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In Tahiti

semi-overcast 29 °C
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On long distance flights, for us most airlines are pretty much the same: there’s individual in-flight entertainment, mediocre food and some kind of cheap toy article handed out for kids. But this time, there was a first: never before did we get a flower handed out in a plane. In this case it was even a Tahitian Tiaré which was extremely fragrant with a very pleasant smell.

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Upon our arrival, we were pleased once more about a distinctive difference vs. other airports: at the entrance to the main terminal, there was a couple playing music and dancing for us. I found it funny to see that they were wearing official airport employee badges on their traditional costumes.
Passport control was not more than just a quick glance – after all we were just official entering France, i.e. an EU country. The airport is small by comparison and consequently our bags arrived in no time.
As it was just a bit after 5am in the morning local time, we decided to have a break at the airport snack bar. Max was excited to get his favourite drink, real ‘Apfelschorle’ imported from Germany and we tried to wake up by drinking some tea.
A bit after 7am it seemed late enough to take a taxi to our home for the next two nights, the Inaiti Lodge. Marceline, the owner greeted us warmly and invited us to have some tea and hot chocolate. She explained all we needed to know about our surroundings and shared the great news with us that our room was already available for us and we did not have to wait until the official check in time of 2pm.
We were excited to hear that: all of us were a bit exhausted from the long overnight flight. And after a while even Max went to sleep. By noon we had rested enough to start exploring and to have something to eat. An outside nearby snack bar was easily found and we had great fresh food underneath a tree in full bloom.

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For shopping we headed to the local Carrefour market which reminded us a lot of the Carrefour we used to shop at when we still lived in Romania.
A bit later in the day we took a walk to the Tahiti Yacht Club. There we had a nice view of the sailboats, the sea and the sunset behind the neighbouring island of Moorea. We even spotted a typical outrigger canoe training in the evening sun.

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In the evening we stayed up until after 8pm and rested well until the next morning. And with that we were practically adjusted to the new time zone – five hours behind the Chicago time we were used to.
It did take us a bit longer to get adjusted to the heat though. At 30 °C / 86 °F it was actually not too unpleasant, but we were simply not used to such temperatures anymore.
There were also lots of other things we were not used to anymore after our long stay in North America: typical French baguette for breakfast, seemingly crazy car drivers (of which more than 50% seem to be driving Renault / Dacia, Peugeot or Citroen) and people speaking exclusively French. In fact, many of them probably know how to speak other languages as well, but they usually chose not to do so. So it was time for me to resurface my French skills, while Sam and Max were pretty much at my mercy to get translations.
We ventured into Papeete by taking the local bus into town. Our first destination was the central market, where we had excellent food and had fun people watching.

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From there we headed from the pier with its cruise ships, sailboats and colorful fish to the parks along the sea promenade where we easily found a playground for Max to get rid of some of his excess energy.

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Back in the center of town we had a peak into the cathedral and walked by the town hall, but actually preferred to watch the artists decorating large surfaces all over the town as part of the annual street art festival.

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That evening we were knackered and happy to just sit in our little hut outside, have some baguette with camembert cheese and local Hinano beer. If I wouldn’t have read the label, I could have easily believed it to be Bavarian beer, a typical ‘Helles’ – a nice surprise.
At night, it was raining heavily and we were able to experience a short and intense tropical rain shower also that morning. Once again, we were extremely lucky, as Marceline was able to let us stay in our room until she took us to the airport around noon. Check in was very quick and we took the advice to stay outside the gate area until 10 min before boarding would start. What seems like an impossible idea in most large airports, was easily done: there was no one waiting in front of us at the security check.
And our joker Max did an excellent job again: having a child below 12 years of age, we were allowed to board the tiny ATR 42 turboprop plane first – a big plus considering that there were no seats assigned and we wanted to make sure that we’ll get good seats for taking pictures.
And the views from the plane were beautiful indeed. We got to see all major islands of the Society Islands. We started right next to the sea in Tahiti and soon got to see Moorea and later Huahine below us.

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After just 35 min of flight, our plane made a planned stop in Raiatea, where we got treated to an excellent close up view of Raiatea and neighboring Tahaa. Many people left the plane and a couple of new passengers joined. Still, of the 48 seats in the plane 13 had to stay empty, as the short runway in Maupiti only allows for a limited payload.

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Along the way to our left, Bora Bora was lying peacefully below us giving us already an impressive first glimpse into where we’ll be in a couple of days’ time.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sea beer sunset flight island outrigger baguette heat eu 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)

Saying good bye to Middle Earth

Paihia, Waipoua Kauri Forest, Orewa, Auckland

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

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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