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Entries about dune

Kids, kangaroos and corals

Ningaloo Reef – Exmouth, Cape Range NP

sunny 28 °C
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In Exmouth, we met quite a couple of interesting people and nice families traveling around Australia.
One morning, we were joined by eight-year old Cooper for our trip to the skate park before heading to the pool. He is traveling with his parents for a year doing the tour of Australia. To keep up with school, he is spending about 30 min per day studying and learning, mainly to keep up his maths. While this sounds like not too much, Freya (5) and Pearl’s (9) mom told me that they are not doing any home schooling at all, as the girls learn so much while traveling. She’s sure that both of them will have no trouble at all catching up with their friends once they’ll be back after their year of traveling. And after all, they had done long trips like that already in the past…
Coming from Germany with its strict enforcement of all kids going to school, this is very, very different. In Germany parents are not only risking fines, but eventually jail if their kids don’t go to school. Whereas in Australia the government might cut subsidies / pensions for parents not sending their kids to school – but anyone who is not receiving any money from the government, there is no risk. And I fully agree, that kids do learn a lot when traveling and that at least in the first years of school probably an hour of home schooling a day is largely sufficient to keep up to date in line with the curriculum.
After another relaxed day and evening of editing pictures, eventually we decided to leave Exmouth to explore the Ningaloo Reef and the Cape Range National Park. We were shocked to realize that the local supermarket was closed – as it was Sunday, but headed off anyhow hoping that our remaining supplies would be enough such that we could stay for at least two nights.
As we headed from Exmouth to Cape Range National Park, we stopped at the first landmark along the way, the Vlaming Head lighthouse. From there we already got the first impression of the peninsula with its fringing reef close to the shoreline.

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After a quick stop in the dunes, we explored the displays in the information center. That’s also where we finally saw our first kangaroos. Specifically, Max was excited about them and kept watching out along the road to see more of them.

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But despite the excitement about the kangaroos, our key reason for coming to the Western Cape was the Ningaloo Reef. We headed to Turquoise Bay for snorkeling. Despite the fairly low visibility due to the heavy wind and subsequent sand in the water, we saw really nice corals and lots of fish. But not only the snorkeling was nice – it’s for a good reason that Turquoise Bay usually features as one of the tow three beaches in Australia.

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Eventually we had to head off in search of a place to stay for the night. Given the excellent reviews on our WikiCamps app, we chose Osprey Bay. What a great choice: we ended up coincidentally next to Max’ friend Cooper and his family and as such Max was happy and busy without Sam or me having to get inventive - excellent.
But we also had other friends visiting our camp: a legless lizard wound its way to our spot. He was very welcome - much more than a King Brown or other venomous snake would have been.

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The next morning, we could not resist to go snorkeling in Turquoise Bay once more. This time we went to the drift area. It was a pretty cool snorkel getting into the water and letting us drift along the beach for a couple of hundred meters. The corals were simply spectacular.

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After so much activity in the relatively cool water, we went for a hike at Yardie Creek. Fortunately, the flies there were just sitting on our cloths vs. bothering us. Otherwise the hike would not have been as much fun.

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After the heat of Yardie Creek, we were happy to be back at home at Osprey Bay to take a refreshing bath in the sea. And we realized that not only we were hot - the kangaroos were also seeking shelter in the shade of the toilet building.

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But best of all was our afternoon snorkel in Osprey Bay. We started from the beach just below our campsite. From there we discovered a sleeping turtle underneath a small ledge, watched a white moray eel wind itself along the edge of the reef and saw more diverse and colorful fish than in most snorkeling trips we had done so far.

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Obviously, we wanted to repeat this excellent snorkeling trip once more before leaving Osprey Bay the next day. But our morning snorkel was more than disappointing. In fact, with the big waves and wind, it was quite exhausting. In return we at least got to see a turtle swimming in the water, but that was about it. At least, this helped to feel less regrets about having to leave. After all, we had run down our supplies so far that we simply had to go shopping to stock up.
After another stop in the windswept dunes, we headed directly into Exmouth. Lunch, shopping and off we went to relax at our already well known caravan park with its nice pool and the emus.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:11 Archived in Australia Tagged fish national creek dune kangaroo reef snorkel coral turtle moray Comments (0)

Bye, bye bush - hello town

Geraldton, Sandy Bay, Pinnacles NP, Cervantes, Wedge Island

sunny 28 °C
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As we reached Geraldton, we ended up in afternoon rush-hour. This had not been an issue in our travels so far. Latest by then, we realized that we had left the bush and reached the more populated areas of Western Australia. After all, Geraldton with its 25.000 inhabitants is the largest town between the 4000 km that separate Perth and Darwin. Still, a couple of traffic lights later, we reached our campground close to the harbour and the lighthouse.

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It had been on purpose that we stopped in Geraldton and did not simply pass through. After all, it was only ten days until Christmas and we wanted to get our shopping done. Geraldton was a perfect place for doing so. We were successful in all respects. While Sam and Max did the grocery shopping at Coles, I had enough time at Target’s next door to choose potential presents. And as Max then headed directly to a TV, Sam and I were able to go through together and to choose what we wanted to actually buy. Perfect! Christmas shopping had never been so easy!
After our successful session of power shopping, it was time to get Max some exercise. We went to the foreshore and were astounded by the multitude of playgrounds for all ages. Once Max had explored the first playground, we walked five minutes for him to tackle an even bigger play structure. And in its back we even discovered an animated feature that allowed us to play against each other trying to touch as many light up points as possible - very cool and lots of fun also for adults. I had never seen such sound and light speed games before, but it was definitively a lot of fun. And the location at the foreshore with its calm beaches was excellent as well.

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Back at our campground, it was time to deal with some planning topics. After all, a month later we’d be leaving Western Australia and before leaving it helps to have the next leg of our adventure prepared: i.e. I booked a flight, a place to stay in Sydney and we discussed how to approach transport in NZ. And despite the fact, that Jetstar had given us a 300 AUD voucher for answering late on my complaint and for our troubles on the journey from the Cook Islands to Sydney, we preferred to book Virgin Australia for our flight back to Sydney.
After a good night’s sleep and a nice chat with Scotsman Alan, who’s been traveling around Australia in their bus already for more than two years, it was time to leave Geraldton to discover the last stretch of coast before getting to Perth.
There were lots of turn offs to the beach along the turquoise coast. Eventually Sam picked the one leading to Sandy Bay for our location for lunch. The beach was great and also the campground looked pleasant. The only downside to the campground was, that it seemed very full. It was time to realize that getting closer to Perth and getting closer to the Christmas holidays which were to begin in the next days, this will clash with our current style of traveling. After all, up to now it had never been an issue anywhere to get a campground last minute. Since we had come to Western Australia, we had not reserved a single camp site in advance. And we were not quite ready to change our approach to traveling radically: prearranging campsites for the remainder of our trip would have meant to give up the luxuries of staying longer where we like it and passing through if we did not feel like stopping.
Sandy Bay surprised us with its fine white sand. We had not stood on such fine sand since Cable Beach back in Broome. The beach was very sheltered from the wind and the water was extremely calm, reminding us of Bahia Conception in Mexico. A nice combination!

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Up at the look out over the peninsula, it was very windy again, but the view was certainly worth it. And Max enjoyed running up the dunes and jumping down. With Jim from Canberra, he had his perfect partner in crime and both were having lots of fun. After all, Jim and Debbie were just waiting for their grandson to arrive a couple of days later and Jim was keen to get some practice already in advance.

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Even though it was tempting to stay in Sandy Bay, we had still some more plans in the pocket for that afternoon. We wanted to see the Pinnacles in Naumburg NP in the afternoon. And it was a good decision to go there so late in the day, as the light was just perfect and made the yellow sand and rocks glow.

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For the night, we stayed at Cervantes close to the beautiful and deserted beach. But as soon as the sun had set, we got chilly and were ready to head to our camp for the night.

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On our drive south the next morning, we were pleased to see the vegetation changing once more. We were passing through endless fields of grass trees, sometimes with blindingly white dunes in the middle of the landscape.

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Eventually, we turned towards Wedge Island. Not knowing what exactly to expect, we were very pleased when the road suddenly ended on a great beach. There was hardly anyone around except a couple of fishermen. And the beach was glorious. Well, in fact there was a beach to both sides of the long stretch leading to Wedge Island. What a great spot and without a single other tourist around.

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It’s the discoveries like this which make traveling so exciting – very often we do not know what exactly to expect. It might be just an ‘interesting’ spot or a real gem. And as tastes are different, guidebooks might be helpful in pointing out nice places, but they will never replace the fun of just having a go and checking things out ourselves.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:37 Archived in Australia Tagged shopping island sand rock dune lighthouse playground Comments (1)

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)

Snowstorms in the desert

From Dalansadgad to Gurvan-Saikhan nuruu

all seasons in one day 8 °C
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We headed to a national park called ‚Gurvan-Saikhan Nuruu‘ (the three beautiful ridges) to see a beautiful canyon. After a couple of hundred meters of hiking into the deep cut valley, with lots of rock formations along the way that resembled various animals, we suddenly hit snow. By the time we reached the end of the canyon, we were walking on a thick layer of snow that reached from one side of the canyon to the other. And then there was a massive frozen waterfall - an amazing sight knowing that in fact we’re in the middle of the Gobi Desert. I must admit that I usually associate desert with heat, sand and lack of water – and in this case, none of those three elements proved to be true.

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For sure it was not hot. Rather the opposite: we were freezing not only due to the low temperatures, but more so because of the heavy wind. Faced by weather like that, we took a quick decision to discard the plan to camp that night and to rather check if we can find a ger / yurt to sleep in for the night.
And indeed, we were lucky: we found a great looking yurt for the night. Inside it was very comfortable and – thanks to the oven that was fired with camel dung – pleasantly warm. Fitted with four beds surrounding a low table, we had all that we needed for an enjoyable night. While we marveled at the nicely decorated construction elements of the yurt. It can be assembled of disassembled in just an hour if there are a couple of people helping together and the various parts can be easily transported even by a camel or horses – the perfect home for a family of nomads that is moving to three of four different pastures in the course of a year.
Outside it was so windy, that Max and Sam had perfect conditions to test the paper planes they’ve built. One of the two models they built, flew a couple of hundred meters! And it was not just windy, but also extremely cold, temperatures around freezing. Walking the distance from the outhouse back to our yurt against the wind proved to be quite a challenge and we were more than happy to have such a comfortable home for the night.

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The next morning did not bring any relief in regards to wind or temperatures. Rather the opposite: as we headed out of the ger camp, we found ourselves in the midst of a snowstorm in which the snow came towards us sideways.
Despite the awful weather, we wanted to explore today’s destination, the Lammergeier Canyon anyhow. All of us dressed with as many layers of clothing as we had and then we headed out. It was freezing. It did not help that most of the canyon floor was still covered by a thick layer of snow and ice, allowing the wind to chill down even further.

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We realized only after hiking into the canyon for quite a bit that coming back out was actually much worse: being cold already from the first part of the hike, now we had the wind in our face and soon felt that it was not just wind. It had picked up significant amounts of sand and we soon found ourselves spitting out the sand in regular intervals.

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All of us were more than relieved to finally make it back to the relative warmth of the car. And lucky us that we had the protection of the car: on our way back down towards the entrance gate, we got caught in a small sandstorm twisting its way up through the valley. We would not have wanted to be in that unprotected.
While the museum of the national park was not heated, it still felt extremely comfortable due to the absence of wind. We used a traditional Mongolian horoscope: by throwing four small bones, we got to count how many sheep, camels, horses and goats we rolled. Depending on the outcome, we were able to predict our future. It was fun, even though some of the predicted results left us puzzling what they actually meant. That was fun. But yes, we also toured the museum to see which animals and birds to look out for in the national park in the coming days.
Given the cold and the storm, it was not even a discussion if we should camp tonight. We all agreed that a ger would be a much better and warmer choice. So just outside the Lammergeier Canyon we headed to a small group of yurts and moved our stuff in for the night. Our plan was to have lunch and just to wait in the ger to see how the weather would develop.
Well, once again our plan did not work out: the owner of the ger was afraid to light the oven due to the heavy wind. And we were not able to light our gas stove, as somehow the gas bottle was leaking. Fortunately, we had a full thermos of hot water from this morning, which we were able to use for making hot instant soup. While we were eating, we repeatedly were afraid that the yurt would not resist the heavy wind and take off. The few times someone was opening the door, we were able to see the snow storm raging outside – with the snow coming sideways vs. from above. Eventually we realized, that the plan of staying in a yurt was not good enough for the storm we were facing.

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A couple of phone calls later, Amgaa identified a new option for us: he found a hotel room for us in the nearby town of Bayandalai. We were relieved: even if the hotel room was not heated, it would at least stand up to the wind and we’d be safe. Still, sitting in the heated car, none of us was keen to leave it and we used the excuse that Max had fallen asleep to sit there for another while until he woke up.
In the little hotel we also met another Austrian / German couple. It was fun chatting with them. They are traveling the world for six months and we had many similar experiences to chat about.
After dinner, the fierce wind finally stopped and gave Sam and Max a chance to head outside to the playground. I used the opportunity to have power available (as unfortunately the inverter we got to load our laptop via the car lighter did not work) to use the laptop and get some typing done. Even though we might not be having a possibility to upload any blog entries in the next couple of days, I still tried to stay somewhat up to date.

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The next morning we headed off towards the singing dune ‚Khongoryn els‘. The storm had stopped the night before and we had no problems on our 130km drive. Well, the track was fairly bad, but that just what you get when trying to travel the backroads of Mongolia.

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Shortly before we arrived, it starting snowing again. Amgaa found the right track without any issues such that we arrived in time for lunch at the nomads we’d be staying at for the next two nights. Uelzi and his family welcomed us in their own big yurt. As per local custom, we were offered milk tea and the snuffbox.
They had just arrived in their summer camp three days earlier, but the yurt was fully furnished and everything had his place as if it would have been there for ages. Even though we did not understand Mongolian, Oogii did an excellent job in translating what was going on for us. We learned that Uelzi’s nephew had hurt his elbow in a wrestling match with his cousin. We were able to provide him with some paracetamol and it did not take long that his face looked much more relaxed.
In the meantime, Uelzi’s wife prepared lunch for us. She cooked rice in black tea and then added dried camel meat. The soup tasted much better than expected. The only challenge was the chewy consistency of the meat that made it difficult to eat without the use of a sharp knife.

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Even though the snow storm had stopped while we were in the hosts’ yurt, it continued being very cold outside. So we spent the remainder of the day in our own yurt. We fired the oven and it got nice and cozy inside. The only notable exception was around sunset. The colors were so nice that not even the cold could keep us inside. Still, once enough photos were taken and the atmosphere absorbed, we all huddled around the oven again.

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To make sure we’re not running out of fuel for our oven, Sam and Max spent the next morning collecting camel dung. Once they had collected six big rice bags full of dung, they figured that it should be enough to last not only us until the next day.
Around lunch time, Uelzi took us on a ride with his camels. We were sitting comfortably between the two humps of the camel. That was also quite warm – contrary to the outside temperatures. The slow swinging movements of the camels took a bit of getting used to, but were very relaxing.

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To celebrate an already great day, Sam prepared Kaiserschmarrn for all of us. In retrospect eating that much Kaiserschmarrn was not a very smart idea. After all, we headed out towards the sand dunes that afternoon. And let me tell you: hiking up 200 meters of altitude on a steep sand dune is exhausting no matter what. But with a full stomach it is even more of a challenge.

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Sam had a short moment of shock when suddenly his camera was not taking any pictures. It took him a couple of minutes of shaking the camera in all directions and suddenly it worked again. It would have been a very unpleasant thought to also lose Sam’s camera just a few days after our mobile phone gave up on us. Not having any possibility at all to take pictures of the remainder of our trip to Mongolia would not have been good at all.

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It was warm enough such that we could head up the dune without shoes and just with our socks. But as we neared the top of the dune, we realized that we were not the only ones heading up there: we suddenly saw a cow up there at the top of the dune in the sand. By the time we got up to the top ourselves, it was gone. And due to the strong wind, there were no marks remaining to tell which way it had gone.

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On our way up, we were also treated to the spectacular ‘singing’ of the dunes. Actually, it was more of a humming sound, a bit similar to the noise of airplane turbines. The sound is created by the wind blowing the sand down the dunes. But we were suddenly creating it ourselves when heading up through the deep loose sand of dune. There was so much sand coming down as we moved upwards that we even felt the vibration of the sand and the associated sound. Very cool!
As the top of the dune we had a great view in all directions. Sam got a bit jealous when four motorbikers turned up and starting riding in the dunes. But the nice atmosphere at sunset compensated him.

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It was really nice in the dunes as the sun went down. But the colorful evening continued much longer and back at Uelzi’s place, Sam got some nice motives with the yurts and the camels in the last light.

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And with all the sand we had on us, we all enjoyed a bucket shower before going to bed.
We were sorry to leave the next morning, as we had truly enjoyed our stay with Uelzi and his family. And even though it had been pleasant to stay in yurts and hotels during the last couple of nights, we were looking forward to do some camping again. At least the weather forecast was favorable, so we were hoping that it would hold true.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 02:28 Archived in Mongolia Tagged snow desert canyon storm museum sand dune cold yurt Comments (0)

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