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Mountains and the sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

No roadsigns in the steppe

From Ulaanbaatar to Tsagaan Suvraga

sunny 18 °C
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Our guide Oogii and our driver Amgaa (which is pronounced ‘Amra’) picked us up at our guesthouse and we headed south. We drove through many quarters full of typical soviet apartment blocks, but also through areas where the typical Mongolian gers / yurts dominated the scene.
As we reached the edges of town, it was clearly visible how quickly Ulaanbaatar is and has been growing: the town that had been laid out for 300,000 inhabitants, is now home for more than 1.3 million Mongols – almost half of its population. Consequently, there were lots of new developments and the vast steppe is converted into town.
And there’s no middle ground: the town seems to end abruptly and suddenly there’s only steppe and pretty much nothing else. Well, except here and there we saw a herd of animals. Already after the first couple of kilometers we had seen yaks, horses, sheep, goats and cattle.
As we crossed the hills surrounding Ulaanbaatar, we stopped at an ‘ovoo’ and surrounded it three times clockwise. According to Mongol traditions and shamanic beliefs, doing this and ideally also leaving with every turn a stone or donation on top of these artificial stone hills will guarantee a good journey. Let’s hope they are right…
When it was time for lunch, Amgaa just took a right turn into the steppe. He drove for a couple of hundred meters and parked the Furgon such that it blocked out the wind. We set up a table and chairs and had sandwiches and salad for lunch. It was great to have the van as protection from the wind, but we still rather ate quickly to avoid having our food covered in dust.

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Driving back onto the road over the steep shoulder was no problem at all with our Furgon. Unfortunately, it then started making strange noises and it took Amgaa a couple of attempts to repair it in order to eventually give up and just unhook the four-wheel drive. That avoided the noises, but also meant that at some stage he would need to get a spare part to get the 4WD properly fixed.
We were on the road again. But after a total of 160 km, we headed off the main road and it was time to bid good bye to the advantages of asphalt roads. Pretty much unrecognizable for a foreigner like us, Amgaa suddenly turned left to take the track towards the small hamlet of Deren. Even though the track seemed not to be used too often, the ride was surprisingly smooth. Along the way, we passed a small well with lots of sheep and goats around. It was a nice view and latest by then we realized that we had left UB far behind us.

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In the endless steppe, there was pretty much nothing. As far as we could see, there was not a single tree or bush. And so early in spring, the grass was just starting to grow showing just a hint of green on the otherwise brown / yellowish plains.
Once we had stopped in Deren to fill up on fuel, we headed south for another half an hour and then searched for a nice spot to stay overnight. We stopped in a slight depression out of sight of the track that we had come on. There was nothing around us, apart from a large herd of sheep and goats a couple of kilometers south of us.

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Still, our presence had been discovered quickly. After just 30 minutes a nomad stopped by on his small motorbike. He was keen to have some company and found out which kind of news we brought. He was very kind and even took Max on a quick tour on his motorbike.

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We learned from him, that this time of the year is very busy for the nomads with sheep having to be sheared and goats combed. He reported that prices for cashmere have gone up and he’s now getting 60,000 tögrög (i.e. 30 USD) for a kg, whereas a kg of sheep wool is only worth 500 tögrög. He was happy and seemed to be able to live well from that income.
Once he headed off, Oogii was able to continue cooking our dinner. We had a local version of fried noodles with vegetables and a bit of meat. And it tasted fabulous.
While she prepared dinner, we had already set up our tents, which was very easy. We had to only throw them and they were setup. A couple of tent pegs to attach them to the ground and to avoid that the wind is blowing them away and done.
As soon as the sun went down, the wind subsided and it got very still. But at the same time, it also got quite chilly and we were starting to put on more and more layers. It did not take long to realize that it was time to head into our tent and to go to sleep.

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We slept very well in our first night in the tent. The thick sleeping bags had been a good investment and none of us got cold at night. While we recapped how well we had slept during the night, we started realizing how quickly the sun had started to heat up our tent. It was time to get up and have breakfast. Muesli, fruit and Nutella – there were no wishes left open!
We had only a short drive of 50 km for today, but within that short distance, there was much to be seen. Our favorite sight was a nomad on his small motorcycle moving his herd of camels and horses to a new pasture. According to Mongol traditions, seeing a move means good luck.

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And indeed, shortly afterwards we got to see a herd of wild gazelles and a large steppe buzzard. And there were lots of small lizards around as well. It is very surprising how much life is supported by such a seemingly sparse land. Every once in a while we saw a yurt in the distance and sometimes stopped quickly to ask for directions. Somehow there was always someone around - a nomad on his motorbike or a kid herding some animals.

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At noon, we had reached our spot for the night. We camped in the ‘Ikh Gazaryn Chuluu’ national park which features big granite formations known to the locals as the ‘big earth mother stones’. We found a nice place, protected between the granite rocks and with a nice view out towards the wide valley.

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After lunch, we explored a bit and went for a hike. Scrambling up towards the highest spot in the area, we came across various birds, most notably a snowy owl and lots of proof of animal presence – dung, wool caught in thorny bushes and even horns.

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Back at camp, we enjoyed a relaxed afternoon. While Amgaa maintained the car, he had a nomad coming over in order have a chat. Max went scrambling – both with Sam and with Oogii. There were enough climbing opportunities around us.

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After excellent dinner, Sam headed off to take pictures of the sunset.

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We prepared for a camp fire and even had a ranger stopping by to have a chat – after all, we’re in a national park. And we really appreciated the local culture of people stopping by for a quick chat.

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The next morning, we decided to rather head South vs. East in an attempt to cut a couple of hundred kilometers from our rather busy tour program. During the 100km of tracks it took us to reach the district center in Mandalgovi, we encountered lots of camels, cattle and even gazelles. But our favorite were the herds of sheep – their tail wags so cutely when running away from us.

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For lunch, we had one of the Mongolian national foods: khuushuur, a kind of fried meat pie. But we also used the stop in town for doing some shopping for meat and eggs, to get our water supply replenished and to fill up the car. Then we were ready for another stretch of tarmac that should get us more quickly to our destination than a track. Considering the amount of holes in the tarmac requiring sudden breaking and swerving, we were not quite sure, if this was really faster.

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As we turned off the asphalt again, Max was delighted. He was allowed to help Amgaa drive for a couple of kilometers. Everyone had a lot of fun, but most importantly the two drivers. Still, for Max the driving was heavy work. With every bump in the road, he had to keep the steering wheel under control. It was heavy work – both physically and for his concentration.

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When we saw a big group of camels next to the road, we stopped and took some pictures. There were we in our Furgon and the camels. And apart from the tracks leading through that part of the Mongolian steppe, there was nothing.

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A bit later, we also saw some gazelles. Contrary to the camels, they are wild and do not belong to anyone. And they are extremely fast. Once we detected them at the horizon, they were already gone.

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After a while, the landscape around us changed and there were some red rocks appearing in the distance. A bit further, we stopped to explore a little cave system. Equipped with our headlights, we walked into the absolute darkness of an underground dry river. Luckily, there were no bats down there. Usually, I don’t mind bats in caves. But when the caves are so small like this one and there’s not even enough headspace to stand up straight, then this is different.

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It was just 15 minutes of driving to reach our next overnight spot. We stayed at the top of big white cliffs (‘Tsagaan Suvraga’) that had eroded at its bottom into a landscape that reminded us of the painted desert or the Badlands.

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We were a couple of hundred meters away from the parking lot. A good choice, after all this marked the first time that we encountered some other tourists. In total, there were maybe ten carloads of people coming and going at various times that evening and the next morning. Most of them were fairly quiet and just admired the landscape. It’s just the Koreans which were unmistakable. To the dismay of their driver, one of them even climbed the roof of his Furgon – a good opportunity for us to keep joking about with our driver Amgaa.

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While we admired the changing colors of the cliffs at sunset, he was working on fixing an issue with the right front wheel and just briefly stopped his efforts for dinner. We had the meat that Oogii had bought today and even though our palates are not really used to mutton, we liked it. It must have been after 10pm when he was finished with his repairs. We had settled into our tents already a lot earlier.

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We slept way too long to get to see the sunrise. By the time we were up, also the falcons and the raven were active and we got to see some great maneuvers with one group fighting off the other.
That morning, it was a good track we were driving on. As usual, we were amazed at the ease with which Amgaa decided which of the many turns to choose. We can call ourselves lucky to have a driver with such good orientation skills.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:05 Archived in Mongolia Tagged cliffs sheep camel nomads empty granite goats gazelle owl steppe herds Comments (1)

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