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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)

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)

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