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Six days with three kids and three adults crammed into a campervan might sound a bit like torture. I have to say I was a little apprehensive about the idea, despite being the one who suggested it. But the children’s sheer excitement was contagious and once we were on the open road and with a good weather forecast predicted, the stress levels waned.

Camper van.

William and the van

The goal was to spend time together, travel to amazing places and have fun. We definitely met our goal on this adventure.

Campsite - beachside.

Yes this is how close to the beach we camped – wild places!

I’d never travelled in a campervan, and it felt strange to be a tourist in my own country. And it had been a long time since I’d been to the West Coast. It always seemed too far away when my kids are the kind that says “are we there yet?” every ten minutes. Funnily enough, this time they didn’t – the kids were so thrilled with the van that the journey became more important than the destination. In fact it probably didn’t matter where we went, as long as we were in our van. Unfortunately all this happiness meant lots of singing – repeating the same songs over and over again. Yes it drove us crazy!

top bunk.

We slept the three children cross-wise in the top bunk – it meant the adults could stay up later reading in the rest of the camper.

Having the freedom to stop wherever we wanted was quite powerful. And the West Coast is perfect for this.  There are so many magical places just around the next bend in the road. But some good preparatory planning meant we could take full advantage of this freedom.

West Coast lake.

Many of the camp-sites were beside beautiful lakes like this one

Here are my top tips tried and proven true on this adventure:

1)    Making sure we had plenty of easy food and snacks on-board meant that if the kids were hungry, we could pull in anywhere and have a picnic.

2)    Pre-cooking a couple of meals before we left meant that we could have dinner on the table within 30 minutes even from our tiny kitchen. It’s amazing how hungry you get when you’ve been out in the fresh air all day!

Lake Kaniere.

Exploring the shores at sunset

3)    A bit of reading up beforehand on campground sites proved vital. It meant we could decide, depending on how far we had got, where we were going to pull up for the night. From Kumara Junction south we found amazing basic campsites, most beside gorgeous lakes – thanks to the DOC South Island campsites brochure.

Lake Kaniere

Lake Kaniere camp ground.

4)    Despite being self-contained I didn’t want to bring heaps of toys with us and besides, the holiday was about getting out and about. We kept it simple and it was just the right amount to keep them happy:

  • Some activity books and pens for keeping them occupied while cooking dinner or if the weather turned bad
  • A t-ball set and ball for at the campground when the weather was good
  • A book for each child to read as part of the bedtime settling down routine
  • One important cuddly toy for comfort.
Doing activity books.

Activity books kept them happy inside….

Playing catch.

… while ball games kept them occupied outside at camp!

5)    A good torch was essential for finding the toilet in the dark. It also was useful for a pre-bed game of spotlight tag! Sand-fly repellent was also a must for the Coast is renowned for these bity bugs. And of course a first-aid kit for emergencies.

6)    Jandals for everyone meant less dirt was traipsed into the van when we were camped up. A box near the front door for all the shoes also proved handy for keeping these all in one place.

Weka.

Cheeky weka at one campsite kept us entertained.

Word of warning – campervanning is not really the budget holiday that it’s sometimes marketed as. We got a good deal but then you add on insurance, gas and diesel. We had to call into the occasional commercial campsite to power up the van’s battery and recharge cameras and this did prove quite expensive. Most places charged per person so we ended up paying $60 – $70 per night – which when you add onto the hire charge for the van was about the same cost as hiring a motel room or entire bach!

Campsite.

Commercial camp-sites were usually a chance to catch up the laundry too.

But you can’t put a price on the experiences we gained on our adventure. And I know the children will always remember their week coasting in the campervan.

Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier

Family.

From left to right Robyn, Josie, Taylor, Stu and William.

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A great way to get your children excited about reading is to make them the star of their own story. It’s also a great way to record all the many adventures you have together!  These days anyone who has access to a digital camera can make a book; either online or at your local photo shop or chemist that has one of those photo printing booths.  You can either rewrite the familiar classics with your own unique twist as I have done here , or choose to tell your own unique story.

We’re going on a tramping trip
(with William and Josie)
Concept stolen from ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ by Michael Rosen


Josie and the red door.

Josie and the red door (2010)

We’re going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park.

William @ Craigieburn Forest Park (2008)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

William @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve (2011)

Oh no!

We’ve reached the green and shady forest
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it,
we’ll have walk through it

Trip trot trip trot trip trot hop

Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve.

Josie @ Lewis Pass Scenic Reserve 2011.

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ngatuhoa Stream.

William and Dad crossing Ngatuhoa Stream (2007)

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Temple valley.

William and Mum @ Temple valley (2007).

Oh no!

Here’s a rushing braided river
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have wade through it

Link arms and wade wade wade wade

St James CA.

William and Josie St James CA (2011)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Hanmer Forest Park.

Hanmer Forest Park (2011).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

St James.

St James CA 2011).

Oh no!

We have reached the wavy tussock grasslands
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Swish, swish, swish, swish

Ben Ohau.

Ben Ohau (2007).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Ben Ohau (2007).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Otukaikino.

William @ Otukaikino with friends (2012).

Oh no!

Here’s an oozy, peaty wetland
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to go around it

Squelch squelch squelch squelch

Swing bridge

Swing bridge Aoraki/MT Cook (2009)

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Family at Aoraki/Mt Cook (2009).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park (2009)

Oh no!

Here’s a big snowy mountain
We can’t go under it, we can’t go around it,
we can’t go through it, we’ll have to climb over it

Climb climb climb climb

Arthur's Pass (2011).

Were going on a tramping trip
It’s going to be a long one
We’re looking for a taniwha
I’m not scared

Kura Tawhiti.

Josie & Ben Kura Tawhiti (2012).

I’ve got my tramping boots on
I’ve got my back pack on
I’ve got my sun hat on
What a beautiful day

Kura Tawhiti.

William @ Kura Tawhiti 2012

Oh oh

We’ve found a scary limestone cave
We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it

Tip toe tip toe tip toe

Cave Stream.

William and Dad @ Cave Stream (2008).

What’s that sound?

Roar!

It’s the taniwha!

Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry.

William, Josie and cousin Taylor on the Taniwha at Te Puna Quarry (2010).

Quick, run home

Over the big snowy mountain—climb climb climb
Around the oozy peaty wetland—squelch squelch squelch
Through the wavy tussock grasslands—swish swish swish
Through the rushing river—wade wade wade
Through the drippy rainforest—trip trot trip trot hop
Back home, in our front door, up the stairs and into bed.

Phew.

Josie reading her book.

Josie reading "going on a tramping trip" (2012)

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Our lives are so busy these days. As working parents in a commercially-driven world where success is the measure of worth, we are constantly rushing from one appointment to the next. Get up, go the gym, take the kids to school, go to work, pick up the kids from school, go to swimming lessons, violin lessons, ballet lessons, art, karate, play dates, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, go to the gym, night classes, choir, committee meetings, PTA…

Sometimes we just need to stop, listen, be still and take time to be in the moment.

Daisy's Flat.

Quiet times at Daisy Flat.

Sunday 4 March 2012 was Children’s Day. And I was too busy to publishing this blog on the day! (shame) The theme of children’s day for 2012  was ‘treasure our children’. We shouldn’t need a day to tell us that our children are a gift and that we should spend time with them. But with all this constant drive to improve ourselves and be successful, we sometimes forget to just be together. As a family. All of us. Not Mum and Josie while the boys go to swimming. Not Dad and William while Josie goes to ballet. All of us. Spending some time together marvelling at the world we find ourselves in. It only needs to be ten minutes. Ten minutes of being in the moment.

Here are six simple experiences to just be “in the moment” with your children. These can be done by children of any age, even (especially) infants.

1)     Lie under a tree and look up at the branches together. Watch the leaves blowing in the wind, and the way the sun sparkles as it flicks between the spaces. Close your eyes and listen.

2)     Find a warm rock and lie like lizards. Worship the sun by feeling how it warms the rock – or your driveway if you can’t find a suitable stone. Put your cheek or hands flat against the stone and feel its warmth.

3)     Go for a walk at the quiet end of the beach – no spades, no boogie boards, just you. Take off your shoes and find a spot where the sand is really wet. Scrunch your toes in the sand. Wiggle side to side and watch your feet. Close your eyes and listen to the waves.

Josie aged 9 months.

Josie at nine months explored the sand using multiple senses!

4)     Find a wild space (they are getting rare) where the grass is growing long. Get down low and look through the grass. Play hide and seek, or crawl pretending to be tigers. Look for butterflies and insects flitting from flower to flower. Lie down and close your eyes.

5)     When it rains sit in the window and watch the raindrops travel down the glass. Follow them with your finger. Pick on each and have a race. When it stops – or even if it doesn’t put on your coats and boots and go stomp in some puddles. Raise your face up towards the rain and you guessed it – close your eyes. Take a deep breath and smell the rain.

Down in the forest. Down in the forest

6)     Read a book together. Snuggle into a beanbag and cuddle. Down in the Forest, retold by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Jenny Cooper is great for really small kids as it’s a remake of an old rhyme “Over in the meadow” so it has wonderful rhythm and repetition as well as being familiar. It also features different families with each verse – a kiwi family, weta family, tui family and more, so it’s a wonderful choice to celebrate and read as a family.

in an old kowhai tree
lived a sweet mother tui
and her little tuis three.

“Sing!” said the mother
“We sing!” said the three
so they sang so sweetly
in that old kowhai tree.

P.S. This week is Seaweek, an annual celebration to reconnect with the sea and what it can teach us. It is being officially launched at an event from Auckland Zoo tonight. Stay tuned for sea-themed reads and maybe some other fun stuff to do! The website has lots of competitions and resources too so check it out.

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When I was fourteen I wanted to be like Don Merton. He’d gone to offshore islands and saved a black robin from the brink of extinction. He was my eco-hero and I wanted to grow up just like him.

Well these days I’m more likely to write about eco-heroes than be one, but I can see the same love of nature growing in my son; (most likely because that’s what he’s been exposed to!)

Darwin aged 7; source www.darwinday.org

Charles Darwin

Today is World Darwin Day – a global celebration of science and reason on the birthday of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin was one of the first eco-heroes. He travelled the world documenting life and coming up with all sorts of wonderful ideas like ‘evolution’ and the ‘origin of the species’. He visited New Zealand in December 1835 – apparently he didn’t think much of it!

Both Don Merton and Charles Darwin did great things. But they were also both kids once. Even famous people wanted to grow up to be someone someday. And if your son or daughter would like to grow up to be a famous naturalist, here are my ten top tips on how to help them get there!

1. Go on an adventure travelling on a Beagle. 

Not the dog! Charles Darwin visited New Zealand in 1835 travelling on a ship called “The Beagle”. Your Beagle could be your child’s bike or scooter, or the family car if you are going on a big adventure with the whole family. The point is – go somewhere and see something new!

2. Observe the natural world around you

Go into the bush or the beach with a camera and notebook and record things you see: animal life, plants, stones and dirt, traces left behind by people. If your child is old enough, let them have the camera to record the things that most interest them.

Robin spotting; photo S Mankelow.

Making friends with a South Island robin

3. Teach them to respect the natural world

Encourage them to stop, sit quietly and let birds come to you. Teach them to recognise the things birds and other animals do if they don’t like how close you are getting. It can be dangerous for both of you so make sure your visit doesn’t cause them distress. A good rule of thumb for marine animals is ten metres.

4. Study living things; noticing the little details.

Does this leaf have a jagged edge or a smooth one? Does that bird have a sharp beak? Encourage your children to draw them and name the parts.

5. Start a nature journal

Put all the photos you’ve taken, their drawings, stories and notes all in one book. It becomes a great record of your experiences together and something to refer to later.

William writing in his journal; photo S Mankelow.

William records his experience with the robin in his journal

6. Encourage them to ask lots of questions

Why does that tree grow like that? Why is this leaf furry? Why does that bird’s beak bend? Tell them it’s OK to drive their parents and teachers mad with questions! But then, help them find the answers …

7. Read lots of books about nature

Use what you learn when you go outside to understand what’s around you. Take books with you into the wild so you can identify things you see. Andrew Crowe’s life-size guide books are great for this.

8. Get familiar with some new big words and ideas like ‘evolution’, ‘adaption’, ‘habitat’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Find out what they mean and then look around you to find examples in the natural world.

9. Discover or invent something new

Why not draw a magical creature that lives in a special place? Think about its habitat (where it lives) – what would it need to survive?

10. Finally, the best way to become famous as a naturalist is to share your knowledge with others!

If you see rare birds like whio/blue duck encourage your child to write to DOC and explain that it helps their research. Maybe encourage them to start up their own research project at school. Join a club or support a trust like Kea Conservation Trust.

Robin; Photo S Mankelow.

South Island Robin

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Anyone who has driven between Christchurch and the West Coast has driven past the spectacular limestone battlements of Castle Hill – Kura Tāwhiti. For those of you who have never stopped – you should.

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

Sculptures of stone bridges and overhangs

Tomorrow, Waitangi Day, we are taking some friends to visit Kura Tawhiti for their first time.  To them, Waitangi Day is just another public holiday, a chance to get out of town. I’m hoping that a day at Kura Tāwhiti will change that for them.

Anyone who has visited Kura Tāwhiti will get a sense that this is a special place. It has drawn people in since people first walked these lands.  Early Māori left their stories here, marked on the stone and in the memories of their descendants.  Māori believe that all things have their own life force (mauri). Wandering through Kura Tāwhiti I can believe that too.

Kura Tāwhiti literally means “the treasure from a distant land”, referring to the kumara that was once cultivated in this region. Kura Tāwhiti was claimed by the Ngāi Tahu ancestor Tane Tiki, son of celebrated chief Tūāhuriri. The nearby mountains were famed for kakapo, and Tane Tiki wanted their soft skins and glowing green feathers for clothing to be worn by his daughter Hine Mihi. Stories like these link the landscape to the people – tangata whenua (people of the land).” (From DOC website)

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

The centre of Kura Tawhiti is like nature's ampitheatre

Under the Ngāi Tahu Treaty Settlement Act, Kura Tawhiti was given Tōpuni status, which is a legal recognition of the site’s importance to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. Tōpuni comes from the traditional custom of chiefs extending power and authority over areas or people by placing a cloak over them.

For some, Waitangi Day – the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 – is a day of protest and debate about its place and meaning in Aotearoa today. I prefer to celebrate it by sharing our beautiful country and all its many intricate layers of culture and meaning with friends.  To share in a sense of pride and belonging. Like the limestone rock that makes up the battlements of Kura Tawhiti, Aotearoa has a rich and varied history, pressed together by time to create something magical.

Kura Tawhiti; photo Stuart Webb.

From Christchurch take highway 73 towards the West Coast. Kura Tawhiti is beside the highway in the Waimakariri Basin, about 80 minutes from Christchurch.

Kids in a hole; photo: Sarah Mankelow.

Adventure is crawling through a hole!

Coming up…

12 February – Darwin Day
http://darwinday.org/

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