The past two weeks have been epic. The scenery in the southwest of the South Island is almost unreal. Mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, gorges, waterfalls, beaches, glaciers, fjords – big and beautiful and literally around every single turn in the road. Cameras fail to capture the scale and absolute gorgeousness (or at least mine does!).
Heard in the van:
Wow Wow Wow
How is that even possible?
That doesn’t look real
Can you even believe this?
That’s just epic
Have you ever seen anything like this?
NZ is honestly the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen
This is like Scotland on steroids
Holy cow shit (Grace!)
Also heard in the van:
Could you please just leave me alone for five minutes?!
Do you think our children might be a little bit bipolar?
We seem to have settled into a bit of a camping rhythm. We’ve been doing more freedom camping (essentially pulling off somewhere beautiful and staying the night) or stopping in Department of Conservation campsites (designated sites within national park areas with minimal nightly fees). After a couple of days of this more off-the-grid style, we pull into a commercial campsite (often a Top 10 brand since they have playgrounds and consistently clean bathroom, kitchen, and laundry facilities). We dump our water and waste, fill up with clean water, plug the van in for the night, take (longish) warm showers, and do laundry. These sites are more expensive (averaging at least $50/night) and less picturesque, so we’ve been trying to cut back on them for both budget and aesthetic reasons. We also had a bit of a fender bender in one of them the other day, as they’re often quite crowded (thankfully no one was hurt, but the van will need a little cosmetic patching up when we get to Christchurch – I’m now quite happy we opted for full coverage insurance).
Meals have also taken on a certain rhythm. Perhaps once a week we indulge in a restaurant dinner, usually when we’re passing through a larger town. Even being used to NYC prices, I think restaurants and groceries are quite expensive here, so we try to keep eating out to a minimum and focus our funds on van provisions. For breakfast we have bran cereal or bread (toast if we’re plugged into power) with marmite or peanut butter, bananas, and apples. About once a week, we have a more leisurely pancake and bacon breakfast; we even managed to find some (very expensive and very delicious) organic Canadian maple syrup! Lunch is usually sandwiches, raw vegetables, and fruit, often in picnic form during a hike. When we’re in the van, we also usually heat up some soup. We seem to rotate through several dinner options – pasta, daal and rice, vegetable and tofu sitrfry, an egg-based dish, and chicken fajitas (the family favorite). Snacks feature carrots, apples, rice cakes, and cheese and crackers. We’ve also taken to buying biscuits (to have with tea and as midnight snacks) and Carl is slowly becoming addicted to his “driving candies.” And, of course, endless bottles of fizzy water – I miss our Soda Stream! Oh, and quite a bit of red wine.
Carl is the driver-in-chief and I’m the itinerary/route-planner-in-chief and a second pair of eyes on the road. It’s been really nice to take each day as it comes. I usually try to have a general sense of locations for the upcoming three days, and then finalize the exact destinations and overnight stopping points in the morning right after breakfast. Thus far, we’ve been able to drive up to all campsites except one without a reservation; this may change the closer we get to Christmas holidays.
We’ve now been on the road in New Zealand for 47 nights and we have 21 to go before we head to Australia. We’ve driven a little over 5000km (3100 miles). And we like camper vanning! We’re already discussing future vanning options – Iceland, northwest and southwest United States, South America! But for now, we’re focusing on the next three weeks here in this absolutely stunning country.
Max has been growing up on this trip. He can walk further. He can play more imaginatively. He has patience for longer books. And (very very happily for me and Carl) he can also sleep later in the mornings. I hesitate to type this for fear the sleeping gods will laugh at our happiness and Max will returns to his 4am ways – I will cry if this happens.
He is also getting more opinionated. He likes Carl (and only Carl) to help him eat, sing him to sleep, and buckle his carseat. This preference for Carl borders on the obsessive: “Daddy? What you doing? Daddy? I’m hungry. Daddy? I’m thirsty. Daddy? What you doing?” Sometimes when I tell him I love him he feels compelled to note, “I love Daddy instead.” But he and I do share an excellent sense of smell. He has a particularly excellent sense of bathroom smell and essentially refuses to use the toilet in the camper van because “I don’t like that smell.” I’m sort of with him on that one.
He likes new clothes and always notices when he’s dressed in a new item. He loves cheese. He is very good at blowing his nose. He likes to climb, mostly on things that aren’t designed for climbing – the security sensors when you leave stores are one of his recent favs; the driver’s seat in the van is another. He likes dragons with large wings. He loves reading about the little yellow digger saving the whale.
While he may now sleep later, he is grumpy in the morning. And at any time of the day he doesn’t especially love to answer questions. When pushed, he will answer questions related to his name and his age with a shout, “I Maxi. I Maxi Freeman.” He usually then stomps away.
He loves Paw Patrol, a children’s show about pups who save the day. This is funny since he is noticeably scared of dogs in real life. However the passion with which he sings the theme song is pretty adorable: “Paw patrol, paw patrol be there on the double!” He also talks a lot about winches, a direct result of repeatedly watching the pups use various machinery to save the day.
And something we’ve learned on this trip is that Max loves the ocean. Even when it’s (absurdly) cold. Appropriately for a little surfer dude in training he often says, “Oh maaaaaaan” when he’s feeling frustrated or disappointed. He frequently informs us, “I don’t like wet things” when we’re wiping his face or when he spills on himself (he seems to manage to spill at least a little water at every single meal). His aversion to water seems limited to not liking wet clothes, hence his preference for nude ocean splashing. My heart sings when he runs in the waves and along the beach, his deep, dark eyes sparkling, his husky giggles carried through the wind.
Lots to be thankful for this week. But least you think I can’t get my complain on, I’ve included some grumblings to keep these reflections truthful.
Kind gestures from strangers “Rest a while. Enjoy the view. But leave the seats so others can too.” I was charmed by this message left on two chairs along the hiking trail — not sponsored, not gimmicky, just simple kindness.
Oh Phelups! Grace has basically made up her own swear word, and I sort of love it. She uses it when she’s feeling frustrated or angry, and it’s starting to catch on; I heard Carl using it earlier today!
Children’s hiking boots I was torn about whether to spend money on these before we left for the trip, but it was worth it. The boots let Grace and Max know to expect an adventurous and longish walk ahead and they’re just sturdier and more supportive than regular kid’s shoes, especially on rocky and muddy trails.
My legs Strong, steady, taking me to new views and vistas.
Apples and carrots The go to Freeman family driving and walking snacks. Crunch!
Shoe and sock removal Max insists on taking his shoes and socks off within 10 minutes of having them put on. By the end of the day, this is highly highly irritating. Your toes are delicious, Max, but come on!!!
Crumbs, sand, dirt, dust When your living room, dining room, bunk room, and kitchen are all basically one small box, every bit of dirt on the floor is more apparent and more disgusting. Who wants to sleep directly on top of dinner crumbs and bottom-of-shoe debris? Not me or Carl! How many times can two adults sweep the floor in one day? I’ll tell you: too many!
Losing my temper I used to think I was so patient.
ABBA on repeat Oh, Carl…
Stomach issues in a camper van I’ll just leave it at that.