Two families building memories, literally!
Two families, four kids, one newborn and a small dog spend six weeks camping at Lake Taupō on a working holiday.
As a first-time mum, had I told my future self that fast forward five years, I would go camping for six weeks with three children (one of them a newborn!), I would’ve shuddered and said 'No freaking way'. I found road-tripping around the South Island in a caravan with one child challenging enough! But parenting is one big adventure and full of surprises. There is one thing guaranteed when you become a mum – you will be stretched, and as surely as motherhood will stretch you, you can be certain your capacity will increase tenfold. It’s the miracle of motherhood.
So let’s backtrack and fill you in on where this adventure started. It all began 18 months ago, when I was editor for OHbaby! Magazine and writing a travel story at the Chateau in Tongariro National Park with my gorgeous family; my husband, Sean, and our two children – Frankie (age five) and Cohen (age three). We were joined by our good friends Holly and Rico Brooker plus their two kids; Billie Darling (age five, and who lives up to her name!) and Hudson (age nine), as they were looking to buy a ski pad in Ohakune. They checked out a few properties but couldn’t find what they were looking for, so I casually suggested they come look at a section in Kuratau on their way home to Auckland. I’d never been to Kuratau, but I’d done a Google search and the photos were enticing enough to warrant a 30-minute detour on the way home. Plus, it was close enough to Whakapapa to tick the box for future family snow trips.
As soon as we stepped onto the plot of land, we fell in love. It sounds dramatic, but the Brooker kids literally jumped out of their car and started running around the land proclaiming "Freedom!”, like they were William Wallace from Braveheart. The call to freedom was compelling, so – together – we put an offer in that very same day.
THE CRIB COLLECTIVE
We formed a partnership called the Crib Collective, with the vision of building a sustainable holiday home for our two families to create lifelong memories. Splitting the costs with another family made the dream that much more attainable. We spent the next year making plans to design and build a house with a wing for each family, joined by a communal living area in the middle. The vision was strong and with plenty of ski holidays and family fun on the horizon, we got stuck in.
My husband Sean happens to be a builder, a very handy trade to have under your belt. His business, Falcon Build, took on the project and we started building our lake house in June 2020. And because we’d hate to die of boredom (LOL), Sean and I threw a surprise baby into the mix – I mean heck, why not take on a new build and a newborn at the same time?!
Our delightful third baby, Albie Howard Falconer, entered the world in October so we took a breather and decided to put the build on hold until the summer school holidays when we could go down together as a family. And to save coin (because houses ain't cheap, even with a builder husband!) we chose to camp on the land. Ambitious? Yes.
Apprehensive would have been an understatement. I knew I didn’t want to be left flying solo at home in Tauranga but the alternative – camping with a 10-week-old baby – also felt daunting. As much as I longed to hunker down at home, we were on a mission to finish what we had started. I have new-found respect for pioneering women who lived in tents for years on end!
A non-negotiable for camping was a washing machine and a flushable toilet. So in the weekends prior to Christmas, Sean and Rico went down to sort the plumbing and build a toilet block out of macrocarpa. We already had a shower and outdoor kitchen from the previous summer, so our glamping set-up was pretty much complete.
As with any family holiday, the packing is the most intense stage of the process. My mental checklist for packing started weeks ahead, and with Christmas in the mix, it took days to prepare and pack. On the 19th of December, with three kids across the back seat, a fluffy dog named Pablo and a trailer in tow, we were loaded up like the Beverley Hillbillies. We took off to Lake Taupō with everything – including the aforementioned washing machine and the kitchen sink!
The final pièce de résistance of our glamping set-up was Champagne Palace, a lovely caravan we borrowed from my mum and stepdad. I stayed in the caravan with Albie babe and the hubby slept in a canvas tent nearby with our two older children. This is what made the experience sustainable. The caravan was my nest for six weeks, a place to retreat when I needed to breastfeed, change a nappy or simply reconnect with Albie. Little babies sleep a lot so it would have been Mission Impossible to get Albie to sleep well in a tent where the temperatures fluctuate from intensely hot in the day to freezing overnight. Early stages with a baby typically call for a small bubble and I relished the simplicity of the situation.
We said 'Sayonara' to 2020 and welcomed in 2021 with a bunch of mates who joined us with their campers, tents and kids in tow. It was time to down tools and shift our focus from building to having fun with our good friends. With nine families and their broods of kids, our lush two acre plot of land resembled a shanty town!
The following days were filled with afternoons spent relaxing at the lake, hooning around on go-karts, BBQ dinners, roasting marshmallows as the sun went down and sitting around the campfire enjoying that well-deserved drink – the prize for wrangling 40 kids with marshmallow sugar highs off to bed while it was still light (oh the joys of daylight saving!).
SHARING OUR SLICE OF PARADISE
Manaakitanga (hospitality) is one of our mutual values so sharing our space with friends was a super satisfying experience. And their response to our little slice of paradise further affirmed our decision to create a holiday home here in Kuratau.
We were staring a whole lot of hard mahi in the face, like literal hard, physical work – nailing one piece of cladding on after another in the hot sun type hard work – but having fun with our friends over New Years gave us the boost we needed to keep on keeping on. The fact that we’re in such a privileged position as to own a holiday home isn’t lost on us. We’re damn lucky. But we’re not so privileged that we don’t have to do the hard yards of building it ourselves. One thing we’ve learned as families is that beautiful memories are often forged through hard work, grit and determination. Even our young children are learning what hard work is by pitching in – helping pick up litter off the land and doing the dishes. It’s amazing what kids will do for the reward of a popsicle!
DOING LIFE TOGETHER
At times it's all felt too hard and we’ve wondered if we’re crazy doing this, but every time we drive into Kuratau, we sink back into the land and feel the peace and joy that settled on us that first time we came here – we love it. People often ask, “What's it like having to work in with another family?” And we laugh, “So far, so good!” Our four children LOVE playing together and spend hours upon hours climbing trees on the land. Each time we go to Kuratau, my daughter Frankie asks, “When will Billie and Hudson be here?”, desperate to be reunited with her buddies.
A SECOND WIFE
I always joke that every family needs a second wife – someone to do the endless mum-chores with, to tag team doing dinner (imagine regularly having a night off cooking!) and an ear to listen while you meet your daily word count. Having my good friend Holly Brooker on-site to natter with while we went about our daily tasks and our hubbies were building the house was an absolute delight. Our husbands love that they get let off the hook a bit with having to fill our emotional tanks too!
It could have been a lonely experience if we had embarked on this mission alone. Sharing it with another family has made it fun and a much richer experience. Doing life together involves compromise and a choice to focus on the big picture, rather than sweating the small stuff. We’re genuinely pumped to see each other and when conflict arises, as it inevitably does, we clear the air quickly. Our shared vision is what always keeps us focussed on the positive.
SHE'S A COUNTRY GAL!
Once the crowds left, it was back to work. I decided it was important for us to have a routine to follow for the rest of January until school went back, so I asked Frankie to help me write a daily plan. I had to laugh when she started with “Get dressed, shoot rabbits, have breakfast...” And just like that, a new ritual had been added to the morning routine. Frankie was now in the habit of getting up early and shooting rabbits (with a silencer!) with Dad. Sean had grown up on a farm, so it was absolutely precious watching him impart some of his childhood experiences upon the kids, something we can’t do on our small urban section back home at the Mount!
From the second week of January the Brookers reluctantly returned to Auckland for work – someone has to pay the bills! At the same time, the tradies were back on site helping us give the build a good nudge, knocking up the cladding with finesse, and local hammer hand Rocky was inside raising the gib board. The visual progress of the macrocarpa cladding going up was so satisfying to watch.
During smoko the go-karts would get started up and the campsite turned into a bit of a dust bomb. A highlight of the holiday was getting each of the grandmas to have a hoon on the go-karts. The rest of us needed no encouragement and the competition was high, with a leader board for the fastest laps up on the fridge and still running. Turns out there’s a bit of bogan in all of us!
One of the perks of living on the building site was that once Albie was down having a nap, I could put TV on for the two older kids and sneak off for a quick walk or yoga class in the community hall. Between downward dogs I would flick text messages to the hubby to make sure he was checking on said baby regularly (hashtag helicopter mum!).
Albie growing out of his onesies signalled it was time to return home, stock up on the next size up in baby clothes and get prepared to return to school life.
I suppose a sign of a good holiday is that you want to go back again, and as challenging as the working holiday was, it gifted us with plenty of precious experiences for the memory bank and our whānau spent significantly more time together than we would ever have had the luxury of having back home in the daily grind. As a result, we’ve become a much closer family unit. Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than achieving something you once thought impossible. Camping for six weeks with three small children was me conquering my Everest, and even enjoying the challenge!
MARIANNE'S CAMPING TIPS:
1. Shade is your friend. Invest in a good gazebo or two.
2. I used my Mountain Buggy Carrycot every day. They’re fabulous for daytime naps by the lake and give you the flexibility to enjoy the days out and about.
3. Be sun smart – invest in extra sun hats, so when they invariably go missing, you’ve got another one on hand.
4. Keep a family-size sunblock in the main communal area, so you always know where it is. Plus keep extras in your beach bag!
5. Be prepared for all seasons – even in summer the evenings can get cold.
6. Layer, layer, layer – not just so you look great, but so you can keep cosy as the temperature plummets at night.
7. If you are using a portacot, invest in a black-out shade cloth to help your baby get to sleep when it’s still light outside.
8. Powered sites are amazing, especially if you’re camping with a really little bubba. You need to keep their temperature even – a fan for hot days and a heater for warmth.
9. Hygiene is important, as tummy bugs put a fast stop to fun and spread like wildfire when camping. Hand sanitiser all the way.
If family fun, building and DIY is your type of entertainment, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, @thecribcollective. We’ll be over there on the regular, hashtagging all the builder stuff and posting awkward selfies – we’d love you to join us!
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 53 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW