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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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Beaches and Caves

Uretiti Beach, Waipu Caves, Whangarei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying good bye to Middle Earth

Paihia, Waipoua Kauri Forest, Orewa, Auckland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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