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Our story

Last November marked five years (five years!) since we sailed into New Zealand, dropping Wondertime‘s hook in the dark Bay of Islands waters. A lot has happened since then: trips to the US (some long, some short), motoring around New Zealand, a Tongan interlude, settling down (for now), getting a naughty boatcat, finding our way back to our roots … on the sea.

But all of that pales in comparison to the eighteen months we spent voyaging from Seattle to New Zealand. That journey across the Pacific Ocean will always define us: it changed us, it made us grow, it stretched us in unimaginable ways. Those months cemented our family together, bonds that have since been tested (and will no doubt continue to be) and held strong. Our daughters are begging to continue exploring this world; they know how big it is, and how small. Remembering how scared shitless, bored, frustrated, stressed, nauseous I was at times keeps me going when I want to give up because I know I’ve got this, and bliss is right around the corner.

Sometimes I’d hop onto our website, read old trip entries. And though I swear I can remember everything, reading our stories was often like reliving it all over again. One thing sure is clear: the Johnson family who left Seattle were not the same people who arrived in New Zealand. What defines a voyage, really. Recently, I gathered the best of the entries, cut out the boring bits, edited and formatted them just for us to read. To hold a physical book in our hands, the story of how we got here, of how we came to be who we are today.

Then I thought, maybe someone else would like to read it too, either again or for the first time? So here it is: our story.

But don’t worry: it’s not over yet. It never is.

(If you do decide to buy and read a copy, please let me know what you think, either through a book review, email, or blog comment. As always, we’d love to hear from you!)

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Interview With a Cruiser Project: our turn!

The Johnson Family 2017

I must interrupt my blogging sabbatical to bring you some exciting news! When our friend Livia Gilstrap of The Interview With a Cruiser Project asked us if we’d like to answer a few questions we said HELL YES. Michael and I have been getting ready for, actively cruising, or recovering from since 1999 and we’ve formed a few thoughts and opinions in that time. Head over to the site to read our interview. And if you do, you’ll find out what exactly it is we’re doing in the photo above.

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The magic of staying put

Paekakariki Escarpment track

“You are never more essentially yourself than when you are still.”

– Eckhart Tolle

The title of this post is not our motto but an aspiration. We hate staying put. We’re counting down the days until the end of the lease on our flat (177 remaining, in case you were wondering). Our feet are itchy, our bodies ache for movement across the planet. I can look out our front window at the sea and it kills me that the whole world can be reached if we just step away from this shore.

But 178 days from now, I’m pretty sure we’ll be right here, still. And–true to my aspiration of staying put and staying present–I’ll keep trying to focus on the joy of that. And there is a lot: the school Leah and Holly are attending is amazing (Holly’s gone from reading BOB books with frustration to Neil Gaiman chapter books in less than six months) and both girls are making lots of friends. Michael’s got a new ICT position, working in the public sector again. We love this beautiful, watery part of New Zealand and are really glad we landed here. And despite my occasional threats to get a job at our local pet shop, I really do enjoy tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard every day, stringing words together.

We’re all getting older, faster every day it seems and sometimes the urgency to make the most of this time we have is overwhelming. I can’t help but gaze longingly at Google Earth, at all there is to see in the world. We’ve tended, ahem, to jump headlong into wild ideas in the past. But right now, just resting here, we’re back in the dreaming phase. Trying out ideas, letting them simmer, tossing them aside. And then just gazing out the window, remembering how incredibly lucky we are to be here.


Sunset Parade


How to Move to New Zealand coverBut another benefit of staying still is seeing a project from idea to draft to finish. And here’s the latest result of all my tap-tap-tapping: a full-length eBook based on our most popular post ever, How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. Ever since I published that post three years ago, I’ve gotten countless emails from readers all over the world asking for more details on the New Zealand immigration process. Now, I’m not a licensed immigration adviser, so I’m not able to give specific advice to anyone, but I have enjoyed pointing people to resources for job-hunting, work visas, and tips to moving to New Zealand. Earlier this year I got the idea of putting it all together into one volume and I’m proud to announce the eBook is officially available to purchase (with print coming soon)! I worked with my Voyaging With Kids coauthor Michael Robertson and his new publishing company, Force Four Publications for this project and I’m so excited to send it out into the world.

The eBook is now available at:




Here’s a gorgeous peek at our ‘hood. Can you tell why we love it here?

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How to campervan on the cheap in New Zealand

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand

It’s hard to believe that the 2016 Puddle Jumping fleet will soon be sailing into New Zealand for cyclone season. While some of you may be looking for work to fill the cruising kitty as we did when we sailed in nearly broke, others may be looking at a leisurely six months to explore these islands at the bottom of the South Pacific ocean. You’ll find out in Opua that New Zealand is not a cheap place to travel…unless you know how to travel cheaply here. Even if you arrive in NZ the modern way — via plane — here’s our top tips for travelling on a budget by motorhome in New Zealand.

Buy your motorhome or van. Renting an RV or campervan can cost upwards of $200 per day. For trips of a few weeks, that might be the easiest option. But if you are looking to travel for several months or more, it’s much more economical to simply buy one. Start your search on Trade Me. Look for a motorhome or campervan that’s got a recent Warrant of Fitness to avoid any upfront repairs. Make sure it’s Certified Self Contained (i.e. has got holding tanks) or you won’t be able to freedom camp anywhere. Buying any vehicle is simple in New Zealand: all you have to do is bring the registration to your local Post Shop or VTNZ and they’ll handle changing the vehicle into your name, a 5-minute process. When you’re ready to pass it on after your road trip, just pop another ad up on Trade Me and hopefully you’ll get a buyer straight away.

Freedom camping 10 minutes from Wellington's C.B.D.

Freedom camping 10 minutes from Wellington’s C.B.D.

Join the NZMCA. For less than $100/year you can join the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association. This is a great bunch of folks and besides their nonstop campaigning for motor caravanning rights, NZMCA provides very affordable motorhome insurance (sign up!), a bi-monthly magazine, resources for free or cheap places to park up (including NZMCA parks and park-over-property sites), discounts on services (Cook Strait ferry crossings, for a big one), an extensive travel directory, rallies, and a lot more. The NZMCA also has a brand new mobile broadband service offered for a fraction of the price cell providers charge.

There's not much freedom camping in Auckland. This NZCMA park in west Auckland was a life-saver during our time there.

There’s not much freedom camping in Auckland. This NZMCA park in west Auckland was a life-saver during our time there.


Download the Wikicamps app. Get this on your phone or tablet — it’s the best app you’ll use your entire trip. Updated constantly by app users, it’s got all the freedom camping sites, places of interest like libraries and laundromats (including waste dump stations — you’ll use those a lot) and ratings and comments of all of the above. You can even save the data for offline use (and you’ll be out of cell range often so be sure to do that).

Get your DOC campsite pass. Your NZMCA membership includes the option to purchase the Department of Conservation campsite pass. Get one! With only a handful of exceptions, this pass allows your family to camp fee-free at over 170 DOC campgrounds around the country. It’s a bargain at $175 for the 2016-17 season, considering current DOC campground charges are $5 – $18 per adult and $3.00 – $7.50 per child, per night.

Avoid holiday parks. Sorry NZ tourism, but at NZ$50-$75 per night for our family to stay in a typical holiday park we avoided these like the plague. Not only are they expensive, but they are often crowded too. There are plenty of free places to park up and spread out. If you do need, or want, the luxuries of a holiday park (a shower or washing machine, perhaps), opt for an unpowered site to save a few bucks. We stayed in a few parks when winter temps dropped below freezing so we had power to run our electric heater; check your Wikicamps app for more affordable parks. There are some gems!


Go swimming. If your fresh water reserves are limited — as ours was — you may start smelling a bit due to lack of showering. Luckily, New Zealand’s got plenty of lakes, rivers, and oceans to have a dip. Or, if you really need a shower, head to one of the many amazing swimming pools found all over. Our kids loved the water slides and giant waves! A real bargain for everyone.

Stay for the winter. I know, you probably plan to sail back to the tropics at the first sign of winter, but in our opinion, winter and spring (June-November) are the best seasons to travel New Zealand, by any means. Crowds are non-existent, off-peak rates apply, whitebait fritters are on, and you can even find some snow to play in. Saying we love winter here would be a stretch, but it’s a great way to stretch travel dollars.

Eat in. But you already know this, having sailed through French Polynesia, right?


Any other tips for cheap motorhome living I’ve forgot? Leave a comment and I’ll update this list.

Respect the signs please, protect our freedom camping rights.

Respect the signs please, protect our freedom camping rights.

We had the best beach in New Zealand all to ourselves last winter. (Wharariki Beach, South Island)

We had the best beach in New Zealand all to ourselves last winter. (Wharariki Beach, South Island)

Parked up at the Honest Lawyer, Nelson. Amazing coffee in the morning to boot!

Parked up at the Honest Lawyer, Nelson. Amazing coffee in the morning to boot!


Freedom camping next to the Whangarei bridge.

Freedom camping next to the Whangarei bridge.


We tried to visit the Coromandel one Easter weekend when we lived in Auckland. Last winter we had the whole peninsula to ourselves.

We tried to visit the Coromandel one Easter weekend when we lived in Auckland but the roads were gridlocked and we had to turn back. Last winter we had the whole peninsula to ourselves.

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Forever or failure?

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

5 years ago today. Motoring in typically glassy summer PNW waters to Canada.

My friend and Voyaging with Kids co-author Michael Robertson wrote a post back in April, one I’ve been thinking about ever since. It’s a good post; to me it says stop worrying about whether you will like cruising or not. Just go. You might like it or you might not but the only way to find out is to find out. Excellent advice.

But something about this concept bothers me–and it’s not Michael’s idea, but a common perception in the wider cruising community. And that is the idea that you’re cut out to be a full-time cruising sailor. Or you’re not. What, you only cruised for two years? And only to New Zealand? Too bad you couldn’t hack it.

I call b.s. on that. Who cruises forever anyway? Can you think of anybody besides Cap’n Fatty? I sure can’t.

But I’m guilty of thinking the same silly thing, over and over. They only sailed to Mexico? They must have chickened out and scrapped their plans for the South Pacific. They’re selling their boat after only a year? Must have been too hard. They couldn’t even get off the dock and they’re selling their boat? Ha! Another cruising-wannabe that couldn’t hack it.

These are terrible thoughts.

The reality is that people “stop” cruising for an infinite number of reasons but I don’t think any of them means they can’t hack cruising. We run out of money, or health. Or we just get tired of it and it’s not fun anymore. Boats break. Sometimes the kids we drag along really don’t like leaving their friends behind on a regular basis. It’s certainly not an easy or convenient way to live for months or years at a time. As Michael R. wrote, it is scary. We might miss home, and miss our families who can’t afford to fly around the world to meet us. Sometimes we’ve just had enough, dream fulfilled.

Cruising is not a forever or failure thing. Sometimes you go cruising for a while. And then you stop. You might go again one day, or not. This doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for the cruising life. It means you did it, and then moved on to something else as we do just about everything in life. Michael J. and I have work-cruised-work-cruised-work-cruised-worked for over 17 years now and it’s a life that suits us. I’m sure we’re not done yet. (I can’t seem to hack staying put, either.)

I don’t think there’s anything such as failure when it comes to cruising. Cruising success is not measured in distance, or time. Even if you “only” take your boat out on the weekends, maybe a week out to the San Juans, you learn something about yourself, something important. And that’s the journey we’re all on.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Exploring our for-now backyard.

Simple things.

Simple things.

Why we’re stuck in New Zealand: that’s Leah amongst her āpiti wearing her favourite pink sweatshirt, doing the kapa haka.