We were traveling in the South Island and had driven many hours to get to the Albatross Centre at the very top of a mountain in Dunedin. We were all very tired when we got to our Airbnb in the evening and were looking forward to lay down and relax, but when we got there… the hosts had a mixup and (had) forgotten to get the apartment ready, so we had to wait. The wait turned into a lovely conversation with the hosts about children, homeschooling, traveling, life. This seems to be a constant in our travels, something unexpected happens which leads to meeting people—with very different lives, but very similar values—and understanding how connected we all are.
In the morning our plan was to leave early and continue north towards Omaru, but the hosts had mentioned Sandfly Bay and said we couldn’t possibly leave Dunedin without seeing it. We didn’t know yet, but we were in for an unforgettable experience.
The road towards the bay was one of the steepest we’ve ever driven, it felt like we climbed forever. The only route was to get all the way to the top of the mountain to then descend towards the bay lookout. Suddenly and completely unexpectedly, we started driving through a thick fog: it was a ring of clouds that surrounded the hill, leaving only the very top out of it. From up there, it was surreal: the sky was blue, we could see the whole coast in the distance, but all around us was fog, we actually felt like we were in a cloud. We drove through the clouds again, and all the way down to the lookout.
Our plan was to walk to the lookout, have a quick look with our binoculars, and come back. But when we got there, our plans changed again—this is something our traveling life taught us: we usually know where we’re going, but rarely when we'll get there. We looked down at the bay from the lookout, and saw one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen: sand dunes as far as the eye could see that led straight to a white-sanded beach with many black spots on it: sea lions.
Alex and I looked at each other, we knew we had to go down. The downhill was long and steep, we didn’t have food, nor our 3-year-old daughter’s carrier (the two very things that usually ensure our survival) and the car was too far to go get them: we knew it was crazy, but we decided to do it anyway.
It took about 30 minutes to walk to the bottom. The sand dunes surrounded us, we couldn’t see the beach anymore, there wasn't a clear path, but we kept walking in the direction of the ocean. The sand kept sliding from under our feet making it difficult to walk, but we were so excited about this new adventure that it felt effortless. When the dunes finally opened up, there it was, the white beach and the turquoise water. And a sea lion. Two sea lions. Three sea lions. Sea lions everywhere!
We walked quietly on the low-tide beach, dipped our feet in the freezing water, passed some sleeping sea lions, then we sat and observed them for a long time. Witnessing our kids’ patience to just sit an observe animals in their natural habitat has become one of the most rewarding feelings I know!
We took it all in for as long as we felt like, and then started heading back. Oliver is a mountain goat, but back then Emily was still overwhelmed by the sight of an uphill, so Alex and I had decided to take turns and carry her up. To our surprise, it wasn’t necessary. For the first time in her life (!), she didn’t even ask to be carried, she kept walking, climbing, sliding on the sand, and climbing again. And with some step-counting and song-singing, she got back up to the carpark. ALL. BY. HERSELF!
This is something we have witnessed over and over again in our travels: it’s in the most challenging adventures that our kids step up their game big time.
We took another look at the path leading towards the bay, then we jumped in the car and headed to our next adventure. But that morning was one of the most special experiences in New Zealand, and Sandfly Bay will forever have a special place in our minds and hearts.
That morning perfectly summarised our travel life: embrace the unexpected, trust that you’ll always find a way, and never be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone.