a semester abroad in New Zealand


Tongariro Alpine Crossing

A lot of people asked me questions like “What was the best thing you did so far in New Zealand?” or “Which place did you like the most on the North/South Island?”. I never had an answer, everything was cool. I could just name one or two places that were a little disappointing, but everything else was really nice. Now I got an answer: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing :)

That’s why I’m going to write about it now, although it doesn’t fit in the chronological order of this blog (the last post was about events in August).

So a few days ago I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 20 km alpine track and is supposed to be one of the best one-day-hikes in New Zealand. Luckily there are bus services to drop you off at the beginning and pick you up at the end of the trail, so you don’t have to walk the whole way back :P

Technically I did the walk alone, since there was nobody coming with me… but so many other people were doing the walk that I was never alone and it was almost impossible to lose the track because of all the people :P

I was picked up in Taupo at 5:40am and slept most of the 1,5h bus-ride, since I got no more than 5h of sleep that night. Due to some delays we arrived at the beginning of the track around 7:45… the drop-off was at around 1000m height and it was pretty foggy… and freezing cold. I don’t know if it really was cold or if I just felt cold because of the lack of sleep. Anyway… I started of with long pants and all the layers of clothing (up to my rain jacket) I brought.


Not long after the track started ascending I removed layer after layer and decided that it was time to put on sunscreen (which was one of the essential things to bring on the trip). There wasn’t much sun on the first part though, which ended at the Soda Springs (last picture) at 1200m.





Inspired by the photos of my former roommate in Germany I tried to shoot some panoramas as well:


After the Soda Springs the trail got a lot steeper and a sign indicated that the alpine part begins, also giving a lot of warnings when not to continue the hike and what essential things to bring (basically sunscreen, water, all-weather clothing and no heart conditions). To make the fast ascent even more fun it was bright sunshine now. After five minutes walking/climbing I had to stop to put on my short pants (and apply more sunscreen). The track stopped ascending for a while when I reached the South Crater at around 1550m. The following pictures give impressions of the track between Soda Springs and South Crater and if you imagine it would be darker and there were no track markers (yeah, it is time for the first LotR reference) you can easily see Frodo and Sam walking/crawling up this way to Mount Doom.





A short flat part followed ending at the South Crater… also giving a nice view of Mt Ngauruhoe, which was used as *drum roll* Mount Doom in the LotR movies.


It is also possible to climb Mount Doom, but I didn’t attempt to. It would have been really cool to climb Mount Doom (and that is why people do it), but I have been told it is just a pain in the ass because you have to climb on mostly loose scree and gravel. The sign said 2,5h return, but a guy I met in the bus later told me it took him 4h Oo. Since I though I was short in time anyway (I stopped a lot for photos, food and sunscreen ^^) I decided to climb Mount Tongariro later instead (you can only do one of the two, otherwise you miss your return bus), which takes less time but provides a similar spectacular view.


These pictures show the South Crater and an overview of the flat part, looking back at where I came from (partial view of Mount Doom in the left part).

The side-track to Mount Tongariro was about 1,5h return and offered a spectacular view at almost 2000m.

The track along the mountain ridge leading to Mount Tongariro summit and Mount Doom (viewed from the summit).


Other views from Mount Tongariro summit:



And another panorama:


This is roughly the track I came (about 500m difference in altitude between the flat part and the summit). The green part marks the continuation of the main track after the Mount Tongariro side-track.


Here is another panorama from the way back to the main track:


And again with a line indicating my walkway. The summit (now covered in clouds) in the right part. The red line shows the last part of the way back from Mount Tongariro and the continuing main track. The X marks the highest point of the main track (giving a view to the red crater).


Red crater and highest point of the main track (a good 1800m I guess):





The way down from the highest point goes along the Emerald Lakes. The track mainly consists of gravel and is kind of steep, but is a lot of fun to get down, at least if you know how. Luckily my father showed me many years ago in the European alps how to do this. By half running half walking downhill while pushing your heels in the gravel you get down pretty fast. I did get a lot of gravel and dirt in my shoes though :P

Here are impressions from the way down:




And here is a view from the bottom:


A few impressions from the following flat part, including views back on the red crater:



The blue lake and an old lava flow from the red crater:


And one last panorama showing the red crater and the lava flow:


Although the hardest part was done at this point, 10km (mostly downhill) were in front of me. There is not much do tell about that… it was mostly easy walking and I had enough energy left to get down in about 2h, including stops for food and photos. I even caught myself quickly running and jumping down the track like a kid with to much energy… it was good fun :D

It was also cool to see how the vegetation changed during the descent from 1600m to 600m. Starting off with some brown grass, green grass, bushes getting bigger and bigger and finally native New Zealand forest (at least I think it was) after passing the tree line. The last 30 min before reaching the pick-up point the track went along a nice stream. Sadly I stopped taking pictures about an hour before the end, because I was tired of getting the camera out of the backpack every time… so no pictures of the bigger bushes and the forest.







I reached the car park at 4pm and had to wait half an hour for the pick-up bus :P

The overall result of the trip: 8 hours, about 24km walking distance (my mobile phone tracked almost 30, but that can’t be right), 1000m of elevation gain, 2,25 litres of water, 5 sandwiches and some muesli bars (I thought I got way to much water and food, but I used all I brought) and almost 400 pictures. Also a lot of sunscreen, since I was exposed to the bright sun above the clouds half of the time… didn’t get a sunburn though :)

This was definitely the best thing I have done so far in New Zealand and I strongly recommend the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to everyone who gets the chance :) Good weather required to enjoy the views though ^^

South Island Trip (Part Three)

Addition to the last post: This is an impression of one type of landscape you see a lot when driving through New Zealand (taken out of a car, sry for quality :P ), in this case between Dunedin and Invercargill.


Those grass areas are all man-made, mainly for sheep and dairy-farming. Of course there are other types as well, like introduced forest (for example from Europe) and native New Zealand bush (pics later).

Catlins Coast

Sparky’s was the only place on the South Island we stayed at for two nights. On our second day we did a day trip along the scenic Catlins Coast.

Sea Lions :)




We were strolling along the coast for a bit when we suddenly heard Alison shouting “Come over here, quick!”. At first we thought something happened to here so we rushed over there… but it turned out she just wanted us to see this:


At that very moment we couldn’t decide if that was a tiny adult fur seal or a baby sea-lion. We were a little afraid the two big sea lions on the pictures before could be the parents :P But when you look at the sign at first picture you can easily see it must be a fur seal, probably a fur seal teen.

Slope Point (sort of)

Next big stop: the most southern point of the South Island (not of New Zealand though, because of Steward Island).





This is me standing at standing somewhere near the southernmost point (the actual point is called Slope Point):


random waterfall




Nugget Point



Who can spot the seals in this one?


the lighthouse and the “nuggets”





The next day we got up early to reach Queenstown in time for Alison’s and Elysia’s canyon swing (basically a big-ass swing in a canyon ^^). Queenstown is a really nice and also pretty expensive city at lake Wakatipu. Someone compared it to St. Moritz in Switzerland, because it is expensive, a lot of rich people live there and also a lot of young people party there. Here are a few impressions of the road along the lake up to Queenstown:



After we checked in at the YHA Lakefront, Elysia and Alison went for their swing, while Susi and me explored the town and the surroundings by car.



Gondola and view on Queenstown:




We also tried to visit various spots around Queenstown where scenes for Lord of the Rings where filmed. We couldn’t reach all of them (due to private land (various scenes/Rohan) or multiple hour walk with no signs where exactly the spot is (Furt des Bruinen)), but here is the river Anduin:


And here is the spot where Frodo and Sam watched the Oliphants:


Just imagine this would be Frodo ^^ (and there are Oliphants down in the valley)


Milford Sound

The next morning we had to get up reeeeally early to catch the pickup bus for the Milford Sound cruise. The drive to Milford Sound was quite long and we stopped several times for photos:





During one stop some Keas joined us and one immediately tried to eat parts of the bus door.







And now the sound (which is actually a Fjord, not a sound) itself:






Oh yeah, we saw dolphins, seals and penguins during the cruise :)

So much for today ;)

PS: Later that day in a bar I discovered that tonic water emits a blue-ish glow when exposed to UV-light :D How cool is that, a glowing drink :)

South Island Trip (Part Two)


Back to our continuing coverage of the south island road trip! — As mentioned in the last post our next stop was Dunedin (again a YHA hostel).


Nothing interesting happened that evening, but the next day we went on not only one, but two tours through local factories. First we did the Speight’s brewery tour and learned all about how beer is made (I also realized I haven’t done a brewery tour in Germany so far Oo). At the end we could try all their different beers… they even do a Pilsner… it didn’t taste like a Pilsner though :P

I’m relatively sure I took pictures during the tour… but I can’t find them -.- So I’ll use Elysia’s and Alison’s photos to give you an idea of the brewery:



The second tour was the Cadbury chocolate factory were we got a lot of chocolate (yay)… and yeah, we also learned something about the production of chocolate :P They have same pretty weird chocolate products… for example kind of a pink marshmallow (shaped as a fish) covered in chocolate… not my cup of tea :P


Before we left Dunedin we stopped at the railway station, which is supposed to be the most photographed building of New Zealand. I don’t know why, it is not that special… but while I was taking photos myself, I got it! So here is the Dunedin-railway-station-conspiracy: Initially the station wasn’t the most photographed building, it was just a building. Nevertheless someone made up that story… visitors heard it and took photos… told other visitors about it… and so on…. and at some point (it may have already happened or will happen in the future) the initially made up story became/will become actually true! And I was part of this evil plan -.-


The first two pictures nicely show the effect of the polarization filter I bought for my camera right before the trip :) The effect can be seen at the car windows in the bottom left area and at the sky. Basically the filter allows me to get rid of or enhance reflections (on plane surfaces) and to reduce the brightness of the sky resulting in more visible details and better saturation of the rest of the photo. Long story short: I love this thing (and it was only about $10) and it is really helpful for landscape photography.




Our next stay was Invercargill, the only place we stayed two nights in a row. Invercargill even was a venue for the Rugby World cup (as I found out later), but only as a replacement for the Christchurch stadium which couldn’t be used due to the earthquake. Anyway… in Invercargill we stayed at Sparky’s backpackers, the first one on our trip which wasn’t a YHA. It was privately owned by a guy (Sparky) who lives in the place himself as well. It was definitely the most colourful and unique backpackers I’ve seen so far. The place was decorated all over with all kind of stuff and some doors where connected to items hanging from the ceiling with a string, so that stuff would move around if you open a door.




I couldn’t put a needle in the visitors map, because Germany was already full :P


And even German “ketchup” was around…


Aaaand… Sparky knows icanhascheezburger :)


Oh yeah, and Sparky’s has a motto: “Sparky’s backpackers, where everyone gets chocolate cake”


And this is how it’s made… you need:



More cookies


And milk

The first batch of cookies has to be crumbled. They go in a plastic box together with the milk and the other cookies are then pushed into the resulting mush. The whole thing goes into the microwave for 10 minutes or so (depending on the amount) and when it’s all done it looks like this:


It tastes surprisingly good, especially combined with ice cream :) And of course we were lined up on benches to observe while Sparky was doing the cake and given instruments to play background music. Also Sparky was wearing a helmet as a safety measure, that’s how you do chocolate cake! :P

Next time: driving down the Catlins coast, sea lions, a lighthouse and Queenstown.

PS: finally some sunshine today, after days of rain :)

South Island Trip (Part One)

Okay, all my exams are done and so are the excuses for procrastinating telling you about the South Island trip.

At the end of August we had a two week mid-term break, a perfect opportunity to explore the South Island. So Alison, Elysia, Susi and me booked a flight to Christchurch to start an almost two week road trip around the South Island.


During the flight we had an awesome view on the cloud-covered New Zealand, which I tried and failed to photograph (I had an aisle seat).


Luckily Elysia had a window seat and managed to take better pictures:


After arriving in Christchurch we picked up our rental car, it was a Nissan Sunny like we had for the Coromandel trip, but this time a better version with more power :)

Lake Tekapo

After grocery shopping we left Christchurch for our first hostel, the YHA at Lake Tekapo. Unfortunately it was already dark when we arrived there, but after dinner we decided to to check out the lake nevertheless. It was a clear night and we were far away from bigger cities and their light pollution, so heaps of stars were visible. I tried to capture that with my camera, but it didn’t work :/

Before we went to bed we decided to get up early and watch the sunrise at the lake. However I changed my mind about that in the middle of the night, because I couldn’t sleep and wanted to get at least some sleep. I didn’t realize how big a mistake that was until the girls showed me this pictures (by Alison) when I finally got up:


The next picture (also by Alison) shows the awesome location of the hostel right at the lake


“Roadside assistance”

After breakfast we made our way to the Mount Cook National Park. Here are a few impressions from the drive:


On our way we encountered some unlucky guys who broke down with their car who signalled us to stop. I’m no car mechanic, but I got a rough idea how the stuff under the hood works, so I figured it can’t hurt to take a look. We quickly realized that the aged Toyota (aren’t they supposed to be among the most reliable cars in the world?) most likely needs to be towed away. The car was not only leaking quite a lot oil, but also loosing cooling water at an alarming rate, coming somewhere from the radiator. So the only thing we could do is provide those guys with the number of AA (the local automobile club) and continue driving. Funny enough we met the same guys again later at the Franz Joseph glacier and they told us the AA discovered the radiator exploded and the car can’t be fixed at a reasonable price. They were on a rental now :P


This experience made me rethink the plan of buying a car for my travel time here, which still was somewhere in the back of my head. Although you can’t expect much from a 800 $NZ car (that’s about 500 EUR), the seller had presented them a certificate that the car has been checked and found okay.

Mount Cook National Park

We eventually arrived at a car park in the national park and went on a trail into the park.


Of course we didn’t get to the top (or even close to the mountain itself) of Mount Cook, since it is 3,754 metres high (according to Wikipedia :P) and New Zealand’s highest mountain. If I’m not mistaken the last picture shows the peak of Mt Cook.

Spotting a seal

After the walk we headed south to Dunedin. On the way we stopped at a lookout spot at the coast (thanks to Alison’s awesome atlas, where stuff like that is marked in). Besides the pretty coast line we also saw a seal! :) Just hanging out there, mostly ignoring us… and later I discovered that the seal was visible in plenty of landscape photos I took before we even noticed it :P We were pretty happy about our sighting… how often do you encounter a wild seal!? Well, as it turned out later, more often than you think… at least in New Zealand. We literally saw hundreds of seals later on our trip :P


So much for the first two days of the trip. Before I end I want to mention those things:


We saw them on farmland all over the South Island, as I understand they are for watering purposes… that really surprised me. New Zealand is a widely green country with a lot of rain… why do they need watering? As far as I know farmland watering is not widespread in Germany, which is kind of similar climate-wise.


PS: I finally found a good picture for the header… but it didn’t quite work out as I thought –.- Will fix it later…

Road Trip to Coromandel

Being on my second road trip now (I actually wrote this on the trip two weeks ago) I realize I haven’t written about my first (small) road trip. At the second weekend of August Elysia, Nathan, Dan and me rented a car to spent the weekend in the area of Coromandel, which is on the east coast, about a two hour drive from Auckland.

We started early Saturday and stopped for various scenic places, like a waterfall (where I did a lot of nice photos) and some old trees (which were kind of disappointing). In the afternoon we arrived at our hostel, which turned out to be a really nice place (and only 25$/night) less than 100m away from the ocean. We did BBQ for dinner and went to a local bar later in the evening where a live band was playing. On a side note: as Elysia even mentioned in her own blog, Dan and me lost 3 rounds of pool in a row against team Canada (Elysia and Nathan) :P We’ll practice and beat them sometime!

We ended the day by sitting on the beach and enjoying the ocean for a while. The next morning we visited a place called Cathedral Cove, which was approximately a 30min hike away from the parking lot. The Cove turned out to be less interesting than I thought, but we spent a long time at the “Stingray Bay” which we passed on our way. It is a beautiful little bay with a beach, where we (especially Nathan and me) took a “shit ton” (an expression I caught up from Alison) of photos.

Around midday we proceeded to the “hot water beach”, an interesting geothermal phenomena. Basically there is a really hot rock underneath the beach and when you dig a hole in the sand on the right place, it fills with water from the ocean which gets warm pretty fast. In other words: you can dig your own hot pool! That was really cool… although the bottom of our pool was so hot that we had to be careful to not burn our selfs! After a while our hot pool experience was ended by sudden rain and we were glad to be dry and back in the car, driving back to Auckland.

Oh yeah, I forget to mention, I was driving… a white Nissan Sunny with way to little power (I’m pretty sure it was less than 50 horse power). I was quite excited about finally driving in New Zealand and also a little scared about driving on the “wrong” side. While my driving was fine (it turned out to be easier than I thought to drive on the left side) on the way to Coromandel and on the way back until right before Auckland, I failed embarrassingly while driving back into the city. Although I keep telling myself that it’s normal to mess up a little when driving in the dark in a big city and on the “wrong” side of the road, there is no excuse for missing the exit (Elysia still makes fun of me for not passing the straight line to make the exit… I just thought it’s better to refrain from my bad German driving habits on my first NZ drive :P), driving on a bus lane and turning into the opposite direction lane at an intersection -.- Nevertheless, we arrived safely at our apartment and returned a quite dirty, but undamaged car at the rental place.

Another word about driving in New Zealand: we drove on so called gravel roads, featuring varying amounts of gravel and mud (that’s why our car was so dirty). I’m pretty sure most people in Germany would turn around when they would end up on such a road, because there is a good chance you have done something wrong then :P Anyway, here it seems to be a normal thing. We were glad though that we payed the extra 2$/day for tire and windshield insurance.

Sorry for the amount of text… and for the delay… I hope I’ll get up the post(s) on the South Island trip sooner.

And now: enjoy the pictures:

The time when it snowed in Auckland

I forgot to mention before: this Monday it snowed in Auckland! You may ask, why is that worth mentioning, it’s damn winter in New Zealand! Well… apparently this was the first time in over 70 years that it snowed here :P I didn’t see it myself though… I was in class doing a test -.-  But I heard the kiwis totally freaked out ^^ I also heard from a couple of Europeans that it was hardly snowing at all… more like hail or sleet. Nevertheless I can imagine that it has been exciting for the people of Auckland ;)

Ski Weekend

I just realized I still haven’t written about the ski trip I did three weekends ago… shame on me.

I attended the Beginners Weekend of the University of Auckland Snowsport Club (UASC), together with a couple of friends of mine (Alison, Elysia and Dan if I remember correctly). We started somewhere around 5:30pm at Friday and arrived safely at Whakapapa (pronounced “Fakapapa”) late evening, thanks to our driver Tom! (who also was our ski teacher, but more on that later).

Whakapapa is located at Mount Ruapehu, which is an active volcano… and was used to film some Mount Doom scenes in the Lord of the Ring movies! (Yeah, I know: “New Zealand? Isn’t that the country where they shot Lord of the Rings?”)

We were staying at the own lodge of the ski club, which was really cool and literally less than 5 minutes away from the lifts and the ski rental. I didn’t sleep well the first night though… maybe because I’m just not the biggest fan of sleeping bags :P Anyway, we got up early the next morning to enjoy a full day of skiing… at least that was the plan… a plan the weather didn’t comply to. It was all foggy that morning, and so we decided to not start skiing before lunch (half-day skiing pass is cheaper). After lunch Tom took Elysia and me to the beginners’ slope (everybody else on the beginners weekend apparently wasn’t a beginner) to teach us how to ski. At first I felt really insecure on the skis, but I did a lot better at the end of the day. Actually this wasn’t my very first time on skis. I skied twice in my life for one day each, where my good friend Julian showed me some basics. But it was really helpful to get instructions from an actually ski instructor this time.

Back at the lodge I had an awesome night with approximately 30 people from all over the world (some Europeans as well, but no Germans). We had to dress up in a funny way (they had a big box with all kinds of stuff for that) and do a bunch of small competitions, mostly involving alcohol, with prizes to win. I won a pair of thermal underpants in the broom spinning game (link – sorry to all Germans, the video seems to be blocked in Germany because of the stupid GEMA). Other examples of competitions are “ass on ice” and “catwalk” :P

Oh, I also have to mention this one: before dinner that day (which was awesome, the people on dinner duty – everybody got a duty at the lodge – cooked for hours) we played a game similar to “Activity”, featuring a card called “Cloodle” (which has nothing to do with the urban dictionary definition, as I just checked), which apparently sounds really funny when I pronounce it :P At least everybody was laughing every time I did it (so I started to look for this card intentionally ^^).

The next day we had more luck regarding the weather. It was a clear sunny day… which, as I have been told, doesn’t happen very often in that area. This day I bought a full day all mountain pass, because I wanted to check out the more advanced slopes. After a few warm-up rounds on the beginners’ slope I tried the “Rockgarden”, which was supposed to be the next step after beginners’. This slope was more versatile, with really narrow track-like parts and some rocks (obviously)… and partially really steep (for a beginner). In contrast to the beginners’ slope (where I didn’t hit the snow at all) I fell down a lot on this one. One time I even crashed into a ski instructor… and even though he apologized, I’m pretty sure it was my fault entirely. I guess I would have been a lot more confident on this slope, if it hadn’t been so crowded.

After lunch back at the lodge, Hamish (one of the guys I met at the lodge) showed me some other slopes higher up on the mountain… which were as exciting as scary, because of really steep (and partially icy) parts. As a final run we got all the way up and followed a really long track back to the bottom, I guess 20 to 25 minutes, which was awesome.

At the end of the day we packed our stuff and headed back to Auckland… well, after we managed to get the van out of the parking spot :P We had to shovel some gravel and dirt behind the tires to finally get back on the street.

Since my camera is way to big to carry it around on skis I don’t have many pictures of the landscape, which really bugs me, because the view from the top of the mountain (2200m, way above the clouds) was absolutely breathtaking. I have some pictures of the lodge and the view around the lodge though:

Don’t Drink & Fry

Shortly after 3am in the WSA: “Good morning, this is a fire alarm. Please stand by. *siren*” (as a side note: friendliest fire alarm I experienced so far)

So we left the building, the staircase filled with half tired and half drunk people (and  linear combinations of both). The firefighters had already arrived and were entering the building… using the elevator!

After a while it turned out that someone tried cooking drunk and messed up… stealing my sleep! Big time.

PS: We have a cleaning inspection due tomorrow. I’m curious if it will be as ridiculous as I heard :P


Yesterday Dan and me decided to go to the park for some disc throwing, but we didn’t have a disc :P So we went downtown to buy some kind of Frisbee we can use for casual throwing… which turned out to be harder than we thought. After a while we found a Frisbee-like disc in the warehouse (a department store), but it didn’t seem satisfying, so we decided to look somewhere else. After getting a really tiny, but free disc at some tourist info thing, we found a real 175g ultimate disc in a sports store :)

Today we (4 other people from this residence and me) took a bus to a sports ground a couple of kilometers away from here, where a weekly pickup game takes place. Today there were approximately 16 people, mostly experienced players. Even though I had a lot of fun, I played pretty bad :P In addition to the fact that I’m still new to this sport, the field was more of a swamp than a grass pitch (I don’t have cleats yet) and the weather was really windy.

The location is really nice though, the sports ground is very close to the ocean.

Auckland at Night

I finally managed to take some nice pictures of the view from our living room (10. floor). You can’t really open the windows around here and I haven’t bought a stand for my camera yet… so I had to improvise.

The window opens a little bit, with the gap at the bottom… big enough for the lens of the camera… and a book made a decent “camera stand” for this situation.

These pictures show the downtown area of Central Auckland and parts of the Albert Park, which is next to the university:

Additionally I got this photo of the downtown/harbor area covered in fog… but this one was unfortunately taken through the dirty window -.-