Let me take you back to February 2004 –
When Charlie was 5 weeks old, we took off traveling in our gorgeous house bus that Wayne had been painstakingly building in our front garden for a year.
It was an old school bus, that was gutted and then we built in beds, shelves, a kitchen, (eventually…) “bathroom” (of sorts!) bunks….
It was a wild and beautiful adventure…..if I had had a blog then I would have written this –
For some reason we didn’t put a thing in the bus until our last day! I had an unsettled baby, not surprisingly, and was frantically bunging things into the bus while everyone we had ever met came to say goodbye….. Wayne was trying to finish building things.
I had a master list of who was having what – “could you come back at 4pm to get the vacuum cleaner..?”
“This box is for you….”
I was shattered and could only crawl into bed and cry that first night…. The bus was not finished, the kitchen was a pile of boxes, any bathroom was non-existent. We foolishly thought we could do without a toilet….just a bucket for extreme emergencies and park up next to public toilets. Well! Our first real night away Dane was starting university. So we had followed him up, settled him in and that night there was a big banquet for parents and first year students. It was great that Wayne could go along with him, while I stayed with the kids in the bus. We were parked near the town centre, but not toilets. It was light, as it was summer. Within 5 minutes of Wayne going the first call came – Mum I need to go to the toilet!
I had pasta cooking, a baby, and two toddlers. There was no way I was going to make it to the public toilets at least a ten minute walk away. Out came the bucket. Then the second request! I only had one bucket!
It was a bit fraught and then in broad daylight I had to put the bucket outside under the bus – and remind myself to tell Wayne about it before we drove off later that night.
All fed, in pyjamas, and happily playing. It was 6.30 and now I needed to go.
Wayne wouldn’t be home until after 10pm.
I had to get the offending bucket back in……
Needless to say it was a short and sharp learning curve – we bought a toilet!
I loved the snail mentality, having your home with you. I loved stopping anywhere and being able to make a sandwich, a cup of tea. The kids would play while we beetled along. The older two could move around and get toys, or be a co-pilot up front with Dad (ear muffs needed as the engine was so loud!) Or even use the new and much appreciated loo without having to stop!
We had a good few full shelf empty outs all over the floor going around corners (including the fridge!), until we perfected a pre-flight checklist to secure lose items. Still we would get the occasional surprise now and then.
“Take Five” took us to the very top of New Zealand. Cape Reinga, where no over night camping was allowed. We just couldn’t face turning back after such a big trip, so we parked as far south in the carpark as we could. The area was Tapu (meaning Sacred – no camping, no food prepared). That night it felt like we weren’t welcome as the wind blew was so strong the windows kept popping open and the bus rocked in the gale.
So many beautiful places to see. So many other travelers to meet. We lived in Keri Keri for 6 months. After some time camping out in the Kauri forests, we rented a small place in town. We emptied the bus into the house, borrowed a fridge and a sofa off new friends and for me, embarked on the happiest time of my life. A big part of this time was the fact it was warm – sub-tropical. It was temporary, no big commitments. Hannah went to school for a few months, the boys and I went to Playcentre.
I loved the age of the kids – a baby, (crawling no less…perfect! ) and the older two turned 4 and 6 while we were there which was so cool as they had piles of friends and great parties!
Outside there was a park which was just an extension of our garden. It was full of orange trees, all fruiting and overflowing with fruit. We got a bit too used to such over-blown abundance, so much so that the kids would use the oranges to play with. Our own orange grove, with frequent rainbows appearing overhead it just seemed magical.
Our departure south from Northland was as fantastical as our stay there. We had a big breakfast for friends at Playcentre with a tour of the bus, a lovely social day, an after school party and then the Keri Keri Christmas parade was our own personal fanfare to send us on our way – we literally drove off into the sunset.
The South Island called.
We made it right down to Bluff and even over to Stewart Island.
We hung out in the Catlins with Sea Lions, swam with dolphins, camped by Monkey Island on the South Coast, Wayne’s Mum came along for a week or so with us, (Yay Nana!!) we met my family for a big Christmas, friends caught up with us in various places.
It was an adventure of note. It lasted for 18 months. Charlie took his first steps on Stewart Island, had his first birthday on the roadside south of Greymouth.
Hannah lived in her little purpose-built top bunk where she could spend whole days reading and thinking and living Harry Potter only to emerge at 5pm asking where we were!
Ollie had turned 4 and played with larger weapons (challenging in a bus). He was into connecting and would often tie bungy cords or string in zig-zags, like a massive spider web all over the bus. Amazingly creative…. and amazingly hard to navigate through when moving…..
Even though it was full-on for me at times with young children & my days were a blur of feeding kids, there were magic moments at every turn. Every night was a treat. Tucking in to our big bed at the rear of the bus. Reading to the boys. Ollie never slept in his little bunk, so it was cosy with four of us in a queen size bed. Sometimes we awoke to Hannah curled up at the foot of the bed too.
The best nights were when we would be in bed, ready to sleep and Wayne would drive off, us bouncing along together, giggling to sleep and in the morning we would wake up in a new place. The most memorable was leaving Wanaka, where he drove us up onto the crown range and backed up so we had the most stunning view overlooking Lake Wakatipu in the morning!
The interesting thing was people’s reaction. No one said “You are crazy!” or ” Why are you doing that?”
Everyone said “How wonderful! Good on you!”
And sadly 99% of folk said “I would love to do that” or “I wish we had done that with our children…”
Many, many people said “Oh you are so lucky!” This made me laugh to myself as luck had nothing to do with it! We bought a bus, got in it and drove away, simple as that. It actually was as simple as that.
Sometimes in life it is so easy to stay with the status quo. I have learned that adventures are just as easy – you just have to get up, put the gear in the car (or bus) and GO!!
I am so grateful we did it when we did and have such rich memories.
A word about money. When we left we had $180 in the bank. No kidding! There was some more coming to us that we knew about, but we really did leave on a wing and a prayer. We were only 2 days on the road when we got a call to say that a house Wayne owned and had as a rental property a few hours further north, was about to become empty and as landlord did he want to come and give it a look over/ re paint etc. We detoured, parked up in the ‘burbs and Wayne worked like a demon for 2 weeks. He painted the whole inside, got new carpets & re-built the fence. On the last day when we were ready to leave a friend of a friend turned up and said he wanted to buy the place, how much?! It seemed like the best thing to do at the time, so we sold on the spot. Foot loose and fancy free!
When we stopped to work, we lived out of town, looking after a DOC campground where we got 1 campervan every few days. It was winter (albeit a tropical one) and I decided I needed to be in town, life was too hard for me there with three small kids all day. So we rented a little place in Kerkeri. This did mean however that we didn’t really save any money. I had never let that sort of thing worry me before, and we still made plans for out trip south with the arrival of summer.
Literally two weeks before take-off I received a cheque for $5000! A tax refund I didn’t even know about.
Don’t you just love the way the universe works!? I have found time and again that when you truly believe in something you can make it happen. Have no room for doubt, only visualise it happening perfectly. I have found that things always work out in my life. I always expect them to and they do.
As is said in that wonderful movie “The Best Marigold Hotel”
– Things always work out in the end, if they have not worked out yet, it is not the end!
Big trips, I find, are really bonding for us as a family. Things that create a bank of shared memories for us to draw on. Making memories together is one of the joys of any relationship. A holiday/trip/ adventure is when I am most happy, so I am an avid memory maker.
As Hannah moves away into a more independent space, it just makes me more grateful for all the fun adventures we have had already and more determined than ever to keep ’em coming thick and fast while the boys are still into hanging out with me!