Loving the van life again!
Being back in the van has been wonderful. I had forgotten how well I sleep, tucked up in our cosy cocoon! It still feels strange not to have Minnie's weighty warmth alongside me and hear her comforting snores but she is very much still with us wherever we go. Her collar with its little bandana hangs behind us as we drive, a little canvas of her paw prints is on the wall of the van and a wee pouch of her fur sits in the front with us. Bless her heart, we still miss her so much.
The other big difference is that at the moment, the van is not really set up for living in. All the time we have been house sitting our way up the country for work, Ken has been packed to the rafters with food, kitchen props for the cookbook, enough 'good' clothes for all our media appointments and Gareth's computer and camera gear. We've been constantly downsizing and decluttering as we go and by the time we needed to spend a week in the van we finally got to the stage where there was just about room for us to use the bed. Even so, many of the things we needed, such as something to cook on and things to cook with had been left down at the caravan in Gore. I was excited at the prospect of living in the van and being off grid again but also had my reservations as to how comfortable we would actually be, and whether we would have enough of everything to get by.
We spent our first night in the Kapiti Coast with some fellow motorhoming friends of ours, who kindly gave us a place to sleep and have a much-needed shower after an all-day drive from the Waikato. We had met Stewart and Aileen about 18 months before in Gore and had kept in touch ever since. There's nothing more enjoyable than conversing with other travellers, sharing anecdotes and swapping stories, it's a whole different and vibrant level of conversation. Even so, you'd be hard pressed to find a couple more interesting than these two. They have travelled all over the world for years in vans and motorhomes and have such a wealth of experience and information. Even though we have travelled almost the whole of NZ twice now, in comparison to them we are still newbies! We have so much yet to see, to learn. As we sat in the garden the following morning, enjoying breakfast in the sunshine and listening to the birds, I felt completely content and so immensely fortunate to have met these wonderful people.
I felt so free walking along this beach! A golden moment indeed
The next night we parked up at a freedom camping spot at Waikanae River Mouth. We were right next to the water and I felt that familiar smile spread across my face. Just look at where we were, for goodness sake! We could see the ocean, the beach, the sunset all from our window. I never, ever forget how lucky we are when staying at a free camp, it just fills me with gratitude to be able to eat, sleep and breathe in such an amazing location for no cost. There were four vehicles there that night, with couples and families in and we all felt the same. I hopped out of the van and went for a walk on the beach and as my feet touched the sand I had the exact same feeling I did almost three years ago, when I stood at Matauri Bay in the Far North. I felt completely unburdened and so free! It's hard to describe but there's no feeling like it in the world.
Peace, stunning scenery... and a musical toilet!
What I love most about van life is being so close to nature, being close to everything. It felt so wonderful to be out here and really living the van life again. We couldn't so much as boil water for a cup of tea or heat a tin of beans! It made life pretty interesting for a few days and everything we ate was cold, raw or both but it was still delicious and we managed to eat well. The other campers we encountered were mainly from overseas and I found it hilarious that despite our magical surroundings, the thing they were all excited about was that the public toilet 50 metres away played music while they did their morning ablutions. In our case however, we had heard it all before. 'I wonder, if Burt Bacharach imagined when he wrote "What the World Needs Now, Is Love Sweet Love" that his masterpiece would be played in public toilets all over New Zealand?' laughed Gareth.
Us with Anita and Mark. Awesome hosts and treasured friends
The Kapiti Coast is so well set up and welcoming for motorhomers of all size vehicles but with the exception of one site, you can only spend a maximum of 24 hours in each spot as they are so sought after. We were busy trying to decide where we would spend the next night when we received a message from a lovely lady called Anita, who had seen we were in the Kapiti Coast and offered us a place to stay for the night and to share a meal. Accepting such kindness is often hard for us, I think because we feel as though we cannot offer anything in return. It's not as though we can return the favour, there's no room for anyone else in the van! But seeing as Anita and her partner Mark were fellow travel enthusiasts and Mark was also a photographer, we were excited at the prospect of meeting new like minded people and gratefully accepted their offer. Immediately upon arriving the conversation was bubbling over as we swapped tales of our adventures. When it comes to adventuring however, Mark was next level. He loved paragliding and had ridden all over America on his motorbike. He loved to experience everything life had to offer and we were mesmerised by his images of El Capitan and he and Anita's incredible rock climbing footage in Yosemite National Park. His excitement about life was infectious and for the first time since being on the road, I realised that there was a far bigger world out there than the one we were currently exploring. I wanted to get out and see it. If you would like to see some of Mark's stunning images, you can check out his photography page here, as well as his book Taureau Global, which is his 25,000 mile photographic odyssey around America.
After dinner we walked down to Raumati beach to watch the sunset, which was lovely. We had already been talking for hours when I asked Anita how she came to hear of us and were amazed to hear that she was not a long time reader but had listened to my Radio NZ interview with Jim Mora a couple of weeks earlier and loved what we were doing. Even more amazing however, is that this gorgeous lady is battling breast cancer and is currently waiting to start radiotherapy having already completed a course of chemotherapy. I couldn't believe these wonderful, kind people opened up their home to us and made us so welcome despite everything they have going on in their lives. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and now count them as treasured friends. Now, every night we can, we make sure we get down to whichever beach we are at to watch the sun sink in the sky, in a glorious display of fire.
We've seen many Kapiti sunsets and we love them all!
We have also made some wonderful friends in some of the people we have been house sitting for, such as Liz and Brent, whose energetic dog Reggie had us walking hundreds of kilometres around Paraparaumu a couple of months earlier! We spent several nights there, cooking and sharing meals together (after all, we already knew where everything was in the kitchen!) and stayed up late sharing stories and listening to their recent experience of Woodstock's 50th anniversary.
The Otaihanga Domain is a spacious and peaceful place to relax in
The Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve is one of many enjoyable walks
We interspersed our time with some more freedom camping, travelling around the Waikanae, Paraparaumu and Otaki areas and doing some of the many walks on offer. The Otaihanga Domain is a lovely place to park up on a sunny day and we enjoyed many picnics and leisurely strolls along the river. Even the council inspector who came every morning to check everyone at the freedom camping spots was self-contained in conjunction with the rules became like a friend! She was always so happy to see us and gave us a heap of information about camping and facilities in the area. 'You will write about us, won't you?' she always asked. 'We really want to encourage more visitors to the area!' I assured her I would, and I will.
It was such a pleasure getting out and about and meeting so many new people again. One couple we met, Paul and Christine were simply sitting on a bench as we were walking past. 'Whereabouts are you guys from?' Paul asked. 'Well...' we began, as we launched into the usual tale of how we came to be there. We'd only been in conversation for 10 minutes when they asked us to join them at the pub down the road for a drink! That's what motorhomers are like, we love to share stories and talk to other people like us. It turned out they were from Hunterville and contemplating upsizing their motorhome to a bus. The only thing was, the bus was in Invercargill. 'Well if it's still there in a month or so, let us know, we'll be down that way too!' we laughed.
Gaylene and Ray, with Ayla and their bus, 'Ruby'
One of our favourite encounters however was with Gaylene and Ray, who were parked up in their seven-metre bus, 'Ruby' at the Waikanae River Mouth with their gorgeous German Shepherd, Ayla. We got talking, as you do and before we knew it, they were welcoming us into their bus. We spent most of the morning in their company and Gareth and I both felt as though we had found kindred spirits. It was as though we had discovered future versions of ourselves! Everything we loved, many of the experiences we had shared, everything we wanted in life was exactly the same. Some people you just know you are going to stay in touch with and these two free spirits are pretty special. Already we are looking forward to visiting Hokianga next year so we can catch up with them again!
Gareth with one of his wriggly wee film subjects, 'Teapot'!
Despite being off grid a lot of the time, we have been getting a lot of work done, Gareth in particular. His latest big project is visiting animal sanctuaries all over NZ as we travel, filming the animal rescue stories and promoting the work they do. We spent a day at the Black Sheep Animal Sanctuary in Otaki, meeting the 200 or so rescue animals they currently care for, from Casper the cockatoo to Doris the ex-factory farm pig and Toffee, the tiny goat kid who it was feared would never walk again after he was found paralysed. It's pretty humbling being around a group of such amazing and dedicated people and it's great to be able to do our bit to help the animals in need and the people who care for them and keep them safe. Best of all though, at least for me, is to see Gareth in his absolute element. It's as though he was born to do this stuff and it's a joy to see him so happy. Living the way we do has really enabled him to find his passion, his purpose. That's pretty cool, don't you think? :-)