Simply wow

On what I termed ‘the wow day’, we started off by going back to Opononi because it had rained on the previous day. We wanted to see the big sand dunes and the harbour and we did. The view was okay but not really spectacular.


We saw very strange and funny postboxes along the road, for example a microwave, a cart with horses made of wood, postboxes that looked like bird cages and bird houses – yeah, really strange.

Weird, why would you put your microwave out there to put the letters in (and if you don’t like the sender you could instantly incinerate them 😉 – but wait, you’d have to plug them in for that…). Well, old and probably ‘recycled’ microwaves. Also, why does a cemetery need postboxes??

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We took the vehicle ferry from Rawene to Kohukohu. On it, when we were taking some pictures, a woman got in the way. She sort of told us off for not asking people’s permission to take their photographs 😳. Riiight.


Then we (finally!) got to 90 miles beach and decided we could drive on it – and it was massive fun. You couldn’t see the end of it either way. Crashing waves, hardly any people, many seagulls, lots of shells.

When we drove further down the beach, we saw some dead little sharks. 😔 Looked like a family – do sharks have families??

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In fact, the sad thing is that we didn’t just see these dead creatures, but also a lot of roadkill. Ingmar asked me (not just once) what animals they were. I said: “Dead ones.” Well, seriously, no idea, but at least I can say that some of them were birds, as you could see some feathers.

Arriving at Cape Reinga, we could see the lighthouse when we were walking down. Great views to either side, especially from the bit of the coastal pathway that we walked on (just to stretch our legs and have a better look at the vegetation and some cliffs). The weather was just great, clear blue skies, the waves of the Tasman Sea crashing into those of the Pacific Ocean. White horses on incredibly turquoise waters next to the rocks. That single, never blooming Pohutukawa tree, clinging to the last rock, waving goodbye in the wind to the departing spirits. The lighthouse and the yellow signs telling you (again) just how far away other places are. The strong wind almost blowing your things away and tousling your hair.

We had to go back to the car at some point, as we wanted to take a look at the Te Paki sand dunes – even though we didn’t want to go sandboarding. From where we parked our car, we could already admire the giant dunes. The wind was blowing fine twirling sand from their tops and leaving patterns on their sides. A swampy patch made me think about going around to go up, but we decided to go see the dunes from another perspective.

So we drove towards the 90 miles beach. We had to cross through quite a big puddle of water first and it was really deep at one side with a wooden sign saying (luckily) making you drive around the deep water hole. The water was still deep… Then we followed the Te Paki stream, water splashing high to the left and right, we drove across some sand beds and next to the towering dunes. Felt the adrenaline… We enjoyed driving and walking on the sand of the 90 miles beach again, listening to the waves and the seagulls. We saw a big rock with a hole dug by waves, like a door in the sea. In front of it, really wild waves crashing and rolling towards the shore. What a sight. And so unexpected!

I was really brave and drove myself on the sand and in the stream – and through the deep water to get out, wow.

Next, we drove on a dirt road to Tapotupotu Bay, an almost empty, cute little beach, before we headed down another gravel road to Spirits Bay. This is the place where the Maori believed the spirits to depart for the sea. It is by no means a scary place, though. It has a special kind of sand, light pink to the eye, and if you look closely, there are billions of little shell fragments giving the beach its intriguing appeal. We watched the sunset there before returning to our car walking along a lagoon, observing the horses and the ‘grassgulls’.

We arrived at our b&b in the dark and were just happy to hit the bed after a very friendly greeting by our hosts.

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Hunting, gannets, kauris – far north

As we have greatly enjoyed the beaches so far, we wanted to go to another one right away, Muriwai beach. But first thing in the morning we had to buy a cap for my friend. We don’t want nasty sunburns, right?

We passed several shops but no caps there, so when I saw this fishing and hunting equipment store, I thought maybe we should give it a try. Yeah, they had caps alright – not nice caps, but caps nevertheless, and the bonus was that we got to talk to the shop owner. He showed us the weapons that they had and informed us about hunting in New Zealand. Apparently you need a licence to own a rifle or any gun, really, but as soon as you have it, you can go hunting. So you don’t need an extra permit for hunting. You don’t have to pay anything more, so you go out, find some animals and shoot them. Of course you need to take into consideration which animals you are allowed to shoot – and you can eat them afterwards. While I was admiring the choice, my friend decided to buy sort of a camo-shirt for himself. Now he looks like walking Birnam forest 😉.


Driving on, we saw a sign saying Hunting Lodge wine tasting, and we decided spontaneously to follow that because of the coincidence of ‘hunting’ in the name of the winery. It was a nice spot, and although they had just 2 organic reds, I greatly enjoyed the wine tasting.


I tried to be sensible… The booty:

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Muriwai beach was great. Blowholes, fishermen, surfers, seagulls, gannets – and the light! First it was hot in the sun, so it was fun walking close to the edge of the rocks and being sprayed by the waves crashing against the rocks.

We watched the fishermen waiting patiently next to their rods, in the salty mist, some piercing their bait, small sepia, some trying to chase away the cheeky, hungry seagulls. We observed the gannets landing elegantly on the rock precipices above our heads.

All of a sudden, huge black clouds were rolling in and it started to rain. We sought shelter beneath the rocky wall. I greatly enjoyed staying relatively dry in the warm air, watching the waves crash and the birds fly, with that delicate, tickling sensation of drizzle and sea mist on my bare toes. Then the sun came out again and we headed up some levels to have a closer look at the colony of gannets. We got it. And the stench! Oh boy, that was intense. But it was fun to watch the feathered crowd and we imagined dialogues between the birds, especially between the ‘teens’ and the ‘adults’.


Then again, rather suddenly, it started to rain. No shelter up there, so we went back down. But the rain intensified and the wind changed direction, so we ran back to where we had parked our car. Well, we got drenched nevertheless. Luckily, the car has a luxury feature, a built-in blow-dryer. 😉 Also, there was good coffee to make me happy.

We found some ice cream, but it wasn’t really good. We got some good views however, and had a strange encounter with a bone-eating sparrow 😳.


On our way north, we had some dry, sunny patches, followed by rainy spells. The best part of the route was the rainforesty feeling, being in the Waipoua kauri forest in the rain.

Unfortunately, the rain was so heavy further on at Hokianga harbour that we couldn’t take any pictures, although you could get a glimpse of the probably spectacular views when driving down towards Opononi. We where lucky that the rain ceased further inland when we were looking for our B&B. It’s rather far away from everything, down a dirt road, but it’s a nice spot with quite a view down a nice valley.

Black beaches, Mount Eden, Devonport – Auckland

We started our day having a lot of fun driving our huge 4WD up and down some winding roads through subtropical vegetation towards Karekare beach. I especially liked the blue and white flowers and the fern trees along the roads.

Once there, we were surprised to see some wetlands and water birds. We walked along and through a stream flowing towards the beach.

The view towards the mountains on both sides was amazing. We even spotted some decorated stone plaque on a rock. Looking closely, you can see two chameleons combined in a pattern.

We enjoyed Karekare beach really much. Just a handful of people roaming there, and a dog. Two to three brave surfers. Lots of different seagulls. The crashing waves. Bliss!

Then my big scare as a massive wave was so high and powerful all of a sudden that it got me wet to the thighs and I lost one flipflop! Aaaahhhh! I prayed to the goddess of the sea to give me back my shoe. I had almost lost hope, when it came back to me – I found it sitting on the beach topped in foam, some meters inland to the right of where we had been walking. Yayyyy! Sometimes a quick little prayer seems to be worth it…


Next, we headed to praised Piha beach. When we were looking down on it from a viewpoint, it was quite a nice sight, but a lot of buildings and campsites already seemed too close to the beach.

Then there was the parking problem. Way too many tourists for a few lots. Further down, the biggest part of the parking ground was reserved for surfers. Yeah, there were some of those. Some looking extremely good doing their thing. Some just looking good 😉 Posers.


What got me annoyed were the wannabe star photographers with huge lenses and a huge talent to step into MY frames. Alright. I returned the favour. I did it on purpose – I stepped into theirs 😂
We had lunch at Elevation Café – the highest in Auckland as their slogan goes – and the views from the terrace were amazing.

Skimming the lush green vegetation across to the skyline of Auckland in the distant mist. Some organic local lemonade in the sun and a delicious salad with greens, grilled lamb and roasted parsnips – just great. (The veggie pizza wasn’t, I’m sorry to say. So never pick that. They have other promising choices for vegetarians.)
On our way to Auckland, we stepped into a Pack n Save to shop some items for breakfast and some drinks and munchies for the road. Of course we bought too much stuff 😉 But they had an awfully big choice of crackers and nuts and sweets to pick from:

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Yet another great view in the sun was that from Mount Eden. Easy clambering on the grassy hills, views of the old crater and the surrounding area with a round bronze plaque that made it very clear how far all the other places were, yachts and container ships in the distance, and that tower again. Definitely worth it.

One thing that surprised me was how many Indians, by no means tourists, I seem to see around here. Maybe it’s just because I’ve recently been to India. Well, seeing Indian restaurants is one thing. Pretty normal. But a Sari shop? Indian jewellery? Rugs? A whole big store devoted to all things Rajasthani?? Wow. I didn’t even look for them. And it was hard to NOT go shopping there. Again.

We had some rather late tea and cake in a sweet cafe in Devonport before heading to the ferry pier for a magnificent view of Auckland. We watched the sun set, but there was a compact big grey cloud hiding the best colours. Pity.

Still, it was cool to see the lights being lit up in the port and in the city, to watch the ferries, motorboats and even sailing boats – finally some sails in the City of Sails! – travelling across the water.

It was definitely getting too cold in the dark for me in just a T-Shirt, so we drove back to our place. This time through Auckland by night to say goodbye (for a while).

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Going to New Zealand…

…is quite something. It is about the furthest away you can get from Europe. I knew it was far away. Very. People keep telling me it’s a hell of a long way, but hell! – definitely worth it. As soon as you  start looking for flights, it hits you – more than 22 hours! But experiencing the distance yourself is something completely different from listening to or reading other people’s accounts. And now, having arrived in Auckland, at our first accomodation, I can say ‘wow’ to that distance that I feel precisely due to the time it takes to cover it – and due to the lack of sleep (as a seat on a plane is plainly just not my thing in terms of sleep).

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Me and my friend Ingmar started  our journey at 6 p.m. By bus and train we went to Zurich, which took us about 2,5 h.

There we could wait for the departure of our flight in the shiny new Swiss lounge in terminal E – pure decadence, in a good way. The green vegetable curry was delicious! I especially liked the quiet, the choice of free newspapers and magazines – and the men, erm,  pilots? Unfortunately, they weren’t real pilots, as they were part of Breitling’s ad campaign with Swiss. And, unfortunately again, they were not real men, but mannequins. Still looking good:

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The first leg to Hong Kong took about 11,5 hours and didn’t feel that bad. We had a relaxing time in the lounge before the flight ZRH-HKG, and also after, this time with Cathay. During the flight to Hong Kong we were just the two of us in the middle row with two empty seats that we could make good use of for shifting positions and trying to sleep.

The second leg from Hong Kong to Auckland was about the same duration, just less comfortable. The good thing about long flights is I get to watch a lot of movies and to discover new music I usually don’t listen to. This time Dr. Strange, The Girl On a Train and a lot of Bollywood music made my day. The downside: no empty seats, even less sleep. But hey, we want our dreams to come true, right?

I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand. As a child, I had been watching documentaries about far-away places and different cultures, and amongst all those luring things, the Maoris and Aotearoa stuck out. But, being far away, quite some time and money are needed to visit this top entry on my bucketlist. So it became a must for my sabbatical. For my friend Uta, too – who I’m travelling with on the southern island.

Now, unlike most visitors,  we’re not backpacking. We don’t do a work and travel trip. Nor are we camping. We have a rented 4WD and decent bachs or B&Bs (hopefully) and I’m looking forward to my month down here. There will be quite some driving, sightseeing, and hopefully, good weather for some nice photographs.

Don’t date girls who travel – still?

Some months ago, I reposted an article saying you shouldn’t date a girl who travels – went to all the male sceptics out there 😉

Now I came across a follow-up article, saying the same thing, albeit with a twist. (Click the link further down.)

Please ignore the yucky ads with the article.

Tell me what you think about travelling girls. Admirable? Just plain normal? Scary? Hands off? Marriage material? Or doesn’t even matter whether they travel or not?

http://earthables.com/marry-the-girl-who-travels/?c=WP

Blausee – the ‘blue lake’ in Switzerland

Am I too critical? Ungrateful? Or is it just that people love creating myths and then others happen to fall for them?

OK, I admit, I fell for the myth of Blausee. I thought Blausee (the name fittingly translates as ‘blue lake‘) was a special, must-see, sweet little place hidden somewhere in the Bernese Oberland.p1110784

Well, it is. And it isn‘t, sort of. I guess it is just one of the many cases in which special spots have this tendency of getting overrated and overcrowded. Oh, and because visitors/photographers have this tendency of choosing their scenes in such a way that the places look as lonely and pristine as possible. Who wants crowds spoiling their perfect picture? Or, in this case, the perfect Blausee-blue? Right, NOBODY. Me neither.

So you have to realize that Blausee is neither remote, nor map-blauseehidden in some mystical valley, but surprisingly well-known. It is set in a nature park and you have to buy entry tickets (7 CHF). Beside being allowed to walk through the (slightly) mystical and romantic paths in the park, you get free parking, a free ride in a glass bottom boat (which is a regular boat with a small inset of glass) and a free visit to the organic fish farm.

They breed organic rainbow trout and salmon troutp1110749 there. You see some of them in the Blausee as well, and it’s fun to watch them jump out of the water, or trying to catch the leaves swimming on the surface of the lake. You even have the opportunity, on special days in October, to go fishing there. We saw many fishermen (mostly men, although there were some lucky kids, too) fishing trout on our second visit there.

During our first visit, the weather wasn‘t too favourable, overcast and later rainy. The good thing about this was that there weren‘t too many people around. There was a special feeling to the place, walking among old trees and mossy rocks, reminding me of the area called Fränkische Schweiz (Franconian Switzerland) close to my former home in Germany.

The second time, we caught a sunny autumn day, with quite a number of leaves turning golden and russet – but also with a lot of other tourists beside the many people fishing.

We were told that the Blausee was special in that there is no stream flowing into it. There is a stream nearby though – the Kander – and you can go hiking in the Hinterland.

The Blausee gets its seemingly blue water – and the blues are definitely worth seeing, changing nicely with the light – from a subterranean source. We were also told that it was a must on any diver‘s list. You need a special permission to dive there. It is, however, rather shallow – so I guess it‘s just about ticking it off the list. (Maybe also about having that underwater pic with the stone mermaid in the lake.p1110477

Amazingly, there was quite a mix of tourists: undeniably, fellow Germans, an Italian family, a disappointed French couple (‘…but the lake is so small’, she exclaimed), many, many Asians and Arabs – even some women completely hidden in their burkas (but then, of course, Interlaken isn‘t too far away, this being the place where I‘ve seen most burkas in one place so far), and some stout Russians. Of course, some Swiss people, too. Many of them enjoyed some fish meal at the restaurant near the lake.

We did, too. I tried my first trout burger. It was good, exceeding my expectations. The restaurant has a cosy corner with a fireplace, and they even lit the fire in the evening. Had the weather been more favourable, we would have eaten on the terrace overlooking the lake. I especially enjoyed chatting with one of the waiters, who explained to me some intricacies of the Swiss vocabulary in a very fun way.

The highlights of this trip were definitely the legendary turquoise blue of the lake, the snow on the mountains in the distance, and the good time with friends. So would I recommend it? Yes – but bear in mind that there will be a lot of people who have also heard about the beautiful blue hues of the minuscule lake and the clouded mountaintops surrounding it.p1110752

Murtensee/ Lake Morat

We had some beautiful warm weather around here, so the other day, we had this idea – ICE CREAM! The little town of Murten/ Morat in the western part of Switzerland is really close, so that’s where we dashed.

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Map of Lake Morat, Wikimedia Commons

 

It’s on the southern shore of Lake Morat, giving it its name. By the way, it’s not that somebody couldn’t decide on the name, but most places in this area have a Swiss German and a French name.

 

Hot tip – cool ice cream at Gelateria Emilia (Raffor 14) right at the lake. They also have other sweet and delicious things, like cupcakes 🙂

The sun was going down, while a huge storm cloud was inching towards the lake from the other side. The ice cream was yummy, the light was fantastic – so I had to speed up eating the ice cream to be able to take some photos.

Some people were trying to catch some fish – the woman was successful! Some people were on the lake in their boats, some already in the marina, some – we – sort of envious, being just pedestrians on the shore…

It was soothingly peaceful in the mellow light. A swan was swimming by while we were admiring the sunset. And the boats. And the clouds. And again, the light.

Later, in the streets, it was a bit too dark for my camera, but I liked this wine shop (well, it is a wine region here) and this Turkish restaurant – for the lamps 😉 Well, maybe their food is good, too, might try it some time.

So – surprisingly for a lot of people – this is Switzerland, too. It’s not all about mountains. But of course, mountains is what this little great country is famous for, and I might take you there, too.