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Start into 2017 - more exciting than expected

Porongurup NP, Tozer’s Bush Camp, Fitzgerald River NP, Wagin

32 °C
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New Year’s Day greeted us with the first sunshine for almost a week. That was great news, as we had not gone to Porongurup National Park so far hoping for nice weather. In the national park, we headed to Castle Rock and hiked our way up to the Granite Skywalk. The last bit was a fun scramble through and up the rocks and the reward for it was a spectacular view down into the plains far below us.

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We were not the only ones greeting the new year with a hike. But after our hike we were lucky to get a nice picnic spot and were able to use one of the free barbecue stations to make our lunch. The drive to Tozer’s Bush Camp close to Bremer Bay led us through some nice nature reserves.

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It had been a long day and we were happy once we arrived and could spend the rest of the evening in the big but cosy camp kitchen. Once the rugby fans were gone, it got more quiet and only few people remained. By coincidence someone switched TV channels and ended up at the New Year‘s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. We watched the full concert - just like every year. Except that this time we were in the middle of the Australian bush and had the luxury of being able to watch the concert in the evening vs. having to get up early in the morning to see it - after partying until the early hours of New Year's Day.
The next morning, we headed to the information center in Bremer Bay to inquire about the status of the roads in nearby Fitzgerald River National Park. Unfortunately, the people there were not really knowledgeable and seemed to talk about roads that they had never seen themselves.
We headed off into the national park and soon realized that the road we took was probably unpassable a couple of days earlier when it had rained. By now the road was passable again, but the bumps and holes in the road were a proof of other cars having gotten stuck. We passed without any issues – except being shaken to the bone and soon enough got into the sandier parts that made for more comfortable driving. Eventually we headed to House Beach and parked on the white fine sand – finer even than Cable Beach. When running over the sand, it even squeaked – a funny sound that I’d usually associate with gyms, but not with sandy beaches.

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After an extensive break during which several cars drove past us and went further along the beach, we decided to do the same in order to find a camp further up at Gordon Inlet or Point Anne. Gordon Inlet seemed not too tempting and so we continued along the beach further north.
At first, the drive was fun. On the hard sand, it was easy driving with the sea to our right and the dunes on the left. And romantically enough, we had the beach for ourselves. A bit later, we realized that all of that was not really too positive: at the point, when we eventually got bogged in the by then very soft sand, there was no one around to help us. And the sea would return eventually above the point where we were stuck with our heavy vehicle.
So I did what I do best in such situations: I panicked. And while Sam tried to stay calm, I eventually managed to make him nervous as well. Luckily enough, we had already some practice in getting other cars out of the sand. We reduced further our tire pressure, got the sand boards into position and edged our way slowly upwards further away from the waves.
Unfortunately, the edging away was only a couple of centimeters up at a time until we got stuck a couple of meters further on. Eventually we used our UHF radio system several times to see if there are other people around who might be able to help, but without response.
After like ten trials or so, we had gained maybe a meter upwards (not in height, but in distance from the waves) and I had calmed down to the point that I agreed to Sam’s proposal that he runs back along the beach. After all, we had passed someone camping in the dunes an estimated two kilometers back from where we were stuck.
In the meantime, while Sam was running back, I kept trying to gain more centimeters upwards. All gains were earned very hard and required digging the wheels and sand boards out every couple of minutes again and again.
As Sam ran back, he soon realized that it must have been further away than just two kilometers where we had passed that tent. Only once he had run for seven kilometers in the soft sand, he finally reached it. In there he met ‘Digger’, a friendly chap living there on the beach for several weeks in summer, who was happy enough to get some change and pleased to be able to help.
When they came along in Digger’s car, Max and I were really excited and happy to see them. Along with the thanks that I had made it quite a way up on the beach, they got to work right away. They decided to reduce the tire pressure even more to below 15psi. Already that helped enormously and with a single try Sam made probably 15m before getting stuck resulting in a full meter further away from the water. That was far enough to get the recovery kit to use and Digger helping with pulling us out.

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Latest by then, my panic had subsided and my mind was willing to allow other things than just digging and driving. So I got the camera and made a couple of shots to document the ordeal and the lucky ending with Digger pulling us out. Once also our car had made it up into the drive-able tracks along the upper end of the beach, both cars turned around and we headed back to Digger’s camp.

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The drive back in the tracks was fairly easy and we were happy not having to dig ourselves out anymore. Even though I was keen to just get off that beach as soon as somehow possible, we had to stop at Digger’s place to have a beer together. After all, who knows if we would have been able to even get out of where we were stuck by then.
Digger shared a couple of stories with us, told us about his life at the beach and the great salmon fishing. By the time we had finished our beers, we were ready to go. To avoid any further complications, we decided to simply go back to the place where we had gotten onto the beach and camped directly there, behind the dunes. After all, it was dark already and we were simply exhausted.
The next morning, Sam joked about driving onto the beach once more, but only to see my stern reaction that I’d veto any movements on the beach for the future, at least not whenever driving a rental car without any other cars around that are prepared to help.
We just walked down to the beach and had an enjoyable morning there. Down there, we realized that the tide had come all the way up to the dunes during the night. Lucky us, that we had managed to leave the beach for the night.
Even though the beach was stunningly beautiful, it was time to say good-bye to the Southern coast. Having gone through our options, we had decided not to continue onward to Esperance, but to rather start our journey back towards Perth, where a couple of days later we were supposed to return our car.

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So we headed out of the national park and back inland, where the temperatures were suddenly about 10 °C higher than what they had been at the coast. In Katanning, we had to stop at the All Ages Playground which features giant slides, swings and oversized rocking horses.

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We decided to stay in Wagin for the night, a nice town in the heart of the Southern wheat belt that is known for its sheep farming. We liked the place with the old buildings and the laid-back country atmosphere. At almost 40 °C in the late afternoon, it was a pity that the campground did not feature a swimming pool. But at least there was a shady park nearby with the ‘Giant Ram’. Quite a contrast vs. the empty beach we came from this morning!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:44 Archived in Australia Tagged beach sand concert playground wheat ram recovery inland bogged Comments (1)

Time to relax for a couple of days

York, Perth

sunny 34 °C
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From the quaint town of Wagin we got to drive through some more nice undulating fields and hills before reaching York at the banks of Swan River. York had been settled just a few years after Perth and features historical buildings bundled with a small-town ambiance. We had lunch in the park by the river before continuing the last stretch to reach Perth.

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We had booked a campground for five nights in a row. That is rather unusual compared to our normal style of traveling, but after eight weeks of traveling all along the coast of Western Australia, we wanted to have a couple of days to relax. For that reason, we had also booked a very well rated place at Karrinyup Waters Resort and that proved to be an excellent choice. We got a really nice spot right next to the lake and in line of sight to the nearby playground. With all the different birds around – ibis, ducks, black swans, grebes – it felt more like staying in the middle of a big zoo vs. in the Northern suburbs of Perth.

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Over the five days we were there, we enjoyed all features the campground offered. First and foremost, the pool which could have been located in a five-star hotel just as well. But also, the bouncing pillow and the playground were getting all the attention they deserved.
One day we ventured out to take a tour of the Swan Valley. From the small town of Guildford we drove through the vineyards to one of the wineries, the Mandoon Estate which is co-located with the Homestead Craft Brewery. While Max was keen on a serve of French fries, Sam ordered the beer tasting with four different beers and a cider. While I stuck to water being the designated driver for today. I did try a zip of each of Sam’s beers and of the cider and I agreed with Sam that of the four beers we did not like a single one whereas the cider was really nice.

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We did also try the wines at winery. While two of the reds from a vineyard in Margaret River were quite nice, the whites did not meet our taste at all. After all, the Swan River Valley is more known for its scenic location close to Perth than necessarily for the quality of its wines.

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After the more adult oriented activities of the morning, the afternoon was dedicated to giving Max another chance to ride his Star Wars bike before we’d leave it in Western Australia. He enjoyed it a lot and was even lucky to have some older bikers to watch and copy some moves from. And in fact, it was his last real ride. Two days later we sold it to Marie from La Reunion who amused us from there on riding continuous rounds on the bike all over the campground. And knowing that we had already secured a bike for him in New Zealand, Max did not mind.
We were back at the campground just in time for Max to join the kid’s program. After all, he had been looking forward to the water slide all day and was in fact the only kid that had the energy to go on until it closed. The day after, there was bull riding organized for the kids and Max was probably the kid on the campground that went for most rounds.
And we also celebrated my birthday one of these days. I had specifically wanted just to hang out at the campground. It was a great day in fact: good food and lots of talks on the phone with friends and family. Most amusing was the fact that I was told that the new owner of my previous mobile phone number seems to have been swamped with greeting messages. But I hope most people who wanted to get in touch knew how to reach me via email or WhatsApp.
The best birthday present of all - well along with Max' painting of a bald eagle - was getting to do some more travel planning. Having agreed with Sam on a rough cut plan for the last bit of our trip in Asia, I got to research flights and tour options for our time there. And I really enjoy doing that!
Last but not least, we used the days at the campground to get our stuff sorted and the car back into a somewhat clean state. After eight weeks of spreading our things all over, it proved to be a rather tedious task to get everything packed again.
Even though we could have also opted to return our car and then take a flight out of Perth the same day, we rather went for a more relaxed option and spent two more nights in a motel downtown. And once more we were very happy with the service that Drive Beyond offered. We dropped off the car and one of their employees took us for a last ride in our car all the way to our motel in East Perth. After eight weeks of staying exclusively in our roof top tent, we were looking forward to staying in a room with a real bed again for a change.
It was a really hot day in Perth and we opted to rather take a plunge into the pool before hitting the streets and getting a first impression of the city. In the late afternoon, the temperatures were much more bearable and we had a pleasant walk along the Swan River in the last light of the day before returning via the Cathedral.

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Thanks to the little kitchen in our room, we were able to use up some more of our remaining food supplies and then were just looking forward to the soft bed. No wonder that we all slept really long the next morning!
Being very close to the center of town, we were able to take advantage of the free buses in Central Perth. At the square opposite of the railway station the ladies of the local netball pro team ‚West Coast Fever’ were just passing out autographs and we got the chance to talk to a couple of them while Max tried to score some baskets. Not having any clue about netball and its rules, it did help to get the quick summary of the rules. We concluded that it is sort of basketball with less body contact and rather complex rules on which areas each player is allowed to play.

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After another bus ride to the Museum of Western Australia, we were a bit disappointed to see that it is closed for renovation until 2020. At least the public library next door offered a small display to substitute for the children’s discovery center. Max found the exhibits very interesting and also we did find the presentation of the various subjects very entertaining.

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Back in the center of town we had a nice break on the main town square - very quiet and relaxing, as Max headed off into the crowd of other kids to cool off in the water features. Back at the hotel we all got a break from the heat by jumping into the pool.

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That last night, we had finally used up all of our food supplies and after his evening run Sam treated us to excellent Fish and Chips.

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As our flight only left in the late afternoon, we could take our time the next morning to get our bags packed and to check out. We had two more hours in the park next door before our taxi brought us to the airport where we checked in and soon boarded our plane to Sydney.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:04 Archived in Australia Tagged birds park bus museum room bed bike winery downtown brewery netball Comments (1)

A light filled apartment with city views

Sydney

sunny 30 °C
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It was late by the time we arrived in Sydney and the airport seemed deserted. With the three hours of time change, we did not feel quite as tired, but sure were exhausted from the travel. At least there was no traffic close to midnight, so the taxi got us to our place in Darlinghurst in just about 20 minutes. Laura, the owner of the Airbnb apartment expected us already and showed us around.
For the six nights in Sydney we wanted to have our own place and Laura’s apartment met all of our requirements. It was very centrally located just off Oxford Street and only five minutes’ walk from the Museum train station. It offered beds for three people, a small kitchen and bathroom, so all we need. The extra bonus was the excellent view from the living room to the city including part of the harbor bridge and St. Mary’s Cathedral. And from two floors up on the roof top terrace, the view was even nicer.

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While Sam and I just enjoyed having our own place, Max was thrilled to finally being able to spread out all of his Lego parts again and spend hours at a time playing.
But obviously, we did not just stay in our apartment. After stocking up our supplies just across the road, a first excursion led us through Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral through the Domain to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, a great view point to the harbor, the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. From there we walked to Circular Quay via the Botanical Gardens. Circular Quay looked great in the last light of the day and the gigantic cruise ship ‘Celebrity Solstice’ in the harbor dwarfed the surrounding buildings.

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We took a train to Newtown where we wanted to meet Hamish’s parents for dinner. It had been half a year ago, that we had met Hamish in Los Altos and we had planned all along to also meet his parents when we’d be in Australia. And the timing worked out perfectly: Hamish’s parents were anyhow in Sydney that night as the would be leaving the day after to fly over to the US to stay with him and his family for the next three months.
The streets of Newtown were bustling during the evening rush hour and the atmosphere was quite different and diverse vs. what we knew from the more central parts of Sydney. Also the Italian Bowl Café catered to the local vibe – a fun loud place with great Italian food. And it was so great to see Peter and Dianne again as it must have been a couple of years since we last met them and it’s been 10 years since we had been at their place in Newcastle. And there was so much to catch up – most importantly the devastating cyclone that had caused them having to leave their house for over half a year until it was habitable again.
Eventually, we had to head back home and we all took a bus back into town where we said our good byes. Let’s see when and where we’ll meet next time around…
The next day we had beautiful weather and headed to the zoo. At Circular Quay, this time a Royal Caribbean cruise ship had anchored and we felt tiny in comparison in our ferry boat. The ferry ride itself was already great. From the water we got to see all the classic Sydney sights.

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The Taronga Zoo was great. With its nice location on the hill overlooking the harbor, we got to see most typical Australian animals. Some of them, like the kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, lizards, emus and many birds we had seen already during the last couple of weeks. But we enjoyed now also seeing wombats, quokkas, echidnas, the wide variety of venomous snakes, spiders, lots of other reptiles, cassowaries, ‘salties’ (saltwater crocodiles) and their freshwater relatives, seals, penguins, platypus and even the Tasmanian devils.

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While we were most interested in seeing the Australian fauna, there were obviously also many other animals around, elephants, giraffes, hippos, gorillas, lemurs, komodo dragons), tortoises and many more. All of this in nicely designed landscapes with seemingly lots of space for the animals, we really enjoyed our stay. And on top, we got to ride the ‘Skyway’ up and down the hill to see everything from above.

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After so much activity and so many animals we had discovered, it was time to catch our ferry back home. Even though we were tired, we could not resist stopping at Circular Quay to watch a couple of aborigines play the digeridoo and dance like a kangaroo or an emu – what a great and fun experience! Eventually, we took the train, stopped at Aldi to do some more shopping and headed up to the roof top terrace of our apartment for a dinner with a spectacular view.

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For Saturday, I had tickets for the Sydney Opera House – a birthday present. While Max and Sam enjoyed a full day of playing Lego, I watched La Bohème by Puccini. And as I had never been inside the Opera House before, I made sure to be there early enough to check out the building and the nice view. It seemed like the building was almost sold out with only few seats with only partial view to the stage remaining. I had opted for the cheapest category with full view of the stage, but still payed less than a quarter of the price of what those people in the first rows had spent for their seats. I truly enjoyed the experience even though I had seen La Bohème already once before when I was still able to benefit of the extremely cheap student tickets in the Munich opera house.

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As it had been a performance at midday, I was back home in the afternoon to relax and cool down again. After all, I had walked the 40 minutes home from the opera house and it had been really hot. A bit later, we headed out again – this time all three of us – to the Domain to see ‘Symphony in the Park’, one of the SydneyFestival events. As we were there early enough, we got an excellent stop in the first third of the gigantic lawn in front of the stage. The Sydney Symphonic Orchestra then treated us to four pieces: ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ by Adams ‘Sinfonia concertante’ by Mozart, ‘Enigma Variations’ by Elgar and the ‘1812 Overture’ by Tchaikovsky. And best of all: during the last part of the overture, the music was not only enhanced by two big cannons on the stage, but also a firework in the sky above us. Simply magic!

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We walked home and were happy, but also tired and a bit exhausted. That might also be the reason why we had a very relaxed next day with a bit of TV watching. Interestingly enough, we came upon a show by Top Gear’s Richard Hammond (Top Gear) explaining how to build a planet. And in the process of explaining some basic principles, he went to the Meteor Crater in Arizona and showed the stromatolites of Western Australia while we marveled at how much we have learned and seen already on our journey so far.
While Max and I stayed home to relax, Sam headed off to Chinatown trying to find some of the places he often went to while doing his diploma thesis in Canberra ten years earlier. After a big walk around some quarters of the inner city, he headed to a cocktail bar and played a round of pool with some other guests before heading back to our apartment.

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On our last day in Sydney, I made an effort to check in for our flights. Lucky me, that I did so, as I discovered in the process that in order to receive my boarding passes, a member of Air New Zealand has to see our return flights. While I had read about that requirement a couple of months earlier, it was excellent to get a reminder of that rule 23 hours before the flight.
So, I spent some time that morning buying tickets to a destination we are allowed to travel to. This required a bit of more research to find out about the visa requirements of a couple of South-East Asian countries. By the time I knew which flight I wanted to book, at first the Air Asia site gave me some trouble and then I got kicked out. I postponed the purchase of the tickets to later in the day.
As it was a beautiful and hot day, we went to Bondi beach. It was crowded and lots of fun, just to do some people watching. Between the life guards driving around with their buggies, the surfers getting into each others' way, the sun seekers dozing off in the sun and the bathers jumping in the waves, there was always something to observe. And considering the masses of people at the beach, we were happy that we had been traveling in Western Australia with hardly anyone being even at the nicest beaches.

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Back home, I successfully booked our flights – luckily, as otherwise we might have had a big issue with trying to go to New Zealand the next day. We started the evening with the pleasant part, going dinner to a Chinese place next door. And then we had to pack our bags again. After all, our taxi picked us up already at 5:15 to go to the airport.
We go there in merely 20 minutes. We had no issues at all to check in upon presenting the details for our flight out of New Zealand. And we could then comfortable sit in the departure area to watch the sunrise before heading to our gate.

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As we enjoyed the last views of the Sydney Harbor from the sky, it was finally time to wave good bye to Australia. It had been a great time there, but while feeling a bit sorry to leave, we were also excited to discover the beauties of New Zealand.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:45 Archived in Australia Tagged park beach chinatown train zoo city cruise garden dinner opera harbor botanic symphony Comments (1)

Kia ora New Zealand

Christchurch

overcast 19 °C
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Our descent into Christchurch was very bumpy due to heavy winds despite the sunny weather. Immigration was no issue at all – we even had a chat with the officer about traveling. But customs proved to be a challenge, as already expected. Even though we had eaten all fruit and vegetables before entering New Zealand, we still had a bit of food with us and we also had our hiking boots. The customs officer wanted to inspect all of the shoes and also decided that our pack of rice needed to be inspected before we’d be able to import it. In the end a single one of the shoes had to be disinfected. After a couple of minutes of wait, we had our shoe and also the rice back. We were warned once more about a 400$ instant fine in case we had not declared something and could then proceed to the x-ray machine. All good…
At the terminal, we got within 10 minutes our most urgent needs settled: a new and instantly activated SIM card valid for the next eight week and some leaflets and brochures from the information center. With that we were just in time for our shuttle to the rental company.
Having decided rather late that we wanted to rent vs. buy a campervan in NZ, we did not have too much choice in regards to availability. We were happy to get a rather cheap deal with Lucky Rentals. We were well aware that we’d not be having a luxury camper, but were still rather unexcited upon seeing our new home for the next seven weeks.
After all, our ‘Roadie’ has already done more than 495,000 km in his lifetime. While having all the promised features like a fridge or cooker, it was cheap in many ways. Once more we realized how lucky we had been in Australia with our Drive Beyond which featured brand names for all the equipment that came with it. Here we had to deal with the really cheap version of everything. Eventually after having checked the sixth camp chair, we had three together that we deemed fit enough to survive the next seven weeks.
Still, we had been very clear that despite the fairly high price tag of camping in a campervan, that’s how we wanted to travel: being outside most of the time while still being sheltered from the NZ rain. And if that meant that we had to reduce our luxurious standards vs. our van in the US and the 4WD in Australia, so be it.

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After a first stop at McDonalds to get our empty stomachs filled, we headed to our first campground for the night. And being used to Australian prices for campgrounds, we were in for quite a shock, as a comparable campground in Australia would have cost us maybe 33 AUD vs. the 58 NZD we were paying here (and AUD and NZD are almost the same in terms of exchange rate). Wow! At least food shopping seemed to be similarly priced than in Australia. In other words: still much more expensive than in Germany, but at least not much more than what we’ve gotten used to in the last couple of weeks.
In the end, the rather expensive campground was an excellent choice after all. Sam and Max met Rudi and Michi, the first Austrians travelers we got to meet since back in Sedona. They had their last night in Christchurch before leaving the next day back home to Austria. And we were the lucky ones to get everything they had left over from their three weeks of traveling: lots of food, some plastic storage containers, toilet paper, beer and cider. And best of all, they also had quite a list of recommendations for us in regards to places they liked and where to go. Thanks!
The next day was dedicated to getting some more supplies. After having checked a couple of camping stores for lights, we eventually found exactly what we needed at a hardware store. We also bought new Crocs for Max – this time in yellow such that we might be able to spot them more easily in case he’d forget them somewhere again.
As expected, central Christchurch was dominated by vast empty spaces, lots of road cones, steel supported crumbling buildings and gigantic construction sites. Even though the last big earthquake took place almost six years ago, it will still take a very long time for its destruction to disappear. Those areas of the city which have been rebuilt already were quite impressive. We marveled at some of the new architecture displaying ostentatiously the structural reinforcements intended to withstand future earthquakes, some buildings were restored seemingly without changes vs. how they looked before.

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Max had been looking forward very much to that evening, as we picked up his new bike. We had already placed a bid on TradeMe – the NZ equivalent of Ebay – back in Perth and secured a used kid’s bike for Max. The bike worked well and Max was very happy to be mobile again.
On the way out of town we discovered a special deal on CamperMate and decided to stay in the luxurious Christchurch Top 10 holiday park after all. And it proved to be an excellent decision. For one, we were once again the lucky recipients of quite a couple of leftovers other campers did not need anymore. And even more importantly, Max made a new friend, 4-year old Leo. And while the two of them played blissfully, we got to talk at lengths with his mom Simone. As we soon learned, they moved from Germany to Timaru four years ago. Hearing how they like their new home country, we were looking forward even more to the coming weeks of exploring New Zealand.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:01 Archived in New Zealand Tagged town plane bike campervan earthquake customs Comments (0)

Mountains and the sea

Banks Peninsula: Little River, Akaroa, Pidgeon Bay, Motukarara; Timaru, Pleasant Point

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After learning from Simone about the heavy rain down south, we were easily convinced to rather spend a couple of days on the Banks peninsula before heading south ourselves. When picking the route to our planned campground for the night, I chose a scenic route along the northern coast of the peninsula. When picking the route, I had not realized how mountainous the area would be and how steep the roads were. On the last climb up towards Pidgeon Bay, the road eventually turned to gravel and got even steeper than what we had driven on so far.
When deciding upon the route, I was not quite aware of how hilly Ends in gravel road – too steep vs. what our campervan can manage. And most likely I was still spoiled from the luxury we had in Australia with a 4WD that would take us almost anywhere. Contrary to that our cripple campervan was definitively not laid out for that and before too long started smelling funny. Given the age of the motor and knowing that on a gravel road we’re actually not insured, we turned around. Before heading down though we took some time to enjoy the scenery and the countless sheep in the hills surrounding us. The rain was falling quite heavily by then and even though we could still see down into the bay below us, we could only guess how nice the view might have been on a bright day.
Turning around meant going all the way back along the twists and turns we had come on and sixty kilometers later we found ourselves at the campground in Little River. As it started raining soon after we arrived, we were thankful that we have a camper and not just a tent. And one more thanks was uttered the next morning when the next episode of rain showered us.
At least the rain did not stay for the remainder of the day. Later that morning we were able to explore the nature reserve surrounding the campground. We explored the big swing, the giant mudslide (which is only in operation after heavy rains) and the boardwalks including the movie set for ‘The Stolen’, a 2016 film.

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From there we headed to Akaroa. By the time, we got to see the Akaroa harbor below us, the sun was shining brightly and we were treated to a breathtaking scenery. We probably had seen similarly nice views the day before, but the cloudy and dark day did its best to hide the wow effects. We soon spotted a cruise ship in the bay. Since the damages to the Lyttleton harbor in the most recent earthquake, Akaroa is new port of call for cruise ships. And there are lots of good reasons for people to visit Akaroa. For one it’s beautifully located in a bay surrounded by mountains and its French heritage makes for great what if scenarios. What if the French had arrived just a bit earlier before the treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th, 1840. Even though the French settlers arrived just a couple of months too late to buy the peninsula or even all of the South Island, they stayed and that’s how Akaroa got the charming French influence from.

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As pre-warned by our guidebook, the small town was simply overrun by the cruise passengers. As we neared the jetty, we realized that the ship lying out there was the Celebrity Solstice, which we had seen a couple of days earlier in Sydney Harbor – what a small world!
As the center of town was so crowded, we headed to the outskirts of town to the local skatepark. Located right next to the bay, it was quiet, nice and pretty there. While Max got his exercise needs fixed for the day, we prepared lunch and lazed in the sun.

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From Akaroa, we took the scenic drive along Summit Road winding its way along the top of the former volcano that created the peninsula. We had alternating views into the Bay of Akaroa and the Eastern bays along the outside coast of the peninsula. After our failed attempt of yesterday, today we managed to reach the campground at Pidgeon Bay. We got a spot right next to the water, enjoyed the nice weather and the fact that our great spot cost only 10 NZD.

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The next day we had to get our old camper all the way back up the hill again. We noted that with two cruiseships lying in the harbour, probably Akaroa was even more crowded today than yesterday. Then we headed down towards Little River. Already two days earlier we had noticed signs advertising the ‘A&P show’ to take place that Saturday. While we had no clue what that meant, we were sure intrigued to find out.

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It turned out that ‘A&P’ stands for ‘agriculture and pasture’ – a classical local show for anything related to farming. At first a display of old steam engines caught our eye along with some big construction equipment that fascinated Max. But much more importantly, there were all kind of local competitions taking place: there was horseback riding, dog agility, sheep dogs rounding up sheep, timber sports, and even sheep shearing. In addition the fire brigade offered a demonstration on how to extinguish burning oil including how not to do it, there was a free food tasting and lots of street vendors.

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We did not get bored a single minute, as there was continually something going on. And best of all: the locals were simply having fun, betting against each other and showing off what they love doing. Sam even got asked if he was willing to participate in the sheep shearing, as a group of guys needed one more person on their team in order not to lose a bet. Sam kindly declined and watched with the same amusement as us.
Luckily the sun did not burn down as brightly as the day before and even better: it only started raining in the evening once we had arrived at our campsite at the Motukarara racetrack.
Also the next morning was simply wet and consequently we skipped going into Christchurch for the World Buskers Festival as originally planned. We rather rang up Simone and pre-warned her that we’d be heading down to meet them this afternoon.
Driving through the Canterbury Plains to Timaru was a rather boring experience. The heavy rain blocked out the view to the mountains completely and the endless fields lined by tree-high hedges were not able to compensate.

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In the afternoon, we arrived in Timaru and we were greeted already outside by Leo and his sister Lilou. Max and Leo disappeared upstairs as soon as we arrived and were not seen for the next two hours. In the meantime, the rest of us enjoyed afternoon tea, had pleasant conversations, played dice and enjoyed the view of the sea. Simone and I even took a walk outside despite the drizzling rain. We were sad to leave that evening, but who knows: maybe we’ll manage to meet in Germany when they’ll visit in 2018.

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It was only a short drive to Pleasant Point where we stayed for the night. Despite the rain, Max headed off with some boys to go biking. Sam and I agreed once more that we were happy to have our campervan and being able to sit inside, well protected and comfortable.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain horses volcano sheep cruise dogs bay harbor timber steep shearing Comments (0)

Aoraki – the cloud piercer

Lake Tepako, Lake Pukaiki, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Waitaki Waters

semi-overcast 21 °C
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The weather gods were in a good mood and provided us with the perfect weather for a drive into the mountains. There was hardly a cloud on the sky and thanks to the heavy rains and cool temperatures of the last days, the mountain tops were covered in snow.
I can easily admit that good weather is important for me and that I enjoy traveling in sunshine much more that in bleak conditions. Quite frankly, on a cloudy day we might not have even realized how beautiful our surroundings are. The road was windy and before too long we reached the higher reaches of the rather dry Canterbury Plains. And surprisingly, we even got to pass a house on the way.

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Lake Tekapo’s waters were stunningly blue. While the famous Church of the Good Shepard was overrun by package tour tourists, just a bit further away there was no one. A bit further on Lake Pukaki glistened in rather turquoise colors with Aoraki / Mt Cook in the backdrop. It was super windy, but thanks to the sun still pleasant.

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On our way towards Aoraki / Mt Cook along Lake Pukaki we stopped a couple of times. With every stop, the scenery changed and seemed to surpass the previous views once more. Eventually we stopped for lunch in one of the smaller viewpoints along the road, as we wanted to take in the view without having to share it with dozens of other people. It was just perfect.

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When we were ready to tackle the road again, we headed right to White Horse Campground and secured a spot for the night. We parked just a few steps from the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. What a great day hike: we passed along the Hooker River steadily climbing the valley, crossing three swingbridges in the process and eventually were rewarded with perfect views of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.

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The only sad note about the track was the realization that – just like in Canada – also here the glaciers are receding rapidly. We had a great view of the Hooker Glacier, but knowing that just a few years ago there was no lake but a much larger glacier did put a damper on the otherwise glorious outing.

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Already in the evening, we noticed how the mountain tops were starting to get covered in clouds, a process that continued the next morning. We headed to the National Park visitor center to learn a bit more about the history, geology and wildlife.
On our drive out of the valley, we did turn back a couple of times and were thankful about the fabulous weather we had the day before. With the clouds the view was not nearly as nice as it had been.
We stopped for lunch in Twizel. A bit further, there was a salmon farm and we got to feed the salmon, which provided us with nice views of the enormous fish.

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The drive from the mountains all the way to the sea was very pleasant. We passed along rivers, some hydro power stations, through quaint towns and lots of agricultural land with countless sheep. At the very end of the Waitaki valley, not far from the beach we stayed in a pleasant campground.
There we also met the first Romanians since we’re on the road. And while they were super nice, I was utterly disappointed that I have forgotten so much of my Romanian in the last five years. While still some time ago, I was talking Romanian any time I tried to address someone in French or Spanish, it seems that I am overdue for some practice.
The next morning, we enjoyed sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Max played with his new friend Sam from Berlin, while our Sam headed to the beach and was amazed about the dunes of stones.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged salmon park church mountain lake national hike swingbridge Comments (0)

East coast towns

Oamaru, Hampden, Moeraki, Dunedin

semi-overcast 20 °C
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We had heard nice things about the town of Oamaru and soon realized ourselves that everything we had heard was true: there were nice buildings, a very positive atmosphere and a bit of funk. After all, Oamaru is also the location of the ‘Steampunk HQ’, a gallery dedicated to all kinds of fun metal exhibits.

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From there it was just a couple of steps to get into the old town featuring the first buildings of the settlement dating back almost 150 years. We were thrilled to find a good bakery and browsed through some of the galleries, workshops and stores. Eventually we ended at our usual destination of choice: the local skatepark.

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When trying to extend our parking ticket, Sam realized that we had gotten fined for parking in the wrong area of the carpark, where it is permit parking only. Given the two equally unsuitable choices of paying by check (something I have ever used a single time in my life) or NZ internet banking, I headed to the office to get the fine sorted right away. After paying the fine, I also wrote an appeal explaining that our mistake had been a misunderstanding. Carols, the helpful lady at the desk, referred me to the head of the respective department. I explained to him that I would have parked correctly if it had been clear about the difference between ‘permit only’ and ‘pay and display’. And he agreed that this might be difficult from someone with a different mother tongue coming from a different background. I was pleased to get my 40 NZD fine refunded and very happy – life is fair after all.
As we left Oamaru a bit later, we took the scenic drive along the coast instead of just following the highway. A good choice, as we got to see long empty beaches and a very nice coastline.

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Once we had secured the last powered campsite at Moeraki Boulders Campground, we followed the recommendation of the friendly Swiss owner to go to Katiki Lighthouse. And we were in fact lucky to see four of the very rare yellow eyed penguins up close. They were on their way from the beach to their hides along the steep coast. Underneath them were a couple of New Zealand fur seals lazing in the last rays of sun. And there were even a couple of little pups around as well. We loved our excursion and were happy that we had gone.

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After a couple of unsuccessful trials in trying to locate the Southern Cross, we finally succeeded that evening. It was the first real clear night since we had arrived in New Zealand and we just had to look up to see the signature constellation that is also featured on the flag.
The next morning, we hiked from our campsite along the beach to the Moeraki Boulders. While the beach was deserted, the boulders were crowded with tourists making pictures with and on the boulders from all possible angles. And indeed, the boulders make for a great photo motive. Still, we did not mind heading back and having the beach for ourselves again after a hundred meters. And anyhow, we did not want to linger too long to avoid getting trapped by the tide coming in.

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Lucky us that we returned early enough. Otherwise we would have been hiking back in the rain. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon, reading and writing in the campervan while Max was playing outside with his new friend Basili.
The weather forecast for the next day did not foresee much better weather, but at least it was dry until we left our first stop at Shag point where we got to see seals again. From then on it was raining heavily.

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At least that way it was easy to decide what to do in Dunedin: we headed to the Otago Museum and had a relaxed and dry afternoon discovering the many exhibits and watching a show in the planetarium called ‘We are stars’.
A short spell without rain tempted us to head into town to sit in a café and do some shopping. As expected, we got wet on the way back to the car, but at least we were well fed and had new stuff to wear. Even though we passed lots of beautiful buildings, the weather was too miserable to take pictures of the otherwise very beautiful town. That evening we stayed in a suburb of Dunedin at the Wingatui racecourse - essentially a parking lot with an adjacent amenities block located next to the race track.

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Surprisingly enough, we woke up to a beautiful day the next morning. After some grocery shopping and lunch at the local skatepark, we headed into Dunedin once more.

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And what a difference vs. yesterday: we got to see the beautiful railstation, the churches and Victorian buildings around the main square Octogon and were blissfully soaking in the afternoon sun. Given the Scottish heritage of Dunedin, a young bagpipe player provided the perfect ambience.

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A pair of Chinese dragons reminded us of Chinese New Year with the Year of the Rooster starting. That made us realize that the Chinese holidays might be the reason for so many Chinese people traveling. Initially we had assumed that the Chinese just prefer New Zealand vs. Australia, but it might in fact rather be linked to the period of the year.

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Eventually we headed to the Beachlands Speedway. Intrigued by a sign entering Dunedin ‘Races every Saturday, we had found out that there was a stockcar race with following demolition derby going to be taking place. That sounded like a lot of fun. After all, we had tried already in the US to see if we could see a stockcar race, so this was the perfect opportunity.
We were there early enough to be able to take a tour of the pit area where the teams were getting their cars ready. Some of them looked nice and polished, whereas others had obviously been part of a number of crashes already.
We picked front row seats and were anxious for the races to start. At first we only got to see trucks making round after round to prepare the track. But after an introductory grand parade of all race cars, the first race started with the 'streetcars'. It did not take long for us to realize that our front row seats might not have been the smartest choice. As of the first round, we were bombarded by pieces of dirt flying at us. And despite the strong fences between us and the track, we thought it might be a good idea to get a bit more distance to the track. After all, the racecars tended to get into battles. Looking at the cars, this was pretty obvious that this would be happening. And as expected, some of the cars ended up slamming the concrete wall lining the track. That was very loud and we definitively did not want to be in the trajectory of any parts flying around.

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At the end of the first race for the streetcars, we also realized that those cars that are not able to leave the track anymore, do not necessarily need a tow car to tow them out: usually there's just another one of the racers pushing them out. The tow trucks were busy enough with the more severe cases anyhow. As next classes started their races, we soon learned to distinguish the stockcars, mini stockcars or saloon cars. In total, there were seven classes. Each of them got to go for three races, such that by the second and third round we already knew what to expect.

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There was always something going on. In some classes like the saloon cars, it was exciting to follow who's leading the race and how the second and third were battling to lead of the race. In other classes, like the streetcars, it pretty much did not matter who's leading and who not. There all was about the crashes. And sometimes it was a mix of both, like in the mini stockcar class.

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At the end of those 21 races came the demolition derby in which five blue cars fought five red cars to the point when only a single blue car was functional and able to take the checkered flag on a winner’s tour around the track.

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Even though it got pretty late by the time we left, we all agreed that it had been an awesome day and something we would have had a hard time to see back home. Long after all other campers, we arrived in Wingatui. But as we had been there already, we knew our way around and soon fell into a deep night’s sleep.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain penguin town museum race seal rail boulders stockcar Comments (0)

The very South

The Catlins, Invercargill, Monkey Island

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After almost two weeks on the East coast of the South Island, we were ready to discover Southland. We did not take the highway, but ventured along the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins. Our first stop was Kaka Point. We admired the fact that the lifesavers were on duty with flags posted along the beach despite the cold and rainy weather. Surprisingly, there was not a single swimmer but two surfers enjoyed their ride in the water.
By the time we reached Nugget Point, luckily the rain had stopped and we were able to take the nice hike to the lighthouse and back. The seals were not only laying lazily at the beach, but some of the also ventured out into the sea and jumped dolphin like in the waves.

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The drive was very nice – sunbathed rolling hills with the ubiquitous sheep dotting the landscape. Due to the heavy wind gusts, we were forced to drive very slowly anyhow and consequently had lots of time to enjoy the scenery.
The hike to the Purakaunui Falls was short but impressive, as it led through a dense rainforest. For the first time, since we arrived two weeks earlier, this felt like classical New Zealand as you would imagine it. The ferns and silver fern trees are just special and in our mind strongly connected with New Zealand.

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We camped in Papatowai close to the estuary. It seemed to be low tide, as it was easily possible to walk all the way to the beach. Even though the water was absolutely clear, it was heavily stained by the tannin from the rainforest.

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The next morning, we realized that the tide was even much lower then as the estuary seemed to be almost completely dry. So we headed off quickly to make sure we arrived in Curio Bay while the tide was still low. We wanted to make sure that the rock platform with the petrified remains of a Jurassic forest was still accessible.

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Once we had excessively explored Curio Bay, we headed over to Porpoise Bay for our lunch break. Even though it is just around the corner, the wide sandy beach there seemed like worlds apart. After a while we realized that there were not only some swimmers and surfers enjoying the surf in the bay, but also a pod of the small (and rare) Hectors Dolphins.

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On our way to Waipapa Lighthouse, we passed Shole Point, the southernmost point on the New Zealand mainland. That made us realize that we were just further south on our planet than we had ever been before. After all, New Zealand is further south than Africa, Australia and Tasmania. With the obvious exception of Antarctica and the islands of the Southern Ocean, one can get further South only in Chile and Argentina. And while we have been to both countries before, we had not gone that far South.

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For the night we stayed at the Lignite Pit Café. Its obvious feature is the former pit of lignite (admittedly we had to look up what that is and found out that it’s just the scientific way of saying ‘brown coal’). For the last couple of years the pit has been transformed by a garden lover into a marvelous place featuring secret places, lookouts, bridges, islands set around the water filled former pit. Both Sam and I agreed that while we loved the place, our mothers with their love of plants and gardening would have probably appreciated it even more.

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The next morning, we enjoyed the heat and the sunshine in the morning. And luckily we did so, as just a bit later when we reached Invercargill it started raining heavily. We used the opportunity to do some shopping, but then quickly headed out of town.
As we passed some stretches of coast line and a lake, we wondered how nice the landscape might look in more favorable weather. But the grey day did not help to set a nice scene. Consequently, we ended up at our free camp at Monkey Island Road without further stops. That left enough time there to keep ourselves busy in the camper (once again congratulating us on renting a camper vs. camping in a tent) by playing Lego, publishing the blog and reading.
In the evening the rain stopped for a short while, just enough to allow us to hike to Monkey Island during low tide. We were treated to the light of a beautiful sunset. Sam used the opportunity to test his photography skills. Eventually it got too dark and we returned to the campervan just in time before it started raining again.

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The next morning it was dry and we used the opportunity to hike along the beach. It was extremely windy, but wild and beautiful.

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Continuing along the coast, we realized that it is probably always so windy there. At least all bushes and trees were clearly oriented towards inland. With those last impressions, it was time to wave good bye to the Southern coast. The almost impenetrable Fjordland Nationalpark was waiting for us.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged coast beach island garden forest seal lighthouse dolphin fern petrified pit Comments (0)

In sandfly habitat

Manapouri, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After two weeks of touring the South Island we started turning Northwards. Our first stop was at Lake Manapouri. After a pleasant lunch in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, we took a hike along the lake shore. The lake is beautifully set surrounded by mountains. We considered ourselves lucky to see it in sunshine. With the wind the lake was white capped.

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While the lake in Te Anau did look very similar, the town is certainly much more developed and more touristy. After a couple of days of staying at rather basic campgrounds, it was time for luxurious campground again. We enjoyed all amenities: the jumping pillow, wifi, hot showers, a large kitchen and a very comfortable cozy TV lounge.
Most likely all of those luxuries were the cause for our late start heading off to the Milford Sound. But maybe we were just a bit lazy that day. We did not get far before being stopped by the police – just like every other vehicle leaving towards the Sound. We’re not absolutely sure what the reason for the controls were. At least in our case, the officer exclusively checked if Max was restrained in an approved child seat (thanks again, Carol!) and if I was buckled in in my middle seat as well. We were all ok and allowed to continue without further ado – contrary to the busload of Asians in the other lane.
The landscape we passed through, reminded us a lot of the Alps – but without all the villages you’d have every couple of kilometers in Austria or Switzerland. It might have looked like that maybe some 100 years in the past.

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The Mirror Lakes were beautiful indeed. It was just important to make sure that the ducks are not in the way of creating the perfect reflection with their ripples on the water.

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We had planned to hike to Key Summit along the first kilometers of the Routeburn Track. For the first part through the wonderful native forest it was still cloudy. Once we reached the treeline, we were greeted by sunshine and enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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After that highlight of our day, we continued the drive to Milford Sound. Luckily, we were heading there so late in the day, that we were not bothered too much by the traffic. At the traffic light before Homer Tunnel there was not even a line in front of us. Luckily the tunnel is one-way only. Despite the missing traffic on a second lane, it is still quite an adventure, considering how narrow, steep and badly lit it is with water dripping down all along.
The tunnel delivered us right to the lower end of the Cleddau Valley headwall and from there the road twisted and turned losing altitude quickly and eventually opening up to the Milford Sound. By then the initial sunshine had disappeared and we wandered beneath heavy rain clouds along the foreshore of the Sound (which actually is not a sound, but a fjord). Our guidebook specified three typical views of Mitre Peak. I'm afraid we missed the 'best' scenario in bright sunshine. But at least we even got to observe the 'mystic' Milford turning into the 'rainy' Milford.

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By the time, we reached the boat terminal, it started drizzling, so we opted against a cruise. We decided to head back in the rain to our home for the night, at the Cascade Creek campground. At the wait for the traffic light at Homer Tunnel to turn green, we even got to see some keas, the famous mountain parrots.

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We parked in the spot we had reserved earlier in the day, but were not too impressed to realize that some other campers must have exchanged our anyhow dilapidated camp chairs against their even worse ones. The friendly round-the-world travelers from UK and USA that parked close to us claimed not to know anything about the chairs, so we decided to believe them and to rather join them in lighting a fire in the rain.
The next morning, the changeable weather was fine again and after a hike to Gunn Lake through an ancient gnarly forest, we enjoyed the nice drive back to Te Anau.

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From there we continued our journey to Queenstown. The drive was nice and there were only few other cars on the road.

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In contrast to the drive, Queenstown itself greeted us with a major traffic jam – probably the worst we’ve had since Yellowstone. At first, we assumed that there was a festival or something special going on, but the cashier at the supermarket confirmed to us that this is just what Queenstown is like. Passing through town, we noticed hordes of people forming long queues outside the restaurants and were happy that we had opted for a campground outside of town at Twelve Mile Delta.
Twelve Mile Delta is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu along the road that leads to Glenorchy. That is also where the Routeburn Track ends, part of which we had hiked a couple of days earlier. We had driven 258 km to get to the campground from our last base at Cascade Creek – even though the direct distance is merely 44km.
The campground there is not only a good base to explore Queenstown, but is also nicely set along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. In addition, it features one of the filming locations of Lord of the Rings just a few minutes of hiking away. The Ithilien camp, where Frodo, Sam and Gollum watch a battle with Oliphants, was turned here. We tried to find it, but quite frankly it did require some imagination. For sure it is another good reason to watch the trilogy again at some stage.

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Despite the fact that we’re simply no city people, we do like to wander in towns from time to time. E.g. we had really enjoyed the couple of days we spent in Perth or Sydney. But a crowded town, full of tourists is definitively not at all what we enjoy. Consequently, we passed through Queenstown without further stops (except those caused by the heavy traffic).
After a quick stop at the Shotover River to see one of the jetboats pass by, we headed to the Kawarau Bridge. This is where AJ Hackett started the first commercial bungy jump in 1988 from the then 108-year-old bridge. We enjoyed watching not only the people jumping, but also those cheering from the viewpoint next to the bridge. Sam was tempted to give it a go. After seeing that this would lighten his wallet by 195 NZD, he decided that for that money he’d be able to rent a motor bike for a couple of hours which seems a much better value vs. the thrill of a couple of moments.

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On our way towards Wanaka, we got to drive along a nice river gorge, see some of the Lord of the Rings scenery, passed by the remains of former goldfields and orchards and vineyards.

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We immediately liked Wanaka. We found a parking spot right next to the lake. As it was very windy, we were happy that the skatepark was set back a bit vs. the lake. While Max worked off his energy, we took advantage of having a fairly good network connection to upload some pictures and another blog entry.

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Eventually we headed off along the shores of beautiful Lake Hawea. The 6km gravel road to the Kidd’s Bush Campsite was definitively worth the effort. We were rewarded with a beautiful spot, got to do some people watching and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the lake.

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Talking with the camp host, we realized that there were so many locals around, as they enjoyed a long weekend. On Monday, February 6th New Zealand is celebrating Waitangi Day, their national holiday commemorating the Treaty.
Many people had arrived with their boats in tow and they were taking them out onto the lake. Some just for fun, others trying to catch some trout or salmon and others pulling their kids or friends behind on waterskis, couches or inner tubes. And despite the campground being full, there was a really nice atmosphere - especially as the sun started setting.

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A beautiful spot indeed... And while it would have been very inviting to stay there for another night, we wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather forecast for the next day to get over the Haast Pass and to reach the West Coast.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:52 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lake cruise bungy waterfall tourists sound pass jetboat hole fjord sandfly Comments (0)

Westland or should we rather say Wetland?

Haast Pass, Jacobs River, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Greymouth

rain 20 °C
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From the northern end of Lake Hawea where we had stayed for the night, it was only a short drive over to Lake Wanaka. After a nice drive along its shore, we started heading up towards the mountains.

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After having talked to an English traveler the night before, Sam had all of our excursions for the day planned out. The first stop was at the Blue Pools. We hiked 15 minutes through pristine forest to reach a swingbridge. After hiking along a bit further, we got to a second swingbridge spanning the Blue Pools. Their color was amazingly blue and the water crystal clear. Still, the main attraction proved to be something else: we got to watch a whole group of youngsters jumping from the swingbridge into the water underneath. It was not nearly as high of a jump as the bungy jump we had observed the day before, but this time without a rope. And surprisingly enough, there seemed to be much more hesitation and thrill involved in doing the jump into the holes. Quite a crowd had gathered around the swing bridge to applaud and it was great fun.

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Hiking up towards the car park, we came across a busload of German tourists. Looking at the age group and their immaculate trekking outfits, I told Sam that I’d take a bet that up in the carpark there’d be a Rotel bus (the German travel company that is famous for having their travelers stay overnight in rather small sleeping compartments in the back of the bus or in a bus trailer). Up at the carpark, I was disappointed to see only a ‘normal’ bus, but Sam pointed out the ‘Rotel’ sign to me quickly enough. And later that day in Haast we saw the sleeper unit of the group: a full-size truck trailer converted into the usual sleeping setup. We were happy to travel independently!
Eventually we reached the Haast pass. It’s named after Austrian explorer Julius von Haast who made the crossing back in 1863. Up there we were greeted by the sign ‘Welcome to Westland’. Sam rightfully pointed out that it might as well be more suitably named ‘Wetland’, given its infamous amounts of rain of about 5m annually.
Thanks to the rain in the last couple of days, we were rewarded with waterfalls showing off the full force. After a first stop at the Thunder Creek Falls, the valley started opening up and the narrow valley with its steep sheer-sided walls gave way to a rather wide valley with the road gently snaking along the riverside.

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The Roaring Billy Falls were our next excursion. While the falls were nice, the actual highlight was the walk there. We passed through a wonderful forest of large fern trees and felt like dinosaurs might be lurking just behind the next curve. Down at the river we spent some time skipping the perfect flat stones on the river. It had been a good decision to do this part of the journey on a nice day!

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All along the road we saw lots of vintage cars. After wondering for quite a bit what was going on, we talked to a couple and found out that it was the Timaru vintage car club having an outing doing a tour of the South Island for a week. It looked like a lot of fun. Probably it would be not nearly as much fun when it’s raining – after all many of the cars had no real rain cover!

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In Haast we were lucky to fill our tank before the next stretch of almost 170km without a gas station, but were surprised to find out that there was no mobile reception. For the first time in years I did buy a phone card and used it to call our campground for the night to reserve the last powered site. Sam was so surprised. He checked twice why I had bought a new SIM card, before realizing that this was a really old fashioned phone card like the ones I used when I was still studying in Munich.
Having our campsite secured for the night, we could take a leisurely stroll at Ship Creek. We got to see and touch our first Westcoast beach with its round pebbles and rough sea. We did both walks, starting with the Dune Lake Walk which led us through sand dunes and stunted forest to a nice viewpoint of the beach. The Swamp Forest Walk was as swampy as expected and featured enormous trees. Once more, a great stop on our way.

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At Knights Point we appreciated the nice view of the coast before the road headed inland for a bit. Still, we continued to make only slow progress, as the road continued to feature more curves than straight stretches. Heading north, we did get glimpses of Aoraki / Mt. Cook and it felt much longer than just those two weeks when we stayed just on the other side of it.

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Later than expected we arrived in Jacob’s River at the Pine Grove Motel. Two weeks ago, we had stayed just on the other side of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.
There are two ways how we could get back there. By car the shortest route would lead us via the Haast Pass and would take 439 km. The direct route would be just around 40km by hiking up the Copland Valley Track to Welcome Flat Hut and from there crossing the flanks of Mt Cook an effort which should only be undertaken by serious mountaineers.
We only realized later that in fact the Copland Valley track was temporarily closed that day due to the projected heavy rains of up to 150mm. And we can confirm: indeed, it was raining heavily.
As we arrived in Fox Glacier, we did get a nice view of the top of glacier from the viewpoint south of the bridge before heading to the glacier itself.

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Despite the rain, we also hiked up to the viewpoint above the glacier to see its lower end. Despite the 450m distance to where the glacier currently ends, it still looked very impressive. And it is - together with its twin glacier Franz Josef a bit further north – the only glacier in these latitudes coming down so close to the ocean, surrounded by rainforest.

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When hiking down again, a ranger passed us and upon reaching the carpark we realized why: he had closed the hike due to the heavy rains and subsequent risk of flash floods.
A bit further on, after passing through Franz Josef Glacier we left the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and simultaneously also the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area which encompasses 2.6 million hectares of wilderness.
We drove to Hokitika in pouring rain. The rain was atrocious. Once we had reached the dry heaven of the camp kitchen, none of us was keen to run back to the camper van to get something. Max played with the toys he found in the camp kitchen while Sam and I took turns on the laptop and read. And we were also there just in time to watch the final part of the Superbowl. What an exciting game and an unbelievable catch up of the New England Patriots winning 34-28 after the Atlanta Falcons had been leading already 0-21.
It rained until we went to bed that night. Our weather app recorded 49mm of rain for the day. After all the wettest place in NZ and one of the top 10 in the world is just a couple of kilometers away from Hokitika. Cropp River – a tributary to the Hokitika River - gets over 11m rainfall in an average year, with records of 18m in a single year and over 1m within 48h. Just for reference: the wettest place in Austria gets 2,5m of rainfall per year.

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The next morning we could hardly believe our luck: it had stopped raining! So we could finally go into town. Hokitika is mainly known for its jade carvings and we checked out one of the local workshops and galleries. We did check out how comfortable one can sit on a jade bench costing 220,000 NZD, but decided against it. We rather opted for a nicely painted stone featuring a kiwi for 3 NZD. Chatting with the artist, we found out that the stone is actually called ‘Grauwacke’ and might similarly be found in the German Harz. We immediately suspected that we might be talking with an emigrated German, but in fact he was South African.
A couple of doors further, we visited a glass blowing workshop and got to watch how the cute penguins on sale are made. It was great fun to watch and we admired how quickly and nicely the artist was creating the penguins.
Down at the beach we got to admire lots of driftwood sculptures which had been created as part of the annual driftwood festival just a couple of days earlier. It was fun checking out the various sculptures and deciding which one of them we liked best (every one of us had another favorite).

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Even though Max had been interested in seeing the workshops and the beach, clearly this kind of sightseeing is not his favorite pastime. So we made sure to provide him with some sights that are sure to please him. We stopped at the skateparks of Hokitika and Greymouth. In the latter, he managed to his big delight to trade his bike for a skateboard (at least for a couple of minutes) and really enjoyed trying out the skateboard.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach lake river glass waterfall pool swamp forest dune jump drive pass Comments (0)

Pancakes, Blowholes, Rivers, Fern Trees, Seals and Eals

Punakaiki, Westport, Nelson Lakes National Park, Blenheim

sunny 23 °C
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Punakaiki is famous for the Paparoa National Park and more specifically for the Pancake Rocks. We stayed at the only campground in town, the Punakaiki Beach Camp. I had stayed there already once before: almost to the day 15 years I had been part of a ‘Hiking New Zealand’ group touring the ‚Westcoast Wilderness‘. Surprisingly enough, there was a tour group of ‘Hiking New Zealand’ staying at the campground – what a coincidence.
We got a great campsite, right next to the beach with a perfect view of the sunset. Despite the great spot, we still ventured out that evening. Only seldom there is an opportunity to have the high tide coincide with sunset, i.e. the perfect time to visit the Pancake Rocks with its blowholes.
It has still not been confirmed why the sediments that created the pancake rocks formed such layers. Whatever their cause, it definitively provides a good base for erosion creating nice formations. The sea was properly at work for millions of years and as a consequence, we were able to wonder at sheer cliffs, natural inlets, tide pools and blowholes. Some of the rocks were washed out in wild forms, making them look like faces or animals.

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And indeed, while the first impressions had been nice, sunset brought a whole new dimension into the scenery.

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The next day we hiked along the Pororari River. It was a beautiful day and we were happy to walk mostly in the shade of the trees along the river banks. The hike was beautiful and the track did lead us through different terrain providing views of the river. While its waters are clean, it looks stained in a dark red / brown tone by all the tannins coming from the various plants along its sides.

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Anyhow, we got to see lots of different plants and animals along the way. The ferns and the possum sleeping along the path won the beauty prizes for flora and fauna.

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But also the landscape was spectacular and we enjoyed the vistas of the rainforest on both sides.

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At the swingbridge we eventually turned around, but not before heading down to the river and skipping some stones.

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Back at the campground we walked the couple of steps from our spot down to the beach. Max headed directly the only other child at the beach, a one-year old baby. To facilitate translations, I went over and we got chatting a bit. Nina was German, traveling with her husband Antonio and daughter Nelli. It did not take long to find out that Antonio is from Zaragoza and even knows a friend of mine. Pilar is also from Zaragoza and was part of the group of friends traveling to NZ to participate in a wedding those 15 years ago. The world is a small place after all!

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That evening we stayed ‘home’ and enjoyed our great spot at the beach. We watched the breakers coming in and eventually went to sleep to the sound of the waves underneath a starry sky.

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Before leaving the Paparoa National Park, we still wanted to explore the Punakaiki Cave. We headed into the cave well equipped with headlights. It was fun trying to figure out where to go. Despite the rather small size of the cave, it felt like a big adventure. At the end of the cave, we turned our headlights off and found ourselves in absolute darkness. Well, almost. There were a couple of tiny glowworms at the roof of the cave - nothing spectacular, but still a nice surprise.
Our original though was to head straight up into the mountains along the Buller River. The heavy rainclouds hovering over the mountains, easily convinced us to change our plan and to rather spend more time on the sunny coast. The choice was easy to just take the turnoff to Tauranga Bay to see the big seal colony there.

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In Westport, we (or rather Max) checked out the local skate park. As it started raining, we packed our stuff and headed into the mountains. We were positively surprised to realize that the rain only lasted for a couple of minutes and that we got to see the Buller River and its Gorge in bright sunshine.
As we passed through Murchison, we suddenly encountered lots of traffic. The road along the East Coast via Kaikoura is still being closed in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Consequently all traffic from the ferry in Picton towards Christchurch or anywhere else on the South Island is using that one road. It was fascinating to see which efforts have been taken to increase the capacity of the road by adding second lanes to one way bridges.
We stayed overnight at West Bay in Nelson Lakes National Park, supposedly featuring the clearest lakes in the world. While we were not able to verify that statement, we did get to see some old and big eels in the lake which live under the boat ramp next to the jetty.

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On the way to Blenheim, we got to stop multiple times for roadworks, always managed by roadworkers holding up ‘Go’ or ‘Slow’ signs. This made us slow indeed and we took quite a while until we reached the Blenheim area with its famous vineyards.
We did not stop at a cellar door for wine tasting, but still got a variety of wines to taste. The local Pak n’ Save store had three winemakers offering tastings of up to four wines each. And they were successful with their activity indeed. We liked one of the wines so much that we decided to get a bottle of Chardonnay we had tasted. Let’s see when there will be a good moment to enjoy it!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset river cave hike seal pancake skate blowhole Comments (0)

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)

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