More blisters ;-(

on January 25, 2011

If my mom had seen me this morning I wonder if she would have been proud of me, completely shocked or simply surprised. Why? I was doing gardening work!!! Yep, I'm talking about me. I was swinging a hoe clearing out weeds and grass in Beverley's backyard. 1.5 hours! Now my hands are covered in blisters because there weren't any gloves ;-/ But who's complaining...

Staying at the pet animal zoo turned out a bit different than I had thought it would be. I never got to meet Beverley because she actually had to go to the hospital the day I arrived ;-/ But Joe, another couchsurfer currently staying with her and helping out, said I could come anyway and so this morning I helped him a bit in the backyard.

It was still quite an experience. Bev has sooo many animals - sheep (one is blind), a lovely dog named Honey, heaps of cats, chicken with babies, ducks and ducklings, guinea-pigs, rabbits, goats (baby goats due to arrive any day). If you are in the area, have a bit of time and would like to help her out I'm sure she'd appreciate it as she might not be able to do anything for a while when she comes back from the hospital. Check out Zippity Zoo online...

Well, it's time for me to get back on the road. My next stop tonight is Erua in Tongariro National Park. Tomorrow is the big day - I'm going the Tongariro Crossing, a six to eight hour day hike to "Mt. Doom" from Lord of the Rings.


A rainy day in "Windy Welli"

on January 24, 2011

Yesterday probably was the worst day of my whole trip so far when it comes to weather conditions. Sometime during the night the rain had started and it didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon. The sky was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds and it was pouring down constantly. So what better thing to do than go to a museum?

Te Papa is supposed to be New Zealand's best museum ever. I've heard you can spend days in there - and now I can tell you: IT IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!! The museum is right on Wellington's waterfront and offers a wide range of exhibitions starting from how our earth has evolved over millions of years - focussing on Gondwanaland, the continents driftign apart and how New Zealand finally was "founded".

You learn a lot about the tectonic movements of the plates especially those that affect NZ and cause daily earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from time to time. Other areas tell you about NZ's wildlife and how introduced species have influenced the native flora and fauna.

My favorite section was the one about passports. It tells the stories of hundreds of immigrants over the past 200 years, why they came to New Zealand, what they were hoping for and what life brought them once they arrived. Reading some of the stories I almost started crying because they are so personal, so full of emotions. It was overwhelming and thinking about my own plans to become a permament resident of NZ in the future really gave me goosebumps.

I spent six or seven hours in Te Papa yesterday and hadn't even seen half of it. That's how huge that place is. So I joined Johanna and Nina today to try and see the rest - which of course I didn't manage but at least I was able to look at a few more exhibitions.

What is even more wonderful about the musum - IT IS FREE!!! And that really amazes me because there is so much work and effort that's been put into the exhibitions. There are lots of hands-on activities, an outdoor bush city, some games you can play, an earthquake simulator, 3D-movies and heaps more.

The only things that cost money are two other simulators ($10 each), big brochures with more information of the museum including maps and all (from $3) and the audio guide ($5). I chose the audio guide and can really recommend it. It enables you to walk the museum at your own pace and block out the crying children and whatever else might be disturbing. It also gives you very interesting background information and helps you to find your way around the various exhibitions.

Also the store at Te Papa has the best postcards I have seen so far throughout NZ!!! So if you're looking for some nice ones, buy them here. They're $1.50 but you get stamps, too. If you're hungry there are two cafés at Te Papa. They are a bit expensive but have interesting stuff like Spirulina juice ($3.90).

I left the museum around 3pm, went with Nina to the Mt. Victoria Lookout for some spectacular views over the city (the rain had actually stopped this morning and the sun was as strong and beautiful as ever). After saying goodbye to all the girls I finally went back on the road and started my journed back up north. Tonight I will stay near Levin with a woman who's got a little animal pet zoo. Should be interesting =D

How to spend a Saturday in Wellington

on January 22, 2011

Had a great night out yesterday with the girls. Headed down to Cuba Street – one of the hippest places in Wellington. Found a pub called Duke Cavaller's which I swear had the weirdest cocktails ever. I got a Devonshire Mary – with a cucumber in it, some cherry tomatoes and spicy tabasco. It was kind of like Virgin Mary but way cooler... Johanna and I went back to the hostel sometime after 1am while Nina and Shir actually rocked the clubs until 5am!!!

Well, today unfortunately started a bit frustrating – at least for me. Johanna and I had planned to leave the hostel around 10am to enjoy a full day in the city. The other two girls were supposed to leave and join some other people on a hiking trip. Obviously that wasn't going to happen so we waited for them to get ready to head out together. It took FOREVER!!! And when we were finally about to leave Nina got a call from the hiking people saying they'd pick them up at noon.

By that time it was already 11.30am – and Nina and Shir still needed to get some money to pay me pack for petrol etc. To make a long story short – Johanna and I finally left the hostel at 1pm!!!!! More than half the day was gone. I was pretty pissed but what can you do. I had my money so at least that made me happy.

In the end the two of us still had a good day, we saw a lot, spend a lot of money and did lots of walking. We got a good idea of how the city feels like and I must say – I like it a lot better than Auckland!!! Wellington is full of vibes and music and cool places. You just can't feel bad here no matter if you're strolling along the waterfront or through the Botanical Gardens. It is beautiful!

Here are some things that I already would recommend anyone to do (more coming tomorrow):

1. On Saturdays go to Frank Kitt's Underground Markets. It's close to the Civic Square on Jervois Quay in an underground parking area. Here you'll find local arts and crafts, jewellery, clothing and some food and coffee stalls. It's not very big but still definitely worth a visit.

2. Wander along Cuba Street and enjoy the vintage stores, pubs and shopping opportunities. Also on Saturday the pub The Fringe on the corner of Cuba and Vivian hosts a little flea market.

3. Take the Cable Car ($3.50 one way, $6 return) up to the Botanical Gardens and enjoy the view over the city. You can either take the Cable Car back down or chose the 40mins walk back to the city center. You'll end up at the Parliament Buildings.

4. Walk up Hill Street to the Cathedral of Sacred Hearts (past the Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul). On the left hand side opposite the nice looking brick church there is a tree of which one branch is completely covered in bubble gum. It was such a weird sight! We had no idea what it was until a woman came by and told us the story. Obviously when the girls of St. Mary's Junior College start their senior years they put a bubble gum on that tree as some kind of ceremony. Her own daughter had done it a few months ago. Johanna didn't tell her that she had wanted to contribute to what we thought was a piece of art by adding yet another bubble gum to the tree...

5. Stop at Duke Cavaller's and try one of their funky cocktails. They may sound weird and are a bit pricy too ($12 - $17) but it's something your mouth will not forget.

Plan for tomorrow: Visit Te Papa (New Zealand's most popular museum, admission free), go to the Sunday Markets next to the museum and see what else NZ's capital has to offer.

Every girl's dream: shopping, wine and chocolate

on January 21, 2011

The last two days were days of sheer indulgement. After leaving Rotorua we headed south and after a quick stop at Huka Falls, where I had been with Daniel only a month ago, we arrived at the increasingly adventorous city of Taupo. If you love getting your daily dose of Adrenalin this is the place to be. Bungee-jumping, skydiving, jetboating, white-water rafting – you name it, they have it.

We chose the more relaxing path and went on a shopping trip. Taupo is not the worst place for that. In fact there are heaps of neat stores especially when it comes to secondhand and vintage clothing. I ended up buying a new backpack (didn't want to risk the old one breaking again when hiking Tongariro next week), a really nice and warm fleece jacket and a bunch of CDs for the car (each for $12 / 6 Euros - can you beat that???). The girls also got some new CDs so now we have a larger variety and can chose between Beach Boys, U2, Kings of Leon, Mamas and Papas and more...

I also found a fantastic gluten-free café in Taupo. The Fine Fettle (Paora Hape Street) is very central, their menu ranges from pastries, muesli, fish to mushrooms, pies and salads. If a menu has one smiley it means they can make it gluten-free. Two smileys tell you «Hey, I'm gluten-free, no matter what». I had mushrooms on home-made bread for $13.50 and they were really delicious!!! The place also offers free WI-FI. Just purchase something (i.e. one of their yummy looking smoothies) and you'll get the password to surf.

After Taupo we went straight down to Napier as that was quite a long drive to do and the weather wasn't the best anymore. We stayed with Max, a 54 y/o couchsurfer who's travelled half the world, lived in many different countries and has now heaps of stories to tell. It was very interesting talking to him. Unfortunately he didn't quite know when to stop. Even when he was giving us some travel advice it was hard to make him understand – though we appreciated his tips – that our time and budget was limited. Visiting 38 wineries in one morning is as impossible as doing a two-day-cycling trip when we only have one day to spend in town.

Anyway... we did have a very yummy dinner because Max recommended a fantastic fish & chips place where I tried fresh grilled gurnard. Before we could leave this morning we helped our host to get a heavy cabin in the garage (girl power!!!) as he is selling his house and planning a big garage sale on the weekend.

We finally managed to get back on the road by 10am. First stop was the city center of Napier. The town is «famous» for its Art Deco buildings and we found a few very intersting looking ones indeed. But the really cool stuff happened after leaving town. On the schedule today: WINE-TASTING!!! And even better – FOR FREE!!!

We had picked two wineries that were on the way and had been recommended by local wine guides. Mission Estate Winery is in fact New Zealand's oldest winery dating back to the 1880s. It looked quite majestic standing up on the hill with beautiful gardens and lots of walkways. Unfortuntely we couldn't enjoy the scenery that much as by the time of our arrival the rain was pouring down :-( So we just hopped inside and lined up for some wine tasting – for free...

They had three whites and three reds plus a desert wine on the menu that day. I only liked their Cabernet Sauvignon – and was looking forward to the desert wine. And hey the waiting was worth it. What a great flavour in your mouth. Couldn't resist and bought a bottle – for just $16.50 it's almost like it was free...

Just down the road was Church Road Winery. Not as classy but more expensive. Since I was driving I only tried their white wines and can definitely recommend their Pinot Gris. Both wineries offer tours through their cellars, but unfortunately only at certain hours and we didn't happen to be there on time.

After all that alcohol it was time for something sweet. Max had told us about Silky Oak, a chocolate factory a little further south towards Hastings. Would they have tastings, too? THEY DID!!!! Normally you can even watch them work but today the factory was closed. Didn't matter, the shop alone was worth a visit. MOUNTAINS OF CHOCOLATE!!! In every shape and color and flavor. And the best thing – their chocolate is gluten-free AND they have a good variety of dark chocolate that is dairy-free as well. I was in heaven. Literally speaking. We tried and bought and ate... and because that wasn't enough we hopped into the café as well and helped ourselves to some delicious hot chocolate. Do I have to mention that we all felt kinda sick after that – but wonderfully happy?

We almost ended up doing one more tasting. But the Tui Brewery was closed. Instead I found a street named after me =D Mara Road – pictures will follow in the next couple of days...

The only downside (besides the weather) of today was – we couldn't find a couchsurfer in Wellington that would take four girls in :-( Most of the people I had sent replies to didn't even bother to answer. One guy told me it's probably because of the national holiday in Wellington on Monday. Everybody was either booked out or gone away for the long weekend. Great... what about us? Luckily we found ONE hostel that still had enough space.

So after about seven hours of driving we finally made it to NZ's capital and checked into Rowena's Lodge, a backpacker on Mt. Victoria, very central and only ten walking minutes away from the city center. Going out in a minute, let's see what the city has to offer...

Why couchsurfing is so great!

on January 20, 2011

One reason why we are having so much fun on our trip are the people we're staying with. In Thames/Coromandel we were spoiled by Patrick and Christiane in every possible way. And in Rotorua it's Gabriel and his friends who make life so much easier and better. Initially we only wanted to stay in Rotorua for one night, then decided to extend that for one more night to have a bit more time exploring the area and have less driving.

Last night Gabe was throwing a pizza party. He had invited 20 friends or more from allover the world (there was only one true Kiwi around - a journalist I instantly started talking to) and we all made our own pizzas, had a bit of wine and lots of music. It was such a nice atmosphere, we so enjoyed ourselves. And we met Heiko, a German who has immigrated to New Zealand about 15 years ago. Talking to him and checking the weather report (more rain, cyclone coming) we decided to stay yet another night in Rotorua as I didn't want to drive all day in the rain and there were probably more things to do in the rain in Rotorua than in Whakatane where we initially wanted to go to next. But whale-watching probably wasn't possible in the rain anyway.

Well, when we woke up today the sun was shining, it was hot and humid and no sign of any cyclone at all. Did we regret our decision of staying? NOT AT ALL!!! Because Heiko took us out to Lake Tarawera with his little boat - built in 1935 and completely restored by him. The lake is about 30mins away from Rotorua but soooo worth a visit. Crystal-blue water, stunning scenery around with a few extinct (?) volcanoes and beautiful houses of the upper class. We went for a swim and tried fishing, unfortunately without success.

Later in the afternoon we drove to Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty to have some seafood. You can climb Mount Moao (that's the Maori name of the mountain in Mt. Maunganui) which we didn't do because - believe it or not - our legs are STILL HURTING!!! Will it ever completely go away???

Anyway... We went for a little walk and enjoyed the scenery, stopped at the beach - awesome waves and perfect for surfers - and took some pictures. Then we drove to the neighboring town of Tauranga - heaps of little shops and bars and restaurants along the waterfront. A typical tourist town, could have been in Greece or Spain or anywhere near the Mediterranean Sea. But ut was nice. We had dinner at "The Crown and Badger" and the fresh snapper was relly worth its $20.

Driving back in the sunset we were happy to have spent yet another great day in New Zealand. Tomorrow it's off to Napier via Taupo and whatever else catches our eye on the way there...

Take it slow – and stinky...

on January 18, 2011

After having hiked so much and been out and about from dusk til dawn these last few days none of us felt quite energetic today. Especially not since all the other ones had actually stayed up until 3am!!! The only thing on the schedule today was the Thermal Wonderland in Wai-O-Tapu approx. 20 minutes south of Rotorua. It does cost $32.50 but it is worth the money...

First thing in the morning was picking up Shir, a couchsurfer from the USA. She is the new add-on to our party and will join us all the way to Wellington. But we do have to leave Cecilia behind - whom we will meet again in Wellington though...

After having picked up Shir we went south to the geothermal area. Bought our tickets - and guess who I did run into... VICKY!!!!! Another Au Pair from Germany who's working in Whangarei... this place is so small...

The Wonderland itself was really cool! We started our tour by watching the Lady Knox Geysir erupt at precisely 10.15am. It does that every single day - because the staff puts washing powder in to stimulate the geysir. How freaky is that??? But it was really cool watching the bubbles get bigger and bigger until that huge water (steam) fountain shot high into the air.

The Wonderland itself is huge but you can walk it easily in 1.5 hours (the paths are 3km long). Our legs still weren't better - even seemed a lot worse!!! But we enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the rocks and craters. The coolest thing was the Devil's Pool - a neon green (!!! - pictures will follow) hot pool. Amazing!

Didn't do much the rest of the day besides sleep, eat and chill out. Right now there are about 30 people at Gabe's house having a pizza night with music and drink and talk. Once again we have changed our original plan - this time due to the weather. There's a cyclone coming which brings even more rain than we had today. So going to Whakatane hoping to see whales and dolphins is out of the question ;-(

Instead we'll stay in Rotorua one more day and then head straight to Napier after that. Hopefully by then the sky is clear again and the sun will be shining...

Dig your own spa at Hot Water Beach

on January 17, 2011

Waking up in the morning wasn't as bad as I would have thought it was going to be. I felt a bit stiff from yesterday and my thighs and calves were close to cramping but I've had worse. Looking back at the hike up to the Pinnacles I can now say it has been worth it. But does that mean I would do it again? Probably not...

Anyway... Our last day at the Coromandel Pensinsula had come and we thought we might take it a bit slower and relax. So after a nice sleep-in we made our way to Hot Water Beach at the east coast which is famous for its hot springs. If you bring a bucket and a spade (or hire one for $5 per two hours) you can dig a hole and if you get the right spot hot water will come up - et voilà – you have your own private spa =D

It took us about 1.5 hours to drive from Thames to Hot Water Beach. Low tide started around noon so we made it just in time. Because – and this is very important to keep in mind – it only makes sense digging for your own spa two hours before and after low tide. Once the high tide sets in the water will cover the area where you're supposed to dig.

It took us a while to find the perfect spot. There were heaps of people already at the beach digging and enjoying the water. But most of them actually didn't have hot water. Same thing happened to us – we digged and digged and digged but only found cold water. What kind of joke was this?!?!?

So I went to ask a lifeguard and the girl told me there are actually only two hot springs. One is right in front of the first big rock about 400 meters along the beach and the second one about 20 meters after that one. So we found the rock and started digging. And guess what – minutes later we had to watch out so our feet wouldn't get burned!!!

Now we knew what the bucket was for – to get cold water from the ocean. Otherwise it is soooo hot that you just can't bear it. We had so much fun and it was very relaxing just to sit there and spoil ourselves. Many people were looking at us quite envious because their pool was not even close to warm...

When the tide set in we packed our stuff together and had a picnic close to the beach. The sun was burning really hot... After that we headed north to Cathedral Cove. There's a nice little walk down to the beach where the cove and some interesting rock formations are. It's supposed to be a 45min walk one way - but the Lonely Planet already said anyone who's not on a ventilator will do it in 20mins.

Even we made that - though our legs by this time were killing us. I was so close to getting cramps, walking downhill was almost impossible. Gosh that hurt... So once down at the cove I went straight back into the water for another swim though it had started to rain quite a bit.

We made it back to our wonderful hosts in time for dinner and to say goodbye. We also had to leave Anita behind because she had decided to stay in Thames for a bit longer. So it was just the four of us heading down to Rotorua. We got there just after 11pm - and for the first time I during the trip I really hated being the only one driving all the time.

I didn't have any energy left to get to know our current host, Gabriel (Brazilian), and went to bed after the initial small talk.

You'll find heaps of pictures of Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove on Facebook. Just follow this link...

How I survived the Pinnacle hike...

Me after a four-hour-hike at the top of the Pinnacles at 759m.

... I honestly still don't know. I'm not made for hiking. And I certainly wonder why on earth I decided to do this once again. Yesterday's hike was not too bad, quite steep and exhausting, but we had heaps of breaks so it didn't bother me that much. But today???

We had chosen to hike all the way up to the Pinnacles, a 759 meters high rock formation near Thames. It took us half an hour to drive to the tourist information and another half hour to get to the car park at the bottom of the hike. The guidebooks say this walk is "the most popular" hike on the Coromandel Peninsula. The Lonely Planet also calls it a "challenging six- to eight-hour return journey".

Well, let me tell you. It definitly is challenging. The first half hour was alright with a nice pathway leading slightly steep uphill. Then the steps started. And when I say steps, I mean STEEP steps. And HUNDREDS of them. And definitely not designed for normal humans as some of them were up to 0.5 meters tall. You really had to climb the steps rather than walk them. Don't believe me? Look at this picture...

Now with my exercise induced asthma this kind of stuff is exactly what's killing me. I managed to hike for another 1.5 hours before I got really close to an asthma attack. Lucky me I had my puffer with me - not knowing though that it had expired three months ago ;-/ After taking a deep breath I didn't feel any difference at all. My whole system felt like it was collapsing. My ears were ringing, my head was pounding, my stomach got queasy and my legs turned into a wobbly mass. Still I went on. Going back just wasn't an option...

Eventually I simply ran out of energy and turned into auto pilot. Walk, walk, walk. That was all my brain kept telling my legs. And I walked. I took one step after the other. For another whole hour. Time just didn't seem to pass. And whenever we met some people coming down the hill we got different answers to our question "How far away is the hut?". Some guys said another easy hour. Half an hour later we had a couple saying at least another hour and a bit. Very unreliable...

Finally we came to a sign that said "Pinnacles Hut 20mins". What a relief. That is where I wanted to make it to. Screw the final climb to the top. The hut was my goal, my last straw. There I could finally sit down, have a long break, get something to eat (we all had some snacks and sandwiches prepared). I was sure as I would stay behind, let the others do the final 50mins to the top. I would wait at the hut for their return and then just go back down again.

Maybe I should have done exactly that. But after having had something to eat and taking a break I felt wonderfully refreshed and was stupid enough to join the girls on the final climb. This is where we were heading to. Have a close look at the picture and you will see the millions of stairs leading to the top of that rock formation...

Well, it wasn't millions of stairs - but 530. Nina counted them. But you know what? They weren't the worst. Because after those 530 steps there were two ladders - no problem - and then it was FREE-CLIMBING!!! At an almost 180° angle it was finding stones and roots and whatever else you could find, push yourself up and make your way to the top. That was too much me.

And when all the sudden one of the straps on my backback broke and the whole thing almost fell down more than 700 meters into the abyss I lost it. I scared Cecilia by yelling a few obscene words - poor girl thought I was falling down... But no, someone must have been watching over me very closely and kept me from just doing exactly that.

Instead Cecilia and I switched backpacks and she carried my broken one to the top while giving me a hand climbing up and trying to cheer me up. Must have worked because after a while I actually found myself on the very top of the pinnacles. And then I just cried and cried and cried. Like I said - I am not made for things like this. And worse - I had no idea how I'd ever be able to make it back down.

But of course I somehow managed to do that as well. After having spent more than half an hour at the top and time getting closer and closer to sunset even I gathered enough strength to start the descent. Made it to the car by 7.30pm - not without me getting a cramp in my toes only meters away from the carpark. What a day...

So in the end I realize I have a lot of things to be grateful for:
- First of all my guardian angel who not only helped me finish this hike but come out of it alive. I not only saw my backpack fall down 750 meters but me follow it straight away, too.
- Cecilia for carrying my broken backpack up the last few meters while freeclimbing and giving me a massage when I was crying out of sheer exhaustion on top of the mountain.
- Nina for fixing my backpack as good as possible so I could carry it back to the car.
- Anita for staying with me most of the time on the way down lending me a helping hand and keeping me company.
- All the girls for their patience and understanding.
- Our couchsurfing hosts Patrick and Christiane who awaited us with dinner and refreshments, listened to our stories and even let me have a hot bath to relax body and soul.

Guys, this trip is only so great because of you!!!! I feel really sad for having to part with some of you tomorrow. It was a wonderful time with you!!!

Now the only probem is: How am I going to conquer Tongariro? I've signed up for New Zealand's most popular hike for next Wednesday. You're supposed to be able to do it in about eight hours. However, after today's experience, I'm thinking about splitting it up into two days with spending one night in one of the huts. Will probably talk to the people at the hostel since I've already booked my accomodation. We'll see what happens...

Nina has already done it and she said it is even steeper than the Pinnacles - but easier to walk since there are barely any stairs (mostly the path just leads evenly uphill) and definitely no free-climbing. So what should I do?

Here are a few tips for anyone who wants to do the hike to the Pinnacles:

1. Start early enough to allow yourself time for breaks and picture stops. We didn't start until noon and not only had the sun shining strong above us but also pushed it quite far coming back down before sunset. Including breaks and picture-stops the complete hike to the top and back took us aprrox. eight hours.

2. Wear appropriate shoes. Of course hiking boots would be best. But sneakers are ok, too, depending on how comfortable you feel in them. I chose mine over trekking sandals today and was happy I did. It gets too slippery and uneven at points and you might really hurt yourself with the wrong footwear.

3. Think about hiking up to the hut the first day, then stay overnight and do the climb to the top the next morning when you're still fresh and full of energy.

4. Take at least two 1.5-liter-bottles of water! We only had one bottle each and most of it was gone by the time we made it to the top. There is no chance to refill your bottle anywhere along the treck.

5. Apply sunblock before you leave and remember to reapply it while you're walking. Part of the track is in the bush and you'll be safe from the sun. But especially during the last parts you'll be exposed to the sun without any shade at all.

6. Bring your togs! Once you've completed the hike and are back at the car park drive back towards the tourist information center and stop at Hoffman pools for a quick swim to refresh yourself.

7. If you want maps they have heaps at the tourist information center. Most cost between $1.50 and $2 but they have a free one for the Pinnacles as well. Jusk ask - the staff is very friendly and will also give you heaps of advice on other tracks around New Zealand.

You'll find heaps of pictures of the Pinnacles on Facebook. Just follow this link...

Finding inner peace

on January 16, 2011

The first full day of our trip started with some bad news. The car was definitely broken and needed to be taken to the garage. I'm not a mechanic but our couchsurfing host Patrick used to work as a mechanic and according to him the exhaust pipe was broken near the engine. That's what was causing those nasty sounds yesterday (like a roaring elk).

Though the news was bad especially since we had just started our trip it could not have happened at a better place. Patrick helped Johanna and me find a mechanic that was open on Saturday morning while his wife Christiane took the other girls into town for the farmer's market. We soon joined them afterwards having dropped off the brokencar and walked up and down the main road in Thames. The markets are lovely!!! They are on every Saturday from 7 to 12am and you'll find anything from food to antiques to clothing...

Thames is especially great for people with "weird" or out-of-the-normal eating habits. Heaps of offers for vegetarians and vegans, lovers or organic food and even I got very lucky. Since going off gluten and dairy there are only a few things I really miss - among them or probably top of the list is decent cheese. But New Zealand, being a dairy country, does not have a single offer of lactose-free cheese. You can get goat cheese in the supermarket but that's about it. So today I was in cheese heaven =D Though quite expensive I bought some sheep gouda and some other cheese that is perfect on bread or crackers and I indulged myself in a very delicious lunch.

Just after noon we got a phone call from the mechanic - car is fixed and ready to be picked up. Cost: $150. I think that's a greaet price considering the problem AND it being the weekend. So after lunch we could finally set off to our first hike on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Thanks to Christiane and Patrick we found one of the most stunning places on earth! And I am not exaggerating. The walk we did can not be found in any guide-book (at least none of us had heard or read about it). We drove about 40mins north of Thames along the Highway to a place called "Mana Retreat". It's a huge area mainly for spiritual purposes with huts and cabins and differents walkways. This is where we went to.

It took us about an hour to climb the steep path through the bush. Nina was leading the way getting rid of all the spiderwebs for the cowards to follow... we had good fun though it was hard work but working together and helping each other along the way made the hike a lot easier. And once we made it to the top and stood on a rock called Crystal Guardian we knew it had been worth it. The view from up there is magnificent! You feel free, at peace with yourself and the world in general and you can spend hours just admiring the scenery.

Me on top of the Crystal Guardian at the Mana Retreat.

I couldn't believe I even free-climbed one of the rocks. I felt the queen of the world =D We spent at least half an hour up there and then made our way down to the sanctuary - a building that looks like half church, half temple, half whatever... in fact it is a non-denominational place for any religion. You're supposed to be silent in there but dancing and singing is allowed (they just don't want you to chit-chat all the time while in there instead of bringing your mind to rest). So Nina, Anita, Johanna and I did exactly that. We sung.

The Sanctuary at Mana Retreat.

The accoustic inside the sanctuary is amazing. We started with Amazing Grace and each of us gut goosebumps from the sound. I also walked the mythological labyrinth thinking about the pathways my life is currently pointing me to and trying to answer some vital questions.

All in all it was a wonderful day with lots of exercise yet very peaceful and relaxing. Tomorrow we're off to the Pinnacles a six-hour-hike in the northern part of Coromandel. Should be good practice for Tongariro - the one-day-hike I'll be doing in 1.5 weeks.

The Sanctuary in front of the Crystal Guardian.

You'll find heaps more pictures on Facebook. Just follow this link...

Back on the road

on January 14, 2011

Johanna and I have finally started our trip around New Zealand's North Island. We left Whangarei at 4.30pm today heading down to Auckland first to pick up some couchsurfers. We ended up having a car with five girls!!! It was tough fitting all the luggage in but it worked :-)

With a short dinner stop along the way we made it to Thames at the bottom of Coromandel Pensinsula just before 10pm. What a drive... I have to admit I almost fell asleep on the way but our guardian angel was keeping an eye on all of us. Thanks for that!!!

We then had a warm welcome by our couchsurfing hosts Christiane (also German) and Patrick. We haven't quite decided yet what exactly we're going to do tomorrow. Probably have a quick stop at the farmer's markets in town - I want to buy some goat and sheep cheese - and we might have to have the car checked. The exhaust pipe didn't sound too good for the last hour of our trip and I think there was a bit of a petrol smell in the car for a while. Keep your fingers crossed that it's nothing serious!!!!!!

Depending on the outcome of our morning's activities (and me sleeping in!) we might do a short hike somewhere nearby tomorrow afternoon. The area is perfect for walking and there are lots of recommended hikes... Christiane and Patrick told us about a nice one that you won't find in any guidebook. It's only two hours and leads you to some kind of sanctuary. Looking forward to that!

We've got the Pinnacles planned for Sunday - a long but very scenic walk to the top of the mountains - and then Hot Water Beach (dig your own mud pool at low tide) and maybe another walk on Monday before heading down to Tauranga/Rotorua. I'll keep you posted. First pictures are following soon!

I'm going on a trip :-)

on January 10, 2011

It's almost half-time. I came to New Zealand July 14 and in the past half year have done lots of weekend trips to the north. I've seen the northern most part Cape Reinga (for which the post is still missing I'm sorry) where - as the Maori believe - the souls of the dead go to to start their very last journey to Hawaiki where everything begun. I've been to Kai Iwi Lakes, Waipoua Forest with Tane Mahuta, seen many beaches along the east and west coast of Northland, the northern most region (kind of like a province) in NZ.

I've also been to Auckland a few times, the nearest major city. The furthest south I've been so far was a weekend trip to Rotorua where Daniel and a few of our friends were participating in a half-ironman.

So there is still a lot to see and do in this wonderful country that I'm hoping to make my new home. Since the school holidays won't be finished until the end of January I'm able to take a few days off (thank you Pia & Philip!!!) and explore. Johanna - a Swiss Au Pair - and I are leaving on a big trip this Friday *woohoo* We'll go all the way down to Wellington at the very bottom of the North Island. There Johanna is probably deserting me while I'm heading back up to Whangarei.

Here are a few things we (I) will see on our trip...

Coromandel: This peninsula in the northeast is known for some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in New Zealand. There a few former gold-mining towns, muddy wetlands, forest and mountain ranges. We're going to start our trip here with a few awesome walks experiencing nature at its best. Must-do-stop: Hot Water Beach (dig your own thermal pool!).

Tauranga: Good spot for swimming with dolphins and probably a good chance to spot whales too! A walk up Mt. Maunganui (232m) is on the list as well as the views should be spectacular. The mountain is surrounded by beautiful beaches :-)

Rotorua: I've been here before, but only briefly. We'll definitely stop at the geothermal wonderland with its geysirs and hot/mud pools (not to swim in - a few days ago an 8 y/o boy died because he fell into one of the pools which can be up to 100 degrees Celcius hot!!!). Beware also of the slightly rotten egg odor that lies in the air. Comes with the sulphite from the geothermal activity that makes this area such an attraction for tourists.

Whakatane: Another great spot for sighting dolphins, seals, orca and other whales. Kepp your fingers crossed for us (I'll share the pics with you!)...

Gisborne: "It proudly claims to be the first city on earth to see the sun." - That's what the Lonely Planet says. It is definitely blessed with heaps of sunny days throughout the year. The city on the east coast also has an interesting mix of architecture with Edwardian buildings next to five-story skyscrapers, "modern" buildings from the 1950s and some Art Decó houses. Important historical fact: Captain Cook - British explorer and the first European to discover Aotearoa - first set foot to New Zealand right here in October 1769. Also the area is famous for its wines and we might have the chance to do some FREE wine-tasting =D

Napier: Further down the east coast are the twin cities of Napier and Hastings. The latter is not supposed to be that spectacular so we'll skip it and just have a look at Napier which was almost completely rebuilt after a deadly earthquake in 1931. Lots of Art Decó buildings around and some more wineries that offer free tastings *yummy* Lucky me we are staying over night because I'm the driver and I surely don't want to miss out on that...

Wellington: It's the capital (with 164.000 people!!!) so of course we're stopping here... Obviously Wellington will be a bit like Chicago - windy. At least the city is also called "Windy Welly". It's the major travel crossroad between the North and South Island and Johanna might hop on a ferry further south. I'll just take a few days to explore the city , probably hop into Te Papa - the "Museum of New Zealand". It has huge Maori collections, its own marae (the traditional meeting house of the Maori) and some high-tech exhibitions.

Wanganui: Well-known for glas-blowing and art studios. Other than lots of activities are available here like kayaking, canoeing or jetboating. After all Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand.

Tongariro: There are heaps of walks and hikes throughout New Zealand. The Tongariro Crossing is supposed to be the easiest of the one-day-hikes and by far offering one of the most amazing views ever. So I've signed myself up for it! It's going to be loooong day though. The shuttle will take me from the hostel to my starting point at 6.45am (!!!) and then I'll have between 8 and 9 hours to do the track. If you want to read more about Tongariro here's the official website with all kinds of information. I'm still looking for someone to join me so if you don't have anything to do Jan 26 let me know!

Hamilton: After my hike I'll just take it easy and make my way back home. Probably will stop in Hamilton on the way, relax at a few beaches and see if I can find some small gemstones along the way that are worth a visit...

I'm the toothpaste monster...

on January 05, 2011

.. or: How to keep yourself from going insane over nasty itching mosquito bites...

I've always been a favorite victim for any kind of sucking insect. No matter whether it's a mosquito or a sandfly, they LOVE me - and my skin sometimes reacts with huge marks as big as my mobile phone. It's hard to keep yourself from scratching all the time. And if that wasn't annoying enough - some bites are in rather uncomfortable areas (such as your butt) so pants or other clothing items do the scratching for you. Whether you want them to or not.

So what to do? In Germany I would normally use a soothing balm like Fenistil. But first of all I usually don't have any around and second it normally doesn't really help either.

So what to do?!? There's gotta be something... A friend of mine told me today that her husband actually tried HOT WAX!!! He said it helped - but I'm not that sadistic... So what else is there? She had another good suggestion: TOOTHPASTE. You normally have THAT at hand so at least it's a practical solution.

I just applied some toothpaste on the biggest mosquito bites - and it actually feels better. It really does have a cooling and therefore soothing effect. The only problem is - I shouldn't go out now cos I smell like dentist...

How do you treat itchy bites - what are your secret weapons?

That was my 2010

on January 01, 2011

Similar to last year I'd like to take some time to look back at the year that's passing and take a glance at the one ahead. Simply by answering a few questions...

Main feeling when looking back at 2010?
It started out rather horrible with more downs then ups. But towards the end joy and pleasure were the feelings my heart was experiencing most =D

What did you do for the first time in 2010?
Went fishing. Went swimming in the winter (in the ocean!). Made myself homeless and unemployed at the same time. Watched a rugby game.

Lost or gained weight?
Lost a lot of psychological burden, probably gained a few pounds working at the computer all the time ;-/

City of the year?
Whangarei - my new home (temporary or loing-term?) where I've already met lots of great people!

Hair shorter or longer?
Slowly letting it grow again.

More short- or near-sighted??
Still short-sighted.

Spent or gained more money?
Definitely spent more just by coming to New Zealand.

Fallen in love?
Positively! *kiss* to you know who you are...

Drink of the year?

Food of the year?
Fresh scallops and oysters.

Spent the best times with...?
Finishing the season with my soccer girls - GO TUB!!! Still having heaps of fun with all my friends here in NZ.

Spent most time with...?
My host family :-)

Song of the year?
Leonard Cohen - In my secret life.

Book of the year?
Warum die nettesten Männer die schrecklichsten Frauen haben (Sherry Argov).

Movie of the year?

Concert of the year?
Leonard Cohen and Bon Jovi in Auckland.

TV-show of the year?
Haven't been watching much this year.

Realization of the year?
Home is where your heart is.

Three things I could have lived without?
There are a few things I would definitely put on the list - but then those are things that brought me where I am now. And I am happy. So all is good :-)

Neighbor of the year?
Family Günther :-) Thank you so much for the lovely Christmas card!

Best idee/decision of the year?
Quitting my job, selling my stuff and coming to New Zealand.

Worst thing that happened?
Getting an email from my brother telling my my grandma is at the hospital - intensive care!!! Thank God she's well again. Love you, Oma!!!

Best thing that happened?
I'm enjoying life again :-)

2010 in one word?

Looking ahead

Resolutions for 2011?
Stop hurting myself! Too many injuries and accidents towards the end of the year... Want to do sports more regularly.

What's on the agenda for 2011?
Travel New Zealand and find a way how to stay in this beautiful country long-term. My mom and brother are coming over in March/April - would love to show them some of the places I've seen and make them see why I don't want to come back.

What do you want to change?
Not much right now. I'm pretty happy with the way things are =D (Wow when did I actually say that last?!?)

What do you want to stay the same?
I hope friends and family stay in good health and have a great year 2011!!!