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World’s largest twin engine passenger aircraft


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One of the most exciting and outermost journeys (so far) in my life, was about to begin. I arrived at Stockholm Arlanda Airport just before 11 am. Despite being a Saturday, it was quite calm at the airport. I wanted to be early at Arlanda because I had not been able to check in at home. Not even Emirates telephone support could check me in, so I was nervous that something was wrong. “You must check in at Arlanda”, was what they said. And I thought I was early for check in, but no! It had already formed a queue before I got there. Once it was my turn at the check-in counter, the lady wasn’t able to check me in either. She had to call some support and after many ifs and buts, both my bag and I were checked in all the way to Christchurch, New Zealand. Cleared the security check and started to walk towards the gate. I walked and walked, showed my passport X times to get to one of the most remote gates, F69.

For the most part, you usually have butterflies in your stomach before boarding an airplane, but this time it was not the same feeling. I knew I had a total flight time of approximately 24 hours ahead of me the next couple of days before I would be on New Zealand ground.
The Emirates flight was scheduled to depart 3.05 pm, heading to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Though the aircraft departed about 20 minutes later than planned.

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Taxi to runway for take-off...

The about 6-hour long flight south to Dubai was flown by a Boeing 777-300ER, which is the largest double-engine aircraft in the world. The model, more known as the Triple-7, costs about $320 million and is one of Boeing’s best-selling models. The ER stands for Extended Range which means the aircraft can fly a little longer and board even more passenger than the Boeing 777-300. A Boeing 777-300ER weigh in on “lightly” 300 tons has been equipped with the largest diameter in the world on its two turbofan engines.

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Big engines on the B777-300ER...

Emirates is considered by many to be of the best airlines in the world. High class service, new aircrafts, entertainment systems and selectable onboard menus also in economy class makes Emirates highly ranked and at the top of many lists around the world. Emirates har the largest fleet of Boeing 777 in the world with more than 150 aircraft in service, with additional aircrafts on order.
If you are about to fly a B777-300ER and want some more space and sit somewhat “incognito”, I recommend a seat in the four last rows. Instead of 3+4+3, the rows are 2+4+2 or just 2+(storage)+2. The window seats have great space to the actual wall.

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Strange phenomenon in the sky...

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Landing at Dubai International Airport, at night...

Once the aircraft had reached Dubai it had to circle before it got cleared to land, which made it even more delayed. After landing, I felt pretty alert despite being a 6-hour-flight, which is the same number of hours to fly to New York from Stockholm. Since the baggage had been checked-in all the way to Christchurch, New Zealand, I didn’t have to wait at any luggage belt. Luckily, hotel rooms had been booked in the actual airport terminal. BUT it turned out that the flight had landed at Concourse C and the hotel I was getting to at Concourse A. For those of you who have been at the airport in Dubai, knows how big the terminals are, but for those of you that doesn’t… Dubai International Airport has some of the world’s largest terminals seen to the surface, and a terminal can be up to 160 football fields. According to the signs it would take about 25 minutes by bus to get to Concourse C, and to find the bus was not easy because of construction work.
But eventually I arrived at my hotel, but at this point I was pretty energetic and just the knowledge of getting up early again in the morning didn’t make it better.

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My hotel room...

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Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in United Arab Emirates Tagged traveling Comments (0)

World’s largest passenger aircraft, ever...

Up in the morning again to catch the next looong-haul flight south via Sydney (technical stop) to New Zealand with a total flight time of about 18 hours! I was satisfied that my next flight to Christchurch departed from gate A1, in other words right under my hotel.

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The flight was flown by Emirates and one of their Airbus 380, the world’s largest commercial aircraft able to fly from 525 passengers and up to 850 passengers, depending on number of classes onboard (4/3/2 classes or only economy class). Considering that over 500 people were boarding, the boarding started well before departure at 10.15 am. This was the first time I flew an A380, so I was a little excited. But it wasn’t all that flashy, not for economy class anyway. I would have liked to go upstairs to at least see how business and first class looked like, but it wasn’t aloud.

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Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airliner in the world and has gotten the nickname Superjumbo. A380 has been operated in commercial air traffic since 2007 and Airbus has received over 300 orders for the Superjumbo. It took the European manufacturer Airbus more than 10 years to go from drawing to completed aircraft. The market requested an aircraft that was able to fly more passengers with lower fuel costs. The engineers designed several models including an aircraft with to fuselages side by side, but the design with four engines and a complete double-decker fuselage was the winning model. In October 2007, the first Airbus A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines and its maiden voyage was Singapore – Sydney.
The optimal wingspan for an A380 is about 90 meters (300ft) but in order to lower the fuel consumption and meet the limited airport space, the wingspan was reduced to around 80 meters (260ft). Despite that, a fully fueled A380 weighs nearly 600 tons. About 10 years after the first A380 flight, Stockholm Arlanda Airport has rebuilt a terminal to cope with number of passengers and number of bridges that an A380 demands. Also, the runways at Arlanda has been prepared to receive the world’s largest commercial aircraft. However, one of the possible airlines to operate Arlanda on a regular basis with an A380, Emirates, has instead chosen to extend their departures between Stockholm-Dubai with doubling the numbers of departures with the Boeing 777-300ER.

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Emirates is by far the largest operator of the A380 and has more than 100 aircraft in service and has another 50+ aircraft in order. No other airline in the world operates more than 20 A380. One reason for this may be that Emirates is an international long-haul airline, with all of its flights routed into or out of Dubai. To manage this, Emirates needs large aircrafts able to fly large number of passengers on long-haul flights and for that the A380 is perfect. For most other airlines the Superjumbo is too big, too expensive and ineffective. The CEO Alan of Qantas claim that it is cheaper to operate two Boeing 787 Dreamliner than one single Airbus A380. And, the Airbus A380 never became the workhorse within flying as Airbus had hoped for and new customers have been hard to find. Perhaps because the price for making an Airbus A380 is $436 million? For the competitor Boeing and its B747, the future looks just as gloomy, as the number of flights increases resulting in airport congestion.

So, is it worth flying the largest commercial passenger aircraft then? The jet engines of today’s aircraft are becoming more and more fuel efficient and the aircraft are getting more streamlined which contribute to lower fuel consumption. B777 has 30% lower fuel consumption and 40% lower maintenance cost than the Boeing 747 (also known as the Queen of the Sky). Some information shows that a seat in a Boeing 777 costs $44 per hour (effective flight time). With a B747 a seat costs $90 per hour. Compared to, until this day, the largest commercial airplane ever made – Airbus 380 – where a seat costs $50 per effective flight hour.

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An A380 lining up for take-off in Dubai...


Eight hours into the flight, I was so bored and about to die. And it was not possible to sleep because of the amount of people and noise/activities. Just in time for breakfast to be served, THEN I was super tired and would rather fall asleep, but at that time it was too late.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Australia Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Arriving in New Zealand, finally…


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That technical stop in Sydney, as it was called, was not what I thought; that we would be remained seated in the aircraft during fueling and then continuing on to New Zealand. No, we disembarked, passed through an international transfer safety check and then lined up to board a new A380. And all that under an hour!

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After another three long hours in the air, the airplane FINALLY touched down on New Zealand ground. To enter New Zealand, you must fill out a Passenger Arrival Card, where you declare carrying food, seeds, wooden articles and so on. Since I had pre-booked a horseback riding trek here in New Zealand, had to declare my equestrian clothing. Custom was definitely interested in my equestrian clothing and I had to unpack and show them that the clothes were freshly washed. When I finally cleared custom, I was by far the last one to connect to the rest of the group. Our local guide, Angelika, originally from Germany, had guided in New Zealand for over 15 years. Angelica walked us to her bus. To squeeze in a small bus holding 20 seats (though the group was 14 people + guide) for a shorter sightseeing in Christchurch, you were in no mood for that.

Christchurch, third largest city in the country, is located at the Canterbury Plains on the eastern side of the South Island in New Zealand. One third of the total population of New Zealand lives in Christchurch. The city name in Maori is Ōtautahi which means the Place for Tuatahi. Just south of Christchurch is Banks Peninsula, a barren and mountainous peninsula of volcanic origin, which is why the city has occasionally suffered hard from big earthquakes. Christchurch is the most English town in New Zealand and have had many old English houses. But the city has been affected by heavy earthquakes, latest in 2011 when 30 000 houses were destroyed. It was mostly brick houses that collapsed and the buildings that withstood were made out of steel and glass (not a single glass window in the steel houses were destroyed!).

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Now, new houses are built out of steel and big glass windows all over Christchurch.

The old English one-leveled houses are being replaced with flat-buildings and the new houses doesn’t even have a lawn, they put tiles or asphalt the small yard around the house instead. The new houses are built with isolation, which the old houses from the 60ies and 70ies doesn’t have and the temperature inside an un-isolated house can be as low as +12 °C during winter. Even though Christchurch is a car-dominated city, no parking spots are planned or built which decreases the building boom more and more and the houses are harder to sell. Despite many cars, the bicycles are increasing. But they are in danger because the car drivers are not used to look in the mirror for bicycles.

To remember the heavy earthquake in February 2011, the artist Peter Majendie created a memorial “185 Empty White Chairs” for the first annual Memorial Day of the earthquake. The idea was to let the memorial last for 3 weeks, but it’s still there many years later.

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It consists out of 185 white-painted chairs (all different ones), each chair representing one victim. Out of the 185 victims, one was an infant. The infant sat in its baby seat and died because of a falling tv. A total of 181 people died in February 22, 2011, the same day as the earthquake. 174 people died in the same collapsing building. The other four people died days later due to injuries from the earthquake.
In Christchurch is Gate of Remembrance – as a memorial of that New Zealand has participated in nearly every war, but mostly as peace keeper.
Around year 1000, the Maori people are believed to have settled down at the location for Christchurch. But it was until mid-19th Century before the first Europeans arrived, after which Christchurch became the first city in New Zealand. Christchurch is one of only four cities in the world that has a city center built in a square pattern. The city is also known for having the cleanest drinking water in the world. The central parts of Christchurch have a flat terrain making it popular to ride a bike around town and the network of bike paths are great. Christchurch also had a tram system but today only one tramline is opened in the central parts, mainly for tourism purposes.

Tourism is an important income for the local economy and Christchurch’s location and access to an international airport makes the city a great place for a stopover. The city is especially popular among Japanese tourists and in the city center there are also signs in Japanese. The international airport also serves as an important link to Antarctica with food and supplies to research stations in Antarctica.
After a short sightseeing, we finally checked in at the hotel. We stayed at Ibis Christchurch Hotel, a middle-sized centrally located hotel with 155 rooms. The hotel was close to a mall with restaurants, cafés and shops. But since we were pretty tired in both mind and body, we weren’t really up for any more sightseeing as one might want. A joint dinner was organized by the travel agent and it was nice to get view of all your fellow travelers. After dinner, I had time for a short walk and to see some of the city before sunset. It was chilly outside and fast changes in weather and temperature are common here in New Zealand.

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I followed the tramway for a while, which led through a mall.

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Beautiful old houses in English style and colorful facades lined up and
some brick houses were embellished with art paintings to Enlighten People.

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Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Mysterious Boulders


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Woke up every now and the during the night. The body’s food and sleeping routines were still “out of order”. And on top of that, the geographical compass was completely upside-down… the sun was in the north of the sky and the cars were driving on the left-hand side.
We had all eaten breakfast and packed our bags and were checked out well in time for 8.30 am, according to our guide’s instruction. Unfortunately, our guide was running late since she had to repair the microphone in the bus, that stopped working the day before. She showed up around 9.10 am and some people in the group had, by then, gotten very upset and thought it was completely unacceptable. But common, things like this happens… just deal with it.

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We packed our bags in the bus and started our journey south along State Highway 1. It was windy along the flat Canterbury Plain which is why they have planted hedges to protect the soil and fields from the wind. According to Angelika, our guide, there is no more than about 25 cm of soil before reaching the rocky volcanic landscape underneath. These hedges are up to 20-30 meters tall and are trimmed with giant rotating knifes on bit trucks.

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Since we had a long way of driving today, about 400 km, there were a lot of talking about the New Zealand traffic. 400 km might not seem much if you are custom to big and nice highways, but the roads here in New Zealand are not that well developed like in Europe. Mountainous scenery and fiords greatly limit the speed by hairpin-like curves on high altitudes. And also, a lot of ongoing roadworks are happening to redirect the traffic out from the cities. On Highways there is a maximum speed of 100 km/h, buses and trucks 90 km/h. If you think you can drive back lost time on straight stretches, you might want to reconsider because the New Zealand traffic police will be where you least expect them to be and speeding with only 3-4 km/h above maximum speed will result in high fines. There are also a number of speed cameras along the ways and also in the police cars which measures the speed even on oncoming traffic. And if that wasn’t enough, the police are legally allowed to hide in the bushes to catch speeders, so forget about speeding when driving a car on New Zealand. The New Zealand population has a more relaxed relationship with car driving, may seem, as they often refer to car driving on time – not in distance. If you are sufficiently observant, you can note that the distance to towns on road signs is not always taken seriously; on the first sign it may be 114 km to XXX, on the next sign coming several kilometers later it might stand 119 km to the same place.

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Along Canterbury Plain, we saw the classic sheep farms, which are expect to be in New Zealand. However, in the last 20 years, the number has fallen from 83 million to 16 million sheep, mainly due to introduction of synthetic materials (e.g. fleece) and demands for cotton has decreased. New Zealand was built primarily to produce food for England, mainly sheep and cattle. Already in 1875, meet was shipped over the oceans to England, with dry ice. Nowadays, cattle farms are often run by investors, which can have up to 15 000 cows on one farm. A small farm has about 800 cows, a middle-sized farm up to 1500 cows and the large farms have from 3000 cows and up. Thanks to the climate on New Zealand, the cows gaze out all year around. You might think that New Zealand, with that many cows, would have a lot of dairy products and cheese, but we soon discovered that cheese was not taken for granted during hotel breakfast. So, what happens to all milk then? Well, 80% of all milk are exported to Asia.

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When we came into Otago region, the scenery changed to a m ore dramatic landscape with mountains mixed with green lush hills. Here, the Southern Alps became higher the more south we got.

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We passed Oamaru, a city by the ocean with white stone houses reminding of Greece. During 19th Century Limestone was discovered here which made the town wealthy. In Oamaru, you also find a large population of Blue Penguins, small penguins about 30 cm high, with blue coat and white belly. The penguins swim out at the ocean in the days and then get up on land in the evenings and wander up in the woods during the night, to get down to the ocean again the next morning.

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We finally arrived at Moeraki, where we had lunch. The restaurant looked out over the Koekohe Beach, where the mystical Moeraki Boulders are located. After lunch we had some time to walk down to the boulders. It is several, almost completely spherical, boulders that can be as big as 3 meters I diameter. According to Maori legend, Moeraki Boulders are washed up big eel baskets from a sunken enormous, legendary canoe. However, scientists have not completely agreed on how nature created these natural phenomena. The boulders are estimated to be up 60 million years old and the experts say that the unusual boulders were created by erosion, time and concretion (when a compact mass of sedimentary rock is formed by precipitation of natural mineral cement within the spaces between sediment grains). Researchers have studied the boulders composition and showed that they contain magnesium and iron with stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon. For millions of years, the waves have eroded the boulders to its round shape and the boulders are today one of New Zealand’s many tourist attractions.
Some of the boulders have strange cracks in them, which are called septaria. They were formed million years ago when the sea level fell and allowed groundwater/rainwater to flow over the stones, whereupon the cracks were filled with small amounts of dolomite, quartz and brown and yellow calcite giving the boulders their characteristic look. Due to concretion, the boulders have a solid outer layer of up to 20% calcite while its inner core is all the weaker.

We gathered at the bus again and traveled south along State Highway 1, to Wellers Rock. On site, a boat awaited us to take us to Taiaroa Head, where the only land colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses in the world exist.

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The Northern Royal Albatross is the world’s largest seabird with a wingspan of up to 3 meters and normally nestles on remote islands and spends most of their lives at sea, far from land and humans. But here at Taiaroa Head at Otago Peninsula in New Zealand, Northern Royal Albatross colonies are nesting.

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The Northern Royal Albatross is an endangered species and some of the contributing factors might be that the birds begin to breed at the age of eight, and that the females only lay one egg every other year.

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We also saw Hectors Dolphins, New Zealand Furseal and several other albatrosses during our boat trip. On the way back we saw Black Swans, there are about 30 000 of these in New Zealand.

We gathered at the bus for the ride to Dunedin. As one almost can imagine, Dunedin is a Scottish name and is pronounced [Dunnedin]. Dunedin is the Scottish name for Edinburgh.

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On our way to the city we saw the tooth sculpture “Harbor Mouth Molars”, which are six wisdom teeth in concrete that have become a symbol of Dunedin, price tag $50 000. Kingsgate Hotel Dunedin is in the heart of Dunedin, which we check in at. It may be considered as a small hotel with its 55 rooms, all with windows facing the sunny north (And no, it’s not a misspelling! Note that on the other side of the equator, it’s sunny in the north :) ). Due to its small size, it’s a homely and cozy hotel and all rooms has a balcony with city view.

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My first impression of Dunedin was “San Francisco”, because of all the steep hills everywhere and not many streets are flat. We walked to one of the city’s breweries. That brew their own beer.

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The Brewery also filters their own water. Dunedin citizens are welcome to take as much drinking water as they want from the brewery’s water tap, easily accessible for everyone. I ordered chicken and tried the brewery apple cider, which was okay. Unfortunately, they didn’t have pear cider. When you order food in New Zealand, please be aware that the portion size is large. I ordered only a starter, but the portion was almost too big for me to eat. If I had ordered a “regular” main dish, I definitely would not have been able to eat up all food.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged road_trip moeraki_boulders Comments (0)

Te Anau and Glowworms


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We checked out from the hotel and packed our bags in the bus. I took about a 5-minute-drive down to the train station in Dunedin, a beautiful old building in White Stone. Our guide parked the bus and we had some free time to walk around in Dunedin’s city center.

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Dunedin, the region, has a rich fascinating landscape, unique culture and rich wildlife. The city of Dunedin was built with the riches of the goldrush and thus has one of the best collections of Edwardian and Victorian architecture, seen to the southern hemisphere.

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Gothic church towers and bedazzled mansions surrounded by native forests and breathtaking views of the harbor makes Dunedin memorable. Besides this, you can visit historic houses, visit the chocolate factory and choose from various museums. We gathered again at the bus at 10 o’clock to continuing our journey west on State Highway 1 to Gore, then along State Highway 94 to Te Anau.

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We drove through Rolling Hills and left Otago Region behind. The road was lined by Cabbage Trees that, according to our guide Angelika, had been used by the Maoris and were planted along their routes as “road signs”. Just as we have with our rowan-berries (that it will be much snow if there are a lot of rowan-berries), the New Zealanders has the same with Cabbage Trees – if the Cabbage Trees are blossoming a lot, the summer will be great. We eventually got in to Southland and the scenery changed again. More mountains, many sheep farms and some horses could be seen. Also, Eucalyptus Trees, introduced from Australia, could be seen along the road.

In Southland Region, Deer farms are more common than in any other region of the country, so called Deer Farming. The deer was brought to New Zealand because the Englishmen had nothing to do. Red Deer and Wapiti were introduced and because they did not have any natural enemies, the population became so large that the forests were damaged. The state then imposed a fee for each shot deer. Then the market for deer meat grew and the population decreased dramatically. After a while, one started to use tranquilizers instead, to capture the deer and keep them in farms. Today, deer are bred in farms mainly for the meat (the females) and the antlers (the males) and the old male meat are used for sausages. The meat from a deer bred in a farm is called Venison.

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We stopped along the way in a minor village (don’t remember the name) where they sold Venison Pie. I tried one out and it tasted okay.
In New Zealand, 50% of all plants are non-endemic – in other words, they have been brought to New Zealand from other countries by visitors. That’s one reason why the country has strict regulations of what you can bring into the country or not. And not just plants, but many animal species have been brought to New Zealand with the help from mankind. Wallaby, from Australia, was introduced during 1890s and they are starting to become a plague. The Australian possum is the biggest pest introduced to the country due to the fur industry. Their hairs are hollow which makes the hair very soft. When the fur industry was the largest, there were about 70 million possums in New Zealand. But when the price of the fur dropped, the farmers released their possums in the wild. Nowadays, possums are poisoned and it is estimated that there are now about 30 million in wild state. Possum hunting has been introduced again and it is relatively well paid for the fur again. The British also introduced the rabbit to New Zealand and without its natural enemy, the population exploded and holes in the ground and urine in the groundwater became a problem. Then, one “brilliant” person came up with the idea of bringing the stoat, which is the biggest enemy to the rabbit. Only problem with that was that the stoat figured out that it was easier to hunt and kill birds and their eggs instead of rabbits.

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We arrived at the city of Te Anau and the adjacent Lake Ta Anau Lake, which by the way is the second largest lake in New Zealand. We checked in at our hotel Kingsgate Hotel Te Anau, with 94 guest rooms. The hotel is located in an amazing fantasy landscape with lush gardens and Lake Te Anau’s beautiful 500 km long beach surrounded by majestic mountains.

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The water in Lake Te Anau is one of the purest waters in New Zealand and is the largest drinking water reservoir in the country. It’s strange that this area hasn’t been listed as a Natural Heritage with its magical surroundings and wonders. We had some time strolling around before we gathered for a boat ride. It was windy and cold here.

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In Te Anau, a statue was erected of the endangered species South Island Takahe, a railbird indigenous to New Zealand. The species was considered extinct in 1898 when they thought the four last known individuals of the bird was killed, but in 1948 a few birds was discovered deep in a hidden valley. South Island Takahe is a colorful bird and both the male and female has the same color scheme; purple blue with a green back and inside of the wings, red breast shield, pink legs and a red beak.
You might think New Zealand would be able to support themselves with wind and solar power. But fact is, 80% of the electricity comes from water power. Majority of the water power (80%) is generated on the South Island. Coal represents 8 % and geothermal steam represents 6%. Despite many sun hours, solar power is not developing here because the salt from the ocean water interrupts the solar panels. However, wind power is on the way.

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In Te Anau, is the Glowworm Grotto which can be accessed by daily boat rides. We had a scheduled boat ride at 5.45 pm. After a 30 minutes boat ride on Lake Te Anau, we disembarked and entered the cave. It was narrow and sometimes difficult to pass through. Inside the cave, it was humid and cold. There was a total ban of photographing and we were not allowed to speak once we got to the end of the cave where the glowworms were, because they are both sound and light sensitive. We embarked a small boat that we barely could see because it was so dark. The grotto houses not only fungi, fireflies and beetles but also various insect larvae that can produce and transmit light through bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is a natural form of chemiluminescence where energy from a biochemical reaction is emitted in the form of light. The organisms produce a pigment, luciferin, and an enzyme, luciferase. The luciferin oxidizes at the presence of oxygen and the luciferase catalyzes that biochemical reaction. Different co-factors to this reaction creates different colors of bioluminescent light, ranging from yellow and orange to green.
Bioluminescent organisms are in focus in many research areas. Experimental attempts have been made in e.g. cancer treatment and optogenetics, where the light has been used to control cells (e.g. neurons) in tissues. Also, within the industry, they have seen the usefulness of bioluminescent organisms within areas as street lights, where genetically modified E. coli bacteria produces bioluminescent light in lightbulbs.
The boat ride lasted for about 5-7 minutes and I had thought it would glow much more than it did. My little research before this trip had shown fantastic glowworms/flies etc., that glows up almost the entire cave. But that may be because the cave was flooded by water in 2008 and 95% of all glowworms died. It will take a long time to get the population back to a great level again.

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After that boar ride, inside the cave, we walked out the same way we came in and then followed a small path back to Visitor Center. There, a short movie was shown about the glowworms and the other animals inside the cave.

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When we got back to Te Anau again, a few of us went for some pizza. Time was close to 8.30 pm and it was dark outside.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged glowworms Comments (0)

Beautiful Fiordland and scenery...


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Te Anau is situated on the southwest part of South Island, in the heart of the Fiordland. As the name suggest, the Fiordland is a fjord landscape dominated by the fourteen fjords with high snow-covered alpine peaks reaching as high as 2700 meters above sea level. The only fjord accessible by car is Milford Sound, located in Fiordland National Park and is 120 km away from Te Anau.
Up in time and away to travel to Milford Sound and make the time to catch the ferry at 10 am. We started along Milford Road and came rather soon into Fiordland National Park.

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It was still cloudy and our guide was a little worried that the weather could get a bit rainy.

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Along the way we could see a lot of alpacas. Believe it or not, but there are between 20 000 – 25 000 alpacas in New Zealand. They are bred mainly for their wool. In Fiordland are typical Silver Beach Bushes, specific to Fiordland and dominating the national park. Silver Beach Bushes blossom ever 7th year and gets small red flowers. These years are no good for the birds because the rat population increase enormously and they eat the bird eggs. This year looks like a blossom year and we could see red flowers in the bushes and trees.

With stunning views and lookouts over the beautiful fjords and mountains, we drove further and further deep into the Fiordland National Park. The national park is the largest one in New Zealand and the second largest in the world. Here are also multiple Fiordland National Treks, which takes 3-4 days to trek each. It is very popular to hike here and a space at the camping sites along the treks must be pre-booked in up to 12 months ahead since the camping sites only accommodate 40 tents per night.

As we got further into the national park, the mossier and older the trees became, the steeper the mountain sides enclosed us in our little bus along the narrow winding road. Our guide, Angelika, told us about the law in New Zealand that prohibits trees from being removed from the forests. That means that if a tree has fallen over the road, one is allowed to cut the tree, but then all bits and pieces must be put back into the forest again to become nutrition for new plants and trees. And also, if a storm has ravaged in the forest, no fallen trees are allowed to be carried out of the forest. If you violate this law you can expect big fines.

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Suddenly, we were up at 950 meters above sea level and were standing waiting for a green signal at Homer Tunnel. Homer Tunnel is a narrow one-lane tunnel that took over 1 year to build and is 1,1 km long. The view from up here were amazing. The weather changed into brilliant sunshine and it really looked like the boat trip would be a success in Milford Sound.

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When we had traveled through Homer Tunnel, a fairytale scenery opened up. Were we in Switzerland? Norway? It was breathtakingly beautiful and no words can fairly describe the nature here. When we disembarked the bus, I discovered my sunglasses was packed in my luggage. We had no time to take it out and unpack my bag. So, I had to buy a new pair of sunglasses in the Visitor Center building. It wasn’t too expensive and the frame was partially made out of bamboo tree, very good looking actually! So, I got really happy about my purchase.

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We embarked the boat and onboard we had reserved tables, with lunch packages, waiting for us. But one barely had any time to eat something because one rather spent the time out on deck for photos, than sitting inside eating. But how is it all related, the thing with fjords and sounds? An easy way of describing it is that fjords are created when glaciers pressed/grinded down the ground and created a valley. Sounds are created when the valley is filled with water.

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Along Milford Sound are steep cliffs and impressive fjords to be seen all around. The unique thing about Milford Sound is that rainforest trees are braiding their roots to each other’s to be able to stick together and grow on the steep cliffs. Because of that, huge amount of rainwater can fall without making the trees falling down. But eventually, the trees do fall into the sound anyway, which is the natures game. But it takes about 200 years for new soil, new moss and new trees to grow back on the very same place again.

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In Milford Sound are two waterfalls; Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. Due to large amount of rain during rainy season, multiple temporarily waterfalls are also running down the steep hill sides. Milford Sound is known for being the wettest inhabitant site in New Zealand and has had measured rainfall of up to 250 mm in 24 hours. When large amount of rainwater accumulates, it may cause landslides of the rainforest and large trees can fall into the fjord. Apart from the fantastic scenery, we saw seals and penguins in Milford Sound.

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We gathered at the minibus again. On our way back, we made a stop at The Chasm. A walk path brought us to a waterfall with its potholes. The water has its origin high up in the Darran Mountains and it takes about 8 hours before it reaches The Chasm. When high flooding occur, hard rocks comes with it and remains in the potholes and swirl around in the strong currents. The rocks swirls around and creates over time even more potholes.

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At the parking lot at the bus, we had the opportunity to see a Kea Parrot, an endangered parrot close to being exterminated, and it only lives at 1000 – 2200 meters above sea level. In the trees we could also hear the Bellbird singing its beautiful song. We left the beautiful lakes and picturesque villages behind us and traveled through high up located moorlands covered with copper-red New Zealand Red Tussock Grass.

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With panoramic views over the valleys with surrounding mountain peaks, we approached Queenstown.

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Just before Queenstown, we made a photo stop at the Lake Wakatipu, the second largest lake at the South Island. A demon is told to have drowned here and the demon’s breath is what makes the water level to rise and fall every day in the lake. Then, with amazing views we entered Queenstown.

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We checked in at Heartland Hotel Queenstown, one of the best accommodations in town with its chalets-like hotel buildings. If you didn’t know better you might think you were in Switzerland. Queenstown is surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountain peaks and with amazing views of Lake Wakatipu and it’s almost hard to believe that the city has a high pulse and wide range of activities. But the city isn’t called “the Place for Adrenaline Junkies” for nothing, right?

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains milford_sounds Comments (0)

The Place for Adrenaline Junkies


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Queenstown is beautifully embedded in the surrounding mountains and is, despite its altitude of only 300 above sea level, a ski and snowboard resort. It was in this very town bungy jump was born and the list of adventurous things to do here is long; Sky diving, heli-skiing, zip-lining, jet-boating, para-gliding and river rafting are a few examples. Even though Queenstown is a city for adrenaline junkies, the city offers culinary cuisine and artistic pulse, exquisite wine and a variety of bars that will make the evenings memorable after a frenzied day.
I had pre-booked a horseback ride here in Queenstown and pick-up was at 8.45 am at the Visitor Information Center downtown. It wasn’t really that hard to get around downtown, because it literally made up by three parallel streets which are intersected by two other parallel streets. Despite that summer season not really had begun yet, it was still relatively many tourists here in Queenstown.

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It took about 15 minutes by car to reach Ben Lomond Horse Treks. I had booked a private trek, so just the guide and I would come along in other words. Two horses were tacked and waited when we arrived. A helmet and a pair of short chaps (or half chaps as they called it) were lent to me. My horse, Alisha, was kind of fat, but consider it being in the beginning of the season (October – May) it was understandable. But she wasn’t lazy at all, she was energetic and followed the guide without any issues.

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The ride started on a dirt road along a mountain side in Moonlight Valley, where Gold Mining had existed a long time ago. The higher we got, the more amazing the views got and both cattle and sheep gazed in between the mountain peaks. It was peaceful, no interrupting traffic, just bird warble and the valley river’s flowing water that was heard every now and then.

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After some trotting and cantering, we had to dismount the horses and walk down a steep descent.

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Down in the valley, we turned around towards the stable again and crossed a small river flowing along the valley with turquoise water.

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After more cantering, the ride finished with a photo stop in front of Moke Lake. A fantastic horse ride with clear blue sky and sunshine.

Once back at the hotel, a well needed shower and change of clothes. The shoes were drowned in water from all the river crossings during the ride. But clever as I am, I had a pair of other shoes with me. Went downtown and strolled along the beach of Lake Wakatipu which offered multiple photo opportunities.

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But now it started to cloud up and it looked like it would be cloudy and windy.

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I then went to the gondola, which I rode up to the lookout. Up here, one got panoramic views over Queenstown and countless mountain peaks and ranges. Just magic! No wonder why Queen Elizabeth of England would have said; “This town is worth a visit of a Queen”, during her visit here in town. However, the name Queenstown doesn’t originate from Queen Elizabeth but from Queen Victoria.

Took the gondola down again and walked further through town and arrived at the Botanic Garden. Because it was spring and almost summer, there were some spring flowers as tulips but also magnolia among others.

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Some birds could be spotted, Paradise Shelduck for instance, that I had been told some interesting facts about during my ride earlier today. The Paradise Shelduck finds its partner and live together as long as they live. If the female dies first, the male starves to death. If the male dies first, the female finds another male and continue living with the new partner.
In the evening, the group gathered and some went for dinner together.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown horseback_riding Comments (0)

Little Sister to Queenstown


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We left Queenstown and came rather quickly to Arrowtown, known for its beautiful autumn colors.

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Arrowtown was, in the past, one of the poorest villages in New Zealand. During 1850s – 1870s, an intense goldrush affected Arrowtown and gold miners from Australia came over because the European workers weren’t plenty enough. One wanted short but strong miners which is why many Chinese people came to town. First, the Chinese were invited and welcomed by the European gold miners. But as the immigration went out of hand because of the increasing demand of works, the European gold miners spread rumors that Chinese came with diseases and tried to conquer New Zealand. That left the Chinese isolated and banished outside of town, where they built their own Chinese Settlement.

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The Chinese, often lonely men that had left their wife and children at home, were living under simple and primitive conditions in cold stone houses. The men came to New Zealand to earn money, not to settle down. But after the end of the goldrush, many Chinese chose to stay in New Zealand. Many stayed in Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, many years into the 20th Century. But when the respected leader Ah Lum died in 1925, the Chinese started to move away from the simple settlement and into Arrowtown or other cities. Left behind were elderly people, who lived a very simple and peaceful life. The last inhabitant to live in Chinese Settlement died in 1932.
During 1980s, many of the stone houses in which the Chinese had lived, were restored and rebuilt again. Today, information boards are available and tell the story about the hard life of the Chinese settlers during the goldrush. Not until year 2002, the New Zealand Government formally apologized for the discrimination that the Chinese gold miners and settlers were put through. Today, Arrowtown is a Chinese Mecca with about 1000 inhabitants. After a short walk in the Chinese Settlement, I went to the main street of Arrowtown.

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To walk along the main street made you feel like you were in an old western movie or something. The houses were old, but nicely preserved.
We gathered at the bus again and kept on going north along the west coast on State Highway 6 towards Fox Glacier. Just outside of Queenstown is Kawarau Bridge, a bridge that was built during the goldrush to meet the increasing demand of moving heavy machinery to the goldfields in Otago. The bridge stretches over a 120-meter-wide gorge and 42 meters above Kawarau River.

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Nowadays, the bridge is most known for being the site where bungy jump was born. Today, you can still bungy jump. We had a short stop here and made it in time to see a girl bungy jump off the bridge. Maybe, if we had more time here, then maybe one had made an attempt??
We kept on going along the west coast and it became more and more evident that 80% of the population on the South Island lives on the east coast. It was really deserted here, few villages and cities, mostly unspoiled countryside.

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Here, we saw big areas with dead-looking trees. Our guide told us that here on the west coast, the new Zealanders are fighting against the pine trees, Monterey Pine among others, that are non-endemic and introduced from Australia and Canada. The trees were brought to New Zealand to stop the erosion that had occurred because the Europeans had cut down a vast majority of the native forest during the 1800s. The problem was, and is still today, the non-endemic pine trees like the environment very well in New Zealand and started to take over and dominate the New Zealander trees. That happened because the introduced pine trees grow twice as fast as the native trees, that takes around 200 years to grow from scratch. Now, due to their invasiveness, the pine tree forests are sprayed with poison to get them extinguished, or they get ringbarked. That is why you see large areas with dead forests along the west coast.

We made a stop in the city of Wanaka, known as “Little Sister to Queenstown”. Wanaka is also known as the Entrance Gate to Mount Aspiring National Park. Despite being the most popular holiday place on South Island, Wanaka only has 2500 permanent inhabitants.

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The city is situated by the beautiful Lake Wanaka and because of Labor Day, the locals had arranged a boat competition for children at the beach. The children had built their own boats/rafts out of cardboard, which they would later compete with and see how far the boats could go before they sank. The beach was crowded with families and the competition had many viewers.

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Just outside Wanaka is Puzzling World, a tourist attraction with 3D- maze, optical illusions and a leaning clock tower. I would have really liked a stop here, but we just passed by.

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We kept on our journey north and passed Haast, a city named after Julius von Haast. Von Haast was a German geologist and paleontologist name-giving many sites and plants in New Zealand. Now we had gotten into the West Coast region, which is seen as an isolated part of South Island. During heavy rain, roads can be closed for days or even weeks. Here is only one hospital and if you get very sick, helicopter is the only option. Thanks to the large amount of rainfall in West Coast, there is very few sheep here. That has to do with the thick wool which never will have time to dry up and the sheep get sick. Along the way we saw what looked like cattle stoppers. But it turned out to be water drainage across the road due to large amount of rainwater. We seemed to be very lucky today that it was one out of few rain-free days today, here in West Coast. The guide said that’s very unusual.

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We stopped at Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy Falls for photos.

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We were surrounded by rainforest and the persistent sandflies made their best to bite us.
When we finally arrived in Fox Glacier, we checked in at The Westhaven Fox Glacier. Time was running late, but a few of us went to a restaurant for a late dinner.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged traveling Comments (0)

Pukekos, glaciers and Jadestone


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It felt kind of different to check out without having breakfast to eat, but this hotel didn’t serve any breakfast. The guide had reserved tables for breakfast at a restaurant just outside of Fox Glacier.

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It was a chilly morning and low clouds surrounded the mountain peaks around us.

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Outside the restaurant, there were a few Pukeko birds with their chicks that I had the opportunity to photograph. Pukeko is a species of Australasian swamphen and is a large blue bird with red beak. They live in flocks of 8-10 individuals. Unfortunately, they were pretty far away, but so beautiful to watch. Normally, we would have gone to Fox Glacier, but it had retracted so much that it had required a walk up to 1 ½ hour to see it. So, Angelika, our guide, took us through Glacier Country and up to Franz Josef Glacier instead. Franz Josef Glacier, or Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere in Maori, is a 12 km long glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the west coast of South Island. Franz Josef Glacier starts up in the Southern Alps and falls in total 2600 meters before its ending in Waiho River down at the coastline. The glacier is one of few in the world to end along a green lush rainforest. Franz Josef Glacier is estimated to be around 7000 years old.
Surrounded by the forest at the foothill of Southern Alps, the city of Franz Josef is an excellent hub for walking, hiking or flights over the Franz Josef Glacier. Both the city and the glacier of Franz Josef was named by Julius von Haast (previously mentioned in this blog) after the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Nearby is the photogenic Lake Matheson, one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand. During a clear non-windy day, Mount Cook is mirrored on the water surface.

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Some people in the group decided to make a helicopter ride up to Franz Josef Glacier, which costed them about NZD $350. Sure, it would have been fun to do it, but not for that amount. While they took the helicopter up, the rest of us rode the bus to Sentinel Rock Walk to see the glacier, although at a distance. So, what are the requirements to get the name glacier? According to our guide, the glacier must be at least 100 years old, be at least 100 m2 and be at least 600 meters deep.

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We walked a shorter pathway, Sentinel Rock Walk, and our guide was very knowledgeable about local plants and happily showed us various plants and told interesting facts. Among other things, we saw one of few poisonous plants here in New Zealand, called Tutu.

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Tutu is the common name for six native Coriaria species that contains the neurotoxin tutin. One of few poisonous animals here in New Zealand Kapeto, which is a spider.

When we all gathered at the bus again, we started riding along State Highway 6, north towards Greymouth. Just outside Franz Josef, we saw White Herons, which according to the Maori people means luck. After a while of driving we passed the city of Ross. During 1870s, the city experienced a goldrush and got the name Gold Town. It was really a small town in the middle of nowhere, but is, according to our guide, on the boost again thanks to one of New Zealand’s bike routes passing through here. A mining company is fighting for a permit to start breaking gold again in Ross, but has so far been rejected since that would mean that the company will be given the right to move the entire city to be able to break gold.

We then arrived in Hokitika, which is about the same size as Queenstown. We ate lunch and free time to spend in the city. In Hokitika, a number of greenstone salesmen are located, or Manapu “Gold of the Maori”, or Jadestone as it’s also called. Once upon a time the Maoris arrived in New Zealand because of the greenstone.

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There is only greenstone on the South Island and back in the days, the Maoris used it for jewelry, weapons and trading. Since the Maoris didn’t have any tools to shape the stones, they used water and sand. If you want to buy greenstone, you better watch out for fake copies from China, only NZ greenstone is real. And a little common sense, if it is very cheap you might think twice whether it’s real or not… All shades of green are allowed, even small black dots may occur. The stones are sanded in different shapes that all have different meanings. Some salesmen have explanation of what the stones mean. The Maori people have legally tried to forbid the importation of fake greenstone from China because it disgraces their belief and meaning of the stones, but were rejected. But please note that it is only Maoris that are allowed to collect greenstone. If someone else would find a greenstone on the beach one can hold it, but not bring it with them. If you violate this law, it could result in high fines or even jail time.

From Hokitika, it didn’t take long to Greymouth. Greymouth is the largest city on the west coast of South Island with its 6000 inhabitants. In reference to the name, the city is at the outflow of Grey River, called in Maori pa Mawhera, which means Wide Spread River Mouth. The river divides the city into three areas; Blaketown, Karoro and Cobden. The city has a rich history of coal and gold mining which later transferred into forestry and fishing industries.

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During 1930 – 1940s, the government of New Zealand built small and simple, so called, State Houses in Greymouth. Today, many of these houses still stands. Chinese have invested a lot of money here in Greymouth be buying houses, which they rent out, instead of living in themselves. During history, Greymouth has regularly been flooded by Grey River and when the city was flooded twice during 1988 a decision was made to build flood protection walls. Greymouth has not been flooded ever since. Heavy rainfall is common here in the city and 200 mm per 24 hours is not unusual. Our guide was yet again surprised that it wasn’t raining during our time here. We were really lucky with the weather! Greymouth is the turn-around for Tranz Alpine Train Journey, one of the top ranked train journeys in the world.

Just today, as we arrived in Greymouth, several streets were closed because of the motorcycle competition that was held today. It was almost as we couldn’t reach our hotel. We stayed at the centrally located Kingsgate Hotel Greymouth in a beautifully restored historical building. With its 98 rooms, the hotel was relatively small yet comfy. The sound from the motorcycles was heard even in the room because the competition was held on one of the alleyways of the hotel. But fortunately, the race stopped at 5.30 pm.

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In the evening, we had a guided tour at Monteith’s Brewery, the only brewery in the West Coast. A fine old traditional brewery where they welcome their guests as they would do with old friends, share stories and more than happy to offer their price-winning beer. Besides the guided tour, we got to tap up beer from a tap and of course taste their own local beer. Then, they handed out free coupons, a small hint that they really would like us to stay and eat there as well… which we did. But the service was so-so. On one hand they had a lot of guests, but it was messy and you really had to be alert so you got the food you had ordered.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged glaciers pukeko jadestone greenstone Comments (0)

Pancakes and Sunny Nelson


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We gathered in the bus to get north along State Highway 6. The road follows the west coast and occasionally we had the beach right next to us.

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Even though it looks perfect for a swim, it is absolutely lethal to swim along the west coast in New Zealand due to the strong currents.
After a while, we arrived in Punakaiki, that used to be an important stop along an ancient Maori path running along the west coast on South Island. Here, the travelers could buy or trade some food during their long journey.

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Close by, the fascinating Pancake Rock Blowholes are located, the main tourist attraction in this area. One knows the stones consists of limestone and were created about 35 million years ago from marine fragments under the ocean, but not exactly how that happened.

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One theory is that layers of components layered on top of each other in the ocean which during time eroded in different speed and thereby created these pancake shaped formations.

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We strolled along the path which took us along the limestone formations and it was easy to understand why the name Pancake fits so well. Many birds, like swallows and gulls, nests here by the rocks.

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In certain locations we also saw blowholes in which ocean water are pushed into narrow channels and eventually up and out through a small hole.

We rode a short distance more in the bus and stopped at the Truman Track, Paparoa National Park. Angelika, our guide, walked with us on the short pathway through the dense forest. The guide shared her knowledge that she gathered through the years and told us fascinating stories about how the nature and plants live in either symbiosis or phagocytosis (in other words with or on each other). Just beside the pathway, stood a Matai (Black Pine) which has had a Rata (Northern Rata) growing on and around its trunk.

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Rata grows around the trunk and eventually suffocate the tree to death. Another tree, Rimu (Red Pine), grows here and can be up to 1000 years old and get 30-35 meters tall here in New Zealand. We arrived at “the Edge”, a sign explaining we now had passed through three distinctive vegetation zones; Rainforest Zone, Coastal Flax Zone and Coastal Turf Zone.

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We gathered at the bus and kept ongoing north to Cape Fouldwind, close to Westport. Erosion as a vast problem here on the west coast, where wind and ocean water effects the nature and roads. We passed several road works where parts of the original road had collapsed due to erosion. The terrain went flatter again, just as around Christchurch. Here, we made a short detour to Touranga Ray and Cape Foulwind Walkway and we got to see the seals that spend time here every year. At a first look, one couldn’t see any seals, but the longer we stood there and really focused the more seals we saw. It was New Zealand Fur Seals that we saw, Kekeno in Maori.

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They really camouflaged themselves with the rocks down there. We were lucky to see pups and adults. Some of the pups were playing in the swirling waters and the big adult one’s were mostly lazy on top of the rocks. During 19th and 20th Centuries, the seals were massively hunted and it almost extinguished them. They were hunted for the skin and oil. A total hunting stop was initiated in 1894 and the population has, since then, slowly started to grow back.

We stopped for lunch in Westport before we sat course east away from the coast. We left the West Coast and entered the Tasman Region. We made a short stop in Murchison, for restroom and buy something to eat. Here, in Tasman Region, we drove by vast forest areas. The forest has a significant role here in the north of South Island. The forest industry is great in New Zealand and 80% of the planted forest is Monterey Trees, once introduced to New Zealand by man. We also saw a significant increase of vineyards here in Tasman Regions and it’s obvious that the warm climate in the north has its part in why. We also passed a number of black trees, as if they would have been burned in a forest fire. But Angelika, our guide, told us that it is poop from larvae taking a role in a special process called Honeydew. It basically means that honey is produced by bees which gather nectar from another insect (e.g. aphides, larvae). Here in South Island are two specific larvae living in the bark of the trees. The poop from the larvae gives the tree its black color and the impression of suffering from a forest fire.

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Eventually, we arrived in Nelson, a beautiful harbor town at Tasman Bay on the north part of South Island. Nelson is the oldest town in New Zealand and the name was given to honor admiral Horatio Nelson, who defeated both French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The streets and squares of the city are mostly named after people and ships that are associated with the Battle of Trafalgar. It is said that Nelson has one of New Zealand’s best climate and has more than 2400 hours of sunshine a year and therefore been nicknamed “Sunny Nelson”. The city’s geographic location has also given the city the name “Top of the South”. The location and its natural harbor, makes Nelson an excellent exporter of timber to Australia and Asia.

In Nelson, there are a lot of German immigrants, that once brought the German Wasp to New Zealand. It lives in huge swarms and has now become a big problem. Even though there are a lot of honey here, the wasps are competing against the endemic birds about the honey.
We checked in at Saxton Lodge Nelson, located 15 minutes outside central Nelson. The hotel was small, the rooms downstairs had a patio each and most of the rooms upstairs had a balcony. Nothing fancy or special, just a hotel for the night in other words. The hotel we stayed at, was located outside Nelson itself. It was no restaurant here and we would have had to take a taxi or walk a great distance to get food. The guide didn’t really have to drive us to any restaurant at all, here workday was over, but did it anyway out of good-will.

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We came to a really cozy restaurant and I tried a cider with the taste of cucumber and watermelon… different, but totally okay.
It should also be mentioned that New Zealand is really trying to become a non-smoking country. A pack of cigarettes costs today $20 NZD, a proposal to double the price has been made to $40 NZD. In most public areas like restaurants and hotels, clearly marked Non-Smoking sings are posted. Smoking is almost seen as something shameful and smokers are showed to certain areas. Though, New Zealand has a friendlier attitude towards marijuana, as an analgesic medicine and is only one step away from legalizing marijuana.

New Zealand has three official languages; Maori, English and New Zealand Sign Language.
FUN FACT: Do you know how the city Nelson is signed in the New Zealand sign language? Put together your index and middle finger and lift the fingers until they touch your nose and angle your hand forward so that the fingers point slightly away from yourself. Now you know :)

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged pancake_rock Comments (0)

Cook Strait and Windy Wellington


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State Highway 6 goes from Nelson, via Havelock, to Picton and winding through the New Zealand landscape. Havelock is a small coastal town with a population of 500 people. The city’s main business is New Zealand green-lipped mussel, also called kuku or kutai.

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Well in Picton, we got off the bus and embarked on the ferry taking us to Wellington on the North Island. The Cook Strait ferries are one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world and is ranked as one of New Zealand’s must-do. However, due to lack of time, many people choose to take one of the many cheap flights that also operate the route, but then miss the scenic journey over the Cook Strait.

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The northbound ferry to Wellington began in the charming harbor town of Picton. Before even leaving the harbor, you could see the Queen Charlotte Sound with its breathtaking nature, like fjord land. If you take the ferry from Picton, start with going out on deck to get the best view once the ferry leaves the harbor.

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It started with a magnificent journey through Queen Charlotte Sounds and the protected water area was a beautiful scenery surrounded by the Marlborough mountains. The ferry took an hour to pass through the sound and the water was very calm and therefore very popular with sailors.

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After a sharp 90° turn around Dieffenback Point, the journey began through Tory Channel. About a dozen tidal power turbines are can be found in Tory Channel which produces about 1.2 MW each, but the project is still at an experimental stage and very expensive. The company Energy Pacifica say that the tide in the channel has a power of 3,6 meters per second and generates good amount of energy. In the channel you could also see salmon farming that on the surface looked like big square platforms. Tory Channel was relatively short and soon we had reached the end of the channel. Depending on which ferry you ride on, you should be standing on the right-hand side of the ferry, or on the bow, to watch the peaceful nature change into the dramatic water in the Cook Strait.

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The exit to Cook Strait was practically invincible when the ferry got through the Tory Channel and you imagined the ferry steering into a dead-end.

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But suddenly the exit was there, yet very narrow, and required another 90° turn of the ferry before entering the Cook Strait. The ferry we were on made it possible to stand in the bow but one couldn’t stand there too long before it got too windy that you had to go inside.

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There was a heavy sea all the time we were at the Cook Strait and thank God I had taken motion sickness medicine… On a good day with great weather, an afternoon or early evening to prefer when ferry-riding. Watching the sun set over Marlborough mountains is priceless. The chance to spot dolphins, seals, penguins and albatrosses is also great. In rough weather, the ferry will be most affected just outside of Wellington harbor. Interesting fact is that the power to North Island, runs through a large cable under the water in Cook Strait.

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The entrance to Wellington harbor was marked with two lighthouses, an upper and a lower. The upper lighthouse was built in 1895 but the concern of low fog and mist caused a lower lighthouse to be built in 1906 and is still in use today. Even though we were soon in the bay at Wellington Harbor, it was still strong winds. But I had sworn to myself that I would photograph these two lighthouses and defied weather and wind. But damn, the winds blew hard. When there are too strong winds, the ferries don’t operate at all, sometimes not for several days. As we went further towards Wellington’s harbor, the Rimutaka mountains piled up on the right side.

Wellington is the Capital of New Zealand since 1865 and has two names in maori; Te Whanganui-a-Tara referring to Wellington’s harbor and means “Taras big harbor”, Pōneke which is not used in everyday speech anymore since it’s believed to be a transcription of Wellington’s old nickname “Port Nicholson”. The city of Wellington was named after Arthur Wellesley Wellington, the first duke of Wellington (British Somerset) and the victor of the Battle in Waterloo.
Due to its geographic location at Cook Strait, Wellington is surrounded by Roaring Forties (oceans between 40°S and 50°S) where there are persistent west winds, sometimes storms. The average wind speed in the city is 27 km/h and counts as the world’s the windiest town, whereby the nickname “Windy Wellington” occurred. Wellington is also the southernmost and remote capital city in the world. Periodically, Wellington has suffered from severe seismic activity (earthquakes and land shifting) over time, and one of the bigger land shifting “Wellington Fault”, runs through the city center. Why on earth they once (in year 1844 – 1845) even started to build the city on ground shifted from earthquake, one can only ask… and if the crises would come, or rather WHEN it comes, because they know there are more earthquakes to come in the future… there are only two roads out of Wellington, or you can take a bout. An existing plan is to build a 3rd road out of the city through a tunnel in the mountains… but on a scale, how safe is that?

Here in New Zealand, the people are raised to be prepared for disasters as hurricanes, volcanoes and earthquakes. One has storage of food and necessities to survive at least for 8 days, in case the roads get cut off at catastrophes or accidents. Many sleeps with their shoes next to the bed and a bag to grab and go just in case of an earthquake or eruption would happen in the middle of the night and you must flee.
One would think the houses here in “Windy Wellington” are isolated to keep the warmth because of the winds. But no, the houses are not isolated at all and the windows are one-glass. Even the hotel we checked in at, only had one-glass windows. New Zealand’s political center is in Wellington and includes the parliament and headquarter of all departments and ministries. The city has also been mentioned as New Zealand’s cultural center, including the Royal New Zealand Ballet, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and not least for its world-class film industry (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, the Last Samurai and Avatar).

In some way our guide, Angelika, managed to gather us all again after the about 3,5 hour-long ferry and get everyone on board the bus again before in had reached the harbor. Then, we could drive off the ferry and then drive into Wellington city center. Even though the guide had been guiding here in New Zealand for more than 15 years, she still thought it was difficult to drive in Wellington because there are many one-way streets here. And as if that wasn’t enough, there were red-lights in every intersection. Wellington is a very compact city with many workers that commute in and out of the city every day. Just as we were there, a bus driver strike was taking place and car traffic was more extreme than usual. Here in the city, the temperature almost never drops below zero centigrade during winter. During summer, the temperature is about +18 °C and during winter around +6 °C.

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We started with a short guiding of Wellington. Not far away from our hotel was Old Saint Paul’s, an old church from 1866 that is completely built in wood. We stopped for a short time and were able to enter the church. Many old painted glass windows were in the church and to keep the visitors warm on the cold wood benches, warm water pipes run under the wood benches. The church was for about 100 years, until 1964, a parish church. In 1967, the New Zealand government decided to buy the church and renovate it and is nowadays a place of historical importance and brings light to many important life happenings as christenings, weddings and funerals.

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Then we drove to the botanic garden. It was quite grey and chilly, which is why one wasn’t that interested in having a browse through flowers and trees. Just as Dunedin, Wellington was just hills. Just as San Francisco. So, one couldn’t see many bicycles in this town.

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On our way to Mount Victoria, we drove by the Parliament house. On the very top of the house is a flag pole, where they hoist the New Zealand flag every day. The ingenious thing is that they hoist different sizes of flags every day, depending on how strong the wind is or is expected to be in Wellington. So, if there are strong winds, a very small flag is hoisted… is it a calm and almost windless day, a giant flag is hoisted. In that way, the citizens know what the weather will be like each day.

The guide drove uphill Mount Victoria and it never seemed like the road would end. Sharp turns and steep hills made us begin to hesitate whether the bus was going to make it all the way up… and in the middle of the hills we started to meet strong runners that obviously got plenty of exercise in all these hills. Eventually, we reached our destination, Mount Victoria Lookout.

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We had now gotten 196 meters above sea level and up here we had a 360° view of Wellington and its surroundings. Even though it was cloudy and somewhat chilly, it was beautiful. I can only imagine how fantastic it would be standing here during sunrise or sunset.

Our guiding of Wellington ended here and now we headed for the city center and our hotel. Along the vibrant Cuba Street, we found our hotel Quality Hotel Wellington. The hotel is a part of a larger hotel complex, CQ Wellington, with conference center, spa, restaurant, bar etc and other hotels. Quality Hotel Wellington offers some of the largest hotel rooms in the city and has high comfort and class rooms. The room was equipped with a kitchenette and a chic bathroom. A smart finesse the hotel had in all of their rooms was, if you had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, you didn’t have to light any lamp. As soon as you put your feet down on the floor when getting out of bed, a sensor registered and lit a lamp along the floor. Me like! Cuba Street must be considered as the pulse of Wellington. Here are restaurants, bars and all kinds of small businesses and the street runs down to the harbor. Some people in the group met for a joined dinner.

FUN FACT: Wellington is signed by the New Zealand Sign Language by holding up your index, middle and ring fingers on one hand with the palm forward to form a W. Then shake the hand slowly from side to side twice.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged cook_strait Comments (0)

Tongariro National Park


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During hotel breakfast, there was a tv on with the morning news, nothing special with that. But many of us had registered (interested in weather forecasts as we Swedish people are) that when the map showed, all the cities on the map was marked with +X°C. Nothing weird with that either… but when Wellington showed up, no temperature was shown, only 23 m/s. Haha, I can imagine it being hard to predict the temperature if you live in the windiest city in the world and you rather think of wind speed instead… but a little funny is it though ;)
After breakfast it was time to gather at the bus and travel north. I decided to ride in the co-pilot seat today. It was a seat in the front, next to the guide/driver, that we called co-pilot seat and we took turns with sitting there. It was kind of intentionally that I chose this day in particular, because we had about 550 kilometers to drive today and then it could be nice to sit in front to have great views.

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We started to drive out of Wellington and considering almost no buses were running (due to strike) the oncoming traffic into town was chaotic. One third of all workers in Wellington live in the suburbs and must commute. Because of the flat topography here on the south part of North Island, the roads are significantly bigger and have several lanes in contrast to the South Island. 3 million people live here on the North Island, whereof 1 million lives in Auckland. As much as 80% of the New Zealand population lives in cities, which creates problems because the cities can’t expand any more due to surrounding mountains or other limitations. That means that there are not enough houses to live in, making the suburbs grow and increase commuting to and from work in the larger cities result in more CO2 emissions = more polluted air. In Auckland, it has gone so far that a law will be implemented to forbid immigrants to live in Auckland during their first 5 years to prevent the city to grow too much. The government is buying land outside the cities where they build houses or apartments which later on are sold for a small amount of money to families with at least two children. Other minor cities offer cheap or free education to attract and keep residents. One also tries to build large outlets/malls to make people want to live outside the big cities.

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When you’ve been to the South Island and get to the North Island, you get struck by the flat landscape. It reflects the volcanic origin that the North Island has and one of the largest volcanoes, Taranaki, is hundreds of thousands of years old. The volcanic and rocky landscape is covered by a thin layer of soil and green grass.

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Here, you easily get the classic and typical picture of the New Zealand’s green and rolling hills. But there aren’t many sheep here on North Island as in South Island. Thant’s because a certain type of grass grows here and the cows like it best.

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We passed through the tiny city of Bulls, that has painted their little police station in a fitting motive after the city name.

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Not far from there, we passed Taihape, that has a gumboot as city symbol.

Because we were well in time and the weather was fantastic, our guide, Angelika, decided to take a slightly longer route around Tongariro National Park than planned.

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That made us stop for lunch at the very old, but beautiful, train station National Park, not to be confused with the actual national park right next to it.

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When we ate, both a freight train and passenger train passed by. The railroad here in New Zealand is definitely not well developed, rather the opposite. In general, all freight trains run on diesel while the passenger trains run on electricity. The railroad became privatized when the government sold it out to private owners that ran the railroad only to earn money and the maintenance was neglected. Now, the government has bought the railroad back for loads of money and intend to develop and maintain the railroad again. There is a very popular train route between Wellington – Auckland, which takes about 9 hours. That is one of few passenger routes here on New Zealand.

When everyone had eaten, we went into the actual national park. Tongariro National Park is centrally located on the North Island and was founded in 1894, and is thus the oldest national park in New Zealand. Tongariro National Park has since 1990 been listed on UNESCOs World Heritage Site as a natural heritage and cultural heritage.

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Can you see the three volcanoes?

Three active volcanoes can be found within the park; snow-capped Ruapehu, conical Nguaruhoe and broad-domed Tongagiro. In the North Island, the volcanoes are the first distinct elevated land differences that the humid ocean winds come across, which is why it rains almost every day in Tongariro National Park. Despite the “threat” of rain, we had sunshine and clear blue sky, we were so lucky with the weather during our trip.

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It is also here, on one of these brown smaller mountains in the volcanic scenery where the ring on The Lord of The Rings disappears. The mighty scenery surrounding us was stunningly beautiful and I could have stand there for ages just watching. Within the national park, there are many religious places to the Maori people and several mountain peaks are worshiped as tapu, “a very sacred place”. The Maoris has stories to tell about most of the places here in New Zealand. There is a story to tell about the volcanoes here in Tongariro National Park that I unfortunately can’t fully remember, but it’s about how the smallest volcano, Tahinga, the only female volcano in the area, shall have had the two closest male volcanoes to fight over her out of jealousy.

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From here, we had yet another hour or so of driving before reaching Rotorua.

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We stopped at Huka Falls, a mighty waterfall that’s not to mess with. The water comes from Lake Taupo and it run about 200 000 liters of water for nine meters, every second. That fills up about five Olympic swimming pools every minute. That creates strong undertows and prevent fish and eels from migrating upstream.

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Here, I managed to film a Tui. The Tui is a very beautiful black bird with two white feathers under the beak. It is a protected bird and endemic to New Zealand. The first Europeans called the Tui bird Mockingbird, but that name isn’t used anymore. The Tui can be very aggressive and territorial of its trees against other birds. They have various sounds that can be loud and annoying. Despite that, I thought it was very beautiful and had tried to snap a photo of it for days, but it’s shy and every time I tried to take my big camera with big lens, they flew away.
As we got closer to Rotorua, thoughtful road signs started to appear along the road. Since the majority of the Maori people live on North Island and many of them, sadly, has alcohol problems, many of them drink and drive. The signs had texts like:
“Eyes on the road – focus on driving”
“Less Speed, less harm”
“Drinking? Legends don’t drive”
“Dress for the slide, not the ride”

While we are talking about cars and driving. All cars are imported to New Zealand. Mostly Japanese cars, mainly Toyota. Volvo is very rare and expensive to repair because all spare parts has to be imported. Despite that, Volvo cars are seen every now and then.
I can imagine it to be an amazing experience to rent a car and do your own road trip in New Zealand. But there are some things to consider… first of all, they have left-hand traffic – because the land was colonized by the British an is still today under British rule, Queen Elizabeth of England is portraying the New Zealand coins. And remember to respect the speed limits. It takes time to get from A to B in New Zealand, because it is a hilly terrain and especially on the west coast that is mountainous. In mountainous areas with sharp turns is signs with speed to get through that cure.

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So, if you arrive to a turn and the sign says e.g. 25 km/h, lower your speed! Then it is a very sharp turn and you won’t make it if you drive like 45 km/h. And as I previously mentioned, don’t drive faster on the straight roads to “make up” time. It is loads of traffic police out there and you will get big fines if you drive 3 km/h or more than the actual speed limit! And last but not least, holding your cell phone while driving is forbidden by law. However, you are allowed to speak on the phone via Bluetooth while driving.

When we arrive in Rotorua, we checked in at our hotel Alpin Motel Rotorua, a small hotel with 40 rooms. All rooms are on ground level and equipped with its own hot tub outdoors which you could fill up with thermal water. There were also a joined pool and barbecue places you could use. The hotel was a couple of kilometers from the city center, and some of us decided to walk to the city center to eat. We found a saloon-looking restaurant with cozy furnishings. When we headed back towards the hotel it was already dark and the fool moon glorified wonderfully on the dark sky.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua national_parks tongariro_national_park Comments (0)

Getting to know the Maori people...


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Rotorua, also known as New Zealand’s Coolest Hot Spot, is found in the north of North Island and is mostly known for its geothermic activity in forms of geysers, boiling mud pots, hot springs and Te Wairoa, the Buried Village. Because of the hydrosulphide emissions, Rotorua is also called Sulphur City or Rotten-rua, since the city air reminds you of rotten eggs. A third common name is Roto-Vegas, since Rotorua has a similar street flanked by businesses and restaurants just like Vegas.

The year was 1886, June 10th, when the residents woke up in the middle of the night from heavy earthquakes. A couple of hours later, Mount Tarawera had erupted and ashes and clouds reached about 10 km up in the air. Storm winds arose because the eruption sucked in all air from the surrounding areas causing violent lightning and ear-deafening rain. The volcano crater supposedly had a total length of 16 km. About an hour later a nearby lake, Rotomahana, exploded and falling rocks and boiling mud and magma destroyed everything in its vicinity, including the villages Te Ariki and Moura. Te Wairoa was also one of the villages buried in lava from the volcanic eruption of Mount Tarawera and 120 people died.

The local thermal water flowing through Rotorua has been known for its healing powers since the early 19th Century and is considered to cure both impotence, arthritis and rheumatism. Around Rotorua there are plenty of hot springs with thermal water that you can swim in.

There are many legends about how the geothermic activity came to the area, but one of the oldest goes like this:
A priest by the name of Ngatoroirangi guided his canoe towards New Zealand. Eager to explore, he travelled inland and upstream Tarawera River until he arrived at Ruawahia, today called Mount Tarawera, where he was astonished by all discoveries. Here the priest met a man, Tama-o-Hoi, that claimed that the priest trespassed his country. With sorcery, the man tried to destroy the priest but the priest’s superior magic spell caused Tama-o-Hoi to sink into the earth. Many say that the volcanic eruption in 1886 who became so angry that the ground gave way to venting his enraged feelings.
The priest continued exploring the surroundings and arrived at the mountain landscape, which today represent Tongariro National Park. There he climbed uphill towards Tongariro’s peak and the higher he came the colder it became because the peak was snow-covered. In pure desperation, he began praying to his sister who was in distant Hawaiki (ancestral home for all Maori before coming to New Zealand) to send him fire to warm him up. The sister heard the prayer and prayed to the fire demons (Te Pupu and Te Hoata), who swam swiftly through the Pacific Ocean and when they arrived at Whakaari, they created New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. The demons raised their hands to the sky, the surrounding ground became a fiery pit that is still active today. When the demons rose, they realized they had many miles left to reach the priest. They dove into the ocean and under the earth’s crust and each time they appeared on the surface, at Moutohora, Awakeri, Rotoehu, Rotoiti, Rotoura, Tarawera, Orakei, Korako, Taupo, Whakarewarewa and Turangi, they left a steamy, bubbling trace of thermal activity behind. When the demons finally reached the priest, the priest was already dead. But the volcanic heat that the fire demons brought with them, managed to warm the priest to life again. The priest named the mountain Tongariro to honor the cold south wind that almost killed him.

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The day started with a Sheep show in Agrodome, close to a 10-minute drive outside Rotorua. For more than 40 years, they have invited guests to see their world known Sheep show. Everyone in the audience could listen to the show in headsets and you could choose which language you liked. The show was live in English, but I think all other languages, like Japanese, were prerecorded, I don’t think they had interpreters that translated live.

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In the beginning of the show, the man brought 19 different breeds of sheep. How long they had been training to keep them side by side in peace, I don’t know. But they seemed pretty happy and towards the end of the show most of them laid down resting.

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They demonstrated how you cut the sheep, how they work with shepherd dogs and as a little surprise, they brought a cow onstage and let some people in the audience come up on the stage to milk it. When the show was over, we gathered at the bus again and left. There were other things to do on the farm but weren’t included in our tickets we had. Besides, we had a hectic schedule to stick to during the day.

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We went back to Rotorua and just outside is Te Puia, a Maori cultural center and art institute. But it is also a big tourist attraction with world known Pohutu Geyser, Maori cultural performances, boiling mud pits and native nature.

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Maori people have a strong tradition and vast experience of guiding in Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, which goes back many generations and shares the knowledge of this unique corner of the world. Here, we were guided by a Maori. We walked through Te Puia’s geysers and boiling mudholes and I immediately got flashbacks of Yellowstone. Very similar nature and activity.

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Two types of Kiwi bird.

Te Puia’s highlight ought to be the Kiwi House. We walked into and through a house, in complete darkness apart from a slightly shining red lamp. As help, one had a handrail to hold on to, to find the way to the glass cage and then out of there. After half minute, your eyes had adapted to the darkness and when you focused your vision you could see several kiwi birds walking inside the glass cage. God, how adooorable they were! If I could, I would have bought one to take home with me ;)

The Kiwi bird is national symbol of New Zealand and counts as a bird even though it can’t fly. The Kiwi has a highly developed sense of smell and is the only bird with its nostrils at the tip of their long beak. Further, they also have a good feeling and hearing to be able to hunt food during night time. But if all these senses would fail, they also have fine whiskers to prevent them from running into things, because the Kiwi has a very poor sight. The Kiwi is a nocturnal and sleeps during the days. Once, there were 12 million Kiwi birds. But after the Europeans introduced the ferrets and possums among other animals, the population decreased rapidly because the Kiwi birds and their eggs became easy food for the possums and ferrets. Today, it’s estimated to be about 100 000 Kiwis and one now try to breed Kiwis in captivity and keep them until they reached the age of 2. Then they are released because they are considered independent and fast enough to flee any hunting animal. After all, the Kiwi bird is endangered and information point out that 27 Kiwi birds dies every week. And it’s estimated that only 5 % of all Kiwi eggs are hatched and reach adulthood. And considering today many animals like cats and dogs, also looking at Kiwis as a pray, the future seems sad for the Kiwi bird.

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Te Puia is a source of information for the one looking for Maori culture and history. Traditional houses, canoes and clothing can be seen. An important plant for the Maoris was Flax, a plant with amazingly strong fibers/threads that were processed and used for clothes, carpets, ropes, baskets and even medicine.

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The Maoris transported a lot on the water with wakas (canoes). They had different kind of wakas depending on the purpose of the trip, i.e. a warrior canoe – waka taua. The waka taua could be up to 40 meters long and holding up to 80 men. Common for all wakas is that the hull of the canoe consists of only one hollowed tree trunk. You could imagine how big and old trees that would have required. All ornamentations were then attached to the hull.
Today, no original Maoris are left, they have all been mixed in some way, which has led to Maoris having lighter skin and some even have blue eyes. Despite that, it is very important with family and relatives. When Maoris are telling about themselves, the always starts with their origin and many can tell about 12 - 13 generations back in time. Last, you talk about yourself. 70% of all people in Rotorua has Maori ancestors. Today, Maoris are suffering from diseases more than the rest of the population in New Zealand. They like sugar, white food (with flour and sugar in) and drinks many 2 liter-Coca Cola in one day. That makes the Maoris suffer from severe overweight. Unfortunately, there is no sugar taxes in New Zealand and the manufacturers add more and more sugar in their products and makes everything come in King-Size portions.
The visit ended, as usual, in a gift shop to make the visitors buy stuff.

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A beautiful Pukeko.

We then had a few hours off in the afternoon and I took the opportunity to catch a return ride with our guide to the city center, and then a visit to the botanical garden. Main mission was to get a photo of a Tui, that had been eluded me all the time here in New Zealand. But neither did I get the chance today. I saw a Tui but it came flying directly above my head and I barely had time to react. Well, well.
At 5.45 pm, we had a pic-up from our hotel. Tonight, we were attending a Maori show.

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It was also dinner included cooked traditionally according to Maori culture. It was buffet and all you could eat. It was delicious food and I ate and ate. When I then realized it was dessert, I did regret eating that much food.

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The Maori show was an interesting experience. Even though it was a little remade to entertain us guests, you had an eye-opener about how they once lived.

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How they greeted strangers, trained for war and how they danced and sang.

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And this stretching out their tongue and widen their eyes things are just to intimidate foreigners.

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The Maori tattoos had different meanings and importance. A warrior had up to four different bird tattoos in its face, depending on age, achievements and function within the family (i.e. chief). The first tattoo you would receive was the Kiwi. It was tattooed along the jawbone and reminded of an opened Kiwi beak. At the next step, the warrior got an owl tattooed on the chin. Step three was the parrot which was represented by a line above each eyebrow. If you were a chief, you also got a head of a bat tattooed on your forehead. All tattoos on the left side of the face honored the mother while the tattoos on the right side honored the father.

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The women often had the owl tattooed on their chin and also their lips. But they only tattooed themselves after they had their first-born child. The more children you had, the lower down your throat the owl tattoo they get.
How did they tattoo? The Maoris “tattooed” by carving the skin with needle sharp articles (bones, stones etc.) and added different pigments, so called Tā moko. The method must have been extraordinarily painful and tattooing your whole arm or leg must have taken ages.
The show ended with a short walk in darkness. We were handed flashlights and were walking a pathway in the woods, with a guide. A small walk that might not wasn’t that appreciated when you were stuffed with food and impressions from the show. It was late, dark and started to get somewhat chilly outside. All you wanted was to get a ride back to your hotel and sleep.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rotorua shows maori Comments (0)

It's all about Hobbiton...


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We checked out from the hotel and the guide drove us to Rotorua city center and its botanical garden. I had been here just the day before, but this gave me another opportunity to photograph a Tui. But no, they were gone with the wind.

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We gathered at the bus again and Angelika, our guide, drove us to Lake Rotorua, where we had some time to walk around.

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But it honestly felt like a waste of time, it wasn’t that much to see here and felt like a necessarily stop because we had plenty of time.

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It takes an hour to drive from Rotorua to Matamata, a flowing green landscape and also the location of many scenes in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit-movies. Here is Hobbiton with more than 40 hobbit holes and a guided tour took us to the Mill, the famous Party Tree and the Green Dragon Inn.
The location for shooting the movies was scouted by Sir Peter Jackson’s team and eventually they found Alexander’s Farm, a big sheep farm in the heart of Waikato. The scenic flowing green hills had a striking similarity to The Shire, just as JRR Tolkien described, and the sheep farm quickly became the home for all Hobbits. In addition, the landscape was untouched, no power lines, no buildings and no roads as far as the eye could reach, which allowed Sir Peter Jackson to fully commit himself into the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. When the Hobbit holes were built, the New Zealand Army was called in. The project had high secrecy and took nine months to build. The producer, Sir Peter Jackson, really wanted to keep the recording location a secret and was, through private contacts, able to create a No Flight Zone above the actual Hobbiton for all aircraft. One pilot with passengers decided to ignore that and flew over with their private little aircraft. When they later landed on the airport they had started from, government security police men awaited and destroyed all photographs taken and the pilot lost his pilot license for two years.
After three months of recording, it was time to tear down all Hobbit holes. But after a first attempt, 17 plywood facades still remained. These facades became the catalyst of introducing the Hobbiton to the public and guided tours began in 2002. A few years later, in 2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to film the Hobbit Trilogy, which resulted in 44 permanent Hobbit holes standing with the same detailed set as in the movies. Now, 3 – 4 departures an hour with curious visitors and fans visits Hobbiton. And considering an adult ticket being NZD $84, you can almost understand why Alexanders Farm keep up with this. They must earn a fortune on this and get a really great extra income besides their sheep farming.

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Our tour to Hobbiton started with a bus ride for about 10 minutes, though the privately-owned Alexander Farms land. A short movie was showed on board the bus of what was to come. Our guide Eli, was with us the entire time and told us interesting facts throughout the tour.

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We saw many hobbit huts, Sam’s hut, Dragon Inn, the Mill, Frodo and Bilbo’s hut among others.

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Interesting facts are, according to myself, that the oak tree on top of Frodo and Bilbo’s hut was real in the first movie.

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The tree was originally standing at another place on Alexanders Farms land. The film crew sow down the trees in bits and then relocated the tree and assembled it again on top of the hut. Since no one believed it would be a sequel, the tree was taken down. When it became clear that another movie was being filmed, an artificial oak tree was made. All about 20 000 leaves were hand painted, but they were painted with the wrong color. So, when it rained, all color disappeared. They had to re-paint all leaves by hand, with the right color. So, I don’t know if I would have like to paint 40 000 leaves by hand…

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We left Matamata and drove the two hours north to Auckland. Just before Auckland we passed Bombay Hills, where the soil is significantly more red than usual. According to our guide Angelika, that was due to high levels of iron and in the area, they therefor grow a lot of onions which are exported. The closer to Auckland we got, the heavier the oncoming rush hour became. It was close to stand-still on the four-lane highway. Our guide said we were lucky traveling into town and the traffic went on fine for us and not like the other 1,5 million people going home from work, a Friday like this, and being stuck in traffic. But eventually we caught up with rush hour traffic, but we were soon to turn off the highway anyway. Because buses weren’t allowed to park outside the hotel during a certain period of time (think it was during 4 pm to 6 pm), the guide took us to Mount Eden. We drove up to the parking lot at Mount Eden. From there, we had to walk, and it was quite steep actually, up to the top.

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It is the highest volcano in Auckland with its 196 meters and from the top you get an amazing 360° view over the city, provided the weather is good. The last eruption the volcano had was 15 000 years ago and left a 50-meter-deep crater behind.

When the clock finally turned 6 pm our guide could finally stop outside our hotel. We checked in at Scenic Hotel Auckland. The hotel was conveniently located in central Auckland in a vibrant cultural, shopping and business district. The protected historical hotel building has apartment-like staying and combine its art deco style with comfort and elegance. I had dinner at the hotel’s own restaurant and took the opportunity to do some laundry at the same time. I had now done half of the trip and it was time to wash up some clothing.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hobbiton lord_of_the_rings movie_set Comments (0)

The City of Sails


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The first people, the Maoris, came to Auckland around 1350 and settled there mainly because of the fertile earth. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest metropolitan area, is called in maori Tamaki Makaurau or Akarana, which means “Tamaki with a hundred lovers”. Thus, the name referrers to the desirable fertile soil by the hub of all water streams. During 19th Century, Europeans colonized Auckland and the city was the capital between 1941 and 1865, when Wellington became capital. During mid-1980s, the economy in Auckland underwent deregulation and many companies relocated their head offices from Wellington to Auckland. The city became the backbone in the national economy and combined with an increasing tourism, also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Great education, plenty of work and a mild climate makes Auckland an attractive city, while increasing housing costs, traffic issues and lack of public transport and crime has been listed as negative factors. Auckland is also called The City of Sails, which refers to the residents’ interest in sailing. It is estimated that every third household in Auckland owns a boat.

Auckland straddles the Auckland Volcanic Fields and 56 volcanoes, which has undergone about 90 volcanic eruptions over the past 90 000 years. Auckland is the only city in the world built on a basaltic volcanic field that is still active and it is estimated that the area will be active for about 1 million more years. The volcanoes, however, are considered dormant although long, sometimes kilometers long, channel caves lead lava from the volcanoes and down to the ocean. It is believed that future eruptions will occur in the northwestern area of Auckland Volcanic Field.
It is not considered more dangerous to live in Auckland than in any other city and the seismic activity is constantly monitored. Evacuation plans, emergency preparedness and civil defense are available if the seismic activity would increase significantly and there is a risk of eruptions.

Today was the last full day here in New Zealand. We started the day by visiting Sealife Kelly Tarlton’s, Auckland.

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All and all – an aquarium with loads of sea living animals. Sharks, stingrays, sea horses, turtles, penguins and so on.
These things have never fascinated me, but you can manage to snap some interesting photos of odd animals like jellyfish.
Then it was time to visit Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sounds like it would only be about war.

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But the museum has three floors of which only one was about wars.
The first floor was about the history and culture of the Maoris and there were tons of interesting artifacts to see.

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The Polynesians (Maoris) migrated to New Zealand during 1100s – 1200s and therefor were the first migrants, and up until then there were only birds and two species of bats here in New Zealand. Later, when the Europeans came to the country, they brought diseases and thousands of Maoris died. Today, 90% of the Maoris live on the North Island because it has the warmest climate.

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One of the last artifacts I got to see was the warrior body suit in coconut fiber. It didn’t just look uncomfortable and warm, it looked like it would be very itchy as well. When I was finished, I ate a lighter lunch in the cafeteria before we gathered at the bus for a ride back to the hotel again.
A good thing to know, if someone would call you a JAFA while you are in Auckland, that would be a negative thing. It stands for Just Another Fucking Aucklander and relates to the people living in Auckland being snotty, rich and spoiled. Maoris do not like JAFAs.

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We gathered later that evening for a joined walk to Auckland Sky Tower and a farewell dinner together.

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During our walk it decided to start raining. And not just a few drops. But it was like the weather had been hold all rain during our staying here in New Zealand, but eventually, the last night, it could not hold up any longer. But what did it do? We had seen everything we were supposed to now and have had an amazing luck with the weather.
Sky Tower is a tower for observation and telecommunication. With its 328 meters above the ground, the tower is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. But how did they even come up with the idea of building such tall tower in an earthquake area and volcanic field? The tower was built to withstand heavy winds up to 200 km/h and its design allows it to sway 1 meter to the side during heavy winds. Even heavy earthquakes up to 8.0 on the Richter scale is the tower supposed to handle without collapsing. But what about the elevators? Thanks to sensors, the elevators can detect heavy winds and slow down. During extremely heavy winds, the elevators will stop and return to ground floor and stay there until the winds has calm down. If a fire starts? On level 44, 45 and 46 are fireproof rooms to seek protection in. Even the shaft for the service lift and stairwell is fireproof.

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Our visit in the Sky Tower started with the Observation Deck on 51st floor and 186 meter above ground. It was fantastic 360° views over Auckland despite being cloudy and rain. On several locations were glass floors on which you could step onto and look down at the streets below.

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Even though there were signs telling you the glass was 3 cm thick and stronger than concrete, one hesitated to step onto the glass with both of your feet. But it would be strange if you didn’t. For the real adrenaline junkie there was sky jump to attempt. When it was time for dinner, we took the elevator up one floor to the restaurant Sky Tower Orbit. Now we were 190 meters above ground and all tables were on a rotating disk, that slowly rotated during the dinner. We were served a three-course dinner that took about two hours and I think we had by then rotated three times around the Sky Tower.

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During our way back to the hotel, it was still raining.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged maori sky_tower Comments (0)

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