Author Archives: Experience

Mt Cook – the big finish

As the last days of our amazing journey are approaching inevitably, we are still surrounded by spectacular views and rich nature. After the experience at the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers we did not expect too much from a visit to Mount Cook but were taught differently. Apart from fantastic wide-open skies and snow-powdered mountains we were rewarded by close-up glacier views and lakes coloured in all shades of blue and turquoise.

We spent two great days with our friend Benoit whom we had met in Indonesia a couple of months ago and then proceeded gradually to Christchurch, putting in a stop at Arthur’s Pass. There we enjoyed passing through the Cavestream Scenic Reserve, a half-hour walk/wade and climb through an icy underworld stream.

In Christchurch we advertised and eventually sold our dear campervan in a very competitive environment. The city is still in the aftershock of the earthquake which happened roughly a year ago. Many people have left and many businesses are closed, as is all of the city centre, which makes it feel like a ghost town. Taking it easy the last days, we are looking forward to a quick stop in Bangkok and finally to going home to our families and friends!

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Rainy days

The more south we get the wetter and colder it becomes, which makes driving and living in the campervan a bit less pleasant. In Fiordland unfortunately, rain and fog hid the mountains, glaciers and deep fiords of the Milford Sound and the National Park, so we continued towards Riverton. We passed the Windswept Trees which are totally skewed due to the constant heavy seawind, and had to cook our meal in the pouring rain.

For a couple of days, Kate helped on a sheep farm and in the house and garden of a NZ family in Riverton, picking baskets of mushrooms and cooking monkfish. She was lucky to catch a glimpse at the sheep shearing which goes at a rate of up to one sheep per minute!

Later on, we camped out at the Otago Peninsula off Dunedin, where we fished our own meal, watching sea lions and small penguins. Before our final stop in Christchurch we will venture inland to the mountains again.

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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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Northland revisited

While Kate was taking time off for a meditation retreat I decided to take the van, go fishing, and visit some places we had not covered on our first tour around the part of the North Island which is north of Auckland.

It turned out there were plenty of fish in the sea – literally speaking – and loads of good opportunities to make a catch. It was also a lot of fun to venture to some peninsulas or along the rocky shoreline, set up camp with the van and trek or climb to the ultimate fishing spot.

There are several nature reserves good for hiking. In particular I liked the walk close to Rawhiti and Mahinepua Bay, both of which also have great beaches. As the NZ holidays were coming to an end, things became much quieter, even if in general people in NZ are anyway just incredibly easy-going, helpful and non-intrusive. Sometimes I would stop at a quiet place at the roadside to make camp, and people stop – not to tell you to go away, but to ask if you needed any help. Try this in Europe.

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Among the sulfur miners of Kawah Ijen

It began with the alarm at two a.m. We were the first to tackle the ascent from Pos Paltuding to Kawah Ijen, active volcano crater and source of raw sulfur in east Java.

Already the day before we had observed the miners carrying their baskets, connected with a wooden stick across their shoulders and loaded with at least 60, but up to 100 kg of the yellow substance. They carry this unbelievably heavy and uncomfortable load two to three times per day. This means one long hour of hiking first up the crater and then down through the forest to earn three to five euros per load.

In the early hours we already met a couple of them marching uphill with their empty baskets. When we had made it up the forest path and through the sulfur-heavy air still before sunrise, we were rewarded by an incredible view of the smoking crater spilling its yellow treasure. The workers stood in the middle of the smoke, breaking the sulfur with iron bars and loading it into the baskets with their bare hands.

Most amazing were the blue flames of burning sulfur at the point where the substance emerges in liquid form from the earth and solidifies. These flames are hardly visible in daylight and complete a stunning and unforgettable scenery of yellow rock, the crater lake, the noise and smell of the acidic smoke and the moonlit crater walls.

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