Photo Essay: Queensland, Australia

As we travelled from Cairns to Brisbane (North to South) we discovered that Queensland is much more than sunny beaches, surfers and adventure parks. There are also endless stretches of straight boring roads, millions of acres of sugar cane and in between — these treasures…

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Witnessing Australian Bushfires

bushfires in kakadu, australia

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.

bushfire australia northern territory

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.

bushfire australia northern territory

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.

northern territory bushfire

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.

bushfire australia northern territory

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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Photo Essay: Northern Territory, Australia

How could I ever squeeze the words “freezing”, “dry”, “red”, “traditional”, “heat”, “crocodile”, “billabong”, “blue” and “bushfire” into one photo essay description without writing a novel? You’re right, I can’t. So let me just briefly discuss some weather phenomenons of the Northern Territory, which create a huge natural variety and diversity on the 1,800 kilometres between Australia’s tropical North and the continent’s arid centre.

During our first week in the Red Centre — around Alice Springs — we didn’t see a single cloud. Unfortunately, that clear blue sky over the desert didn’t offer much protection when temperatures dropped from comfortable 20°C over the day to uncomfortable 0°C at night. Camping fun!

That said, taking the plane to Darwin to spend our second week in the Northern Territory’s tropical North sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Due to the wet season, when tropical cyclones and monsoons reign the northern top end, the Darwin region gets 9 times more rain each year than the central desert. While it didn’t rain during our stay (July = dry season), we got to see some clouds up north; and we were finally back to comfortable camping temperatures at night.

Let’s have a look at how these weather differences influence(d) the land, nature and animals of the Northern Territory.

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Kiwi Curiosities

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

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

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

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

Finally clear view again!

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

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

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

Kiwis love their food (drinks?) deep fried!

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

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

Typical latte art: New Zealand fern!

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

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

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

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

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Photo Essay: Tongariro, Middle-earth

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

mt ngauruhoe new zealand tongariro mt. doom

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

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

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

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

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

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From One Extreme To Another: Four Ends Of New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

1. N/N: North Cape

2. N/S: Cape Palliser

3. S/N: Cape Farewell

 4. S/S: Slope Point

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

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

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

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Maori Values

Waitangi Treaty Grounds Marae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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