“This is what they are talking about, when they talk about New Zealand roads,” Michael shouts back to me over the whine of the Canter’s diesel engine. He’s in the driver’s seat, hands clenched on the steering wheel.
I’m sitting behind him, right hand gripped onto the metal bar behind his seat that doubles as the ladder to the girls’ bunk above. My feet are wedged against the settee opposite, to keep myself from sliding off my own seat. I’m being bounced and jolted around violently with the motorhome’s rough motion. It kind of feels like sailing.
We aren’t going fast, maybe 30 km/hour. But to me it feels like we’re about to hurtle off the cliff below any second, especially when I lean over and look out the front window, to see what Michael’s talking about. We’re traveling down a one-lane gravel road. To the left of us is the southern ocean, a narrow band of beach and rocks, a cliff, and a good part of the road missing, gone to join the sea below. Someone has put some rickety wooden guardrails around these AWOL bits of road, which was thoughtful.
At the start of the East Cape road, 20 km of rough travel out to the most eastern lighthouse in the world (at 178 degrees east), there is a sign which reads: “Extreme Caution/Reduce Speed”. They were not kidding when they had that one made up.
When the road widens again a short time later to a full single lane, we can breathe evenly again. Eventually it turns inland a bit, winding through acre after acre of green pastures chock full of sheep and cows, eating and shitting all over 100% pure New Zealand. Finally we reach The End of the road and park next to an old outhouse. When we look up up up we see the lighthouse, nestled atop a hill of native bush.
There is another motorhome there, an older couple from England we’d spoken to the day before. They’ve just gotten back from their climb up and back. “It doesn’t take long, 20 minutes or so. Only 750 steps up. Have fun!” they say cheerily and jauntily hop in their sleek and modern rented motorhome and start back down the road.
“I don’t WANT to go up there!” Upon hearing that our plans are the same, Leah stands with her feet apart, hands on her hips.
“We’re doing it,” I say. “We came all this way and we’re going up.” Not in the mood to negotiate, I hand the pack to Michael that’s got our passports, laptop, water, and snacks in it and sling the camera around my own neck and start walking.
“Come on Leah, let’s gooooooo!” Holly calls out, running up ahead.
Leah sighs and starts stomping. We find the trail head and begin making our way up the hill. It’s not long before the girls, followed by Michael, are out of sight up ahead of me.
Step after wooden step winds up through the nikau palms and silver tree ferns. “150” is carved into one; here I start to wonder if this was such a good idea myself. By “450” I’m cursing whoever had the stupid idea we should climb up to this lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. My feet and legs feel like they are plodding along in concrete. My thighs are starting to quiver. I can’t hear the birds anymore due to the blood pounding in my ears. It starts to rain. The damp, spicy smell of the earth is almost overpowering. Up and up and up. I slow down but I don’t stop. I realize how much I am enjoying this.
Step. Step. Step. The rough wooden treads twist and turn up the steep hillside. Suddenly a thought occurs to me: how much this is like life, plodding along even when you don’t want to. When stopping sounds like such a good idea. I think about all the steps I have taken, all the turns and decisions that have led me to this very day, right to this very staircase. A great many of them unpleasant, some exhilarating, a few regretful, but each vital to the path that has led me here.
Finally, I round one last bend in the staircase and the bright green hilltop opens up before me. The tidy white lighthouse towers in the middle of it. My girls come running towards me, smiles and eyes wide, eager to show me around.
I walk over to Michael and take his proffered hand. Together we turn and look around at the sapphire-blue sea below, tossing itself against towering cliffs and beyond, rolling green fields. Our little motorhome is down there, a tiny white dot at the end of the winding road. The girls run around us, around the lighthouse, in circles, in joy. It’s perfect moment, a miracle in fact.1 comment
As of this writing, we’ve officially been Wing’n It for 61 days and 7 hours. With our little Mitsubishi Canter diesel puttering away, we’ve explored around the Bay of Islands, Whangarei, Auckland and the Waitakere, the Coromandel peninsula, Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. We have camped by marina boatyards, bridges, city streets, driveways, parks, forests, and beach after beach after beach. Right now, we’re freedom camping at a small reserve in Rotorua (the home of geysers, boiling mud, and steaming, sulfur-emitting hot pools). Earlier today, our family went on a walk together here along a small but thundering river, water-falling and pouring down a small gorge into a series of peaceful-looking pools that look perfect for swimming.
Except for that it’s still winter here (a fact that doesn’t deter local surfers any). And while our friends back home are enjoying the hottest summer on record, New Zealand is having one of their coldest winters ever. Temperatures are supposed to drop to nearly 0°C tonight which is a wee chilly in a tiny motorhome with no heater. But this is when the camper’s small size most comes in handy: four bodies sharing 100 square feet keeps the temperature inside….tolerable. It at least keeps ice from forming on the windscreen. Michael and I still sleep with our sub-zero mummy bags zipped together with two blankets on top. And flannel pants, a fleece shirt, and wool socks. It appears a year of central heating has made me a bit soft.
But spring will be here in less than three weeks and the sky tells me that’s true; the sun has warmth again and the bluish white sunlight I remember of New Zealand is growing in intensity. Truth be told, we’ve had feelers out ever since we arrived for jobs, a place to stay for a little while. We even got a P.O. box up in Paihia. But life in this old, small van has been growing on us. It is the simplest we’ve ever lived: the most basic clothing for all, a truly minimalist galley, a few drawing supplies, games, Legos, and Kindles for the girls. Our routine is down pat: every three days we find a dumping station and empty the graywater tank and Porta-Potti and fill up our tiny 60L water tank. I go to the store and stock up on meat, vegetables, dark chocolate, and Pinot Noir. Then we open up the road atlas I got used at an Auckland library for NZ$0.75 and we decide where to drive next.
It’s not a bad gig, not at all. Because while some things are scarce, such as the aforementioned heat, along with internet (it took me 4 days just to find a cell signal strong enough to actually upload this post), interior (and–cough–personal) space, and good hoppy beer, we are rich once again in the things that truly matter: the wonder that is exploring a stunning island at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean and the time to do it together as a family. I think we’ll keep going.
Feast your eyes on this:
This one too:
I’ll be honest with you—never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the words that Behan, Michael, and I wrote would come together to look as beautiful as those pages. When I first saw the proofs that came over email from our publisher Lin, tears literally came to my eyes when I saw the gorgeous book our words have evolved into.
But while we started out as a team of just the three of us, the number of people that have become involved has grown to a team of literally hundreds of people: our families of course, our publisher Lin, our editor Tim Murphy, our designer Steven Horsley, our proofreader Michelle Elvy. But it also could not have happened without the contributions of words, photos, and ideas from over 65 (!) voyaging families and former cruising kids. I may be biased, but I think taking your kids sailing is one of the best ways to parent and a lot of other people think so too. But it’s not the easiest, that’s for sure. Which is the reason our book exists.
The thing I love most about cruising is how the people who live this life are always so eager to share information with the ones following in their wakes. Whether it’s specific anchorage information, weather advice, or just general encouragement, helping others with their cruising dreams is half the fun of this life. I know we are incredibly grateful for the advice our own cruising mentors gave us when we were just starting out (and will be looking for more when we head out again!). A lot has changed in the world of voyaging—boats, social media, satellite phones, iPad navigation—but not this. Helping new voyagers set off on their own brand new adventures is just as exciting as heading out on our own.
So to have been involved in a project of this magnitude is simply thrilling. The book is on the presses as I type this and we’re putting the finishing touches on the interactive eBook. Six more weeks before our baby is in my hands—and hopefully yours. I can’t wait to hear about the family voyaging dreams—and lives of living intentionally, together—that become real because of it.
For more on the book, visit www.voyagingwithkids.com
For earliest printed book delivery, order directly from paracay.com
Print and ebook preorders now available on Amazon.com2 comments
Motorhomes and caravans all have names here, just like boats do (perhaps this is true everywhere though?). Ours is called “Wing’n It” which we at first thought was kind of silly and planned to change it as soon as we could. Until we realized it pretty much fits our situation perfectly as we’ve been taking each day as it comes. Wing’n it. We know we’ll settle into a little corner of New Zealand sooner rather than later, but for now we’re letting our path come into focus as it will.
But I woke up the other morning and had no idea where I was. My arm was freezing, having escaped the warmth of Michael’s and my zipped-together mummy bags sometime in the early morning. I tucked it back inside to warm it up again. Then I heard the Tui bird in a tree outside. The Tui’s call is the most fantastic bird call I’ve ever heard: a chorus of high and low, short and long notes, chattering and chuckling. A hundred birds all in one. Then I remembered exactly where I was and curled up to sleep a few minutes more before the girls woke up.
Michael was up a short while later to make coffee. It’s not a fast process: he grinds the beans by hand (unless, by chance, we’ve remembered to do that the night before). The kettle is put on the gas hob to boil and he measures the grounds into the Aeropress. Once the water is near boiling, he pours it in and presses the steaming espresso into a mug. He divides it between our two mugs, then pours hot water into both for perfect Americanos. We lay in bed for at least another half-hour, sipping our rapidly cooling coffees. The rest of each day is much the same: slow, measured, and just enough to make it a full one.
My friend and coauthor Michael Robertson asked me a few weeks ago if it is taking time to acclimate to our new life or have we just fallen into it? It’s taken this long, but I think I finally have the answer: it’s both. This experience is both familiar and completely new at the same time.
What I’ve found most interesting is how moving back to a foreign country can be so familiar. I know which brands of cheap Pinot Noir are the best (admittedly that’s an easy one as I haven’t really found a bad one yet). We’ve got our Sistema box full of Whittaker’s chocolate bars stashed in the cupboard again. The girls feel right at home swimming at the Tepid Baths and remember all of their favorite parks and playgrounds. After a day or two we recalled our way around the roads and are even remembering not to switch on the turn signal when it starts to rain. Everyone’s Kiwi accent is like a familiar singsong, joyous to our ears. The best part is we’ve been meeting up with friends all over; even Gloria who works at the Freeman’s Bay laundry was happy to see us, lugging our bulging Ikea bag of laundry in (“The girls are so big now!”). We’ve had dinner nearly every night with old or new friends…something that just doesn’t seem to happen often enough when we’re not traveling. But it should.
What is different is living life in a tiny motorhome, but even that feels oddly familiar. Land cruising is a whole lot like water cruising, right down to spending a good majority of our time filling and dumping tanks and looking for free internet and showers. We look for places we can “freedom camp” rather than spend big $$ at holiday parks (just like we tried to avoid marinas). I make simple meals with fresh food purchased from farmer’s markets. My galley is the simplest yet, with a few pots and pans, a handful of utensils, and a bowl and plate for everyone. The girls occupy themselves with Legos, or a notepad and a pencil. Or better yet, I can toss them out the door and they can go and run play…without a dinghy ride or a swim.
What also is decidedly different is that we took off five days after buying the motorhome, which we’ve certainly never done in a boat. That, and we sleep soundly each and every night. Space is tight (have you seen that Portlandia sketch about life in a tiny home? That’s pretty much what it’s like for us right now. You’ll have to google it to find it. My internet is dog-slow too.) This entire experience has made me give daily thanks to my years of living aboard small boats; mere mortals may have been driven mad by now. But I know we’ll move on eventually to a bigger space and will miss all this closeness and the freedom of the open road. A flat? A boat? Who knows? We’re just wing’n it.3 comments
We’re currently parked next to our most favourite beach in the world, Piha, just an hour’s drive from Auckland city. We set off just yesterday, after finding the perfect motor caravan for us our second day in Auckland (considering ourselves very lucky to have grabbed it just minutes after it was posted on Trademe!) Good, clean, reasonably-priced caravans go fast apparently, even in “winter” (put in quotes as the girls are off running on the beach barefoot and with short sleeves. But it’s early still in the season….). One thing is certain: we’ve never taken off on a boat five days after purchasing it.
Tonight, we’ll camp over by Kitekite falls just outside of town, but right now we’re in front of the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club and burger & chip shack which has free wifi so I thought I’d give you a little tour of our new teeny, tiny home. Firstly, I don’t miss my writing desk in the woods–here’s what I’m looking at now:
That’s the beach right outside, with a view of Lion rock. And more knitting (not done by me, but maybe I’ll find the time to knit again….). And that’s our cat, Chi, in the window keeping a lookout. Below is a view of our living area. The benches are very long, about 7 feet each. The table drops down to make an “emperor” sized bed–it’s huge! The girls share the double bed above the cab (right now it’s full of the bags of clothes I’m still figuring out where to store).
Here’s our front door, with what I suspect is a permanent pile of sandy shoes.
The galley is across the aft end of the van. There is even instant hot water! Seriously, this thing is luxury like we’ve never had underway.
A tiny head (also with perpetual Ikea bag of laundry).
Plenty of storage for the essentials.4 comments
Despite all our years of writing about sailing, the most popular post on our blog ever remains How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. We’ve gotten hundreds (okay, maybe 99 or so) emails from people all over the world asking for more details on how we did it and how do they get started in their own immigration process. We’re not immigration consultants, so we can’t give any advice other than just do it, you won’t regret it. Which is but one of many, many reasons we decided to follow our own advice, again.
I’m typing this from the friends’ couch we’ve been surfing on for the past few days in Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived, bleary-eyed from our 14 hours of flying, two days ago and I can report with definity that it is SO good to be back in this beautiful, happy, peaceful country.
But it’s been a busy, busy, six weeks.
1. Decide to finally listen to the voice in my head that’s been screaming the past year this is not right! you were where you were supposed to be! sure the woods are beautiful and the house comfortable…but there is so much more out there….
2. Drink a wee dram or two of scotch on a late-April Friday night with Michael.
3. Fantasize about giving it all up and moving back to New Zealand to continue our residency.
4. Start planning to give it all up and move back to New Zealand to continue our residency.
5. Look up plane tickets online.
6. Find one-way tickets at a great price.
7. Decide to sleep on it.
8. Wake up.
9. Realize that we weren’t that drunk after all.
10. Buy plane tickets.
11. Decide to rent out house.
12. Realize there’s no way in hell we’d be able to rent house for enough to cover mortgage even if we worked day and night for six weeks to finish the basement doubling the size of the house.
13. Put house on the market.
14. Give stuff away.
15. Sell stuff on Craigslist.
16. Clean house.
17. Give our dog to the family who’d fostered her from the shelter originally and were over the moon to have her cuteness back.
18. Give our kitties to my sister-in-law’s mom who now adores them (thank you Lisa!!!).
19. Give stuff away.
20. Sell stuff on Craigslist.
21. Reopen our NZ bank account.
22. Wire some money over.
23. Michael quits job.
24. Get storage unit.
25. Start filling it with stuff.
26. Pack stuff.
27. Give stuff away.
28. Start making piles of stuff to bring, trying to stick to the essentials (clothes, shoes, toiletries, electronics, 4 stuffies per each kid, basic drawing supplies, journals, Legos, coats, books, sleeping bags, Kindles, Aeropress).
29. Make arrangements to stay with friends our first few nights.
30. Start researching motorhome market on trademe.
31. Sell our family car.
32. Cancel gymnastics & dance classes.
33. Cancel cell phones, internet, garbage service, car insurance.
34. Keep house clean between showings.
35. Invite friends over for a final Bon Voyage Bonfire.
36. Give stuff away.
37. Return shitty mattress to Costco.
38. Pack everything into six large bags to check and four small backpacks to carry on plane.
39. Give food to neighbors.
40. Lots of teary goodbyes.
41. Load up our little old pickup and drive to Grandpa’s house.
42. Enjoy a last weekend with family.
43. Give pickup to Grandpa in exchange for a ride to the airport.
44. Pile in Grandpa’s car and head to airport which includes a ferry ride to Seattle.
45. Another teary goodbye.
46. Unload all 14 bags.
47. Check 6 of them.
48. Wait to board flight. Enjoy the first hours with nothing to do in weeks.
49. Enjoy the last free and fast Wifi we’ll see in a very long time.
50. First flight to Los Angeles (2 hours).
51. Second flight to Auckland (12 hours).
52. Arrive Auckland at 6:30 am.
53. Try not to jump up and down with giddiness when immigration officer stamps our passports and says “welcome back!”
54. Enjoy amazingly delicious flat white coffees.
55. Grab new sim cards right at the airport.
56. Shuttle to Jucy rental car facility to pick up our El Cheapo.
57. Upgrade car to next larger since can’t fit all bags in the super compact.
58. Drive to bank to see if debit card is there waiting for us as promised.
59. Disappointed that it’s not. But who cares? We’re back in New Zealand.10 comments
When Robert and I decided to take Bobs, our daughter of nine, and spend a summer cruising the intricate coastline of British Columbia, the procedure appeared to be comparatively simple. We’d buy a boat, stow supplies aboard and depart. Bobs had never been on shipboard, and Robert and I had never navigated or lived in a cruiser, but freshness would add zest to the adventure.
Having made our decision, we put it into execution in our usual forthright fashion, for we get on faster by trying out a scheme than thinking about it.
-Kathrene Pinkerton, Three’s a Crew (1940)
One of the things I miss the most while living on a boat is my books, or more accurately having my books where I can actually see them. Wondertime only had a single tiny bookshelf in the forward cabin. That didn’t stop us from having books aboard, of course. The girls had fabric bins at the base of their beds filled with them; they were also stuffed into their lockers and stacked next to their pillows. There were three plastic crates of books in the pilot[storage] berth in the hallway and baskets of library books in our aft “family room.” When we moved all of those books off the boat, the waterline went up three inches and we gained at least a knot and a half in boatspeed.
We left a great many behind in New Zealand, but shipped (too many) back to Washington. And it was a glorious day when those books met up with the ones I’d left behind in our storage unit in Olympia upon the shelves of an old china cabinet I found secondhand. I could stand and gaze at them all lined up there neatly, so happy, on those shelves for hours. I’ve actually read a lot of them. Our used cruising guides are all there, as are the first books that introduced me to the idea of voyaging under sail. But many just sit there, waiting, filled with promise of stories yet to read.
So it was with great sadness last week that I took each one down off their temporary shelves, held it in my hands for a moment, then tucked it back into a plastic storage crate. Another pile destined for the Goodwill grew, but not one of those was from the four shelves of travel/sailing books. (It only takes a glace at our bookshelves to see where my heart lies.)
One of those books was one I’d not yet read, but that I had found on a marina book exchange shelf years ago. It was a paperback reprint of a book written in the 1930s, before The Curve of Time even, of a small family that ups and moves from San Francisco onto a small power cruiser they’d just purchased in Seattle. They had suddenly got the crazy idea (“going foreign” Gasp!) to explore the B.C. and Alaska coasts for the summer. They didn’t stop for seven years. Kathrene Pinkerton wrote about her family’s adventures in the 1920s, in what is likely the first book ever to describe family adventuring on the sea.
On page 18, of Three’s a Crew, Kathrene writes:
For the first time I wondered if we had been sane on that day when we had so abruptly decided to cruise along the British Columbia and Alaska coasts. Twenty-two months of steady writing had entitled Robert to a vacation, and those months had completed five years in one locality. Almost unconsciously we had been relinquishing our foot-loose instincts and accepting the creed that a family should “stay put.” We deserved no credit for this attitude. By the time we had followed the usual parental routine of proper schools, dancing classes, the inevitable orthodentia for a growing child and a decent neighborhood in which to bring up a daughter, had added a few outlets for ourselves in golf, theaters, concerts and dinner parties, there were no funds with which to do anything but “stay put.” And after we had bought these routine requirements with our writing, there was no energy to expend in wandering.
It’s hard to believe that was written over 75 years ago, but it’s true. What’s even more true is that we feel the same way, 75 years later. Our money is finite. Our days are finite. The only thing that really makes sense is take full advantage of each and every one.
(As a side note: it never seems to fail that no matter if my books are on a shelf, or in boxes, or on my Kindle: just the right one always seems to land in front of me.)
And so I pack the books away. We sell the furniture. Give outgrown toys and clothes away. We tearily pass our cats and dog onto friends and relatives. We sell the cars and the house. There is a tiny pile in my closet of things to bring with us: we each get to check a 50 lb. bag on our Air New Zealand flight, along with a small carry-on.
It’s stressful, but we’re all tingly with excitement. All four of us. It’s invigorating to pare down to the truest essentials of living, what is all we need. I suppose we’ve finally accepted our wandering blues. It feels so good to shed the stuff that I thought we needed to make a home. The girls ask each and every day how much longer until they get to go back to New Zealand. They think they are going home. I think they may have been right all along.2 comments
There are pivotal moments in a child’s life when a single hug is worth more than a dozen Hope Diamonds. Will you be there? Will you know? Will you be able to sense that moment and realize its importance? Will you have the wisdom to stop whatever mundane thing you are doing, embrace your child, and say, “I love you”?
—Gary “Cap’n Fatty” Goodlander, from the foreword to Voyaging With Kids
Nearly a year has passed since we’ve returned to the U.S. from New Zealand.
It has been a busy and wonderful year. But it has not been an easy year.
We’ve manifested the idyllic home life we envisioned while afloat: cats and a dog and kids running around in the woods. Getting to spend time with our extended families again. A comfortable couch to put our feet up at the end of the day to watch Game of Thrones. All my books freed from their storage boxes and lined up neatly on shelves. Time to write, thanks to our local school district’s “school for homeschoolers.”
I have also spent most of the past year writing Voyaging With Kids with my two co-authors, Behan and Michael. Sometimes this was the most difficult thing of all, and for reasons completely unexpected. Sure there were the hours and hours of rewrites, sorting photos, interviewing other cruising families. The carpel tunnel in my right wrist flared up. My eyeballs bugged out, dry and gritty, from so many hours staring at my laptop screen. But this was not the difficult part: at the end of a long writing or editing day I’d fall asleep exhausted, but exhilarated, at what we were creating. It’s a really, really good book and anyone contemplating longer-term family travel–not just via boat–will find value in it.
No, the difficult part was writing about the time in our lives when we had…time. It seemed so simple, living and sailing aboard Wondertime. I know that many days were anything but that, and some days I wanted to jump overboard just to get a few moments to myself. But as our girls have grown, I see now that was due mostly to their ages. Now at 6 and 9 they entertain themselves for hours (they are doing just that right now as I type this). Which is what makes my heart hurt, the fact that they are growing up so, so fast and our time together just keeps speeding on. The weeks fly by with all our scheduled activities. Michael is at work 10 hours a day, what is required to pay for our new, idyllic life, and misses out on even more.
The difficult part was missing being a cruising family: slow meals together, hours to read aloud, playing games together, meandering down a warm, deserted beach, impromptu get-to-togethers with new friends. Watching our girls grow into fascinating, inquisitive people.
The difficult part is that the dreams won’t stop. Places we want to see, things we want to do… just keep coming. I felt like a fraud at times, writing about how amazing it is to travel as a family, how showing our girls the world and how other people live–and how much they are the same–was the best education we could possibly give them. How experiences are far more important than things. How time with people is more important than anything. All the while struggling to find these things in our new land life.
So a funny thing happened while writing a book that we hope will help many other families to let go of all that’s unimportant, take a chance, and go out and slowly explore the world.
It convinced me to do the same.
And then there’s something else. Another type of clock has been ticking, and as mid-June is approaching it’s been getting louder and louder. It’s the date our New Zealand residency will expire if we’re not back on NZ soil by then. When we flew back to the States last year we’d accepted that we were giving that up. Or so we thought.
Because, the truth be told, after all the soul-searching we’ve done the past year it’s become crystal clear: we’d rather live as paupers in a tiny RV in New Zealand, traveling around and getting some part-time work (or working part of the year) and having the rest to explore as a family. Time together again.
We left part of our hearts in that beautiful, friendly, socially-advanced country, but we thought we could let it go in favor of a “better” life. We didn’t get a better life, we got a different one. Some things are more difficult down there, some here. But one thing is for sure: we can’t let the dream, and the hope for the future, of our adoptive home of New Zealand go.
So we won’t. It’s time to let the wind blow us around again, for a little bit longer.22 comments