A trip to the most beautiful end of the world

If you ask Europeans which country they would like to visit, New Zealand is definitely among the top answers. I’m not an exception to this rule, I’ve been dreaming of going to this beautiful country for many years. There is only one problem: it’s the furthermost place on earth from my home. On the other hand the distance makes up some part of the fascination for “the land of the long white cloud”.

Preparations

Last autumn I decided to stop only talking about it and finally organized the trip. My girlfriend gave me the idea of attending a language school. I never went to a language school before but it sounded very attractive: a language school gives great opportunities to meet young people from different countries and cultures. And also the students are all in a very similar situation: most of them travel by oneself and are open to meet new people. And, as a side-effect, I could also improve my English.

The remaining problem was to get off as many weeks as possible. I was able to negotiate a four weeks holiday which is the longest holiday of my career so far but not much time when travelling to the other end of the world.

While the day of departure came closer I wondered about how much luggage I need for 4 weeks and came to the conclusion that less is more. Especially my big and heavy photo backpack is pretty annoying when travelling for such a long time. That’s why I was looking for an alternative to my DSLR gear with comparable image quality. There are several µFT cameras with decent image quality around, but the only real competitor of a DSLR in terms of image quality was the Leica X1. I also read about all the drawbacks it has (especially the slow AF speed) but on the other hand the camera looks really sexy and the build quality is superb. And it’s a real Leica “Mad in Germany”, not a re-labelled Panasonic. So I bought one in December and didn’t regret it for a single second.

Takeoff and stop-over

In the morning of Wed 26 Jan 2011 I said good bye to my girlfrind at Berlin Tegel Airport. After a short stop in London I entered the plane to the first destination of my journey: Singapore. I arrived in Singapore at 8:00 am local time which is about 18 hours after my departure in Berlin. I had a Hotel room for two nights in order to relax from the first flight and to get used to the different time zone. Making this stop-over was a good thing which I would recommend to anyone planning a journey to a country that far away.

About one week prior to departure I heard that Jörn, the brother in law of my uncle, is in Singapore at exactly the same date for some business appointments. This fortunate coincidence made both of us have a good time.

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Arrival

I left Singapore on the evening of 29 Jan, flying to Auckland via Brisbane. On Sunday 30 Jan I finally arrived in Auckland at 3:00 pm. I took the Airbus Express to Central Auckland. My accomodation was very close to the University and the language school. After I got the keys for my room and had a shower, I made a quick walk through the neighborhood and bought something to eat and drink. As Auckland is another five hours ahead of Singapore and I didn’t get much sleep the nights before, I fell asleep very early.

In the next morning I went to the cafe across the street and ordered an “European Breakfast”. Unfortuneately the European breakfast consisted mainly of fruits and 2 slices of toast. According to the confirmation letter from the language school, I should be at the reception by 8:30. When I arrived all doors were closed and I was the only person at the area. How I found out later, 30 Jan is a public holiday in Auckland. So I got a lot of time to discover the surroundings. First I went to Queen Street which is the main shopping area. But that didn’t take too long and so I decided to have a look at the City from the top of one of the volcanoes (there are 50 of them in Auckland). I chose One Tree Hill which is located in a beautiful (and huge) park. The tree is not there any more but the view from top of the hill was excellent:

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The main challenge was to get there because the public transportation system in Auckland is a catastrophe. There are five different bus companies which don’t cooperate. In Cities like Berlin or London you just have to look at a map in order to know which train/bus to take. But in Auckland you have to go to the MAXX information center on Queen Street to ask the staff for the right bus to take and where it departs. An additional problem is that the buses don’t have a display of the next stop. Hopefully you get a nice bus driver that tells you when you have to step out.

The language school

On tuesday the school was open and crowded by students. The first day was just for orientation and classification of the language skills. In contrast to most other students I took a part-time course which was made up of only two hours in the morning (8:30-10:30). That’s why my class mates called me “the tourist”. The school itself was located in the beautiful Albert Park, just 5 minutes walk from Queen Street:

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The school offers a Social Program which helps getting students together. I enrolled in the “Huia Bush Walk” for Wednesday and was looking forward to getting out of the City for the first time. Huia is about half an hour north of Auckland, we went there by a small bus which was driven by an about 80 years old driver. After winter in Berlin and being only in big cities for a pretty long time, the bush was really amazing. I was impressed by the plants that I’ve never seen before. Everything looked so different, like being on a foreign planet. I especially liked the fern trees.

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After being back in Auckland I went to the harbour for some beers with my new friends from Switzerland. For some reason there was a big yellow duck in the harbour:

Yellow Duck in Auckland Harbour

Yellow Duck in Auckland Harbour

The Swiss told me that most students from the language school go out on Wednesdays because Wednesday night is student’s night in several clubs which means drinks are incredibly cheap (about 2.15 EUR). Thank goodness my accomodation was just a short walk from the harbour 😉 Most of the students took a taxi to their homestays in the suburbs or even stayed in a backpacker because buses don’t run much longer than 11:00 pm.

First weekend: Rotorua, Taupo and Waitomo Caves

In one of the school buildings there was a small office of a travel agency which cooperates with the school. The travel agency offers weekend trips to several highlights of the North Island. At this particular weekend the trip should go to Rotorua (a town with geothermal activity), Lake Taupo (the biggest lake in NZ) and the Waitomo glow worm caves. I booked the trip without knowing anyone else going on the trip.

We started at 3:00 pm from Downtown Auckland with a 12-seater van. I was surpised how many people fit into the car. The only male persons besides me were the driver who calls himself just “B” and one brazilian student from my school. The rest of the passengers were 6 brazilian girls, 2 girls from Hong Kong and Kristin from Germany. The journey to Rotorua took 4 hours. When we arrived in Rotorua we first went into a liquor store to buy beer. Because I didn’t know Kiwi beer I asked B which type of beer he would recommend. His answer was “I always drink Beck’s” 🙂 So I bought a sixpack of german beer. The backpacker we stayed in was the dirtiest place I’ve ever seen. First of all I had to manage fresh linen (I don’t want to talk about the details). The room was so disgusting that I needed to drink a lot before going to bed. The night club was just across the road and I think we stayed until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. The good news was that my brazilian friend and me were the only males in our group so that we didn’t have to share the room with others.

Rotorua has plenty of geothermal activities, including fumarols and mud pools. That’s why this town is a terribly stinking place. Nonetheless it’s a very popular place for tourists.

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In the next morning B provided toast and jam for breakfast. The backpacker’s kitchen wasn’t cleaner than the rooms: the floor was sticky and cockroaches tried to steal the toast from the toasters. After this luxory breakfast we went to the village of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao or shorter Whakarewarewa or even shorter just Whaka. This village is inhabited by Maori people who take advantage of the geothermal energy, for instance they cook with the heat from hot pools. The Maori also benefit from the touristical attraction of this area, they offer guided tours through the village including a traditional dance performance.

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After lunch we continued our journey to Lake Taupo, making two stops inbetween. The first stop was at the Huka Falls where I made an exciting ride with a Jet Boat on the Waikato River. The second stop was at Taupo Bungee where some of our group jumped down. As height is not my cup of tea I decided for the second option: swimming in Lake Taupo.

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After another night in the disgustingly dirty hostel we went to the famous Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The Glow Worms are doubtlessly amazing but the infrastructure around it is a bit too touristical for my taste.

Some more details an pictures from this trip can be found in Kristin’s Blog.

In the City

The following week I was a bit lazy and lived my live the Kiwi way according to the motto “enjoy yourself”. I relaxed, went to the beach (within the City limits) and just enjoyed the fine summer weather in February.

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One noticeable thing about Auckland is that the pedestrian lights work different than in all other countries I’ve visited so far: Whilst the traffic lights are green for either direction, all pedestrian lights are red. When pedestrian lights turn green they do for any direction (traffic lights are red during that time of course). That leads to a slight chaos when pedestrians occupy the whole intersection (see first picture above).

Second weekend: Northland

This time I didn’t book a trip with a travel agency but decided together with my new friends to rent a car.  We were a total of 7 persons, so we booked an 8-seater. I was a bit afraid of driving on the left-hand side of the road for the first time but it turned out to be not too difficult.  Actually it was fun to drive a car again after the 3 weeks break and soon I got my new nickname “Schumi” because the german driver was so fast and efficient ;).

We started Friday after lunch towards our first destination Paihia in the Bay of Islands. First break was in the city of Whangarei to visit the beautiful 26m high Whangarei falls. Paihia is the main tourist center for the Bay of Islands. It’s very crowded in high season and despite its plethora of accomodation it’s not easy to find a bed when not booking in advance.

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We stayed there for one night and after we’ve had a great breakfast in a nice Cafe I managed an accomodation for the next night in a small village called Whangaroa Harbour. After that we could concentrate on the activities in the Bay of Islands and booked a boat trip to the Bay. The boat departed from the small historical town of Russell. We had to take the car ferry to get there. We arrived early in Russell and so we had some time to walk through the streets and also to go swimming at Long Beach. The boat trip was amazing, we’ve seen dolphins and the weather was perfect. Being back in Paihia in the afternoon we had to hurry to get on the road again as Whangaroa is several hours away. We arrived just in time for a marvelous sunset that we watched from the summit of 213m high St Paul’s Rock.

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On Sunday many hours of driving were lying ahead of us, that’s why we got up early in the morning. Our destination was the northwesternmost tip of New Zealand: Cape Reinga. In order to get there we had to drive past Ninety Mile Beach. Actually it’s not really 90miles long but it’s length of 108km is remarkable anyway. We made a short stop to go on top of giant sand dunes (which was really strenuous).

Cape Reinga is a sacred place for the Maori: they believe it’s the leap-off point for the souls on their journey to the underworld. And in fact it is a magical place in a way. Most impressing is the meeting of two seas: the Tasman Sea in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the East. You can see the waves coming in two different angles, smashing together at the so called Meeting Point. A short walk from the parking lot leads to the Lighthouse, offering marvelous views.

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When I remember correctly, the way back to Auckland took about 11 hours. We planned to make a short stop in Waipoua Kauri Forest, but it was raining cats and dogs. It was after 1:00 am when I finally got home. I was very tired but happy to have experienced such an awesomel weekend.

Coromandel

During the weekend I got hooked on driving around by car visiting beatiful places of nature. And I had only one week left in NZ don’t knowing when I will be back the next time. That’s why I decided to skip school for two days to visit the beatiful peninsula Coromandel. I started on Tuesday morning with my tiny rental  Honda and about 3 hours later I arrived in Coromandel peninsula. My plan was to spend the first day with hiking in the bush at the west coast and to visit the beatiful beaches at the east on the second day. In the village of Waiomu I parked my car to take the Waiomu Kauri Grove walk. The walk is moderate but from time to time it crosses a creek. My Teva sandals were just perfect for walking through the water and I took the creek crossings as a welcome opportunity to cool the feet on that hot summer day.

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After the bush  walk I took the road to the east coast where I spent the night. The plan was to get up early in the morning to enjoy the fabulous beaches. I stayed in a Motel in Whitianga, a town with lots of touristical infrastracture. In the evening it started to rain. I got a bit nervous though the weather forecast predicted sun for the next day. But the weather forecast in New Zealand is not very reliable, it rained the whole night and the following day. That’s not the kind of weather to hang around at a beach. But I didn’t want to leave Coromandel without having seen famous Cathedral Cove. When I arrived at the Cathedral Cove parking lot the rain got heavier, but I’m a tough guy 😉 According to my guide book, the walk to the cove takes 45 min. But at the beginning at the walk there was a big yellow “Walk to Cathedral Cove closed” sign. I’m not a guy that gives up quickly and so I entered the track. After 15 min I reached a fence with another big yellow sign trying to stop me again. Not a big deal, the fence ended in bushes who let me pass. Another 30 min later I was standing in front of an abyss: a landslide had destroyed the stairs down to the beach. That was the reason for the yellow signs. Should I give up now, just 50 meters ahead of the goal? NO WAY! I took a fallen tree as an abseil rope and finally reached the totally lonely beach at Cathedral Cove.

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Because of the rain there was no use in visiting the other attractions like Hot Water Beach. So I navigated my car back towards Auckland.

Last Days

Only two days left I still had three items on my checklist: Museum, Sky Tower and Mt Eden. I went to the Museum on Thursday around noon. Again, the place wasn’t easy to find due to Aucklands disastrous public transportation system. But I finally managed it. The museum was dominated by Maori Culture with tons of wooden carvings (a bit too much, if you ask me). I skipped the Maori Cultural Performance (already saw one in Rotorua) and looked at all the other exhibitions which took several hours in total.

Next item on the checklist was Sky Tower. I hoped to get some good photographs when I go up there around sunset (I love the warm evening light and also it gives me the chance to get some shots of the City at night if I stay long enough). But before going up the skower I visited Queen Elizabeth (the ship) at the harbour.

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On Friday I went to Mt Eden with some of my new friends. Mt Eden is with 196 meters the highest of Auckland’s volcanoes and also gives name to the surrounding suburb. By going on top of Mt Eden my visit to Auckland has come full circle: on the first day I went on top of a volcanoe and on the last day I went on top of another one.

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In the evening (the last one for me) Auckland gave me this beautiful view as a farewell gift:

In the next morning a packed my bags and took the Airbus Express at about 10:00 am. I was pretty sad to leave this beautiful country and I will probably be back.

The journey back to Germany was horrible, this time I didn’t make a stop-over (I didn’t have the chance due to too less holidays). I entered Berlin 33 hours after my departure in Auckland and was pretty destroyed by this time but full of wonderful memories.

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4 Comments

  1. Ard 11/04/2011 at 21:29 #

    nice wrap-up 😉

  2. Joei 13/04/2011 at 16:04 #

    amazing foto story – and again: fantastic pics André! cheers Joei

  3. Joei 13/04/2011 at 16:11 #

    btw – the last one – ist it hdr?

    • andre 13/04/2011 at 17:14 #

      No HDR and no PS. I just converted it from RAW in Lightroom but did not do any adjustments. The street and the sky just looked that amazing in that night (and the Leica does a good job too).