This week has felt totally off the grid. We spent a few days in Milford Sound, staying at the amusingly titled Knobs Flat, and then on to the southern most point of New Zealand, on Stewart Island, with the aim of finding Kiwi's (the rare bird, not the NZ local). Both locations meant no phone signal, and no Internet, and although we keenly record our adventures on this blog and on social media, it was really quite nice to have a break from anything digital.
We agreed that on this trip there would be times where we both have experiences we'd like to try that just wouldn't be feasible as a family, and that we'd be able to take turns having them. Some compromises are fine to make as we travel. We understand it's not the same as travelling on our own, and there are new benefits to travelling as a family that don't exist when you travel as a couple. However, it would be such a shame to miss out on those things that you know you'll remember forever.
My first chosen experience was to kayak on Milford Sound. On our first day in the area, we did a cruise as a family, and whilst it was beautiful, the weather, and our perspective from the boat left us a little underwhelmed. Partly this was the hype that Milford gets, and we'd also recently visited Norway and seen the fjords there, which are utterly majestic, and seem to go on forever. Somehow the closed in feel of Milford, with it's towering walls of waterfalls didn't feel the same.
The next day I went on my kayak trip, to the same area, albeit with a blue sky and sunshine vs. our grey, cloudy experience the day before. The trip was emotional for me outside of the experience itself because it was the first time I had left Otis for more than about an hour and a half. He's been breastfed (and continues to be), and hadn't taken a bottle, so was literally glued to my hip aside from me heading for the odd run or swim.
Much as I love the little man, I've been desperate for some time to myself, to feel like me again. When it came to the day, I felt strangely emotional about the concept of leaving him behind. He eats solids as well as breast feeding now, but what if he wasn't ok without me for the time of the trip? Would I miss out on some major development? I arrived at my trip, and found out it was actually going to be 2 hours longer than we thought, which made the start of it all the more stressful.
The stress melted away as the trip began, because seeing Milford from a tiny kayak is an entirely different experience to a cruise. The walls seem to tower in on you, the water goes on for ever and is strangely deceiving in terms of judging distance. We kayaked to Stirling falls and back (20km), but when the instructor pointed to the falls in the distance at the start of our trip, we all estimated it at around 1-2k. The depth of colour and the light is magical, and despite boat trips whipping past you, you feel like you're in your own little world as you paddle along.
We read books to Otis every night (the same few at the moment, which can get a teeny bit tedious at times), and one of our favourites is The Snail and the Whale, written by the brilliant author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson. The snail, which has travelled round the world on the tail of the Great Blue Humpbacked Whale, has a lovely passage in which it says, "and she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land, the waves and the caves and the golden sand. She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all, and she said to the whale, 'I feel so small'.
That's how I felt on the water this week. So small. The best travel experiences make you feel like that. They make you realise the enormity and endlessness of the world around us, and what a tiny part you are of it. They give you perspective on your own existence, and the best ones make you gasp at the wonder of what exists around us. I can't think of any better way for me to have had a break from being a mum for a day and to have felt like myself again.
I needn't have worried either, as Otis was obviously fine and greeted me at the end of the day with Ben, grinning and happy. And I was grinning and happy to see them both too. What a bloody great day.