It might be cold down here - but it sure is beautiful!
I'm not sure if I said this last winter or not - I probably did - but I don't think I have ever been so cold in my life! I knew we got away lightly last year, but already this winter is proving to be next level. I'm really interested to see just how cold it's going to get. But don't worry! We are fine and toasty in the van. How can we not be? We have a fan heater, an oil heater and a dehumidifier all crammed into a 4.6 x 1.6 metre space! It's only outside that's a little more challenging. However in typical style we're like a couple of big kids, sliding around on the ice and 'skating' in the supermarket carpark. It's awesome! Although you do get the odd sharp reminder of how hazardous it can be, poor Gareth was lucky he didn't break his arm at the weekend when he came a cropper only a few metres away from the van. Even something as simple as getting to the loo can be a challenge when it's really icy and I've been having a right old giggle every time I see the toilets frozen over every morning and full of icicles!
Spaces at our campground get booked out for the annual Gold Guitars up to a year in advance!
The icy blast would have certainly made it a memorable stay for the couple of hundred motorhomers who were in residence last week for the Gold Guitars. Almost none of them imagined how cold it was going to be and it came as a real shock to the system! It also came as a shock to their motorhomes, with many campers experiencing frozen and burst pipes for the duration of their stay. To make it even more challenging, most of the campground water pipes were frozen for the majority of every day, making it impossible to fill up water tanks or do even the most basic things! You just have to laugh and go with the flow when it's like that; there's nothing you can do. But freezing as it was, it did nothing to dampen the enjoyment or enthusiasm of the country music enthusiasts. They came, they saw, they sang and danced and every one we spoke to vowed they would be back again. I have no doubt they will too; we saw quite a few faces from last year and it was lovely that they remembered us. We even saw a couple of people we used to know from our old home town of Whangamata! Such a neat surprise to see them.
Wayne and Leanne's log fire is a gorgeous addition to their bus!
And now that's pretty much the last hurrah for our campground for the next little while. Just a few of us residents hunkering down for the winter. At this stage there are just 11 of us and we love it. Us two in our van, Wayne and Leanne, Kevin and Raewyn, who live in their buses, Dan and Glenn in their caravans, Debra in her car, also for her second winter like us, and Margaret and Ivan in their fifth wheeler. We're all different but we all get along great guns. Last weekend, when the country music fans were kicking up their heels at the Gold Guitar awards, we were enjoying a peaceful cosy evening in Wayne and Leanne's bus, sitting by the log fire and enjoying delicious home made soup. It was so nice and relaxed, even the dogs Minnie and Milo were sleeping contentedly. Times like these make me so very glad that we live this way and have had the opportunity to make such wonderful friends. Whatever the cold, wet months ahead may bring, we're all here for each other.
Dolamore Park is a great place to go for a short walk or a long hike.
You can camp there too!
With so much ice and snow on the roads, the weather has made driving a bit hazardous lately and put the cobblers on some of our plans for a road trip. However it still hasn't stopped us going out adventuring! Yesterday was one of the most special days I've had in a long time. Just a few kilometres out of Gore township is Dolamore Park. It's a beautiful place at any time of year; 95 hectares of native forest and plantings and has something for everyone. There are various hiking tracks to choose from for all ages and capabilities, ranging from 10 minutes to four hours and a mountain bike track too. With its parklike setting it's also a perfect place for families, with a brilliant playground and BBQ area. To top it off, it's also a campground, with powered and unpowered sites, kitchen and showers available. Unfortunately for us, it's owned by the Department of Conservation and, as with most DoC sites dogs are not permitted. Such a shame, as Minnie would love it there! The good thing about this time of year however is that we can leave her in the van safely without worrying about her overheating (no chance of that!) so we can make plans for the odd 'child free' adventure.
Frosty stalacmites stick up from the ground...
...And on anything else it can cling to!
With the day dawning gloriously frosty and clear, we seized our chance. Our mission was to head to Dolamore Park and climb to the top of Poppelwell's Lookout; which has stunning views right across Southland, as far as Bluff and even Stewart Island. We were never going to get a better day than this one! So off we set, past farmland and mountains along the short drive to Dolamore Park. We were the only ones there, with the exception of a woman and her three children, who were laughing noisily and lying on the ground making snow angels. Except it wasn't snow they were rolling around in, it was ice! We had never seen a frost like it; not here in NZ anyway. Spiky stalactites at least an inch high clung to every leaf, every blade of grass and every available surface and even the tiniest leaves hung with icicles. It felt as though we were in Narnia and I could hardly contain my excitement.
A frosty white path leads the way to the top
We made our way through the bush, with the sun streaming through the trees and melting the ice. Up and up we climbed, until we finally came upon the frost again, forming a white path leading to the top. While we had been here once before, the view was just as breathtaking as it had been the first time and we smiled in satisfaction at the sight of Southland, stretching out before us for miles and miles. We took heaps of photos, as well as the obligatory selfies, before reluctantly making our way down again. We wanted to stay longer but a) we needed to keep moving before the air started to freeze and the roads got icy again and b) the bench we sat on last time was covered in frost a couple of inches thick!
The view from Poppelwell's Lookout stretches for miles
Besides, we still had more we wanted to see, like the Whisky Creek Falls. We slid and crunched our way back down until we came to another small track which was barely visible. No wonder we missed it last time! We scrambled our way down, Gareth with a good deal more grace than I, and there it was, a beautiful three-tiered waterfall. There are so many gorgeous wee gems hiding in Gore, you never know what surprising things you are going to find! Best of all, it was strung all the way across with a necklace of icicles! How often do you see something like that?
Whisky Creek Falls
Out of the track and back into 'Narnia'
We found our way back onto the main track and as late afternoon approached we could feel the temperature really starting to drop. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in an even more incredible part of Narnia. With the sun on the mountains giving off a warm glow and the ground below and trees around us sparkling white and shin deep in frost, it really did make for the most awesome spectacle. Gareth was going mad filming and taking photos of everything and I felt almost like a child again, skating over frozen ponds and puddles and licking icicles off the trees with my tongue. We didn't want to leave, it was all so magical but we still had one thing left to see. There really is no sky like a Southland sky and in Gore we are regularly treated to the most amazing sunsets. The only problem is, being surrounded by farmland there are always buildings and trees blocking the view! I had always dreamed of seeing it in its entirety, without obstacles and on the way home I finally got my chance. We parked along the side of the road and stood there for ages, shivering like a couple of mad people, watching the sun go down. Well, almost. In the end the cold got the better of us and we had to make a bolt for the van! But we saw the best bits - and as we stood and watched, a car drew up alongside us and Bevin's son, David wound down the window. 'My house is just up here!' he gestured to the next driveway. 'It's got the best view of the sunset in the valley! Come and see it any time you like', he grinned. Now I never have to miss another amazing skyshow!
The mindblowing power of Mother Nature!
All in all, it was a perfect day and the best thing about it was I got to enjoy it with my best friend and favourite person. We have the best times together just doing the simplest things. That's what this life is all about!