Lake Pukaki

If you were impressed with Lake Tekapo, then you definitely will be stunned by the beauty of its bigger sister, Lake Pukaki.

The drive around the lake is very scenic and deserves some stops. While you are driving and if the weather permits it, you will see Mount Cook appear.

One of them is Peter’s Lookout along Highway 80 (also known as Mount Cook Road). From here you can take a bunch of postcard photos but make sure you save some space and batteries for your next stop, Mount Cook Village !

Lake Tekapo

We survived our first night with the three of us in a two person tent.

The summer is noticeably gone with much cooler temperatures at night. We wake up to a grey sky morning at Mc Gregor Lake, which is only a short drive from Lake Tekapo.

After our breakfast at the lake and getting a full tank we were ready to drive up to the rooftop of New Zealand, Mount Cook National Park.

 

The Grand Trip : The Kickoff

So the Grand Road Trip of 2016 has begun.

During the next six months I will be travel from New Zealand up to Mongolia and back.

It will be a roller coaster adventure filled with beautiful scenery, diverse cultures, meeting new people, trying new foods and go wherever your heart desires to.

The adventure started last Thursday when I finished my job in Franz Josef Glacier. My  friend Lotti and me left our little home away from home behind after working here for the last three months.

Destination : Christchurch !

A lot of driving on the first day but we had places to go still. The route went from the gloomy roads of the West Coast over the majestic surrounding of Arthurs Pass down to the meadows of Canterbury.

There we picked up our missing member of the new tripod and set course to Lake Tekapo.

A little after sunset we arrived at our campground at Lake Mc Gregor. We put down our tent for our first night camping. While setting up our tent we got attacked by a swarm of mosquitos. We dived into our tent and fell quickly asleep.

Auckland

Possibly the first place most overseas visitors encounter is Auckland.

This lively city has something for everyone to experience;

For the adventure seekers : Ever wanted to take a leap of faith and jump off the tallest man-made building in the southern hemisphere ? Well, you can. The Sky Tower makes that dream come true.

For the bon vivants : Saving your stomach for a decent appetite ? Well, then Ponsonby is the place to go and only a little climb from downtown. This neighbourhood is filled with restaurants, bars and little eateries where delicious smells of food are wafting through the streets.

For the ones who love the view : Want to keep climbing ? Well you can. Mount Eden will be more or less your final stop on the ladder in the Auckland area. This viewpoint offers great 360 ° views over the City of Sails. Also here you can clearly see the dormant volcano.

For the artistic stroller : For those who want to keep it closer to the water, there is an easy and fun artistic stroll you can saunter between the Visitor Information Center and the Silo Park.

For the ones wanting to escape the busy streets of the city : Devonport is your place to be. This little town is so amazing it deserves it’s own blog. So more on that in the next blog post.

Te Paki Sand Dunes

After being (almost literally) blown away by the stunning Cape Reinga you can trade your windproof jacket for a boogie board and go diving off massive sand dunes.

It’s a drastic change of scenery from the hills in Scotland to the Sahara Desert in just a half hour drive.

Don’t have a boogie board with you in your backpack ? No problem, there are some local farmers who seem to have found a way to earn some extra cash beside their potatoes and dairy products. You can rent a boogie board for 10 NZD on your way to the sand dunes and return them at the end of the day. Keep an eye open for the signs and if you’ve missed those signs, you most likely can still get one from a pop up boogie board rental place at the sand dunes as well.

The climb to the top of the sand dune is a bit of a struggle when you take two steps uphill and slide one back down. But trust me, the dive down is worth the effort.

My friend Julia took it one step further by (accidentally) sliding sideways and making an impressive roll down the sand. It was definitely not her day but she took the fall like a trooper. Just make sure you lay down on the boogie board with your head first.

CHEAP BASTARD TIP : If you want to make this trip in combination with Cape Reinga and you don’t have your own car you can always look into renting a car for the day and fill the seats with travel friends and make your own trip.

We rented a car from Paihia for 24 hours and did the whole trip at our own pace. With a group of five we paid 36 NZD each for the car rental and gas.

South Western Australia : From Albany to Perth

A lot of travelers make this typical trip along the coast and I can’t blame them. Leaving Albany this road is one stretch of nice beaches, winding roads through lush forests and little cozy towns.

Denmark is one of those. Here you can discover the Greens Pool. A great spot for snorkelling and strolling along the beach. Don’t forget to bring a visit to the Elephant Rocks around the corner.

Walpole is your next stop along the way. Here you can visit the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk where you can see the typical gigantic tingle trees. If you want to skip the tourist spot and the fees, there is another giant tingle tree you can see for free a little further down the road along Hilltop Road. This is a one-way route that brings you to a trail where you can see the old lady in full flesh. Yes, I was talking about the tree.

Pemberton – Another great cool hangout spot where you find a lot of backpackers. Test your climbing skills over here and climb up the Gloucester Tree. This giant Karri tree used to be a fire lookout but is now a popular attraction. Car parking costs you 12 AUD.

Busselton is a great place to hang around. You can go for a drink in the downtown area or stroll along the boardwalk. Walking down the 2 kilometer long Busselton Jetty is the main thing to do and is free in the morning and evening (costs 3 AUD between 9 AM and 6 PM).

Refreshments Down South : Albany

The last two weeks of my stay here in Western Australia I was able to explore a bit more of what the south west of Australia has to offer. And my holy didgeridoo, I wasn’t disappointed !

Albany most likely has cooler temperatures than Perth and with another week of 30 + temperatures I was ready to cool off for a bit.

Albany was my first place to go to. I ended up in a very relaxed hostel called ‘Hostel 1849 Backpackers‘ with an excellent service and free pancakes every morning.

Albany has amazing places to see but without a car you are very limited to what you can see. The first time I was only dependent on my own two feet. I walked from downtown Albany along the Princess Royal Drive through the Port (this way by far the least impressive part of the trail) to get to the start of the Ellen Cove Boardwalk. This is a nice walk with some stops along the way. Make a stop at Kings Point for a lunch. At the end of the Ellen Cove Boardwalk you will arrive at Middleton Beach, a gorgeous stretch of beaches and the typical jetty and pontoon. This magnificent beach goes all the way until Emu Point, another popular place you can visit. I turned around at Emu Point since I still had to walk all the way back. I decided to take a shortcut that ended up being a giant detour. Lesson learned.

The most amazing place I have seen so far in Western Australia would be the Albany Wind Farm. This piece of land with its 18 wind turbines offers great places to hike. One of these trails goes all the way down a couple hundred stairs to the beach. Good workout and totally worth the effort, especially on calmer days when you practically have the whole beach to yourself.

You do need a car (or bike) to reach this and the following places.

Most people recommend the Natural Bridge and The Gap but these places are currently still under renovation so I wasn’t able to check that out. So make sure you inform yourself before you make it all the way out there.

Albany is famous for its two big hills. Mount Clarence and Mount Melville. Mount Clarence has the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial and splendid views over the city.

Mount Melville has some great views to offer as well. Don’t forget to go up to the observation tower for great views.

Another little hidden gem is Little Beach, definitely check it out if you got the time.

Rottnest Island Adventures

Last weekend I was invited to join some friends on a Rottnest Island Adventure.

Rottnest Island is a little island before the coast of Perth and a popular tourist destination, especially for day tourists. A ferry goes daily from Perth to the island. On the island there are no cars allowed except for the bay seeker bus that runs around the island to drop off or pick up passengers at the designated stops.

The island got its name because of the quokkas. They look like little happy kangaroos and are scattered over the island. But when the Dutch explorers discovered this island in the 17th century they mistook them for big rats and called the island a true rat nest. The quokkas  can only be found on the island and managed to survive all this time because they don’t have any predators lingering around.

An other animal I encountered was a dugite. This pretty venomous snake was just chilling along the beach when I passed it. It was my first snake encounter since I got here in Australia.

A popular thing to do in Rottnest Island is doing a bike tour around the island. It offers a handful of great stops along the way. Since I visited the island on a weekday and it wasn’t high season yet I sometimes was riding my bike with not a single soul in sight. It felt like I was the last man on earth especially after 3.30 PM when all the day tourists were on their way back to Perth on the last ferry. Please also note that most of the tours that are offered on the island along the trail will end around 2.30 – 3 PM (like the lighthouse tour) in case you stay the night on the island.

Cape Vlamingh is the furthest point you can go on the island and the views won’t disappoint you.

Rotto (how the Aussies call Rottnest Island) is surrounded with heaps of white sandy beaches and coral blue water, a true paradise for snorkelers and a perfect romantic getaway.

 

 

Fifty Days of Summer Part 2: Garibaldi Lake / Black Tusk

Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.

After the wedding bells stopped chiming and my stomach was filled with delicious food over several cozy dinners it was time to leave the city and explore the beautiful lands of Mother Nature.

A good buddy of mine asked me if I was interested in hiking the Black Tusk, a trail that starts little bit south of Whistler and leads to a fantastic view over the area (if the weather permits it).

We drove along the scenic Highway 99 from North Vancouver through Squamish and a good hour later we arrived at the parking lot where our hike could start. We arrived around noon and the parking lot was quite full already.

We started our hike with our camping gear. We planned to stay overnight at the campground at Garibaldi Lake. The first two hours of the hike is pretty much a bunch of switchbacks in the woods. Once we got to the fork in the road we decided to set up our tent at Garibaldi Lake first and followed the signs for the Garibaldi Campground. We passed two more lakes on our right side before arriving at the gorgeous Garibaldi Lake. We installed our tent and had a late lunch.

We left our big bags behind and took a smaller backpack with us to start our climb to the Black Tusk. This trail leads you through the beautiful Taylor Meadows before you start ascending to the intimidating Black Tusk. During this climb you are treated with fantastic views over Garibaldi Lake. Once you face the “end of the trail’ sign you can still continue your hike up to the Black Tusk itself. From here on the climb is even a little steeper and it takes you some time to get to the chute of the Black Tusk but the view from up there is phenomenal. If you are a real daredevil you can consider to climb all the way to the top but I would not recommend it. Other hikers who did risk the climb up to the top told us it was pretty frightening.

We started our descend to Garibaldi Lake. Once we reached our tents we were treated with a smashing sunset that made the lake look like a magical wonderland. After that the temperature started dropping fast and the tiredness kicked in. We decided to call it an early night.

The next day we packed up our tents and explored a little more around Garibaldi Lake before starting our descend to the parking lot.

On our way home we made a stopped at the Sea to Sky Gondola and had a great lunch in Squamish to fill our empty stomachs and celebrate the beauty of British Columbia !

The Gems of Grand Teton National Park

It is not the position you stand but the direction in which you look that counts

One of the parks I’ve visited in the United States is Grand Teton National Park.

It left a big impression on me.

Sometimes this park gets less attention because of its famous neighbour, Yellowstone but it definitely deserves a couple days from your precious time.

Here are my (current) top 5 highlights of this park.

5. Jenny Lake Scenic Drive

This one way drive gives you a great view over Jenny Lake on your right. Put on a good tune and let your eyes take it all in. Not you, driver, you keep your eyes on the road and you can enjoy the music and the road ahead.

4. Blacktail Pond Overlook 

Visit this place at the end of the day to get more chances to see the beavers. You can also bring a visit to this place to make some stunning reflection pictures of the Teton mountains during the day.

3. Snake River Overlook 

Another overlook, another great view of the mountains and the snake river. My friend once gave me a motivational poster of this shot. That poster hanged up in my room for years so I HAD to make a stop at this beautiful place.

So worth it.

2. Phelps Lake 

Not the most famous lake of all but it’s a great spot where you can jump of a huge rock. Just make sure you push yourself off the rock when you jump off. As my friend already jumped threes times I felt the pressure rising. My heart was starting to beat even faster when a joyful family joined us to have a picnic on the rock and started cheering for me.

I felt like there wasn’t a way back.

I had to jump off or I would regret this all my life. So I went a couple steps back, breathed in and out a couple times and started running. Instead of pushing myself of the rock I stepped off the rock and made my descent and finished gracefully with a nasty face plant in the incredibly refreshing water.

Classic.

Still glad I did it.

1. Surprise Lake and Amphitheatre Lake

Two lakes fairly close to each other high up in the mountains. This is a day trip hike that starts off with a bunch of switchbacks but once you conquered those you will soon be rewarded with great views over the park and Jackson Hole.

We did this hike begin of October and lucked out with the weather because we traveled during the few last warm and sunny days of the season.

During the hike you will be stunned with great views over the park and beautiful lakes.

Make sure you bring enough water on this hike as it took us nearly 7 hours to complete the hike from beginning to end.