Spectacular Sandboarding

When we went to 90 Mile Beach we hired some sand boards. 90 Mile Beach is really 60 miles but 90 Mile Beach sounds better. The beach has lots of massive sand dunes, we crossed a small but strong stream, then climbed up onto the dry sand. The dry sand blew against our legs, it felt like someone was constantly sticking pins into me!

We walked for a little while, until we reached a small sand dune with pale sand and a steep slope. We clambered up the dune carrying our boards. When we got to the top Jago jumped on to his light blue board and whizzed down the dune, sand bounced off his board and sprayed me in the face! Dad followed Jago then Piran, after Piran, Mum. When Dad reached the top he gave me a board and pushed me down. I sped down, sand hitting me in the eyes as I got faster and faster. I imagined myself zooming round a rollercoaster. When I approached the bottom I slowed down, the dune looked small compared to the other sand dunes.

We had a couple more goes on the small sand dune. Once we had enough of the small dune we walked a bit further on, just when I thought we would never find a big enough dune, Jago spotted it! It was massive and towered over us, its shadow blocking out the sun. We crawled up it and again Jago was first down! I zoomed down much faster than last time chasing Jago. After a while we had to go, I was a bit disappointed. Sand boarding is so much fun!

Cathedral Cove

After Hot Water Beach, we went and parked in a car park overlooking some small islands and the sea. We went for a short walk down to Cathedral Cove. The sun was shining and the sea was turquoise and calm. When we got to Cathedral Cove we looked at the huge, golden yellow, jagged arch. The arch was like the entrance to a cathedral.

While Mum, Cara and Piran were still looking at the arch, Dad and I went to Gemstone Bay to go snorkelling. I got in to my swimming kit but Dad had to wear his boxer shorts because he forgot his swimming trunks. Dad’s boxers were dark purple. It was not very cold so me and Dad just jumped in. We started swimming and Dad was disappointed because it wasn’t as clear as he thought it would be, but we could still see very well. I saw lots of browny-red coral and we both saw some kind of ray that was blue with a white stripe down the middle of its back. Just as we decided to get out, Mum, Cara and Piran came down onto the beach so they walked back up to the campervan with us.

Hot Water Beach

On Thursday, I woke up at seven and got ready to drive to Hot Water Beach. We stopped in Auckland and bought a football and a pump and then we started driving again. When we got to Hot Water Beach, everyone was glad to get out of the campervan because we had been driving for six hours. We had lunch and went to find a hole on the beach that was hot. We found one and started making our hole bigger so we could all fit in. We relaxed in the hole for what felt like hours but soon the sea came in and we had to get out. Next we went and washed in the showers by the beach. The showers were ice cold and I couldn’t get in so I just rinsed my feet and went back to the camper van.

90 Mile Beach

On Wednesday, we woke up, got dressed, learnt about sand dunes and headed to 90 Mile Beach. We walked across the beach looking at the types of sand dunes we had learnt about (the fore dunes, the scrub dunes and the active dunes) earlier in the day. After we had a look at the dunes we had a spelling test in the sand. If we got at least twenty right out of all of us we got an ice cream. We had eleven questions each and we got twenty nine right so we got an ice cream!

Sandboarding

On Tuesday we had a long drive down to Cape Reinga where we hired three sandboards and went to some massive sand dunes. We had lunch in our campervan and started climbing up the sand dunes. Not very far up, we found a small slope and started going down it.

Soon we all got bored of that one and we headed to a bigger one. I started quite near the bottom and made my way up. By the end, I was as high as I go which was not quite the top because if you went to the very top lots of sand blew in your face. I learnt how to control the sand board quite quickly. (By putting my feet down I went slower and my feet up made it go faster. If I put my foot to one side it went in the opposite direction.)

Sandboarding

We hired sandboards and we drove to the sand dunes, then we walked to a sand dune and we slid down. It felt like a rollercoaster it was so fast. It was very windy and sand blew in our faces and it hurt. It also lashed our feet. It was very hot, there wasn’t anything growing and there wasn’t any water so we brought our own. I was really thirsty. We did not see the sea and all we could see was lots of soft, golden sand. Some of the sand dunes were as tall as 10 Dads!

We had some more goes on the small sand dune, then we kept walking to another dune which was bigger and I did not sandboard from the top, instead I went from the middle and I went zooming down and it was very fun. The sandboard was actually a body board. At the taller sand dune Jago, Cara and Dad slid down from the top of the sand dune. At the end my Mum and Dad bought us ice cream and I had a strawberry cornetto.

Weeks 1-2: Life on the road/ Northland

After less than a week on a road we all seem to have settled in to life in a camper van very quickly. I can’t believe how long a week seems when you keep moving, seeing and doing so much on the way. I reckon we have done more in the past week than in the average year! We are getting very quick at transforming seats to beds and back again, the fridge is starting to smell, and there is sand and mess everywhere. It definitely feels like home.

Long hours spent driving Fritz

It is wonderfully liberating having the freedom to take each day as it comes. If we are very happy somewhere or everyone has had enough of travelling we can just stay put for a while; other days we cover lots of ground, never having to worry about finding an open cafe or bed for the night as we have everything we need with us. For the most part this lifestyle is suiting us very well although going to bed and waking up with the sun means that the children are getting a bit less sleep than they are used to (and us considerably more), and Piran did comment one morning that he wished we could just have a ‘normal’ life until I pointed out that that means school every day, at which point he revised his opinion! It is early Spring in New Zealand and the holiday season hasn’t started yet, which means that everywhere we’ve been has been incredibly quiet and even in the holiday parks there have only been a few campers, no children and definitely no games of football. This is absolutely perfect for me and Ben, but the children are starting to crave the company of other kids and I am hoping that we might find more families as we venture South to the more touristy areas.

Camping life

After leaving Auckland we headed to Northland, up the East Coast. We spent the first night at the tranquil Mangawhai Heads Holiday park, home to many kingfishers, terns and oyster catchers. We saw our first white sandy beaches and continued our new tradition of finding a cliff to climb to take in the view. It was a wonderful place to stop for our first night in ‘Fritz’ (our van).

Perched on the top of a cliff at Mangawhai Heads

The following day we travelled on to the Bay of Islands, stopping at the Kawiti Glowworm caves on our way, a trip which we all enjoyed. Our guide was very informative so we left with plenty of material for our next biology lesson- ‘the life cycle of a glowworm’ (they are actually maggots but called worms to make them sound nicer). We parked in Paihia and took the passenger ferry over to Russell for the afternoon, an extremely quiet town perfectly preserved in time dating back to the late 1800s. It felt quite surreal, a bit like a living museum, and for those of you who are fans of Westworld I confess it reminded me slightly of that! The sun shone for us as we made the ferry crossing each way and we were treated to the beautiful turquoise water that Bay of Islands is famous for. We really enjoyed walking around Russell, and spent an interesting hour in their small museum, the perfect size for young children, learning about the European discovery of New Zealand, whaling, Maori culture, Tamati Waka Nene and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Russell Ferry

Russell seafront

After leaving Paihia we decided to head to the Puketi forest where there is a cheap DOC campsite to try some freedom camping for the night. It was lovely being in such a quiet, isolated spot for the evening and we didn’t miss having Wifi or electricity for the night. The chance of seeing kiwis in the wild with the noise of our children around was always going to be slim, but it was still fantastic to wake up in a forest with walking trails on our doorstep, and the boys and I enjoyed a morning run amongst the fabulous Kauri trees whilst Ben and Cara did the nature walk and learnt the names of many trees, Cara’s favourite being the shining Karamu purely on the basis that the name sounded a bit like hers.

View from Fritz in Puketi forest

Walk in Puketi forest

After a morning in the forest, we only had a short drive to the stunning Matauri Bay where we found calm turquoise sea lapping a white sandy beach, with a holiday park right on the beachside. We hadn’t been sure whether or not we were going to stop here or carry on to Taupo Bay, but it was so lovely that we didn’t want to leave, even when we found out that there was no Wifi there, something we really needed that day for Ben to get some work done. Having found our own little slice of paradise we decided to stay for 2 nights and chill out for a bit after several days on the road, as well as to dedicate a bit of time to work (Ben) and school (me and the kids). The sea was too cold for me, but Ben and the kids swam both days, and we enjoyed gorgeous views from the top of the cliff, soaked up the sunshine and practiced our recorders and harmonicas. We could probably have stayed there forever!

The stunning Matauri Bay- Fritz is hidden in the beachside trees

Obligatory dab at Matauri Bay

Determined, however, to make it all the way to the tip of Northland, we set off for Cape Reinga on Tuesday morning. As we neared Te Paki we started to see signs for sandboard hire, and we picked up a few body boards from a local farm by the side of the road on our way. We arrived at the Te Paki sand dunes at lunch time and proceeded to have an awesome couple of hours sandboarding down the enormous dunes. Seriously good fun. When we had tired of walking up and sliding down (extremely hard work), we finished the drive North and had a blustery stroll at the point where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The Maori believe this is where the spirits of their dead leave the world. It was wild and windy, much like our experience of Orkney, and Ben and I would have loved to spend more time here taking in a coastal walk. Ninety Mile Beach runs up the west coast to Cape Reinga and we had fabulous views looking back at it; however as the kids were too exhausted to go for a long walk by this time, we settled ourselves with the thought of exploring the beach at the other end the following day. We had a weary drive back south as far as Ahipara holiday park and all slept very well that night!

Ben, Jago and Cara sand boarding at Te Paki sand dunes

View of ninety mile beach from Cape Reinga

The following morning in Ahipara was cold and cloudy, and I suspect we didn’t see the best of Ninety Mile Beach. However the kids and I had a nice walk/ paddle/ run/ spelling test on the long wide sand and saw plenty of surfers out at sea. I can imagine it would be glorious with clear skies when the sun is shining brightly.

Ninety mile beach at Ahipara

Gigantic Jago pushing an itty bitty volcano at Ninety mile beach

At this point we had to decide whether to make a leisurely amble back south to Rotorua allowing a couple of days for travel, or whether to try and fit in the Coromandel peninsula as well. A vote was cast and the decision made to drive as far and as quickly as possible to fit Hot Water beach and Cathedral Cove into our schedule, so after leaving Ahipara we put in some long hours on the road, stopping only to get the car ferry across the Hokianga river and to walk to Tane Mahuta (an ancient Kauri tree and the largest known to stand today). It certainly is an enormous tree and I love the Mauri creation myth which says that Tane is the son of the sky Father and earth Mother who were in a marital embrace until he separated them, creating light and space for all living creatures. Tane Mahuta means ‘Lord of the Forest’. We passed some truly stunning places on our drive, particularly Opononi and Omapere that we would have loved to explore and will definitely need to come back here again one day in the future. We finished our trip to Northland in a campervan stopover in Dargaville, a town which I had no desire to spend time in, but which was super convenient for our journey and just around the corner from a large supermarket allowing us to restock our supplies whilst the kids were asleep in bed. I guess we can’t always have views of beaches/ waterfalls/ volcanoes out of our camper van window!

Tane Mahuta- it's an incredibly big tree!

We were very spoiled by beautiful weather, amazing beaches and fantastic walking in Northland with hardly anybody else around to have to share it with. I am not sure why more tourists don’t head that way, but I absolutely recommend it. The Coromandel peninsula has a lot to live up to now!

Remote working setup

Just collecting a few thoughts as I start fully remote working. This is something I’ve done many times before, but doing so from the back of a camper van in a timezone 12hrs off from the rest of the team is something new. On the plus side, the view from the office window is unbeatable.

Office Window

The main difference I’ve found so far is reviewing changes from the previous day. Instead of reading commits more or less as they come in on a slack channel, there’s now a whole days worth of activity to catch up on at a time. We have half a dozen git repos to monitor and I’d love to get more effective at this. PRs help to gather changes together but unless I’m missing something our current Confluence stack of Jira/BitBucket doesn’t seem to have an obvious retrospective ‘what happened yesterday’ view. No doubt a skilled Jira wrangler could build one but….

The other class of issues comes under the title of ‘spotty internet access’. Top on the list for this is configuring Thunderbird to retrieve my work gmail account as well – offline access to emails is pretty handy! Also, not having access to online issue tracker means I’ve been falling back on the old favourite of emacs and org-mode to keep a running ToDo list and ideas for future enhancements. It’s interesting as an old-timer to realise how integrated into our development process the idea of ubiquitous internet has become, Gmail, GoogleDocs, Slack, Jira etc – none of these provide a useful offline mode. The only tool I’ve found that really stands up well to this is, possibly as expected, git.

If you’re setting up a remote working team or wanting to be open to becoming such in the future it might be worth considering tooling choices up front, e.g. DropBox instead of GoogleDocs.

Week 1- Auckland

After weeks of planning and preparations, we finally set off to London after school on Friday leaving us a full day to relax with family and friends, and deal with any last minute panics, before heading to the other side of the world. We travelled to Gatwick on Saturday afternoon, starting as we mean to carry on with each of us carrying one rucksack laden with everything we need for the year, and successfully negotiating public transport in the form of a London bus and overland train without any complaints from the kids. The flights were remarkably easy with the children thrilled by the thought of 24 hours of computer games and films, and Ben and I both delighted to sit still for so long after so much rushing around for the past few weeks. The kids slept for a couple of hours here and there, but by the time we arrived in Auckland on Monday morning everybody was extremely sleep deprived and had no difficulty sleeping through the night and waking on Tuesday morning already adjusted to NZ time, if a little tired.

We were so lucky that our fabulous University friend Janie and her husband Greg had offered to let us stay with them for the first few nights, so on arrival in Auckland all we had to do was jump in a taxi. We were then thoroughly spoilt by their amazing hospitality whilst we got used to the new time zone. Within hours Cara and their oldest child, Maebh, were like old friends and planning sleepovers, and our kids couldn’t quite understand why we wanted to explore Auckland when there was a swimming pool and large garden for playing football back at the house!

Nonetheless, on Tuesday we managed to drag them out to a beautiful beach in Devonport followed by a walk up our first volcano, North Head, and successfully navigated our way back via public transport, getting a ferry and bus back to Herne Bay. Getting about Auckland was incredibly easy. It is a relatively small city, quieter and cleaner than London with less traffic and very friendly, and with no language barrier and a similar culture to home we didn’t have any problems or concerns at all. It was amazing how quickly you could get from the City to a beautiful, tranquil beach with fabulous views, and I can see that for many people the quality of life here would be unimaginably better than living in London.

On Wednesday we had a day trip to Rangitoto Island which combined the excitement of a boat trip with a good hike up a (much bigger) volcano. The topic for ‘home school’ that morning was volcanoes so we had already learnt about them before going to experience one for ourselves. The weather changed from cold and windy to pouring rain to glorious sunshine and back again in the space of about 5 minutes, butter everyone happily hiked up to the top, stopping to explore the lava tunnels on the way, and we were rewarded with amazing views back to Auckland on one side and more islands on the other.

We were privileged to spend Thursday with the whole Loveridge family, first exploring the awesome black sand beaches of the West Coast from Bethells beach and beyond, with another obligatory climb to the top of the hill and to admire the view. There were hundreds of tiny jelly fish washed up on the shore which we later read about on the BBC news website- we can vouch that it really is true! We had a delicious lunch of sushi and crepes (Piran’s highlight of the week) in a fabulous foody place in Ponsonby and were treated to the delights of Greg’s barbeque cooking in the evening. Such an amazing day!

We had been looked after so well and made to feel so welcome that we really didn’t want to leave the Loveridges when we went to collect our camper van on Friday morning. Luckily they are planning to come to the UK next year so we hope we will be able to repay the favour somewhat, and the kids are looking forward to being reunited again then. Fortunately all reluctance to move on vanished quickly as the excitement of camping and the thought of exploring took over. We headed North from Auckland after lunch and were rewarded with our first night staying directly on the beach at Mangawhai Heads, in the midst of a bird sanctuary, with views of white sand dunes to wake up to. Bliss! Our time in Auckland has been the perfect start to our adventure but we’re definitely ready to hit the road now. I think we’re going to enjoy the next 6 weeks…