It's been a very busy week or two! Having travelled over 1500km, it's been a great opportunity to get well adjusted to travelling in Ken and so far we are very happy with how things are working out. As anyone who has ever lived in a van or similar will know, there is always a certain amount of chaos, as shuffling stuff around from A to B to get this out or that out is unavoidable and one still only has SO much space in which to do it. However we now have a lot more room to move, a lot less chaos and living in Ken is much easier all round. As I write this, Gareth is out in the sunshine eating his breakfast and washing it down with a freshly brewed coffee, having just boiled the jug and fried himself up a feed of sausages on our nifty fold-out side table. It's the smallest things like this which make life so much simpler. Cooking and preparing food is super easy and much less messy now!
Brekky time for Gareth! Um, he's eaten the rest already...
I'm writing this from a sunny, spacious and very quiet campsite in Upper Hutt, with a miniature pony to the left of me, ducks to the right and Minnie at my feet. For someone who lives such a nomadic lifestyle, I have this rather inconvenient tendency to get attached to places. When I find somewhere I like, where I feel comfortable, I just want to stay! It's been this way all week, I'm surprised Gareth was able to get me out of our last camp ground at all! I swear to goodness I almost cried when we left, I loved it there so much. It's called the Wairakei Thermal Valley Holiday Park and unlike everywhere else in Taupo it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Oh, it was beautiful! Surrounded by wildlife in park-like grounds, I can't remember being so relaxed in longer than I can remember and everyone who either stayed or worked there was so happy! Gareth agreed with me in that it was a bit of a combination of two of our favourite camp grounds; having the laid back, friendly atmosphere we enjoyed months before at Kuaotunu, mixed with some of the adorable quirkiness we experienced at Warkworth. A real haven in the middle of nowhere.
Wairakei Thermal Valley Holiday Park
The only sounds you did hear were the sound of peacocks wailing (or whatever it is they do – you know, that unique sound that only peacocks can make!), guinea fowl giggling and gaggling and my favourite, the alpacas laughing. There were three of these, and from the moment we arrived they kept laughing hysterically and constantly looking our way. I was convinced it was Gareth they were directing their hilarious outbursts at but as we discovered the next morning it was actually Minnie they were obsessed with. From the moment they were let out of their enclosure and allowed to roam the grounds, they came hurtling down the hill towards us and barely left our van the entire time, venturing as close to Minnie as they dared. Minnie, usually oblivious to such attention was rather more than a tad perturbed at their blatant displays of curiosity! It soon became that hanging around next to Ken was the place to be for almost all the animals and we became joyfully accustomed to sharing our breakfast with peacocks, peahens and a glorious assortment of other spectacular feathered friends.
Minnie with her devoted followers
My breakfast buddy
We spent two idyllic days there and for the first part camped next to a sweet little pensioner who was living in an authentic Indian teepee. She wore an Indian headdress along with her rather more conventional floral frock and sneakers and I was more than a little confused as to how and why someone who chose to live in such a basic home would also wear Nike's and drive a Toyota Swift. As it turned out, when she asked Gareth to take photos of her proudly standing outside her abode, it was actually available to rent from the camp ground at a nightly rate. 'Now I can tick that off my bucket list!' she grinned. I hope to be half as groovy as her when I'm that age!
We did the obligatory Taupo touristy things – well, the free ones anyway, such as going for a walk around Lake Taupo and the incredible Huka Falls, which I never tire of seeing. Such power and the water is so impossibly blue! Our favourite activity however was the Thermal Walk at our very own camp ground. Whilst signposted from the main road, most people don't even realise it's there, out in the middle of nowhere and opt for the more well known tourist spots. Yet this walk is just as good, if not better than any of the more commercial spots in Taupo and we were able to take Minnie with us! The tour was self guided, so we were able to go at our own leisurely place in the evening when it was cooler – which was just as well as the ground can get very hot underfoot!
Thermal Walk, Wairakei Thermal Valley
The next day we really had to move on, which was made all the harder by the fact that the owners had offered us both jobs helping to run the park and camp ground. I so desperately wanted to stay! But Gareth was right, we still had so much more to see. We had to keep moving. Fortunately I had a big incentive in that my eldest son Liam had moved back to Wellington just a week or two before and was waiting to give us a guided tour of both the city and his new flat! We had already stayed an extra day in Taupo as it was, which meant almost a six hour journey to Wellington if we were going to stay on schedule. I wasn't looking forward to driving such a long way but as it turned out, it was a very enjoyable drive. What with the Desert Road, the Army base at Waiouru and the beautiful Rangitikei cliffs all to admire, the time flew by. We even stopped in Taihape for an hour to stretch our legs and ended up climbing a mountain at the Mount Stewart reserve – I never even knew there was anything to do in Gumboot City!
View from the top of Mount Stewart, Taihape
Whilst we were excited at finally making it to our nation's capital, Gareth and I were a bit unsure about staying in the city. As a rule, we don't like cities – in fact that's a bit of an understatement, we tend to run screaming from them! Not so with Wellington. Now here is a city we love! Where do we even start. We love the scenery, the architecture, the narrow streets, the laid back vibe, the landmarks and monuments, the houses in the hills, the history, the waterfront, the fact that despite being a huge city, there's just so much space, unlike Auckland it's not crowded at all! Despite it being Waitangi weekend, there was plenty of room for everyone and people simply relaxed in the sunshine by the water on beanbags, or by the roadside, watching an array of street performers from a string quartet with ballroom dancers, to jugglers to singing guitarists and even a young chap expertly playing the bagpipes. In Wellington there are no rules when it comes to style or having to 'fit in'. From steam punk to real punk, anything goes!
The Waterfront, Wellington
I can see the sea!
Gareth fitting right in with his steampunk sunnies!
And there's so much free stuff to do! Because we were staying at Liam's for a couple of days, where dogs weren't permitted, we put Minnie in a boarding kennel so that we could make the most of the city. Despite Wellington's windy reputation, the sun shone brightly as Liam gave us a tour of where had been his home for the best part of the last couple of years and I could totally see why he loved the place so much. I wouldn't mind living here either! We cruised the waterfront, went to the amazing Te Papa museum (which incidentally is free, how brilliant is that?) and then sat outside one of Liam's favourite pubs, Bad Grannies in the sunshine and just watched the world go by. The following day unfortunately dawned grey and windy, but we had vowed to climb Mount Victoria, which looks out far over the city, and so we did. Good grief, what a climb. We're talking vertical here. 'Jeez mum, to look at you now you'd never think you once ran a marathon!' pointed out Liam from miles ahead. 'It was five years ago!' I pouted, as my legs threatened to buckle from under me.
Liam and me at the top of Mount Vic. Bit windy!
Gareth and me taking windswept to new levels!
Finally by some miracle, all three of us made it to the top and the view was worth every crippling step. It didn't matter that the sun wasn't shining or that the view around us was swathed in heavy swirling clouds – we had climbed so high we were actually IN those clouds! How many people can truly say they have their head in the clouds? Yet another one of many unforgettable free activities in this wonderful city. The one activity we did pay for was a tour of Weta Workshop – the award winning designers and creators behind such epic movies as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and Warcraft. What an astounding place of creative genius. The tour really was fascinating, we could have stayed all day! We chose the cheapest tour at $25 and learned so much, if you're ever in Wellington you have to go there!
Golem with his fishy at Weta Workshop
Lurtz from Warcraft at Weta Workshop
The best thing however was spending a precious few days with Liam. Living on the road when you have family is hard. When you have no real home for them to come and visit, time is often limited to snatching a couple of hours here, a lunch or dinner there. This time it was me coming to visit Liam in HIS home, and I was so proud of how my boy comfortably wound his way around the city. Whoever thought that shy kid from Te Kauwhata would end up being a confident young man living half way down the country? And finally – almost two years to the day since he left home – he FINALLY let me give him some cooking lessons!
It's been a busy, wonderful week for sure. Tomorrow marks three months on the road – and the start of another new adventure as we board the ferry for the South Island! Bring it on!