What’s New?

You might have noticed that I am blogging less often as I used to. It’s not that I have nothing to say or write about. And it’s definitely not that I don’t want to keep blogging. I do. Life is simply keeping me very busy these days.

But here are the good news: I keep on photographing. That’s why I recently updated most of my photo galleries on this site and you are welcome to have a look at what I’ve been up to in 2016 and at the beginning of this year.

I updated Landscapes, Weather, Nature, Animals, People and Urban to include photos from France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:

We are planning to travel quite a bit in 2017. New and old destinations are on our list and I promise that you will be able to read about our adventures over here 🌋🏕️🏖️🏜️🏙️

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Weekend Wanderings: Tulips Galore, Holland

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Flower carpets near Keukenhof, Holland

Each year, between March and May, the western coast of the Netherlands is like a bazaar for brightly coloured blossom carpets. Just admit it already; you simply want to sit down, stare, sniff or swim through this sea of spring, don’t you? I do!

If you like this post you might also like Weekend Wanderings: Mont Saint Michel…

Dangerous Winter Wonderland

Before blogging about the first signs of spring I would like to share some winter photos with you that I took in Germany last year. They depict a weather phenomenon, which is both beautiful and dangerous at once.

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Frozen ski lift on the Fichtelberg, the highest peak of the German Erzgebirge

In December, Saxony’s low mountain range (Erzgebirge, East Germany) was wrapped into thick fog layers lasting for weeks. The high air humidity coming along with the fog covered the region’s trees with hoar frost, which built up to a 30 to 40 cm thick ice crust. Needless to say that trees snapped off like matches under the heavy weight.

To avoid accidents, local public services decided to impose a ban to enter the forest above 800 metres. Streets were blocked for days and ski lifts had to shut down when some tree branches threatened to fall on the ropes.

Once streets reopened, we wanted to have a closer look at this newly created winter wonderland and went on a day trip to the highest point of the German Erzgebirge, the Fichtelberg (1,215 m), which looked as stunning as I had never seen it before. Me and my camera(s) got all excited; I could have easily spent the day looking at the most bizarre ice formations, but the cold…the severe cold…

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Exploring A Tiny Part Of The Great Barrier Reef With The GoPro

Snorkeling the Outer Reef of Cairns gave us a tiny glimpse into an uncomparable underwater universe. Our goal that day was to see a sea turtle; we were lucky enough to swim with one. We hope to be back one day!

Please excuse the camera shake. We actually went out several kilometres to get to the Outer Reef. Big waves were rolling in right behind the corals, making quiet snorkeling almost impossible ;)

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Witnessing Australian Bushfires

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Bushfires in Kakadu NP as seen from the plane towards Cairns

Remember when I explained why Australian bushfires can be good — not talking about wild fires of course? I witnessed burning bush and grass in the Darwin region (Northern Territory) on 5 out of 6 days last July (cool season).

Even though prescribed burnings are considered “low intensity” it felt odd to drive through forest areas burning till the border of the street. The following photos are taken out of the car while passing fires in Kakadu National Park.

1. Approaching a managed fire area by car. Park Rangers scout the park for high growing plants, then throw in a few matches to avoid that too much fuel is building up. This shall prevent the region from struggling with high intensity fires, which would be much harder to control.

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2. Most of the bushfires I have seen around Darwin were smouldering, producing lots of smoke only. However, I did come across fires with high flames as well, and despite of my distance I clearly heard it crackling and sizzling. Controlled fires usually extinguish on their own during the colder morning hours.

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3. The sun through a thick smoke cloud. Since Park Rangers only burn small patches here and there, animals like birds and kangaroos can easily change location. For mice, lizards and other small ground animals however, fires are a real threat. They have to leave their ground holes and escape the heat while hawks are circling above them, watching out for food (yes, the black dots on the photo below are hawks — click on the image to see it in big). They learned fast that fires mean feast time for them.

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Bushfire between Kakadu NP and Litchfield NP

4. Passing a part of the forest which had been recently burned and now starts to recover. The ashes act like fertilizer for fireproof seedlings.

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A few months after, nature recovered, new plants grow wildly and the whole cylce restarts.

What do you think of fire management?

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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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Getting Lost: Rarotonga Cross Island Walk

Being avid hiking fans, our Cook Islands trip wouldn’t have been complete without a trekking experience. The most popular hiking track on Rarotonga is the Cross Island Walk, leading from one side of the island to the other.

Despite of the heat, 10 kilometres sounded like a reasonable distance; after all we knew we would spend most of our time in the shadow of the lush forest, and we were going to end up right at the beach, ready to jump straight into the turquoise lagoon if needed.

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On the first kilometre of the island crossing in South-North direction.

On an almost cloudfree morning we therefore took the clockwise bus – yep, only two bus directions exist on Rarotonga; clockwise and anti-clockwise – and asked the bus driver to drop us at the beach where the track for the island crossing starts.

As we decided to cross the island from the South to the North, the official starting point of the hike was at Wigmore’s Waterfall, which we reached after a 15 minutes walk along a small road for cars leading in-land.

Till now, we had deliberately ignored all travel guides mentioning that it would be easier to do the crossing in the North-South direction since the way would be better marked. Can’t be that difficult, we thought; and so we shrugged once more our shoulders as we passed a warning sign that it’s strongly recommended to begin the hike on the other side.

The first kilometre went fine.

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Crazy rock and tree formation along the path. This could almost be out of a movie scene, don’t you agree?

Then we reached a point where many people before us must have gotten confused and formed tracks in all possible directions. Even the stream that we had followed seemed confused and separated into two rills.

We decided to follow one of the “caved paths” and regularly turned around watching out for the little orange triangle marking the track from the North-South direction.

Spotting no triangle after 200 metres we thought we took the wrong junction; but how to be sure? Mr ae.i headed forward in the hope he would find the treasured plastic marker signaling that we were on the right track.

He told me he would be back in 5 minutes. He wasn’t.

I followed his path before I had the brilliant idea to call his name. No feedback.

I followed his path a little longer, but when the track became dodgy I tried calling him again. There he was, yelling he is on his way down.

Yay! Not!!

He must have made a wrong turn. At the end of my tether I started calling him again 4 or 5 times before I realized I had lost him again. I honestly started to panic a bit. And my imagination ran wild.

What if he had slipped and needed help?, I thought just the moment when I heard someone screaming my name from far behind me. Well, how did he do that? He clearly left in the other direction.

It didn’t matter. I was surely relieved when we were finally reunited a couple of minutes later and I made the Mister promise not to explore any path without me anymore (!).

After returning to the point where path and stream seamed to separate in all directions we finally spotted an orange triangle that we hadn’t passed yet. After crossing the stream and climbing a steep slope we were back on track. Only 30 minutes lost.

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Back on track, which became so steep that it would have been tough to climb uphill without a rope. See the little orange triangle on the photo? These markers exlsuively indicate the correct path in North-South direction; there are no markers at all the other way around.

We didn’t lose sight of the track markers for a second time that day, although there would have been more occasions. Not everyone was as lucky that day though; more later.

We reached The Needle – the highest point of the hike (413m) – during  a sunny moment and enjoyed the view over the surrounding green mountains of dense forest down towards the lagoon, reef, Pacific Ocean

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View towards The Needle, the highest point during the island crossing.

While descenting on the Northern side we met a bigger hiking group led by Pa, a local tramping guide who knows these mountains like the back of his hand. There is surely no way getting lost with him.

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Steep descent over big roots and rocks.

After 2.5 kilometres we reached a narrow road, the official starting point of the track when doing the hike in North-South direction. Another 2.5 kilometres along that road – and many taro fields and papaya orchards later – we were back in town, jumping right into… no, not the lagoon… the clockwise bus, bringing us back to our guesthouse and a well deserved nap after our 4 hours adventure.

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Sunbeams made visible by a small (controlled) fire in the woods.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone got that fortunate that day!

As luck would have it, the same evening we met 3 tourists who started the South-North island crossing two hours after us. After having a chat, we believe they got confused at the very same spot like us a bit earlier that day, but they didn’t remember where they had gotten off track or seen the last orange marker.

So they continued and probably created a new path through the forest which might confuse more people in the future. Oups! Eventually they reached the top of a mountain, but they couldn’t tell which one. All they could tell for sure was they were clearly off track.

Instead of trying to find a way down to finish the crossing they simply walked the same way back. It took them 8 hours – twice as much as what we needed for the complete crossing. Their worried host had called the police in the meantime.

Each year, several hiking groups face the same problem. They need to be guided out of that tree maze by local guides or police men.

Now we – and you – know why it’s strongly recommended to do the Cross Island Walk in a North-South direction.

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Rarotonga island crossing profile from my GPS watch. We needed 4 hours for 10 kilometres, including an involuntary 30 minutes detour through the wilderness.

I honestly find it a pity that this popular track causes so much trouble and requires local search groups when it would be an easy thing to simply add more track markers in the South-North direction.

And here is the thing: If I would ever do that walk again, I would chose South-North over North-South, simply because the Southern side of the mountains is so wet and slippery that it’s easier to find grip climbing uphill than sliding downhill. Remember, the sun moves from East to North to West in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes the Northern side of the Rarotongan mountain chain much drier and perfect for a non-slippery descent.

For a description of the track conditions and quality please read all image captions. Click any photo to see it in big and better quality. Enjoy – and don’t get lost!

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