Auckland beaches

Okay, enough politics for now. Let’s get back to New Zealand (which, by the way, is increasingly feeling like an appealing place to move to, away from all the violence and insanity on this side of the world. If only it wasn’t so hot there…).

To finish off our New Zealand trip, we had two and a half days in Auckland. On the first of those days, we headed North to visit some of the beaches in the Auckland region. Our first stop was at Piha beach, which my cousin had recommended. A sign warned us not to get to close to any penguins… but again we were lied to, not a penguin in sight! Oh well, the beach was beautiful.

We walked all the way down to the end of the beach – and yes, it is as far as it looks in the second photo above! It was worth it though… while climbing around on some rocks at the end of the beach, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye then spotted some crabs hiding in the gaps between rocks. Not quite a penguin, but wildlife is wildlife. I’ll take it😉

Crab in the rock

Next, we drove to Maukatia (Maori Bay) and walked a little way along the Takapu Refuge Walk to see the gannet colony. For those that have never seen gannets… they are loud! Pretty cool to see so many of them in one place though. Looking down the other way, towards Muriai Beach, I saw a black bird with a bright orange beak walking around on a large rock. Any guesses what he is? I have no idea! (Look at the last two photos in the gallery below).

We could have followed the refuge walk round for half an hour until we reached Muriwai Beach, but it looked busy down there and it was lunch time, so instead we headed back to the car and stopped off to buy drinks, snacks and sandwiches at a little convenience store before driving around to the East coast. Our final stop before heading back to the city was at Orewa Beach, where we watched the kite surfers for a while.

On the drive back, we realised it was still pretty early, so we parked the car in Devonport, took a ferry into the city and went up the Sky Tower. In case anyone doesn’t know, at the time of writing this the Sky Tower is the tallest building on the souther hemisphere, at 328 metres (1,076 ft) tall. You can jump from the tower if you feel that way inclined (attached to a rope, obviously!) but we just went up to the top. Sky jumps would have to be booked in advance anyway😉

Back down on the ground, we returned to Devonport on the ferry and met my cousin for dinner… which I again failed to photograph. I had bangers and mash, in case you care. By the time we returned to the car – which we had parked by the Devonport ferry terminal – it was dark, so we finished the day with a photo of the Auckland skyline.

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And that’s it for today. Only one more post on New Zealand to go!

*New Zealand was my March 2016 trip for #Take12Trips 2016*

New Plymouth, New Zealand

Yes, I’m still going on about New Zealand! Nearly finished now😉

When I left off before, we’d reached the end of the Forgotten World Highway. From there, we drove to our B&B in New Plymouth, which was lovely by the way! I wish we could have had more than one night there. Before going out for the evening we admired the view from the window and took some photos of the birds out in the garden. We were later told that these are Indian Mynah birds.

Our B&B wasn’t directly in town, so we got back in the car to go down to the coast then parked up and went for a walk.

This sculpture is called the Wind Wand:

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Apparently it cost more than 300,000 NZ$. Worth it?😉

We walked along the coastal path for a little way. It was nice to be by the sea.

Apparently I took a lot of photos of rocks? I liked the way they looked with the sea in the background.

The sun eventually started to set, so I played around with my camera settings trying to get some good photos. I should probably know what the two rock formations/small islands are but I don’t. Sorry! *Bad blogger*

We were hungry by that stage so we headed back to a restaurant near where we parked the car. It’s called Arborio and the food we ate was delicious! We even indulged in some nice wine and had desert. We must have been feeling rich😉 I took zero photos of said food though. Again, bad blogger.

The next morning, the sun was rising when we got up for breakfast.

From New Plymouth we drove up to Auckland, stopping at the Waitamo Glowworm Caves on the way. I have no photos from there because you aren’t allowed to take photos in there (and I left my camera in the car so I couldn’t have sneaked any ;-)), but I can highly recommend it! There are glow work experiences of up to 3 hours(!), but we didn’t have that long so we did a 45 minute tour, which involved walking through one cave with a guide followed by a boat ride through the dark to the exit. During the boat ride, you can see all the little glow worms glowing away… like millions of stars on the roof and walls of the cave. A truly awesome experience that was over way too soon!

Again, I’m linking up for Monday Escapes, and I remind you that New Zealand was my #Take12trips destination for March (yes, I’m that far behind on posting!)

Travel Monkey

Huka Falls/Lake Taupo and the Forgotten World Highway

For our ninth day in New Zealand, we had booked a room at a B&B in New Plymouth. We left Rotorua after breakfast and drove to our first stop of the day, Huka Falls on Lake Taupo. This is not a waterfall in the traditional sense of the word (cascading down from a great height), but a series of small falls in an area where the Waikato River narrows significantly, causing a huge volume of water to funnel through a narrow space. Huka is the Maori word for “foam”.

The falls are a spectacular sight and definitely worth a visit! There’s also a walk you can do around there, but with a long drive ahead of us we didn’t have time. Instead, we drove a bit up the road then pulled over to take some photos of Lake Taupo and the surroundings. Imagine having this view out of your window?

After driving for a bit longer, we spotted signs for the Waituhi Lookout and decided to stop there. After driving up a narrow winding road through some trees, we came to a clearing with a small amount of space for parking and a viewing platform. We climbed up to the platform, looked out over the trees and saw this:

How amazing is that view? I’m so glad I ignored the advice I was given to miss out north island and just spend time on the south island! (I couldn’t have anyway since I actually wanted to see my family and they’re all on the north island!).

The lake in the pictures above should be Lake Taupo again if I’ve got my geography correct.

After another half an hour of driving, we arrived in Taumarunui, which is at one end of the Forgotten World Highway (technically State Highway 43). There, we stopped to buy some food at a supermarket and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of a clock:

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Apparently Taumarunui is on the North Island Main Trunk Railway.. hence the train clock, I suppose. There wasn’t a greet deal there though (at least on the main street), but there were free and reasonably clean public toilets and the little supermarket had some food for us, so we were happy.

Back in the car, we drove on into the Tangarakau Gorge. First stop was at the grave of a surveyor named Joshua Morgan who died in the gorge in 1893. Not all that exciting, but from the grace you could see the bridge we had just crossed to get there.

Next stop, another waterfall: Mount Damper Falls. We parked by a sign then had to walk across a field to get there.

The next photos will just be general ones from along the Forgotten World Highway. We stopped a couple of times to take photos but I can’t say precisely what each one is of.

The end of the highway is Stratford. We didn’t actually stop there, but there are a lot of streets named after Shakespeare characters and we had fun spotting them as we drove through. Finally, we reached that day’s destination – New Plymouth – where we checked into a lovely B&B before driving into town for a walk along the coast… but this post has a ridiculous amount of photos already, so I think I’ll give New Plymouth its own separate one!

*New Zealand was my March trip for my 2016 redo of Take 12 Trips*

Rotorua: Bubbly Pools, Redwoods and Swan Feeding

We stayed with my uncle for three nights, so two full days. You’ve already seen that we spent the first morning at Hobbiton, so I’m going to lump the remaining day and a half into a single post.

After our hobbit tour, we first went home for some lunch (left over curry from the night before), then it was off to Kairau Park to soak our feet in the (free!) thermal foot bath and have a look at the geothermal pools… or “bubbly pools” as my little cousin calls them. The sulphur smell certainly takes some getting used to, but watching the pools bubble away and then suddenly hiss and erupt a jet of steam is an experience that shouldn’t be missed!

It’s difficult to take photos of steam, but you hopefully get the idea. In some photos you might see white branches… they’re not naturally white plants, but have turned that way after being boiled in the pools (you really, really don’t want to fall in one of them!).

Once my cousin got tired of walking (as three year olds do!), we headed back to the car and drove down to the lake front where we all got something to drink any my cousin had a go on the (quite impressive!) playground. Jan and I had a wander down to the lake, where we saw the float planes and lots of ducks and swans.

It was evening by that time, so after popping home for a bit we headed out for dinner. We ate at a craft beer pub called “Brew”, which I thought was a clever name. I failed to take a photo of my Harissa Chicken Burger, but believe me it was delicious!

The next morning, we were up and breakfasted fairly early because we wanted to get to our first destination before the crowds… we were off to Kerosene Creek, a hot water stream south of Rotorua city. I can’t show you any photos because funnily enough I didn’t take my camera into the water😉 (my uncle actually got out took a photo of the rest of us, but I can’t show you because – again – not putting photos of three years olds on the Internet!). You’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s beautiful! Hidden among the trees, with a cute little waterfall cascading into a natural pool of warm water! It’s just like being in a bath… except an outdoor bath that’s full of mud. If you go there, take care not to put your head under water (apparently you risk a form of meningitis if you do – caused by amoeba going up your nose. Ick!!). You definitely should go there though! And go early… by the time we left, it was starting to get pretty full.

Next it was off to Whakarewarewa Forest, aka “The Redwoods” for a tree walk. My cousin had great fun running along the bridges (kids can only go if they’re able to walk the entire route – no carrying allowed!), and the rest of us enjoyed the birds’ eye view of the forest.

As well as Redwoods, the forest has other trees and, of course, ferns. Many, many ferns. It’s quite a nice area to just go for a walk (on the ground) even if you don’t like heights or want to pay for the tree walk.

Once we were done with the trees, we stopped off at home for a sandwich then my uncle had to go to work. The rest of us drove to Blue Lake, or Lake Tikitapu. Apparently it wasn’t as blue as usual when we were there. Still beautiful though!

You can swim there, although we did not.

After all that activity, we were ready for a sit down and a drink, so we headed into town back to the area where we had eaten the night before…. Eat Streat. No, not a typo! Eat Streat is exactly what it sounds like… a street of eateries. There’s a retractable roof and geothermal underground heating, so it stays warm even in winter. We chose Ambrosia restaurant and decided to order some snacks to share. Here’s Eat Streat:

Sorry, awful photos! It’s difficult when it’s sunny but the restaurants/bars are all in shadow…

My cousin decided she needed to feed some leftover bread to the ducks, so once we’d eaten and drunk, we walked down to Lake Rotorua again in search of some hungry water birds…
On the way down the the waterfront, we saw this:

Yes, that’s a bike tree. No, I don’t know why!

We planned to feed ducks, but actually it was mostly swans that came. And the inevitable gulls….

After the bread was all gone, my cousin and her mum went shopping for that evening’s dinner. Meanwhile, Jan and I were dropped off at Sulphur Point where we went for a walk among more steam and bubbling pools. The landscape there isn’t the most attractive, but it’s utterly fascinating! I read somewhere that the whole walk would have taken two hours, but we eventually had to turn round and go back the way we had come so we could be picked up.

On the last photo above, you can see a hole where steam comes out… all the surrounding rock has been died yellow from the sulphur!

There wasn’t much geothermal activity going on while we were there, so I can only imagine what it must look like when the whole thing is covered in steam. Pretty amazing, I suspect.

Sadly, that was basically the end of our time in Rotorua. All that remained was an evening of drinking wine, exchanging photos, and repacking our suitcase then the next morning we were up nice and early for the long drive down the New Plymouth.

Rotorua is a fascinating place, totally different to anywhere I’ve been before! And it was great to spend some time with my uncle and meet my little cousin! Hopefully one day we’ll make it back over.

For now, though, it’s the end of this super-long blog post!

Packing my Suitcase

Canyon swing, canyon jet and Queenstown

I am going to use this post to tell you about our final day on New Zealand’s south island and also for some general photos of Queenstown that I took on various evenings throughout the week.

As you may know, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Actually, they claim to be the adventure capital of the world… If you’re interested in bungee jumping, paragliding or white water rafting (to name just a few examples), Queenstown is a pretty good place to be!

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Paragliders over Ben Lomond

We decided that we should partake in some adventure tourism before leaving the south island, so we booked the Shotover Canyon “Double Shot”, which meant the canyon swing and canyon jet for a special price (cheaper than booking each thing separately). We were told to be at the Shotover Canyon shop half an hour before our booking, which we did. There, we were weighed and waited around a bit for the rest of our group to arrive before being driven up to the top of the cliff that we would be swinging from. Jan and I decided to do a tandem swing and I’m a wimp so we chose the least scary version, The Cutaway, where they lower you over the edge of the platform and then pull the pin so you fall down (the next least-scary option is jumping forwards). Neither of us wanted to go backwards because we actually wanted to see the view as well as having the adrenaline rush.

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The above photo shows the platform you swing from with the canyon below. We couldn’t take a camera with us on our swing (you are allowed a GoPro if you have a proper wrist strap for it, but neither of us own such a thing), but after our swing I took some photos of other people from our group. I think it’s okay to use them here since they’re too far away to be identifiable.

The initial freefall is 60m, but it seems much shorter… it was over so fast! I didn’t even scream when they let us go because my breath was literally taken away! After the freefall, you swing around at the end of the wire for a bit before being brought back up. Various jumping methods are available, including diving head first or going down a slide. For a small fee, you can do a second jump, but we chose not to since we had already spent a lot and had a whole week of north island to go!

Once everyone in our group had finished their jumps and purchased whatever photos/videos they wanted, we headed back to the van. Everyone else went back into town while we were dropped off at the canyon jet. Again, we couldn’t take any photos – all our possessions had to be placed in lockers so they wouldn’t get wet or fall out of the boat! But here are some photos of where we went and of one of the boats:

The jet ride was really fun! The driver (captain?) of the boat stopped a few times to tell us where we were and give us some information about the area and the views down in the canyon were absolutely spectacular! I so wish I could have taken photos. The only annoying part was that we had a lady behind us who would not stop screaming and carrying on! The driver used hand signals to indicate when he was about to do a 360° turn because we were supposed to hold on and brace ourselves at those times, and every time he did the signal the annoying woman would start screaming before we even started the turn (he gave us plenty of warning). Gah!! I thought the turns were fun. The worst part for me was when we went over huge rocks  because there wasn’t much warning there. We were right at the front of the boat and I got jolted around quite a lot! I can definitely recommend the Shotover Jet though.

After our jet ride, we took the free bus back into town where we decided to have a relatively relaxing afternoon. We went for lunch at an organic café called Rehab then went to play Frisbee/disc golf in Queenstown Gardens. We then took the gondola up Ben Lomond for some evening views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges.

I also found some more of my little friends the Paradise Shelducks. These ones were much easier to photograph than the ones in the Gardens and I spent ages trying to get a shot of them that I was happy with.

After taking the gondola back down, we tried to go to the Queenstown Birdlife Park to see the Kiwis, but it turned out to be closed (Good Friday!) so instead we went for dinner.

And now, as promised, some of the photos I took of Queenstown at various other points during the week:

Photo overload! Gallery two below:

Finally, I shall leave you with a photo of the full moon… which from our point of view was upside down!

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As you can hopefully see, despite being incredibly touristy and not really feeling “real” (I would like to know where the actual residents live/eat/shop!), Queenstown is a beautiful. There aren’t many of the original buildings left, but the builders have done a pretty good job of making everything feel quaint and not too modern. As a base for exploring Milford Sound, the Central Otago region and other parts of southern south island, I can definitely recommend Queenstown!

That was the end of our time on the south island. The next day we returned the rental car and then spent most of the morning at Queenstown airport waiting around because all flights in and out had been delayed due to fog! Watch out for my north island posts coming soon…

Switzerland, one year on

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I have to interrupt my recapping of our New Zealand trip to make a very important announcement…😉
Today is exactly one year since I moved to Switzerland!

Regular readers will have been following along with my adventures from the start, so in the interests of not boring you (any more than I have to) I’m going to make this a very brief recap in numbers.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve been doing for the past year:

Times swum in the Rhine: Once – I’m a bit of a wimp!

Fasnacht events attended: Four(ish)

(Swiss) places visited – 16 (Fribourg, Lucerne, Mount Pilatus, Sissach, Liestag, Olten, Mariastein Abbey, Papilorama (butterfly park), Engelberg-Titlis, Bottmingen, Bern, Zurich, Lausanne, Arlesheim, Laufen, Allschwil)

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Lucerne from above

Friends made – possibly 1? I haven’t heard from her since we had coffee though.

Meetup.com events attended: 10 (that’s almost one a month. At least I’m kind of making an effort)

Chocolate bars consumed: More than I care to think about…

Visitors shown around Basel: 17 (that’s more people than I showed around Karlsruhe in 8 years of living there!)

Times I’ve had to remind myself that I actually live in this beautiful place: At least once a week!

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Look at it though! So pretty.

All in all, you could say living in Switzerland agrees with me (but not with my waistline… why must the chocolate be so tasty… and the cheese… and the Rösti!). I definitely do not regret deciding to take the chance and move here. Now if somebody could just tell me how to make friends as an adult (a socially awkward adult who fails miserably at small talk and is scared of people…) that would be great!

Queenstown Gardens

Because we had come back from Milford Sound by plane, we were back in Queenstown relatively early. I had to charge my camera first since it had died on the plane back, so while it was doing that we went to the convenience store to pick up something to drink then made use of the free wi-fi in the hotel lobby (note to anyone considering staying at Novotel – you get 1 hour of free wi-fi per day in the lobby; wi-fi in the rooms has to be paid for! Remind me which century we’re in?!). We weren’t ready for dinner yet having bought quite a bit of food in Te Anau to eat on the Sound cruise, so we decided to go for a walk and ended up in Queenstown Gardens. What follows will include many pictures of plants! I couldn’t help it – so many of them were so different to what I’m used to!

I spent way too long trying to get a decent picture of these birds, which I’m fairly sure are Paradise Shelducks. They just didn’t want to stand still!

The one with the white head is female and the male has a black head. Shelducks form long-term pair bonds, often life-long (aww!) and tend to hang around as couples. Driving around, we would often see a male and a female Shelduck standing in a field somewhere!

In the rose garden, I took far too many photos, mainly because I was trying to play with my camera’s macro setting. Here are a few:

I love the kind of multi-coloured pink/orange ones! They looked so pretty.

The gardens are on a little peninsula, so once we got round to the other side we had a view of a different part of the lake – a part without lots of boats on it (the side where we had entered from is where all the touristy boats are moored). The view there was stunning, especially with the way the evening sun was hitting the mountains.

Back round the other side, a few more photos had to be taken before we finally decided to head off and find something for tea.

There was also a Disc/Frisbee Golf course in the gardens, so we decided to come back and play on our final afternoon in Queenstown. We hired our discs from a place in town for $5 for five hours, but the Internet tells me you can also hire them from the ice rink, which is in the park.

If you have any idea what any of the plants in this post are (other than roses – I can recognise them!) please let me know in the comments.

New Zealand was my March trip for 2016’s redo of Take 12 Trips.

Also linking up for Monday Escapes:

Packing my Suitcase