A Travellerspoint blog

March 2017

What a pleasant rendezvous

Picton, Cable Bay

sunny 25 °C
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It was late afternoon when we arrived in Picton. As the weather was simply perfect, we directly headed to one of the beautiful viewpoints above town in the Victoria Domain. The blue waters of the Marlborough Sounds were directly below us – sparkling in the sun. It was a simply great view. The view got even better once the Bluebridge ferry entered the scenes. The white contrasted nicely with the blue waters.

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Even better though was the knowledge that our Swiss friends were on the ferry, ready to meet us at the Picton Top 10 Holiday Park. And soon enough, we were all there, embracing each other and telling the stories of what we’ve done and seen in the six weeks when we last met in Busselton. And Emia and Max headed off to the playground and trampoline like long lost friends.
There was so much to catch up about and we could have talked without stopping for ages. But eventually it got late and we got hungry. While Guido and Lucia pitched their tent, Sam and I prepared dinner for us all. Over dinner and beyond, our talks continued. After all, we had recommendations on what to do and see on the South Island. And in return we had lots of questions about the destinations in Asia that our Swiss friends had been to already and where we still wanted to go to. Not surprisingly, it was pretty late by the time we all got into bed…

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The next day, there were rather other topics taking over. As all of us had left home in April of last year and were planning to be back in summer, we have much in common that we were able to talk about: learnings on the road, things we want to do when back home, thoughts about how the return to ‘normal’ life will be after so much traveling, next plans. Being so long on the road, we certainly started realizing how important relationships and friends are. And being so far away from most, it has an enormous value to meet some of them again.
It was a beautiful day again and at some point in the afternoon, everyone was ready for some activity. We hiked up the Tirohanga Track to a view point along the ridge behind our campground. The weather was picture perfect and the blue color of the sounds perfectly contrasted the green forested hills. The viewpoint was certainly worth the effort of the climb and we sat there for quite a while to enjoy.

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On our way down, we met a 82-year-old Austrian (he’s actually from Hartberg in Styria) with dog Henry. As Emia and Max had reached him first, they got chatting already by the time we got there. Both got lots of compliments on how well they speak English despite the fact that they did not learn it in school.

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Back at the campground, the kids raced around before we had dinner – once again all of us together. Not only the food was excellent, we also had a really nice wine from the region to go with it. And once the kids were gone playing, we had the time to continue our discussions. After all, we have so much in common: just like us our friends have been traveling since April 2016 and will be back at home sometime that summer. Check out weckerlos.ch to see what they’ve been up to in their travels.
The next morning it was already time to say good bye again. Given our plans from there on, the earliest chance to meet our friends again, would probably be back in Germany or Switzerland. All the best in the meantime, Guido, Lucia and Emia!
Eventually we headed to Karaka Point - a small peninsula reaching out into the sounds. The way the peninsula is formed, it was easily defendable in former times and consequently served the Maori as a fort – a so called pa site. We were able to still see remains of the fortifications. But it was also a nice place to see the ferries pass by through the sound. I guess we have been spoiled by the sunshine and lack of wind in the last days: it being overcast and windy today, made such a difference. The view was nice, but not spectacular.
That also helped our decision making. We had two more days to spend until we wanted to be in Nelson. We had considered multiple variants of what to do for these two days, including venturing out into the sounds to French Pass. Given the weather, we decided that it was definitively not worth it to do such a long and windy drive. Alternatively, we went to Cable Bay. The road was windy as well, but we would have needed to take it anyhow on our way to Nelson.
It was a good decision to only go to Cable Bay. Already after the two hours of windy roads to get there, we were happy to leave the car. None of us would have been keen on prolonging that distance any further. And Cable Bay was indeed a very nice spot to stay. A bit reminiscent of Cable Beach in Australia, we once again ended up at a place where the first overseas telegraph cable connected the country to the outside world. The beach was nice, it was wild and basically the beach end of a large boulder bank. While it was beautiful indeed, it does not live up to the standard Cable Beach in Australia has set.
The campground was small and cozy, the beach just maybe two hundred meters away and that’s also where a nice hike starts. As the weather was not too pleasant, we enjoyed the pleasures of being able to spend some time in the comfy kitchen area. Max immediately realized that rain meant playing lego and too all of his parts onto the kitchen table to play extensively.

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The next morning, Sam wanted to get some exercise and took off to hike the Cable Bay Walk. The 8km were excellent interval training with steep ascents followed by equally steep descents – offering sweeping views of the coastline, the Cable Bay lagoon and eventually also towards Nelson.

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Eventually Max and I headed off as well. The sun was out and at we wanted to hike up a tiny bit to get a view of the beach from above. Eventually we hiked up all the way up through the grazing flocks of sheep. The hilltop was hidden from our view and substantially higher than originally anticipated. Still, we made it - but I really had to convince Max hard that we would for sure see Sam once we'd be up there.

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And in fact, I was lucky: from our lookout we were able to spot Sam just emerging from the forest on the other hill. We hiked towards him and surprised him with our presence. We made our descent back to the campground together where we enjoyed a nice late lunch.
As we sat in the camp kitchen, we realized that there were more Austrians in the campground than all Austrians we had met on our journey so far. While that sounds like a lot, they were seven in total, not counting Sam.
As much as we liked the campground at Cable Bay, we had good reasons to drive to Nelson the next morning. After all, we had another rendezvous arranged already for quite a while that we definitively did not want to miss.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:17 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beach sheep friends cable hike sunny ferry sound swiss trampoline Comments (0)

Living in a family home with great views

Nelson

sunny 26 °C
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As we entered Nelson, the sun was up and the tide was high. Consequently, the lagoon behind the large boulder bank was filled and the water perfectly reflected the sky.

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Our first stop was at the skatepark for Max. Once he was exhausted, we headed off for grocery shopping and then moved into our house for the next five days. It was perched up on one of Nelsons hills and featured a fabulous view onto Nelson – from the kitchen as well as from the nice balcony.
It took us well over an hour to empty the contents of our campervan and distribute it over the house. Full of our stuff, it immediately felt like home. We treated ourselves to lunch on the terrace while the washing machine was doing round after round with our laundry.
Max was happy with the house as soon as he realized that his bedroom was full of toys. A bit later our Airbnb host Anna stopped by with her kids Sylvie and Tommy. Max headed off with them to jump on the trampoline in the garden, while we got to chat with Anna.
Eventually we started getting dinner ready. Our guests – Sam’s dad Otmar with partner Gerti – were supposed to arrive around nine after having arrived in Picton on the ferry. It was great seeing each other again after almost ten month. A good reason to toast with some local sparkling wine. We were busy catching up with each other until late into the night.
Our proper welcome continued the next morning over proper Austrian breakfast (aka Kaiserschmarrn), which we had outside on the beautiful terrace.
It got quite late in the day until we started exploring the town. The first and foremost stop was once more at the skatepark, such that Max was able to show off his biking skills. Walking back into town, we treated ourselves to Korean food before heading up the hill again. Up at our place, we were once again treated to a great light show at sunset with the clouds colored spectacularly in pink and rose hues.

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Over playing with Max and later playing cards, it once again got pretty late. So it was no real surprise that our planned early start was not so early after all. We had planned to head up to Abel Tasman National Park and the Golden Bay area.
Admittedly, it took us a bit by surprise and windy the road got to pass over Takaka Hill. So by the time we made the mere 100km to Takaka, we had to choose what to do, as our ambitious plans for the day would have been too much to accomplish. We decided to explore the Rawahiti Caves. The caves are not commercialized and require a 45-min hike through a riverbed and then up on the sides of a steep valley. It was a hot and sunny day and the climb made us sweat. Luckily, we had enough shade from the dense jungle-like forest around us.

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But the caves were worth the effort. We got to see a huge cave opening with hundreds or rather thousands of stalactites. We learned that some of them are so-called ‘phytokarst’, i.e. not only created by water dripping down and depositing minerals, but also algae growing on the stalactites and thus enhancing the growth process. Therefore, most stalactites close to the cave opening did not only grow downwards, but also sideways into the direction of the light.

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Throughout our visit, we had the constant backdrop noise of a plane flying above our heads. It was a small one or two seater plane, which constantly made it’s rounds above the forest covering the mountain slopes. With every round, it discharged a big cloud of material. We’re still not sure, what exactly the plane was doing there. We do know that in NZ, a lot of tasks like spraying or fertilizing are performed form the air by planes. Still, we were puzzled at what exactly we had seen and no one of us came up with a real theory that would have made sense.

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After our excursion, we deserved good food in town. We treated ourselves to pizza. After eating we were so full, that the unanimous vote was for heading home vs. trying to do more exploration. And indeed at least Sam, Max and I took our turns in sleeping for parts of the journey back. What a luxury to be driven around in a car that it quiet while driving (and not rattling like our old campervan).
Once Max was off to bed, we played cards until late in the night. Being four people to play gives much more fun dynamics vs. just playing with the two of us, for Rummy that is. ‘Herzln’ is only possible with four people, so we had to make use of that opportunity.
The next day, Otmar and Sam had an appointment at a local company. It was fun to see the transformation from vacation outfit to casual business outfit. Both enjoyed learning a bit about omega-3 extraction from green shell mussles and the processes involved in doing so.
While they were gone, I kept myself very busy with getting visa documentation lined up. And Max was happy to play extensively with Gerti.
By the time everyone was back and we had had our lunch, it was too late to visit any museums. As it was raining, Max played lego, while Otmar and Gerti explored a local distillery 'Liquid Alchemy’.

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And Sam and I used the opportunity to sort through our stuff and to create a big pile of stuff that we don’t need anymore. In the end, we were successful in dispatching more than half of what we did not need anymore with Otmar and Gerti. After all, in three weeks’ time, we’ll stop doing a roadtrip. And once we will be carrying our stuff vs. driving it around in a car, every piece of fewer weight will be much appreciated.
Sam also used the time to get some more pics for his collection of insect and spider shots. I do admit that I have a bit less of an interest than he does and I am not as keen to get close ups of them.

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Once Otmar and Gerti were back, we introduced them to the dice game ‘Farkle’ we have been taught in the Grand Teton National Park. Max explained the rules and off we went until he started rubbing his eyes so much that it was time for bed. Later we played cards until late again. Too late!
Having played so long into the night, it was harder than usual to get up in the morning. We wanted to go into town to explore the Saturday Market. Before locating the market, we passed by a group of girls performing Scottish dancing. They were well trained and seemed to enjoy the dancing very much. All of them were dressed in original Scottish outfits. Once again, a reminder for us how much of New Zealand was populated by Scottish immigrants. Just across the street was the Christ Church Cathredral, which merited a short visit.

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And then we finally found the market. What a great place for people watching. It seemed that the shoppers were at least 50% tourists. Consequently, we heard a lot of German. But anyhow, the big attraction were the people selling their goods and entertaining the guests. And even though we do like Fish and Chips, it was a pleasure to treat ourselves with Bavarian Bratwurst and Leberkäse from Doris, a Würzburg native – so just about an hour south of our hometown.

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We had planned to then have a look into the local Classic Motorcycle Museum. But when we got there, we realized that it must have closed already some time ago. At least there was no reference to the museum anymore. At least, we got to see Anzac Park that way - a real nice oasis reclaimed from the sea many years ago.

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So we came up with an even better plan how to spend the rest of the afternoon: it was hot, it was sunny: so a perfect day to go to the beach. Tahuna Beach was the obvious choice. Max was delighted about being able to drive a little car and to have a playground right next to the beach. And the beach itself was nice with perfect sand to build castles and with pleasant warm water to have a swim in.

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After so much activity, we were all starving. At ‘Smugglers’ we found exactly what we were craving for: typical NZ fish and chips – in a sense the only national food we’ve been able to identify.
As that was already our last day in our temporary home, we had to do our packing. Once done with that and once Max was in bed, we had to spend some more time playing cards. After all, everyone was keen to eradicate the losses of the last few days and to be the last night’s winner.
The morning was over way too quickly with eating Kaiserschmarrn (again!), packing, cleaning, having another chat with Anna and eventually saying good bye. It was great that we had the opportunity to meet Otmar and Gerti. And once again we realized that in a bit over three months, we will see them again at home. Time is flying and before too long, our travels are coming to their end…
And while Otmar and Gerti will hopefully have fun along the Westcoast and down South, we will be heading into the other direction and will start our discovery of the North Island!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:34 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beach market cave appartment skatepark otmar Comments (0)

Heading north via ferry ride and a real highway

Aussie Bay, Picton, Wellington, Whanganui

sunny 26 °C
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Leaving Nelson after five days with Sam’s dad Otmar and his partner Gerti, we were a bit sad. We had enjoyed living in a house and having family around. Now we’d be again on our own living in our campervan.
Driving towards Picton, we knew already that the road was very windy. And indeed, coming from the other direction it was not any better than a week earlier. We stopped for a quick hike to a viewpoint shortly after Havelock. Just to jump your memory: Havelock is the the well-known world capital of green shell mussels, as it boasts at the entrance into town. The view down into the sounds with their crystal clear water was fabulous.

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A bit further on we stopped at Aussie Bay for the night. The DoC campground there is beautifully located directly next to the waters of the sound. We were there early enough to pick the prime spot at the very end of the campground. As it got dark, the campground did get extremely full. It seems like the rather cheap places like this one (8$ ppn) seem to be flooded by work and travel people who don’t want to afford the more expensive serviced campgrounds. Most of them travel just in a car in which they sleep – some are just converted vans (mostly the Toyota Previa), some are just station-wagons.

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We enjoyed our location next to the water. It was great to relax, read, play in the water and along the beach. As it got night, we were not only treated to a perfect starry night with the milky way shining at us, but also to a glowworm spectacle in the small creek just a couple of meters behind our camper. Nice!
The next morning, we headed out early. For one, we knew already that on the windy road into Picton we’d not be able to average more than 30km/h. In addition, we still wanted to do some shopping in Picton such that we’d have a picnic for the 3.5h ferry ride.

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Soon we were waiting in our line to be allowed to enter the ferry. Next to us we realized that there were many more Corvettes for it just to be a coincidence. After enquiring, we found out that there had been over a hundred of them meeting in Nelson for the last weekend.

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Once on the ferry, we had a look around. One of us stayed with Max in the kid’s area, the other one of us explored the ferry and enjoyed the views. The sounds themselves were already very beautiful and we considered ourselves very lucky to be doing the ferry crossing on such a nice day. But there was even more to be seen: we got to see dolphins and could watch a lady swimming in the attempt of crossing the 26 km Cook Straight. It seems like a very difficult task taking between 8h and 24h depending on level of fitness and conditions of the sea. And it seems a bit scare: after all one of 6 swimmers gets to see sharks and even though none has been attacked so far.

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It turned out that it had been a good decision to install ourselves in the kids' room. Otherwise we might not have met Emere with her kids four-year-old Te Iti Kahurangi and one and a half year old Rongomaiwahine (who fell in love with Max until he started catching her back when she started running away).
From Emere we learned about the Te Matatini Championships, a Maori festival taking place only once every two years. According to our Lonely Planet the Te Matatini is the best place to see ‘kapa haka’ being peformed. Most people just know ‘haka’ as the war dance the NZ All Blacks perform before their rugby games (which they subsequently win most of the time).
In fact kapa haka is encompassing Maori performing arts and includes not only the wardance, but also songs and other dances. Emere did tell us that she was going to the Hastings festival, as it was hosted by her iwi (tribe). She was hoping that she’d see other tribes sing and perform about their relation with her tribe. One of the stories she expected to be picked up by several performers was the story of Rongomaiwahine, an ancestor of Emere’s iwi. Rongomaiwahine was married, but another man named Kahungunu, wanted to have her for himself. Her husband died in strange circumstances and eventually Rongomaiwahine married Kahungunu.
We were intrigued and it was clear that we would definitively want to visit the festival. Emere gave us her phone number and we’d try to meet up once we’d be there.
Eventually our ferry entered the harbor of Wellington. Our ‘Lonely Planet’ was rather sarcastic in regards to the weather in ‘Windy Welly: despite it’s bad reputation Wellington ‘breaks out into blue skies and T-shirt temperatures at least several days a year’. It seems we were more than lucky to be there on exactly one of those days. And indeed: the parliament buildings and the famous 'beehive' looked great.

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Despite the beautiful sunshine outside, we could not resist to take a look around the National Museum ‘Te Papa’ with its Maori marae / meeting house. Max enjoyed the interactive kids discovery zone and once we had managed to get him moving again, we all had a look of the harbor from the viewing platform. From up there, we saw people jumping into the water from various springboards.
So we headed outside to have a closer look. The locals were really having fun and it was hard to resist having a dip ourselves. We stuck to watching and soon noticed the many dragon boats with their crews picking up speed while crossing the harbor basin, which looked like fun. While having an icecream we watched how the crews got into their dragon boats and got going – always directed by someone in the stern shouting out the rhythm.

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Max soon convinced us that it was time to go to the skate park that he had already noticed just across the road from the Te Papa Museum. He had fun racing against the many other bikers there.

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Even though our spot for the night was nothing more than a large parking area, it was great: we were just in the center of town next to the harbor basin.

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Also the next morning, Max' first request was to have another go in the skatepark before heading out of Wellington. So that‘s what he did. After Max had biked enough to be tired and taking more breaks than actually riding his bike, we loaded it back into our camper and headed off towards north.
We were amazed how quickly we were able to progress on a real highway. We had not been on a divided highway in ages and were not used to such rapid transport anymore. After a while, the highway transformed into a regular highway, but still featuring passing lanes every couple of kilometers. And best of all: there were hardly any curves. So despite the signs along many roads that ‘NZ roads are different – take more time’, even in NZ there are pockets where you can go fast. We were hardly able to believe it that we had made it all the way to Whanganui for our lunch break – despite the rather late start.
Whanganui was a nice little town next to the river of the same name with lots of historic buildings along its main road. We parked downtown and had lunch. Once again we marveled at the many vintage cars we saw driving around. It seems like that maintaining and driving old cars is a favorite Kiwi pastime.

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Eventually, we headed out of town to the Kowhai Park. We have been to many parks and playgrounds so far, but this was one of the most creative and fun playgrounds we’ve seen on our journey so far. It’s hard to tell what Max liked most: the dinosaurs slide, the octopus’ swings, the rocket, the zip line, Humpty Dumpty or the pumpkin house. No wonder, that it took a bit of convincing to continue our journey and not even the promise of seeing some volcanoes this evening did the trick.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:29 Archived in New Zealand Tagged river museum bay harbor ferry sound playground skate Comments (0)

Volcanoes, thermal springs and geothermal energy

Tongariro National Park, Taupo

sunny 26 °C
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Once again, we found ourselves back to typical NZ roads: it was very windy towards Tongariro National Park and seemed to take ages to finally reach the town of National Park. According to our guidebook, it was the fourth National Park worldwide, but a quick internet search revealed, that there must have been at least more before that (and hey, no one in Yellowstone talked about being the second oldest national park with one in Mongolia of all places being almost 90 years older). It definitively is one of the few mixed cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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We had intended to stay in the national park at the DoC campsite. As it was more than full, we backtracked to National Park and found a nice uncrowded spot next to a backpackers lodge. Contrary to the DoC campground, we’d be able to enjoy the luxury of flush toilets, warm showers, a fully equipped kitchen and cozy lounge area – a much better value for money.
Sitting in the lounge editing pictures, Sam felt the earth shake twice. And indeed, there were three tremors that evening out of which Sam had felt two. None of them had a big magnitude, but just enough to feel them.
Contrary to most other people staying in our campground, we did not plan to hike the Tongariro Crossing which is often dubbed the best day walk in NZ. So we did not have to get up to catch the 6am or 7am shuttle, but were able to sleep longer in the next morning.
We took it easy and realized that we took a good choice. After all, the foggy clouds only vanished between 9 and 10 am. And that’s when we headed off towards Whakapapa Village. We took the short Nature Walk along a creek and then headed into the info center of the National Park. The displays were very informative, specifically in regards to the volcanic activity in the area, but also in respect to the local Maori culture.

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We could not resist to drive up all the way to the Mt. Ruapehu ski area. Along the way, we had excellent views of the conical and perfectly symmetrical Mt. Ngauruhoe (which is also known as Mt. Doom of the Lord of the Rings) and Mt. Tongariro.

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As we passed the northern slopes of Mt. Tongariro one of its many side vents smoked and fumed. We could not resist to play mind games on ‘what if it erupted just now’. I’m not quite sure if I would have really wished to see a live eruption. Anyhow, after some minutes of observing, we concluded that Mt. Tongariro was just going about its normal business and that there was not more coming and headed on.

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We stopped for lunch in Taurangi which features a small skate park in its center - just like most NZ small towns. From there we enjoyed a pleasant drive along the shores of Lake Taupo. At a viewpoint overlooking the lake, we were more impressed by the group of skydivers being dropped close to us. And indeed, Taupo claims to be the world capital of skydiving with over 30,000 jumps per year.
It was perfect weather and pleasantly warm. Consequently, the beach was very crowded. And also Reid’s Farm, our campground for the night, was similarly crowded. We were there early enough to still find a spot next to the Waikato river. Sam and Max could not resist to take a dip in the clear water and Sam even swam against the current which exactly matched his swimming speed. What a great sunny day. So there is nice weather in NZ after all!

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While our spot along the river was indeed very scenic, it did put a damper on our enthusiasm that every half an hour one of the drinking backpackers decided to relieve himself in the river. Seeing this and how many of the other campers behaved, we do understand why many freedom camping sites in NZ get closed. It’s sad to see that many people do not honor the luxury of being able to camp for free and fail to return the favor by following even the simplest rules.
We got up early enough to see the early morning fog raising above the river. As soon as the fog had vanished and the sun was coming through, we were on our way to Huka Falls – the impressive and probably most visited natural highlight of a trip to NZ. We were not surprised that there were busloads of tourists around. At least, the viewpoints were designed in such a way that it was possible to admire the falls without having anyone else blocking the view.

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Our next stop was a Waikirei Terraces, which is a nice little spa using the hot thermal water discharged by a close by spring. We took the walk around and were reminded so much of what we had seen in Yellowstone a couple of months earlier. But the Maori carvings helped to remind us that we were on a different continent after all.

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From there we headed further into the valley to the Waikirei boreholes viewing platform. In total, there are over 160 boreholes to source the geothermal power plant a bit further down by the Waikato river. It was impressive to see how many pipes led down the valley with all kinds of appliances helping to control pressure and flow of the hot water.

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Having seen the sheer extent of how geothermal energy is being used and knowing that there are seven more of these geothermal power plants in the surroundings, it is not surprising that as a result places like the Waikirei Thermal Valley are seeing the effects. We liked the walk anyhow and all over the place it was steaming and boiling. And with the laser thermometer we had been given at the entrance, we were able to check temperatures ourselves. That was fun for Sam and Max alike. And I had fun watching the two of them. Still, it seems that the valley has lost much of its appeal since reduced water levels changed the dynamics and none of the previously 15 geysers is active anymore.

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The other attraction of the place were the animals. We got to feed the chicken, fowls and peacocks until eventually Max was overwhelmed by how vigorously they requested more food. The sheep, goats, rabbits and lamas were much more laid back, but happy to be fed none the less.

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Otmar had recommended to us that we visit the Taupo bike park. And indeed, Max enjoyed again having a dirt track to ride on and try his skills at doing bunny hops. While he rode and I watched, Sam took a quick dip in the hot waters springs down where it meets the cooler waters of the Waikato River.
Once we left, all three of us were ready for some exciting days to come. We hoped that the next two days would justify the couple of hundred kilometers detour we were planning to drive.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged volcano valley waterfall spring geyser thermal tremor Comments (0)

It’s showtime!

Napier, Hastings, Sanson, Ohakea, Flat Hills Café

sunny 28 °C
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After the Tongariro National Park and Taupo, the next logical destination on the standard tourist trail would have been Rotorua. And indeed, our original plan was to do exactly that and to head straight through the center of the North Island.
Well, plans do change. And usually for the better. Thanks to Emere who we met on the ferry, we had heard about the Te Matatini festival and that’s where we wanted to go. The drive towards the east coast led us through the enormous forest areas east of Taupo. All planted forests, all branches cut off on the lower five meters. Manmade forests – boring and straight rows. Even worse: those areas which had recently been felled. Hectares over hectares of deserted land looking like it had been bombed or diggers had dug up everything. Just dead and depressing.
But the scenery soon changed and we got to see rugged hills, a nice and deep valley and big vistas.
As we lost altitude, the sea came into sight and with it the town of Napier which is famous for its Art Deco architecture. The town had been almost completely destroyed during the devastating 1931 earthquake. It was then rebuilt following higher building standards in the then fashionable Art Deco style. We had a quick drive through town. But as neither Sam nor me (let’s not even start talking about Max here) one of us is a big fan of architecture or Art Deco, we rather headed on.
It still turned out that it was a great decision to pass through Napier instead of going directly to Hastings. Otherwise we might not have stayed at the Napier freedom camping park right along the beach.
The location was great, overlooking Hawke’s Bay and just a couple of steps from the water. And even better was the fact that it was just 300m away from a ‘BMX pump park for all ages’ – by far the best bike park we’ve seen on our journey so far. A bit further along the shore was also a bike traffic park, a skate park and a playground. Not even the best holiday parks can compete with such fabulous attractions.

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That evening it eventually started raining, but by the morning the rain had subsided and we were treated to a nice and bright sunrise over the east facing beach. It was so beautiful that we briefly started contemplating if we should have planned to spend more time on the east coast. But no matter how much time we have in a country: it is never enough to see all it has to offer and we’d always need to make choices.
And today our choice was easy: we had tickets for the Te Matatini festival, so that’s where we went. It was just a 15-min drive to Hastings where we easily found the event. We were very positively surprised about the perfectly organized traffic management and the luxury of having courtesy buses to drive people from the parking to the entrance. In retrospect, we would probably have been quicker at the gates if we had just walked over. But seeing how many families squeezed into the bus with us was an adventure in itself.
After a bit of waiting outside the entrance to the actual performance, we entered and found a good spot for our picnic blanket. We watched four different groups perform the kapa haka with 30 mins each. After a while we realized that each group followed a certain pattern in their performance, starting with an entrance, doing various types of songs, dances and eventually an exit performance.

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One thing that took us totally by surprise was the fact that there was no movement in the audience at all during the performances. People were allowed to enter and exit the arena only during the 7 min breaks. The ushers did an excellent job in making sure that this was the case. What a great sign of respect for the performers and also for the judges!

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It was fascinating to hear and see the dances and songs. The whole event was exclusively held in Maori language, so we were not able to understand what the teams were singing about. But that did not matter to us, as just the facial expressions and the emotions transmitted were strong enough to make us feel what it was about. And not surprisingly, Max was mainly fascinated by the tattooed faces and loved it when the performers were sticking their tongue out.

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After one of the performances, we were suddenly surprised to see a group of people in the front of the stage get up. They started singing a song to the team up on stage. Enquiring with Emere, we learned that this is how people would customary show their respect and gratitude for the performance that was delivered – maybe because the lyrics touched their hearts, maybe because they are supporters of the team being proud of a performance well delivered.
Even though the event was very big, we easily met Emere. We found her at the children’s play area, which was like a gigantic bounce park with over a dozen bouncing castles. We used the opportunity to thank her for telling us about the festival and to get some good suggestions on which foods to try. Otherwise we would probably not have tried creamed paua. While sitting over lunch, we could not resist to do some people watching. That's probably what we like most about local festivals like this!

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After a while, we noticed that there was a separate program going on in a big tent. What we heard, sounded somewhat familiar. And indeed: there was a group of native Americans from Canada performing dances just like we had seen them at the pow wow in Washington State. And once they were done, there was a dance troupe from Rarotonga. It is a small world and having seen so much on our travels so far, we’re starting to have more and more of these déjà vu moments.
Between the food stalls, the people watching, the exhibitions of Maori crafts (such as wood, bone and jade carving) and the shopping possibilities, we could have kept ourselves busy for hours. But we wanted to see some more groups performing live in the stadium. By then we had already learned to distinguish a bit what makes a great performance vs. a good one. And indeed, we learned later, the team Sam and I liked best on that afternoon was selected to perform in the finals round on Sunday. By then, Max had lost all interest in watching the show and preferred to play with Te Iti Kahurangi.

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Even though the festival was going on until after 8pm that evening, at 4pm we had seen enough. With so many impressions, we were at the point of risking information overflow. So we headed on. Driving South, we briefly celebrated that our camper made its 500,000th km and hoped that it would continue to do so for the next two weeks. After two hours we reached the small town of Sanson. Once again, a déjà vu – hadn’t we passed through there just three days earlier on our way from Wellington to Whanganui?
At the campground where we stayed, Sam was excited to see people running a flight simulator on a big screen. He watched until his attention was diverted to the airplanes overhead. A couple of F16s were doing their circles in the orange skies of the setting sun. A first glance of what we could expect to see tomorrow at the AirTatoo 2017 – an airshow celebrating the 75th anniversary of the RNZAF, the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
This gigantic event with several ten thousand spectators was extremely well organized. We drove to Bulls and got taken from there with a bus to the airfield.
We were there early enough before the air show started and had plenty of time to check out the static displays. We even entered some of them, such as the C130 from Singapore. Max got to hunt down some squadrons to get his kid’s activity sheet stamped and Sam used the opportunity to chat with some of the soldiers.

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Already before the official flying displays started, there were the first planes in the air and we got a first feeling of what was coming.

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Once the airshow started, we had an excellent spot right along the fence. The session started with a so called ‘thunder display’ with a Boeing 757, a C3 Orion and two C130s Hercules.

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Then we got to follow acrobatic maneuvers such as loopings and a bit of fomation flight. And there were parachutes, helicopters and displays featuring the tactical advantages of certain aircraft.

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The show was brilliantly organized and there was not a single minute without something happening. But eventually we had to get moving again, did get lunch at one of the many food stalls and checked out some more of the static displays including the new distributed A400M.

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And then it got loud: After lunch, it was time for an F16 to show their flying skills. Wow – it is fascinating to see how quickly and easily a plane like that maneuvers. Still, Sam and I could not resist to comment that while the display had been nice, it did not get close to the F16 USAF Thunderbird display we had seen some years back in Romania. We were quite lucky on that occasion as it seems: after all in 2017 and 2018 the Thunderbirds will only perform one single show outside of North America!

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After some helicopter displays with the NH90 that included unloading and loading various loads and people, it got even louder when the F18 Superhornet took the stage. By that time, Max had lost most of his interest in airplanes and was much more interested in getting some icecream.

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And eventually also Sam agreed that it was time to leave. Once more we were amazed about the excellent organization of the event with a row of probably more than 100 buses waiting to take spectators back to the towns where they had parked their car.
We drove north for almost an hour to the Flat Hills Café, where Max was delighted to jump in the bouncing castle and to feed the lamas and goats. Sam and I agreed that the shows had definitively been worth the many kilometers we had driven in the last two days. But at the same time, we were looking forward to a couple of more relaxed days for the remainder of our time in New Zealand.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged festival plane maori tatoo helicopter f16 haka airshow f18 Comments (0)

More thermal activity

Taupo, Waikite, Rotorua

semi-overcast 25 °C
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Heading north towards Taupo, we once again passed along the Tongariro National Park. This time, we got to see the Eastern slopes of the volcanoes from the so called ‘Desert Road’. And while not necessarily desert like, there was not too much to be seen. And due to the fact that large areas are closed to the public and serve as a military training area, it is advisable to stay on the road and not to venture further out.

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A bit later we knew the roads already from our visit three days earlier. And it did not take Max long to realize that we were stopping again at the bike park where he had ridden his bike already. Once we had eaten and Max had biked some rounds, we ventured out to hike along the Waikato River – New Zealand’s longest. The hike was really nice and we even got to see from above the spot where we had camped a few days ago.

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After we had enough exercise, we turned back. This time all three of us took a dip in the River at the spot where the Otumuheke hot stream joins it. We found a spot with just the right temperature – not too far up the hot stream and not too far towards the cool Waikato. Sitting there and enjoying the soak in the sunshine, Sam once more felt a small tremor. After all, we are in a zone known for its volcanic and seismic activity!

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Still, we all agreed that there’s no need for a larger shake or eruption just now. We’d rather be far away in such an event. The world’s largest eruption of the last 5000 years took place in 186 AD in Taupo. In one of the visitor centers we had seen the comparison of the ash clouds of various outbreaks: Mt. St. Helens was a spec, Krakatau’s eruption sizable, but still half the height of Taupo’s ash clouds, which were allegedly 50km high. Thanks to the notes of Roman and Chinese historians, the date of the eruption can be dated. After all, at that stage there were no humans living in New Zealand yet with the Maoris only arriving almost 1000 years later.
Despite the soak in the hot stream, we had plans for even more soaking and left for Waikite Thermal Pools. We had reserved a spot for the night at the campground which belongs to the pools. Once we arrived, we had a quick dinner and then headed straight to the pools. We had six different pools to choose from at temperatures between 35 and 40 °C. It was a magical atmosphere – specifically as the sun set over the steaming valley with the pools. The next morning, we went to the pools once more to have a look at daylight.

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We did not spend too much time, as we were keen to be at the ‘Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland’ at 10am. This is when the daily eruption of the Lady Know Geyser is taking place – perfectly timed due to the help of a little soap that sets the eruption off. As we had seen our share of geysers in Yellowstone with the similarly predictable Old Faithful (even without soap or other helping agents!), we did not go to the geyser, but took the tour of the rest of the area. Thanks to the simultaneous geyser show, the parking lot was empty and there were hardly any people around. The strategy that our excellent guide book ‘NZ Frenzy’ had suggested, worked perfectly.

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Just like we had in Yellowstone, we enjoyed the multitude of thermal features enormously. The Champagne Pool was the predictable highlight of the area, but also the Artist’s Palette, Primrose Terraces and Sulfur Pool were absolutely impressive. By the time the other visitors came returned to the thermal area after seeing the geyser, we had seen already completed most of our sightseeing and were happy to leave.

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We headed straight into Rotorua. We were hungry and had a couple of errands to run – tasks that are easily completed in a small town like Rotorua.

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On the way back to our car, we took the scenic tour via the Government Gardens with its bowling lawns. A tournament with international participation was going on over four days and the enthusiasts were taking their sport seriously. We were fascinated by the accuracy of the bowls and also by the unusual attire these older men were wearing.

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Scattered throughout the gardens were fenced off steaming pools – proof that Rotorua is a town that is located on top of a huge caldera. And there was a not just a slight hint of sulfur in the air. At times, it got so strong that we started to understand why some of the campgrounds in suburbs far away from the center make a big point around the fact that there are no sulfur in their locations.

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The campground where we stayed for the night, was located close to the airport. We were not bothered by the few airplanes making their descent into the airport and there were no wild sulfur smells either. Max was happy to have a trampoline and playground just next to our spot and we were happy about the excellent wifi.
The next day, we spent some more time in Rotorua. The Kuirau Gardens are much more than a normal city park. There were lots and lots of hot pools, steaming vents and mud pools. All of that, along with warning signs about staying on the paths. After all, as the area is subject to geothermal activity and due to its nature previously stable ground might become unstable. Together with some locals and other tourists, we took a footbath in the thermal water.

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At the skatepark, there were no other tourists around and actually no locals either. Max had the place for himself and enjoyed the solitude. A bit of shopping and back to the campground to enjoy the rest of this quiet day. And yes, after the many kilometers we had driven over the past days, we deserved a bit of rest.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged park pool hot geyser thermal bowling Comments (1)

Beaches and Caves

Uretiti Beach, Waipu Caves, Whangarei

sunny 26 °C
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It was good that we had rested a bit, as we were off to a long drive the next morning. I had always planned to spend our last week in New Zealand in Northland. We passed through an area that looked very much like the ‘Shire’ of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, but did not make the detour to the see the actual film set. Our lunch break was at Papakura, a Southern suburb of Auckland. We did not see anything of the town itself, but had merely identified it as a place where a skatepark was located rather close to the state highway.

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Despite the multi-lane highways, it was heavy traffic through Auckland and we were happy to eventually leave its northern suburbs. After a while, the highway started sneaking along the many hills of Northland. Even though we had driven more kilometers that day than on any other day in New Zealand so far, thanks to the excellent roads, we arrived fairly early at our campground at Uretiti Beach.

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What was initially planned to be just a one-night stay as a base to explore the nearby Waipu Caves, turned out to be such a nice spot that we stayed for three nights. The beach was just a two-minute stroll from our camping spot – basically just behind the dunes. We had beautiful weather and it was great to be at the beach. Only then we realized that since we came to NZ, we had not really been at the beach. So, it was time to seriously hit the beach.

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All three nights were beautiful: the milky way and the Southern Cross were shining brightly above us. In a couple of photo sessions in which Sam tried to capture that part of the night sky that we never get to see in Europe.

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Looking up to the stars like that, we did get a bit philosophic. After all, it is a big question mark if and when we’ll see the Southern Cross again. Well, knowing us and how much we like traveling, the if is probably less of a question. It’s rather the when and where. Even though we pondered the question for quite a while in those three nights, we did not come up with a definitive answer. So, time will need to tell.
The days passed quickly. Between building sand castles, jumping in the waves, flying a kite, playing cards or dice, playing with Max, relaxing and reading, we did not get bored. And despite all of this relaxed activity, we did not forget to call our mothers for their birthdays – a perfect reason to have a chat with home.

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But the best time at the beach was sunset. What a great atmosphere…

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After the third night, we were determined to finally explore the Waipu Caves – the reason why we came to Uretiti Beach in the first place. It was a short drive up into the hills. Most of the road was gravel, but by now we trusted our van that it would easily get us there.
We were surprised about the number of cars at the parking lot of these non-commercialized unknown caves. It probably did not help that we went on a Saturday, on which in addition to the tourists also some locals went exploring. But our guidebook was spot on: most people did not venture far into the cave, but turned around before it got interesting. And those who did go in farther, often did not have a clue how to see the famous glowworms. Only once we told them to turn off their lights, let the eyes adjust to the darkness and to look up, they realized that they were all around them.
We simply loved the cave. The glowworms were like a giant milky way above us and created a very special and magic atmosphere. And contrary to any developed cave, we were on our own, could spend as much time as we wanted, could take as many pictures as we wanted and were not dependent on a tour guide to turn off the lights for a minute or two.

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As we neared the end of the cave we had to duck down quite a bit, walking through an underground river. I must admit that after a little waterfall, I did get slightly scared. Sam and Max did spot an eel in the water and knowing that I’d be walking right next to it, did make me feel uneasy. Luckily, the ceiling came closer and closer and to my relief we turned around without any closer encounters with the eel.

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What a great adventure at zero cost! We were very happy that we came to the caves.
From the caves, it was only a short drive to Whangarei. At the AH Reed Memorial Park, we hiked through the maturing kauri forest with its forest canopy walkway. Walking high up between the trees always makes me contemplate how a bird must feel flying through a forest. Seeing how big the young kauri trees were, we started wondering how big the old trees are getting.

Max and Sam took the hike through the park to Whangarei Falls while I got the car. Down at the falls we met again and enjoyed the nice view.

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By then we had seen and done enough for the day, so we just wanted to drive to our campground for the night. Well, there was one more attraction along the way that we did not want to miss: we anyhow had to pass through Kawakawa on our way north, the last home of the late Austrian eco architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Usually toilets do not make it into guidebooks, but these are certainly different. And indeed, they make an excellent stopover along the road – reminding us of the Hundertwasser roadhouses along Austrian highways. Which reminds us that to the day in three months from now we’ll be arriving in Austria. Hard to imagine!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sky sunset beach cave skyline toilet star eel glowworm Comments (0)

Saying good bye to Middle Earth

Paihia, Waipoua Kauri Forest, Orewa, Auckland

semi-overcast 24 °C
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We arrived just in time at the Bay of Islands to get a glimpse of its beauty at sunset. We were so keen to finally arrive at our campground that we did not even stop to take a picture. It had been a long day after all.
The campground was really nice, probably one of the best we had been to in New Zealand. Max was happy about the playground, we liked the setting just next to the bay and also appreciated having a reliable wifi connection for a change.
We quickly agreed to stay not just one, but two nights in that nice spot. The next morning, we headed out into the bay in a kayak. Our first destination was just the other side of the bay, where we discovered a small cave and even paddled under a small natural bridge. After that, we headed towards one of the many small islands dotting the bay. That was a perfect place for a break and we enjoyed the quiet place and marveled at the many holiday homes along the hills opposite of our small islands.

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The paddling back towards the campground was fun and hot. Even though the waters of the bay looked much more inviting in their turquoise colors, we were glad that the burning sun only came out then and not earlier.
The rest of the day passed very quickly between playing, exploring the bay at low tide, editing and uploading pictures and the blog. And we felt the ‘usual’ effect coming into play: already the last couple of times our activity level decreased significantly in the last couple of days before leaving a country / continent.
There was one more thing we definitively wanted to see before leaving Northland: the big kauri forests. Therefore, we did not take the direct route back south, but headed towards the west coast.
On our way, we stopped at a viewpoint. Not expecting too much, we were very pleasantly surprised about the stunning views of the Tasman Sea, the Hokianga Harbor and the massive sand dunes on the opposite side.

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From there it was just a very short (but windy) drive to Waipoua Forest, the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest living kauri tree in the world. It is estimated to be somewhere between 1250 and 2000 years old. Even though kauris don’t get very tall compared to other species of trees (Tane Mahuta is ‘only 51m high’), they grow very big in diameter.

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A bit further, we saw some more examples of big kauris, the ‘Four Sisters’ and the ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ which is not as high as Tane Mahuta, but with more than 5 meters diameter even thicker. We love big trees, so the detour to see these massive examples was definitively worth the effort.

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We had toyed with the thought to spend our last two nights at a beach on the west coast. In light of the bleak weather forecast which projected two very rainy days, we rather went for a place along the road into Auckland. Even though it was located along our way, that left quite a long drive to get to the northern outskirts of Auckland.
By the time we arrived, it was fairly late and consequently we slept until late the next morning. Luckily, the rain only started in the afternoon, such that Max and Sam were able to enjoy a nice morning at the beach. They were even able to find a buyer for Max’ bike. It’s always great to know there will be a happy next user.
I used the quiet time while they were gone to pack all of our stuff. Considering that we’d now be changing our style of traveling from road tripping in a van to backpacking Asia, there’s a lot of stuff we were able to discard. Given the closeness to Auckland, the campground featured a big ‘for free’ box for people to leave things they don’t need any more and for newcomers to take. And in fact, already by the time we left the next morning, some things like our picnic blanket seemingly had found new owners.
With everything packed up, we were ready to hit the road again. As our plane would be leaving only very late, we had a full day to spend. After running some errands (such as donating some of our not needed stuff at a local hospice shop), we spent some time in downtown Auckland. Given the wet weather, we did not explore too much, but rather spent our time in a nice an cosy café.

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While Max got to work off some energy at a playground, we got the van in shape and eventually returned it at the rental agency. We were quite happy that the van had survived the over 6000 km we drove without any incidents, accidents or breakdowns. But still, we could not resist to give the company a full list of defects on the vehicle. Even though the 50 NZD discount we received, seems like a very small token, it shows at least that our complaints were heard.
Their shuttle bus took us swiftly to the airport and before too long we were standing in line at the AirAsia counter to get our boarding passes. With those in our hands, we had a couple of hours to kill before our plane left. As we know Auckland Airport quite well thanks to Jetstar messing up our flights from Rarotonga to Sydney exactly 4 months earlier, we knew our way round very well. We spent our time in the café with the nice view and contemplated on how quickly time is passing.

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And then it was time to say good bye to New Zealand and to brace ourselves for the fun awaiting us in South East Asia. As much as we liked our travels so far, we had done enough road tripping. We were very much looking forward to a more adventurous style of traveling and exciting cultures and foods awaiting us.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach tree bay kayak kauri Comments (1)

A full week in Phnom Penh? Why that?

From Auckland, NZ, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

sunny 34 °C
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Getting from Auckland to South East Asia, is fairly easy and cheap. With AirAsia serving the region so well, we were able to get to Phnom Penh in Cambodia for less money than the one way flight from Sydney to Broome had cost us a couple of months earlier.
The only downside was the less than ideal connection. On the way to Kuala Lumpur, our plane had a short stopover in Australia’s Gold Coast. We had assumed that we’d be able to stay on the plane, but unfortunately had to get out, go through security checks and were only 30 min later admitted to board again. What an unnecessary effort – specifically with a sleeping child (which was eventually not sleeping anymore).
The other disadvantage of our flight was that we were not able to check our baggage through to Phnom Penh, but had to retrieve it in Kuala Lumpur and check it in again. I had bought two separate tickets to make sure we can show the New Zealand immigrations officials a ticket to a destination we do not need visa for. Both flights were AirAsia, but they refused to check our baggage through.
So upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur at 4:30 in the morning local time, we had to go through immigration, get our bags, check them in again and go once more through all security controls and to our gate. At least we got some exercise and luckily everything worked out fine. As a sided effect of this process, we have now official stamps in our passports that we have been to Malaysia. Despite this official proof that would probably count for any kind of record attempts, we do not feel that we’ve been to Malaysia. Getting to meet two bored (and unfriendly) immigration officials and one lethargic and tired check in employee as only representatives of their country would be a rather unfair picture of Malaysia. I’m sure we will eventually have the time and energy to get some more extensive contact with this country and its inhabitants.
But not now. We had briefly contemplated using the opportunity of this stopover in Kuala Lumpur to get to see the town a bit, but we were too anxious to get to Phnom Penh to afford some time elsewhere.
So what’s so special about Phnom Penh? Well, formerly it used to be called the ‘Pearl of Asia’, but even though our guidebook promised that it’s on the way back to the previous splendor, there’s still way to go. So, let’s be clear: we had another reason to go there.
When we were sitting in Australia around Christmas time and had finally worked out our plan on how to spend the last three months of our travels, we came to a great plot. Sam and I agreed that I would be a perfect ending for our trip to spend some time in Mongolia and to then go back home by train – the Transsibirian Railway to be exact.
What sounds like a great idea, is sometimes more easily said than done. Talking with a travel specialist, it soon turned out that the only way to get a visa for Russia, is to apply in the home country. That was very bad news. We had little interest to fly back to Germany just in order to get our visa.
As I’m not easily deterred when I have a good plan in mind, I did turn to my friend Google in search of a good idea. Soon it turned out that the Russian Embassy in Cambodia seems to have a much more relaxed view in respect to issuing Russian visa to non-residents. Seemingly other travelers had been successful in getting their Russian visa there, so that’s what we wanted to try as well.
So that’s why Phnom Penh made it on our list of destinations. And that’s why we arrived at the airport, marveled at the process of getting our visa (our passports went through the hands of probably 10 people in the process), got our stuff, took a taxi to the hotel, enjoyed a quick welcome drink, dropped our stuff there, gathered our paperwork (quite a stack) and took a tuk tuk directly to the Russian embassy.
Yes, we were tired and exhausted. We had had hardly any sleep on our night flight and had six hours of jetlag. Yes, we were stunned by the sudden exposure to Asian traffic rules again (anyone who has been to a South East Asian city will know that I’m not referring to right-hand traffic here). And yes, it was extremely hot and humid. The pool at the hotel was definitively much more tempting than the outlook of having to deal with authorities and bureaucracy. But we were in Phnom Penh on one single mission that we tried to tackle as soon as possible.

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At 10:15am we were at the embassy. We were cordially invited to take a seat in the waiting area and joined a group of others waiting for their audience in the consulate.
As time passed by, we got talking with some of the others waiting with us. We made the acquaintance of Nicole and while talking about the many languages she spoke with various people at the embassy, found out that she’s in fact Romanian. Being brought up in a gypsy community as the daughter of one of the gypsy kings, she had so many stories to tell. I love meeting people like Nicoleta – that’s exactly what makes traveling so much fun.
The part about traveling that is definitively not so much fun is bureaucracy. Up to now, having been to rather ‘easy’ destinations, we did not have to deal with too much of it. This should sure change from now on. Our first glimpse of that came at noon. At that time we were waiting to be admitted any minute, as it was finally our turn. This is when the consulate officially closes. A rather unfriendly employee came to the waiting area and declared the consulate closed. Next week Monday at 8am, the consulate would be open again.
While most other people left, we tried our luck. And indeed, it turned out to be our lucky day after all. Five minutes after the guy had disappeared into the bowels of the consulate, a lady appeared. When explaining her our situation, that we had waited for so long and that we had all required documents for getting a visa ready at hand, she promised to have a chat with the consul. And he seemed to have a good day and admitted us at 12:15.
In fact, they quickly saw that we had all required documents. We did not even need to go for the urgent visa. For 210 USD, we'd get the visa next Thursday. We happily accepted. We’ve hardly ever been so relieved. Wow, we had made it! Our Russian visa were within reach and we’d be able to realize the perfect ending of our round the world trip by taking the legendary Transsiberian Railway! Delighted we returned to our hotel to celebrate.
And we even found the perfect companions for our celebrations. As we hit the pool after lunch, there were already four other people there. We soon found out that Andrey, Angelika, Tatiana and Mikhail were from Russia, enjoying their last day in Cambodia before heading towards home.
Initially it was Max who broke the ice by identifying them as perfect companions for playing in the pool. And indeed, they were playing endlessly.
Sam, Andrey and Misha tried their best in emptying the pool with a simultaneous dive-bomb. The wave they produced was gigantic and proved to be a good reason to celebrate.

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At 5pm we were ready for Happy Hour and ordered our drinks. After a first round, there was a second one, eventually a third and then the count becomes a bit more blurry and less reliable… What can be stated with certainty is the fact that at 5 to 8 a last order was placed to make use of Happy Hour. By then, all of us had eaten so many peanuts with lemon grass / ginger flavor and had drunk so much that the original plan of having dinner became less relevant.
Despite the 6 hours jet lag vs. New Zealand and a severe lack of sleep from the overnight flight, Max managed to stay up until 8 pm. I used the excuse to go to bed as well. Sam stayed up later.
Max and I were awake at 5am and were happy to get breakfast at 7am. That’s also where we met our Russian friends once more. They had to head out quickly to catch their ride to the airport. What a pity that they had to leave. Even though one should think that by now we’ve gotten used to saying good bye to new friends and acquaintances, it still makes us sad. Let’s see – we’re still hoping that we’ll be able to host some of the people we met on the road back home in Germany when we’ll be back.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged pool tuktuk visa russia transsib gypsy embassy Comments (0)

Exploring Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

sunny 34 °C
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Our first full day in Phnom Penh started already as good as it gets. The hotel featured a fabulous breakfast buffet – a treat we’ve not experienced since the start of our journey almost one year ago.
Despite the excellent food at breakfast, it did not take long to get hungry again (thanks to still being internally tuned to New Zealand time) and we ventured out to explore. Even though we had been exposed to the Cambodian traffic already the day before, it took a bit of courage to walk along the street. The sidewalks were so busy with street vendors, parked cars, construction sites or other obstructions that we could use them only for very limited stretches. For most of the walk, we had to walk on the street, together with the mayhem of tuk tuks, scooters, cars and trucks. Being in a one-way street meant that more than 80% of traffic came from behind us. That made us turn around constantly to check what is coming our way. Still, for short distances tuk tuks, scooters and occasionally even cars don’t seem to mind going against the traffic flow.
In all of that chaos, our attention was regularly diverted to other things. There were sudden holes (big ones!) in the ground that we had to watch out for. There were thousands of unfamiliar smells around, many of them not necessarily very pleasant. And last but not least, every single tuk tuk driver who spotted us along the road was certain that we’d prefer using his services and made sure we understood that he’s available to take us anywhere we want.
After having survived the walk for about three blocks, we retreated to a small restaurant along the road and sat down for lunch. Even though the menu was also available in English, we did not really know what to expect. Our lucky orders were better than we had expected. While every dish tasted very different from what our taste buds are used to, the food was really good.
With some food in our stomachs, it was already easier to walk the last couple of blocks to the Central Market. The impressive art deco building housed a huge maze of different stalls and we strolled aimlessly around to get an impression. There was much to be seen and even though we did not need anything, we had fun just having a look.

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The section with the jewellery and cloths did not smell like anything specific - apart from the occasional whiff of incense to appease the gods that are responsible to send many shoppers to the stalls. Once we got into the detergents and beauty area, this changed already and we were exposed to multiple fragrances overlying each other. Well, the fruit and vegetable section took a bit more of getting used to and even though we barely saw the butchers’ area, we were able to distinguish its signature smell immediately.

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Eventually we had seen enough for our first day and headed home. The cool waters of the pool were simply too tempting – specifically in light of the warm and humid temperatures that we were simply not yet used too.
On the other hand, there also was a concept that we had gotten used to very quickly and we made sure not to miss out on the happy hour in our hotel.
The next day, we headed to a restaurant for lunch that we had spotted while driving by in a tuk tuk on our way back from the central market. What had looked nice while driving by, did turn out to be rather icky. Only once we were seated and had ordered our food, we realized the rather odd clientele consisting of elderly white men and young Cambodian ladies. We just did not like what we saw. It seemed like most people knew each other already. And it did not help the atmosphere, that some people had drunk a bit too much and lots of them were approaching Max, touching his face and asking all kinds of questions. He was not amused. And neither was Sam when a lady tried to rub his back. We had our lunch, paid and tried to get away from there. It was just not nice. And while it might be simply a part of real life in South East Asian towns, I prefer just knowing about it vs. seeing its protagonists interact.
We walked away from that place being sure not to return again, found a tuk tuk driver and asked him to take us to the Royal Palace, the key attraction of Phnom Penh. Incredibly enough, he had issues understanding where we wanted to go. Initially I had assumed that we were simply not having luck with our drivers: already the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel had gotten lost. When going to the Russian embassy and back to the hotel, our tuk tuk drivers had to first confer with colleagues for a couple of minutes and to consult a map before heading off… But not knowing where a tourist wants to be taken when he says ‘Royal Palace, please’ that was beyond our understanding.
With the help of our navigation system on the mobile phone, we made it successfully to the Royal Palace. We found the ticket booth and were pleasantly surprised by the nice and quiet atmosphere inside – far away from the bustling streets just outside its walls. The architecture of the palace reminded us very much of Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

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But while the buildings were nice to see, the real attraction were the people: the tour groups following their tour leaders which were equipped with colorful umbrellas, the monk taking selfies of himself in front of one of the buildings, the uniformed guards idling and the locals who came to the temples to pray.

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From the Royal Palace, it was just a short stroll to the river. Seeing where the Tonle Sap River joins the mighty Mekong was nice as it was two completely different colors coming together. But it was even more fun to see the multitude of ferries and boats crossing the river.

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We took a short walk, but eventually headed home, as we had already a great plan for the evening. Sopharath, one of the kind employees working at the reception of our hotel, had offered to take Max to the playground together with her six-year old son Pong Pong. We were excited about the idea and enjoyed a great evening.
Equipped with a cup of sugarcane juice each, we headed off in a tuk tuk to the playground. There were lots of people there. Despite the crowd, it was fairly easy to spot Max. Seemingly he was the only blond kid around. It was a very nice atmosphere in town at night time.

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Eventually we treated ourselves to some food at a street stall – an interesting experience as we had never tried some of it before, e.g. bitter melong. To fill our stomachs, we then headed to a burger restaurant filed with locals before heading back home to the hotel.

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After these first days, we had gotten used to our surroundings already. Navigating in the dense chaotic traffic became normal and we stopped turning hectically around every couple of seconds. We went with the flow and enjoyed what we noticed while walking along.

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We had also found a couple of nice places in the vicinity: we were daily guests at the juice bar at the corner facing the tough decision which of the delicious smoothies or fresh fruit juices to choose from. In addition, there was an excellent Malay restaurant just a bit further down the road that we really liked. So we started feeling more at home.
Still, it felt like a big adventure getting some small chores done. When trying to get our laundry done locally, we were directed by the staff in our hotel, to a small alley across the street. We would have probably never ventured in there. In the maze of small alleys, we eventually found a small laundry to take our stuff. And in the process, we discovered a different world: there were tiny restaurants, many street stalls, youths playing at pool tables, kids playing marbles and many small businesses.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged traffic food market palace pagoda tuktuk playground alley stall Comments (0)

Cambodian countryside

Phnom Penh and surroundings

sunny 33 °C
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Having seen a fair share of city life, we felt the urge to get out of town and to discover more of the countryside. So we booked a tour to check it out.
The first part of the tour brought us to the ‘killing fields’ genocide museum in Choeung Ek, one of the more than 300 Cambodian sites of mass murder during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. An audio guide provided us with much more background on the subject. It is already hard to imagine how the Khmer Rouge managed to kill roughly a quarter of the population in their five years of ruling – half actively the other half indirectly by letting the agriculture and food production go down. But it is much harder to understand that their leader Pol Pot got to live another 20 year in peace without being put in prison. Hearing that he was able to marry again and see his grandchildren grow up, was harder to believe than the fact that the Khmer Rouge continued to hold the official UN seat for Cambodia for years after having been overthrown.

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After that excursion into the brutal history of Cambodia, it was time to clear our minds. We headed out together with our guide Det into the countryside. Sam and I were riding on 330 Polaris ATVs and Max on a small kid’s ATV with the guide riding behind him.

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After a kilometer on tarmac, we headed off onto small dirt roads leading along the river Prek Thnot. We got to see little isolated villages, nice pagodas, mango and banana plantations and rice fields. Our first break was at a small store to quench our thirst. We were very happy about the dust masks we had been given. The roads were very dusty.

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Even though we were mostly riding along, we were able to get a good impression of village life. There were the youths playing soccer or volleyball on village squares, there were the kids taking a bath in murky waters of the canals leading to the rice fields, the huge and thin white cows dotting the fields, the huge containers next to the houses filled with rain water from the roof, the omnipresent signs advertising the merits of the Cambodian People’s Party, kids running up to us and waving, the setup of a wedding pavilion on the dirt road leading through a village and much more…

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Our second stop at a pagoda was very nice as well. We had a look around, and even got to see some monks.

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We were lucky to see all of this on a Sunday, being able to see people enjoying life. We had tremendous fun our tour. But it was a long trip and eventually we were happy to have the last stop for watching the sunset over the rice fields.

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We were exhausted by the time we arrived at the hotel. It had been a long and exciting day. We had dinner and fell asleep.
The next couple of days we took it very easy. We spent much of our time at the pool, enjoying life and planning for the days to come. One of those days, we realized that the pool really helped us to balance the exploring in the heat with relaxation. Realizing that the place we had booked in Bangkok did not have a pool, we cancelled that booking and found another place that did have a pool.
We read much, caught up on sleep and were happy just to be in one place without having to rush around to tick boxes in whatever sights should be ticked off by the avid tourist. While we’re often enough behaving like tourists in our travels, long term traveling is different.
So our key highlights of the next couple of days did not include the National Museum or one of the many temples. Instead, we went for another excursion with Sopha. After picking up her son Pong Pong at his school, we headed to the ferry and crossed to the other side of the Mekong.

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After another couple of kilometers passing along small markets, miniature stores, pagodas, family houses and animal paddocks, we reached the mango garden of Sopha’s brother. It was nice and peaceful there. The boys had a great picnic that Sopha had brought along, we picked some mango and had great conversations. There were many working cows passing by. It’s hard to believe that these cows are fit for doing heavy work in the rice fields – as they look so thin. From one of the nearby rice paddies we had a nice view of the sunset. What a great outing!

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On the way back, we passed a wedding ceremony in a decorated pavilion erected on the main road. Life in the dark was mellowing the scenery. The omnipresent garbage is not visible anymore, the atmosphere looks cozy, making even the poorest living conditions look romantic and homey.

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After our ferry ride back home, we concluded the evening with a typical Khmer BBQ. We were probably the only foreigners in the huge place. Sopha ordered for us a full set containing meat, various entrails (we suppose it was heart, liver, kidney, but also something else unidentifiable), shrimp and octopus. In addition, there was onion, bell pepper, mushroom, green tomato, cucumber, cabbage and water mimosa. What a feast! We were very full at the end of our meal and happy that we had to walk only two blocks back to our hotel.

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While we enjoyed life in Phnom Penh, there are also bad news that we heard from home. It’s strange being so far away and still affected by such far away decisions. While shocking indeed, the distance makes it probably more easily digestible. After all, we’ve been surviving many surprises lately and traveling certainly taught us that there’s a way out of every situation.
For lunch, we wanted to follow a recommendation of the Lonely Planet for a change. Unfortunately the nice restaurant with the view from the top floor of the Sorya Shopping Center was closed. We still enjoyed the view. Heading to the food court further down, was not a very smart decision. With all the building works in the shopping center, it was not very full and lacked through put. Luckily just Sam and I took a slight fit from the food and were happy to stay in and around the hotel for a day. It could have been worse. Other travelers had told us much worse stories.

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There was also good news that week: on Thursday, we headed to the Russian consulate right at 8am when it opens. There was no line and within a couple of minutes we held our passports with nice Russian visa in our hands.
The celebrations took place in the nearby Aeon Mall. Due to the early hour, we toasted with hot tea and hot chocolate. When the mall opened a bit later, we checked it out. Quite frankly, it could have been located anywhere in Europe just as well. Apart from a couple of stores exclusively appealing to the taste of locals (such as the store full with Korean smiling animated figures), big malls seem to get globalized and exchangeable. The only way to distinguish the location of a Starbucks or KFC is to check out the menu where in addition to English, the local language might give away where you are. But latest when exiting the mall, haggling with a tik tuk driver about the price of the journey and being back on the road, it becomes pretty obvious that we're still in South-East Asia and not Europe.

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Having received our Russian visa, our mission of the trip to Cambodia and specifically Phnom Penh had been successfully accomplished. Consequently, we were ready to head off. Anyhow, with our eight nights in the same (great!) hotel, we had spent much more time there than all other guests. Most people left after two or maximum three nights.
After a very personal good bye ceremony from hotel staff, we boarded our bus to Siem Reap. We were seated comfortably in the big bus, being able to enjoy the vistas of the Cambodian countryside passing by. Two stops and six hours later, we reached Siem Reap, the main tourist destination of Cambodia due to its proximity to the World Heritage listed temples of Angkor Wat.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cow river rice museum pool visa mall bbq ferry news quad Comments (0)

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