Hippiehouse on Wheels

May 19, 2012

As the sun sets on a frosty evening on New Zealand’s west coast, I find myself walking in the mist, watching a miner pan for gold in the river flowing through our campsite. All around me, the bush is going to sleep. The chirping birds are quieting, their melodies softly winding around the trees, greeting the evening.

Unfortunately, this tranquil moment is soon shattered by the cries of another creature stirring from her slumber, my 1-year-old travel companion, Willow. “MUUUUM! MUUUUM! MUUUUUUUUM!”

Day three on the hippiebus, and it’s chaos as usual: pre-dinner screaming and coddling by mom Kristy, frantic searching for adequate pajamas, and preparation of dinner in the tiny kitchen of the motorhome. Feeling sorry for the other campers, I offer to take the rowdy kids for a bike ride.

She is not having it.

“Come on Willow, lets go! Be quiet! You’ll have fun once you forget about your mom!”

Sure enough, the screaming only lasts for about 2 minutes. Her brother Sage is behind me on his bike, his uneven training wheels clanking on the gravel road. At every tiny hint of uphill we get off and push our bikes.

Willow looks surly but at least isn’t screaming. Sage pushes his bike more than he rides it, pretending he’s about to die of exhaustion. Finally we turn around, and its an easy coast downhill. No one drives down this gravel road in the middle of New Zealand nowhere.

When I turn the corner to the campground, Willow spots the moon. It’s full tonight.

“MOOOOOON!” Willow says excitedly, pointing at the huge yellow orb rising though the beech trees and ferns. It’s her favorite word.

Back at the caravan, after an ecstatic reunion between mother and daughter, Kristy asks her baby: “Did you have a good time?”

And, with an indifferent glance in my direction, she gives a tiny nod! That small recognition from Willow made it all worth it.

Even though I’m thousands of miles away from everything familiar, there are moment when I realize that I am in the right place. Last week I got to go on the road trip of a lifetime, just because fate had decided so. Here’s how it all fell into place:

A few months ago, James and I were hitchhiking to Riverton near the bottom of New Zealand when we got picked up from a raggedy-looking Canadian named Jesse. We asked him to drop us off at a campground, but he missed the turnoff, so he invited us back to his farm. We met his partner Kristy and their two beautiful kids Sage and Willow along with Jesse’s parents who were visiting from Canada. We were soon chowing down on tasty organic quiche and salad. We ended up staying there the whole weekend, playing music and babysitting. Jessie is an accomplished guitarist and writes his own songs. Kristy has a beautiful voice and now has a few original songs too!

A month later, we came back to stay with them for another week, which was one of the major highlights of my trip: I learned how to chop firewood and milk a goat, exciting new skills for a city slicker like me.

As we were leaving, Kristy mentioned that she and her friend Tamsin were going on a road trip up the west coast and that we were invited to come along.

Unfortunately James had to go work up north but I knew I had to go with them. When else would I have a chance for an adventure like this?

Fast forward to Wanaka 2 weeks later, the site of our rendezvous for the journey. When I first saw them from a distance, a spattering of vibrant color by the edge of the lake, I noticed that Sage and Willow were naked and playing in the lake. An assortment of Asian tourists with huge cameras were snapping pictures of them!  One Chinese lady (she said ni-hao) walked right up to Willow and tried to pick her up.

Parked next to the kids was the moving hippiehouse that will be my home on the road for the next week. It is owned by Kristy and Jesse’s best friend Tamsin. She immigrated here from England seven years ago. When she was my age she had serious health problems, which she thinks were from all the processed junk food she ate as a kid. So she embarked on an epic three-year solo trip through Asia to try out an assortment of traditional healing methods. (She’s writing a book about it!) She was vegetarian for 10 years, and for a few years was on a gluten-free dairy-free yeast-free sugar-free meat-free diet.

Being the reliable hippie health nut, Tamsin had us on a diet with some of the best ‘healthy’ food I’ve ever had! It’s called the GAPs Diet, the Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Campbell McBride. In a nutshell we were allowed to eat foods that are easy to digest – organic meat, fish, all fruit, most vegetables, fermented nuts, butter, honey, and coconut – but starch like potatoes and grains like rice or oats were off-limits.

Also on the trip with us was Phil, another hitchhiker who had stayed with Kristy and Jessie. Phil was born in Russia, where he was raised by his grandparents in a tiny village. He moved to England when he was seven to go to private school where he acquired his posh English accent. In high school he had dreadlocks and wore black nail polish, but somehow he transformed to a perfume-wearing metrosexual who took his girlfriend to fancy art galleries and such. Instead of university he studied jewellery making and gemstones. On our trip he was always picking up rocks, and he would go talk to local jewelers who would just give him stuff for free! Phil is also an amazing beatboxer and taught me some of the basics.

Kristy, mom of Sage and Willow, is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – she just radiates calm and sweetness. After high school, Kristy trained to be a dental assistant, but like Tamsin found herself with some serious health problems. She tried all kinds of antibiotics and pills but none of them worked – they just seemed to make her sicker. So she decided to try more natural remedies and changed her diet, and traveled by herself in Australia, working on farms (just like me!). That’s where she met Jessie, and then they hitchhiked across Canada … with a cat! They moved back to New Zealand together to pursue their dream of living a sustainable life without relying on money – growing their own food and trading with neighbors for what they can’t make themselves. I am so inspired by them.

So imagine all of us in one moving room – me, Tamsin, Phil, Kristy, Sage and Willow – for a week! I learned a lot, especially from Tamsin, who does all kinds of hippie healing that I had never even heard of. She has a light machine – like a high-powered flashlight with different colored filters – that she shines on different parts of your body. She gave me a rainbow session and I have to say, despite my uncertainty, I did feel something. Maybe it was psychological, but who knows!

We also cleansed gemstones in the full moon, “om”ed at every meal, and had lots of jam sessions. We had one great one in front of a grocery store – Tamsin on her violin, Phil on the guitar, and me on the flute!

On Tamsins lists of evils are: cell phones (she never touches hers to her face) sunscreen (she threw mine in the trash) pharmaceutical medicine (she worked for a pharmaceutical company in England for a few years) and processed food – all of the additives, chemical, and preservatives are disgusting. Knowing her has definitely changed my conception of what is healthy. For instance, I grew up thinking butter was bad for you. But the truth is fats are essential for good health. Most rural cultures use all parts of the animal, and are much healthier and produce less waste than the western habits. In the American diet we don’t eat a lot of animal fats. Butter should be used (in moderation) – margarine and any kind of ‘fake butter’ is really, really bad.

Both Kristy and Tamsin recommend this amazing book called “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. It presents old recipes from how people used to cook before supermarkets and fast food, using vegetables from their garden and animals from their farm. It’s a really amazing book, I read part of it at Kristys house.

For two nights we stayed at a Tapawera campground owned by Tamsin’s friends from England Tim and Coleen. One night Tim gave us a group EFT session. The Emotional Freedom Technique consists of tapping on certain meridian points while focusing on a specific issue that is bothering you. There’s a phrase that you repeat to yourself: “I accept every little bit of myself no matter what” in between the tapping and focusing. I’m not sure I completely understand it but the positive thinking part of it appeals to me.

Tim also took us on a hike up to Mount Arthur, where you can see both the west and the east coasts of New Zealand! To the west is all native bush, but looking east you see man’s impact – deforestation, pine trees farms, pastureland, etc.

As I watch the wandering hippiebus drive off to Golden Bay, I head for Picton to take the ferry back to the North Island. I feel sad to be parting from them but also relieved not have to live in such close quarters with such tiny, loud people. But I know that I will see them again someday. I can’t wait to meet the older versions of Sage and Willow. I have a vision that in 10 years I will come back to New Zealand and visit them on their farm, and see how their dreams have unfolded.

 Tamsin spent years refurbishing this van.

 The sometimes cranky but often adorable Willow

  Inside you had a kitchen complete with stovetop, sink, oven, and storage space.


  There was even a wood stove to keep us warm at night!

 This table slid down to become a bed. Tamsin, Phil, and I slept  in this area and the kids slept up in the loft with their mom.

Breakfasttime!  Every day for breakfast we would have an apple crumble – baked apples on the bottom layer, on top grated carrots, 2 eggs, butter, and honey – with organic yogurt. Yum. So good.

The van at Gillepsies Beach campsite, where you can see Mount Cook FROM THE BEACH.


 Early morning tea

 This beach was so cool, we spent two nights here.

  Where else can you see mountains from the beach?


 Sage is a good climber!


  Tamsin, the chef with a delicious lunch: beetroot and carrot salad, mashed pumpkin with butter, and homemade meatloaf. Yum.



Back at the pancake rocks!


Kristy and Sage in the back


 I hope to see these kids again someday!

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