Stick it in your family album: Hemingways head south to Australia
For designer Wayne Hemingway, the best way to bond as a family is to travel together. This year's adventure took them to Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands
Sunday 03 February 2008
It wasn't easy to sell Red or Dead in 1999, the brand I created with my wife, Gerardine. She said it was like selling one of our kids. But I was determined to "cash in" on 18 years of hard graft and have a crack at something new – and, importantly, spend more time with our four kids, who back then were still pretty young.
So we travelled as a family and learned that it can offer a wonderful bonding experience and is an unparalleled gift that any parent can give to their kids. We used to get in trouble with school for taking extended holidays to Central America, the Middle East and Australia – even with social services, whom I challenged to prove that school could teach my kids more than three weeks travelling in a van around Guatemala. They sensibly backed off.
Nine years on and we have created some more successful businesses that keep us busy; three of the kids are not kids – two are in their 20s – and don't live at home. Only the 10-year-old is totally dependent on us. But for as long as the eldest still want to be with us, we are determined to continue to spend four weeks over Christmas and New Year travelling together.
For the past few years, we've become a bit complacent, having bought a wonderful home on the Swan River in that most livable of cities, Perth, Western Australia. It's the perfect place for mum and dad and the 10-year old, who just wants to play cricket, cycle and mix with our mates' kids. It's not perfect for the others, who loved the adventures that we gave them. So we decided it was time to do some proper travelling again and this year we bought round-the-world tickets.
We can't resist Perth, so we spent the first two weeks there. The stop was made more than bearable for the older kids by the promise of a winter tan, Daft Punk playing a gig, shops selling cheesy 1980s clothes, and mum and dad paying for food at restaurants that they couldn't afford at home.
Next we moved on to New Zealand and South Island. Our youngest could not wait to pick up the six-berth camper van that was to be our home for the next week. He'd been asking how many toilets and showers it would have and if it would have a TV. For the NZ$3,000 (£1,180) we had paid to hire it, we were expecting a big f-off Winnebago. Instead, we got a cramped, smelly, tatty specimen with 250,000 on the clock, which would barely hold our bags, never mind the six of us.
Our first stop was Queenstown, a beautiful place full of quality cafés and shops, with a lake and mountain setting that is hard to beat. It's an adrenalin junkie's dream; you can try every kind of terrifying activity imaginable. Mr and Mrs Hemingway were content to watch people paraglide and bungee off the mountain ledges that overhang the town centre.
Most activities were closed on Christmas Day and rain was forecast, so we decided to use the day to travel north. Within minutes of the climb out of Queenstown the sheer scale and magnificence of the landscape hit us like a sledgehammer – snow-capped mountains, enormous lakes, empty roads. We overnighted at Lake Wanaka, worked out how to make the van livable in and hung up a few Christmas decorations.
I woke on Christmas morning at first light (only six hours after it had gone dark) and enjoyed a run with views that will live with me for ever. We cooked salmon and eggs for breakfast in the sunshine, enjoyed a three-hour trek to watch the "weather" move in off the mountains and then continued northwards.
Within a couple of hours we entered a rainforest and watched streams and waterfalls erupt around us as almost 14 inches of rain fell in an afternoon. The camper van started to sprout serious leaks. But regular stops to see "Jurassic" beaches lashed by violent waves took our mind off what was likely to be a wet night in the van.
During the five-hour drive to Fox Glacier not even a petrol station was open; we were relying on the small town of Fox Glacier to provide Christmas fayre. No such luck. So Christmas dinner was a packet of chicken soup, grated cheese, a tin of beans, white sliced bread, an avocado, banana and chocolate. This "rustle up" went down a treat – a Christmas dinner to remember.
We woke up cold and damp. But the Boxing Day weather defied the forecasters and we moved the camper into the warm sun to dry out and prepared for our trek to the glacier itself. You need a guide and all the equipment they provide to get you on to it. It's tough on the legs but it's a must because this is one of three glaciers in the world that sit in a temperate climate; you rise out of subtropical rainforest and within minutes you are strapping on your crampons and negotiating the crevasses.
On our way back to Queenstown we started to realise our trip was far too short. We wanted to visit the brooding Milford Sound, get to beaches and seal colonies that no road can take you to, and the mountain glaciers and tarns that take four days to walk to. As New Zealand is just too far away to pop back, we decided to indulge in a nine-hour charter of a helicopter. Landing on a 7,000ft mountain peak, making snowmen in short sleeves, being landed next to a boat that would take us through Milford Sound, visiting usually inaccessible beaches, were just part of an unforgettable day.
The camper van dried out. In fact, it was so comfy that we had trouble getting the kids up – or maybe it was the thought of the eight-hour hike we planned along one of the world's top 10 walks, the Routeburn Track, outside Queenstown. We reached stage three of the route – you can't beat Pot Noodle at 4,000ft, with views across snowy peaks.
Next we took a flight back to North Island and, on reading Lonely Planet, it looked as though the Bay of Islands would be our best bet for beauty. The place was a major disappointment. So, despite the eight-hour round trip, we cut our visit short and headed for Auckland.
Aucklanders are spoilt with beautiful islands within 45 minutes of the city centre. We spent a day on Waiheke Island, which has beautiful coves and beaches, lush vegetation and bohemian restaurants and shops – and some amazing properties. If it were closer to home, we would have bought a hillside shack and added to our annual carbon footprint.
There are pluses and minuses of a "round the worlder" in a month. You are never in one place too long to start twiddling your thumbs, but you are endlessly checking in and out, unloading and loading, unpacking and packing. And with six of you, all going at different paces, it can be trying.
With a week of our tour to go, we left Auckland early evening on Wednesday and crossed the international date line, arriving in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands the evening before – Tuesday! It was midnight when we got to our cabanas by the beach. Despite the rain, it was warm, the smells were exotic, and the sound of waves breaking over the reef sent us to bed excited about the next day. We needn't have been: it rained solidly for the next two days. But we're not a family that travels to the other side of the world to read books. We like to be "doing". Yet, however we tried, we couldn't "do" in Rarotonga in the rain.
We tried snorkelling, but the grey seas were murky. We considered attempting to build an escape raft, but realised that the breakers on the reef would push us back. We tried all the things recommended in Lonely Planet. Hiring bikes drew a blank – there are no bikes on the islands for 10-year olds. We visited the shops of the supposed bustling and cosmopolitan main town only to find fast-food joints, video rentals and gift shops. The only food we could find that remotely appealed was pizza from a café full of grumpy staff. Where was this Polynesian paradise promised by Lonely Planet?
Rarotonga is an island with one road running round its flat 20-mile circumference. It's perfect for cycling and walking on, yet every 500 yards there is a car and motorbike hire outlet. You can't deny people entrepreneurial opportunity, but in a rapidly changing world where, for many, the internal combustion engine is not a desirable thing, surely a tiny Pacific island shouldn't be dominated by them, and you should be able to walk around it without having to jump into the verge every 30 seconds.
On our final day on Rarotonga, the sun came out for a while and we kayaked to atolls, snorkelled in a bay that is a natural aquarium, walked along palm-fringed beaches, and enjoyed the beautifully maintained and friendly Muri Beachcomber cabanas. It's amazing how the sun can transform a place and lift the spirits.
So, just over a month away with offspring ranging from 10 to 21? We are all still mates – we have talked, laughed, even argued. Travelling like this throws a family closer together than at home and you learn so much about your kids and how they and the family unit are developing. There have been times when individually and collectively we wished we were at home – that's not a bad thing, appreciating home. But these shared experiences help ensure that we remain a close family. A family that travels together stays together.
HOW TO GET THERE
Round-the-world fares taking in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific are available through Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; trailfinders.com) from £1,092 per adult and £867 per child.
Tourism New Zealand (newzealand.com); Tourism Australia (australia.com); Cook Islands Tourism Corporation (cookislands.travel).
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