Thoughts: A Quick Roadtrip with my Kids

Every year around this time I have taken my kids camping. It’s been something I instituted post-marriage with the aim to broaden their horizons somewhat and maintain a good bond with them.

It’s worked.

This year was a little different owing to a few changes and uncertainties that came about in 2018, so we only had three days to make something happen.

I decided to take them up North. They’ve actually been around Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri a lot (their mother’s dad has a timeshare they’ve been able to make use of).

I wanted to show them some of New Zealand that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to see. My daughter expressed that she wasn’t particularly interested in New Zealand and it’s history. She loves the Romans (but hasn’t read Asterix – go figure). I guess it’s her age and the education she is exposed to.

We based ourselves in Kerikeri. The campground there is well appointed. Enough trees to cope with the 32C heat. It borders a river and it was fun cooling off. And trying not to kill myself by slipping on algae-covered rocks. I’m not really great with ‘outside’. I’m sure I used to be, apparently not now.

I enjoy getting them involved in cooking. Deciding what to buy at the supermarket then taking responsibility for its preparation. They complain of course, they’re teenagers after all, but they do do the doing. I also like them to see me interact with other campers. These places are magnets for tourists and locals alike. My kids are fairly introverted and shy so I feel it’s important to show them how to socialise.

One of the people I talked with was a Maori guy, one of four. He politely asked if he could share the BBQ I was using (of course he can) because he was cooking up a feed of mussels for himself and his three mates. I asked if he’d gathered them. “Yes” he said. “From Countdown”. Sigh. He also didn’t have any cooking suggestions I could learn – “I just put them on until they open and they’re sweet eh?”. He gave me one to try. His approach to cooking worked just fine.

As a side note, everyone has Bluetooth speakers and personalised playlists. This group had a particularly excellent Soul, RnB thing going on and were having a bit of a singalong.

The next group I talked to were Indian. A family. They were cooking corn on the cob direct on the gas hobs. But for me the interesting thing was the seasoning they were going to use. A mix of chilli pepper, salt, and then a squeeze of lemon. Spectacular. It was fun being able to talk to them about their cuisine.

Day Two was the core of my plan. Now, my kids aren’t that interested being taught stuff, learning, when they’re in holiday. Tough dad eh? We got on the road early to drive from Kerikeri to Cape Reinga. It’s an interesting drive, very different landscapes, interesting fauna (we saw cows, sheep, hawks, turkey, emus and more). Actually, we were lucky and saw some shepherds with their dogs working a flock from one paddock to the next, across the highway. Was something pretty special to witness.

As we drove, I pointed out to my kids, the small communities anchored by a church and graveyard and maybe a shop. How NZ was and still is.

Note: Telecommunication coverage is appalling in the Far North – given the potential for tourism there I think it needs to be looked at.

I loved seeing how many people make the trip to see the Cape and its surrounds. It’s quite something being at the top of the North Island.

We headed home, stopping off at Te Kao for an ice cream. (Do it, it’s obligatory). We detoured through Totara North as it’s where my kids maternal grandmother grew up. (There’s literally nothing there so it didn’t take long). We visited a site where gumdiggers worked in terrible conditions locating and digging up kauri gum. I actually got interest from my son. He now knows why gumboots are called gumboots and not Wellingtons in this country.

Next stop, also obligatory and totally worth it, was Mangonui. They have the best fish and chips there. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Given the lack of feedback one gets from teenagers I can only assume that when they’re in their 20’s they’ll look back to the day they saw the Lighthouse…

Day Three. We packed up the campsite and got on the road. (I have to add that as they are getting older they are getting much more useful and helpful).

I wanted to take them West to see Opononi (pretty, nothing much there, had a dolphin in 1955/56 that was friendly) on the way to the Waipoua Forest.

It was good to show them how people live in the Far North. Either by choice or through circumstance. There are small communities dotted on the road. Shanty’s. Lean-to’s. Derelict. Rundown. Deserted and abandoned. It’s certainly not Howick. I was interested to see that despite the ruination of the buildings around, the churches all were in quite good condition…

Then we arrived in the Waipoua Forest. I wanted to make sure they saw Tane Mahuta whilst they have the chance to. (It’s no guarantee that access will be for ever).

All up, it’s been a great few days. Good company, good food, good conversation, good music. I am very grateful that my kids like to spend focussed time with me. Now to plan the next.

Thoughts: Camping 2017

For the last five or so years, I have instituted a bit of a ritual: taking my kids away to a campsite somewhere in New Zealand for a week. The idea is simply to get closer to them and to expose them to what this country has to offer outside of hotel rooms and big cities.

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They do look forward to it and we have successfully found that necessary balance between device-time and interacting with each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in.

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This year was a bit different. I decided to book a site at the Waitomo Top 10. The idea was to explore the glow worm caves and several others. I’m a bit mean actually: my daughter (11) hasn’t ever been all that comfortable in underground tunnels (for example, those found on North Head in Auckland) so I thought this might be a good way to encourage her to deal with her fears.

 

What I hadn’t considered is that her fears weren’t limited to tunnels. It turns out that her list includes tunnels, caves, dark, bugs, wetas, sounds of water, drips… and we managed to find all those things in one tidy package.

 

So when one of our guides told us that he did things that no other guide did, such as turning off all the lights, the look of betrayal my daughter gave me was quite special. I laughed.

 

She coped admirably and grudgingly admits that there were aspects of the adventuring she enjoyed. Stalactites and stalagmites made the list.

 

Katherine and her daughter joined us for two nights which was fun. It created a change in our usual dynamic which isn’t a bad thing. Change is good as they say.

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Waitomo. What can I say? Majestic natural wonderlands underground. And more to to point, the organisations overseeing these treasures have created something great. I have harboured a default position where I suspect New Zealand tourism businesses do things a bit on the cheap and end up with an overpriced experience for tourists that ultimately is a bit shit. I’m happy to say that in the case of Waitomo, this perception is dead wrong. I felt pride in what we (Kiwis) are showing people here.

 

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I also love getting off the beaten track a bit. We went to Marokopa on the West coast (47kms West of Waitomo) to see what was there. Not that much in truth, but there is a seaside community, great fishing off the bar, coffees available en route and some beautiful scenery. I loved it. The kids… well, not so much.

 

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That being said, I love seeing how my kids are growing and maturing. Each year they’re a little bit less useless and more autonomous. They’re not requiring my help with keeping them entertained quite as much. They’re able to (and actually take personal responsibility for) their showers, doing dishes, hanging togs and towels etc.

 
The Waitomo Top 10 is also pretty cool. It’s not as big as other campsites we’ve visited, and the population is more transient. There’s not much to do beyond visiting the caves. In hindsight I think perhaps 2 nights there and then somewhere else may have been a better option.

 
It was so good seeing close up how important tourism is to our country. In the course of the week I’ve had decent conversations with people from France, Germany, Australia, the US and more. All are here with a sense of wonderment. All are here to experience something quite unique in the world, and they were getting it.

 
An aside: I note that Mercedes pretty much owns the campervan market. They’re doing something right!

 

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All up, a very good week. A chance to reconnect with my kids and spend time with them outside of routine. It’s valuable. And there is nothing better than getting just a little bit feral before addressing the new work year.

 

That being said, I am ready for it now!

Thoughts: Camping Pt 4

And we are heading back home to Auckland today.

It’s been a very good week. Spontaneous hugs and conversation attest to this.

However, yesterday started a bit weird. Declarations of boredom led me to take the kids to Craters of the Moon. This is a geothermal tourist trap North of Taupo. However, my daughter was not in the right frame of mind, was never going to enjoy it, and whined for 45 minutes. Horrific. My assessment of CotM is that it’s probably priced right but there really isn’t much there to see. In Autumn, Winter it’d be more impressive.

I have appreciated the hospitality of the locals here in Taupo. In the early afternoon, Miss 9 was whisked off for five hours of play with her new friend. She got to spend time with a family that isn’t tech-focused. “They have chickens“! And now she has someone that she will be able to write to.

I took the boychild to a place called Mind Junction. A slightly extortionate tourist destination that features puzzles, a maze, minigolf, a Lego display, a shooting simulator and much more. I thought it would be a bit lame but it turned out to be fun. We spent an hour poring over the Lego looking for specifics: “the mermaid”, “4 sticks of dynamite”, “the man in a chicken suit” etc. Very distracting.

On the way back to town we stopped off at Lava Glass – a glassblower factory and gallery. We watched a man craft a vase. Amazing. I can’t get my head around how this is done. I really do like learning about new stuff.

And now I’m waiting for the tent to dry. Why it had to rain on our last night…

Taupo Top 10 is a good campsite. The new pool should be completed by Easter 2015. My kids have enjoyed it here and are actually angling to return rather than try a new destination next year.

I do think that these places go a bit overboard in charging for everything that they can. Usually things that bored kids want to do. Still, I guess it’s their prerogative.

Once again, a successful adventure. These weeks I spend with my kids are so great and so important. They remember. They talk about them. They look forward to the next time.

^sd

Thoughts: Camping Pt 3

There are some things I am trying to encourage with my kids in their camping experience.

They have a fairly safe existence with their mother, and yes, I do keep them pretty close when they’re with me in our normal routine, but when camping I give them a much longer leash.

After last year, my son told me that he loved how I let them pretty much do whatever they wanted, on their own terms, in their own time.

Today, Miss 8 said that one of her goals this week was to make a new friend. This is challenging for her as she is a bit shy. She had a definite strategy though. A cluster of local Taupo girls arrived to have a birthday party and make use of the pool. My daughters idea was that she’d do underwater handstands until she was noticed. The handstands went swimmingly well, but the other girls were also a bit shy. One of the other girls, however, started doing handstands also. After 15 minutes and seeing a look of frustration arrive on Miss 8’s face at the lack of contact, I did ’embarrassing Dad’ and introduced the two. From that point on, sorted. A new friend, hours in the pool, and a play date for tomorrow (the Mum will swing by and collect my daughter for a Taupo day). I’m a bit proud.

Master 12 has also found boys to play with. Of course the dance of introduction is quite different. Bonding to the lyrics of ‘Spiderpig’ is somewhat less sophisticated.

As we needed to head out for supplies, I decided to risk it all and play minigolf. There is history here: Master 12 (who despite being smart, seems to have a complete lack of understanding of rudimentary physics) has a few issues with dealing with performing poorly on the course. He was prepared, warned and made ready, so in theory any chance of a tantrum was lessened. He really was on his best behaviour. Then I did something that, in hindsight, I should not have done. He’d placed his green golf ball, then went to see where the course went. I of course picked up his ball and hid it in my pocket. For fun of course. The outcome wasn’t what I expected. When he couldn’t find his ball, he saw a moving green golf ball at the hole we’d just completed, and grabbed it. Yes, it was someone else’s ball and the resulting embarrassment caused was a little too much to bear.

You’d think I’d know not to do such things, but… ya know??

I managed to talk him down from the precipice of despair, and we got through the game. It ended up being fun! Although I had to bribe them with Bakers Delight goodies.

^sd

Thoughts: Camping Pt 1

It’s underway!

A few years back I decided to try my kids with camping. You know, the whole “drive someplace, set up a tent, swim, eat, sleep” thing.

Their mother is more a “motel, hotel” kind of person, but I can happily report that they have taken to it and in fact, look forward to it every year.

This year I left booking a destination a bit late, but have ended up in Taupo. This is not a bad secondary choice.

The Top 10 is quite nice. The facilities are clean and well-equipped. There is a pool which dominates our schedule, and by next year the current worksite will be transformed into a pool of beauty and magnificence.

Master 12 has noted, with some disappointment, that most of the other kids he’s spotted are girls. He’s not yet at the point where this is actually a very fine thing indeed.

We are definitely getting more efficient at setting up the campsite, although there were tears of frustration when the camp stretchers were unfurled. Terrible things really.

One thing I’ve enjoyed is seeing my daughter take an interest in cooking (well, BBQing things) and being helpful.

They’re not inclined to go play tourist, which will make for a much cheaper week. We visited Huka Falls which interested them for a minute before they decided an icecream was a much better thing to obsess about.

Anyway, I’m starting to relax into the week. It’s a valuable time, not taken lightly.

^sd

January Camping

I’m back from spending a week in the Coromandel – the Top 10 campground in Coromandel Town, to be exact – with my kids.

This is something I’ve instituted over the last few Summers to ensure that I get to stay close and engaged with them (divorce can push/keep Dads away, you know). And it’s become something that all three of us really look forward to.

Packing

I’ve acquired all the camping stuff that one needs (Kathmandu really does have a direct line in to my bank account with their range of quality camping and outdoors equipment) so it’s become quite easy to pack, load and head off on adventures.

This campsite had a pool (the last two sites we’ve stayed at didn’t) which meant that for 3-4 hours each day, my kids pretty much disappeared (under my watchful parental eye – kids around water etc), got wet and made friends. That has been one of the best things about this year: both my kids have learned to take a risk, talk to a stranger, and find a friend. It’s great to see the development.

We discovered all the local ice-cream vendors. We drove North to explore beaches and bays. We discovered the Gold Stamper Battery.

Stamper

Actually, this was pretty cool. It’s a functional rock crusher that enables the process of gold extraction to take place. The guy, Ashley, was incredibly knowledgeable and very entertaining. I probably enjoyed the tour a bit more than the kids did, but we got to go panning for gold in the creek nearby which made up for it (as far as the kids were concerned). We’d have been successful too, if it wasn’t for the attention span of a certain 8 year old…

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We visited The Waterworks on the 309 Road. If you have kids, this is highly recommended. It’s really quirky. Lots of interactive water-driven engineering. Things that move. Things that squirt. Flying Bikes!

Water

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There’s a decent waterhole to swim in, BBQ’s to hire, and a cafe on site. We spent about 3 hours there, and could have stayed longer. It was amusing for me to see Miss 8 decide that she wanted to jump in to the waterhole. A 10 minute preparation process all up. Master 11 was too cold, and was feeling pressured to perform. So he didn’t.

Jumper

It was a toss-up between The Waterworks and the Driving Creek Railway. We chose well I think.

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On the way to The Waterworks we stopped off to have a chat with ‘Stu with the pigs’. This is one seriously odd man. He has a herd of 65 pigs that roam. He used to have more but people keep stealing them. (Pignapping)? My daughter wanted to know why his lips were green. I really wish I could have answered that question. I want to say zinc sunblock… I’m just not sure I can.

On another day we drove to Whangapoua Beach for the kids to play in the surf with their boogie boards. It was partially successful. From there to Whitianga to play a round of Minigolf and then back to Coromandel Town via the 309 Road.

Camping for me is a chance to decompress and think. It’s a chance for me to bond further with my kids and hopefully instil some values. I definitely want to develop their independence and sense of adventure. Each year I get to see how much they’ve grown in confidence (swimming, human interaction etc.).

I sometimes question myself as to whether I’m a good father. I try to be.

Last night I received this message from my boy: “Thanks for taking us camping. IT WAS AWESOME!!! Especially the chill out And do whatever part. THANKS!!”.

It puts everything in perspective.