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* Australia and New Zealand Newsletters

During my trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2000/2001 I kept sending e-mail newsletters to my friends to let them know what I had been up to. If you're missed one of them or are interested in reading the whole lot of them, here you go:

Newsletter Index
Go to top Go to Itinerary Newsletter Index Go to last Newsletter Go to first Newsletter
Go to Newsletter 1 - Adelaide
Go to Newsletter 2 - Happy New Year
Go to Newsletter 3 - Backpacking
Go to Newsletter 4 - Snowies
Go to Newsletter 5 - Hobart
Go to Newsletter 6 - Tassie
Go to Newsletter 7 - NZ
Go to Newsletter 8 - South Island
Go to Newsletter 9 - Otago & South
Go to Newsletter 10 - Fjordland & Canterbury
Go to Newsletter 11 - Volcanic North Island
Go to Newsletter 12 - Northland
Newsletter 1 - Adelaide
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I a'm currently sitting in Adelaide, Australia where I am starting my four and a half months holiday. I am taking this and next years' holidays, a couple of weeks of overtime and two months of unpaid leave to sort of just laze around down under.

If you are on this list and do not give a rat's arse about what I am up to, drop me a quick e-mail and this is the last you will have heard from me before I will be back at work in May. If you have been looking forward to an exciting account of travel adventures you will be sorely disappointed with this first issue of my travel newsletter as my incredible adventures will not start for a few weeks yet. I am mostly just enjoying life with my host family here in Adelaide, relaxing a bit, catching up with some people and mostly just wallowing in good old memories of my exchange year here twelve years ago. I am likely to just report what my everyday life looks like for the time being. If you think whatever you are reading sounds like absolute gibberish it could mean that I am either making some insider remark which the people it concerns will understand or that I am talking of some stuff that only those who know enough about my exchange year will understand. In both cases I hope you will bear with me as I do not plan to spend most of my time in front of a computer screen just to send out individual e-mails to all the unlucky bastards who have to stay home at work during winter.

My flight from Zürich to London was not very spectacular and I spent most of my time at Heathrow reading while I waited for my connecting flight to Singapore. The only noteworthy thing that happened was when the flight to Jeddah was departing from the gate just beside me as a whole lot of blokes clothed in some sort of linen caught that plane. It looked a bit like "flight 207 to the Toga party". A pretty strange sight I have to say. The flight to Singapore was uneventful and long, I slept through most of it. My BA flight from London to Singapore was actually going on to Sydney and I changed onto a Qantas flight which would take me directly to Adelaide. It was incidentally going on to Sydney from Adelaide which I found rather strange. I mean, you would have to be a bloody idiot to fly to Sydney via Adelaide if there are direct flights. As it turned out I was sitting next to one of those on the plane. Apparently she had booked her flight too late and the Adelaide detour was the only way to get to Sydney at all before christmas. Actually, that was not the only detour she was going to have, she had the full lot booked for her way from Singapore to Auckland via Adelaide-Sydney-Melbourne in that order. In addition to that she hated flying, I think she might have crossed Murphy's path somewhere on the way to her travel agent.

We got into Adelaide right on time and to my great disappointment they no longer spray planes from overseas with disinfectant and have probably discontinued the practice for quite some time because the flight attendant I asked about it looked as if he had never heard of it in his life. I guess they have figured out that it did not really kill anything worthwhile in the past and as most tourists nowadays bring their own deodorant it probably is safe to let them just take care of their own hygiene. To compensate for that they searched me twice for drugs - I must have made quite an unsavoury impression.

Andrew and Janet - my host parents - picked me up from the airport and Andrew took me back to the house they now live in. They have moved up the road a little and now live in Uraidla which is about ten minutes deeper in the Adelaide hills. It actually looks nicer but less Australian as they now have access to bore water and can afford to water the lawn and garden which makes it a lot greener but it does not have the typical gum tree smell of Yarrabee road any more.

They still have a zoo at their place even though the animals are no longer all the same. They still have Shadow the border collie who is just past his twelfth year. He still looks the same even though he limps a bit, is half deaf and practically blind. Just an old dog living for the daily feeding. That made me realise how much time has passed since I have last been here. They no longer have any cats and Pepe the successor of Mintie has given way to Magellan (a golden retriever) and Chloe (a dog the size of a cat - if any of you have seen 'Mars Attacks' you probably remember the dog of the lady which ended up having their heads exchanged - that is the sort of dog we are talking about). In addition to that they were looking after Bruno and Pollie, the two dogs of Bronwyn my host sister and her boyfriend Dan while they were over in Melbourne visiting Dan's parents. In addition to the dogs there are two geese as well as about 30 chooks and 20 pigeons.

I spent the rest of friday in the city trying to find out how much has changed and my first impression seems to be that there are less changes between these six years than in the first six years.

Andrew took me out sailing on saturday in his boat. He now owns a NS-14 class boat which is about 4 metres long and just large enough for a crew of two. He taught me the fundamentals and we sailed in a short race on the afternoon. We were only third from last until we lost our way and were disqualified. At least I did not get sea sick which is probably more due to the weather than to any increased tolerance of mine. Anyway we had a great time and I enjoyed the swim at the end of it.

During saturday afternoon some people across the ridge started a burn-off which got out of hand and ended in a bush fire which burned about 300 hectares of bush and came close to threatening some houses. Luckily enough it rained on sunday which put the fire out again.

Apart from that bit of rain the weather has been very nice. It has been a comfortable and warm 28 to 30 degrees over the past days with some nice wind which cooled things down a bit. Today (wednesday) the forecast predicted 38 and tomorrow we are in for some stinky hot 40 degrees. Have you got any snow at home yet? :-)

On sunday I went to visit Sharon and Paige. Sharon had been the director of YFU South Australia in '88 and both she and her daughter Paige had been staying with me for a few days back in Switzerland. We had a marvellous time catching up with each other, exchanging the latest gossip.

Yesterday Bron and Dan came back from Melbourne. They are both studying medicine and are on holiday at the moment. They spent a few days in Melbourne and will be back at work next week. It is the first time I have met Dan - they have only been together for two years - and he is a very nice guy. In addition to that he looks a bit like Moritz Bleibtreu (for those of you who watch german movies...).

I have not yet caught up with Duncan - my host brother - who seems to be busy working a lot but he should come around for dinner tonight.

Ah well, that is about all that has been happening around here. As I warned you nothing spectacular has yet happened and I will probably hang around here for another ten days or so to sort of catch up with all the people and as Bron and Dan seem to be quite some wine buffs we have plans to visit a winery or two over christmas.

Well, I reckon this is about enough news for the time being, I better go now. Have a merry christmas time and I will be thinking of you when I will be listening to INXS on new year's eve.

Newsletter 2 - Happy New Year
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As before I have not yet lived through incredible adventures but have rather continued the relaxing life of a visitor. I spent a lot of my time with my host sister Bronwyn and her boyfriend Daniel. We are having a lot of fun seeing things together, it is quite a change to realise she is no longer my nine year old little sister.

The two value a good drop of wine the same as I and we took this as a good excuse to spend a day in McLaren Vale. This is the second big wine region in the immediate vicinity of Adelaide, although less known in Europe. We stuck to tasting red wines which means mainly Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvedre and a little Merlot. Most of the vintages that can be tasted were 98, 99 or 2000 which in general were a little young but nonetheless promising. It is almost impossible to get hold of the older vintages - at least in the wineries themselves. The only bottle from the vintage of 96 was divine, 1996 apparently was one of the best years ever in the region.

On another day I fulfilled my very personal christmas wish by visiting the old historic Magill Estate of the Penfolds winery. This estate lies on the foothills of the Adelaide hills, most of the grapes for the Penfolds label come from over 30 vineyards all over South Australia, the Magill Estate yield is only used for some of the very best and exclusive wines such as the 'Penfolds Magill Estate', 'St. Henri' and 'Grange'. Unfortunately these can not be tasted on the normal tour. I only learned afterwards that this would have been possible with the $100 grange tour. Had I known before, I think I would have given in to the temptation. The other temptation was the sixpack of exclusive wines with a Grange, St. Henri, Bin 707, Magill Estate and 2 other top wines. I could only resist spending a small fortune on this due to the fact that the $350 shipping to Switzerland would have almost doubled the price of the collection.

The next day we visited the Barossa Valley to the north of Adelaide where we visited the vineyards of 'Peter Lehman', 'Wolf Blass' and 'Saltram'. While all of them were very nice, Wolf Blass stood out with an excellent and comprehensive selection of wines to taste. In between we stopped off at a small deli where we had a 'pie floater' for lunch. For outsiders, this is a meat pie floating in pea soup and is considered to be one of South Australias specialities - although its quality is a matter of heated debate. To my big surprise it was delicious, probably due to the fact that it was home made.

Besides pie floaters I have sampled other culinary peculiarities: I had a 'hamburger with the lot' for Reto, every once in a while I treat myself to a meat pie for lunch and in the meantime I have caught up on my deficit on Vegemite and have started eating it in advance to cover the next 6 years :-)

While the weather was not quite up to the season during the christmas days as it rained several times and stayed around a bearable twenty to twenty-five degrees in the city and actually was quite cool up in the hills, it has returned to the usual summer heat and the temperatures move between thirty to forty degrees.

Before the cold spell during christmas I had however managed to sit on a bench in Victoria Square while it was forty degrees, watching the artificial christmas tree, listening to 'Silent night' out of speakers. Somehow the whole thing had a rather unreal touch. Especially as I was hit upon by six rather unsavoury figures within the space of fifteen minutes. They all wanted some spare change - obviously to go and get some plonk or other booze. I gave some to the first bloke, I told the second one I had given all to the first one and had to laugh when the third and fourth showed up. However, when numbers five and six came along I was getting rather upset since I was actually trying to read a book and although they were all very polite and wished me a merry christmas - especially the first one after getting my change - they were starting to annoy me a bit.

We spent christmas eve at Andrew's sister Margaret's place where all his brothers with their families and his parents joined us for a nice christmas dinner. We sat in the garden of their house close to the beach, enjoying ourselves and gorging ourselves on the huge meat platters and salads. Christmas dinner in Australia apparently consists of various types of roasts (pork, turkey, beef, ham) and vegies or salads. It was a lot of fun to see all those people again after twelve years - including some I had never seen before - and to talk to them to find out what everyone had been doing lately.

On christmas day we had a smaller family dinner up at Uraidla with Bronwyn, Dan and Duncan. Again the classic roast but instead of the salad buffet we had 3 out of the 5 vegies (pumpkin, peas and potatoes this time) and gravy.

On boxing day I went to see Nick Duffield who had arranged for a BBQ with some of his friends and family. Nick has married his girlfriend of many years Amanda and they have a son of sixteen months. Nick is the son of one of my YFU counsellors. The barbecue was conforming with the usual Aussie barbie standards: Lots of steaks, onions and snags, plenty of salad, heaps of beer and of course sauce with everything. (Translation for the yanks among you: snags are sausages and you would call sauce 'ketchup'). We ate plenty and played some basket ball afterwards and then sat down with more stubbies to chat and gossip about old friends.

The day after that I caught up with Brenton and his wife Joy and their son Allistair. Brenton was my YFU contact person at the time. They moved to Canberra the year after I had been there, their sons live up in Brissie now. Allistair has a Norwegian girl friend and Llewellyn is currently travelling in Israel with his English girl friend from where they will go back to England for a couple of months before she is coming out to Australia for good. Brenton, Joy and Allistair came over to Adelaide for a few days over christmas to see all their friends and families. They will go up to Brisbane afterwards and I am not yet sure whether they will be back in Canberra by the time I will get there.

I also had a comfortable day with Jackie Jones - another of my YFU friends - who is actually still working for YFU despite its desolate situation. We spent most of the day discussing the problems of YFU Australia and YFU in the U.S - apart from gossiping about all the people of old times. Jackie has just had her eighth year student - a boy from Denmark - who went home a few weeks ago.

After the special experience of having christmas with unusual twenty five degrees new year has been more conforming to the expectations as it was between thirty five and forty degrees. During the last three days of December the first 'Asian Pacific Le Mans' race took place in Adelaide. Apparently the Yanks copied the twenty four hour race of Le Mans by adopting it to six hours and have now exported it to Australia. Adelaide - after losing the Formula One grand prix to Melbourne - seems to have taken the replacement race with enthusiasm. Getting a ticket to the race was a necessary evil as there were no tickets that were valid only for the party afterwards and since I already had a ticket I decided that I might as well could go and have a look parts of the race. After watching the start of it we decided we had seen all there is to it - which is not very much - and went back to Bron and Dan's place where we had a nice dinner out in the back yard, accompanied by the bloody noise of the race. We went back to see the last laps of the race around ten o'clock and then at half past the concerts on the two stages started. While Bron and Dan went to see the more current Aussie bands (spiderbait and such...) I stuck to the real reason I had bought myself a ticket and went to see INXS. After a bearable local supporting act (Taxiride) INXS started playing twenty minutes before midnight. I would not have expected to ever see them live again but they now have a new lead singer: John Stevens who they must have picked by his voice. It is almost indistinguishable from Michael Hutchence's voice - at least while he sings. It took me some getting used to the fact that their singer no longer looks what he used to look like but this feeling passed rather quickly because the music was awesome. They went right across the full twenty years of their repertoire and played them as well as ever. In addition to a great performance came a great atmosphere with most of the audience knowing most of the lyrics by heart and happily singing along - a rather stark contrast to the concert in Zurich quite a few years ago. After a fantastic evening we slept in today and after a searing forty degrees down in the city it is almost a relief to be back up in the hills where it is generally about five degrees cooler than down in the Adelaide itself.

On wednesday I plan to leave Adelaide on the Wayward Bus and make my way along the south east coast towards Melbourne. This will mark the start of my real backpacking holiday. I do not know how often I will be able to keep you posted but at least the next editions of my newsletter will probably be closer to your expectations than the first two issues.

I wish you all a happy new year and look forward to hearing from you.

Newsletter 3 - Backpacking
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It has not even been a week but it feels a lot longer. In the meantime I have come along the coast on the wayward bus and already roamed parts of Melbourne on foot and discovered quite a few things. But let me tell one thing after another.

Our trip on the Wayward bus started early in Adelaide with Janet and Andrew and Bron and Dan coming to see me off. I hope it will not be another six years until we meet again. I know Bron and Dan plan to come to see me next winter which I am looking forward to and Janet and Andrew have some plans as well. We went straight back up the hills to Hahndorf, an old settlement of german emigrants that has been kept in semi-pristine condition with a lot of added "kitsch" for the tourists who are fed through the village at an incredible rate. We just did a short breakfast stop for those who did not have the big English breakkie I had had. The drive to Wellington where we crossed the river Murray by ferry gave us enough time to get to know each other. There were four more Swiss people, three Norwegians, three from Adelaide, two from NZ, three from Germany, one Pom, a Queenslander, two Canadians and Robyn our tour guide. With only very few exceptions we were a great group and had a brilliant time.
Our first day took us into Meningie on the shore of Lake Albert (part of Lake Alexandrina) where we stopped quickly for a dip in the lake and the compulsory dunny break. We then drove on into the Coorong - a 90km 'Appendix' off the mouth of the Murray. The whole countryside from the Adelaide Hills down to the Victorian border was incredibly dry, mostly yellow grass with the occasional green bush. Once in the Coorong things became more colourful, first of all "Pink Lake" a pink coloured salt lake. According to the Aborigines the colour comes from the blood that was spilt when one tribe defended their territory against another tribe - western science claims it is due to algae. We did a lunch stop at Hack's Point where we also went on an Aboriginal Bush Tucker tour showing us some features of the region, teaching us some plants to eat and to heal and also giving us some stories of how the major landmarks were created according to their lore. From there we went on to the sand dunes of the Coorong before leaving the national park and driving along the coast through Robe into Beachport where we spent our first night. Beachport had been troubled by 140 bikies the night before - they had luckily moved on to Robe where we could see them all over town - I guess they almost doubled the population of the two places with their presence. The first evening was spent getting to know the people and what better place to do that than the local pub with a counter meal and a few stubbies of Coopers Pale (that is what should be drunk down under! - those ordering VB were quickly stopped by those who knew better ;-) Once the Pub closed we took a slab along to the beach which had a charm of its own.

The next day we went through Millicent - a place I had been to once before, twelve years ago on a quest of teenage romance ;-) - and then drove on to Mount Gambier where we visited the mysterious Blue Lake which is a deep blue for half of the year and then turns an unspectacular grey the rest of the year. Not that anyone has an explanation for it... We also had a look at the local Sinkhole - a cavity that had collapsed a few thousand years ago and has been made into a nice shady garden by the locals over the past 150 years. We stopped for lunch just inside Victoria at Nelson on the Glenelg river where we also swam to recover from the broken down air conditioning. After lunch the bus did not even start and it was only thanks to a car mechanic on holidays in our group that we did not have to wait for the towing truck. The air conditioning however stayed as dead as it had been since mid morning which left most of us sweating in competition. The stop at Cape Bridgewater was quite welcome after a burning hot afternoon and we were even quite glad for the change in weather which had turned quite Victorian with a low cloud cover, cool winds and even some rain. We took a forty-five minute trip in an inflatable boat to see the local colony of Australian Fur Seals which we could see from a few meters distance which was amusing to the eye but definitely not to the nose. Shudder.
From Cape Bridgewater we went on to Port Fairy where we stayed the second night. We decided to abandon the planned pizza evening on the beach due to the weather and stuck to the pub which had after all worked nicely on the first night. We stayed there until the light went out in the thunderstorm and found out that the best thing to do in such a situation was to drink the beer before it would grow to warm in a fridge without power. Going to the loo was slightly more complicated but our smokers saved the day by lending lighters to those in need under the condition that they would be returned washed ;-)

The next day took us to the old extinct volcano of Tower Hill which nowadays is a national park and gave us our share of Emus, Kangaroos and Koalas. We started an hour late but it was well worth it as this hour had given us our air conditioning back - not that we needed it much as the Victorian weather stayed with us all day. On the way from Tower Hill to Great Ocean Road I even managed to cause a short detour and special stop so I could visit Yvonne's host parents who are now running a B&B place in Koroit (Yvonne had been on exchange in Warrnambool at the same time as I). It was good to see Helen and Brian again and we tried to cover as much gossip as possible in 20 minutes.
From Koroit we drove through Warrnambool to Peterborough where Great Ocean Road starts for good and stopped off at different places of interest such as: Bay of Islands, London Bridge (which has collapsed in 1990, I was the only one on the trip who had ever seen it with two arches :-), Loch Ard Gorge, The Twelve Apostles, and so on. Every sight an absolutely stunning visit at least to a Swiss not being used to it. I have seen Great Ocean Road for the third time now but it never fails to impress me when the waves coming from Antarctica smash into the Australian mainland eating away the soil slowly but constantly, I should come back in another 3'000 years or so to check out what it looks like then :-) After leaving the rugged coast behind our bus climbed up into the Otway ranges where we visited Mait's Rest, a walk through subtropic rain forest, I am sure had Calvin been there with Hobbes a gigantic T-Rex would have walked out from behind one of these ferns...
From there the road wound its way back down to Apollo Bay a nice beach resort with plenty of restaurants. We decided to follow up on the Pizza party we had to forgo the night before and went to pick up some pizza, a slab or two and a couple of bottles of wine. We ended up cramming 24 people into a living room which was probably designed for six. We had a ball and it was a good thing there were 24 instead of the original eight because I do not think we could have gotten rid of all the booze we had bought.

As it turns out we still were not enough and quite a few of us felt slightly delicate the next morning. The windy road from Apollo Bay to Lorne was definitely not what my stomach had been looking forward to. I was certainly not the only one sleeping most of the way till Melbourne, just waking up for the brief stops at Lorne (prime surfing and swimming resort in Victoria, they had their annual 'from the pier to the beach' life saver competition on), Bell's Beach (portrayed in the film 'Point Break' although filmed in Oregon, USA) and then finally across 'Westgate' - a huge bridge across the Yarra river - into Melbourne where most people were dropped off at the Arts Centre. I got a lift with just two more people right to the door of the Youth Hostel I had booked.

The Queensberry Hill YHA is a huge place with rooms on three floors - probably housing about 300 people - a roof terrace with a marvellous view of Melbourne, and all the other usual facilities a hostel offers. After sleeping off my hangover I quickly ventured into town to pick up a weekly bus and tram ticket, getting the previous days' newspaper for the entertainment guide (thank god to Lonely Planets for that hint) and then went straight back for an early night.

On day two - to be honest I should probably call it day one ;-) - I spent most of my day walking back and forth across Melbourne. I am not going to give you an exact report but will summarise what I deemed worth seeing here. The Queen Victoria Markets are quite a sight, I do not think there is anything here that cannot be bought. The inner city (they call it the central business district CBD) is laid out in a nice square between La Trobe St and Flinders St (going N to S) and Spencer St and Spring St (going W to E). In this square there are quite a few 'old' buildings (up to 150 years :-) such as the GPO, town hall, parliament building, a few churches, a few theatres, Flinders Station and so on. Then there are plenty of high rises (that is what they call sky-scrapers down under) of which the Rialto Tower is the highest. There is a viewing platform on level 55 (at 253 meters) from where one has a spectacular view over the city and Port Philipp Bay. The Sofitel Hotel has a restaurant and toilets on level 35 which are recommended in the Lonely Planet but apparently the hotel management has gotten wind of this because they walked me straight back out the front door. I might need to go back when I look more respectable.
Melbourne has a multitude of parks both north and south of the Yarra and even in the city streets there is many a green oasis to sit down and relax a bit. Besides the old and high buildings there is a lot of typically Australian 'daring architecture' such as the Arts Centre, the Southgate Complex along the Yarra, the 'Federal Square' which is being built across from Flinders Station, the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground, or just 'the G' to us insiders ;-) and the tennis courts besides it.

The botanical gardens and the 'Shrine of Remembrance' commemorating the victims of all Australias Wars lie besides each other and the a visit to the botanical garden certainly enthralled me more than the serene setting of the memorial. The garden is beautiful and quiet and it was worth the walk to just sit alone in the herb garden at sunset, seeing the sun go down, smelling all the different smells from the herbs that have been planted in a loving layout.

With this I have pretty much covered the 'city sights' and will go down to St. Kilda one of these days which is the suburb on the beach - famous in itself.

The other thing Melbourne has to offer is culture. I have so far seen three Australian movies: 'Innocence' a very sensitive and subtle portrait of older people rediscovering their love of their youth which was forbidden by their parents. Very touching, great actors and the added benefit of being filmed in Adelaide. 'Better than sex' a hilariously funny comedy of two young people in Sydney who discover that their 'quick night of non-committal sex' leads them to the relationship they both did not want to start with. 'The dish' a comical look at Australias role in the first landing of man on the moon.

I might get the chance to see the whole of 'Himalaya' which played in Locarno two years ago - unlike Reto I just fell asleep then :-). As for falling asleep during movies: just to clear my name, here is what Melbourne newspaper "The Age" says about "Million Dollar Hotel": The latest masterpiece by Wim Wender features a murder investigation in a rundown hotel crammed so full of quirky characters it's hard to stay awake. As per most Wender's films, there is about one interesting minute for every hour of screen time".

Well, I have got to go and see some Shakespeare in the Botanical Gardens now, I will let you know more tomorrow.

All right, back I am. Romeo and Juliette were magnificent, goode olde Billie really had his stuff together as far as play writing went! He is about the only bloke I know that manages to come up with a tragedy in which 4 people die, that has no happy end (or does this count: after the main characters have died of love, their warring families decide that enough blood has flown and they should be friendly ever more?) but still has the audience rolling with laughter several times throughout the play. If I recall correctly (and Märe, please pay attention now!) these parts full of bawdy humour were inserted into the plays to amuse the 'groundlings' - the common folk standing on the ground floor, not being sophisticated enough to understand the finer plots of the play. As we were all sitting on the ground, I guess these parts were meant for me as well. Although I have to say, understanding the plot *AND* the humour I wonder whether these passages were not equally intended for the higher clientele as well... ;-)

I have in the meantime finally adapted to the last bit of Australiana, the driving on the wrong side of the road. After making a fool of myself at the Adelaide airport when Andrew came to pick me up by opening the passenger side's door only to find a steering wheel 'and the lot', I have now finally transcended through the stages of (1) getting run over because I was looking for traffic on the wrong side to (2) checking both sides, just to be on the safe side and have now arrived in the terminal stage (3) where I actually check the right (literally) side and then confidently walk and only bother to check the left once I reach the middle of the road. I wonder how long it will take me to become de-naturalised again back in Europe...

I will write more about the culture and the second half of my stay later on.

Newsletter 4 - Snowies
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Today is my last day in Melbourne before I am going on into the Snowy Mountains. After sending you my last mail I went off into the city to do some shopping and then onwards to see St. Kilda, the fabled Melbourne beach and I have to say it was quite a disappointment. Of course it is an Aussie beach and I have yet to see a beach in any other place that beats any of the Australian beaches I have so far seen. But in the end it is just a beach and there are better ones - take Glenelg for one. It offers everything St. Kilda has (maybe except for the live music in the evenings) and adds some waves to the water so at least you can have some fun swimming in Glenelg whereas St. Kilda beach is just there to contain a placid entity of warm salt water to cool down. The other thing St. Kilda is good for is lying in the sun for hours to get a tan but since that has not been a wise and healthy option in Australia for more than a decade, the only choice one has is to go back into the cool shops to spend obscene amounts of money on cool clothes or to drink oneself into stupor in one of the many pubs. I decided against all of that and went back into the city where I got myself a ticket for the open air cinema in the botanical gardens. Finally seeing 'the Blair Witch Project' under open skies with hundreds of flying foxes (a kind of bat) added that certain eerie feeling the movie does not really need because it is quite bloody scary enough by itself (at least for me;-)

The next day I went to the MCG for my first ever live Cricket game and to burst the surprising news right at the start, I might become a sports follower yet. I went to see the first day and night match between Australia and the West Indies in the Carlton Series. Amazingly enough, after having claimed Cricket to be totally inunderstandable by non-members of a commonwealth country I actually grasped the rules after a 20 minute introduction by Andrew when I was in Adelaide and I was surprised that I understood most of what happened on the field. (For those of you who are interested I will send out summaries of "Cricket as I understand it" upon request ;-). Australia actually beat the West Indies quite clearly but seeing it done was still a spectacle. I spent 4 hours sitting in the scorching sun while Australia batted but skipped watching the West Indies batting as I was to 'cooked' by then. Apparently I did not miss much - at least not cricket-wise. Whenever the action on the field was unspectacular the crowd actually entertained itself. Have you aver seen a wave go around a stadium? Yes, I have, too. But have you ever seen it done with tens of thousands of people holding open water bottles in their hands? I have not and it is quite a sight. It looks like diamond ropes being thrown into the sun just to fall down onto the ground again.

On the next day I went on a one day tour to the Grampians, a mountain range roughly a third of the way towards Adelaide. After a fairly taxing drive to actually get to Halls Gap (which is the one and major town in the Grampians ;-) we had a few hours to discover the views and sights such as 'the wonderlands', 'McKenzie Falls', 'Bluff Lookout' and 'the Balconies'. It was a nice place and we had a great time but to really discover this place you would need a lot more than just a day trip from Melbourne. A mistake I shall learn from for next time I am here!

Yesterday I did a shorter day trip (not time but distance wise) which took me into Wilson's Promontory which is the national park covering mainland Australia's southernmost bit of land. It is a chain of granite mountains that actually continue all the way to Tasmania. During the last ice age they were over water and supposedly the way the aboriginal people walked from the mainland to Tasmania. Today they are mostly covered in forest, mainly eucalypt and temperate rainforest, leading down to beautiful beaches. More than half the park is wilderness area which means that the only way to get about is by hiking. We spent a few hours climbing 'Mt. Bishop' which gave us an excellent view over some of the areas of the easier accessible park and spent a couple of hours hiking from 'Tidal rivers' across to 'Squeaky Beach', a beach that is covered in such fine sand that whenever you drag your feet a little while walking it actually makes squeaky noises. After a few more exciting walks we drove back to Melbourne. While the 'Prom' definitely deserves another more extended visit we had a lot more time to explore and discover the park than we did in the Grampians and the trip was definitely worth it.
In the evening I went to the 'Mercury Lounge' at Crown's Casino where Jimmy Barnes played on his 'Soul Deeper' tour. The lounge fits about 300 people (for those from back home, it is about the size of the 'Mühli Hunziken' without the upper floors) and the atmosphere was incredible. He and his band - including his daughter as background singer - and a few local guests performed songs from their latest album as well as some of the good old Cold Chisel songs as well as some of his own. Take the rough Aussie rock, add a bit of soul, funk and blues and you can imagine what the concert was like. On his album he interprets 'classic hits' of other great singers so the set covered songs by stars such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, Jimmy Barnes, Otis Redding, Barnes, James Brown, David Bowie, Barnes, Bob Marley, Bee Gees, Barnes, the Temptation and Jimmy Barnes again. It was cooking. The only drawback was that the concert was so bloody loud that I still have an annoying whistling sound in my ears today - but then I guess that is part of going to a Jimmy Barnes concert as well ;-)

Wow, it has been more than a week and I have in the meantime made it to Sydney. Let me see whether I can recall everything that has happened to me since the last time I worked on this report.

I left Melbourne on a tour going to Sydney with plans of hopping off the tour on the second day. We threaded our way north-east from Melbourne going through Yea for a coffee break (freaky name, ey?) on towards Glenrowan (where bushranger Ned Kelly was caught in a huge showdown (Ned is the closest thing Australia has to Robin Hood, although he stole from the rich for himself ;-)) and then through Milawa (where we tasted some wines at the Brown Brothers winery) to a place whose name I cannot recall right now (but the Man from Snowy river features heavily. He was a famous stockman who became immortal by being a the centre of Banjo Patterson's poem with the same name). From there we drove along lake Hume (a dammed lake on the border between Victoria and New South Wales) before crossing the Murray once more (although it is a lot smaller and cleaner up here. It is amazing that Adelaide's drinking water irrigates half of Victoria before being drunk - now wonder it smells like a swimming pool by the time it comes out of the tap) and staying at a motel in Khancoban. The residence there was very nice including a pool and a spa which was much appreciated.

The next day we got up early and made our way into the Mt. Kosciuszko National Park. Our first stop was at the Murray 2 power station which is part of the Snowy River Hydro Scheme. The waters of the snowy river (which originally drained into the pacific ocean) are captured in sixteen dammed lakes and tunnelled to the other side of the great dividing range to drain into the Darling-Murray system and on into the southern ocean. On the way it creates electricity for Victoria and New South Wales and irrigates many a farm. The scheme was built from 1949 until the early seventies and apart from being one of the biggest engineering feats also was the base for a multicultural country as a lot of non-british immigrants were brought in to work on it. We then made our way to an old air strip where we stopped to see some kangaroos. Although I had seen some in the wild before I have never encountered them in such large numbers up so close. They are definitely strange animals. We then drove along the 'Alpine Way' that leads across the Great Dividing Range (in the vicinity it is called the Snowy Mountains). We stopped in Thredbo where I left the tour to stay in the youth hostel for a few nights. Thredbo is one of Australia's skiing resorts and in summer is popular as it is the easiest way to get to the top of Mt. Kosciuszko which is Australia's highest mountain at 2228 metres above sea level. I caught the chair lift with the others from the group and found out that the 'hiking trail (sic)' consisted of metal grates 1.5m wide that lead almost all the 6km to the top (only the last bit is a 2m wide dirt road). It does definitely not confirm to my definition of a hiking trail and the way to the top is more of a stroll than a hike. It still is worth the trip though, as the view is quite astonishing and in addition to that there is a certain kick in turning 30 on the highest mountain of a continent [any others that want to claim this ?].
After walking back down the others took the chair lift but as I was in no hurry I decided to follow the 10km trail to Dead Horse Gap (which is the pass where the alpine way crosses from the western to the eastern part of the Snowies) and then along the Thredbo river back to the village. Staying at the youth hostel was nice, it is a very cosy place with many sofas, a fireplace and many games. It was definitely a good place to rest my feet.

The next day I decided to go for a hike a little more challenging than the one on the day before and again caught the chair lift to 1930m and then threaded my way along the grate-way to Rawson's Pass (where the last kilometre to the top turns off) and went on a hike called the 'Main Range' which leads along the mountaintops and past some lakes towards Charlotte Pass (another skiing resort) from where the way follows the 'Old Summit road' (it used to be possible to drive all the way to Rawson's Pass) which ultimately takes you back to the chair lift. The day was rather cloudy and very windy, with gusts of up to 50km per hour and the first two hours were quite chilly. It took a bit of patience and some luck to actually glimpse bits of the view through the clouds. After my lunch on Carruther's Peak the weather cleared up and granted brilliant views of the source area of the snowy river, the high peaks of the Snowies and the surrounding mountains. I just got back in time for the last chair lift and after a 30km hike treasured those YHA sofas for another night.

On the next day I just lazed around, enjoying myself, checking some e-mail (although writing any was a pain as the keyboards were covered in anti-baby-slobber-foil), reading, shopping, going for a short walk and talking to some people. On the next day I packed up and took the chair lift up to the top again, to walk down part of the ascent where I found myself a quiet spot to enjoy the afternoon before hiking back up and taking the chair lift back down which offered great views of the village. Considering it is a skiing resort it actually looks quite nice and is sort of nestled into the mountain side relatively discreetly. In the evening I caught a bus to Canberra where Brenton and Joy (whom I had already met in Adelaide for dinner) picked me up. They had just come back down from visiting their son Alistair in Brisbane the day before.

We spent most of the weekend just relaxing, sleeping in and chatting. In the evening we watched 'The Castle' a hilarious Aussie comedy of a few years ago. On sunday we went to the old parliament house to see some art and to stroll through an exhibition of the change of government of '75. At the time the labour government under Gough Withlam was in a deadlock with the Senate under liberal opposition leader Malcolm Fraser. The governor-general John Kerr disbanded the elected government and installed Fraser as head of an interim's government. This is probably the closest Australia has come to a proper political scandal (at least to my knowledge, but then, it took me 13 years to find out about this one so there might be others) and caused a lot of controversy and protest at the time. The exhibition was very interesting and showed well how the conflict developed and how it was resolved - with the help of a little back stabbing - and finally ended in elections which brought the Liberals a landslide victory. Really very interesting.

On monday morning I had a few hours before my bus left and I just strolled around the city, walking up to the new parliament house, down to the high court, the national library and back to the bus station from where I caught the bus to Sydney. I am staying in a nice little hostel called the 'pink house' which is on the edge of King's Cross. It is not a particularly quiet place but serves well enough for two nights. While I am not usually a person to whinge about the weather I have to say that it is quite disgusting here in Sydney. The sun brings reasonable temperatures around thirty degrees but the humidity of over 65% makes the place feel like steamy old Darwin - this seems a bit out of place to me. After a quick stroll around the harbour past Ms Macquaries Point to the Opera House and Circular Quay I gave myself the birthday present I did not have last week. I booked myself on a tour to climb the harbour bridge. This is something that has only been possible for a little over a year. The company running the climbs fits you into a coverall, take all of your positions into storage (lest you drop them from the top), toss on a hat, some sunnies, a radio for communication, a security belt that connects to the railing and then march you up to the bridge. First you walk under the road level until reaching the pylons, then up on a walkway, 50m over the water before making the way up along foru ladders through the traffic on both sides to the beginning of the upper arch. The tour then leads along the upper arch to the very top, across to the other arch and back down until you are safely back on the ground. The whole tour is incredibly awesome. Seeing the construction of the tower so close up makes you appreciate the engineering feat done in the late 1930ies, seeing the city and the harbour from up here even beats the views from Centrepoint tower. The only disadvantages are that I could not bring my own camera and that there are now showers at the end of the climb ;-)
After that I made my way out to the olympic park at Homebush Bay where I took a tour of the 'Stadium Australia' which took us from the bottom to the top and back down, allowing us to wallow in memories of all the things I had seen on television. At the moment they are turning the stadium from an olympic venue to a normal stadium and they actually removed the olympic torch today, it was quite strange to see it lying on the trailer of a truck...
After getting back to the city I hopped onto a ferry across to Manly where I had some greasy fish and chips for dinner before getting back to the city and finding my way to an internet cafe...

Tomorrow I am off to Tassie and will try to let you know what experiences I make there before going on the New Zealand.

Newsletter 5 - Hobart
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After sending you the last newsletter I made my way to Sydney airport where I caught a plane to Melbourne and from there another one to Hobart. Unfortunately I could not get a window seat on neither of them, I would have really liked to take some aerial shots of the three cities. As if to mock me, the rows I sat in where - as usual - above the wing and in the first plane my row did not even have a window so actually getting a window seat on that one would have been quite a bit of real life sarcasm :-)

After steaming in Sydney I was quite surprised that coming to Tassie in my shorts had been a bit too cheeky, it was seventeen degrees, cloudy and just started raining after I checked into my hostel. It was quite a change to unpack my long pants for the first time due to the weather and to actually dig out my raincoat as well. For the first time I am actually using my sleeping bag at night although I consider that an improvement over the heat in Sydney.

After all the jokes and rumours of the mainland Aussies about the Tasmanians I encountered my first species on the airport shuttle bus. He seems to have been of the rather simple kind and after the first two minutes made a pest of himself telling me the differences about picking up women in Adelaide (where he had just spent his holidays) and Hobart. I was quite glad to be rid of him once I got off the bus. Other than that I have not seen any two headed people - but then they cut off their second heads at birth, I am told. They all stress that they have a strange sense of humour but I found that no change from the rest of Australia. They actually refer to mainland Australia as 'the north island' over here ;-)

Hobart is a quiet little town of roughly 50'000 people. It is the first capital city that is not just lying on a flat plain (the Adelaide Hills do not count, there are flat parts in Adelaide) wherever you want to go you end up walking up and down hills. It is quite a change. Hobart does not really sport any adventurous architecture that makes most of the other Australian capitals so attractive. The most inspiring building I have seen is the 'Grand Hotel Chancellor' with the new concert hall and the kindest thing I can say about that place is that it is 'ugly' - extremely ugly.

Hobart - being founded in 1806 is the second oldest city in Australia - and amazingly enough does not have a lot of the 'typical Victorian buildings' most other capitals do but is instead lined with a lot of 'typical, historical Georgian' houses. Most of them just look like run of the mill brick-and-corrugated iron houses to me and I somehow fail to note the significance - most of them are neither specifically beautiful nor unbelievably historic. But then this probably has to do with my warped sense of history that has been blunted by growing up in a city full of 14th century buildings...

Apart from a bland architecture and an uninspiring city layout Hobart is quite a nice place as far as I can tell. It is located on the Derwent river which flows out into the Tasman sea a few kilometres further down and being situated on the gentle hills it looks quite picturesque - if you look from the distance. Some of the more official buildings actually look quite nice even from closer up. There are a lot of galleries and arts shops, many cosy cafes and restaurants and the views across the Derwent are quite stunning.

The Tasman bridge spanning the river in a huge arc is quite amazing, too. I have only briefly glimpsed Mt. Wellington, the city's 1300m Mountain who is blamed for its relatively bad weather. Instead I have taken a bus to the top of Mt. Nelson which is only slightly more than half the height but nonetheless offers great vistas over the Derwent settlements and the city of Hobart. A stroll along the Harbour offers an insight into the many aspects of trade on an island and for a landlocked Swiss is quite fascinating.

Today I spent a day on a tour to Port Arthur, the penal settlement on the Tasman Peninsula to the south of Hobart. The trip there was relatively uneventful apart from the fact that we saw five Tasmanian Devils - road kill luring more of them to feast on their dead brethren the next night just to join them in being 'road challanged animals' as the guide put it politically correctly.
Port Arthur itself is quite fascinating. It was founded in 1830 as a penal settlement within the penal settlement of Tasmania. Whoever broke the rules in the normal convict settlements was sent to Port Arthur. The grounds are quite large and while a lot of the buildings fell into disrepair after the closing of the penitentiary in 1877 and were destroyed in bush fires in 1895 and 1897 they still manage to transpire a part of the atmosphere and size of the place. Apart from the historic tragedy of the place there is a memorial for the victims of a present day tragedy when a gunman went amok killing 35 people in the old visitor's centre. It is hard to believe how anyone can do this although it is slightly ironic that he picked a place he would have been sent to for his deed 150 years ago - provided he had not been hanged.

After writing the last bit I returned to the hostel and wandered down into the lounge to flop down in front of the tellie for a bit. There was some kind of Aussie movie that played in London in the 60ies which was called 'Kangaroo Palace'. It was not particularly spectacular but one of the blokes in the movie was actually 'Colin Carpenter' of the Comedy Company (for those who know it ;-) and I just burst out 'Wow, this is Colin Carpenter' where upon all the people in the TV lounge just stared at me as if I had gone absolutely bonkers. Apparently there were no Australians around who were old enough to remember ;-) After making a fool of myself I decided to go to the bar and grab a beer and guess whom I walked into? Steve who had been on the Wayward bus from Adelaide to Melbourne. He had just been touring Tasmania for the past few weeks and we talked a bit and found out that we both had tickets for the concert on saturday night and decided to go there together but you'll learn about that in a few lines ;-)

On saturday I just had a lazy day, wandering down to the Salamanca Markets which take place every saturday. It is quite a colourful affair and in fact the weather had cleared up considerably which brought out quite a different side of Hobart, the streets suddenly filled with people who strolled along the city, having picnics on the lawns, kids running around, Mt. Wellington decided to shed its clouds and show itself to the city in addition to that the bustling activity of the markets and suddenly my heart was lost despite my first impression which had been rather guarded. Since the weather was so nice I got myself a ticket on the ferry, got onto it and just stayed on it for a one and a half hour trip around the Derwent river. It was quite enjoyable, having a bit of a cool breeze, seeing the city from the river and relaxing. We went past the USS Cheyenne (a nuclear sub) which had been anchored in the river for five days, it left early this morning and apparently had to leave behind its anchor as it was stuck in the mud ;-).
After getting back from the cruise I went shopping for dinner at the markets and then went back to the hostel where I met Steve and together we wandered up to the Hobart Cricket Ground where AC/DC were giving their first concert in Tasmania since 1976. It is part of their Australian 'Stiff upper lip' tour and there were 18'000 people from all over Tasmania. The supporting act was 'Living End' another Aussie band (I think they played on the other stage at the Adelaide Le Mans on new year's eve but I am not quite sure). Although Acadaca are not my preferred style of music I still had to say that the concert was absolutely stunning. Apart from extending my musical horizon it was quite an experience to see 18'000 fans from 5 to 50 rocking to one of 'their' bands. The stage show was awesome, they had a 12m statue of Angus Young, fire spitting devices, cannon, lights, screens and a huge blow up 'Rosie' doll, they played for two hours straight and the short splattering of rain did not seem to disturb anyone but added the additional groove of a lovely rainbow. I guess this will have been my last chance of seeing local bands play live down here but I am sure NZ has their own...

On sunday I slept in, did some washing and then wandered down to the Antarctic Exhibition. Hobart is the major site of 'Anare' the Australian Antarctic research group which has its centre here in Hobart and most of the resupplying ships stop here before doing their summer runs down to Antarctica. It was a fascinating exhibition covering a lot of aspects such as animal life, environmental concerns, discovery, research and living in a world of ice. I had to think of my friend Silvio quite often who spent three weeks down there a couple of years ago doing research for his PHD - maybe I should have studied geology after all... Back at the hostel I spent the night in front of the TV watching Zimbabwe being whipped by Australia - something I plan to see again live tomorrow as they third match will be played in Hobart which should be a lot of fun.

I spent monday going to Mt. Field National Park which is about 80km from Hobart. Its easily accessible parts are Lake Dobson, the Tall Tree walk and Russel Falls. Lake Dobson welcomed us with pouring rain which did not keep us from going for a walk along its shores to view some of the flowers. We saw white flowering Tea Trees, Mountain Peppers, Pandani Palms, Snow Gums, Pineapple Grass, and a lot more. It was quite fascinating. We then drove to the tall tree walk which lead through a dense forest of swamp gums (Eucalyptus Regnans) which are the largest gum trees, they are hardwood giants, similar to the giant Redwoods in the USA and grow to almost a hundred metres. Their bases are huge, just walking by them made me feel dwarfed. They grow to roughly 400 years and there is ample evidence of trees that have fallen down, tearing huge breaches into the forest by taking down many smaller trees on their fall. The vegetation in the breach has long since regrown but the giant carcasses still lie on the ground slowly rotting. Everything that lies on the ground is covered in green moss, it looks decidedly like a place out of a fairy tale - the only other place I have ever seen that came close was the area around Lake Killarney in Ireland - except for the huge trees. When walking silently there is a multitude of bird sounds and it is difficult to see more than a few dozen metres into the forest. I am positive that had I left the track I would have easily become lost without hope of ever finding my way out again. Up till today I found it hard to believe that one could get lost in a forest but I doubt I will ever call anything in Switzerland forest again after seeing this. I do not recall who it was but in our philosophy classes we learned that someone - I am almost certain it was one of the greeks - said that the first step to philosophy was to be amazed. I can certainly follow that argument now! The walk led straight on to Russel and Horseshoe Falls, which are waterfalls of roughly 40m that fall through this spooky forest scenery and are quite a sight.
On the way back we stopped of at Bonorong nature park where we saw baby wombats that were being reared until they could be set free again, orphan Tasmanian Devils that were being fed, the compulsory Koalas and Roos and abundant bird life. We then went through Richmond - a town that used to be the main stopping point on the way to Port Arthur and later was bypassed with the result of hardly having hardly grown and it remains much like it used to look. I am usually a bit wary with such 'tourist towns' but have to admit that Richmond is indeed quite tastefully beautiful. It might have helped that we got there late in the afternoon and most of the tourist traps were already closed.

On the trip I got talking to an Englishman from York who is around 55 and is on his third trip down under. He is insisting that backpacking is the only real way to travel because he gets to see so many interesting people and on his last trip he had dragged along his partner - also backpacking - and she just loved it. We had some fascinating discussions during the day. He is on a ten week stint hopping from Samoa to Fidji to Auckland and Wellington to Tassie to Perth to Singapore and back home. Just visiting friends and relations and places that appeal to him, spending a week or two in each place, taking his time really looking at a place without one though at all the other things he misses on the way. Quite refreshing after seeing so many people in their need to 'cover everything' on their way. I especially treasured that encounter after being considered a bit of a freak for staying in Hobart for a whole week by some who thought that there was nothing to see here ;-)

Tomorrow I plan to go and see the cricket before heading off to tour the rest of the island on wednesday. I will get back to you once I have seen some more.

Newsletter 6 - Tassie
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I am sitting in the bakery in Coles Bay hacking my way through my e-mails. For those that the next few lines mean anything: I have the novel experience of sitting at a linux powered web terminal which is in itself quite a pleasure as a matter of principle. It is only lessened by the fact that the installation is a bit 'circumcised' - if you permit the expression - it does not allow the use of the shell or *the* editor (joe) for the writing of my mails. Nor does 'xv' work here - but then any sane individual should now better than to send me pictures as 'bmp' files...

Anyway, back to things of general interest. I left Hobart two days ago on the bus along the east coast. The trip itself was rather uneventful apart from quite a few 'flattels' [the third declination of roadkill: animal, deadle, flattle] - mostly possums, devils and the occasional rabbit. Opinions down here diverge on whether the increasing number of road kill means that the population of devils has risen so the chances of them getting run over is bigger or whether it just means that the remaining animals are being decimated a lot more quickly...
Just outside Swansea we passed 'spiky bridge' which is a convict built bridge which has hundreds of granite spikes built into its rails. Apparently the bloke designing the bridge did this to keep the cattle from jumping off the bridge. The locals reckon that he must have been quite a city slicker.

Coles Bay lies at the beginning of the Freycinet Peninsula which is marked by the four mountains called 'the hazards' at the neck of the peninsula. Behind it are beautiful beaches, two more mountains, hectares of untouched bush, some peat bogs and swamps and off the tip of the island there is Schouten Island which is also part of the national park.
After getting myself a room I spent the afternoon hitching a lift into the park (walking along the road for 5km just did not appeal to me) which turned out to be quite easy. I then took a quick stroll up onto 600m high Mt. Amos which offers an awesome view over Coles Bay, the northern east cost and the full length of the peninsula even as far down as Maria Island (which is another national park further down south). Seeing the often pictured Wineglass Bay from up here was quite magnificent and I had lunch on top of Mt. Amos admiring the view and recovering from the steep and tricky climb up. In the evening we were a crowd of six flopping down in front of the telly taking the advertisement breaks to chat - quite pleasant.

Yesterday I decided to go for a big hike into the park. As the shuttle bus to the park does not leave before 9.30 and I doubted many cars were going in before 8 I inquired about renting a bike. The bloke renting them out wanted to know where I planned to go and when I told him I just needed it as transport into the park and back out he told me that the shuttle bus would be cheaper. When I told him I wanted an early start in order to get through the 27km hike (Peninsula Track) he went ballistic insisting it was a 2 or even 3 day hike and there was no way it could be done in a day. I placated him by promising I would consider an easier route and thought I would just see how far I would get by early afternoon and then decide to either go on or turn back if it was that difficult. As it then turned out I managed to do it in just over 8 hours and when I returned the bike and told him I did the full track he did not believe me.

The track leads over a pass between two of the Hazards down onto Wineglass bay, across what they call the 'isthmus track' to 'Hazards Beach', along a bush track down to the start of 'Cook's Beach' and then angles back through the bush behind Mt. Freycinet and over the top of Mt. Graham and along its ridge down to the southern end of Wineglass bay from where it is just a walk along the beach and back over the pass. It really was lovely. On the more frequented route down to Cook's Beach (there is a camp site there) I met fourteen people in two hours and after that on the track through the bush I only met one person in five hours. It was just marvellous. Stunning landscape, the dense eucalypt bush with its typical smell and sounds and quite a few wild life encounters. There are uncountable small lizards resting along the track and whenever you walk by they run away for two steps, then wait to see if you keep coming and then run away for good. This makes a very distinctive rushing sound in the dry leaves (Swsht-Swsht- break-Swsht-Swsht). I got so used to the sound that I did not really pay it much attention any more until the one occasion where it just sounded wrong (more of a Swshshshshsh sound). Looking closer I saw a snake slithering away. I have no clue what sort of snake it was (black, roughly a meter long) but it sure gave me a scare. After that I paid a bit more attention to those lizard-sounds ;-)
On the track back around Mt. Freycinet there was this big noise in the undergrowth and my brain went into panic-mode before registering that snakes did not come the size of a goat nor were they the colour of foxes and when the thing started hopping away with its friend I finally managed to slow down my heart rate a bit and watch the two kangaroos hop away. I am not sure who frightened whom more but I think they took it easier than I... I saw kangaroos twice more, caught sight of a few kookaburras and parrots and even a small mammal (I have no clue what it was). During the whole time there were the sounds of the forest: birds singing and laughing, the wind in the leaves sounding like waves breaking on the beach, loose bark on gum trees vibrating in the wind to make a sound like a 'bull roarer', the creaking of two trees that leaned against each other, the groaning of a lone standing tree as it swayed in the wind. It was very peaceful and soothing. Getting to the top of Mt. Graham was quite exhausting - although it is only 580m - and it was so windy on top that I decided to finish my lunch in a more sheltered spot and started the descent rather quicker than I had planned. The walk back along the sand of wineglass bay was more tiring than I had expected and just to let you know, squeaky beach in Victoria is not the only one, the sand here squeaks as well. I briefly considered swimming as the waves were very inviting but while the thought of taking off my shoes was tempting the thought of putting them back on made me resist and I walked straight back to where I had left my bike. I did go swimming in Coles Bay after getting back to the hostel which was very nice and relaxing.
In the evening we ended up playing cards at the hostel and had some good laughs in a multinational round (an Irishman, an Ulsterman, two german girls, a woman from Perth who was born in northern Ireland and myself).

Today I'm catching the bus to Launceston where I will stay for the night before going on to Cradle Mountain for some more hiking. I will let you more soon.

Hi again, I just got back from a nice hike and if you are patient enough I am going to tell you all about it. I caught the bus from Coles Bay to Bicheno and from there to Launceston. Launceston is the 2nd biggest city in Tasmania (but I do not really know how many people live there). I just spent a night there before going on to Cradle Mountain and I guess there is not much to see anyway apart from Cataract Gorge which is a nice gorge just at the edge of the town centre. It is an easy one and a half hour walk to the first and second basin of the gorge. The first basin is popular for swimming but as I thought it would be a bit chilly I did not bring my bathers along. Once I got there I could have kicked myself silly as it would have been lovely to go for a quick dip.
For some reason (probably coincidence) I did not stay at the YHA but at a small place above a restaurant. The restaurant made a pretty good impression and the hostel was good average. What gave it its special atmosphere were the people staying there. I guess it collects all the people that would not get into the YHA ;-) After dinner I made my way to the lounge where the cricket was running on telly and there were two blokes watching it. One of them seemed nice and sensible enough (apart from the stories he told me about being a teenager in the NT which heavily featured solving problems by beating opponents to pulp) but the second guy was quite enigmatic. He spoke with a nasal whinging voice which made me guess he might have hit the booze a bit to hard that night. He kept rambling about surfing and the quality of waves on different beaches and did not really care that nobody seemed to be listening to him. In addition to that he planted 'fuck man' into about every second sentence just for good measure. I booked him as a true blue feral and was just about to dismiss him when he started discussing that he did not believe in evolution and made quite a fuss about the distinction whether it was 'the law of evolution' or the 'theory of evolution' and to underline what he meant by 'law' he quoted the first law of thermodynamics which almost knocked me off my seat as that was the last thing I would have expected from him (especially as he got the bloody law right, too). Ah well, life is full of surprises. Anyway, I hit the sack before the cricket was over and I am not sure whether the reason was the early morning I was going to have or the crazy mumblings of my friend there...

Yesterday I took the bus from Launceston through Devonport (the third largest city, 25'000 inhabitants) to Cradle Mountain. I am staying at the YHA bunkhouse which is part of the local camping ground. It is quite nice and situated in the middle of the forest. At night time the place is crawling with possums, the buggers are quite cheeky and would probably steal the food from your plate if you were not careful. In the evening the rangers showed a slide show about the overland track which is the five day hike from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair. I would love to do it but as I do not have the necessary gear with me I decided to just do a one day hike at each end to get a glimpse of the park.

So today I got a lift into the park and started on the overland track which leads past 'Crater Lake' over 'Marion Lookout' over the plateau towards Kitchen Hut. From there the overland track continues south- west but I took the turn off to the summit of Cradle Mountain. Cradle Mountain is a dolorite formation that was created roughly 160 million years ago but has been covered by glaciers several times except for its tips. There are glacial valleys and then the peaky spires of Cradle. The path to the summit starts harmless enough just going uphill but pretty soon I was quite taxed by the ascend as it actually involved climbing over rocks and soon boulders that turned out to be quite difficult. It was a lot of fun though, and once I got to the top there was a magnificent 360 degree view of the surrounding area to places as far away as Frenchman's Cap (which is 200km away). Somehow I was lucky enough to get two of the yearly 32 days without rain. After climbing back down to the plateau I walked along the 'face track' which hugs the slope of Cradle Mountain far above 'Dove Lake' and then returned to 'Dove lake' over 'Hanson's Peak' past 'Twisted' and 'Hanson' lakes. From Dove lake I returned to 'Ronny Creek' where I had started in the morning and hitched a lift back to the campground. The scenery of the walk was just incredible. I think I will have to come back with proper hiking gear to actually do the full track. Feel free to sign up if you want to join me ;-)

Well that's it for the time being I guess, tomorrow I am off to Strahan on the west coast and I'll get back to you soon enough.

As it is, after writing the last bit of my report I ended up talking to a few people who were also staying at the YHA. Sarah (from somewhere on Great Ocean Road), Gary (Sydney) and Vanessa (Sydney). We had quite a ball until we were too exhausted to go on and hit the sack. The next morning Gary and Sarah went off towards Launceston by car while Vanessa and I had to wait 5 hours for the busses to arrive. We decided to go for a small walk down to the visitors centre where we did the 2-minute (!) walk to some minor waterfalls and went along 'enchanted walk' which was not very spectacular. However, the visit to see the 'King Billy' pines was worth it. There were some specimen that were 2000 year old. Besides the pines there are plenty of myrtle beeches which are trees that have those 'knots' all over, they look as if they had some kind of tumour. Strange but nice to look at. Afterwards we strolled back to the camp ground where we spent the time waiting for the bus chatting. She then went on to Devonport and I caught the bus towards Strahan. It went through a few small towns before going to Queenstown which is a major mining town. Driving into the town is quite a shock as the mining operations have stripped the mountains bare of any vegetation and deposited huge piles of muck that by the colour of it are so toxic that nothing grows on them. The King river which flows from Queenstown down to Strahan supposedly has a ph-value of 4, I guess you would not want to drink out of it.
From there the bus went on to Strahan (which is pronounced as 'Strawn') where Ena (a german girl I meat on the bus) and I got off as the only passengers left on the 40 person bus. The whole town was covered in smoke as there is a bush fire across Macquarie Harbour that has been burning for three weeks now.

Strahan is quite a small place which lives from fishing and tourism. It began in the 1820s when a penal settlement was built on Sarah Island which is located in Macquarie Harbour (on which Strahan lies). Sarah Island was Port Harbour's predecessor and was closed in 1833. After that Strahan was a shipping harbour for all the mining that went on in the area until a road connected it to the rest of Tasmania in 1932. In the 70ies it was the base for the building of the Franklin River Dam and in the 80ies it was the centre of the environmentalists protests against the Franklin-Gordon-River Dam Scheme which was successfully fought and leaves the world's largest wilderness areas covered in temperate rainforest intact.

In the evening we went to the pub with some dorm mates of Ena's (Angela, Victoria and Lynn, all from the UK, aged from 22 to 48). We had a great time until the local chauvinists decided one bloke and four sheilas was calling for their 'support' in entertaining the ladies. My companions were most unimpressed with the straight forward approach of the average Aussie male so in the end we left the pub and headed back to the YHA.

Today I went on a river cruise which lead across Macquarie Harbour, out through the tiny opening into the southern ocean (which was called Hell's Gates by the convicts, as they led from the ocean to the hell of Sarah Island) back into the harbour and towards the mouth of the Gordon. On the way we got a close up look of the bush fire and the damage it had done. Apparently someone had lit it intentionally. The Park and Wildlife Service has burned some fire breaks at the end of the Sorell Peninsula and now just leave it burning as it can't go anywhere. We passed some Salmon farms: huge nets suspended in the bay to keep the salmon from swimming away and from being eaten. We then went past Sarah Island and up the Gordon river for a few hours where we docked and got the chance for a stroll through the rainforest before heading back to Strahan. In the late afternoon I took a flight on a seaplane which showed us a bit more of the wilderness area as we could see from the boat. We saw the Franklin and the Gordon rivers winding their way through the remote areas of the forest, saw their joining and the proposed dam site that was never built. We then landed on the Gordon (after an exciting flight through a gorge) to see some more of the rainforest scenery and a waterfall before taking off again and flying back to Strahan. We flew right over the bush fires and could see how they were burning along and what the area behind the fire looked like. We then landed besides the Strahan wharf which we could hardly see in all the smoke.

Ena, Lynn and I plan to go and see the sunset on Ocean Beach tonight and I will let you know more about that soon.

Well it has been a few days since I had the chance to have a go at the net so here comes the last lot of things I did in Austalia. The trip to the beach was rather disappointing. While we expected a spectacular sunset with all the smoke in the air there was too much of it and the sun was actually *hidden* behind a smoke screen so that there was hardly anything to see and the smoke was to thick to be nice red coloured. A bit of a let-down really. Instead we went back to the hostel and had some tea and chatted into the night.
The next morning Ena and I caught the bus towards Hobart. She went all the way to Hobart and I got off at Lake St. Clair which is at the other end of the Overland Track. As it was too hot and late to start off on any proper hikes and as all the boat cruises on the lake were booked out I just had a lazy afternoon reading and having a look at the visitors centre and the lake shore. In the evening I walked to Platypus bay in the hope of spotting one of those cute little critters but had no luck. I then went to watch the slide show about the Lake St. Clair end of the park which was shown at the rangers' hut. It was quite nice and on the way back we again saw wild life galore.

The next day I hiked to the top of 1500m Mt. Rufus which took me through 2 hours of eucalypt forest with small rainforest glades. It was stinking hot and slightly scary as a total fireban had been issued for the whole state due to the fire danger. I could not quite keep from thinking what would happen if some nut decided to set fire while I was in the middle of the bloody woods! Luckily nothing happened and I got to the unforested part of Mt. Rufus where a gale was going. On top of the mountain I could actually lean into the wind at a 45 degree angle - or rather I had to in order not to be blown off the track. The view was quite spectacular although it was a bit too hazy to see a far way. But looking towards Cradle Mountain at least gave me a good view of some of the main features of the southern end of the park. The walk back took me past Shadow Lake which is a nice lake half way back to the camp site. In the evening I bumped into Carigan again whom I had met before in Thredbo and Freycinet, he seems to keep crossing my path again and again and a bit later the two irish guys from Coles Bay showed up on a bus tour as well. We all hooked up with the people on their tour and went down to the lake shore to enjoy the full moon, play the guitar and sing, have a few beers and just relax. Towards the end we ended up being half a dozen mad tourists who went for a midnight dip in the lake which was bloody cold.

The next day I managed to go on the boat cruise before I went on to Hobart. In the evening I was invited to diner with Richard and Vicky, Sonja's host family (for those of you who know Sonja) and it was great to be treated to a full and decent meal after being on the road for so long - cooking for one self is just not the same. We had a great time talking about the world and everything and by the time I got back to the hostel I did not even mind that my bed felt more like a hammock than a bed.

Today I spent some time loitering around the harbour as Hobart is hosting the Wooden Ship Festival this weekend and I visited the replica of the 'Endeavour' which was Captain Cook's ship which was amazing to see close up. There are hundreds of sailing boats in the harbour, some historic, some modern but all looking their finest today. Andrew would have had a field day over here!
For the rest of today I plan to catch up with some people and mopping up behind me in Australia before flying out tomorrow. I guess my next newsletter is likely to be sent to you from New Zealand. While I am looking forward to seeing NZ I am also a bit sad about leaving behind Australia once more.

Ah well, take care.

Newsletter 7 - NZ
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After spending a late night in Hobart, catching up with Stephen (from Dublin) whom I had met on the Grampian tour and with Maria and Charlotte (two friends of one of my Swedish friends) I found it hard to get up before four o'clock in the morning to catch my flight to Melbourne and then onwards to Auckland. While I had no Victorian weather in Melbourne and no Tassie weather in Tasmania (38 degrees in Hobart!) it seems I had it all in one day in New Zealand. During my whole first day it has been pouring with rain which confined me to stay inside. Inside is Peter and Tine's place. Peter is a friend whom I went to Pembroke with (my school in Adelaide) who lives in Auckland now.

On my second day I ventured out into the city and it even cleared up for some of the day. Auckland is New Zealand's biggest city at around a million people and so far it has not really managed to capture my soul. While there admittedly are some nicer parts (for example the restored area around Parnell or parts of the harbour area) it does not really have much charm as such. One of the main attractions is the Skytower which has been built four years ago and now stands a few meters higher than Sydney tower and now claims to be the highest tower in the southern hemisphere. The view from the top of the tower is definitely worth seeing as it not only includes the city of Auckland but its beautiful harbour surroundings and some of the islands in the vicinity. There are also a few volcano craters which form part of the city and they can be seen well from the tower. Parts of its floor are made from glass so you can have the thrill of walking 'on nothing' roughly 220m above the streets, it takes quite a bit of courage to walk the first few steps ;-)

The main differences from Australia seem to be that I will now have to start converting prices as the NZ$ is slightly less then the Aussie one (roughly 0.85$) which was conveniently identical to the Swiss franc. The other thing is the people here 'talk funny'. They say 'bed' and 'hed' when they mean 'bad' and 'had' and Pete and Tine's flat mate Tracey has even mentioned the often ridiculed 'fesh' when talking about the critters in her aquarium. Although the Kiwi's are reputed to be even more friendly than the Australians I have met quite a share of unfriendly shop assistants and hope to find them the exception!

As I want to get down to the south island to see that before it gets too cold I will head down towards Wellington tomorrow.

Well in the meantime I have arrived in Wellington. The trip on the bus took slightly longer than I had expected, it seems that it takes 10 hours to drive the 850km over here as their motorways seem to have quite a few more bends and curves than the Stuart highway which keeps the top speed somewhere around 80km/h which was fine with me though, as this gave me the chance to really appreciate the landscape. We went past volcano cones and craters, huge lakes, deep valleys, funny looking hills and I am quite looking forward to getting a closer look once I am back from the south island. Wellington appeals to me a lot more than Auckland did. It is sprawling on the hills which surround the bay at the southern tip of the north island. Somehow there seems to be more atmosphere to it and it actually has some parts that are not dominated by cars and traffic.
I have had a look around some of the older wooden buildings in the original suburbs of town and today I went to visit the parliament building on a guided tour which was quite instructive. They seem to have the same system as England and Australia, except that they have abolished the upper house. Their parliament is elected on a system called MMP, a proportional system used by Germany since 1949 which is so simple it actually still astonishes me it can work - what other reason could there be for the Swiss way of voting for every single bloody MP of my electorate if other countries manage to do it with two (2!) votes? Ah well, it was certainly instructive. The other thing that struck me - comparing to how Australia handles Aboriginal affairs - is how New Zealand seems to take the Maori much more as a granted part of their lives - although I guess they still have some unresolved issues. The Maori language is the second official language and all public buildings are labelled both in English and Maori (I am not actually sure whether that is the name of the language as well) and they have representants in parliament to look after their interest.

Spending my last few days in two big cities has also given me the chance to catch up on my movie deficit. While the film they showed on the plane (Duetts, a bland story about Karaoke freaks) was lame as expected I took the chance to see a local product "Stickmen" about some pool players partaking in a underground pool competition. It was not quite a strike of brilliance but definitely entertaining (it reminded me of 'Lock, Stock and two smoking barrels'). The other film was definitely worth seeing though: 'Chocolat' by Lasse Hallström. It features Juliet Binoche in the main role and Judi Dench in a supporting role with Johnny Depp (an old and proven value for Hallström after 'Gilbert Grape' I guess) as one of the key male roles. It is all about the sweet temptation of chocolate in a cold, traditional and abstinent town in France. It was incredibly poetic and the only thing that spoilt it a bit was that the cinema was absolutely packed and the guy next to me had really bad breath which took away some of the joy of thinking of chocolate that was being eaten all the time. If you get the chance to see it I strongly recommend it.

Tomorrow I will go to see the National Museum 'Te Papa' and let you know what that was like.

Well today I did go to 'Te Papa' and spent most of my day there. It was incredibly interesting. It covers various aspects of New Zealand's identity: the nature, the maori history, the (European) immigration, its art and culture. I had a refresher course on seismology and tectonics in the nature part. I learnt about the native animals of NZ as well about some of its plants. I learned how the Polynesians navigated in their small boats from Hawaii to Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud, NZ), about how they build their houses and war canoes, what their art means to them, what they depict and what the protocol for being received at a marae (the meeting houses of a tribe) is. My scant knowledge out of lonely planets on the arrival of Europeans has been refreshed and deepened and I have learnt a bit about the history of the last fifty years in this country. In addition to that there were two special exhibitions, one about 'Punk culture' which was amazing, sort of skimming my youth, talking about all those bands I am just a few years too young to have known myself and then coming around to quite a few that have found their roots in punk that I actually do know. The other one was an exhibition of photographs on 'our turning world' of the last decade with all its good and bad, joyful and horrible aspects.

On my way home I stopped off at Queen's Wharf where the boats of the British Telecom 'Global Challenge' yacht race were celebrating their goodbye party. They will leave for Sydney on the day after tomorrow after having been here for a couple of weeks, after having come around half the globe. These are some impressive yachts! Then there are the two french naval vessels: the helicopter carrier 'Jeanne d'Arc' and the destroyer 'Georges something or other'. I was actually surprised that the Kiwis let french war ships into their territorial waters. I guess the rainbow warrior is no so much in people's minds anymore...

I have also figured out that the locals here are a lot more friendly if you do not start the encounter with a friendly 'How are ya' mate?'. It seems they do not appreciate this over here - another difference to the Aussies.

After a few useless trips to my bank (Westpac) both in Australia and New Zealand (they have branches in both countries) I could not find any employee that knew whether my Australian bank card would work with the eftpos facilities (sort of like the OZ/NZ ec-direct for you Europeans) in New Zealand. Their best advice was 'I have no clue, but why don't you go and try it'. So this is what I ended up doing and have discovered that a banking card by an Australian branch of a bank does not work with machines that accept the same cards issued by the Kiwi branches of the same banks. I guess I have no choice than to revert to such ancient means as cash. Shudder ;-)

Tomorrow I will catch the inter-island ferry to Picton on the South Island. I do not know how densely internet facilities in some of the smaller places are available so I will send this newsletter off form here (also keeping it shorter, I have received complaints from some people that they felt bad about taking two hours during their working time to read it, shame on you for not doing it at home).

Newsletter 8 - South Island
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I have now made may way along the first bit of the west coast of the south island. Getting across from Wellington started off as quite a bit of an experience. Kiwi Experience does a shuttle service from the Wellington hostels to the ferry terminal and they use an old school bus for this that probably seats about 40 people. They somehow managed to cram roughly 60 people including their luggage onto the bus which kept stalling as soon as the driver took the foot of the accelerator but in the end we got to the ferry terminal where we checked in our luggage and then made our way on to the 'Interislander'. The trip across takes about three hours and was as smooth as anything.
Once we disembarked in Picton we all queued up for our luggage which was delivered onto a airport type and airport sized conveyor belt - which caused a fair bit of chaos considering the ferry takes across some five to six aircrafts worth of people. In the end at least I managed to get my bags and hopped onto the Kiwi experience bus.

On the first day we went as far as Nelson where I stopped for a few extra days. I stayed at a very nice hostel with pool, spa and sauna and enjoyed a 'free' day - I am on a holiday after all. Sleeping in, swimming, reading, sitting around planning the next legs of my trip was a nice change after a few busy days in Auckland and Wellington.
On the second day in Nelson I did a full day sea kayaking tour into Abel Tasman National Park. They picked us up in Nelson and took us to Marahau at the beginning of the national park from where we paddled our way across to Fisherman's Island for morning tea and a swim, from there we went on around Adele Island to Te Puteka bay in the national park where we had lunch, the chance for some walking, snorkelling and more swimming. Despite the chilly water - I am getting closer to Antarctica daily - it was quite relaxing to jump into the waves after all the paddling. From our lunch stop we followed the coast line back to where we started. The national park consists of rugged coast interspersed with lovely beaches and bays. It is mostly covered in native bush - which does not have any gum trees. It was a beautiful day but quite exhausting and I have hardly been able to move my shoulders ever since.

The lack of gum trees makes the landscape and vegetation look quite distinctly different from what I got used to in Australia. Every once in a while there is a patch of eucalypts where someone must have planted them and they stand out from afar with their broccoli shaped canopies.

Leaving Nelson I started my 'Kiwi Experience' for real. They are a company specialised in taking backpackers around the country shipping them from hostel to hostel, from activity company to supermarket to outdoors company to pub to pub to pub to pub. What probably started out as a good idea seems to have degenerated into a load of teenagers getting absolutely royally wasted every night and thus the 'Experience' has got itself quite a reputation with the locals. When you mention that you are on it they usually just look at you in mock sympathy. The other day I met someone whose only comment was that 'At least they are aptly named'. Since I already bought my ticket back in Switzerland - not knowing all this, expecting something like the wayward bus - I decided I might as well just use it as transport and by booking myself into different hostels I try to stay away from the big booze ups as well as I can. The other draw back is that they are fairly heavily booked at the moment so you definitely need to book ahead quite a while if you do not want to get stuck in some far away place. Luckily I have enough time to not need to worry too much and otherwise I might just do a leg or two on a normal bus or try to hitch a hike.
One of the places I was going to stay at seems to be so fed up with the 'experience' that they refused to take my booking for three nights although they had free rooms just on the basis that they 'would no longer take people travelling on the experience' - too bad I will spend my money with another hostel - there are enough after all and I am certainly not recommending the 'Chateau Franz' to anyone.

From Nelson we drove to Kaiteriteri which is just a tiny bit below the beginning of the Abel Tasman park to offer the opportunity for three hour kayak or walking tours. As I had done the full day tour the day before I just stayed around Kaiteriteri beach, catching up on some sleep in the sand. From there we went across to Murchinson to Westport. This took us across the northern end of the southern alps and I can see why people compare parts of NZ with Switzerland, we could have just as well gone through some parts of the upper Rhine valley in Grisons. Westport is a coal mining town of a few thousand people and looked like a ghost town, I did not see more than four or five people on the street after dark - which is when we got there.

Today we drove out to Cape Foulwind (so named by James Cook as he seems to have gotten a wee bit of a gale when skittering around the area) which is actually the closes point to Australia - not that this would mean a lot to most Kiwis ;-) It does offer some beautiful coast with nice cliffs, rocky beaches and lots of seals. We did a brief walk along the coast line before hopping back on the bus to take us to Punakaiki pancake rocks which is a limestone formation looking as if someone had piled up a whole lot of limestone pancakes.

From there we went on to Hokitika, the second largest city on the west coast which has a lot more charm than Westport had and is known for the many souvenir shops selling greenstone (jade) in all shapes. We stopped there for shopping and stocking up on cash as this is the last place with banks until we reach Wanaka which will be a few days yet...

Just ten minutes out of Hokitika is Lake Mahinapua where Les has his hotel. He is a bit of a west coast legend, being roughly 70 with a white beard of about the same length. He spins quite a yarn and seems to embody the dry humour of west coasters, apparently he thrives on the joke of offering Viagra as headache medication to hung-over backpackers, not that anyone fell for it after having been warned by our driver. He is also the man who caught the NZ equivalent to the Yeti masturbating in his vegetable garden. He also has a hat collection which numbers several thousand caps, helmets and hats. This should give you an idea of the average west coast legend ;-)

The hotel is wedged in between Lake Mahinapua and the ocean. The lake is known for its glow worms which can be seen at night. We went down to the sea for a swim - believe me the Tasman sea is bloody cold down here - and played a game of soccer. It was quite a change to not be selected last - a good thing no one knew that I am lousy at soccer - and to my amazement I even scored the first goal. I ended my sporting career when one of the other players crashed into me and placed his knee right on target on my left upper leg which ever since hurts like hell - as if I had a bad case of sore muscles. I guess I shall live but it sure has cured me of sports ;-)

As Les' hotel was the only place to stay at I had no chance of evading the 'commanded merriment' of the night and I decided that if there was no way around it I might as well do things the right way and put on my best (borrowed) dress and halter top to take part in the evenings cross dressing party. I know why girls always are cold so easily, it is all those skimpy clothes they put on ;-) I cannot understand why they put up with high heels though, I thought my feet were ready for amputation at the end of the evening, I guess I should not have worn them four sizes too small ;-) Anyway we had a moderately good time and most people even stayed quite sensible. I will adamantly deny knowing anyone from that night if I ever meet them again ;-)

I have now been on the bus for a few days and have talked to quite a few people. There are plenty of poms, a load of Danes, a handful of Swedes, the occasional german and I have met South Africans for the first time this trip. It has been quite interesting talking to them about the changes their country has gone through during the last years.

Today we made our way onwards to Whataroa where we had a chance at alluvial gold washing and to our great amazement most of us actually found some flakes and now carry them sealed in a small bottle. I do not think that we are ready for early retirement, yet, but at least it is a nice souvenir. We then went on to the West Coast Bush Centre where we were shown possums (another introduced pest - as all wild life over here), eels and a feral boar. We were deftly told on how the west coasters prefer to deal with those pests and how much they care about environmentalists, government regulations and such (believe me, not much). It seems that there are some real life feral red necks on the roam out here. We also got see some prime condition mullets! ;-)

From there we drove on to Franz Josef Glacier Village where two Kiwi Busses meet and a 'Hawaiian Party' was announced. I was quite glad to get off the bus to stay at my own, small and private hostel. I met a lot of people there and we ended up playing cards until late into the night - it definitely sounded better than a great booze-up.

Today I went on a full day glacier hike up the Franz Josef (who was named after the Austrian emperor by the explorer Haast). We were handed our equipment (boots, ice crampons, ice picks, rain coats) and then carted off to the car park which is roughly two kilometres from the terminal face. We then walked to the face were our guides had hewn steps into the glacier face to allow us to climb up until we got onto the side moraine. We then put our crampons onto the boots and started uphill. The glacier is approximately twelve kilometres long, the terminal face is at 250 metres above sea level, its neve (where it 'grows' from) lies at over 2500 metres. Funnily enough all those glacial terms are taken from different languages (german, french, italian and english) and then pronounced so horrendously that it is hard to guess what the original term could have been (it took me quite a while that 'a miul' which names funnels in the ice where rivulets disappear actually comes from the german word 'Mühle' (mill)). Our hike on the glacier took us roughly to the 700 metre level. We spent about six hours on the glacier in total, some two hours used for climbing up and back down and about another four exploring some of the crevasses, caves and pinnacles. In the morning the river that runs off the glacier was rather small and the ice was hard and calm. With the sun shining onto the surface it first started dripping, then the drops became threads of water trickling down (usually finding their way down my neck ;-) and finally there were small creeks running along the surface before disappearing down some hole to then reappear at the mouth of the glacier where it was a torrent by the time we got back down. On our excursions through crevasses and caves we got thoroughly soaked and the borrowed shoes started giving most of us some grade A blisters by the time we got back but the whole day had definitely been worth all the pains we had to put up with.

Back at the hostel I ran into a Swede and a Swiss travelling together so we have been conversing in a trilingual triangle for the past few hours and had quite a ball.

During the last two days I have been enjoying the triumph of statistics. In a place that boasts six meters of rain a year there have to be a few days where it actually rains. And rain it did. My last day at Franz Josef was mostly spent in the hostel, reading and drinking tea, apart from a quick shopping trip. The next day I got up and while the weather looked like it had softened a bit (I did not actually rain while I walked to the bus stop) it proved that it was only trying to lure me out as soon as I was on the bus and while we drove the 25km to Fox Glacier Village we were driving through sheets of rain that made the wind screen wiper seem a joke. It was a beautiful trip, though, driving over the moraines of the two glaciers which are nowadays covered in rain forest, the clouds hanging in the trees - the only thing that was missing were the gorillas ;-)
I spent the first day at Fox mostly the same as the last at Franz, reading, shopping and reading again. In the evening I met an Indian engineer who was sent by his company to Sydney and Auckland to build up new offices and now he commutes between the two cities, living two weeks in each every month. We had an interesting evening and I taught him how to play pool (which shows how bad he was to start with, if he could be taught anything by me ;-)

Today I woke up to blue sky and dissolving clouds so I jumped out of bed and rented a bike. I cycled out to Lake Matheson which is famous for its clear surface which produces astonishing reflections of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook. Apart from these mirroring effects the walk around the lake is beautiful by itself as it leads through rain forest which was steaming after yesterday's rain. From there I cycled to Fox Glacier from where I hiked to Chalet Lookout from where people used to climb onto the glacier in the 1930's. In these days the terminal face of the glacier can be seen from there as it has receded quite a bit since then. The climb up the road on the rental bike had been quite a challenge but thundering back down the dirt track was a pure pleasure. I think I scared some people driving up in their cars, though ;-)

Newsletter 9 - Otago & South
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Since three days ago I am no longer on a paid holiday so I guess from now onwards I am eating up my reserves ;-) Despite this fact I am still enjoying myself and I have not yet felt any difference...

I left Fox Glacier on an overcast day and our first stop was Lake Matheson. I was glad I had been there the day before because the only reflection the others saw in the lake was the reflection of the fog. As I was the only person who was interested in participating in what is called 'The Siberia Experience' and apparently there were a few people on the 'Magic Bus' (which is another of those busses like the Kiwi Experience, although arguably with a slightly better reputation) our drivers decided to put me onto the Magic Bus for the next two days. Instead of going straight to Wanaka I would go as far as Makarora and stay overnight and then be dropped off into Wanaka the following day. This suited me fine so I got onto the 'competition's bus' and off we went. We drove down along the coast with a brief picture stop at Knight's Point where the coast is quite spectacular and apparently there are supposedly some seal colonies but I could not really tell whether I saw any seals or just rocks. From there we drove through Haast before turning inland and uphill across Haast Pass which is the lowest Pass across the southern alps that can be driven across. The scenery was quite spectacular albeit very Swiss looking. We got into Makarora (named after the river with the same name, in Maori it means 'braided river') where we were to stay for the night. Three other people and myself then got ready for the Siberia Experience. This started off with a twenty five minute scenic flight into Mt. Aspiring National Park (across Peaks with endearing names such as Mt. Awful or Mt. Dreadful) to then land in the remote Siberia Valley. It is a glacial floodplain, covered in high grass and millions of yellow flowers (not that I would know what they were called). The airstrip was just that, it did not look very trust inspiring from the air. The landing was quite spectacular as we flew into the valley at the back end and had to rapidly loose altitude in order to land. The pilot did this by just flying up and down the valley a few times with roller coaster like turns at the ends - some of us were suspiciously close to using the snack sack (but to my great surprise I do not seem to get airsick as easily as I get seasick). After landing we had to wade across the Siberia river which - being fed off a glacier - was freezing cold but luckily not very deep. The two Israelis who came along did not feel like getting cold and wet feet and kept their boots on and ended up trading in two minutes of non- comfort for wet boots and thus about 3 hours of uncomfortable, blistering walking. My Danish companion Søren and I put our boots back on and started hiking downstream along the Siberia valley towards the Wilkin river (into which the Siberia river flows). The walk took us through remote scenery, over steep hillsides, through dense forest down onto another beautiful floodplain. We then walked along the Wilkin river where towards the evening we were picked up by a Jet boat which took us back to Makarora. In the end even the two Israelis showed up - although a bit late, their blisters were troubling them - and one of them desperately needed to wash his boot as he had stepped into a heap of cow dung. I managed to hide my grin discreetly, if I had washed my boot for every dung heap I trod on there would hardly be any leather left on it ;-) The jet boat ride back was convenient and exciting. It was fun doing it but I would not be willing to pay a lot of money just for the sake of the boat ride as a lot of people do every day in the adventurous Mecca of Queenstown. Back in Makarora the whole Magic load had already prepared a barbecue dinner so we just had to sit down and eat - I quite liked that arrangement. After dinner the party started with lots of silly games and no place to escape to. If I ever meet anyone again who gives me any heat about the Kiwi Bus being a party bus I have some stories to tell about my night with Magic!
As Makarora has just about forty inhabitants there are no street lights or anything else to spoil the night and there was a magnificent view of the southern sky - I think I have not seen the likes of it since being in the Australian desert many years ago. By now I have also learned that the two stars in the 'Pointers' (pointing towards the southern cross) are Alpha and Beta Centauri, the two closest stars to the sun.

The next day we drove into Wanaka - for some reason the bus was quite a lot quieter than on the day before, I wonder why ;-) - where we stopped off at Puzzle World before going into town. Some people just sat in the cafe nursing their hangovers while some went to have some fun. They have a pretty big maze made from wooden planks, including four towers and some bridges. It looks small from the outside but once you are in there it is suddenly amazingly big. It took me a while to find the four corner towers but finding the exit after that was an almost impossible task to do. I did finally manage to get out but it took some serious backtracking. They also have Australaisia's biggest collection of holograms but I found it rather disappointing, I have definitely seen a lot better back home. The last thing they have is a house built at a 15 degree angle. You can actually walk through and there are some amazing illusions such as water flowing upwards, a billiard ball rolling up and other such gags. Walking on the slanted floors wreaked havoc with my sense of direction and although I had been very moderate at last night's party even my stomach seemed to find this 'strange' house not to its liking so I got out before developing a hangover from standing at an angle...

From there we drove into Wanaka where I was dropped off. Wanaka is a smallish place nestled on the shores of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea (the later name being given to the lake by a maori chief when he got lost, so I guess a translation of Lake Hawea would amount to something like 'Lake where the bloody hell am I?'). In winter it is a major skiing resort and in summer it offers water activities, skydiving and is a brilliant hiking base into the southern alps, especially Mt. Aspiring National Park which has its borders only a few miles from the city. The day we got into Wanaka was beautifully clear with blue skies and the sun burning down on us. I explored the town and its surroundings and decided to go for a hike the following day.
Wanaka is also the first place since Hokitika that has ATM machines so I stocked up on my depleted cash resources. The other thing it sports is a cinema called 'Cinema Paradiso' and who am I to resist that name? I went to see 'Snatch' a British comedy about a load of criminals trying to steal a huge diamond. The film itself was no master piece but the cinema was worth a visit just the same. It seats about forty to fifty people in a motley collection of old sofas and arm chairs, its air conditioning consists of one single Casablanca-style fan and the screen is not spanned into a frame but glued onto the wall. The cinema comes with a restaurant so you can get food, wine and beer to have during the movie which makes it quite an enjoyable experience.

Today I packed my stuff and caught a shuttle out to Mt. Roy which is one of the Mountains closer to town which promises awe inspiring views of Mt. Aspiring. The hike leads along a nice and broad track which winds uphill without pause (if I recall correctly mathematicians would call it 'strictly monotonously rising') for roughly eight km until you reach the peak at approximately 1600m. I seemed to be the first one to start this morning as I did not encounter anyone on the whole way up. I got there just before noon and the view is indeed breath taking although I found it a bit ironic that I could see just about every mountain except Mt. Aspiring which was fastidiously hiding in a dense cloud cover. Mt. Aspiring is sometimes also called 'the Matterhorn of the south' and I guess this experience is fate's way of paying me back for laughing at our summer student from America who spent a full day on the train to go and see the original and came back defeated by the clouds.

A funny thing that I had wanted to write about before but kept forgetting is getting money from Westpac's ATMs over here. Up till now I had never thought of banks as institutions that were particularly well equipped in the humour department but Westpac seems to be the exception. Instead of having the plain, serious and utterly boring messages of the type 'Please type in your PIN code', 'What kind of service do you require? Withdrawing, Deposits, Account Balance' or 'Please retrieve your card, money and receipt' they use cocky slang riddled sentences when interacting with customers. I have never seen an ATM telling me to 'grab my dough' before and it definitely adds some pleasure to depleting your account.

Well, it has been a few days since I wrote on this report and I have done a lot since Wanaka. After my stint on the 'Magic Bus' I got back onto the Kiwi bus and our first stop was Puzzle World which I had already seen with Magic. I spent most of my time there in the cafeteria where there were plenty of puzzles to solve and after my initial frustration I actually managed to get some done. From there we drove towards Queenstown which is the Mecca of adventure-tourism in New Zealand. If it can be done and if it takes the dough out of tourist's pockets it will be done in Queenstown. Bungy Jumping? Check. Jetboating? Check. Tandem-Paragliding? Check. Tandem-Skydiving? Check. Paragliding behind a boat? Check. Zorbing? Check. Flying-by-wire? Check. Paintball? Check. Anything else I forgot? Check. Anything you can think of, no matter how absurd it is? Check.
And just in case you have never heard of Zorbing, imagine a huge plastic ball roughly 3 metres in diameter into which's centre you will be strapped before the ball rolls down a hill. Does that sound like fun to me? To me it sounds like filling that ball with puke so I sensibly abstained ;-)
Flying by wire? Imagine a jetplane tied to a steel wire (like the small models you can get for kids, doing turns below the ceiling) with some eejit sitting in there enjoying (?) several G while going round in circles. I honestly cannot think of a better way to get rid of my money, except for maybe burning it.
You will probably have guessed by know that I had *really* been looking forward to getting into Queenstown. Just to stall off the arrival by a few hours we stopped at the Karawau Suspension Bridge where A.J.Hacket opened his first Bungy Jumping venue which is still in operation. As a few people on the bus 'liked to throw themselves off things' we got the chance to see them jumping. I have to say it looks less scary than I thought (that is - as long as you stay at the top, once you go to the bottom it looks bloody horrendous) but I am still not tempted to pay a hundred dollars for a few seconds of nausea and an ugly T-Shirt.
Then we finally drove into Queenstown and while it definitely is a town geared up for tourism it is a lot more bearable than I had feared. I guess Wanaka will look like this in 10 years - which is a pity - but I have seen a lot worse in Switzerland and other places. They have somehow managed to line up all the shops selling the adventure trips between fashion shops, camping outlets, outdoor gear shacks, take- away diners, bars and night-clubs in a way that almost makes the streets look cosy. Considering it is one huge rip-off the place actually has some charm. I guess the beautiful lake and the gorgeous mountains contribute quite a bit to that.
I spent the afternoon of my first day picking up my hut tickets for the Routeburn track, getting the last of my camping gear and exploring town. In the evening I treated myself to some pizza from a restaurant that not only calls itself Italian but also deserves the label.
The next day I bought three days worth of food for my upcoming trip and then caught the gondola up to the 'Skyline Terminal'. From there one has an excellent view over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the mountain chain called 'Remarkables'. They also have a thing called 'The Luge' which is a concrete race track going down the hill on which you can drive with three wheeled sleds before going back up on a chair lift. It is quite a lot of fun and it would be a prime venue for a day out with the guys at work (I can just see some people breaking their collar bone ;-)
I then walked up hill a bit to where the tandem paraglide rides take off and it was quite a lot of fun watching them take off. From the skyline terminal it officially is a five to six hour hike to the top of Ben Lomond (1750m) and I had been debating whether to do it or not, considering I was going to start on a three day tramp the next day. As I still had not made up my mind I decided to follow the ridge for a while to enjoy the view and hoped I would catch a glimpse of Ben Lomond so I could decide whether I really wanted to go or not. After roughly twenty minutes I could see across the ridge towards Ben Lomond and it did not look that much further and by that time there was no way of my not going up there anyway so I started for good and made it to the top in just slightly over one and a half hours. The view from the top was incredible, another awesome 360 degree view into Mt. Aspiring National Park, towards the end of Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy, towards the Routeburn track, the Remarkables and over the mountains between Queenstown and Te Anau.
The last bit to the top was very steep and going down I was probably taking the descent a bit too fast which brought back my bicycle injury in my right knee - which is ironically called a 'runner's knee' - and by the time I was back in Queenstown I could hardly limp back to my hostel. So much for the wise decision of taking it easy before going off on an overnight hike! I lay awake half the night alternating between the wish to kick myself and pondering whether I could start on the Routeburn track the next day or not. At some time during the night I decided that I would cancel it but by the time I got up in the morning my leg felt slightly better and I changed my mind consoling myself that I could still turn back if I could not do it.

I caught an early bus taking us through Glenorchy to Routeburn Shelter where the track starts. The ride was a spectacle in itself as we first had a good laugh when the news speaker tuned in to a direct quote of some member of parliament who had been recorded to refer to some important issue as 'a lot of twaddle' and whereas the news speaker managed to keep a straight face the whole bus went up in hilarious laughter. By the time we had recovered it was time for an early morning picture stop from a view point where upper lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy and the mountains behind them could be seen in the morning sun. We then went on to the track start. I got to talk to some people on the bus and we decided we would walk the track together.

The Routeburn is the second most famous track in New Zealand (after the Milford track for which bookings need to be made several months in advance). It is a three day track going from Glenorchy up the Routeburn valley over Harris Saddle down into the Hollyford vallye where the track ends at the Te Anau-Milford Sound road. Kirsten (USA, just back from teaching for two years in Namibia), Lucas (Columbia, studying in Brisbane), Nicole (tourist from Switzerland), Joe (travelling from England) and I set off on the track with our heavily loaded packs. The first day was an easy walk along the Route Burn through beech forest to Routeburn Flat's Hut which lies at the end of the glacial flood plains. The track started its ascent - still through the forest - until we got to Routeburn Falls Huts which lies next to some spectacular water falls at the edge of the tree line. The hut is a modern construction (built in 1996) with two bunk rooms of 24 bunks each, toilets and a kitchen and eating room with gas stoves. The hut was full and there was quite a variety of people staying there. It was fun chatting to some of them and after cooking and eating we started playing cards in our group.

By now you have probably figured out that I did not turn back and my knee held up. Actually, walking straight ahead was no problem at all and going up was fine as long as it was not too steep. What was hurting was going down but I decided to start worrying about that when the track was actually starting to go down again ;-)

The next day we started on the alpine section of the trail, following a steep ascent besides the waterfalls up to the high plain of Lake Harris and on to Harris saddle where we stopped at the shelter. We left our packs at the shelter and did a one hour side trip up to the top of Conical Hill from where there is an excellent view down the Route Burn valley and into the Hollyford valley. On a clear day you can see as far as Martin's Bay on the Tasman Sea and a clear day it was! Before going on the side trip I debated whether I should dare it with my knee as it was fairly steep and I decided to take the risk. Of course my knee started to let me know it was there pretty soon and I had to take my time going down. I ate plenty of humble pie with all the people we had passed on the way up paying me back on the way down ;-) We then had lunch at the shelter before starting the gentle descent along the Hollyford valley towards Lake Mackenzie. Once lake Mackenzie could be seen the descent became steeper and led down to Mackenzie Hut where we stopped for the second night. We went for a swim in the Lake which was refreshing after two days of hiking with big packs although it was pretty cold - not surprising considering we could see the snow fields that feed the lake while being in the water. Afterwards we enjoyed the last evening sun that warmed us up again and had another enjoyable night.

On the third day we got back into the forest and the track sidled along the valley, gently leading downwards towards Lake Howden and Howden Hut from where it is possible to take either the Greenstone or Caples Track back towards Glenorchy or to go on on the last bit of the Routeburn Track. On that last stretch there was another chance for a side trip up to Key Summit from where one can see into three major river systems before going down to the Divide Shelter on the Milford-Te Anau road. From there we were picked up by bus and brought back through Te Anau to Queenstown.

We had three days of perfect weather, blue skies despite the usual warning 'to expect at least on rainy day when doing the track'. As the road from Te Anau to Queenstown has to do a major detour around the mountains between the two places it took quite a while and led through wide sheep paddocks and meadows and steep mountains in the back ground. It was a sight to behold. On the last bit along the lower arm of Lake Wakatipu the sun was just about to set and the sun rays cutting across the mountain ridges coating everything in a golden hue were the perfect end to three unforgettable days.

If you want to check out some information about the Routeburn track try:
http://www.vic.com/new_zealand/routeburn/ or

Last night I had to fill in a census questionnaire, as every person in NZ had to do that because March 6th was census day. I had a good laugh, considering that I had just filled one of those in back home in december.

Today I have been cleaning my hiking gear, washing (myself and the clothes), relaxing and packing as I will head towards the east coast tomorrow as my trip goes on to Dunedin. The other thing Queenstown has is a Kiwi-House which is not quite accurate as they have several habitats not only containing Kiwi but also other native birds. Apart from Kea, Kaka, native Owls, black Stilts and native Ducks I did see Kiwi and they are a lot bigger than I thought (roughly 40-50cm high) and are incredibly cute!

From Queenstown onwards I am travelling on the 'Bottom Bus' which is attached to 'Kiwi Experience' but uses smaller busses and actually offers more of what I had expected the Kiwi ticket to be like. The bus seats roughly 20 people and we were not even completely full. We first stopped in New Cromwell. Old Cromwell was drowned in Lake Dunstan in the mid eighties when the hydro dam at Clyde was completed. This dam seems to have been planned by a whole lot of managers and other *-berts. They started building it when they noticed they had placed it precisely on a fault line. A spot-on pick in earthquake country! They then spent a few dozen million on making it quake-proof before noticing that the whole area around the lake is extremely prone to landslides and a slide into the lake would result in a tidal wave that would in a best case swap over the dam, flooding the valley below and in worst case break the dam and wipe out Clyde and a few other communities down valley. So they spent another hundred million or so on fixing the mountain and hill sides along the lake. In the end they spent more than 1.5 billion dollars instead of the planned 500 million. Nice planning ;-)
Cromwell is in the heart of Otago's fruit growing district and we bought fresh and dried fruit galore directly from the orchards. It is a bit like wine tasting without the intoxication. We then went on to St. Bathan - an old gold mining town - which today houses less than 10 people in three buildings, one of which is the historic 'Vulcan Hotel'. This was our lunch stop and definitely worth the detour. We then cruised through eastern Otago towards the pacific ocean which we encountered near Moeraki where we visited the Moeraki boulders. These are rocks that had been formed in the sandstone when they crystallised around organic matter. They formed almost perfect spheres and are now being eroded from the sandstone and end up lying on the beach like spilt pebbles.
From Moeraki we went on to Dunedin which is NZ's fifth largest city and home of its oldest university. It is of Scottish origin (Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh) and talking to some of the older people you can definitely hear it. While Dunedin does not really have anything spectacular to offer as far as cities go it has a certain charm and I felt immediately at home although I could not put my finger on the reason. Somehow it reminds me of Stockholm - which is quite absurd because the two cities could not be more different - and Luzern (which is not quite so absurd).
The one attraction that Dunedin has is the Otago Peninsula which extends along the coast and forms Dunedin's harbour. It is famous for the native wild life that can be seen. I went on a tour to see all the peninsula has to offer and was not disappointed. We first drove out there over dirt tracks spotting a lot of shore birds (some native, some introduced) before heading down to a beach to which access is only possible through private land. As our tour operator has a deal with the farmer we were the only tour who can go there and instead of having hundreds of tourists it was just the ten of us! We saw yellow eyed penguins, some of them have just moulted and could not yet swim while we saw others coming back from their day's catch wading up the beach to hide in the coastal grass. We saw New Zealand Fur Seals with their young, basking on the rocks, playing in the pools, swimming in the surf. We saw Hooker Sea Lions, sleeping on the beach, digesting last night's catch. We then went on to the tip of the Peninsula which is the only place in the world where Albatross nest on a major mainland instead of isolated off shore islands. We saw some four or five of those huge sea birds glide in the winds around the cape. When seen at a distance they look the size of any bird until they fly past a sea gull (which get pretty big around here already) and the difference between the two can be seen. Royal Albatross have a wingspan of around three metres!

From Dunedin the next leg took us through the Catlins which is the area on the south-eastern corner of the South Island. It is a rugged coastal area which is beaten by the waves of the south pacific and gnawed at by the constant winds of the roaring forties. Inland it is mostly used for sheep farming while along the coast line there is abundant wild life. We stopped at several places for shorter or longer walks to see sea birds, seals, sea lions, hector dolphins, to walk through rain forest, to see the waves crash on the land. We heard stories of Maori exploration and conquest and learnt how to build the maori equivalent of a tin can out of sea weed.
After a long and beautiful day we got to Invercargill where I hopped off the bus to hang around for a day before going across to Stewart Island. Invercargill is not a place that has a lot to offer - especially on a sunday - except for maybe the local museum which has a section on the sub-antarctic islands that belong to New Zealand and Australia. They also have a 'Tuatara Exhibit' which houses some two dozen Tuataras. They look like lizards, are about twenty to forty centimetres long but are actually not lizards as they are almost unchanged from the times of the dinosaurs.
The only other thing that might be worth mentioning is my taking cycling in left hand traffic to the next level. Riding a bike on the wrong side of the road gets considerably tougher when doing so on a three lane street and mastering a two lane roundabout probably brought me close to the Zen-level ;-) At night we spent ten minutes outside stargazing and watching a space station go by although we could not conclusively settle whether it had been MIR before being sunk in the pacific or whether it had been the new ISS. I guess I will have to grab a paper tomorrow to find out. No matter which of the two it was a spooky feeling to see a star cruising across the night sky - too slow to be a shooting star and too fast for anything else (provided we are not willing to go into the whole UFO discussion ;-).

In the meantime I have been across to Stewart Island and back. Stewart Island is the third large Island of New Zealand, just off the South Island. The ferry ride across Foveaux Strait takes roughly an hour and is supposed to be the wildest strip of ocean in the world. Luckily enough it was smooth like a lake when going across on monday. Stewart Island has just one settlement at Halfmoon Bay and there are more Kiwis (the birds) than Kiwis (the people) living on it. I spent the rest of my first day doing some small walks which took me around Halfmoon Bay and offered spectacular views of the rugged coast line and took me through some of the native birds' nesting areas. Someone must have planted eucalyptus trees several years ago because they have spread all over the township and walking along the coast made me feel quite homesick for Australia because there was this distinct Aussie smell (eucalypt and earth) which I have not smelled since leaving Tasmania.

Stewart Island is usually visited for one of the two tracks it offers. The north west circuit takes about ten days and the Rakiura Track usually takes three days but is only 32km. I talked to the people at the Department of Conservation (DOC) and - in contrast to Freycinet in Tassie - they actually agreed with me that it could be done in a day if you were reasonably fit. So I planned for a long day on my second day and got up before sunrise. This let me see a spectacular sunrise and I started off towards the track in the early morning light. There was not much sun, though, as it rained on and off most of the day. I walked past some beautiful sandy bays, across rocky outcrops and through lush cold temperate rain forest. When I got to Maori beach there were ten half-decayed whale carcasses laying on the beach that stank to high heaven but were quite a sight. From there I went inland along the track. To keep the track from being too muddy most of it is board-walked. While there are no big height differences the track constantly keeps going up and down and walking down all those steps must have not appealed to my knee which gave up on me about a third of the way. So instead of suffering onwards for another 20km I decided to head back. This turned out to be a wise decision as it took me almost three times the time to limp back it had taken me to walk there in the first place.

This morning I took the ferry back to Invercargill and I guess I should not have boasted about the easy ride over too much because fate decided to teach me humility once more. It was not as rough as it could get but still the waves were some one to two metres high and my stomach was decidedly queasy by the time I was back on solid ground.

From here I will head on towards Te Anau for some more walking - my knee permitting - and some visits to the fjords before heading up north again. My next edition will tell you all about that.

Newsletter 10 - Fjordland & Canterbury
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Welcome to my tenth newsletter. I guess I should come up with a special cover to commemorate the occasion but could not be bothered so you will just have to put up with another plain old load of pure text. That is about as much as you can expect from a free publication I guess ;-)

The drive from Invercargill to Riverton was short and although it is hard to imagine a less bustling place than Invercargill it is still possible to find one. Riverton is about as laid back unbustling as they come. There is one hostel. When we asked our driver why on earth we were staying in Riverton instead of Invercargill he said that first of all this brought us twenty minutes closer to Te Anau for the next day (as if ...) and that second - and I guess more importantly - the owner of the Riverton hostel/pub had stakes in the Bottom Bus Company and I guess that reason is as good as any. Anyway as there was no entertainment whatsoever we ended up going to the pub at the hostel in which we were staying and after a first beer one of my English companions found out that they sold shots for two dollars - for which you would hardly get 2ml of water back home - and started buying a round of her favourite drink. The next person did not want to let us miss her favourite one and so it went around the table. Once we had gone through all the favourites we started aiming for certain colours (as in 'let's try to get a magenta one in the next round') and once things had gotten thoroughly out of hand we just tried to come up with the most awful concoctions possible. By some time after midnight we decided that it would probably be wiser to stop now when the pub announced that the next round was on the house which kept us there for another hour or so. Amazingly I felt fine the next morning although some of the others look decidedly grumpy.

We then drove on to Te Anau with a detour to Cosy Nook and Mullet bay (I got quite a laugh out of that one) and a short stop for a walk along Lake Manapouri. The walk was nice and offered nice views of the mountains around the lake - I was definitely looking forward to getting back into the alpine area. We got into Te Anau during the early afternoon and I used the afternoon to check out town (not much to see apart from souvenir shops, bars and the lake), visit the DOC office where I made some enquiries about the Kepler Track and watched a brilliant slide show on the Fjordland National Park. I now know that it is the third oldest and the largest National Park in NZ, it is the twelfth largest National Park world wide, is listed as world heritage area, takes about eight meters of rain annually and is breathtakingly beautiful. Towards evening I went to the preparatory meeting for my next two days of sea kayaking in Doubtful sound.

Yesterday morning we were picked up at six o'clock in the morning so you can imagine at what time I had to get up ;-) We drove the twenty km to Manapouri from where crossed the 45km of the lake by boat to the end of West Arm. There they built a hydro electric power station. It seems that they do not really have a knack for those as there are about as many screw-ups as with the dam in Cromwell. First of all they were building it after the area had been declared a National Park so they were breaking laws beside alienating a whole nation of nature freaks. After modifying the project (no raising of the lake level, putting the station underground) they built seven turbines and seven shafts with an exit tunnel for the used water but disregarded that the tunnel's walls were so rough there would turbulence so the water could not flow out fast enough to operate all seven turbines at once. They spent the past three years digging another tunnel and that one has cost more than the whole power station.

Anyway, from West Arm we drove across Willmot's Pass down to Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound where we packed our stuff into the sea kayaks and started paddling out of Deep Cove into Halls Arm - a side arm of Doubtful sound. Doubtful Sound is one of the Fjords of Fjordland. It is less known than Milford Sound and thus less visited. There are a few motor boats taking some tourists around but I think we saw and heard about five or six of those in two days. It was incredibly peaceful to just paddle along in our kayaks not hearing anything but the paddles dipping into the water, the waves rippling on the shore, the waterfalls falling down the mountains and the birds singing in the forest. Most of the fjord is covered in the usual native beech forest.
Around the first corner we encountered a New Zealand fur seal which was playing, doing cork screw twists, flapping its fins, covering its face and laughing at us, diving under and jumping over us. It was a lot of fun and by the time we went on around another corner we were quite content to see lazy seals laying on a rock that did not keep us for as long as the playful one ;-)
We paddled half way up Halls Arm where we had lunch before going on to the arm's end. On the way we saw a pod of dolphins. They did not linger to play - as they apparently sometimes do - but still they swam right through our group of kayaks and it was unbelievably beautiful to see them swim so gracefully, to dive and then jump in those hoops and simultaneously blowing the air out of their blow holes.
The way to the end of the arm took us through more astonishing glacial landscapes and when some wind came up we rafted together our boats and hoisted a sail and recovered while we easily sailed along towards the end of the fjord. On the way back we had quite a job as we were going straight into the wind to our camp site.
We camped next to a mountain stream where we put up our tents while at the same time fighting off the sand flies (which turned out to be a loosing battle). I had heard many people raving about the sand flies and how much of a pest they were and although I had seen them before and even carried away a few bites I had never found them to be as bad as people made them out to be. After two days in Doubtful Sound I am cured of any benevolent feelings towards sand flies. If there were a way to whack every single one of them into a black smear I would do so without any hesitation at all. The bastards are about the size of fruit flies and for every one you kill there are three new ones coming to pester you. Their favourite spots are ankles and wrists but if these are not available they will settle for legs, arms and necks. Insect repellent holds them off a little but to keep them away from you permanently covering yourself in clothes or staying in water or wind are the only known cures. Their bites hurt when fresh and start itching horridly after a few days. Mum's advice not to scratch is as useless as it is appropriate as their scratched bites leave wonderful sores as testimony to your weak will.
Anyway, as there was an insect shelter we managed to cook and enjoy our evening despite the little buggers and had quite a pleasant time before heading to our tents. The next day we were woken by a Weka - one of the native ground birds - making a lot of noise foraging for food around our camp site. He loudly voiced his disgust with us locking up everything for the night. After breakfast we headed back out towards the main arm of the sound again meeting the dolphins who still were not interested in playing. We then paddled along Elizabeth Island, stopping for lunch on they way before going on towards the tip of the island. We then again broke out the sails for the trip back. This time we only rafted together two boats and had a little 'regatta' on the way back towards Deep Cove. From there it was an easy trip back on the bus and the boat and the bus again. The boat ride back across Lake Manapouri was wonderful - now that we had light to see - and was the perfect ending to two great days.

Some of our group decided to go out in the evening to chat a little and that, too, was very nice and sociable. Today I am spending the day relaxing, washing and getting ready for the Kepler Track onto which I plan to head tomorrow.

I started off on the Kepler Track on monday morning by catching a boat across Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay (saving myself two hours walking along the Lake) from where the path ascended towards Luxmore Hut. The other person on the boat was an American woman who had been living in London for the last seventeen years and we walked up to the hut together. The path was more or less constantly going uphill and we reached the tree line after a couple of hours. Shortly before lunch we reached the hut. From it there is a magnificent view over Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. It must be one of the huts with the best view. After a short lunch break we headed up to Mount Luxmore for some more fantastic views. From there my companion turned back as she was only on a day trip while I took the time to go on to the Luxmore limestone caves which are about twenty minutes from the hut. Unfortunately I could not really go in very far as I did not have a suitable torch. As I was not walking in a group like on Routeburn I got to meet quite a few people in the hut and spent most of the afternoon and evening talking. Before heading to bed some of us went out onto the heli pad behind the hut to gaze at the stars as the sky was absolutely cloudless and there was hardly any light to disturb us. I have not seen so many stars in quite a while. One of the others even showed us Betelgeuse which is a red giant and pulsates red-white. It was quite impressive. I also saw quite a few shooting stars.

On the morning of the second day there was a sea of fog over the Lake but a brilliant view of the mountains. We even managed to see Mt. Earnslaw - which is close to the Routeburn track. I headed up towards Mt. Luxmore once more as the track almost leads past its summit. I invested the extra ten minutes to again do the side trip to its top and it was great to see the fog slowly dissolving, revealing the country side below it. From the top the track lead along the ridge for several hours granting excellent views onto the South Fjord of Lake Te Anau, the Murchinson Mountains and the Jackson Peaks. It lead past two shelters before turning left and leading towards the Iris Burn valley. There was a magnificent outlook down into the valley before the hard work of descending almost a thousand metres in constant switchbacks started. That tiring stretch led back into the beech forest and it was amazing to see how the forest changed its character as I lost altitude. At first it was close packed beech trees with sphagnum moss covering the upper branches and parts of their trunks. Then the trees were spaced further out, the moss moved from the upper branches down towards the trunks and the floor, then the first ferns appeared and the sphagnum retreated in favour of a different kind of moss. Then the first non-beech trees appeared and the ferns grew closer and higher. After a long day I was welcomed by the sandflies at Iris Burn hut. That night I spent chatting to some English (two of whom I had met twice before), five Germans from close to the Swiss border, two German girls from Frankfurt, a Swiss girl from Schaffhausen and a mixed group of Aussies and Pommies.

The next day about half the people were off for an early start as they planned to finish the track in three days and had to get to the bus pick-up point beyond the last hut. Although I was in no rush I took off soon after that group as the weather forecast was promising rain and I wanted to be as close to the next hut as possible before being drenched. The track was nice and leading gently downhill through more of that magic forest and I made good progress. I caught up with the two German girls after about two hours and we reached Moturau hut after about three hours (a distance which had been advertised taking five to six hours). The hut is situated on the shore of Lake Manapouri and I used the chance for a quick swim. It was quite refreshing. The two girls were planning to catch the bus at five but as the weather still looked rather unfriendly they decided to stay at the hut instead of waiting in the rain at the bus stop for hours. So we spent a couple of hours chatting before they went off and after that one of the Canadian hut guests entertained us with astonishing card tricks and other 'magic thingies'.
As a lot of people had gone on to catch the bus there were only about fifteen of us left at the hut and I got to talk to almost everyone. The hut was very cosy - it had a spiralling staircase to the bunk room above the kitchen - and we could light a fire in an old drum on the beach and ended up sitting at the lake shore until quite late.

This morning I got up for an early start as I had another twenty kilometres waiting for me and I planned to reach Te Anau shortly after lunch to get my washing done in the afternoon. The path again lead through native forest, past some wetland bogs and the occasional pond. It lead along the Waiau river which drains from Lake Te Anau into Lake Manapouri. It was extremely peaceful to walk along the wide river which silently flowed along, only hearing the birds and the water for several hours. As I was the first one to walk along the path I got to catch all the cobwebs in my face that the spiders had built across the path during the night. Believe me, it is not a pleasant experience ;-) I reached the control gates (a weir with which the water level of the two lakes is controlled) shortly before lunch and got into Te Anau just after lunch.

I am now taking care of all the household chores (washing, showering, shopping, checking my e-mail) as I will head out to Milford Sound for the day before returning to Queenstown in the evening.

I am now in Queenstown again where returning to 'The Last Resort' for the third time was almost a bit like coming home... This morning - after a couple of week's respite - I got back onto the 'Kiwi Bus' aka 'Booze Bus' aka 'Fuck Truck' aka 'Kiwi Experience'. In the usual fashion it was full to bursting and drove most of the way to Milford Sound without stopping - actually it did stop once for a one and a half minute photo stop in the Eglinton Valley which was worth all of the ninety seconds we were allotted and then some. From there we skipped all of the roughly twenty spots that are described in the National Park Service's brochure on 'the Milford Road' as we had to beat all the other coaches to be there in time for our cruise. We cruised through beautiful, glaciated valleys. Going past the Divide made me reminisce a little about the Routeburn track and then we went around the bend into another beautiful valley. The cloud was still sitting in most of them, occasionally breaking up to grant us a short glimpse of blue sky and staggering mountains. We then drove into Homer Tunnel which is just roughly hewn out of the rock, wide enough for two cars to cross but not two coaches. It starts at 1270m on the Te Anau side and then goes downhill for 1.2km at a ten percent gradient. It is quite an impressive ride and I would hate to come back through it on a bicycle :-)
From the other side of the tunnel it is a short way down to the boat terminal at Milford Village. From there I caught my first glimpse of one of New Zealands most often 'postcarded' views: Mitre Peak seen over the end of the fjord. I quite liked the scenery except for the fact that there must have been about a million of tourists waiting to get onto their tour boats. The thought 'why can't I be the only tourist around here' crossed my mind several times - to no avail of course. Luckily enough Kiwi Experience does book their people onto one of the smaller boats, so it was just the fifty of us instead of one of the floating palaces with more than 400 people on them. The boat took us on a cruise around the fjord with a stop in the underwater observatory to see some features of the special marine life the fjord offers. In the beginning the sun was shining and there were no clouds so we got all the postcard views which were quite stunning. The further out towards the sea we got the more clouds seemed to drift into the fjord and by the time we passed the mouth out onto the Tasman Sea we were under complete cloud cover in pouring rain. On our cruise back into the fjord I noticed that the weather had not in fact worsened but that we had just gone from the sunny end of the fjord into the rainy end and were now heading back into the sunny end. Passing through the zone of changing weather gave some spectacular views of the sun shining trough the cloud cover.
After our boat cruise we hopped back onto the bus and left Milford Sound for our marathon drive back to Te Anau and onwards to Queenstown. I had already seen two thirds of that journey after the Routeburn track but it was amazing to see how different the drive was despite the fact that the weather was almost identical. In the few weeks between the two drives we had gone off daylight saving so we were 'an hour behind' compared to our first trip and as a clear sign that autumn was slowly coming the first trees started changing colours going towards a yellow and reddish hue. This added another fascinating component to an otherwise tedious journey.
Seeing those magnificent mountains, the beautiful lakes and the breath taking scenery I once again thought that seeing pure and raw beauty such as nature presents us with in all those landscapes is probably the closest to a religious experience as I will ever get.

In Queenstown the supermarket had already closed so I went out for dinner with one of people from the Kiwi bus. I opted for a 'light meal' of spare ribs expecting to get four or five ribs and was quite shocked when being served with more than a dozen juicy spare ribs. They were wonderful but I had to give up after less than half the portion - I would hate to see what their 'normal' meals are!

On the next day we drove from Queenstown to Twizel. This meant heading back towards the Main Divide of the Southern Alps but it also meant leaving behind the typical mountains of the Wanaka-Queenstown- Te Anau area that I had almost spent a month in and it left a sad feeling of loss. Just before getting into Twizel we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Cook from this side of the alps. It was a majestic sight. In Twizel I hopped off the Kiwi bus to catch a shuttle bus which took me to Mt. Cook village. This lead us past Lake Pukaki where we stopped for a quick lookout of Mt. Cook over the lake which is another famous postcard spot in NZ. During our drive further on we could see how the clouds were slowly piling up on the west coast side of the alps and were spilling down into the valleys around Mt. Cook and by the time we got to the village most of the high peaks were completely obscured by cloud.

I had planned to go on a day hike either to Mueller hut or Hooker Hut the next day but when I woke up it was pouring with rain so I decided to cut my trip a bit shorter and just went to 'Kea Point' where one has a good view of the terminal parts of Mueller Glacier and to 'Hooker Lake'. I was soaked by the time I got back in the afternoon but I was glad I had braved the weather as the sights had been awe inspiring. I know we had been taught that the 700m high hills in the back country of Luzern were actually moraines but in a way it was hard to imagine. And seeing the moraines of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers - while cool to look at - did nothing to portray a sense of awe at their size. The moraines of Mueller Glacier however did all that and more. They must be at least 150m high and form sheer drops showing where the glacier has retreated in the past decades. After seeing this I can imagine how an ice age glacier could leave moraines that look like mountains to us today. (Silv, I tried dating one of the moraines but she was not interested). One could not actually see much of the glacier itself as it was mostly covered in rubble and one could only occasionally spot some ice under all the rocks and sand that rides on top.
Hooker Lake is the terminal lake of the hooker glacier and was awesome to see with bits of ice floating on it like miniature ice bergs with the sheer cliff of the terminal face in the back ground showing how thick hooker glacier still is at its end despite a steady retreat over the years. I can see how a glacier is named after a guy called Hooker but it must have taken an incredible oaf or someone with a truly sick sense of Aussie humour to name all its tributary glaciers with female first names and naming the uppermost ones 'Sheila Glacier' strongly hints at the second possibility :-)

I was staying in a self contained cabin with room for six people and by the time I had dried up some of my new cabin mates had arrived. They were Ian and Sheila aged 59 and 61 from England who - on her pension and the rent of subletting their house - have now been travelling for half a year and plan to keep going for at least another two. He was a first class story teller and Anna - the other 'young' occupant - and I spent most of the evening talking to the couple but mostly listening to him relate all those stories he had experienced in his life. By night fall the clouds had completely disappeared and we were able to glimpse a little of Mt. Cook before the sun set and on the next morning we got to see not only Mt. Cook but also Mt. Sefton and Mt. Tasman which was a truly beautiful sight.

I then caught the shuttle bus back to Twizel - by the time we got there the mountain had ironically disappeared behind clouds again - where the Kiwi bus picked me up again as far as Geraldine - a few hours outside Christchurch - where I was picked up by the people of 'Rangitata Rafting'. They took us to their lodge in Peel Forest where we stayed for the night in order to go rafting around lunch time the following day. Instead they woke us up at seven in the morning and hustled us through breakfast to get onto the river as fast as possible. Due to the draught of the last weeks most of the rafting companies had closed shop as water levels were too low and the Rangitata is the only one that can be rafted in low levels while still adding some thrill. Ironically we now had to hurry as the rains of the last day threatened to raise the water level to unsafe levels. We were on the river by nine and went down a couple of grade two and three rapids before stopping for a water check. While it is safe to raft the grade four and five rapids up to a level of 200 cubic meters per second the river had risen from 68m3 at six in the morning to 230m3 just before ten so instead of rafting we carried the boats along the rapids to put them back into the water for another twenty minutes of grade 2 rafting back to the lodge. Although this was a major let down I could appreciate the sensibility of the decision when we went back to have a look at the rapids from above and I would have hated to be flipped out of the boat in the maelstrom that forced its way through the cliffs of the Rangitata gorge. After our aborted rafting effort we had a BBQ at the lodge before being dropped into Christchurch.

Today I have spent some time walking around Christchurch. It seems to be a very charming place although it does certainly not look like a place with 341'000 inhabitants. It is, though, one of the few places in NZ and Australia that can really call any of its buildings 'historic' as far as I am concerned. There are plenty of well cared for gothic buildings that add a lot to the cities charm. There is not one spectacular feature but many small and nice places: The botanical gardens, Christ College, the Arts Centre, the Cathedral, the Museum, many small houses, the many parks and squares and the Avon river (although it is hardly more than a creek). The Cathedral is smaller than most churches back in Europe and has fully embraced capitalism: $2 to take pictures, $2 dollars for the guided tour (without which you only get to see a fraction of the inside), $4 to climb the tower, $1 for the 'I climbed the tower certificate' and so on. It somehow reminded me of the story of the market stalls in the temple [I hope you are duly impressed with my knowledge of The Good Book ;-)] and I was looking around to see a long haired guy turning over the tables but he must have been busy elsewhere...
Outside the Cathedral I was in vain looking for the famous 'wizard' in his Merlin hat but could not see him. In his stead there were two other nut cases holding speeches about the fallacy of Darwin's Theory of Evolution and how it was responsible for all evils from Rape to Abortion and Drug Abuse. I listened for a while but was not converted, so I better go and do some raping, aborting and drug abusing later on this afternoon.

I'll let you know how I fared later ;-)

Well, as it turned out I could not find anyone who was available for raping or abortion and I found drugs to be way beyond my backpacking budget so I cannot tell you how evil evolution really is. Today I did see the wizard on Cathedral Square. He seems to be in a different league than the mad zealots I heard yesterday. Apparently he does not take himself all that seriously and manages to present his plight with both humour and fervour while combining serious topics with new and unconventional albeit impractical ideas on how to save the world. He was incredibly entertaining.

I have also spent quite a bit of time discovering the Arts Centre a bit more thoroughly. It seems to take up the old site of Christchurch university (I think) and thus resides in a lot of those historic buildings I talked about earlier. It is incredibly pretty and houses various craft shops, art galleries, art shops, a theatre, two independent cinemas, a multitude of bars, restaurants and cafes. Quite the place for the intelligencia and other cultivated people to meet. I stocked up on local culture by seeing a NZ movie called 'The price of milk'. A bit strange but definitely worth seeing. The absurdest love-story-fairy-tale-psycho-analysis movie I have ever seen (probably because it is the first film of that genre that I have ever seen ;-).

On another note I might give you a little more insight into the workings of a kiwi mind. You already know that they call 'fish' 'fesh' but they seem to confuse pronunciation in both directions: They turn 'lift' at an intersection but if you hitch-hike you are most likely to get a 'left'. Then they do not have 'one way streets' in Christchurch but whole 'one way systems' (so labelled on street signs). And who except the Scotts use the word 'wee'... the Kiwis do. Constantly. You will be told to go somewhere as there is a 'wee lake' to be seen, someone might invite you to a 'wee dinner' and to drive understatement to its peak I have heard a bus driver commenting on the considerable fishing fleet of Riverton as 'They've got quite a wee fishing fleet, ey?'. Needless to say the driver's name was 'Bin' ;-)

Our trip today took us up the coast from Christchurch along the coast up to Kaikoura. It was a trip with a view. We drove through the upper Canterbury plains seeing the southern alps in the distance some of them covered in snow. We then made our way through the 'Kaikouras' on a winding road which led us down onto the peninsula on which Kaikoura is situated. It is famous for two things: the whales and the crayfish (Kaikoura in Maori actually means 'eating crayfish'). Although the bay looked as smooth as a mirror apparently the sea out there was far too choppy to go out and all the trips had been cancelled. So I missed out on the whale watching. Instead I borrowed a bicycle and drove up to the lookout on the peninsula which offered superb views of the place and its two bays with the mountains in the background. Around dinner time I strolled along the main street looking for a place to try some of that famous crayfish and ended up in the 'Cray pot'. Discarding 'fesh and cheps' and prawns this was the first time in my life that I actually ordered seafood on purpose. It turned out to be very nice. The meat of the body smells much like prawns, maybe a little bit mustier and the parts of the head that look like steamed carrots have a taste like salmon without the fish bones. I quite enjoyed it although I have to say that it is slightly over priced as a way of getting fed.

On the way back to my hostel I dropped into a bakery for some postcards and talked to the baker because I finally wanted to find out about why all the bread in english speaking countries is spongy without a decent crust. I learned that this is achieved by using less moisture in the oven and by packing the bread in plastic bags once it has cooled down. The reason is not inability of baking a crust but the inability of selling the stuff if it has a crust. Apart from finally getting that answered I had the joy to talk to a fellow who looked and sounded exactly like Jeff Bridges in 'The big Lebowski' - it was grand.

Kaikoura constitutes my last stop on the South Island, tomorrow we will head up the coast through Blenheim to Picton from where we will take the Ferry back to Wellington. So I better send this newsletter off and you will get the next edition from the North Island again.

Newsletter 11 - Volcanic North Island
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I am back in Auckland where my stay in New Zealand started and the weather is considerably better than in february and it is definitely a lot less humid. The trip up from Kaikoura to Picton was as uneventful as the trip across Cook Strait on the Interislander. The weather was nice and hot - as it has been in this region since november when they last had rain. We got into Wellington in the late afternoon and I happened to get the same room I had on the way down. The bunk beds are still wobbly and this time one of the room mates was even more of a pig than the last time. He somehow managed to cover most of the room with his personal stuff (clothes both clean and worn, plates with half eaten meals, partly filled beer bottles and glasses... you get the general idea). As I spent only little time in my room I did not mind so much. Wellington has cooled down a bit since I was here last but it still is a nice place. I spent most of the evening strolling around town and went back to the hostel where I planned to hit the sack early when I bumped into 'Buffy' on of the girls that was on our unsuccessful rafting trip. She persuaded me to drag along to the in-hostel bar where most of that group was as they had travelled out of Christchurch a day earlier than me. We had quite a ball playing pool and table soccer and I even made it to the finals which is still rather inexplicable to me!

The next day I caught the Intercity Bus to New Plymouth which lies in the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island. As the Kiwi Bus does not go through there I was quite happy to travel there by myself. By the time we got onto the Taranaki peninsula we could see the volcano that had formed it from the distance. Mt. Taranaki / Mt. Egmont rises in an almost perfect cone from sea level to over 2500m and my plan was to climb to its top the next day. We arrived in beautiful weather with a few benevolent cumulus clouds and I spent the afternoon having a look around the township of New Plymouth which is unspectacular but leaves a rather welcoming impression. Unfortunately the next day turned out to be particularly nasty and the forecast for the following days was no less discouraging. Despite the comment of the bus driver ('Do you realise that it is a wee wet up there?') I caught a shuttle up to the visitor centre in the National Park at roughly 1000m. We drove straight into the clouds and from the moment of entering them until I left them again in the afternoon it did not stop pouring with rain once. Having found my overpants inadequate in the rain at Mt. Cook I had bought myself some 'breathable water proof overpants' at a sale in Christchurch and thus dared to go for a small hike up to the tree line but once I got there I had to admit that the view was just as limited up there as in the bush around the visitor centre so I turned back rather miserably. I guess I should have taken a trip up onto the mountain after arriving the day before and although it would have been far too late for the eight hour climb to the summit it would have at least given me the chance to enjoy the view. Ah well, another excuse for coming back!

Today I caught the bus back to Auckland from where I will head south again on the Kiwi Bus tomorrow to do a 'limited loop' of the North Island as I will not have time to do all I could with my ticket as I spent considerably more time on the South Island than I had originally planned.

The season definitely seems to be quieting down. The Kiwi Bus leaving Auckland was only half full and the amount of drinking crazy pommie teenagers was considerably smaller than in those on the South Island. Our first stop was Mt. Eden, one of Aucklands twelve extinct volcanoes from where one has a great view of the city. Then we left the city and I had some pretty good conversations with a lot of people on our way towards the Corromandel. We made our way across the Bombay Plains where most of Auckland's vegetables and fruit is grown. We then went on through Thames to a place called 'Cathedral Cove'. Or rather its car park, as getting to Cathedral cove involved a half hour walk through some very picturesque landscape with side trips to places with names like Emerald or Stingray Bay. Cathedral Cove turned out to be a nice sandy beach with some rather big limestone cliffs as backdrop. There were some caves - that were inaccessible due to high tide - and an arch to another beach around the corner. We spent a good hour there swimming and enjoying the scenery - with outlooks towards the islands in the bays looking like a scene from 'The Beach' - except for Leonardo, thank god.
From there we went on to Whitianga (pronounced as if spelled Fitianga) where I stayed at a hostel with a view most people would kill for. We had the chance to try our hand at bone carving and it was quite a lot of fun. After resisting all those souvenir shops for almost two months now I still ended up with a Maori Fish Hook design around my neck - but at least it is hand crafted by the world's leading expert on precision work with two left hands. It somehow reminded me of the six compulsory weeks of training metal working after my first term at uni - with the exception that metal takes a lot longer to be filed to dust.

The next day we drove back through the Corromandel and then made our way towards Rotorua. Rotorua is probably one of the prime tourist attractions of the North Island combining the southern hemisphere's largest geothermically active area and a concentration of Maori culture. Before enjoying those attractions the commercial aspects had to be taken care off which is why we spent our lunch on top of Mt. Ngongotaha where there is another Luge Track and magnificent views over Lake Rotorua (a bit of a misnamer, as Roto is the Maori word for lake (rua means two: the second lake) and it does not really make sense to call it 'lake the second lake', does it?). The luge track was considerably longer than the one in Queenstown and as there was a whole crowd of us we had some major fun racing down the slopes at breakneck speed. With the adventurous side of Rotorua taken care of we continued to Whakarewarewa (pronounced 'Fakarewarewa', 'Wh' in Maori is prounounced as 'F'). which is short (!) for Tewhakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao (The gathering together of the war party of Wahiao). 'Whaka' as it is known around here is one of the many geothermal areas where you can view mud pools, steaming pools and craters, crystallised sulphur formations and geysers. The big attraction there was Pohutu (Explosion) a geyser that reaches up to approximately 30m and erupts pretty regularly - it was quite a sight. The Whaka also houses the Maori Arts and Crafts institute where young Maoris are taught how to weave or carve wood and you can watch them doing so. In addition to that it also hosts a replica Maori Marae (village) where you can view the way their buildings are built.

In the evening we were picked up to visit a traditional Hangi (feast meal cooked in earth ovens) and concert at the Tamaki village. Our Maori bus drivers gave us a run down of some important Maori words and on the protocol of the evening before dropping us off to experience the challenge of the warrior of the host tribe. Although it was a 'show event' it was very impressive and I can see how it would have scared anyone shitless in the times of European exploration to hear and see that for the first time. We were then welcomed into the Pa (fortified village) where men and women showed us some traditional activities (singing, dancing, chanting - some of their chants reminded me of one of our chants I learned during my scouting days, playing, fighting practise, art and craft work) before we were lead into the meeting house where we listened to the welcome speech before our selected chiefs (as we were treated as a visiting tribe) performed the Hongi (traditional greeting). After the welcome was completed we then enjoyed an evening of touching and impressive display of Maori lore (singing, dancing, the Haka (war dance), some history and explanations of their culture). Afterwards we proceeded to the feast which consisted of food that was cooked on rocks that had been heated in a fire before being buried in the earth with the food to steam it for several hours. The whole evening was absolutely astonishing and while it was a tourist event - how could it be else - it still gave me a great chance to learn a lot more about Maori culture than I knew before.

Today I visited another geothermal area called Wai-o-tapu (forbidden water) where there is another multitude of mud pools, craters, hot springs and the Lady Knox geyser. The geyser only erupts when 'induced' to do so with soap (to break the surface tension) and is probably one of the main attractions in the Rotorua area. After having seen 'Old Faithful' in Yellowstone a few years ago I have to say I was not all that impressed with it as it is (a) a lot smaller, (b) only lasts for a little less than a minute before spluttering on for another 40 minutes and (c) I consider using soap cheating ;-) From Wai-o-tapu I went on to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley (black water, there used to be a huge geyser spurting black water up to 400m (!) between 1900 and 1904. Most of the area was devastated in the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera but still is one of the most volatile areas around Rotorua. It is not surprising that most of the places in these areas are named with good old Satan in mind (Devil's Home, Inferno Crater, Hell's Gates) as some of them are truly eerie. In addition to that the smells all over Rotorua are quite taxing. You do find corners where there is no smell at all but these places are rare. Just outside my hostel it smells as if one of the neighbours had a permanent case of flatulence, at Whakarewarewa the smell reminded me of one of those bound hams we usually boiled for christmas at home and in other places I looked in vain for the fellow who broke the rotten eggs. The locals insist that you stop noticing the stench after a while but I think they have just learnt on how to hold their breath eternally. After Waimangu I got the chance to go swimming in a hot river - although it is a bit hard to relax when keeping in mind that you had better not get any water in your nose because of the danger of Amoebic Meningitis.
In the afternoon I was picked up for rafting on the Kaituna river. The rafting trip is relatively short (just under an hour) but the river drops 36m over the 1.2km the trip covers. It was a splashing experience, especially going down Okere Falls (nicknamed 'Big Daddy' by the rafters) a 7m waterfall. We had a great time getting wet and after getting back I headed off into the township of Rotorua to have a look around town (which I had not done so far).

From Rotorua we took off towards Waitomo where there are extensive limestone caves. At the Waitomo Caves I went on a 'blackwater rafting' tour. This involved getting into a full body wetsuit, boots and a helmet with a lamp on it. We then grabbed a truck inner tube and jumped into a rather cold stream for practice. Then we walked up to the cave entrance where we climbed through a narrow reach down into the world of stalagmites and stalactites. The caves in Waitomo are roughly two million years old. The water in the cave was bloody freezing and I was glad I had a wet suit to keep me warm. We drifted through the caves on our inner tubes, went down some water falls, jumped off some cliffs, scraped along some narrow tunnels and then turned our lights off. We drifted through darkness for a few minutes before there was a light glow from the roof of the cave. There are glow worms in the caves and they glow to attract moths and mosquitoes. It looked like watching the stars in the sky. There were so many of them that we could actually see our own outlines in their glow. It was an incredible experience to glide through the darkness illuminated by the glow worms in eerie silence. The whole trip took roughly one and a half hours and by the time we were done even the wet suits were not much help any longer and we were all shivering and quite glad to get out of the cold water and to hop under the hot showers and to eat some of the soup.
From Waitomo we then headed back towards Taupo - which would have been only eighty kilometres from Rotorua - and got there towards evening. In the last light we stopped at Huka Falls before driving into town in the sunset with a full and huge moon slowly rising from behind the clouds. At my hostel to my great surprise I ran into the two german girls I had met on the Kepler track. We went out for a beer with another german guy they had met that day and then headed to a spot on the Waikato river where there are hot springs and immersed ourselves in the hot pools. It was like a spa except for the unreal setting. Sitting in a hot pool on the edge of a wide river in the light of the full moon which cast unreal shadows through the pandanis which grew along the river bank. It was positively relaxing. After that we headed back into to town to have a look at 'the Holy Cow' which is *the* place to be on a saturday night, apparently. We did observe that they indeed did have dancing on tables and benches and that their music was quite a bit better than the place we had been to before going for the swim but then left again as it was far too crowded and we did not really feel like a late night.

Now might be a good time to rectify some image problems I seem to be having. After my last newsletter I have been getting several veiled and not so veiled mails taking the mickey out of me for my supposed 'drinking exploits'. I would like to point out that just because I have [naively and too honestly] reported of a couple of alcoholic incidences it does not mean that every time I mention 'going out for a few drinks' it should be interpreted as 'he got senselessly sloshed again'. On the opposite, I do quite manage to go out for a drink and call it quits in time. Even when in company of a Kiwi crowd. I guess this will not succeed to repair the unjustified and unfair taint to my reputation but at least it is on the record now!

The next day I got up early and nervously as I had booked for a special thrill and started having second thoughts on the way to the airport. Pretty soon we were all dressed in clowny looking coveralls in red and yellow, had a Biggles like leather cap and goggles on our heads and were herded into a small plane where we sat on the ground, strapped to some strangers looking out through a perspex glass while the plane climbed to 12'000 feet. When the door opened and the stranger to whom I was strapped told me to get out I was sure I would go through cardiac arrest any minute. Having my feet dangling in the slipstream of a perfectly good airplane at 4000m with the intention of jumping out suddenly seemed no longer like a good idea and those few seconds were probably the scariest I have ever had in my whole life. And then there was a slight push to my shoulder and I was plummeting towards the earth at roughly 200km/h. It was exhilarating. Breathtaking. Incredible. Overwhelming. Thrilling. Fun. It is in fact hard to remember the details of those forty-five seconds of free fall. In the beginning my whole body and mind were so busy taking in the experience and replacing the panic with calm enjoyment that I hardly remembered to take in the view. And then there was a sudden jerk and I felt the harness cutting into my legs and suddenly we were peacefully drifting along on the parachute with time to enjoy the sights, speaking and talking about the features of the landscape and seeing the airfield coming closer. Then a few spirals to bleed off altitude before a smooth landing in the exact spot where I had gotten into the plane just a few minutes ago. Wow. Cool.

After getting back I spent some time planning my next few days in the area. I had originally wanted to start the four day 'Tongariro Northern Circuit' on tuesday but the weather forecast was so incredibly lousy that I decided to seize the good weather on monday and settle for the one day 'Tongariro Crossing'. After changing my ongoing travel arrangements accordingly I hired a bike and rode along the Waikato river to the Huka falls to see them in daylight. From there I went on to the Warakei Volcanic Activity Centre where I did not get to see much as they were closing early on sundays. On the way back I took a detour towards the 'Craters of the moon' which is another area with geothermal activity. It is managed by the department of conservation and therefore free. There were hardly any people there. I guess the less it costs the less people come to look at a place. It is a nice forty minute stroll through the area and seeing all the steaming crevices and craters in the low sun was absolutely spectacular and added to the 'moony' feeling the place has already. I then cycled back into town for an early night as I would have to get up at an almost indecent time for my hike the next day.

Our shuttle bus picked us up at 6.30 and took us along the shores of Lake Taupo (which is actually the huge crater lake of a volcano which erupted 25'000 years ago) through Turangi up to the Mangatepopo parking lot where the Tongariro Crossing starts. The beginning was an easy walk along an old lava flow to Soda Springs from where the track climbs 300m over a short distance and got most of us panting. At the top of the climb we were on Mangatepopo Saddle which lies between the volcanoes Ngauruhoe and Tongariro (both of them considered active). From there I took a side trip to the top of Mt. Ngauruhoe (2291m, last eruption in 1946). Ngauruhoe is the youngest of the volcanoes in the park (2500years) and - like Mt. Taranaki - it is almost perfectly conical. The climb up the mountain must have been the most taxing, frustrating and exhausting ascent I have ever done in my life. I have no idea how steep the slope really was but it looked to be roughly 45 degrees and felt a lot steeper. You permanently had to watch out that your backpack did not drag you back down the hill. In addition to that the whole slope is covered in volcanic ash and rock which has just piled up on the slopes and with each step you take up the mountain slides you half a step down. As a compensation you get to see ashes, rock and pumice in black, white, grey, yellow and red as if arranged by a gigantic artist. Once at the top there is a fantastic view over the crates of Mt. Tongariro (1968m) and Lake Taupo to the north, Mt. Ruapeho (2797m, last eruption in 1996) to the south and in the far distance off to the west Mt. Taranaki could be seen although it is more than 200km away. After a difficult and exhausting two and a half hour climb I expected an equally challenging descent but managed to get down in just over twenty minutes by sliding down in streaks of ash and lose rocks. It felt a bit like skiing in snow that follows along - with sufficient amounts of snow they call that an avalanche, I think - and while fast and efficient and easy on my knees it probably knocked off a year or so off my hiking boot's life expectancy.
Once back on the saddle the path went across Tongariro's South Crater before another steep ascend to the top of it's Red Crater (last eruption in 1926) from there it led down towards the Emerald Lakes at the edge of the Central Crater which it then crossed in order to climb up towards Blue Lake which is in another of Tongariro's Craters. From there I had an excellent view to the perfectly flat North Crater before beginning the final descent towards Ketetahi hut from where there is a brilliant view of Lake Rotoaira. From there the path led down towards the plain past Ketatahi Springs, a furrow in the mountain side which leaks steam clouds - just to remind you that the volcano is still active. It is quite astonishing to walk on those mountains and to imagine that they are active volcanoes but suddenly there is a small cloud of steam escaping from one of the craters or on one of the slopes and the distinct smell of bad eggs. At the foot of the mountain we were again picked up by the shuttle bus to take us back to Taupo after an exhausting but fulfilling nine hour hiking day.

Well, it has been a while since I last wrote anything and I have come back to Taupo via several other places. After doing the Tongariro Crossing I spent a relaxing day in Taupo doing nothing. The next day I caught a bus to Napier and on to Hastings. These two places lie on the east coast on Hawke's Bay. In Hastings I stayed with Gillian who had been exchange student to Switzerland in 1994/95 when I was Regional Director there. She attends the local Institute of Technology learning how to make wine. As it is currently harvesting season they had just started their own wine and she had to go and check her lot daily. So I got a guided tour of EIT (Eastern Institute of Technology) and a brief summary on how to make wine, how to check it and I was even allowed to help a little ;-) Afterwards she dropped me off in Napier where I had a look around town. Napier and Hastings were almost fully destroyed in the 1931 Earthquake and had been rebuilt in the - at the time - fashionable Art Deco style and as this has turned out to be a tourist attraction of some sorts new buildings try to emulate that style. Hawke's Bay is the North Islands most important wine growing region so we used to afternoon to go on a wine tasting tour which was quite nice, especially with the commentary of a 'professional' to teach me a little more about wine than I already knew. After our wine tour we drove back to Napier where they have a rather large indoor climbing wall and spent a few hours exhausting ourselves on the various climbs. I have not done this in several years and had forgotten how much fun it could be. By the time they closed shopped we were both pretty beat and happy to go home for a late dinner.
The next day - good friday - we drove up to Te Mata Peak, the local mountain around Hastings - according to Maori legend it is a chief who choked to death eating food while guarding the area and sure enough the mountain looks like a person lying on its back and you can even see the bit that choked him. The drive up and the view from the top was spectacular, we could see Hastings, Napier, Hawke's Bay and most of the hinterland. We were quite lucky that the weather had temporarily cleared up - I had come to Hastings to sit out the bad weather that had been announced as coming with cyclone 'Sose'. On our way down we stopped off at the local park where a miniature railway had been built and over easter a lot of enthusiasts from all over New Zealand were expected to arrive with their favourite locomotives and wagons. It has been over 15 years since I had last ridden on one of these trains and it was quite a revival of my youth memories to go on a ride with the 'Santa Fe Express' amidst small kids and pensioners. For the afternoon Gillian wanted to take me to Puketitri where there was a museum she remembered from her childhood and - according to other people - some nice hot pools. On the way out we drove along numerous vineyards and we briefly stopped at one to see a machine harvester 'picking' grapes - just to meet several people from the winery where Gillian used to work and at which we had tasted wine the day before. The drive through the hills towards Puketitri took us through beautiful landscape, mostly hilly farming country with sheep and cattle, some native forest and some commercial forest plantations. To our big surprise the museum at Puketitri (whose population I would estimate to roughly 10) was open but we both felt paying $5 to see a collection of odd tidbits was not what we had in mind so we just had a go at the swing outside it before heading onwards towards the hot springs. The road - which had changed to a gravel road on the way to Puketitri - grew constantly worse and after every corner we expected to find the hot springs - they were 'just outside Puketitri' after all. However, it took us almost forty-five minutes to get all they way to a sign which claimed that from here onwards we would be travelling on 'private roads at our own risk'. This gave us the joy of another good half hour through pot holed dirt road steeply winding up and down hills. When we finally reached the end of the road it was just after four o'clock instead of two as we had expected but as we had come this far we decided to walk down to the spring after all. As it turns out the hot spring is so hot it is impossible to swim in it directly but as it is on a hillside the water runs down the hill and cools off and at a point where it is appropriately cool someone had built a nice pool out of wooden planks and lined it with plastic foil. We soaked in the steaming water for quite some time before heading back up the hill to our car which we reached together with the sunset and the next onslaught of cyclone Sose. We drove back on the dirt road which had turned into a small river through the dark in pouring rain. For stretches it rained so hard we could see nothing but rain - I do not think I have ever seen it rain so hard in my life, not even in Darwin. Amazingly we did make it back just in time to go to the movies which were - also amazingly - open on good friday. After seeing Hannibal (no need to go and see it for yourself) we decided to go for a beer with some of Gillian's friends but found out that all places were closing at midnight as it was good friday after all. So we headed back reasonably early without the 'wild friday night' I had been hearing about for two days.

The next day I caught a bus back to Taupo and onwards to Turangi and National Park Village. As predicted by the forecast the cyclone had lost its power and the clouds cleared once I got back onto the Central Plateau. On the drive from Turangi to National Park I again had magnificent views of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu although parts of Tongariro was covered in cloud. Talking to some people who had done the Crossing on that day it must have been similar to walking in a steam bath - wet and grey. Incredibly enough the forecast proved to be right again the next day which began with clear sky and sunshine which lasted all day. I caught a shuttle up the slopes of Mt. Ruapehu to Whakapapa village from where I hitched a hike up the end of the road at the skiing village. From there I took the chair lift up to Knoll's Ridge. As if my childhood memories had not had enough revival on the miniature train the chair lift gave them another boost. I do not think that I have seen chair lifts like that since hiking with my parents as a little boy - a bit like old plastic park benches on a steel rope ;-). From Knoll's Ridge it was a nice one and a half hour walk to the crater of Mt. Ruapehu. After struggling on Ngauruhoe it was a pleasant surprise to see that Ruapehu's slopes consisted mainly of solid granite/gneiss-like rock that was easy going and the little ash covered bits at the top had been glued together nicely by the previous week's rain. From the 'Dome (2672m) there was a great view over most of the southern North Island (to Taranaki and the Tasman sea, towards Wellington and Cook Straight, towards Hawke's bay and the Pacific, to Taupo and Rotorua) and of course down into the crater lake. The lake is twenty-five meters below the level it was before the 1995 eruption, was of grey colour, looked almost frozen which it could not have been as its current temperature is 38 degrees and it has a pH value of 1.2! The crater area looked absolutely unreal. Across the crater lake loomed the summit of Ruapehu which at 2729m is the highest point of the North Island. For all the temptation it would have been utter foolishness to cross the glacier without crampons and an ice pick so I just sat there and enjoyed to feeling of this incredible place, trying to imagine what it must have been like when the whole crater was ejected into the atmosphere over the weeks at the end of september 1995. On the way down I got to use my well practised 'slide in the mud and ash' tactics for the top few metres before having to resort to walking on granite which was not half as quick and easy but then I had gotten up cheaply instead...

The next day took me to Taupo and today I have made it back to Auckland where I will spend a relaxing day before heading up to the northern part of the Island in the last week I have here.

Newsletter 12 - Northland
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Leavin Auckland early in the morning we drove pretty straight up north with short stops in Warkworth and Whangarei so we arrived in Paihia in the Bay of Islands around lunch time. This allowed us to hop straight onto the boat to go and swim with the dolphins. The weather was rather lousy with lots of cloud and quite some rain. In addition to that there was a considerable swell that made the four hour trip relatively rough. Surprisingly I managed very well and did not even get marginally sea sick. We cruised through the 144 islands but unfortunately did not manage to find any dolphins at all. We saw gannets who are sea gull like birds that hover over the water and then dive straight into it to catch fish - it looks like planes diving in to bomb a target. The company that runs the tours offered us the chance to do the trip again for free so I was going to try my luck again on sunday.

On friday I did a day trip up to the north cape of New Zealand. We left at an incredibly early hour as we were in for a good 480km's driving broken by quite a few stops. Our first was at the Puketi Kauri forest. Kauri trees are the largest trees in New Zealand and once were abundant on the North Island. The European settlers did a pretty thorough job of logging them for ship building so today only three percent of the Kauri forests remain. Kauri trees grow incredibly large but also unbelievably slow - today's oldest trees are roughly a thousand years old and the European settlers felled some that were up to two thousand years old. Walking through the swampy forest among those giant trees was awe inspiring and made me feel very small.
We then did the longest leg from our trip up to Cape Reinga which is the northern most point of New Zealand and is 'tapu' (sacred, taboo) to the Maori as they believe that the souls of their dead leave from there to go to Hawaiki (their equivalent of heaven). The drive up there is long and repetitive but in a beautiful way as lush meadows and native bush coat the gentle hills only interrupted by the occasional sandy beach or tidal river. The cape itself is a rocky outcrop above which sits a lighthouse. From there one has a perfect view of the pacific ocean and the tasman sea meeting. I never thought I would able to physically see this but as the direction of the prevalent winds in the two oceans are different the swell rolls in different directions and at the place where they meet a classical interference is created and forms astonishing patterns and causes splashing waves to surge up in churning seas. Quite a spectacle. We then drove a few minutes to a cove nearby where we ate lunch and went swimming. There were huge waves (two to three metres) breaking on the beach and we had a great time body surfing in them although I swallowed quite a bit of salt water in the process ;-)
We then went on to drive down the 'Te Paki' river - yes, that is right, *in* the river with our special bus - until we got to some giant sand dunes. We then grabbed hold of our buggy boards and climbed the dunes. At the top of the dunes there is a great view over lots more of them and a good sight of ninety mile beach. We then 'surfed' down the dunes by laying flat onto the boards and lifting our feet. On the steepest dune we achieved speeds close to 50km/h. It was thrilling. After doing this a few times we were all covered in sand and happily carried tons of it back onto the bus before driving down the rest of the river until we reached ninety mile beach - which incidentally is only sixty odd miles long. We then drove along the beach leading us back south for roughly 45 miles before heading back onto normal roads.
We then took a quick look at the 'Incredible Kauri Kingdom' which is a factory that digs out ancient Kauri trees that had been immersed in a swamp for anything between 15'000 to 30'000 years. Some of those trees had been three to five thousand years old when they fell and are used to carve furniture, souvenirs, statues and art work. One of the trees was large enough to house a stairwell that leads to the upper floor of the factory. It was most amazing.
Our next stop was in Manganui where we had dinner at a prominent fish and chips shop before continuing to our last stop where we were able to taste some local fruit and gorged ourselves on Mangoes, Passion fruit, Oranges, Fejoas, Apples and other fruit. From there it was a quick trip back to Paihia.

The next day I spent sailing on a 'tall ship' called R.Tucker Thompson. She was a two master (the aft one was taller, I can never remember whether that makes her a schooner or a ketch). For the first two hours we had to use the motor but then the wind picked up and we set sails. It was great to just lay on the wooden deck, hearing nothing but the wind in the sails and the water going past the hull, seeing the beautiful islands and watching the lovely ship. Again the swell was pretty large but wide apart (being an engineer I would say it had an amplitude of two to three meters and a wavelength of maybe fifty meters ;- ) so it was nice and easy going. I always thought that when people talked of 'fifteen metre high seas' they were exaggerating as I expected these waves to be very close together but I guess if they are fairly wide apart it would be just like slow moving hills...
Around lunch time we stopped off an island where we went snorkelling, swimming and walked around the beach a little before heading back to the ship for a lovely lunch. We then put on all the canvas she carried (9 sails, I am not sure I have all the sails right but I am sure Andrew will let me know if I make any mistakes: The main sail, two top sails, the score, two jibs and I cannot for the life of me remember what the two on the back mast were called...). It was a grand experience.
In the evening I was completely surprised to walk into Joachim the german guy whom I had met on Stewart Island and again in Te Anau. We spent most of the evening talking and had a great time.

On sunday I got up early to try again to go swimming with the dolphins. The weather was again marvellous and the swell the same. To my big surprise I managed a third day at sea without even feeling queasy. This time we found dolphins within the first hour and spent more than an hour watching the pod of roughly 30-40 animals swim and play. Unfortunately they had juveniles with them which meant that we could not go and swim with them but despite this seeing them so close was a unique experience. After watching them for quite some time we ventured further out towards the open sea to find another pod without young ones which caused half of the passengers to make liberal use of the barf bags - all in vain, too, as we did not manage to find another pod so we stopped with the first one again on the way back where we saw some of them jump and do summersaults before heading back to Paihia.
I then walked across to Waitangi - which is about a fifteen minute's walk from Paihia where the treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 which made the Maoris British citizens and granted them and their land the protection of the queen. This brought some order into the selling of their land to the new settlers and although it did not prevent a few rebellions and land wars it set a trend in the dealings between the indigenous people and European settlers which - seen from today - seems to have worked a lot better than the way Australia dealt with the Aboriginals (I guess the fact that to the Maori 'land ownership' meant more than to the nomad Aboriginal tribes made this easier, too). At Waitangi the original building of the English governor-general Hobson can be seen (which just another 'old' house) but the place also hosts the Marae and Waka which were built for the centennial celebrations of the treaty in 1940. It was amazing to see the imposing war canoe that can carry 150 warriors.
After that I caught the bus back to Auckland where I stayed with Peter and Tine again who had already hosted me upon my arrival in New Zealand some two and a half months before.

I put the morning of my last day in Auckland to finally following through with a thought I had played with for a few years and after coming up with a good motive during my trip I went to a tattooist's shop and got myself a 'lasting' souvenir of my time down under by getting the 'Southern Cross' tattooed on my ankle. Getting the tattoo was a swift and relatively painless though uncomfortable matter but the tattooist was quite a character. We spent the time by talking about travelling and so I learnt that he had seen most of south east asia while in the army for ten years and when leaving he confided that two of these ten years were spent in prison for assault charges... I seem not to have rubbed him the wrong way, though as I let me go in peace ;-)
In the afternoon I took the Ferry out to Waiheke Island off the coast where one of my friends from my scouting days lives now. Urs Bauer and his wife Denise came here with their kids about ten months ago. They showed me around the island and took me to the place where they are building their new home - a lovely spot above Palm Beach with a great view over the island and the ocean. After having dinner with them I caught the ferry back to Auckland to pack my things.

So today is my last day down under before I go off for my five days in Washington DC where I will attend the YFU International Conference.

I think ending my series of newsletter with a full dozen makes this a good a time as any to stop - apart from the fact that my life back home is not half as thrilling as the last four and a half months have been.

I plan to put these newsletters and some of my pictures (I have just started on roll fifty-one yesterday) on the net once I am back home and will let you know where they can be access as soon as I get around to doing it.

So for the time being, thanks for bearing with my ramblings. I hope I managed to sustain a certain jealousy during the time I was gone and ask you not to gloat to badly about the fact that you will have me back in normal life again soon.

Go to top Itinerary Go to Newsletter Index Go to last Newsletter Go to first Newsletter
Date Location Side Trip
13/12/2000 - 15/12/2000Zürich - London - Singapore - Adelaide
15/12/2000 - 02/01/2001AdelaideMcLaren Vale, Barossa Valley
03/01/2001Adelaide - Beachport
04/01/2001Beachport - Port Fairy
05/01/2001Port Fairy - Apollo Bay
06/01/2001Apollo Bay - Melbourne
07/01/2001 - 14/01/2001MelbourneGrampians, Wilsons Promotory
15/01/2001Melbourne - Khancoban
16/01/2001Khancoban - ThredboMt. Kosciuszko
17/01/2001 - 18/01/2001ThredboCharlotte Pass
19/01/2001Thredbo - Canberra
20/01/2001 - 21/01/2001Canberra
22/01/2001Canberra - Sydney
24/01/2001Sydney - Melbourne - Hobart
25/01/2001 - 30/01/2001HobartPort Arthur, Mt. Field NP
31/01/2001Hobart - Coles Bay
01/02/2001Coles BayFreycinet NP
02/02/2001Coles Bay - Launceston
03/02/2001Launceston - Cradle Mountain
04/02/2001Cradle Mountain
05/02/2001Cradle Mountain - Strahan
06/02/2001StrahanGordon River
07/02/2001Strahan - Lake St. Clair
08/02/2001Lake St. Clair
09/02/2001Lake St. Clair - Hobart
11/02/2001Hobart - Melbourne - Auckland
12/02/2001 - 13/02/2001Auckland
14/02/2001Auckland - Wellington
15/02/2001 - 16/02/2001Wellington
17/02/2001Wellington - Picton - Nelson
18/02/2001 - 19/02/2001NelsonAbel Tasman NP
20/02/2001Nelson - Westport
21/02/2001Westport - Lake Mahinapua
22/02/2001Lake Mahinapua - Franz Josef Glacier
23/02/2001 - 24/02/2001Franz Josef Glacier
25/02/2001Franz Josef Glacier - Fox Glacier
26/02/2001Fox Glacier
27/02/2001Fox Glacier - MakaroraSiberia Valley
28/02/2001Makarora - Wanaka
01/03/2001WanakaMt. Roy
02/03/2001Wanaka - Queenstown
03/04/2001QueenstownBen Lomond
04/03/2001 - 06/03/2001Routeburn Track
08/03/2001Queenstown - Cromwell - St. Bathans - Moeraki - Dunedin
09/03/2001DunedinOtago Peninsula
10/03/2001Dunedin - Invercargill
12/03/2001Invercargill - Stewart Island
13/03/2001Stewart Island
14/03/2001Stewart Island - Invercargill - Riverton
15/03/2001Riverton - Te Anau
16/03/2001 - 17/03/2001Doubtful Sound
18/03/2001Te Anau
19/03/2001 - 22/03/2001Kepler Track
23/03/2001Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau - Queenstown
24/03/2001Queenstown - Twizel - Mt. Cook
25/03/2001Mt. Cook
26/03/2001Mt. Cook - Twizel - Geraldine - Peel Forest
27/03/2001Peel Forest - Christchurch
28/03/2001 - 29/03/2001Christchurch
30/03/2001Christchurch - Kaikoura
31/03/2001Kaikoura - Picton - Wellington
01/04/2001Wellington - New Plymouth
02/04/2001New PlymouthMt. Taranaki NP
03/04/2001New Plymouth - Auckland
04/04/2001Auckland - Whitianga
05/04/2001Whitianga - Rotorua
07/04/2001Rotorua - Waitomo - Taupo
08/04/2001 - 10/04/2001TaupoTongariro Crossing
11/04/2001Taupo - Napier - Hastings
12/04/2001 - 13/04/2001HastingsPuketitri
14/04/2001Hastings - Napier - Taupo - Turangi - National Park
15/04/2001National ParkMt. Ruapehu
16/04/2001National Park - Turangi - Taupo
17/04/2001Taupo - Rotorua - Auckland
19/04/2001Auckland - Paihia
20/04/2001 - 21/04/2001PaihiaCape Reinga, Waitangi
22/04/2001Paihia - Auckland
24/04/2001Auckland - Los Angeles - New York
25/04/2001New York - Washington DC
26/04/2001 - 29/04/2001Washington DC
30/04/2001 - 01/05/2001Washington DC - London - Zürich
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Last modified: 2010-07-16