Solitude

solitude

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
~Ram Dass

Photo details (please click on the image for best quality):
Canon EOS 60D, 31mm, ISO 1000, F9, 1/640 sec.
Location: Lake Rotopounamu, Tongariro NP, New Zealand.

Please watch the video below if you are curious what you can actually hear in the forest surrounding this lake:

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Kiwi Curiosities

Thanks to one of my Kiwi tweeps (@nickwallen, a savvy Kiwi Marketing Manager) I recently discovered the New Zealand Story, a video “that defines the distinctly Kiwi attributes that make us [New Zealanders] unique”. To be precise, the story defines these three attributes as “typical lil ol’ EnZed”: Open spaces, open hearts and open minds.

After living in New Zealand for 3.5 years I wholeheartedly agree with its content, though the video doesn’t tell the whole story. How could it, in 3:45 minutes? Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great story, but it’s a flawless one as well. It’s TOO perfect. It lacks a little twist; or did you ever lose your heart to a perfect protagonist? I didn’t!

So I decided to use the occasion to publish my secret list of Kiwi curiosities (yes, I kept record), which – in addition to the New Zealand Video Story above – completes the picture and makes that small country on the other side of the globe uber adorable (at least for me). Have a read and let me know if you agree or disagree:

  1. At home – Kiwi curiosities that made me wonder on a daily basis:
  • Open spaces, yes. Open hearts, yes. Open minds, yes. Open windows, no. Want to get your windows cleaned from the outside? Professional window cleaners practicing high rise abseiling once a year is a thing in NZ.
  • Sinks without mixing taps. You got the choice between blisters, cold shock, or major bathroom flooding. Yay!
  • No mobile network in suburbs. Our friends living 30 km outside Auckland CBD cannot be reached after 6 pm. FYI: “Suburbs” in New Zealand can be whole cities, even complete stretches of a coast line.
kiwi-curiosity-windowcleaner

Finally clear view again!

  1. Locations and tourism – Kiwi curiosities that attract or confuse the common tourist:
  • Mountain names. Too long (Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu), too scary (Mount Hopeless, Mount Misery, Mount Horrible, Mount Dreadful, Mount Bitterness), too… words fail me (Pudding Hill, Drunken Sailors Hill).
  • Talking about creative Kiwi names, please allow me to elaborate on bank names (ANZ, BNZ), restaurant names (Saigon, Tokyo, Brazil), hair dresser names (Newton Barbershop, Eden Barbershop, Roskill Barbershop), dry cleaner names (Symonds Street Dry Cleaner, Queen Street Dry Cleaner, Papanui Road Dry Cleaner)… you get the idea.
  • ALL towns in NZ are worth a visit. I ticked off the shearing capital, the salmon capital, the kiwi capital (not Wellington!), the gumboot capital, the doughnut capital… all equipped with life size statues of “whatever they’re famous for”. Why would you not consider a holiday photo with a 4 meter tall salmon as a must have?
  • A self-declared Republic in the Republic. The small township of Whangamomona on the Forgotten World Highway declared their own Republic as protest reaction to being moved to a different regional council. They have their own President (currently Murt “Murtle the Turtle” Kennard). No kidding!
Springfield doughnut New Zealand

Doughnut capital in New Zealand — Springfield, what else?!

  1. Food – Kiwi curiosities I prefer to list without comment:
  • Fried pizza. Fried ice cream.
  • Vegemite (yeast extract spread from Australia) = yikes; Marmite (yeast extract spread from New Zealand) = yummi.
  • (Coffee) refill packs are more expensive than new (coffee) tins.
  • Bavarian hotdogs with Sauerkraut and milk roll (allow me one comment anyway: I’m German, you fools!).
  • Schwarzwälder Kirsch with strawberries (#OMG).
  • Typical food prices: .98 NZD or .99 NZD. But of course they have no 1 or 2 cent coins. If not paying by card, the cash price is rounded up or down accordingly.
Fried and spicy chicken beer

Kiwis love their food (drinks?) deep fried!

4. Personality — Open hearts, open minds, and…

  • Full trust in the honesty box system. I personally love it, though coming from Europe I need to work on that trust thingy…
  • A passion for meaningless security checks. Not sure I can generalize that point, but it happened to me, so it got to be on my list.
  • Embracing exaggerated journalism: “White Out – The Historic Snowfalls of 2011” — happened each time the national news had nothing else to talk about.
  • Crazy about the NZ catamaran racing in the Americas Cup 2013 against… oh, itself. “Did we win?”. #LOL
  • Down to earth people. I once asked on Twitter for Auckland cafes doing the best Latte Art. Gred Boyed, the host of TV NZ’s daily evening news tweeted me his personal recommendation. In France, I’m still waiting for Mélissa Theuriau to even join Twitter.
coffee-art-fern

Typical latte art: New Zealand fern!

5. On the road — (Spoiler) alert: Kiwis are bad drivers

  • Aggressive driving behaviour is the one point on this list which actually doesn’t make NZ more likeable. I have been constrained, pushed, honked and yelled at — both as driver as well as pedestrian.
  • Sticking to their national limit of 100km/h is not an easy task for many kiwis, especially the guys investing a ridiculous amount of money into a Porsche or Ferrari just for being told they can’t race with it.
  • Consequently, New Zealand is one of few countries that creatively address the problem of drinking and driving in innovative advertisements which other countries would consider taboo.
  • They teach dogs how to drive cars. Why? Good question!
  • Kiwis like to customize their car signs. I liked the sign of a German immigrant saying HOTOMA (hot granny).
  • Kiwis can take themselves very serious. In 2013, NZ changed an old road rule. They advertised for months (billboards, TV, social media) that the new rule would be in effect as of April 1, 2013. In March, they decided to change their ads and put the new rule in place March 25, just because they were afraid people would think the whole rule change would be an April Fool’s joke, increasing the chance of having more accidents in April.
  • When kiwis don’t drive, they walk or run. Barefoot. Whenever, wherever. My sympathy for that activity stops in front of the public toilet door. Theirs not.

There you go, that’s my personal list of Kiwi curiosities. It’s almost a declaration of love, ain’t it? :)

Quite a collection for someone who thought the Haka is the “most hilarious thing” about New Zealand. That’s 3.5 years ago now. Rookie mistake!

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Photo Essay: Tongariro, Middle-earth

Are you as excited about the latest The Hobbit trailer as I am? Five weeks from today I will sit in one of those wide and comfy cinema armchairs, glued to the screen, absorbing Peter Jackson’s latest visual tricks like a sponge, while marvelling at the Trilogy’s sceneries.

mt ngauruhoe new zealand tongariro mt. doom

Mt. Ngauruhoe aka Mt. Doom, in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand

Best thing about it: I have been there! Most outdoor scenes have been filmed in New Zealand, just like most scenes for The Lord of the Rings. New Zealand is officially Middle-earth; and Mt. Ngauruhoe in Tongariro National Park is the most popular location among orcs fans, as they can attempt to climb “Mt. Doom” and conquer Mordor.

One does not simply walk into Mordor? Oh well, I must have gotten lucky the last 6 times I visited. Yes — visited. I looked and behaved like a tourist in Mordor, and of course I captured it on film (in the form of a 16 GB memory card).

On a foggy day, the region is indeed all about doom and gloom (like in the movies). But on all other days, Tongariro is one surprisingly colourful place to discover. I have been lucky enough to visit the region during all 4 seasons. Each season is unique and totally worth it. But let’s allow some photos to talk for themselves.

Who else is looking forward to rediscover New Zealand in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies?

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From One Extreme To Another: Four Ends Of New Zealand

In New Zealand, “From Cape Reinga to The Bluff” is a frequently used phrase to describe a trip from the country’s northernmost point to the country’s southernmost point. It’s a bit incorrect though.

While Cape Reinga is the northernmost point you can reach on State Highway 1 (SH1), and Bluff is the southernmost point you can reach on SH1, both locations are, from a geographical point of view, no extreme points of New Zealand (points that lie farther north or south than any other location in the country).

Therefore, I’d like to show you how the northern and southern extreme points of New Zealand’s two biggest islands look like. Please expect a few surprising differences given that the length of New Zealand — measured as a gentle curve from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island — is around 1,500 km. (I’m sorry that I have to turn a blind eye on Stewart Island here; I sadly never made it there. Wrong! Never say never!).

Join me on my photo series from the North Island’s northern tip — the North Cape — to the North Island’s Southern tip — Cape Palliser, before we continue on the South Island’s Northern tip — Cape Farewell — heading all the way down to the South Island’s Southern tip — Slope Point.

Make sure to click on the photos for detailed captions and insights.

1. N/N: North Cape

2. N/S: Cape Palliser

3. S/N: Cape Farewell

 4. S/S: Slope Point

Have you been to one or several extreme points of New Zealand yet (N-S-E-W)? Which one is your favorite?

Since the South Island’s extreme points in the West and East are hard to reach, I would be very interested to see your photos and hear your story of the West Cape in Fiordland (westernmost point) or the West Head in the Marlborough Sounds (which is, despite its name, the easternmost point).

Now let me end today’s post with one of my photos from another beautiful extreme: The North Island’s easternmost point — the East Cape. This is where I have witnessed the last sunrise of the year 2012 (December 31) as one of the first persons in the world (a stone’s throw from the international date line).

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“Christchurch: From The Streets” Features My Photo

I’m going to have my 3 seconds of fame on TVNZ this weekend! Not that I’m counting till 900

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a small production company in Christchurch, New Zealand, working on a TV show on the city’s recovery after the earthquakes 4 years ago. The trailer speaks for itself I find (getting goose bumps all over from Nadia Reid‘s soundtrack):

Now how did I get my 3 seconds of fame in the upcoming episode 5 of this TV show? Turns out my WordPress SEO efforts start bringing in results. Said production company found me while doing research for image material from the Auckland town hall (must read story if you haven’t done so yet) since one part of their documentation is about the Christchurch town hall and a comparison to other town halls in the country.

As luck would have it, I lived in Christchurch in 2011. I experienced the earthquakes (aftershocks) myself; I saw the devastation, got frightened and considered checking the Quake Map an essential part of my morning routine. But I also experienced the community’s kindness and readiness to help others.

That said, it’s an honour for me to be (a teeny-tiny) part of that show which portrays in an excellent way how people cope with the situation each and every day ever since the first earthquake hit Christchurch 4 years ago.

If you are interested, the show airs on TV ONE, Sunday 11:30am (New Zealand Time). All episodes are available on demand as well.

Being in France now, I sadly can’t watch New Zealand TV on demand. I hope Canterbury Television will get the rights to upload the videos lateron on their YouTube channel, as already done with episode 1 of “Christchurch: From the Streets” which aired end of September. It’s very moving to revisit these places after such a long time!

If you wonder which of my town hall images they finally picked for the show — here you go:

auckland-townhall-organ-03

Auckland’s Town Hall organ dates from 1911

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Maori Values

Waitangi Treaty Grounds Marae

Maori Marae (meeting house) on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!”
“What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!”

“He tangata takahi manuhiri, he marae puehu.”
“A person who mistreats his guest has a dusty Marae (meeting house)” — meaning, someone who disregards his visitors will soon find he has no visitors at all.

Hospitality, respect for and interest in other people has top priority in Maori society. However, there are rules! As outsider you cannot simply enter a Marae (meeting house) and mingle; you have to wait for the invitation of a tribal member.

On the Waitangi Treaty Grounds — the historic place where Maori chiefs first signed their accord with the British Crown — visitors are usually invited by the guides to enter the Marae on the photo above, which represents not only one tribe but the unity of Maori throughout New Zealand. It’s easily the most beautiful building I’ve entered in Aotearoa!

Photo details (please click on the image for best quality):
Canon EOS 60D, 17mm, ISO 4000, F9, 1/15 sec., no filter, no flash.
Panorama stitched out of 5 single exposures.

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Weekend Wanderings: Rare Birds, Dinos, And Hungry Eels

New Zealand’s National Wildlife Centre, Pukaha Mount Bruce, is a place where I could easily spend a few hours.

Double rainbow over Mt Bruce Nature Reserve New Zealand

Perfect welcome ceremony at Pukaha Mount Bruce (not sure they do that every day though ;) )

White New Zealand Kiwi Bird Manukura

While the Centre is famous among tourists for having a rare white kiwi – Manukura – it was the first place in New Zealand where I had the chance to see a kokako (after 3.5 years in the country).

Rare Bird Kokako Mt Bruce New Zealand

Kokakos are native birds who have different songs (“dialects”) depending on where they live. They are extremely endangered; only 40 of them are living wild in the Pukaha forest!

New Zealand Tuatara Dinosaur

Tuataras – “living fossils” that were already around during the age of the disonsaurs – are always nice to observe. Though I wasn’t 100% sure who was actually observing whom…

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

The main attraction at Pukaha Mount Bruce are the daily eel feeding sessions. Volunteers are very welcome!

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

Beside enjoying some gentle strokes, the Pukaha longfin eels want to be fed with a silver spoon.

Mt Bruce New Zealand Eel feeding

Their diet: Veggies with bacon and a couple of mice for dessert. Yummi!

Beside nature reserves like Pukaha Mount Bruce, community driven projects for bird recovery and pest control are a popular method to protect New Zealand’s native tuataras and endangered bird species like kiwis and kokakos.

Listen to the sound of the video below to get an impression of how a New Zealand forest can sound like thanks to successful pest control management and animal protection. I’m loving it!

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