hold ups in our endeavours to reach the South Island but on the positive side we have explored a whole heap of wonderful and amazing places that we wouldn't have had the time or opportunity to experience otherwise.  And even though this past week didn't exactly go to plan, we still managed to find peace here and there.  Take this place for example...

                                                                Octopus Bay, Onemana

And this!

Waimama Bay, Whiritoa

And this!

Minnie and me in our secret Blue Lake spot!

Blue Lake, Rotorua

I think today's post is long enough for one day, but if you would like to see more of our travels, please check out our Instagram page here  You'll find hundreds of photos there!

Monday, 23 January 2017

From Alaska to Aotearoa

From the moment we made the decision to live in a mobile home, we have been met with a huge wave of support.  We constantly get stopped in the street and in shops with people asking how we are doing, where we've been, what we've seen and suchlike.  In fact there are some places we actually avoid going into now unless absolutely necessary, so as to avoid the barrage of questions!  I think most people - us included - could not begin to imagine how many people are out there living permanently on the road. Still, it's wonderful that people are so excited and interested in what we're doing.

I just wish my own family had the same sense of enthusiasm!  While they don't say it, I think my boys both think their mother is absolutely bonkers for wanting to live in a van and travel around willy nilly rather than in a nice, respectable house with a normal 9 - 5 job like everybody else.  Especially at the positively geriatric age of 44!  If I had one wish it would be for them to come along for the ride with me, even just for a little while, so they could see the things I see and experience some of the things they may never get to otherwise.  When you live on the road it's impossible to get bored or stuck in a rut. Every day is different and you see the world through completely different eyes.  And life becomes so simple and authentic that all the things and all the people which used to upset and annoy you cease to exist until before you know it, you can't even remember what you used to spend so much time worrying about.  

 The Brown family in Alaska - all nine of them!

Still, I guess for a lot of people; our families in particular, our decision to abandon our everyday lifestyle in favour of a more simple and liberating one would have come rather out of the blue. However this was definitely not the case!  I realised I have never shared exactly what it was that led us to choose a life on the road, so thought it was about time I did.  It all started, believe it or not with a Discovery programme called Alaskan Bush People!  For more than 30 years, the Brown family of nine have chosen to live an unconventional life on an island deep in the Alaskan bush.  They are completely self sufficient and their ingenuity and dedication to making their lifestyle choice work and thrive knows no bounds.  Gareth and I have loved this show since we first heard about it and really enjoyed learning about how they live, always striving to triumph over adversity - even if it came in the form of a grizzly bear.

Chichagof Island - our dream place!  Without the bears...

With all the stress we had been living with these past few years, escaping to an Alaskan island sounded pretty bloody good!  One of the things we most wanted was to be as self sufficient as possible; to get away from all the stresses of modern life; the constant technology, the invasive media, the inescapable hordes of people and their unbearable, escalating consumerism, to which we found ourselves becoming more and more cynical and intolerant.  Whilst we knew a couple of naive Kiwis could never expect to land on Alaskan shores and immediately throw ourselves into anything of such magnitude and extremity as the Browns, the thought of such peace and isolation sounded so truly appealing that for a brief moment we did genuinely consider going to Alaska at least for a while, to check it out and see what was possible.

There was only one thing stopping us - well, three actually.  I could not - would not - go overseas and leave my boys for such a length of time.  Maybe when they were older, but not now.  Shortly after, my mum was also diagnosed with bowel cancer and I knew there was no way I could go too far.  If we were going to do anything of the sort, it was going to have to be in New Zealand - but where?  I mentioned to Gareth about this silly little pipe dream I'd had for a few years, that one day, when I was retired, I would buy myself a little motor home and Minnie and I would travel around the country together, just one crazy woman and her dog.  I never thought there would ever be anyone else in my life so I figured that was how it would be.  'I would love to do that too!' said Gareth.  Far from him thinking I was crazy, as someone who had once travelled across Canada and the States in a Fiat Panda and thoroughly enjoyed it, he found the idea just as appealing as I did.  But that was something people only did when they were old and grey and didn't have anything better to do, wasn't it?  'I wonder if anyone out there DOES live in a motor home or a house bus all the time?  I wonder how much money you could save if you lived like that?  I wonder if it's even possible?' we pondered.

The answer came just a few days later.  I don't know what the heck it is about That's Life! magazine but it has a habit of changing my life in the most dramatic ways.  The first time was almost 13 years ago now, when I read about a website called Simple Savings which had just started in Australia and was helping people save money.  I wrote in to the website and said 'please can you bring this to NZ too? Kiwis really need it here - heck, I need it!'  And that was it.  A few months later I was a reformed spendaholic with a passion for saving money and a whole new career.  That story was printed exactly when I needed it and this time was no different.  I couldn't believe it when I opened the pages and read about a woman in NZ called Vicky White who had been living in a house bus for a few years and not only was survivng, but thriving.  The more I read about her, the more she sounded just like me!  Sick of stress, sick of debt, sick of never ending bills, sick of getting nowhere.  So she sold up everything she had and bought a 12 metre house bus without having ever driven or lived in one before.  Now that was brave - that's one beasty big bus!

But from day one Vicky made it work and loved her new lifestyle.  The story was so inspirational and informative and told us everything we needed to know, from how much money you could save, how to find work and make an income, what she found worked and what didn't.  I couldn't wait to show Gareth!  There was all the proof we needed right there, it COULD be done.  So that was it.  We did!

Land of the Long, White Cloud

We still want to go to Alaska one day and hopefully we will.  But for now - and for quite a long time yet - we are happy to live the good life in Aotearoa.  For those who don't know, Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand.  It means 'land of the long white cloud'.  I never noticed until we set out on those travels just how long those clouds are!

Friday, 20 January 2017

When Batty Met Ken

I'm a great believer in serendipity.  Things happening for a reason, people crossing your path at just the right time and all that.  Our change in lifestyle has led us to meet some wonderful people - but even so, we never expected to meet Ken.  Not that Ken is a person however!  Ken is a camper van - in fact he's OUR new camper van.  Bet you weren't expecting that!  Neither were we.

We were back in Whangamata over the New Year staying at Gareth's mum's.  She has a lodger called Tom from the UK staying over the summer and as it happened, some friends of his were also in the country and popped in to see him.  Like us, they had also been travelling around NZ in a camper van for about the same length of time, in a 2008 Mazda Bongo affectionately known as Ken, thanks to his number plate.  Having a good old chinwag to other people who live the same way as you is always interesting and a pleasure, but this lovely young couple were seriously savvy.  We thought we were already living on a shoestring but these two were next level!  They had obviously done a LOT of research before setting out on their travels and put in a lot of effort to make sure they did everything right.

'Would you like a tour?' asked Hannah, as they were getting ready to leave.  'Sure!' we said. Neither Gareth or I were prepared for what we saw when she opened the door of the plain looking, white van. Ken was beautiful! He had custom made kitchen cabinets, a fridge, a stove - everything you could possibly want.  Hannah and her partner Ollie had purchased Ken as an empty shell and then filled and furnished him themselves.  Every little detail had been thought of and had been done well, whilst still being on a budget as much as possible.  Even the mirror Hannah had bought as a cheap wall tile and framed it herself using red and blue bungy cord.  Ingenious!  Anyone could see that Ken was a real labour of love, so much care and hard work had gone in to making him their home away from home.

We said thank you for showing us around and everyone said their goodbyes as Hannah and Ollie were taking off on the last leg of their travels before leaving the country and Ken would be sold to another lucky wayfarer.  Gareth and I both thought Ken was great but it didn't cross our minds to upsize.  We had been saying for some time that whilst travelling in Batty was snug with a woman with too many clothes, a hulking great Welshman and an overweight spaniel, it was nothing we couldn't live with.  Sometimes we did wish that things were a little easier, especially when the weather was bad but we never entertained the thought of buying another vehicle.  We loved Batty and would make the best of it until the end.

It was only the next day when talking to Gareth's mum about Ken that things took a swift and unexpected turn.  She hadn't taken the tour with us and sounded as impressed as we were.  'Imagine what it would be like, being able to cook inside?  We could cook so many more things and it wouldn't matter if it was windy or raining', we said wistfully.  The way things currently were, even trying to make so much as a sandwich was a nightmare in bad weather, with the wind blowing the bread and everything else everywhere.  Rain was something we dreaded on the whole, as poor Batty was so full of stuff that even something as simple as opening the sliding door to let Minnie out in the mornings could result in sodden bedding in seconds, not to mention a hefty laundry bill.  That was another thing Hannah and Ollie didn't have to worry about in Ken, the bedroom was at the back, way past the door.  If the rain came in it would simply go on the kitchen floor which was vinyl.

Ken also had a fridge - ohh, you cannot imagine how luxurious this sounded to us!  The hotter the summer was getting, the less our meagre chilly bin was able to keep things cool and we were having to throw things out more and more, much to our own and our wallet's despair.  If we had a fridge, nothing would get wasted any more and I could go back to having all my favourite foods again! Tomatoes, avocados, green leafy salads, how I had missed them all.  I was already dreaming of the healthier diet I would have - and ice!  You can't imagine how much you can miss something as simple as having an ice cube or two in your drink on a hot day.

Talking of heat, that was another thing Ken had which would solve an increasing problem for us - fly screens!  The weather was getting hotter and hotter and Minnie was getting more and more unsettled at night.  When you're in the middle of nowhere or surrounded by dozens of other campers the last thing you really want to do is get up and wander about at three in the morning so the dog can have a wee and cool down!  Leaving the windows open was also not an option; even leaving it open just the slightest crack at night resulted in a swarm of mosquitoes so bad they covered the entire ceiling. Ken also had power through an inverter and battery.  This was something we had been investigating and was going to be a big and reluctant expense for us; however it was nothing short of necessary if I was going to be able to work properly.  Paying to stay at a powered campsite every few days just so that I could get things done was really not ideal.

It was becoming more and more obvious that a vehicle like Ken would save us a lot of money long term.  No more paying for power, no more wasted food, no more having to cook outside in awful weather.  As chief cook that was Gareth's real woe.  We also found very early on after purchasing our Weber Baby Q that it's not much fun trying to sleep with a stinky BBQ above your head! Unfortunately there was simply nowhere else it could go, which meant that every night we had to take it outside and chain it up to the wheel so it didn't go missing.  Gareth really wouldn't miss that - or having to climb on the roof every time we packed up and unpacked to grab something we didn't have room for inside and tether it all again securely.

The big one however was Ken's loo.  To be certified as a self contained vehicle under the new and recently changed rules, you need a toilet that you can use INSIDE your camper.  Simply carrying a toilet on board was no longer enough, you had to be able to use it without encroaching outside your vehicle.  Without this, you no longer qualify for freedom camping and whilst a lot of freedom camping spots have public toilets, more of them don't.  Batty had a toilet exactly the same as Ken but once the bed was up at night there was no room to use it inside.  Trying to put up an outhouse tent was not always easy and in some places such as Taranaki the wind was so bad it didn't even stay up for two minutes without blowing away and we had to give up the idea of staying at the NZMCA camp ground and fork out $44 at a campsite that would accept dogs just so we could go to the loo. Not to mention the sight of us putting up an additional tent now meant incurring the baleful stares of other campers who all knew the new rules. The one time we did try and 'harden up' and stay at a freedom camp without a toilet I had to go 13 hours before I could have a wee.  And no, taking a tinkle al fresco when you're surrounded by 17 other camper vans is not an option!  There was no two ways about it; if we had a vehicle like Ken, camping every night would be free and we would save a fortune.

'Sounds like you should buy Ken, he seems just what you need!' said Gareth's mum.  'Well I have to admit, I did really want him', I confessed.  'Me too!' said Gareth.  'You did?  Why didn't you say anything?  I didn't realise you were that keen!' I said.  'Well we had been saying all these weeks that even with all the clutter and chaos we wouldn't give in get a bigger vehicle', pointed out Gareth.  But Ken was so perfect...

A few short minutes later, Tom wandered in and informed us that Hannah and Ollie were on their way to Auckland the following day to show Ken off to all the people who were interested in buying him.  'They've got over 20 people looking at him!' he said.  Gareth and I looked at each other.  'I'd better drop them a line straight away!' I said.  The rest, as they say is history and is why we had to delay going to the South Island a little longer, as we waited for Hannah and Ollie to finish their travels and pick up Ken.

As for Batty?  We found the perfect solution - Tom!  As a single bloke working and travelling around NZ, Batty is everything he could possibly want and with there only being one of him, he even has room to use the loo!  Everybody's happy and now we are all set to save even more!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

It's a Hard Life - Yeah Right!

'I can't imagine living in a proper house again', I said to Gareth this morning, to which he heartily agreed.  'Me either.  In fact if you went to live in a house I'd still stay in the van!' he declared. Whilst some people think we are mad for not choosing a huge bus or motor home to live in, we like it that way.  Sure it's cheaper - a LOT cheaper - but mainly we like it because keeping it smaller means that we do more stuff.  If there is one thing we have noticed through our observations, it's that people in larger motor homes seem to do less; this being presumably because they already have all the comforts of a real home.  We see people park up for days at a time and all they do is watch TV.  But what the heck, it's still a much cheaper place to watch TV than paying rent or a mortgage and you can change the view to suit yourself at will too!

Even so, keeping our abode smaller makes us get out and do things.  And who wouldn't, when there is so much out there to do?  That's another thing we were talking about this morning when discussing our previous life in a house.  When you live in a house it's so easy to not do anything and not go anywhere.  There is always more washing to do, more weeds to pull, more episodes of MasterChef to catch up on.  In comparison, living on the road most of the time I don't even know what day it is.  I have no concept of time any more, there is no such thing as a routine or schedule.  For fear of sounding like a spoilt brat, I do what I want, when I want.

Saying that, it is a far from glamorous existence.  As a dear friend of mine says after more than 40 years living on the road, you never, ever stop learning and in our case never more so than the first few days after leaving Nawtypoo.  The first thing I had to do was overcome my aversion to using public toilets.  Let me tell you, when you ain't got nothing else you get over this very quickly!  Although I could write a whole blog on toilets I have encountered, but I shall spare you that.

Who says camping isn't glamorous? Without the mozzies anyway!

Our first night in Batty was spent at Whangamata Motor Camp and it all started very idyllic, sitting outside in our folding chairs toasting each other with a glass of bubbles.  We did it, we actually did it and now our new life was to begin!  We made up the queen size bed for the first time and while Gareth was in the bathroom I strung up the LED fairy lights which cost around $8.00 from Bunnings. If I say so myself it looked amazing!  Gareth totally agreed and the two of us lay there and marvelled about how fab it all was - until we learned the first golden rule of camping.  Never, ever leave a light on if you have the door open.  The next half an hour or so was spent madly swatting mosquitoes until the lovely white ceiling was covered in dismembered, winged corpses.  Suffice to say, lesson learned!

The following night we were well prepared for the mozzies and they were no problem.  We were happy during this transition time at Whangamata Motor Camp; it was a necessary place to stay while Gareth fulfilled his work contract and Minnie really liked it there too.  There were also several people who lived there permanently, local teachers, tradesmen and others who worked in the town who couldn't find accommodation.  As you can imagine, moving from a regular house to a campground after 9 years was a big upheaval for Minnie, so on our second day I treated her to a lovely juicy bone from the butchers.  For this she was most grateful and enjoyed it all day but understandably while she wanted to take it in the van with her at night I wasn't so keen to fall asleep to the aroma of manky beef bone so I left it outside, safely tucked underneath Batty.  Or so I thought.  Around 5.45am I heard the shrieking of seagulls, swiftly multiplying.  It got louder and louder until to my horror I thought 'Minnie's bone!  They're after Minnie's bone!  It's me who has caused this fracas!'  I gingerly lifted the curtain and my worst fears were confirmed; there were screeching seagulls EVERYWHERE, all after this bloody bone.  I cringed and wished the earth would swallow me up as I peered around at all the other campers trying to sleep.  Another lesson learned!

The worst night however had to be 'the night of the rain'.  Actually make that, 'the day AND night of the rain'.  As we soon learned, when you have a van with a sliding door, every time it rains your bedding is going to get wet.  And in our case, also a rather tubby Cocker Spaniel.  The first day it rained, Gareth was at work and Minnie and I were half way through a lovely walk along the beach when it just fell out of the sky.  The result was one drenched dog and owner, a pile of soggy bedding and half a dozen wet towels used in order to prevent the bedding from getting QUITE so wet.  There was only one thing for it; Minnie and I were going to have to pay our first visit to the local launderette.  Which turned out to be both quite a lengthy and expensive experience.  For us to wash and dry two loads of sheets and towels cost no less than $18!  Bugger that!  I swore we would never pay so much again, and we haven't.

Unfortunately our rainy pain was not yet over.  Gareth returned home from work (and bless him, this was a really stressful time for him, juggling a full time job and living in a campground with limited time and facilities) and the heavens just opened.  Too stingy to buy a gazebo we instead settled for an el cheapo tiny blue tarpaulin, which we thought would do the job of providing both shade and shelter just fine.  Suffice to say it didn't on either count.  We eventually got dinner at around 10pm that night, which consisted of Gareth the chef desperately trying to stay dry as the water pooled perilously on top of the tarpaulin.  In the meantime I sat inside, banished as I peered meekly through a crack in the door, helplessly watching him cook as he insisted it was better for just one of us to be out in the elements than both of us.  The next day we went to Bunnings and bought a heavy duty gazebo and never looked back.

What a lot we have learned since then!  But even with those initial teething problems, I would never go back.  Gone are the days of being thousands of dollars behind in my rates, or worrying how I'm going to pay next month's mortgage.  Instead these days my biggest worry is finding the cheapest way to do the laundry and remembering to clean my teeth!  Would I go back?  No way!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

All the Time in the World

I read a quote on Facebook recently, and not for the first time which says 'Camping - where you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person'.  For anyone who thinks this is the case, I thought I would share my expenses for this week:

Accommodation: $17 (for one night at a paid campground, the other six nights are free)
Food: $70 (this was all 'long term' purchases which will last us for weeks and was the biggest shop we have done in ages).
Petrol: $220 (this is twice as much as usual but have travelled 1000km this week!)
Power: $0
Internet: $0
Phone: $0
Rates: $0
Insurance: $0

You get the idea.  I would add more to it but it's been so long since I paid a bill I can't actually remember all the ones I used to have!  Obviously our biggest cost is petrol and will stay that way until we cease travelling but if you think about it that $220 this week is not just paying for my car but also my home.  It's the closest thing I have to a mortgage these days, except I don't owe anyone anything!

When you live on the road you become very savvy.  You can spot a rip off a mile away and because you travel around so much you know exactly what is good value and what isn't - and if something isn't worth the price, you simply wait and go without or make do because you know you will find something better when you get to the next place.  I'm not saying we have got it right all the time - the first few weeks we learned more about what NOT to do!  We made some foolish and expensive decisions and let ourselves get ripped off far too often.  By this I mean doing things like not being organised and stocking up at a town with a supermarket before going into the wild blue yonder and then being caught short and having no choice but to pay top dollar for even the most basic items at tiny dairies who can charge what they like, knowing that they are the only place for miles around. That and paying too much for campgrounds in the early days.  But I think we have got things pretty sussed now.  Simply put, we are a couple of stingy bastards!  But that doesn't mean we miss out on anything.

Take the last couple of days for example.  They have been unforgettable, yet barely cost us a cent.  I don't need to tell you that the best things in life are free, but I think living this way we definitely get to enjoy them more often.  We absolutely loved Taranaki, particularly South Taranaki and Hawera and I think it would take the top spot on our 'favourite places' list so far.  To be honest I don't think we really wanted to leave!  Fortunately we had the pull of exploring the 'Forgotten World Highway' to entice us away.  This is a 160km stretch of road between Stratford and Taumaranui and is quite literally like being in a forgotten world.  No amount of flashy photography could do this place justice; you simply can't convey the absolute MASSIVENESS of the hills and landscape around you.  With no cellphone reception, no Internet and nothing and nobody for miles, we could have quite happily lived in there!

The Forgotten World - 160km of awesomeness

When you visit this place, you really understand the meaning of 'as far as the
eye can see!'

Miles and miles of narrow winding roads - no tar seal here!
Was like driving a rollercoaster!

We emerged back into civilisation and knew exactly where we were going to spend the night. Roselands at Waitomo!  We stayed here once before and loved it - best of all it's free!  Waitomo Caves is a hugely popular tourist area and you can spend an absolute fortune here if you don't know what's around.  However we had heard such terrific things about Roselands from other campers we decided we would check it out and were just as chuffed with it as everyone else.  Roselands is a family restaurant and working farm on top of a hill overlooking the beautiful King Country.  The people are wonderful, so friendly and helpful.  They let you use their facilities during opening hours and allow self contained camping vehicles to park overnight for free.  The surroundings are beautiful, you can pat the friendly farm animals and you even get a free glow worm show at night in the car park!  What we love most however is their $10 'all you can eat' dinner - it really is all you can eat and their beef stew is out of this world! Absolute heaven for tired campers who have just driven a couple of hundred kilometres and real home cooking, served up with pride.  Would recommend it to anyone and certainly not just campers; its a beautiful relaxing place to spend an evening, surrounded by native bush and birdsong.  You won't find cheaper beer or wine anywhere either!

View from Roselands - the mighty King Country!  A real view of the Kiwi heartland :)

Our morning welcoming party!

We spent a peaceful night tucked away in the trees and woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing (at a reasonable hour, mercifully!) and a couple of inquisitive goats and a donkey.  The King Country isn't called that for nothing, with its impressive landscape and enormous hills and we were in no hurry to leave.  Gareth had never been to Waitomo Caves before so, being the top tourist attraction in the area I was keen to show him - until I saw the price.  The Waitomo Caves I had enjoyed and remembered more than 10 years ago no longer existed.  It has since been divided into three 'experiences' and you have to pay $50 for EACH ONE!  Even the 'package deal' wasn't much help and for the two of us to go and see all the good stuff it was still going to cost us almost $200.

I ranted and raved about the injustice of it all.  Call that progress?  It was just wrong!  There had to be something else we could do to make the most of this beautiful area.  We got the map out, hopped online, rang the Department of Conservation and came up with a plan.  The next few hours were a pure joy of unforgettable free entertainment.  First we saw this...

Marakopa Falls - 35 metres high, astoundingly beautiful and no $50 fee to see it!

Us feeling very pleased with ourselves that we DIDN'T spend $200

Next we visited Piripiri Cave in the middle of the bush.  It was enormous, pitch black and cavernous and you had to climb down into it using your own torch rather than the automatic soft lighting provided at the paid ones but the inside was just as spectacular and once again, free!

Typical Waitomo bush trail

The mouth of Piripiri Cave, which you had to climb into.
Perfect if you're claustrophobic and scared of the dark like me!!

Our last stop was at Mangapohue Natural Bridge, so called due to the 17 metre high limestone arch which spans across the Mangapohue Stream and is all that remains of an ancient cave system.  This place has to be seen to be believed!  We took soooo many photos here, it was just incredible but here are a few:

We could easily have spent all day at all three of the places we visited, and indeed you could if you wanted - without being pushed along and rushed by busloads of tourists, which there were dozens of parked outside Waitomo Caves.  We still didn't want to leave King Country after seeing such spectacular sights but at least we felt we had done the place justice - and it didn't cost us a thing!

I guess one of the reasons that saving money is so much easier on the road is because you have so much more time to think, to see, to work things out.  We're no longer pulled in a million different directions the way we were and I'm not too busy doing housework or feeling obligated to always be doing a certain thing in a certain place at a certain time to clog my mind with things which get in the way.  Maybe it's a selfish way to live then.  But selfish or not, I don't think I would want it any other way now.

Besides, we haven't even got to the South Island yet, that's the most important part and where our mission really begins!  And that, dear reader begins next week.  We just have one more thing to do in the North Island this weekend and we can't wait as from then on, our merry nomad lifestyle is set to be even easier and cheaper still!

Monday, 9 January 2017

To the End of the Earth and Back

Ahh it's good to see I'm still as organised as ever when it comes to keeping up with my blogging. Like most of us I guess the last few weeks have been a very busy time, catching up with loved ones, enjoying festivities and in our case making the most of having access to a free hot shower and a toaster!  Firstly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!  I hope 2017 brings you many wonderful things and is memorable for all the right reasons.  We saw in the New Year by candlelight with Gareth's mum whilst talking on Skype to his grandparents in Wales and showing them all the fireworks we could see filling the sky all around us.  A lovely start to the year and a peaceful end to what has been a challenging and tumultuous yet still very blessed one.

Today seems a perfect day to be writing as it marks two months today that we have been living on the road!  Originally I had this bright idea of devoting a post to each place we have visited but sometimes we simply travel too long and cover too much ground to be able to keep up; not to mention the fact that power and Internet is a luxury.  We finished off the year on a high - quite literally - by achieving our goal of making it to the very top of New Zealand at Cape Reinga.  This really was a wonderful couple of weeks and after our disappointment in the Bay of Islands the Far North couldn't have been more different.  This was REAL New Zealand.  Just one single lane highway peppered with tiny towns along the way and you could go for miles without seeing another car.

We toured around Doubtless Bay and Karikari Peninsula and were struck by their unspoilt beauty. One place I think which will always stand out for us is Matauri Bay, with its crystal clear water and golden sand.  As you can imagine, coming from the Coromandel Peninsula we have seen a LOT of beautiful beaches but we have never come across anything like this.  You absolutely cannot put a price on a view like this, yet one of the things we loved best about the place was that the houses overlooking the bay were not million dollar McMansions but ordinary homes lived in by ordinary people, many of which were as basic as you could get but were still standing, with no danger of being demolished and rebuilt on a grand scale by people out to make money or show off their wealth.  Not only that, unlike most places we had come across there were no signs all over the place decreeing what people could and couldn't do.  People could simply come here, admire and enjoy. So refreshing and just the way it should be.

Matauri Bay from the top of the hill

We visited so many places during this time and loved them all.  Another favourite of mine was Mangonui, a quaint fishing village where the sea lapped alongside the main street and you could enjoy a beer at the local historical tavern while you waited for your fish and chips to be cooked and the locals would come and introduce themselves and share stories.  Visiting Cape Reinga was an unforgettable experience - not simply because of its beauty but the feeling.  There was such a sense of anticipation as we approached the very edge of the country and although we were far from alone when we finally arrived, there was no ignoring there was a very spiritual air all around the place. 

Cape Reinga - it's the end of the earth as we know it!

Of course once you reach the end of the earth there's nothing for it but to turn around and come back again!  Which we duly did, marvelling for what seemed like the hundredth time about the amazing diversity of our country, from the pure white sand of Spirit's Bay to the red earth and incredible giant sand dunes at 90 Mile Beach.  Where else can you see sheep crossing the road amid acres of farmland only to literally come face to face with the desert five minutes down a gravel track?!

Seriously freaking big sand dunes!

We promised that we would catch up with our loved ones for Christmas so began the journey back to where we had started, but not without spending a couple of nights at my favourite adorable campground in Warkworth.  There was nowhere else I would have loved more to spend my birthday and we spent the day admiring the gorgeous scenery and strolling through the kauri forest at the tiny fishing village of Leigh before returning back to our campground for the evening.  The plan was for Gareth to be the birthday chef and cook my favourite steak so we could enjoy it together outdoors in the campground pergola.  However the evening took an unexpected and very different turn when we were joined by Cory, the groundskeeper and fisherman we had the pleasure of meeting last time. Upon me telling him that I enjoyed waking up to the sound of music coming from his caravan in the mornings and him learning it was my birthday, he promptly went to his caravan to fetch his stereo and his entire CD collection for us to enjoy!  And there we sat for hours the three of us, listening to the stories and words of wisdom from this very youthful 71 year old, along with every kind of music from opera to country.  In fact, we sat there for so long, it was after 10pm before I got my steak dinner!  But it didn't matter, it was one of the simplest and happiest birthdays I had ever had.

Gareth with Cory - one of the nicest, wisest people you could ever meet!

By now Christmas was just around the corner and we spent a lovely couple of days with my Mum and Peter.  This was the first sense of feeling to us that it even WAS Christmas, as we had been almost completely isolated from all the hype and everything that goes with it.  It was wonderful to see Mum looking so well after beating bowel cancer just a few months before and particularly lovely to finally see her able to enjoy the house she had moved into earlier in the year.  From there we went back to our old home of Whangamata, where we stayed with Gareth's mum and caught up with both my boys.  It was fun being tourists in our old home town!  We went fishing and tramping and despite the usual madness of being there over New Year (which we always swore we would NEVER do again) I learned to appreciate the place all over again.  The hardest part was leaving my boys to continue our travels - it was hard enough the first time!  But the truth is, I no longer have a place to call home so we just have to keep on moving.

Christmas on the Coromandel.  It ain't home any more, but it ain't half bad!

Which brings us pretty much up to today - greetings from Taranaki!  My goodness, what an amazing place it is too.  It was actually voted 2nd best region in the WORLD by Lonely Planet and we can see why.  So much to do, so much free stuff, so many quaint little places and diverse scenery.  I'm a bit worried I'll never get Gareth out of here!  But we have one more mission to undertake this weekend before we finally head to the South Island and I'm keeping it secret for now - don't worry, all shall be revealed soon!  

Apologies if today's blog is a little long, there has been much to catch up on.  I shall try and keep more up to date from now on!  There is still so much I want to share, particularly when it comes to the cost of living this lifestyle and the many things we are constantly learning.  But today we are celebrating our two months living on the road.  I can't believe it's been that long already!  3,500km covered and many more yet to go.  So many amazing places, so many special moments and so much still to look forward to.  I don't miss living in a house, I don't miss any of the stuff I have in storage and I certainly don't miss bills or housework!  I do miss my boys so much it tears at my heart every day and I miss my pets.  I also miss real mashed potato, cheese on toast and drinking wine that isn't warm.  And there is nothing I appreciate more than a hot shower I haven't had to pay 50c for!

The Three Sisters, Taranaki

Waverley Beach, South Taranaki

Living on the road is better than I ever expected.  I would recommend it to anyone.  It has even given our little dog a new lease of life and having her with us makes our travels even more special.  What I didn't expect was to feel so much guilt.  Guilt for not choosing to live in a conventional way, for not running with the norm, for not wanting to own more stuff, for not wanting to suffer both physically and emotionally in order to make paying an endless stream of bills my goal.  I have heard since from others who also travel permanently that this is a common reaction.  Why is it, that we are so ingrained to feel bad for wanting more out of life?

And so every so often I have to remind myself that I don't have to do what everyone else is doing.  None of us do!  Life is for LIVING and if the world was to end tomorrow at least I know I have spent the last two months cramming as much as I possibly could into it!