Monthly Archives: February 2012

From Pancake Rocks to rainy sounds

We continued our way along the rugged West Coast through native rainforest and admired the impressive Pancake Rocks, so called as they resemble giant slices of limestone rocks.

Coming into view further south were the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, which flow almost down to sea level. We hiked through the valleys to see both from nearby, but unfortunately the access to explore them out on the ice was only allowed to costly guided tours.

The landscape changed again as we came closer to the breathtaking Wanaka Lake with its clear blue water lying in a dramatic glacier carved basin. The scenic route took us to neighbouring Queenstown with its Z-shaped Lake Wakatipu, where we enjoyed eating the huge and famous Fergburger and ice cream in Queenstown, both meals in itself. After a bouldering afternoon with new friends we were happy to discover the scenic Moke Lake nearby, where director Jane Campion was filming a new six-part TV Thriller.

Five hours later, the Milford Sound awaited us with heavy rainfall; in this way we were spared the swarms of sandflies that normally ate us alive.

I ventured onto the 32-km Routeburn Track. The rainfall transformed the path into waterfalls and made it nearly impossible to catch a glimpse of the spectacular mountain scenery and both Harris and Mackenzie lakes through the fog. However, one highlight of the trail was crossing a wooden bridge and being soaked to the skin by one of the waterfalls, much larger after all the rain.

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Cruising on

In Wellington, our last stop in the north, we visited the impressive Te Papa museum, which offers lots of insight into natural as well as cultural history. Not without regret we left the North Island to continue our journey in the south.

Already the ride on the ferry offered the awesome scenery of Queen Charlotte Sound, and before moving on we explored the Marlborough Sounds a little bit more. Venturing on along the coast we found some very nice overnight spots, and went all the way up to Farewell Spit, a huge sand dune where often whales strand.

Along the way we did some really scenic walks and caught our own fish from the Split Apple Rocks and in Golden Bay. In Charleston we climbed onto awesome rocks to go fishing in the wild sea. Unfortunately did not only a big Kawahai escape off the hook, but someone also tried to break into our van, entirely ruining the passenger-side lock, despite the fact that there were visibly no valuables in the car. Only a few days later we saw another car that had been broken into…that is the one most negative thing about this otherwise safe and relaxed country with its very friendly people.

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Volcanic craters and Emerald Lakes

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand and without having seen the South Island I can already say now that it definitely was!

It took me eight hours to complete the 19 km long trek leading from one side of the Tongariro Narional Park to the other. The walk was not too difficult, only in some parts strenous, but with awesome and constantly changing views: From grasslands, deserted valleys, springs, steam vents to volcanic craters and emerald-coloured lakes.

The most fascinating moment indeed was when I reached the peak of the Red Crater at 1,886 m and took the steep descent to the scenic trio of the Emerald Pools. The lakes’ turquoise colours are owed in part to dissolved minerals that have been washed down from the adjoining thermal area. The earth was warm and the steam vents above the lakes gave off their sulphurous smell.

After having crossed the central crater of the active volcanic area I reached the Blue Lake. From there it was nearly all downhill, right before entering the native green forests rich with bird life.

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Don’t speak, don’t move – 10 days of Vipassana Meditation

Just returned from my meditation retreat at a Vipassana Meditation Centre near Auckland. Now I know that 10 days can be very long, especially when you have to meditate 10 hours per day, but it was definitely worth it! The direct experience of the changes within your body and mind even in one and a half weeks is absolutely amazing.

Vipassana is one of India‘s most ancient meditation techniques and means “seeing things as they really are”. The so-called process of self-purification by self-observation was rediscovered by Gotama the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. With continued practice it eliminates the causes of unhappiness and breaks the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way.

We, a group of around 50 students, made our first steps into meditation by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness we proceeded to observe the permanently changing sensations within the body, trying to reach the unconscious mind. It is incredible how much more prickling, tingling, pulsing sensations you can feel on a small area like the upper lip if you concentrate hard enough. After six days, I reached a stage called ‘free flow’ that can be compared to a shiver you could sweep up and down from the top of your head to the toes, a unique feeling. The pain in my back and knees was really bad during the first days. It felt like doing extreme sport instead of just sitting cross-legged, but with the time it got better, as the body got used to it.

All students had to observe Noble Silence, which meant that any form of communication including eye-contact and physical gestures was forbidden. However, we could speak with the teachers if necessary. Not talking for 10 days and not being able to share my experiences with anyone seemed quite harsh to me in the beginning. However, in the long run it proved to be so useful, because only in this way I could entirely concentrate on myself, having the impression that I was working in isolation.

As there was no dinner after 12 pm – only fruit and milk or tea at 5 pm – my biggest fear was that I would run around hungry, but it proved wrong. The delicious food was enough and made up for all the pain and strain, even for getting up at 4 am. The bell was our worst enemy or best friend, depending on when it would ring or what it would announce. Further rules and regulations included a segregation of males and females, no contact with the ‘outer world’, a ban of reading, writing and physical exercise.

What was quite hard to deal with was the boredom at times. We could only take short walks in the forest inside the course site, so my mind went crazy being my only companion. Every bird and possum seen and every sound heard made me so happy! In the morning of the last day we were finally allowed to speak with each other and face the real world, which was quite intense after so much silence.

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