Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Marjorie Jean - A Proper Introduction

As I sit here this morning, in what is fast taking shape as our new office, it's still a wonderful novelty to be sitting on a proper chair, on a proper table, looking out of the window at the sunshine.  Minnie is also content, sleeping on the cool vinyl floor.  She loves having so much room and even has a whole couch to herself to sleep on at night!  Although we have to make it into a sort of playpen for her as she's not used to having so much room and has rolled off a few times in the middle of the night.  Gives us a heck of a fright, I can tell you!  But I'm rambling as usual, let's go back to the beginning.  I can't believe it, but I haven't even told you the full story behind Marjorie Jean!

Our wee Marjorie Jean, out in the sunshine

My last operation (no point sugar coating it, was a hysterectomy) was a success, although it turned out to be a much bigger deal recovery wise than I thought it was.  As someone who was back on the farm feeding calves 10 days after my youngest was born by caesarean, I envisaged a similar scenario this time around.  Boy was I wrong!  Going back to the van was terrifying, I didn't think I was ready, or would ever be.  Whereas poor Gareth couldn't wait to get back to the van, I never wanted to leave the motel and cried a LOT.  How would we possibly cope in such a tiny space?  I really don't know how my long suffering hubby managed to get through the first week post surgery without throttling me, but as it turned out, we coped amazingly well.  It didn't take long to settle back in and it was a brilliant feeling to be able to get through something so major in our beloved van.  I felt as though if we could make it through that, we could handle anything.  So it came as a major fright to discover that once the pain from surgery had subsided, there was still something very wrong.  To say I wasn't in a good head space during that time would be the understatement of the century.  It took numerous visits to the doctors with no success until three of them put their heads together and diagnosed me with something called pudendal neuralgia.  A flash term for what basically means quite literally, a pain in the bum!  As soon as they passed me the literature I knew they had hit the nail on the head.  'That's it!  That's me!'  At last we had the final piece of the puzzle.  However the more I learned about the condition, the more I realised that we were now in a right old predicament.

Pudendal neuralgia is a condition which is most commonly suffered by cyclists, in particular spin cyclists, as they are sitting in the same position for long periods of time.  Just like I had been doing all these months in the van, because let's face it, it's all I could do.  As a writer I sat to work and because it was impossible to stand up in the van, I also did everything else from cooking to brushing my teeth in a sitting position.  And therein lay the problem.  Sitting is the worst thing you can do for pudendal neuralgia.  The more you do it, the more you aggravate it.  To my horror, I realised that all the while we continued living in the van, I wasn't going to get better.  Excuse the pun, but this really was a bummer.  I mean, we loved our van!  It was perfect for us, it was home and despite copping heaps of flack over the past two years from fellow motorhomers saying 'You'll be wanting something bigger soon, won't you?'  and failing to see how we could possibly be happy living full time in such a small vehicle, we really were ridiculously happy.  If we had had the choice, we would have continued just as we were, for as long as we could.

But now that choice was being taken away from us.  Gareth, in typical laid back style took it all in his stride.  'We'll look for something bigger then', he shrugged, and that was that.  We didn't know exactly what we wanted but were leaning towards a caravan, maybe a retro one?  Whatever it was, we wanted something with plenty of character, yet was still enough of a blank canvas that we could make our own.  The only other condition was that while we were now on the lookout for a new home, we wouldn't look too hard.  The right one would come to us, just as Batty and Ken had.  We didn't know how long it would take for that to happen, but we would wait as long as it took.

The very next evening, our friend Margaret called out as she was walking past.  'There's a caravan for sale just around the corner', she said.  'Go and have a look, it could be just what you're after!'  With a budget as tiny as ours, I very much doubted we would be able to afford it.  But after more than 22 years on the road Margaret knew her stuff, so instead of procrastinating like usual, we forced ourselves to go for a stroll and have a look.  Margaret was right, the dear little 1970's green and white caravan was exactly what we were after - and to my amazement and delight, the price was right in our bracket too!  As we peered through the window we saw that with the exception of a double bed and two couches, the interior was also just waiting for someone like us to transform it into a cosy home.  We knew we had no time to waste, so texted the owner and he arranged to meet us the next day.  As Steven, the owner gave us a tour, with his young daughter looking on, we could see how very well loved and looked after this little caravan was.  The family of five had enjoyed many summer holidays and getaways in it together, before recently upsizing to a larger, newer model to accommodate the now teenage children.  Even the original ownership papers had been kept in pristine condition, showing its very first registration in 1975.

We keep Marjorie's original papers in a little frame on the wall!

'We love it!', we told Steven.  'I knew they would!' grinned his daughter.  There was just one thing stopping us from snapping it up right on the spot.  We needed to sell Batty, our first van, before we could afford the caravan.  Luckily for us, a long weekend was just beginning and Steven and his family were going away for a few days in their new caravan.  Even so, the pressure was still on, Steven had already had other enquiries from people wanting to come and view.  While Gareth was unphased, I was panicking.  There was no way we would be able to find a buyer for Batty in just a few days!  But just as had happened for us with the caravan, everything just fell in to place, right when we needed it to.  A chap from Invercargill had been looking for a van exactly like Batty for some time, and having spotted our For Sale notice on Facebook, came and picked it up just like that.  I couldn't believe everything had happened so easily.  After so many months of disasters and dramas, I had almost stopped believing that good things happened to us any more!  But despite me still panicking and anticipating all kinds of last minute problems, everything went through without a hitch and just six days after we first saw her, Steven delivered Marjorie Jean to her new spot in our campground.

We could hardly believe Marjorie Jean was ours!

As if upsizing to a caravan wasn't enough, we also have a huge awning which is almost as big again as the caravan and divides into two rooms!

It probably sounds funny but I felt dreadfully guilty to be moving out of Ken.  After all, he wasn't just a car, he had been our home and everything we had in the world for so long.  Living in Ken had been wonderful, it wasn't his fault that we had to leave.  It's just as well everything happened so fast, as I would no doubt have found the whole moving out experience to have been far more difficult and emotional.  As it was, we had only a few hours between periods of heavy rain to transfer everything out of Ken into our new home.  Being in Marjorie Jean felt right straight away.  As I busied myself with playing house and finding the perfect place for everything, I had to chuckle when Gareth gently chided me.  'Just because we have more room now, doesn't mean we have to go and fill it with a load more stuff', he reminded me.  'Look around at all this already!'  'What do you mean?  I haven't bought any more stuff!  All this was in the van!  It's just we couldn't see it before', I laughed, looking around at our tiny array of ornaments; the bride and groom from our wedding cake, a seashell from Whangamata beach and the little jade Buddha my mum had brought me back from Asia.

Admittedly I did end up treating myself to one small folly the very next day.  I spent a whole $4 at The Warehouse on a battery operated light up cactus.  I figured everyone needs one of those.  At least, everyone needs to remember the words on it.

A little reminder, just in case we ever forget!

We lost count of new joys and differences we noticed in the caravan that day.  For starters, it was quite a sight to see Gareth get out of bed, STAND up and WALK over to the fridge to get a drink.  For the past two years all he had been able to do was roll over and perch on the edge of the bed!  Although we didn't even have a kitchen yet, it was an immediate joy to sit at the table to cook and to eat together.  When we were in the van, we could only sit facing one another at meal times when the weather was nice enough to sit outside.  When it wasn't, one of us had to sit at the back of the van on one end of the bed, while the other perched on the other end with their back to them, preparing the evening meal.  Much as we loved Ken, we quickly began to wonder, how in heaven's name had we managed to live that way for so long?!

We still love you Ken!  Even if you do smell...

Talking of Ken, I never realised how God awful he smelled all the while we had been living in him.  Upon leaving the caravan the next day to drive Ken into town, I opened the door and was immediately hit with the stench of 1000 dinners.  That, and the indescribable scent of an unwashed couple and a dog, who had occupied it almost constantly for the last 700 odd days.  Thank goodness we had never had room for visitors in there!  So many new things to delight in that almost anyone else would take for granted.  I will think of more as we go along; even now, weeks later I still smile at the simple act of turning the key in the lock and quietly opening and closing the little hinge door, rather than cringe at the earth shattering SCREEEEK Ken would make whenever we used the sliding door.  At least now we're up to date on how Marjorie came about and how we found her.  We adore our little home and have been busy bees renovating the inside so that she has the kitchen and office that we so desperately need.  I can't wait to show you some of our finds!  Gareth has been doing an awesome job of transforming objects and giving them a new purpose and lease of life.  To be honest, after such a dreadful few months, I think our Marjorie Jean has given us a new lease of life too!

Our adorable new home, with its super quiet door!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Silver Spoons

I may not be able to travel too far myself right now, but it's given me the ideal opportunity to tell you about some of the wonderful people we have met on the road.  Today's blog is well overdue!  We met Tony Hamilton back at the start of the year.  He and his wife, Beth parked next to us for several days in their adorable gypsy style house truck.  Every morning, Tony would unload boxes and boxes onto a large table and would spend most of the day working with various pieces of machinery.  I didn't like to be too nosey, he was obviously busy but one of the boxes looked as though they contained spoons.  I couldn't imagine why anyone would want so many spoons, let alone living in a mobile home but I figured there must be a good reason!

When is a spoon not a spoon?  When it's in the hands of Tony Hamilton!

The following day we got talking, as we campers do, and after the usual sort of chat he said 'Ah well, I'd better get back to work.  I've got some bracelets to make'.  Instantly my curiosity was piqued.  'Bracelets? Ooh lovely!' I said.  'Come and have a look if you like', he said, leading me over to the table.  And I learned what the spoons were for.  Pretty much anything except to eat with!  Where most people see cutlery as something purely plain and functional, Tony sees countless opportunities to turn them into something precious and beautiful.

As Tony set about his work, he was kind enough to let Gareth and I watch.  Born in Christchurch and raised in Upper Hutt, he and Beth have been living on the road for 16 years.  Before then, the couple were mortgage free with no kids.  For some that may sound the perfect scenario, but Tony hated his job.  'Why were we slogging our guts out full time, for only three weeks off a year?  We knew it was time to change'.  That change came when they purchased their first house truck, back in 1995.  'It came up on Trade Me and we bought it unseen, apart from a mechanic check', Tony says of their leap of faith.  'We knew who built it and it was his third build, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting'.

'The best advice we were given was that the first year would be the hardest, and it was', Tony said, remembering when they first started out.  'When your dream becomes a reality, you lose the dream.  You need some sort of plan, or every beach starts to look the same'.  Fortunately Beth and Tony had no shortage of skills between them and were soon able to find plenty of work to keep them busy and support their new lifestyle.

Silver cutlery makes ornate and surprisingly effective windchimes!

One of Tony's delightfully unique oil burners

Even the coat hooks have character!

Tony's first foray into silverware art and crafts was in 2004.  'I made six windchimes', he smiled at the memory.  'I took them along to markets but wasn't having much luck selling them, so I made more while I was sitting there to pass the time.  I ended up with 74!'  From there he started making oil burners, coat hooks, cell phone stands - you wouldn't believe what this guy can make out of silver spoons!  And then there is the jewellery.  It turns out that spoons really do make beautiful bracelets!  I loved looking at the huge array and began to see the ornate knives, forks and spoons I remembered as a little girl in a completely different way.  How I wish I had kept them!  They don't make them like that any more, I frowned, thinking of the bland, mass produced stuff from Kmart or The Warehouse we all tend to eat with these days.

Just some of the huge array of hand made rings

They don't make cutlery like this any more!  

'No two pieces of anything I make are the same', Tony told me.  'I come up with new ideas all the time.  You get to know what people want'.  Honestly, you have no idea how gorgeous jewellery made from cutlery can be, you have to see it to believe it.  But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense; after all, it is silver!  While we were talking, a lady came along to pick up a ring which had caught her eye and Tony was adjusting to fit her.  I asked to see more of the rings and was instantly charmed by an adorable ring made from a fork and shaped to look like a tiny elephant.  I'd never seen anything like it!  Needless to say, it was on my finger that afternoon and I haven't taken it off since.

Tony can make anything from pendants to bangles and rings to earrings

Every piece Tony makes undergoes a painstaking and careful process to restore the silver to its former beauty

'Do you do online orders, or have a website?' I asked.  'Nope, we only sell in person or at markets.  Summer is an incredibly busy time for us, travelling around the market circuit.  You get to know where people go on holiday and which are the best ones to go to'.  Indeed, that was how Beth and Tony came to be parked next to us, in preparation for one of Gore's biggest events of the year, the annual A & P Show.  In addition to Tony's amazing silverware skills, Beth also makes a staggering range of beautiful dreamcatchers.  What struck me most about this lovely couple however, was how incredibly content they are.  And how could they not be?  What nicer way is there to live than travelling around this wonderful country of ours, making beautiful things and bringing happiness to others?   It was a pleasure getting to know this lovely couple.  Hopefully one of these days our paths will cross again!

Look out for Beth's bright and beautiful dreamcatchers at a market near you!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Parsley Day at Lake Monowai

Now we're back home and on the way to recovery, I need to back up the van a few weeks so I can tell you all about a lovely day out we recently had!  September 8th is Parsley Day, which is our affectionate term for the day Gareth and I met.  We wanted to do something nice, and the weather looked promising so we decided to pay a visit to Lake Monowai.  This beautiful place marks the gateway to Fiordland, coming from the Southern end but is more off the beaten track than its touristy counterparts, Te Anau and Manapouri.  

Am thoroughly enjoying being a passenger!

For new driver Gareth, it was going to be a great chance for him to experience a wide variety of roads and conditions, the first of which was fog.  Fortunately it wasn't long before the sun decided to make an appearance, by which time we were well on our way.  The only downside to Lake Monowai is that dogs aren't allowed there, so we softened the blow for poor Minnie by first taking her to one of her favourite places, Fraser's Beach at Manapouri.  I have to say, it's one of my favourite places too and Gareth always has quite a job trying to prise both Minnie and I away from there!

Minnie in her happy place

But there were new places to explore today and so we enjoyed a spot of lunch and then continued on.  For me, being a passenger is still quite a novelty and I really enjoyed looking at everything with fresh, new eyes along the way.  There had been a heavy snowfall the night before and there was plenty of snow on the mountains.  Eventually we turned off to Lake Monowai and proceeded along the next six kilometres of gravel road.  The further we went along, the more it felt as though we were really out in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing around for miles!  But at last we arrived and I was surprised to see not the usual tourists, but half a dozen boat trailers parked at the ramp.  Years before now, this had been a common sight for me in the North Island and I would have been in a boat just like them.  It made me realise how much my life had changed and how many more lakes I see these days, just for fun, to simply enjoy their beauty.  

The long, gravel road to Lake Monowai

There is heaps to do at Lake Monowai and indeed the whole Borland area.  You can explore it by boat, kayak, mountain bike or on foot.  The Borland Road provides access to trampers, hunters, mountain bikers and other recreational users of Fiordland National Park, passing through beech forest to the Borland Saddle and further on to the Grebe Valley and Lake Manapouri.  If you enjoy hiking, you're spoilt for choice, with options to suit everyone, from a 30 minute stroll to a full day tramp.  There are also plenty of places to camp, courtesy of several Department of Conservation huts, or the freedom camp at Lake Monowai itself.  On this day it was quiet but we have it on good authority from others who have stayed there that tourists are packed in like sardines in the summer!  While there are toilets there, making it suitable for both self contained and non-self contained vehicles, there is no water available for miles, so if planning to stay, make sure you've got plenty on board.

The Lake Monowai forest walk is so soft and fluffy!

You'll probably want to spend more than 30 minutes here!

While I would have loved to do the six-hour hike to Green Lake, my body was far from up to anything of the sort!  Besides, we had Minnie with us, so we had to keep the schedule simple and content ourselves with the 30 minute nature walk to the Lake Monowai lookout.  This gorgeous and well maintained track starts at the main carpark and while I had been looking forward to it, it was even better than we both expected.  You may remember me mentioning Lake Gunn before now.  It's one of our favourite places on the road to Milford Sound.  The forest walk at Lake Monowai put us very much in mind of that incredible place.  The bonus to Monowai however, is that you don't have to drive for hours on the Milford Road, crawling along like ants and shuffling for space among thousands of tourists.  Here, you get to enjoy all the amazing otherworld-liness the easy way!  Both Gareth and I were enchanted with the fairy-like forest, all soft spongy moss and winding trees and grottos and consequently spent closer to two hours there, rather than the estimated 30 minutes!

A peek at Lake Monowai from the boat ramp

No amount of photography can do this place justice!

Gareth doing his best to get close to the action!

Lake Monowai looks beautiful enough from the carpark and we were impressed enough with the view simply standing on the bridge next to the boat ramp.  However nothing could have prepared us for the view from the lookout.  You know that feeling when you just know that you're going to see something spectacular, but when you get there, you couldn't possibly have imagined just how much?  That.  As we emerged through the trees and on to the lakefront, we were both just gobsmacked.  Talk about ethereal.  Everything was completely silent, except for the gentle trickle of the water.  We climbed onto the rocks and just stood and looked at it for ages.  You can never see enough of a view like that.  Every time we do something like this, it makes me so very glad I changed my life!  You just can't put a price on this stuff.   Once upon a time the giant moa used to inhabit this very forest, and you can just imagine it looking around.  Indeed the area is rich in cultural history and was very important to the indigenous Māori, who frequented it on food gathering expeditions, hunting the poor old moa and kakapo and fishing for eels. Lake Monowai itself also powers one of the South Island's oldest hydroelectric stations, which opened in 1925.  We went to take a look before returning back to the car, stopping every now and then to chat to the friendly anglers returning back from a day's trout fishing in the sunshine.  

The hydro station is one of the country's oldest

By the time we got home it was well after dark.  We were both beyond wanting to cook dinner - besides, it was Parsley Day!  But there wasn't much open at that time of night, especially for a couple of picky vegans!  Fortunately we found a fish and chip shop still open.  '$10 chips?  Are you sure that's all you want?' the owner said at the other end of the phone.  'Yes, that's right!' I replied.  It was all we could have from the menu, and besides we were starving!  Years ago, $10 chips would have fed a kids' rugby team and $2 chips would have bought you a feast, but not any more.  We knew we were going to need more than a dozen fries each!  What we didn't know was that this takeaway was a family business, ran by people who knew what $10 chips used to look like.  As I handed over my $10 I was presented with two enormous paper wrapped parcels, enough to feed an army!  We didn't have a hope of being able to eat even half of them, and Gareth enjoyed another three feeds out of them over the next couple of days!  It made us smile to see such good old fashioned value.  All in all, it was a wonderful day.  I'm not sure how different Lake Monowai may be in the height of summer, but I have no desire to find out.  As far as we're concerned, it's perfect right now, just as it is.

We had a wonderful Parsley Day!

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Last Hurrah

Firstly, thank you so much once again for your kind messages and words of support.  I am one lucky lady to have so many wonderful caring friends, even though I have never met many of you!  And I apologise that so many of my posts have been health related lately on what is supposed to be a travel blog.  But we are real people, still living a real life.  Packing up one lifestyle and exchanging it for another, albeit simpler one doesn't stop things from happening or prevent fate from stepping in every now and then.  Anyone who lives on the road will tell you it's not perfect all the time.  But I reckon it's pretty bloody close.  Even with all its challenges, we live a truly blessed life.

Looking quite chuffed to be driving this beasty!

And one of the most brilliant things about living a mobile life is that even when the chips are down, you don't have to stop the adventures.  As long as you can still drive, or have someone to drive you, there is still no end to the exciting new places and beautiful views you can still visit and appreciate.  It doesn't matter if you have to stop and have a rest or a snooze if you feel a bit pooped, even for several days, when you have your whole house with you!  So when I got the chance recently to take a beautiful big motorhome for a whole day out, courtesy of our friend Murray at Southern Campers, I jumped at the opportunity.  My mission was simple, yet very enjoyable.  All I had to do was drive us around as much beautiful scenery as I could manage in a day, while Gareth concentrated on getting as much glorious footage as possible to make Murray some promotional videos.  That much I could do!  Even if it meant strapping my ever-present hot water bottle in tightly under my seatbelt with the rest of me.  It worked a treat and we set off excitedly.  

Our route was all planned out.  We would head off along the Southern Scenic Route, and explore Western Southland, ticking off several as yet unseen destinations along the way, then make our way up to one of our favourite parts of the country, Fiordland!  Western Southland is host to some of the most popular and well known freedom camping spots in the south and I couldn't wait to check them out.  All these months we had farewelled many a traveller off to the likes of Cosy Nook, Colac Bay and Monkey Island and at last it was our turn to follow in their footsteps.  

We travelled in style all across Western Southland

The road to Invercargill was characteristically grey as we set out, but the weather promised to improve and by the time we reached Riverton, known as the 'Riviera of the South', the sun was poking out from behind the clouds.  For me, driving a vehicle of this size was a big thing and it felt great to be finally facing one of my fears.  I had never driven anything bigger than Ken, and at 3.3 metres high and over 7 metres long, this four-berth motorhome was a heck of a lot bigger!  My newfound height was one of the first important things I was to become aware of when I casually went to park outside the local petrol station to get some supplies.  'Trees!'  Gareth made me almost jump out of my skin, mercifully in the nick of time!  Crikey, I wasn't used to having to worry about things like tree branches sticking out, or whether I could fit my vehicle underneath them!  After that I was incredibly mindful of every single twig that threatened to invade my precious aura.  And as a complete newbie at driving such a large vehicle, I could see at last why it is that motorhomers often don't pull over; even when they have queues of angry drivers behind them, who have been following them for miles.  You're so conscious of how much room you take up on the road and so busy making sure you're not too far over to the left, or to the right and that you're not going to hit anything sticking out of the roadside, you can become completely oblivious of the poor souls behind you, desperately wishing you would move over!  But once I realised I became more mindful of it, and determined not to be one of 'those' motorhomers, did my best to pull over and let others pass, earning myself many grateful beeps and waves as a result.  Not that I was going slow mind, as it turns out, motorhomes of this size are surprisingly grunty and I had no problem maintaining the speed limit!  

Colac Bay.  Sort of.

Driving a motorhome really is just like driving a car and I was chuffed to bits with myself for taking to it like a duck to water.  At least when it came to driving forwards!  However I was soon thrown when I steered us expertly down the first road to Colac Bay and discovered too late that the road was closed.  I had no choice but to try out my first three-point turn, on an incredibly narrow road, with the tide fully in just a few feet behind me!  Fortunately, with the help of Gareth yelling instructions behind me and my reversing camera, we were soon on our way again, but there were several more times in the course of the day where we both agreed a co-driver was incredibly helpful, and for the first time I could see why so many motorhoming couples often joke about bickering when it comes to parking and other manoeuvres!

With the tide being so far in, our ideas of a leisurely stroll along the renowned surf beach were quashed.  Sadly it was the same when we went to turn off to Cosy Nook.  Again the road was closed and I was sad to be unable to visit the adorable little settlement I had heard so much about.  Our run of luck continued when we arrived at Gemstone Beach.  As the name suggests, this beach is really quite stunning and semi-precious gems such as quartz, jasper, garnet and nephrite are commonly found when walking along the sand  But once again the tide was against us and the only thing we were going to get from our visit was wet feet.  Still, it didn't really worry us.  We just made a note to go back and enjoy them all again another time - and this time we would check the tides first!

I love the Southland landscape!

Besides, we still had plenty more places to visit, and the stunning landscape which was accompanying us the whole way was only reigniting our love for Southland even more.  There really is nothing like the mountains of the Deep South, at least not to us.  The absolute freaking hugeness of them is just mindblowing and it just makes me so glad to be in this beautiful part of the world.  Sometimes they're dark and brooding, other times warm and welcoming.  But on any given day they're spectacular and before long we could my favourite kind of mountains of all - snowy ones!

Nothing makes me smile like the sight of snow!

Before long we had reached our next stop, Monkey Island. To date I had heard only two things about the place; one that it was full to capacity with cars, vans and motorhomes of every description, every night during the tourist season.  Two, that it is incredibly windy and exposed all year round!  While I had no desire to stay there for both reasons, I was keen to check out this freedom camping Mecca.  As I parked the motorhome at the edge of the beach and looked out at the little island a short way out to sea, I could definitely see the appeal.  The beach was stunning and for once it wasn't even that windy!  Monkey Island got its name from the fact you can climb up it, which a lot of people do, just like monkeys.  There is even a staircase leading up to the top, which is accessible at low tide, however once again we had timed it wrong.  It really didn't matter though, the view in itself was enough, with the ocean in the foreground and the snowy mountains behind.  We were pretty much the only monkeys there too, and it was awesome to see this gorgeous spot at this time of year in all its glory, before the hordes would soon descend for the summer months.

Winter is the perfect time to visit Monkey Island!

Sea and snow in the same view?  Where else but Southland!

Monkey Island.  If you look closely you can see the steps up to the top

As we pulled back out onto the main road, Gareth wound down the window.  'Ugh, silage!' he said as he sniffed the air.  'Where else but Southland do you get sea, snow AND silage!' I laughed.  A short distance down the road I pulled in at the Clifden Suspension Bridge.  This historic structure was built in 1899 and given my fear of both heights and suspension bridges I didn't plan to set foot on it!  However I was pleasantly surprised at the workmanship of this old relic and we took a pleasant stroll both on the bridge and around the reserve.  Definitely worth the stop!  

Minnie and me on the Clifden Bridge.  She had a great day out too!

We were getting some serious kilometres under our belt now and I was enjoying the journey immensely.  It felt so good to be out and about!  We laughed and sang as we went along and as we made our way to Fiordland and more and more motorhomes and campervans began to appear, we were surprised to see how many tourists were already about for the time of year.  I was even more surprised when another rental motorhome drove towards us, with two young girls sitting in the front.  'They're giving me the finger!' I said to Gareth, shocked.  'Oh hang on, no they're not, they're waving!' I laughed, waving back enthusiastically in the nick of time.  The next motorhome waved at us too, and the next.  'They think we're overseas tourists, like them!' we giggled.  From then on I waved at every motorhome and campervan we encountered.  But you know what?  Of all the travellers we waved at, not one NZMCA member waved back.  Come on Kiwis, lift your game!

Fraser's Beach, Lake Manapouri

Lake Manapouri, Fiordland

A visit to Fiordland wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of my favourite places, Lake Manapouri.  Time was getting on now but we managed to fit in a walk at Fraser's Beach before we moved on to Te Anau.  We'd never been to Te Anau out of peak season and it was lovely to see the little town so quiet.  By now I'd become well used to parking my lovely big motorhome and was particularly impressed at how well I had positioned it into a parking space in the Subway carpark.  I even asked Gareth to take a photo, but he refused me bragging rights, pointing out that, with the exception of us, the carpark was in fact completely empty.  

I've got enough memories to last this passenger for quite a while!

From there we headed home, still singing all the way.  It was the best day I'd had in a long time and we so much appreciated Murray's kindness in trusting me with his motorhome!  I guess you could say it was just what the doctor ordered and it made me realise I wasn't quite as useless as I thought I was.  After all, I'd just driven hundreds of kilometres!  What I didn't realise at the time was that would be the last time I was allowed to drive, at least for the foreseeable future.  The very next day I was put on a bunch of pain medication which no longer allows me behind the wheel.  That was something I could never have predicted - but what a last hurrah!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Waiting Game

Crikey, it's been a while, hasn't it?  I'd like to say the absence of blogs has been due to the fact we've been having so much fun, going all over the place and having all kinds of jolly adventures, but in reality the last few months have been one long string of medical appointments.  I'm surprised the local doctors haven't offered us one of their parking spaces as a freedom camp, it would save a lot of to-ing and fro-ing!  If you haven't seen the full explanation already, you can catch up here but to cut a long story short(ish), I'm not currently feeling the flashest and haven't been for quite some time.  We left our house for a life on the road in November 2016 and my symptoms first began eight weeks later so it's been hanging around for quite a while!  The worst part was not knowing what the heck was wrong with me and I lost a lot of sleep worrying about what it could possibly be.  I was tested for a lot of gnarly things too, which didn't help!  But after more than six months of tests we finally have a diagnosis.  I have a severe case of something called adenomyosis.  I'd never heard of it before, most people haven't and I won't go into details but it can be cured with a hysterectomy.  The downside is, it could be up to a year before I get the operation.  In the meantime, the condition has progressed to the stage where I can no longer stand or walk more than a few steps.  It sucks, but as the saying goes there is always someone worse off and I consider myself very lucky, at least I have something that is curable. 

When I took this silly selfie, showing off my stylish hospital gown to Gareth,
I had no idea that half an hour later I would be undergoing a biopsy!

To top it all off, next Tuesday I am booked in for breast surgery to have a load of naughty cells removed.  I'm not scared, I'm just grateful, I had no idea they were even there!  It doesn't matter what sort of home you have or where, it's still vital you keep up with things like mammograms, blood tests and the like and even though I wasn't anticipating any problems and we already had quite enough tests going on, I made a point of popping into the mobile 'boob bus' when it was in town.  Ironically, the very next day I saw a bunch of posts on Facebook, saying that mammograms weren't even effective and could actually give you cancer.  I'm really glad I didn't see those posts until I had already been, or it could have swayed my judgement.  As it was, that 'ineffective' mammogram saved my life.  So apologies for sharing so much personal information today, but if there's one thing I've learned you can't stick your head in the sand when it comes to these things.  You only get one body, one life and we should all make the most of every opportunity we are given to check that everything is as it should be.  The day I went for my mammogram a fellow friend  who lives on the road said to me 'Oh I don't bother with those, I know my own body!'  Well there you go.  I thought I did too.

I'm blessed every morning, waking up to a view like this!

But enough of the anatomy lessons already!  I've always considered myself to be quite a positive person - at least, I try, and I've learned to be grateful for so many more things during this time.  The friends we have here at the campground are all so wonderful and supportive, and the health care we have received here in Southland is truly outstanding.  I'm grateful for everything from the little fat sparrows which come right up to our door in the van to the noisy wee lambs which are starting to make an appearance in the field behind us.  Most of all I am grateful for my long suffering husband, who feeds me (seriously, he makes the bestest most comforting food ever), keeps me constantly supplied with hot water bottles and hugs, walks alongside me at a snail's pace on days I can manage it and is just all round amazing.

I'm also glad that my symptoms didn't start to show before we sold the house and set out on the road.  If I had known what the future held less than two years down the track, I would no doubt have imagined my health and limited mobility would have made travelling impossible and our lives could have gone down a very different path.  Which would have been an incredible shame!  It's only natural for people to make such an assumption, that living in a house must surely be easier, more convenient and more comfortable.  However, both Gareth and I (and indeed every other person we speak to who has dealt with health issues on the road) have found that on the contrary, managing an illness or disability in a small space is far easier.  Seriously, not having a whole flipping great house to keep on top of at a time like this is an absolute blessing.  As for getting to appointments, all the travelling and waiting around is a lot easier when you can take your whole house with you!  And ironically, this condition has led me to being otherwise in the best health of my life.  All the months of not knowing what was wrong with me, and wondering whether it was something I was inadvertently doing to myself caused me to gradually eliminate absolutely everything which was potentially harmful or unhealthy from my diet.  In many ways I've never felt better!  Even when I do eventually get my operation, there's no way I'll ever return to any of my previous habits.

I'm not the most patient person in the world (Gareth always bursts out laughing when I say that, I have no idea why!) but the great thing about living on the road is that plans can change and it really doesn't matter if they do.  We have all the time in the world to get where we're going and are looking forward to so many adventures.  The last couple of weeks I was feeling really down.  REALLY down.  Down dooby doo down down.  I miss my boys so much.  It's been six months since I last saw Liam and 19 months since I saw Ali!  All I wanted to do was see my family and I had been promising Ali for so long that we would come back to the North Island for a while to spend some time with him.  I was sick of my health woes constantly getting in the way and it felt as though I was letting everyone down.  But Ali had a way of making me see things differently, the way he always has.  'I'm alright Mum, I'll still be here.  There's so many cool things to do and see up here, I want to be able to do them with you.  There's no point you coming up if you can't do anything!'  he told me.  Point taken kiddo.  And so we wait.

The first signs of spring are everywhere

Winter is almost done and dusted for another year and we have to say, it was a breeze.  Despite being dogged with health problems the whole way through, and the weather gurus telling us we were in for a shocker of a season, after starting off with a hiss and a roar back in early June, the frosts have been few and far between and on the whole it's been so mild.  There's nothing we love more than being in our toasty van during winter.  Even though it gets down to -4 degrees some nights, we're so warm we're literally throwing the blankets off!  Two things we found made a big difference this year; first we parked up on the hard ground this winter.  Last year we parked on the grass and it was so darn messy, particularly when Minnie would come inside with her wet and muddy Ewok feet!  This year all that has been really kept to a minimum and it has made things so much easier.

Still happy as ever after surviving our second winter!

Secondly, we did it - we beat the van damp and put an end to our mattress woes!  I'm almost too scared to say it in case I jinx us but seeing as there are only 10 days left in winter hopefully it's safe to now.  The answer in the end was incredibly simple.  You may remember us drilling holes in the wooden bed base last year, to allow air to flow, particularly in our underbed storage area.  Sadly this didn't work.  Then in autumn this year we used plastic pallets to elevate our mattress, creating space between the foam squabs and the wooden base.  This worked fairly well but still wasn't perfect.  In a last ditch attempt, and on the advice of our neighbour Wayne, we got a small fan heater, which either blows cold or warm air as we choose and tucked it into the now large space under the bed.  The result has been a bone dry mattress, all winter!  We don't even need to have it running constantly, we just pop it on morning and night for a bit, or when we're out.  Such an easy solution after all that hassle!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Cold Noses, Warm Fuzzies and a Walk in Narnia

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!