Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 29

28 days later… and I’m getting close to the end of my bicycle trip around Taiwan. Fortunately I saved the best for last!

View From Hehuan Mountain Main Peak

Sunny View From Hehuanshan Main Peak

Fugang – Hualien

After an overdose of relaxation on Orchid Island, the ferryboat took me back to the picturesque little harbor of Fugang. The time I jumped on my bike, darkness was falling. But I didn’t mind getting a dusky ride. Around 11 PM and 100 km further north I pitched my tent on a campsite with the well–sounding name “Shihtiping” in the small town of Fengbing.

A perfect spot, if it wasn’t for the grumpy man brusquely waking me up the next morning around 6 AM. The angry gentleman turned out to be the owner, requesting me to pay 8ooTWD. An absurd amount for my ridiculously small one-person tent sadly placed in the grass (for comparison: a hostel dorm usually costs around 500 TWD). After a long and difficult negotiation involving my hands, feet and a site named “google translate” I paid 400 TWD and continued my journey. A campsite named “Shihtiping”? I should’ve known…

Fengbin Harbor Early in the Morning

Fengbin Harbor Early in the Morning

The remaining stretch from Fengbin to Hualien city was short. And as the nightly biking the previous day went well, I was all set for an easy day of relaxed cycling. On arrival in Hualien I realized that it was short, but definitely not as effortless as expected. To make my point:

Elevation profile Fengbin - Hualien City

View Along the Coastal Road to Hualien

View Along the Coastal Road to Hualien

Hualien – Taroko – Hehuanshan

Since I left on the bike, I had been thinking about climbing one of the many mountains in Taiwan. And after all, what would “Le Tour De Taiwan” be without a decent “queen stage”? Back in Taipei, Cecilia had shown me footage of her heroic climb of Mt. Hehuan (aka Hehuanshan aka “Joy Mountain”) during wintertime. Great inspiration! The climb is extra interesting because of its accessibility. The main peak can be climbed from Wuling (at 3,275 m the highest  pass in Taiwan). Moreover, the road to the climb from Hualien crosses the magnificent Taroko National Park.

The profile of the climb (more here – Taiwan Kom Challenge):

Elevation Profile Hualien - Hehuan Mountain

Elevation profile Hualien – Hehuanshan Mountain

I decided to pitch up my tent around Heliu in the Taroko gorge (altitude 400 m) Sunday late afternoon. The next morning I woke up at 5AM to tackle around 60 km of climbing towards the town of Guanyuan (altitude 2.374 m).

Taroko Gorge Valley View

Taroko Gorge Valley View

The climb was physically challenging with the MTB and the extra weight wasn’t helping to get up faster either. Luckily more than enough reasons to forget the physical strain: a beautiful sunrise, my very first encounter with (shy) Taiwanese monkeys and the majestic natural surroundings all along the way. Sometimes though, the road got dangerously close. Luckily warning signs were provided 🙂

Road close

Beware: Road Close

After a short night sleep in the Youth hostel in Guanyuan (there’s only one just in case you were wondering) I got started for the most beautiful part: the actual ascent towards Hehuanshan Mountain. Only 17 km between Guanyuan and the final climb but no doubt the hardest bit on the journey so far. Several parts have an elevation percentage above 12%. However, every bit of the journey was worth it. The view at 3.416 m above sea level on the main peak of Hehuanshan is stunning!

Hehuan Mountain Main Peak

Hehuan Mountain – 3.416 m

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 18

I’m writing from Lanyu (Orchid Island), a small volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The plan was to spend 4 days on this little piece of paradise. However, because of the rough sea, yesterday’s boat was canceled. The perfect moment to write a short report about the last 9 days of cycling and traveling through the “Ilha Formosa”.

Heading From South to East

Heading From South to East

After having spent a day of exploring around Kenting, I got back on the road towards the east coast of Taiwan. Because of the strong wind, I was moving slow. Not that much of a problem considering the breathtaking scenery around me.

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

I decided to give my legs some rest and my upper body some work in the relaxed surfer town Jialeshui where I crashed at Winson’s house. Two days later, after a late afternoon surf session I bumped into another (crazy) Belgian! Koen is a fellow Prince Albert Fund alumni that spent one year working in Taipei. As we were moving in the same direction, we decided to bike together the next morning.

Surfing is So Happy

Surfing is So Happy…

Sunset in Jialeshui

Jialeshui Sunset

We took off early for one of the toughest but most beautiful “stages” of Le Tour de Taiwan until now: Jialeshui to Taimali (to see the route click here).  It was great to have a companion during the 115 km long ride in the sweltering heat on a hilly route (1551 m of incline). For those wondering where I get the stats from: Koen is an electrical engineer interested in technology registering our every move with one of his many useful apps.

Jialeshui - Taimali

Jialeshui – Taimali

Quite remarkable are the many “police stations” along the road. The criminality must be close to zero in most of the east as the stations function as “bicycle service areas”, invariably staffed with policemen keen on providing food, water, a place to sleep or information about Taiwan.

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

After a short and rainy night, we got up at 4.30 am and drove 30 km towards the pretty harbor town of Fugang. We arrived around 7 only to find out that the ferry wasn’t leaving until 9.30. Luckily we found shelter in one of the nearly five thousand (!)  7-ELEVEN stores in Taiwan.

Fugang Port

Fugang Port

The last few days on Orchid Island were spent snorkeling, diving and hiking. In short: enjoying life. However, the desire to head towards the mountains is growing. Hopefully the sea will be quiet enough to catch the scheduled ferry on Tuesday so I can continue my journey!

Port of Lanyu

Port of Lanyu

Diving

Two Crazy Belgians and One Crazy Fish

Lanyu View

Lanyu View

Sunset over Lanyu

Lanyu sunset

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 9

After a good night sleep I got on the road together with Hom Yian, Cecilia’s dad. Hom Yian is (besides friendly and generous) a worried Asian father and wanted to make sure I’d safely make my way out of Taipei. So he decided to join me for the first day.  At times it must have been hilarious to witness us  communicating, in a language we both don’t speak. A remarkable duo to say the least 🙂

Ready to go!

The first three days on the bike were quite challenging. After having spent a wonderful time enjoying city-life in Taipei, it was hard to get adapted to the cycling rhythm. A burning sun with temperatures well above 30 and the realization that I should have packed lighter were not making it any easier. Next to that, along the west coast of the island there’s a lot of heavy industry. Understandably this does not make it the most beautiful area to be cycling through. Finding sleeping space or a spot to pitch my tent was hard as well. So I had to turn to the Almighty Buddha again. The first night I slept in a small Buddhist “chapel”. The second night, the Buddha’s smile turned even brighter and I enjoyed a (free) stay in a full-blown temple (with bedding, hot showers and stunning sunset).

Sleeping Spot First Night

Sleeping Spot Second Night: Fangyuan Temple

Sleeping Spot Second Night: Fangyuan Temple

Sunset Near Fangyuan Temple

Meanwhile, some friends had notified me about typhoon Usagi moving closer to Taiwan slowly but steadily. I decided to bike to Tainan where I met up with the local mermaid-girl Trista (thanks for the referral Joanne!). Once again I found myself amazed by the genuine hospitality of Taiwanese people as I was celebrating the Moon festival together with Trista and her lovely family. Thanks for the wonderful time we spent together and the tasty Taiwanese food you made me try!

With another 5 extra kilos I made my way further south (to the city of Kenting). The scenery has changed and I am now experiencing the true (natural) beauty of Taiwan. Some shots along the way and during a trip I made today:

Entering Pingtung County

Namwan Beach Tractor

Nanwan Beach Tractor

Houbihou Port. No Fishing

Baisha Beach

Baisha Beach

Sunset Near Guanshan

Guanshan Sunset

Tomorrow I’m planning to continue my journey towards the east side of Taiwan. Looking forward after what I’ve seen last few days!

P.s. Sometimes I miss Belgium.

Belgian Beer. Available in Taiwan as Well!

Sometimes I Miss Belgium 🙂

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 0

I’m writing from the city of Taipei where I’m staying at Cecilia’s place. Cecilia is a young Taiwanese writer/artist David met a couple of years ago while trekking through Kyrgyzstan. It truly is a small world indeed. Thank you Cecilia for the generosity/inspiration and David for the referral.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading out for my own version of “Le Tour de Taiwan”. After some final preparations today (buying a tent and picking up Cecilia’s bike), I’m all set for this new little adventure. My estimation is to be on the road for the next 3 weeks, covering around 1.500 km (distance/time will greatly depend on how many times I get lost and whether or not I’ll attempt to climb Mt. Hehuan). I’ll try to regularly post updates about my (cycling) experiences in the time to come. Now, however, I urgently need to “hit the sack”.

Testing the Bike in New Taipei City

“Testing” the Bike in New Taipei City

Photographic Impressions Busan (South Korea)

(Tasty?) Street Food (Busan – Taipei) 

Bite my Tongue

A Happy Pig

Street Fooood

Pig's Trotters

Pig’s Trotters

("Pierced") cock in Taipei (Taiwan)

“Pierced” cocks in Taipei

A City With a View

A Room With a View (From Couchsurfing Host Sam’s Flat)

Fishing the East Sea

P1060976

A City With a View I

All roads lead to… Tokyo?

A City With a View II

Haedong Yonggunsa Buddhist Temple (해동 용궁사)

A Temple With a View

Praying for Good Grades

The Baby Buddha Needs a Good Washing

And the Buddha? He just smiled...

And the Buddha? He just smiled…

Indonesian Island Adventures

It has been exactly one month since I started with the third and final part of my little trip around the globe, so time for another update.

Before heading to Indonesia I stayed a week at travel buddy Tom’s brand new house in Melbourne. Finally “the golden duo” TomTom reunited again and a perfect opportunity to recharge my batteries. Luckily this time (for a change) it was Ozzie Tom that had to face my smelly feet and give comments about my bewildered hair and the belief that using shampoo would damage the natural equilibrium by reducing the power of the natural oils keeping my golden locks in shape.

Indonesian Introduction

Before I had set foot on Indonesian soil I knew absolutely nothing about the country. If you would have asked me the capital I’d have guessed Indonesia city. Strange thing, because it is an important nation:

– The population of the country is around 230 million (depending on the source used), making it the 4th most populous nation in the world preceded only by China, India and the US. At the same time, it has the world’s largest Muslim population.

– Indonesia is composed out of no less than 17508 different islands, a record.

– Some (older) people on the island of Flores speak Dutch due to the colonial past of the island. I attempted to find a Dutch speaker, but unfortunately without success.

Enough facts and figures . Time for some travel experiences!

Balinese Bargaining

The minute I arrived in Kuta (not to be confused with Kuta in Lombok, a town I’ll be describing later on) I felt like getting the hell out of there again. The place gets very close to my description of hell on earth. I was in search for peace of mind, genuine Asian travel experiences and tranquility but got immediately hassled by all sorts of dodgy looking “salespeople” using the most horrible sales-approach:

Mister mister, accommodation? – I’m sorry, I already have something. But hotel is very nice! – No, I already have a booking. Special price for you! NO, NON, NEIN, NOPES, NEEN! (×15)

Mister, you from America? (the insult! I am European, don’t I look sophisticated?)

Mister, for you special offer (well, maybe first explain WHAT you are trying to sell me the next time).

You like massage? (of course I like a massage, you idiot)

Hello, you taxi? (You taxi? me Jane!)

Transport, yes? Massage, yes? (Transport NO! Massage NO! Annoying YES!)

Another annoyance is the fact that prices are nowhere near fixed. Needless to say that all of them crooked vendors try to sell you their goods or services for 5 to 10 times the real value. In the very beginning I felt helpless and stupid for being ripped off a couple of times. But pretty soon I developed a waterproof bargaining methodology I like to refer to as the “I have blue eyes and blond hair but I am not a stupid tourist” technique (probably resulting in still paying 20% too much).

Long story short: I directly got moving again. The next day I went straight to Padangbai and jumped on the slow ferry to Lombok.

The End(e)

On the ferry I met up with Made and his daughter Sarah. As we were heading in the same direction we teamed up, forming a quite remarkable trio. Well, I was sort of invading a family thing. But we turned out to have good times. Sarah soon became my little sister, with Made I had long discussions about international politics, economics and the role (pun intended) of toilet paper in establishing peace in the middle east.

Sarah and Made

Sarah and Made

We set ourselves the goal to get to Moni on the island of Flores to explore the three colored volcanic lakes. The journey entailed hours and hours on slow ferry’s and bumpy buses (I think we were more on the road than we were actually visiting things). Travelling across the islands of Sumbawa and Flores means that transportation is not frequent, never on schedule and from time to time one is forced to spend the night in a place like Sape with nothing but one small hotel without shower but with bugs on the wall. Yet, at the same time that’s the charm of it all. Slow travel at its best!

Highlights of the trip:

Forgetting about time and other modern life disturbances…

On the ferry:

Posing with Ozzie Marc en Patrick on the Ferry to Flores

Or on a bus:

Indonesian smiles on the bus

Spotting Komodo dragons in Komodo National Park

The Komodo dragon is the world’s biggest lizard (these sweeties grow up to 2-3 meter and weigh 70 kg) that can only be found on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Gili Motang.

The dragons are huge and it is an absurd view to spot these savage animals that remained unchanged by evolution since 15 million years. Even though they mainly feed themselves with the carcasses of dead animals, the Komodo’s also hunt birds and mammals. Interesting (and gruesome) fact is that the dragon’s saliva contains numerous bacteria. A bite of the large lizard means wounds get severely infected. Yummy.

Komodo dragon on Rinca

Driving from Ende to Moni (on the island of Flores) on a scooter

Probably one of the best experiences during my Indonesian travels. Every single local is waving or tries to stop you in order to have a chat (even though proper communication is impossible). Wonderful and absolutely mind-blowing to see the disarming smile on the faces of these people.

Indonesian smiles on Flores

Disarming Indonesian smiles

The ride on the scooter itself is pretty challenging as the roads are not in the best shape and the Indonesian traffic has its very own rules. Most important one: the biggest or most persistent vehicle gets to go first.

Indonesian motorcycle madness

The Kelimutu volcano and its three colored lakes

A volcano with three crater lakes with varying colors. We actually got up at 3.30 am to go and witness sunrise only to find a cloud covered sky followed by a serious downpour (yep, it is rain season). Nevertheless a dazzling view and wonderful experience.

Kelimutu volcano and its colored lakes

The airport in Ende

The coolest and probably the smallest airport I’ve ever seen. Mainly because of the unique location: right in town next to a wonderful stretch of beach. Upon entering the airport you pass through the metal detectors without emptying your pockets or taking off your belt. Beep-Beep-Beep. Whatever. Nobody bothers while you proceed, holding a 1.5 liter bottle of water in your left, a 1 liter bottle of Arak in your right hand.

Ende International Airport 🙂

And of course a rock star picture had to be made:

Belgian celebrity arriving at Ngurah Rai International Airport

Lombok Laziness

The Gili Islands

After all the stress I have been through lately I was in desperate need of a break. Perfect spot: the Gili islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan). I met up with Californian Grace and pretty soon we were lying (or jumping) on a wonderful beach sipping cocktails, taking a plunge for some snorkeling or having a wonderful deep diving experience on Gili T, spotting white tip reef sharks, white trevallies and chevron barracudas

Snorkeling jumping Belgian on Gili Air

Even though Indonesian law on drugs is very strict -death penalty for drug trafficking, one to five years imprisonment for simple possesion- The Gili’s have something with Magic Mushrooms and most likely some other illegal substances. Instead of the regular “Mister! Massage, yes”, “Transportation, yes” you’d rather hear “Mister! Mushroomshake, yes” or “Fly to the moon, yes”.

Kuta Lombok

Comparing Kuta in Bali with Kuta in Lombok is a bit like matching up Belgium with a well-governed country. Kuta can easily be defined as heaven on earth for those who love beautiful deserted beaches, surfing and cheap Indonesian food.

Food with a view

The best vegetarian restaurant I have ever set foot in is called Ashtari. British Helen and her Australian husband serve amazing food -wonderful coconut-chocolate shakes, a lentil curry or noodles with tempe, tofu and a wonderful spiced up vegetable mix- and their food temple is located on a hilltop with stunning views over the wonderful nearby beaches.

Jumping Belgian at Ashtari restaurant

Surfers paradise

Around Kuta there are several superb surfing breaks. Without the crowds and in sublime surroundings I was able to tilt my skills to yet another level. Though I must admit I still got to drink a lot of seawater and I managed to gather a collection of very nasty little wounds on my feet after surfing on a reef break. But as usual, catching that one good wave gives you the energy to get going again, forgetting about all suffering and pain.

Surfing at Seger Reef

Delightful deserted beaches

Images speak louder than words!

Coconut-girl Grace

Stunning Seger Reef sunset

Sunbathing beach cow

Monkey Business

Following our 10 days of total chilaxation in Kuta, we headed to Ubud in Bali. Close to the airport for Grace’s return flight to San Francisco and a good starting point for my further Indonesian explorations (Java). And oh no, there we go again (hello mister, hello miss, taxi yes, hotel yes, massage yes, GRMBL). Especially after the low key and relaxed travels, it was very difficult for me not to lose my cool (and mind) while constantly being approached in this “eat-pray-love”-settlement. However, that was before we got to the…

Monkey forest! A forest with heaps of tourist, temples and (surprise) monkeys. While playing around with these intelligent and nasty little macaque monkeys, I forgot about all the hassle straight away. There is a spot on planet earth where I can fully be myself after all.

Monkey Madness

One would get hungry after playing around with them crazy monkeys. On top of that, this report would not be complete without mentioning some of the great Indonesian dishes. What I like the most about Indo food is the fact that a piece of meat isn’t the cornerstone of every meal. Consequently I have been eating more or less vegetarian for the last month (I gladly made an exception while tasting some of the fresh seafood). Three amazing local meals we prepared ourselves during a half-day vegetarian cooking course:

– Bergedel (corncake): Tasty egg-corncake, very ease to prepare.
– Sayur Urab (Vegetables mixed with your hands): an amazing combination of fried green vegetables with grated coconut and a mix of several spices.
– Opor Sayur: vegetable curry, prepared with a basic spices paste, vegetables, coconut milk and lemongrass.

Preparing Sayur Urab

While traveling slow and spending time at the beach I got to read some of the books I have been dragging along in my way too heavy backpack. Inspiring trip, inspiring books, inspiring people (thank you May Jean, Grace and David):

– Three cups of tea – David Oliver Relin : Climber Greg Mortenson and his mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan after he ends up in a small Pakistani village following a failed attempt to ascend K2.
– Mountains beyond Mountains – Tracy Kidder: The story of Doctor Paul Farmer and his medical aid for the poorest of the poorest in Haiti.
– Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer: Detailed account of reporter Jon Krakauer’s dramatic ascent of Mount Everest.

Another goodbye later (bye bye Grace!) and with a severely messed up stomach, hurting feet and a badly infected mosquito bite on my knee I headed to the Denpasar migration office in order to extend my stay in Indonesia for my Java travels. The grumpy customs officer explained me in broken English it would take up to 7 working days to extend my visa. Upon arrival I was told that extension was a piece of cake (Tidah apa apa – No problem mister!). With only 2 days left on my visa, staying in Indonesia would have cost me quite a bit of money (20 $ per day overtime). Moreover, I didn’t really feel like hanging around in Denpasar to recollect my new visa (I would rather die).

After 15 seconds of shameful angry sobbing I checked out Air Asia’s sweetest deals. And that’s how I am currently writing from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Allright, time to get going again. I’d like to finish this post with the lyrics of the song that has been stuck in my head the whole day: Don’t think about all those things you fear, just be glad to be here!

The best to all of you!

Tom

Aotearoa – Te Wai Pounamu

Jumping Belgian along the East Coast of the South Island

After spending a final supper -taco’s-cheese-spicy sauce and beans- with my beloved Mexicans friends I was finally ready for the South Island of New Zealand.  My job as a waiter (YES boss I asked if they want more wine at that table, and no, they did not change their mind after disturbing them for the 65th time) and the city of Auckland were wearing me out big time. Flying to the South was a well-deserved change of both scenery and excitement-level.

A sleepless night later (yep, the cheapest flights always fly off at the worst time possible) I arrived in Christchurch, the most English of all towns in New Zealand. With a small delay I met up with the ruling world champion in the noble discipline of “missing flights” Kerry :-). We spent a relaxing and sun-soaked weekend in the city and decided to rent a car to head in the direction of the Frans Jozef and Fox glaciers.

We hiked up towards a good viewpoint on Frans Jozef, only to discover a fog-covered version of the great chunk of ice. Not really as rewarding as expected, but still a nice walk.

Next day at Fox glacier more or less the same story in what can be categorized as the worst hike ever performed in the history of tramping. As Kerry’s muscles were aching severely I headed out alone launching myself up the Mt. Fox route. I quickly glanced at the warning sign explaining the walk is steep, for experienced hikers only and that bad weather conditions can occur every time of year. I grinned, cursed the weather gods and took off for the 8-hr return walk. 4 hours later, I got back down. It rained all the time. I lost my belt buckle and pants several times. I slipped and hurt my shoulder, back, knee and well… buttocks.  After tearing my favorite pair of trousers apart while slipping for what must have been the 148th time, I decided to head back down. I cursed the weather gods one more time, and got immediate punishment as I continued the walk down in my boxers.

I got back home, very very irritated. But after seeing the smile on Kerry’s face, I warmed up again. 5 beers later, I forgot about the misery, pain and cold.

Next day a long drive and more of the one thing I cannot get used to while traveling: saying goodbye. Sometimes you just have to keep going and carry on, and that’s exactly what I did.

Mt. Fox route highest point

So there I was, on my own again driving the rental car on the left side of the road towards Christchurch. I did not have a driving license on me as it was stolen in Bolivia. And as I was cruising -forgetting to watch the odometer from time to time- there he was again. Mr. Murphy and his miserable law. A police car passed me, turned on its flashing lights before making a U-turn. With a severe panicky feeling hitting my stomach, bowels and other parts of my body I pulled over and waited for the judgment.  As far as I can recall the scene, it went like this:

– What’s the rush for young man?

– I am sorry sir, I was not really paying attention on this flat bit of road

– Drivers license please!

– Well, I’m afraid I only have a copy on me, a second, I’ll go and grab it sir

At this point, I expected the friendly police officer to get out his handcuffs and cudgel, reading me my rights while searching my pockets and car for drugs, weapons and illegal immigrants. But after presenting the crappy copy of my license :

– Is that you??

– Yes, that’s me sir

– Okay, looks like you’re going to have to pay some money to the black hole called New Zealand government. (grins)

Saying that I was excited to only have to pay the fine would be an overstatement, but still. I got back on the road without being extradited or executed at the spot and drove the car safely (and slowly) back to Christchurch.

A couple days later I decided to get back on the road for the second leg of my South Island trip. I bought a roadmap and went out to rent the same car again. The plan: a road trip along the most interesting and beautiful spots in the South Island only camping out mainly surviving on basic food.  For the itinerary of the little trip, click here.

Scary sea lions, stinky seals and prudent penguins

I stopped by in Oamaru, a town completely built around the two penguin colonies that can be spotted near the waterfront. There are two types of the fascinating little creatures: the blue-eyed and yellow-eyed. The latter is very rare and can only be observed in New Zealand.

I arrived at Bushy beach where the yellow-eyed penguin colony comes back from the ocean to retreat in the bushes ashore. It was freeeezing cold and the only thing these shy and selfish penguins do is testing your patience. Or it must have been the Dutch woman producing 120 decibel with her slightly annoying comments on how she once saw some Penguins in a zoo. Two hours later, I finally spotted a waddling penguin on the beautiful strip of beach. As I forgot my glasses in the car, it might have well been a pink panther.

Looking at the blue eyed penguins requires buying a ticket at the visitor center. One is not allowed to take pictures, as apparently the birds are pretty keen on having a bit of privacy. Or it could also be the flash and the effect on the penguin’s sensitive eyes. Anyways,  the blue eyed ones are way more “observable” than their yellow eyed colleagues and got ashore in huge amounts. I wrapped my camera in a scarf and tried to get a few shots. But unfortunately the two grumpy Germans (is that a tautology?) sitting next to me were not appreciating my efforts. One of them eventually threatened to notify the guide, so I put my camera away again.

Luckily more penguins to spot in my later expeditions towards the Otago peninsula.

Blue eyed penguins at the Otago Peninsula

Another creature I had only seen on pictures before travelling to New Zealand is the fur seal. You’d expect a furry and sweet little fellow as the image stored in my brain was mainly based on Seabert (the nostalgia!!) an animation series I used to watch as a kid. In reality they are a somehow aggressive and have a smell that would give my hiking boots a quite enjoyable bouquet.

New Zealand fur seals chilling out

Agitated sea lion at Purakanui Bay

And it gets better! As I was continuing my journey alongside the east coast I encountered several sea lions. They are bigger, smellier and more combative than the seals. I was chased by one of them, and even though they are dopey and heavy I actually had to run to avoid being eaten alive.

The steepest street in the world and other claims to fame

New Zealanders have  a couple of (questionable) claims to fame.

the steepest street in the world  (Baldwin street)

Some of you might know that my abilities to orientate myself are poor. Very poor. I took a quick glance at the map and drove towards the steepest street in the world. After driving around for 15 minutes, still no sign of that damn avenue. I noticed people staring at me as I parked on top of a dead-end alley (did I hit something? Am I not wearing clothes maybe? Am I driving on the wrong side of the road again?), got out of the car, and asked directions only to discover that I had accidentally driven up Baldwin street. The driveway to my parents’ castle is way steeper,  as are most drives in San Francisco. The advise the friendly lady in the visitor center had given me seemed somehow ridiculous at this point (don’t drive up there, you’ll break your car. Unless you have a powerful 4WD).

The steepest street in the world

– the second most photographed building in the southern hemisphere, the Dunedin Railway Station

The garden house behind my parent’s castle is nearly as pretty, but nobody ever comes and takes pictures. The building is actually the most “unphotographable” building in the world. Seriously. You need a wide angle lens to frame the whole thing. In an attempt to transform the construction into the “most photographed unphotographable building in the world” I did my very best to get some good shots.

Dunedin railway station

And finally, there’s one thing New Zealanders could easily claim to have:

the world’s most annoying bugs

Sandflies. What is the purpose of these little horrible flies on planet earth? Where can they be found in the food chain? Which disgusting animal is actually interested in eating them? Just a few questions popping up when thinking about my 300 000 bites resulting in itchy and sleepless nights. In the whole of Fiordland, you just cannot stay outside for longer than 3 seconds without being surrounded by a couple of dozen of these little innocent-looking but extremely persisting bastards. Hooray for mosquitoes!

Lunatic landscapes, silky sunsets and sublime scenery

It is undeniably true that the scenery is absolutely stunning in New Zealand. You can randomly take a shot with the crappiest camera and still you’d end up with a marvelous picture. Driving in New Zealand is not only big fun (cutting curves Toyota Corolla style!!) but pretty much feels like cruising in a postcard the whole time.

Stunning NZ view

As I was sleeping in a tent, every morning I’d be awake at 4 am, freezing cold and covered with bites. Only thinkable advantage of waking up that ridiculously early are the various sunrises I was able to capture.

Sunrise over Purakanui Bay

Moeraki boulders early in the morning

New Zealand is a mecca for hikers and trampers of all sorts. There are 9 great walks, official circuits maintained by the department of conservation (DOC).

I opted for the Kepler track, down in sandfly-infected Fiordland. The trek covers more or less 60 km and is a good alternative for more popular (read: way more expensive) tramps. After meeting up with Canadian Kelly, we decided to do the hike in 2 days. Along the road we met two other Canadians, and pretty soon we were “oot and aboot”.

It was a very nice walk, but being spoiled by the amazing vista’s in South America my enthusiasm was a bit more tempered compared to the excitement of my fellow hikers.

Jumping Belgian on the Kepler track

Skoajdoajving

When it comes to living on a budget, I am a bit of a disaster. I would save 10 cents comparing 5 different types of oatmeal in a supermarket but end up spending 25 dollars on wine later that day. But I did well, so I decided to go for something that has been on my “things-I-have-to-do-at-least-once-in-a-lifetime-list” for a long time.  I drove up towards Wanaka and went for a skydive (for correct NZ pronunciation, see title). I won’t overload readers with a full description on how awesome  the experience was.  Only thing I would love to mention is that the first 5 seconds are amazing, as you feel your body accelerating up to  200 km/h jumping out of a tiny airplane at an altitude of 12000 feet (3,7km).

View from the small aircraft

Just look at my excitement in the small video fragment here. And yes, in a way it is better than… (you know what I mean. Yep, a bungee jump of course).

Back to the future revisited

I am all set for what will be the third and last part of my little trip. One week of Melbourne followed by two final months of travelling in SE-Asia.

End of February I will be back home, bankrupt but a man rich with experience and happy. Allthough I might have to revise the concept “home” a little bit.

All the best to everyone that actually takes time to read through all this nonsense. If you did get to this very last paragraph,  you are awesome.

High five!

Tom