Sunday, 29 April 2018

Kayaking among legends

First things first, a huge thank you to everyone who has sent messages and well wishes lately! I'm doing pretty good and trying to keep as active as I can. We're planning a trip to Arrowtown in the next week or two which we're both really excited about, as well as walking the Lake Hayes circuit. They both look so beautiful at this time of year and the leaves are falling fast, so we need to get a wriggle on!

Kayaking in 50,000 year old water.  As you do...

However, before I waffle on about any new adventures I really need to bring you up to date on the last couple of months as we've seen and done heaps. I haven't even finished telling you about Liam's visit back in February, shocking! I really need to do that because in just a few short days we managed to experience some truly amazing things, which all of us will remember forever. One of the highlights was definitely kayaking at Milford Sound. Kayaking is one of my favourite things to do. I would happily do it all day, every day and over the years Liam and I have been lucky enough to do it everywhere from Rotorua and Taupo to Kuaotunu and Tokaanui, as well as many an excursion down the estuary and across the sea to Donut Island (official name Whenuakura) in our old home town of Whangamata. They are all awesome in their own way, but none have come close to Milford Sound. Without a doubt, this was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. 

On a wet day there are so many waterfalls the mountains look as though they are covered in spider webs!

There's no such thing as Milford Sound on a bad day (which is just as well, seeing as it rains there 250 days of the year) but conditions couldn't have been more perfect for our tour. Having rained on and off all morning, the mountains streamed with dozens of waterfalls and combined with the dark and brooding landscape it couldn't have looked or felt any more ethereal.

Just the three of us, with our guide, Tiger 

Our kayaking experience began at Harrison Cove, which is only accessible by boat and is also home to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. We were lucky enough to have just three in our group; Gareth, myself and Liam, ably led by our tour guide, Tiger. We glided gently into the water and set off at a leisurely pace around the fiord. Our first stop was at an inlet, where Tiger encouraged us to taste the water. 'This is the best water you will ever get', he said. 'It's glacial water. Until around 4 – 5 hours ago, this water had been frozen for over 50,000 years'. He was right, it tasted better than any water we'd ever had!

Where else in the world can you go kayaking in cold tea?!

One of the things which makes Milford Sound so otherworldly is the colour of the water. It's actually sort of tea coloured but looks black. This is caused by something called deep water emergence. The water in the fiord is salt water; however due to the result of the high annual rainfall in Fiordland, there is a layer of fresh water overlaying it and the light is not allowed to penetrate past that layer. This is just one of the many things we learned from our friendly and informative guide. We also learned all about tree avalanche scars and I learned more about Maori legends and our nation's history than I had done in 26 years of living in New Zealand!  I can't resist sharing a couple so please indulge me...

The poor wee lonely Piopio.  Rather like a thrush, this native bird was sadly declared extinct in the early 1900's.

The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, which means 'the lonely Piopio', and the story behind the name goes a bit like this. One day, a chap called Maui - a Polynesian demigod and one of the most famous identities in Maori legends – set out on a quest to try and make humans immortal. He was accompanied in his mission by a small bird known as a Piopio, which sadly is now extinct. Unfortunately for Maui, he failed in his quest and was killed. The poor wee Piopio was so heartbroken, he flew to Milford Sound to mourn his friend's death and lived out the rest of his days alone. As for the sandflies the area is also notorious for? They were released by the goddess of the underworld, Hine-nui-te-po, to prevent humans from lingering too long in such a beautiful place. It certainly did the trick! Despite receiving more than half a million visitors every year, the mystical place now more commonly known as Milford Sound remains pure and unspoilt.

The tui is still my favourite bird, despite being a scaredy-cat!

My favourite story however, as we sat there bobbing about in the silent water, was how some of our native birds came to look the way they are. Tane Mahuta, the god of the forest called all the birds together and asked if they would please come down from the tree tops to help clean up the bugs on the forest floor, as they were eating the trees and making them sick. None of them offered, so Tane Mahuta asked each one in turn. The tui refused, saying he was scared of the dark and was too afraid to come down to the ground, away from the sun. The pukeko also refused, claiming the forest floor was too cold and the earth was too damp. As for the shining cuckoo, he was too busy building his nest to come and help.

The pukeko is a common sight in swampy, boggy areas.  Now you know why!

But the kiwi agreed, even though it meant leaving his family. Tane Mahuta was overjoyed, but warned the kiwi what lay ahead. 'My friend, you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that you can rip apart logs on the ground. And you will lose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings so that you will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light of day again'. Still the kiwi agreed. Just as he promised, Tane Mahuta bestowed him with thick, strong legs to suit his habitat. However life was also never the same for the birds who refused to help. From that day on, the tui has worn two white feathers at his throat, the mark of a coward. Pukeko has lived forever in a swamp, with wet feet, and the shining cuckoo never got to build another nest, instead she always lays her eggs in other birds' nests. But because of the kiwi's great sacrifice, he went on to become the most well-known and most loved bird of all.

Looking towards Harrison Cove, home of the Underwater Observatory

True or not, I've always loved myths and legends and the fact we were out on the water, being treated to the most incredible display from Mother Nature made them even more magical. While we weren't lucky enough to see penguins, they are frequently sighted by kayakers. I could have happily stayed there out on the water; surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls forever but Tiger promised there was still a heap more to see at the Underwater Observatory. The kayak station is conveniently located in the same building, so we glided gracefully into the dock and climbed out. We then headed inside, where Tiger led us 10 metres down into the viewing area. It was amazing to see all the marine life which had been swimming right underneath us as we had been kayaking. Who would ever have known that the sea bed was covered in delicate looking black coral? Unlike most aquariums, you are the ones in the tank and the fish swim around freely outside. As a result, you never know what you might see! Enormous starfish, marble fish, spotty's and varieties types of wrasse are commonplace, along with John Dory and kingfish, but it isn't unheard of for the odd shark to make an appearance. I'm glad I learned that after we got out of the kayaks!

There's no place in the world like Milford Sound!

Cruising Milford Sound in a kayak was an experience that is hard to put into words but I don't think I have ever felt luckier, or more awestruck by anything in my life. A big thank you to Southern Discoveries ( for giving us the opportunity. Not only is the tour excellent value and reasonably priced, some things really are priceless. If it's not already on your bucket list, be sure to add it!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Preparing for hibernation

It may be a good while yet until winter but already many people are hunkering down for the colder months and getting ready to hibernate.  Things are much quieter around here these days and I'm looking forward to having a little winter 'village' again, just us and a handful of other nomads who park up here until things have warmed up enough to move on.  We've moved to a much quieter spot and I have to admit, after the hustle and bustle of many hundreds of campers over the past few months it's absolute bliss to be just a few of us all quiet and cosy.  We've made many wonderful friends over the summer and look forward to doing it all over again later in the year - but for now, it's time to just enjoy this quiet time and get through the winter.   After months of 'happy hours', sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and socialising, all of a sudden we're all tucked away for the night by 6.30! 

We get to wake up to this view every morning from our new spot!

For a lot of permanent road dwellers, choosing where to 'winter' can be quite stressful.  It's a bit of a dilemma.  Where it will be the warmest, or the quietest, or the most economical?  It's an area where you need to be pretty organised and plan ahead if you want to be ready and sorted when the time comes.  Whatever the weather, at the end of the day it really just comes down to personal choice.  Some people make a beeline for the Far North, where it's said to be winterless, others favour the top of the South Island, with popular choices being Nelson and Motueka.  But for us, there's nowhere else we would rather be in the winter than Southland.  Let's face it, anywhere is crap when it rains, doesn't matter where you are!  The Deep South is just so beautiful in autumn and winter, I can't imagine being anywhere else at this time of year now. 

Which is just as well because we have no choice but to sit tight at the moment!  I've been having a few health issues for some time now and although we are hopefully getting to the bottom of it, for the past couple of months it has really been quite debilitating.  It's been a pain - literally - and we're just in the process of ruling a few things out, meaning we can't go travelling until the necessary tests are done, the doctors are satisfied (and me too) and I'm on the mend.  It's OK, it's good timing really, I mean it's not exactly going to be the best time to do much travelling over the next few months anyway!  But that's where we're at, and why I haven't been doing much blogging lately.  Life has been one continuous string of appointments lately, I've had 10 in the last three weeks alone!  But I'm fine.  I was pretty down in the dumps for a while but I'm doing much better now. 

Life on the road isn't always perfect - but it's pretty darn close!

Just because you're 'living the dream' doesn't mean life is always going to be perfect.  Getting sick on the road is a big fear for a lot of people - big enough to put them off ever doing it.  But the thing is, life on the road is like any other in that if that happens, you just deal with it, same as you would anywhere else.  To be honest I find it far easier being in the van when I'm unwell than I ever did living in a house.  In the van you just get comfy and rest up until you're better, without having to worry about things not getting done and the house falling down around you.  Instead of forcing myself to drag a vacuum cleaner around I'm snug and warm, smiling at the blackbirds bathing in the puddles on the other side of the window.  There's the added bonus too of being able to take your house wherever you need to when it comes to hospitals and treatments and such too! You can't put your dreams on hold because of what 'might happen'.  If we all did that, none of us would ever do anything!  Quite the contrary, we have come across countless people who live on the road BECAUSE of their health issues; people who have survived heart attacks and cancer or who have other disabilities.  Rather than letting it stop them, they embrace everything life has to offer and get on with making the most of it.  Just like we all should.

I love this picture of Casper (Now Llewelyn) eyeing us up when we came to say goodbye.  It's as if he's saying 'You're not taking me away again are you?  I like it here!'

We might not be venturing too far in the foreseeable future but we've still managed to do a fair bit of adventuring lately - enough for me to fill my blogs for quite a while yet!  You may have seen our Facebook videos of transporting our wee lamb to his new home in the van but I'm looking forward to being able to share the full story and telling you all about the beautiful and very special place he now lives and will spend the rest of his days.  He's a lucky lad indeed.  Another highlight was having a very special lady join us for a few days of sightseeing - my mum!  It had been 18 months since we had seen each other and it was an emotional reunion at the airport to say the least!  Spending a few precious days together really brought it home to me what a different life we lead and I struggled for quite a while at the realisation that I had not physically been there for my little mum all this time.  After surviving bowel cancer, a knee replacement and a stroke all in the last two years, she really is quite amazing and I was so proud of her as we strolled along the beach at Moeraki and wended our way around the Otago Peninsula.  It was a really special time and it was nice to be able to look after her the way she deserves and show her some of the area we love so much.  Lots more to come about her visit too!

Mum and me exploring the sights of Dunedin

For now, that brings us up to date as to where we're at.  Sometimes it's nice to just stop and smell the soup.  I say 'soup' because there's no chance of having roses in a van where you're going to knock them over in five minutes flat!  But our little van never smells more homely than at this time of year, where there's always something warm and comforting in the crockpot or on the stove.  And, following on from my previous blog, which seems forever ago now, the new damp-busting bed arrangement is working extremely well!  The temperature has already hit below freezing but all is well.  Over the next few days we'll be transforming Ken back into a spaceship with our annual bubble-wrap-athon and with a bit of luck (I'm touching every bit of wood here) that will see us through the winter comfortably and without too much grief and hassle.  Whatever happens, whatever life throws at us, we will be OK!