Travel. Physics. Photography.

Around the world in 80 years

Porto

Even though, I have developed a great deal of love for Spain and especially Cantabria since I've been here, we decided that for New Years (in spanisch 'la noche vieja') we had to get out of town. After quickly consulting the map for which places could fit our expectations (sea, hipster town, cultural suff, old buildings, new buildings, as long as it was close to the sea and had the right vibe actually it did not matter... ) we had the perfect idea in mind. We'd jump in the car & it would be road trip time again. This time the destination was Porto. With two detours to Salamanca (yey! Finally getting there again) & Santiago de Compostella (it's famous at least!). Well - what can I tell you, this town has stolen my heart.

I've never been in Portugal before this trip and I did not know what to expect. I have to admit - my expectations were exceeded. Somehow while in Spain you think - 'this is dirty and rundown' in Porto you think 'this is dirty and rundown. But i'm loving it'. I don't know how to describe it better, but somehow Porto manages to keep a great deal of charm even though the innercity is a rather touristy place and not to many people life their day by day lifes there.

We stayed close to the river in a hipstery corner of the center. Porto has a great deal of cool, small handcraft hipster shops (yes, I will use the word hipster a great deal of times in this post, because it is the one and only word to describe this city.) along with (Port)vineries and craft chocolate stores. I know - what more could you want?

I know. My hipster heart and soul have been very happy with Porto, especially after being so exhausted here in Santander. My work & projects here have been driving me crazy: Porto was the holiday for heart and soul.

I was very surprised by the amount of people that were visiting the city for new years. Apparently it is rather popular, also among spanish and portugese to come to Porto for the last night of the old year, because it is apparently very cheap to go out (1.50€ for a beer at the main plaza around midnight speaking for itself). We enjoyed however not only the prizes but also to great atmosphere :) Definitely a city saved on the 'oh if I had so much more time and money I would go back in an instant'-list... 

The Beaches of Cantabria

Think of Spain. Think of northern Spain. What do you think of? The Basque country with San Sebastian and the Guggenheim museum of Bilbao? Or the Galician Coast with Santiago de Compostela, it's mighty cathedral and the camino de Santiago? Well, now that I've seen it, let me tell you that even though all those places are not bad ( ;) ) there is a tiny thing in between... Cantabria. Its somewhere between Tapas, Tinto, Montañas and Playas. The beaches.

Even though, I said goodbye to the idea of me surfing I still consider the beach one of the best spots. I wouldn't go as far as telling you that you have no need to visit Cantabria for anything else than the beaches, but lets put it the way that you shouldn't miss them. One of europe's favourite surf spots and definitely one of the prettier places to life for studying (if you not consider the university ;) ).

When it comes to my most favourite beaches. Well... no need to think, first of all: playa de los locos.

Located about half an hour outside of Santander close to Suances, with a view over the mountain range of the Picos de Europa, this beach is built like an antique theatre. If you manage to ignore the ugly buildings they put in the background, definitely a place to be visited. But this spot is closely followed by the great dunes of Liencres. 

Also, of course what we have here in Santander, the famous Sardinero and Somo across the bay are of course not bad... 

Picos de Europa

Finally. Finally I can tell you about those beautiful highlands in the center of northern Spain. Before coming here I never heard of them. Ever. Guess you as well. Somewhere in between Santiago de Compostella, Burgos and Bilbao you can feel like you're on top of the world.

Ranging roughly through all of Asturias and some parts of Cantabria and Castilla Leon, the Picos de Europa are an awesome place for hiking here in Spain. From Santander you drive along the sea for about an hour until you reach the beginning. From here the landscape starts to be very rocky and the roads get more and more narrow. Driving from one end to the other takes you ages, because it's just narrow and curvy. However it's worth it.

We've been there for a couple of times by now, hiking some prominent routes. The most well known is the river with the same name.

It's a 12 km one way path along a beautiful gorge. On your way you encounter some semi wild mountain goats and a crystal clear river.

Half way you end up in Caen, a tiny little village at the other end of the mountain.

For me, the impressive thing about this mountains is, that while you're not even very high up, you still feel like it, because of all the rocks and views. On good days you can see up to the see from the highest ones, or far inside. Next time we came back we decided to go deeper to the Asturian part. Compared to the central part, where the Cares route is, this part is far more remote and you need to drive a lot longer to get to some routes. We decided for a spot beginning a few kilometres from a lake.

Following a path over fields with cows, we finally reached the most beautiful view off a rock face, which I unfortunately couldn't photograph because I was to scared at the edge. But you can still get an impression:

French Roadtrip

Hello Again. Here we go, round #2 - Erasmus continued. A week ago bags were packed and the car was loaded. Off we go. A week of road trip through France with destination Cantabria. Santander, to be more specific. But more about the city you're gonna hear about for the next 6 months. The story begins shortly after the french border in a little village in Alsace. The first stop. Vineyards, villages and a bit of holiday feelings.

The journey continued down to Lyon always in direction of the meditaranian sea. We visited the Pont du Guard and camped near the river flowing through the famous bridge.

Further down to the Camague, getting some views of wild flamingos and other sea birds until finally reaching the mediterranean sea in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. But as soon as we arrived we already left the seaside again for the mountains around Olargues for canoeing and hiking. 

On the last day after passing Carcassonne for a quick look we stopped once more in the Pyrenees on the french Camino before finally arriving in Cantabria for one last camping night by the beach. 

A love letter to NZ

Probably the saddest day of my travels was leaving New Zealand. I lost my heart to the country, and not even the following month in Australia could change this. Before I came to NZ I loved riding through nature and appreciated beaches. NZ showed my my love for mountains and hiking. The nature is incomparable in it's beauty and the people there are one of a kind. I would miss out somebody when naming all of them. The people I travelled with, met on the road, worked with and for, have been riding or driving with. To many to name. Sit back and relax for some impressions of my favourite places.

Starting off with Northland and it's beautiful beaches. Namely Paradise Island on the bay of islands.

Beach and mountain rides.

Hiking up in Coromandel. 

The Queen Charlotte Sound. 

Working & riding in the vineyards of Marlborough. 

The pacific coast.

Glacier Country & Mt Cook. 

Fjordland.

One short picture collection can of course not be without forgetting anything, but it's a pretty good shortcut. Last but not least I made a quick overview for all those who lost track where exactly I've been: 

I started off in Northland, from Auckland to Whangarei to Paihia further on to Kerikeri for work, a quick weekend detour to Kaitaia and 90 Mile Beach and then back to Kerikeri and finally down to Auckland again before leaving for Rotorua. 

Over christmas I crashed at a friends family in the Waikato and for new years up to Coromandel. 

I flew from Hamilton into the capital, stayed a few days and crossed the Cook Strait by ferry. Short layover in Picton before working in Blenheim, back to Picton for the Queen Charlotte and then down the pacific coast. Finally a big highlight: crossing Arthur's pass with the Trans Alpine to Greymouth. 

Maybe my favourite part: The west coast, up to the Abel Tasman and back down to Glacier Country. 

Finally: Wanaka, Queenstown, Fjordland, Mt Cook and a quick detour to lovely Akaroa before flying out to Sydney. 

Wanaka and Queenstown

It's been a while. I didn't think it would take me this long to complete the blog entries about NZ, but complaining doesn't help. I'm writing this sitting back in cold Germany, packing my bags to leave again tomorrow for southern Europe. A week back home is by far enough. But I owe you a few more insights about NZ and my Australia travels so here we go.

After leaving the beautiful glacier country and a far to long bus ride over Haast pass and the middle of nowhere (oh, I'd have loved to stop and hike for a while, but no time) I arrived in Wanaka. Wanaka is definitely a place to be, gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park, beautiful lake and with Wakaka Bakpaka one of my most beloved hostels in NZ. I could have stayed for a while but because of procrastination on the west coast I didn't have any time. Wanaka has beautiful lake Wanaka to offer, as well as loads of great hiking and cycling paths. A can't miss destination in NZ! 

Due to bad time management at the end of my trip, I already had to leave Wanaka after two nights for it's big sister Queenstown. NZ's party and adventure capital didn't really catch me though, maybe because of generally bad mood even before I arrived, but a sunset above the neighbouring lake can definitely cheer one up. Queenstown is the gateway to the south, offers a wide variety of hostels and probably the biggest party opportunity in NZ. I only stayed in Queenstown to make my way down on a day trip to Fjordland. I wish I could have stayed longer, because a day trip is quite a though thing, it's about a 4 hour drive by bus one way and be prepared to be accompanied by about 20 asian families in the bus. The views of Milford Sound however, are so worth it, especially if you catch a gorgeous sunny day: 

The most iconic Milford view. 

Due to loads of rainfall in the previous days, we had the luck to see loads of waterfalls. 

After leaving Queenstown, I fulfilled one of my biggest wishes in NZ: A stopover in Mt Cook/Aoraki Village and had my best but toughest hike in NZ - up to Mueller Hut. I unfortunately left my camera back home and my phone broke down on the way. I met some guys on the way and hiked with them. But I never got sent the promised photos. Still waiting, hopefully it's gonna happen. Until then you have to be satisfied with google

Glacier Country

I'm sorry for keeping you hanging when it comes to pictures. Don't expect to many updates in the next days. I had a hard time down here this week and besides that I'm trying to figure out stuff for my onward journey to Australia. Even though, I figured I might as well give you a quick update about one of the best parts of the country: The glacier country. The place, where I saw glaciers the first time of my life, had a rather extended run in with a herd of wild goats while running one morning and jumped out of a plane up 19 000 ft in the sky. I believe this neck of the woods has earned that I talk about it. The West Coast ist home to two big glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. If you can spare the time, take a stop over at both. You can hike up to both of the glaciers, but unfortunately, the only way to get really close would be to get chopped in.

Franz Josef Glacier

The view from Peters Pool to Franz Josef 

Fox Glacier 

On the way to the glacier

In the last 10 days I travelled down from the Glaciers over Haast pass, into Wanaka, down to Queenstown, all the way into the Fjordlands, up to Mt Cook and finally through Christchurch into Akaroa, where I am writing this post now. This is my last stop here in NZ before leaving to Australia on tuesday. I hope I will get round to show you the (few) pictures I took in the last couple of days soon. 

Lake Matherson

Ok, a little jump, from the West Coast (and about 2 weeks ago) to right now, today down south at glacier country. I just had a look at the pictures from my hike at lake Matherson today and I figured I got to show them somebody right now. Seriously I just love the view.

Lake Matherson is located in the glacier country wold heritage district in the southern part of the west coast district of the south island right next to Fox Glacier village. I'm gonna talk about the glaciers another time, today it's just all about the view of Mt Tasman and Mt Cook (NZ's two highest peaks). The lake is known for it's awesome reflections of those two mountains, and - lets put it as it is - I was at the right place at the right time and got a lucky shot. Or two. 

The lake is located about 6 km out of the village and there's a 1.5 hours walkway that leads you around. If you're lucky, no Kiwi or Stray bus will be there at the same time. The track has 4 view points, of which 'Reflection Island' (pictures above) gives you the postcard panorama. 

I didn't even intend to go to the lake in the first place, but the hostel guy told me (when I came in todays morning at 8.45, bit early for check in...) that now is the time. Well - guess he was right. 

The West Coast - Punakaiki

Just as promised, and due to bad weather here at the moment a lot sooner than I expected: A glimpse on the part of New Zealand which definitely got granted a special place in my heart: The south island's west coast. Even though the pictures I'm about to show you were taken a little while ago, while I'm writing this I'm still here, a little further south though in Franz Josef Glacier Village sitting in the hostel, waiting for the weather to get better. Ok. Lets get to the point. What's so special about the west coast?

The West Coast doesn't have any sandy beaches and no turquoise waters. The coastline is rough and holds loads of rocks, the roads are windy and you're kind of sandwiched in between the mountains and the sea. The west coast highway is recommended by lonely planet as one of the top 10 scenic coastal drives in the world... I don't know if they did drive along all coasts in the world, but it's definitely on my top 10 so far. In between Westport (photos to come) and Hokitika the road more or less follows the coast line for about a 3-4 hour drive. At least for once I could see the advantage of being in the bus: I basically just looked out of the windows for about 5 hours, which was rather decent. And most of you know ho much I hate bus rides! Well, however. Probably the most famous spot on the west coast is Punakaiki, due tu it's famous Pancake Rocks.

Don't ask me how they came to that shape, probably something to do with wind & water. It's a super touristy spot, so in order to avoid the masses you might come early or late. High tide is recommended in order to see some blowouts in between the rocks, well. I've been there 3 times now and I never made it to high tide. It's still not bad tough .... :)

Just about 5 minutes both ways from the Pancake Rocks i Site are start and end of the inland pack track which follows the Fox River. If the weather has been dry for a while definitely worth at least a day trip if you're stopping at the rocks anyway, if it's been raining, some parts of the track are closed due to a lack of bridges. 

Having travelled the east coast up and down now (yes, the bus driver who dropped me off at the Abel Tasman when coming north did actually recognise me again when I headed south the other day...) at least briefly, I'd still say that Punakaiki is a pretty decent spot you shouldn't miss out on your bucket list. 

From Christchurch to Greymouth with the Trans Alpine

About 1.5 months ago, I met an american traveller in Thames. He had a super thin, very old NZ travel guide. Two pages of this travel guide were filled with a huge picture of a train and a description telling you about NZ's scenic trains, particularly the scenic Trans Alpine train, crossing from Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass. According to my mum, who is into scenic train rides, it's supposed to be one of the best ones in the world. From this moment on I knew I had to be on that train. And let me tell you - that were 100$ worth every cent of it!

I came into Christchurch rather late the night before my train was supposed to depart. That was totally alright, because the city just didn't catch me. Its rather sad, because most of the inner city is still destroyed and I can't even imagined how horrible that earthquake must have been. Apparently, they are still experiencing aftershocks from the original earthquake, which are so big, that those themselves have aftershocks as well. Obviously not a decent place to live. However - I got on the train at 8.15 am (actually, I only hopped on at 8.12 am, after an hour walk while the hostel lady had told me it's supposed to take about 15 minutes... I don't know how fast SHE can walk ...). Anyway. I got on the train and the magic began. The trains have awesome, new carriages with huge windows everywhere. Apparently they were just a few years ago designed for this scenic route. (By the way, NZ has 3 scenic routes, the trans alpine, which I did, the costal pacific from Picton to Christchurch, which is probably nice, but the bus ride is just as scenic as the train ride and half price and one train from Wellington to Auckland) It features lots of little details, as for example an audio commentary, your own, personal headphones, numbered seats, on which usually solo-travellers like me get their own double seat if it's not to crowded, magazines and what ever. But believe me you will not want to stick your head in a book for even a single minute! Too much to see. The train starts off at Christchurch and stops first time at Springfield, where you can quickly hop off to take some pics. Then the best part starts, while you're riding through the eastern part of the southern alps, along a river which gives you stunning canyon views. For all the photographers, there is even a view carriage without windows, where you can go outside and take pictures without disturbing glass. The second stop is after about two thirds of the way in Arthurs Pass. 

Arthurs pass national park is the stopover point for trampers. Unfortunately, don't ask me why, I did not happen to book a stopover. I've just been passing by. Never mind though, there will be a ned time. From there on the train makes it's way through the western parts of the southern alps and some lake lands into the Grey valley, until eventually heading into Greymouth. The city itself is not really special but a decent point to explore the surroundings. Kind of gateway to the west coast if you come from Christchurch. Ok, no spoilers, but I have to admit, even though I loved the north island, and the east coast. My heart is lost to the though coastlines of the west... Pictures of course to come! 

Kaikoura

Moving on, from Picton down the east coast definitely a must see stop over is Kaikoura Peninsula. Located between the mountains of the southern alps and the majestic Pacific Ocean, the little town of Kaikoura houses about 1 million sea activities. You can go whale watching, seal swimming, penguin meeting or have an encounter with the Albatros birds around the peninsula.

For the budget backpackers, like me, the peninsula offers a great walking route around the coast. On the north east edge, by far the touristy point, a seal colony is located. Thus most people stop there to watch all the seals lying around on the rocks and chilling out. Definitely recommended as well, but you might not see a seal in between all those people over there.

Continuing onward around the peninsula is a walkway which should take you about 3 hours return from the city (make it 4 with a few decent stopovers) which offers views of more seals and all the bird colony on the eastern side of the coast. 

The panorama of Kaikoura is especially impressive, if you see it in winter, because in summer, most of the snow is melted from the mountains in the back. Check this out. Even though you might still be able to see some snow on the tops. If you travel the south island's east coast, definitely a must do stop!

Picton & the Queen Charlotte Track

I already told you, that Picton is the gateway to the south island. The ferrys from Wellington head into the sounds and drop of all their passengers there. Only a small percentage stays in town though. I came to quite like the little, quiet city and stayed quite a few days before finally heading off south after returning from working in Blenheim. Picton has some decent walks just around the city, including the Snout Track, leading you up to Queen Charlotte View about 10 km out of the city.

But the views from town are by far not comparable to the ones you will actually get, when you head out in to the sounds. The Queen Charlotte Track is one of NZ's more popular tramping tracks, but no great walk, thus not totally overrun by backpackers coming along. I headed out on the track for 2 days only, due to the lack of proper camping gear. Never the less I got rewarded by two great days of (not to hard) tramping and awesome views of the sounds:

The view from Ship cove, the drop off and starting point of the Queen Charlotte when walked from North to South.

Schoolhouse Bay Campsite view, one of many beach stopovers on the first day. 

Camp Bay, after 27.5 km the first considerable campsite on the track, usually stopover for all the trampers with tents. 

Decent track, not to hard on you if you're doing lodge layovers, quite long days out on the track if you're camping. Gorgeous views of the sounds and lonely beaches for a quick swim. Definitely recommended ;) Don't forget to have a look at the South Island Album for more pictures of Picton & the Queen Charlotte. 

In Between the Islands

Finally. It happened. I left NZ's beautiful North Island to get to the different but not less stunning south isle of the country. After the Coromandel Forest Park hike I went over to Whitianga where I spent a great new years right by the beach and soon after that I headed down to Hamilton again in order to catch a flight to the capital. Wellington.

Located on NZ's south end, Wellington is known for it's windy weather and in between all the 'cities' I saw so far it's probably my favourite one down here. It has this kind of flair that made me love the Hague or Stockholm after a few moments. I stayed in the YHA right in the city center, which is nicely located and clean but other than that just too big for my taste. My time in Wellington was limited by the fact that I was supposed to start working in Blenheim (where I am now by the way) on the 6th, thus I was only allowed 2 nights in the city before crossing the Cook Strait by ferry. The city is rather green and has a lot of walks, shops and museums to offer. In order to include a little bit of physicist activity as well I visited the planetarium and took a 'guided tour around the southern sky'. Recommended if you want to be able to spot at least one more thing than the southern cross out here, they also have some nice information about the pacific islanders' navigation a few hundred years ago and more, remember to ask for student discount. On the next day I got round to a hike up mount Victoria, which offers rather good views and a decent walk up there.

The rest of the day was spent in a shopping rush (I had not been near a town for quite a while (ok, not true, I've been in Hamilton, but I didn't allow myself to shop :D ) and a visit to the national museum (te Papa), which is highly recommended because it's cool and free! (I mean, what more do you want?)

And just like that my two days in Wellington were gone and after a morning walk by the pier I took of for the Interislander ferry. The ferry ride is about 3 hours and takes you through the beautiful Marlborough sounds right into Picton, a quiet little town, which' tourism is just caused by all people arriving there by ferry and it's close distance to the starting point of the Queen Charlotte Track (more about that to come!). The ferry ride itself is an attraction every NZ traveller shouldn't miss!

The Pinnacles

You're in for a treat. Today's blog is about one of my coolest NZ activities so far: a trip up the Pinnacles in Coromandel Forrest park. A sunrise trip by the way. I know - those of you who know me might actually think now that I'm neither an Alpinist not a Tramper. Thus how come me climbing up a summit at 5.30 am. Well. It all started with me meeting Anna in Thames. She suggested the trip and was looking for company. Spontaneous as I am I changed all my plans for the onward days and on the next morning we were off looking for a lift to the Coromandel Forest park. (Of course the fact that while reading about the track, Lonely Planet suggested it to be a 'must do' thing told me that I really should join her)

It's supposed to take about 3 hours to reach the DOC (Department of Conservation) hut at the bottom of the Pinnacles and then another half an hour - 50 minutes to reach the summit. We planned to spend the night at the hut in order to make it up the summit for sunrise on the next morning. What nobody told us was, that the whole way from the parking space up to the very top of the Pinnacles was covered in stairs and just uphill.

But even if it's an exhausting track, it is definitely worth all the pain in your legs. See yourself for the views along the way and on the top:

We slept in the DOC Pinnacles hut together with about 45 other people. The hut is really well equipped, however - if you ever plan to sleep in a 30 people bunk bed dorm, bring earplugs.

Due to a really bad snorer and some people who as well wanted to see sunrise but were not used to getting up quiet in a hostel dorm, we were awake by 5 am and ready to go. Unfortunately the sunrise was rather cloudy and unspectacular. However still an awesome thing!

Just at this moment, while I'm lying in my bed somewhere in the beautifully Malborough region, I'm making plans for my next track. Tramping = must do thing in New Zealand! 

Rotorua

I just had a look at the blog and realised the last time I updated was already ages ago... In particular even last year. Shame on me, sorry for that. So in the beginning as usual a quick update where I'm now and what I've been up to:

Right now I'm in Wellington. Yeah, I've finally come south. But more about that later. From Rotorua, which we're gonna talk about in 2 minutes, I made my way back west again to Hamilton, only to be picked up by Richards sister Renee in order to spend christmas with their family. Christmas is just another word for a day full of eating (what as a backpacker guys usually is something that is not a joy in NZ, because unfortunately groceries are just INCREDIBLY expensive (telling you that after I've lived in Finland for a while...)). Long story short the whole family just made it an awesome christmas for me that made me not a single moment miss home. Big <3 for that. Boxing day entertainment was also provided by the Pirongia Races which are basically a day full of booze for the local youth in the park. I'm not gonna go into detail on that, but let's say I managed to see at least one of the races on that day.

Ok - after the christmas shortcut let's get back to Rotorua. A city smelling of rotten eggs which is one of NZs biggest tourist attractions. I actually intended to cut out Rotorua of my travel plans, but a some people just kept insisting that I go there, thus is just made the trip. It turned out to be quite and experience :D The city is basically built on geothermally created mud pools and in every backyard there's some gas coming out of the ground.

There is a park just in the city with a big variety of bubbly, stinky ponds and even lake Rotorua has a section where it does look not like normal lakes.

On the last day in Rotorua, two friends I already met in Auckland happened to be in the same area and thus we decided to meet up for a trip. That trip took us to Wai-O-tapu, which is a park around all the geothermal spots about 30 km south of Rotorua. It is one of the few sites in the world (along with Yellowstone and Island and just a hand full of others) to have an active Geyser. 

A trip to Middle Earth

Yesterday, I finally crossed out one thing from my NZ bucket list that was there all the way from the beginning: To visit the home of the halflings, Hobbiton, located in Matamata, NZ.

You can get there by booking a tour which includes a lovely guide to show you around and give you loads of useful infos (believe me, those guys are like an encyclopaedia when it comes to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies!). The only sad thing of course is, that there are about a million people with you in middle earth at the same time. But never mind, lean back and enjoy:

Sam's house

Bilbo's and Frodo's house

The view over the Shire.

The Kauri Coast

Sorry guys for not showing you much on the blog lately. The reasons for that quickly summed up: First of all, I'm actually working most of the days. I've been woofing non stop since the end of november and did not have much free time. Second, I did write a really nice blog post about what I'm gonna show you today (Kauri Coast) and the blog software just ate it. So I wasn't really in the mood for writing it again until now. Third, it's kind of embarrassing to tell... We watched the hunger games catching fire movie the other day and I ended up getting all the books and been binge reading them since. I know. Don't tell anybody.

Allright. Back to what's happened. On my last day in Ahipara I had the luck to meet a lovely english family (mother and son) who had in mind to travel down to the Kauri Coast in the west part of northland. After making friends with them over a conversation about food supply in Ahipara (only one, tiny, very expensive shop) they invited me (ok, maybe I invited myself a little bit) to come along. We started off from Ahipara to Kohukohu to catch the car ferry to Rawene crossing Hokiana Harbour. 

After a lunch stop in an adorable Cafe in Rawene we continued to Opononi and Omapare for a short walk around the view point. As always on this journey, I was blessed by horrible weather and of course you could hardly see anything on the view point. At least it was better than at Cape Reinga. 

Leaving the two Hokianga Harbour towns behind us, we finally arrived at Waiopua Forest, (I think) the (or one of the) biggest remaining Kauri habitats in NZ. It for sure hosts the biggest still living trees of this kind. A Kauri tree is an ancient kind of tree endemic to NZ. They live for thousands of years and grow really huge but very slowly. We visited Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), the oldest living Kauri in the world, which is probably about 2000 years old as well as some of the other huge, old trees they have. It's sad, that the Kauri is an endangered species (ok, it's a plant, but still!). There's a disease spreading around NZ, killing all these giants. 

Ahipara & the Far North

While you are probably sitting at home celebrating 1st advent on a cold November day I'm sitting outside on a terrace somewhere in Northland, watching green hills and cows passing by (this time not sitting in the sun though, to protect my face from even more sunburn...). With the holidays approaching, this whole 'summer in winter' thing gets a little bit weird for me, I guess the most crazy parts (christmas BBQ or New Years by the beach) still to come. However I guess it's gonna be cool, and so far I don't miss the cold even a little.

Now back to what happened ;) I spare you the blog about my first week of Woofing that I already mentioned in the last entry for now, because I still kind of need to make up my mind what to say. Therefore I'm moving straight on to my weekend in the Far North at the quiet little surfer town of Ahipara.

Alright, I took the Intercity up to Kaitaia, which is somehow the only remaining city up north. It's neither big nor pretty and definitely not a spot I want to spend more than an afternoon in. There is a shuttle bus once a day to little Ahipara right at the start of 90 Mile Beach. 90 Mile Beach runs from this spot up all north to Cape Reinga. The special thing about 90 Mile Beach, which is not at all 90 miles long is, that before having a road up to the cape, people would just drive by the beach during low tide. Today this is only a local fishermen and tourist thing. I guess it's not recommended to drive there with your own car if you're not a local, but it seems quite a lot of fun. I took a bus tour up to the cape and we came down all the way with some interesting stories told by the bus driver lady. So it is a lot of fun to go down the beach. Bit scary though. Unfortunately for the tour (and the whole weekend it seems) I did somehow pick the wrong dates and ended up with all foggy weather. If you've ever seen pics of the cape and where the Pacific and the Tasman see come together, you've seen as much as me. Because we could just see fog. 

However still a cool spot to visit and on the way back we got rewarded with a stop by one of the great sand dunes for some sand boarding. Yes. Sand boarding. 

Apparently this is a big attraction going on here in Northland. At first sight of the dune I got a bit chickeny and decided not to go but YOLO, you know. So all the people from the bus grabbed a board and ran up the dune (not the best part of the whole experience...). 

However, in the end, coming down is really a lot of fun and I guess potentially dangerous. But fun! Even though I guess I rather stick with skiing. 

Most of my other time in Ahipara I spent hiking in Shipwreck Bay and beyond to the other sanddunes. Great walk by the beach, and definitely recommended :) 

Loads of people surfing and fishing over there, apparently 90 Mile Beach is one of the surf sports over here (no clue, but people keep telling me). I met some surfer guys and learned lots about waves and where the good spots are (as a physicist at least one thing I might have a clue about are wave mechanics!) and how good surf is created. The time where I get on a board myself is still to come, so far this task on the bucket list is denoted for the time when I make it to Australia. 

Waitangi & Russel

Quick update first: Writing this I already finished my first woofing job at KRC and am now having a chill out weekend at Endless Summer Lodge in Ahipara. I spent the day by hiking along the beach (wait for the pictures!) & now I'm just relaxing on the sofa. But now back to what happened (quite a while ago now...). 

Alright. On my last day in Russel, me and da mate were first off for some culture: The Waitangi Treaty grounds. This area right next to Paihia is the very place where 1840 the treaty of waiting was signed between the Maori chiefs and the British. In this treaty (which I never heard of before coming to NZ), the British established a Governor of NZ, but also gave the Maori rights of british subjects as well as recognising the ownership of their land. Pretty special is, that there are two versions: One english and one Maori version, which slightly differ in their meaning. Wikipedia tells that 'From the British point of view, the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and gave the Governor the right to govern the country. Māori believed they ceded to the Crown a right of governance in return for protection, without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs.' Having those two versions of the treaty is still a problem and heavily discussed. If you're interested in the whole story, either visit Waitangi by yourself or check out here

However, now at those grounds there is a museum which is worth a visit. For students or backpackers (student or BBH card) it's only 15$, and extra 10$ adds you either a cultural performance or a guided tour, of which I took the later. The grounds are quite big, also containing some of Paihias greatest views, especially on the city itself and hours loads of birds. 

You can check out the house where the guy lived who established to connections for the treaty, the Maori house and some war kanus. All in all worth a visit but don't plan a full day! 

However is you have some spare time, squeeze in a visit of the museum cafe. They have a really good carrot cake. 

Alright. After the treaty grounds we were off to Russel. You can take a ferry over from Paihia which takes you there in about 10 - 15 minutes, depending on weather conditions. Russel is NZ first white settlement and thus full of colonial architecture and super cute houses. Definitely worth a visit is long beach, just at the opposite end of the peninsula. Right next to the beach is a guy in a van selling coffee, which I was told is the best in the Bay of Islands. 

Sailing in the Bay of Islands

Get ready for the absolute highlight so far in New Zealand: A must do at the Bay of Islands - Sailing. Basically, sailing was the only thing I really wanted to do in Paihia. At first I hoped for a sailing school or something around the city but there was noting besides kayaking. Thankfully, the hostel lady recommended me to go sailing with those guys. Basically what's the difference between the other commercial tours and them is, that it's only few people on the boat and an awesome host who tells you loads of funny stories! So you sail out to a nice island, stop walk around, lie at the beach (unfortunately to cold for me to swim...) Enough talking, see for yourself.

By the way - one all time first in NZ: I got sunburned at my feet. :(