Still excited. The New Zealand trip begins

Just spent some time at one of the most beautiful locations in the World. It takes more than thirty hours to get there from Europe. I enjoyed New Zealand very much. But as a team of travellers’ we f….d it up. The post is on goods and bads of a New Zealand trip. A subjective one. But if you travel there, do not repeat mistakes we made. Part one.


New Zealand

Our travel schedule as we planned it. The itinerery was bound by the hotel locations that we already paid for.


The journey begins. In forty minutes its boarding time on a flight to Singapore and further to Auckland. More than twenty-five hours on a plane. In Singapore I will meet with my five fellows. The sixth will await us in Auckland, New Zealand. Greetings from the Munich Airport. It is 11 am on January 26th, Friday. On our way we will lose a half day.


As we land it is short before midnight in New Zealand on Saturday 27th of January. The border control is a bit different from that in other countries. New Zealand authorities pay much attention to that people do not bring any foreign organic stuff into the country. It is not about customs duties. It is about protection of the local environment. If you have trekking shoes, you must not bring it with any foreign soil. No foreign seeds should be brought into the country. The border official tells me bluntly: ‘Lady, I am not interested in your passport. I am interested in that what you have in your luggage.‘ In the entry document I had to list the countries where I was in the past month. So, I listed Poland and Norway. ‘Do you have any outdoor equipment and shoes that you used there?’ ‘No, I do not. It is winter in Europe. I took only sport shoes that I use in the gym’. ‘You may go’ I hear. As the next step my whole luggage is x-rayed.


As usually short of time. Our time perception is confused. In Europe it is Saturday evening. Here, at the end of the world or better to say the beginning of the world, it is already Sunday morning on January the 28ht. The time difference is exactly twelve hours.

Just the morning view on Auckland. To get the view we woke up before six. For most of us it was only four hours of sleep. But it was worth it. We were excited as to what was to come next.


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Auckland at the sunrise


Our first breakfast in New Zealand. A bit longer than we actually planned. One of our fellows is sick. We need to find a doctor. At that day we do not put quite much attention to this fact. Our fellow was given medicine. She will be all right…

As we wait for her, we try one of the numerous restaurants that serve breakfast menu. A kind of coffee shop. A couple of days before we departed we were sent a message by an acquaintance that departed a week before. ‘Those local restaurants it is something we should try and rely on.’ As we realised on that day and later on, good coffee is something you can count on in New Zealand. The breakfast menu is wide. At the counter I see things I am not accustomed to. Just the other way of prepping breakfast. The New Zealand way. In the restaurant we observe a couple of elderly ladies enjoying their Sunday morning. A leisurely and long Sunday morning …


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My first breakfast in New Zealand. The filling was of salomon and spinach, a combination we are well accustomed to in Europe. But the wrapping was different to that I am accustomed to.


On a twelve people van we hired for our journey we hit the road. Finally we arrive at Matamata, heading to Hobbiton aka Shire (of the ‘Lord of Rings’ and the ‘Hobbit’). We are a bit jet lagged. We need to buy some food. We talk making us a barbecue night this evening. In aftermath an error, I think. But nevertheless. We enter yet another hypermarket. The first one was in Auckland where we bought us water and some snacks. But then we were a bit in a hurry. The hypermarket is very well supplied. Much of the stuff is well-known to us. It is of European and American manufactures, some of it however tailored for a New Zealand customer. We are at the end of the world, but may truly understand how globalisation works. The choice is exquisite.


Our hotel is not far away. It is the so-called lodge hotel. The apartments are like small homes: a living room with a kitchen, bathroom and  bedrooms. It is a standard we will be seeing through most of our journey. In the backyard there is a small jacuzzi. Quite comfortable conditions. The hotel is one of the kind. A historic place. We were surrounded by New Zealanders on vacation. The air was a leisurely one. The New Zealand art of living. Only couple of meters away there were hot springs. I was excited about the evening. It  might have been fun. It might have. But we had to hit the road. Hobbiton awaited us.


Hobbiton is located on a private property, which can be achieved only by coaches operated by the owners. The place is very picturesque and worthwhile. The whole village is maintained like it looked like on the Hobbit movie set. We are assigned a guide, who talks particulars and curiosities. Like the one, that Sean Austin aka Samwise Gamgee in one of the last scenes of the ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy was surprised by the director, who not having told him appointed his little daughter to play the Samwise’s daughter. Yes I can recall the scene. His face looked like truly surprised.

The walk through the Hobbiton takes us around two hours that end in the Hobbiton local pub (a restaurant). Designed for a ‘bit larger’ Hobbits. All Hobbits’ houses in the village are only exteriors. But in that restaurant you feel like being inside, even in the rest room. We were served ginger beer. But, we have to leave shortly. The next group that entered Hobbiton was the one that stayed longer there to enjoy a long evening in the Hobbits’ restaurant. To be frank, I was a bit envious of them. It sounded like fun.


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The exterior of one of the many Hobbits’ houses in the Hobbiton village.

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The Hobbiton restaurant, made to suit the men. I would have stayed there longer if I could.


In the evening it was barbecue time. Our schedule involved one night of camping in Milford Sound on the Southern Island. Therefore we were fully equipped in camping stuff. Barbecue was forbidden at our lodge hotel and it was too late to get a slot at one of the public gas grills available at our hotel. So we simply stopped at one of numerous rest places at a road side and made us party time. It was our first full day in New Zealand. Excited about our trip, we simply neglected to have a decent meal in the middle of the day. We all were hungry like wolves. We stopped at the first place suitable. Not a very good choice at all. Just between a road and a bit stinky cow field. No matter. With a sip of wine it was fun. Most of our time we spent however in the darkness after sun went down.


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Our first barbecue night in New Zealand. It was fun, but with the alternative we had of spending the evening among New Zealanders a misconception. As it turned out, on our whole trip it was the only occasion


As we returned to our hotel, it was too late to enjoy the place. It turns out, unlike in most of the European locations, the social life ends early in New Zealand. A lesson for the next days. If you want to enjoy an evening in New Zealand being surrounded by locals in a local restaurant and enjoy the local cuisine, be aware that the kitchens close around eight or nine pm. If you do not switch over your thinking to the New Zealand way, you may end as we did in aftermath. Failing to truly taste, what the New Zealand cuisine has to offer.

If I had to choose once again, what to do on our first evening, after the Hobbiton visit I would come back to our hotel as quickly as possible, use the kitchen in our apartment to prepare supper and enjoy a New Zealand evening with locals lodging at our hotel. A beer in the hotel local pub would be a good idea, too. A relaxing bath in the jacuzzi in our back yard would do good, as well. We have been in New Zealand for less than twenty-four hours. Some relaxation after almost thirty hours spent altogether in the air in narrow seats would do good to all of us. Travelling long distances is a kind of discomfort that one just counts in. Counting in remedies as well would be wise. On that day I was however too tired to think of it.

To be continued …


A photo gallery and index of posts on New Zealand >>>

A short recuperation of events on the New Years Eve

Excited about Northern Norway and the Polar night I completely forgotten to make a note on the bit different New Years Eve that we spent there. And the night was quite a one!

Although theoretically I still enjoy my sabbatical from the regular work routine, from time to time I do some expert work. Sometimes under severe time constraint. On the day of my departure to Norway we finished (a team of people working in dfferent locations) about 4 am. Somehow I managed to pack my things in between. After around six hours of sleep, and pretty exhausted, I went to the airport at noon. Thankfully, on a day with no traffic jams, it is only ten minutes ride for me. All my companions however departed by cars earlier that morning.

We were all supposed to meet at the airport of Gdansk (Northern Poland) to take the evening flight to Tromso – the biggest city in Europe located beyond the Polar circle. After we met in Gdansk, we spent some two hours enjoying each other’s company and a very tasty supper in the vicinity of the airport. I was that tired that a glass of orange juice with a shot of vodka was sufficient to put me asleep in the aircraft. It was for good, for after we landed it took us around three hours and quite a ride to get to our final location. The New Years Eve just began.


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One of the first views we enjoyed after landing in Tromso. A bridge over fiord waters. City lights all around us. The New Year’s Eve just began


As we got to our rented cars at the airport we realised that we would not fit into them with our luggage. After some geometric work we managed to place our luggage in the trunk and on the sit neighbouring the driver with three of us crammed into the back sit (in both cars the same). All of these with eighty kilometers to drive in winter conditions at night. As we departed I had a weird feeling. But on that evening and the following days it turned out that the small, almost invisible spikes put on tires in Norway and reasonable speed limits make the road trip quite safe even if snow and ice are not removed by road services.


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Mountains, snow and ice over fiord waters under the almost full Moon. On our road to Nordkjosbotn. A photo taken two days later


On busy days things accumulate somehow. During our ride I got a message that a good friend of mine gave birth to a child. Although Norway is not a member of the EU, the EU roaming rules apply. So without hesitation I called the friend who passed the message to me to know more. Snow, quite much snow, was all around. The road was almost empty. And I was happy for my friend. 

The house we rented in Nordkjosbotn 80 km south of Tromso was very inviting, spacious and warm. There was a fireplace in the living room. Much firewood was left for us by our Landlord. We packed our things out. As Norway is a relatively expensive country we brought much food with us. So we were independent on the local supplies. We ended our long evening with a supper and a sip of wine. Although it was a couple of days after Christmas I had a true Christmas feeling. 


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Houses typical for Norway. We lived in one that looked like those on the photo.


On the New Years Eve we departed around eleven to look around in the vicinity of our house. As during the Polar night the sun never reaches this place, the daylight time is about five hours. With limited day-light time we just drove around twice stopping for a photo session. During our stay we saw many tremendous views. But the number of places one could stop the car safely was limited. Still, I think all of us were happy about photos we made on that afternoon.


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Just a few photos I made during our two day-light stops on the New Years Eve.


After three hours we drove back. Enjoyed common meal. As we were still tired and a long night was before us, most of us fell asleep. Around seven we grabbed a bite and went to see the fireworks in Tromso. Our plan was to find a good location for shots, make some trial photos, go to a restaurant and come back to shoot fireworks. The plan did not work out. The evening turned to be even better. The first location we selected was not that we wanted. It was cold. Two of our companions decided to look for a restaurant. The six others went uphill to find a higher perspective.

We found another location. Reaching it was a bit of a challenge, as we had to climb a steep heel in snow sometimes reaching beyond our knees. Later, it turned out that there was another path leading over there. At the moment as we placed our tripods and started to make first trial photos, a green belt appeared in the dark sky. After ten or fifteen minutes we saw dancing ribbons of polar lights. Although most of our team were very experienced photographers, and one of us made many time lapses, I think no photo or a film we did can truly reflect the ribbon dance we saw. I put my camera on long exposure, but watched the spectacle with a naked eye. It was close to eleven. Although we were chasing the polar lights in the next days, it was the only time we saw this kind of spectacle.


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The polar lights – the other kind of fireworks on the New Years Eve. You can only watch and wonder. The photo is a long exposure of 30 seconds


As it was over we joined our friends for a supper. And we found ourselves on the New Years Eve … in a Nigerian restaurant beyond the Polar Circle. The mood was happy all around us. A number of guests were dancing to some African rythms. As we had only a bit over half hour to get out to photograph the fireworks, we ordered meals we knew. Ultimately, I enjoyed spaghetti carbonara served by our Nigerian cook with … ham instead of bacon. Nevermind. It was delicious.

As it was already quite late we finished our New Years Eve supper putting on clothes on and packing the cameras in a hurry. We run to our car. It was ten to midnight. After a five minutes crazy drive with –  as you can imagine the car navigation that just failed – we managed to come back to the location we selected earlier. By accident we parked on the easier approach to the hill. I managed to install my tripod as the New Years counting started. For the next ten minutes we enojed fireworks unleashed at a top of a mountain that spreads over the city.


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The New Year fireworks in Tromso


Technically we had it all. The Polar lights and the fireworks. But the night was still young. We decided to chase further the Polar Lights and drove around forty minutes deeper North. We stopped at a small parking place at a fiord coastline. It was dark around us and the Moon was full putting its light onto dark waters and snowy mountains. The silence was overwhelming. This was the first time I realised the power of the natural environment around me. The views were frightening and breathtaking the same time.


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The full Moon we enjoyed around one am on the New Years Day


We put up our platic glasses filled with some cherry vodka and hugged each other somewhere in the North beyond the Polar Circle. The New Year just began. We drove further North for sometime. It was around five am as we came back home. The New Year’s champagne was for breakfast.

The very beautiful chapel of Bruges

Last year while on business in Brussels on a weekend I visited the historical city of Bruges. Bruges is probably the biggest quite well preserved and carefully revived medieval city in Europe. The local authorities put much attention so that new constructions or upgrades fit well into the historical city style (compare photo gallery >>>). I went there without any plan just to take a walk, sightsee and make photos. (A train from Brussels reaches Bruges within one hour.)

To understand the city heritage I took a one hour guided tour on a small touristic bus that starts and ends its tour at the main square. I was not planning to see any interiors. But one place drew my attention as I was listening to the audio. It was described as the most beautiful church in the city with relics of value inside. As it is located five minutes of walk from the main square I came back there after descending the bus. The church turned to be rather a big chapel with a status of minor basilica.

Yes indeed, as I entered my only reaction was ‘Wow!’ Of beautiful interiors I saw last year (including the most opulent rooms in the royal palace of Madrid) this one turned to be on a definite must-see list.


The Neo-Gothic interior of the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges


The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges (Belgium) is famous for the venerated relic of the Holy Blood. But from the sightseeing point of view it is a place of true architectural and artistic value. It was originally built in XII century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders. The status of a minor basilica was awarded 1923. The Basilica consists in fact of two chapels (the lower and the upper one) built within the residence of the Count of Flanders.

It is easy indeed not to see it from outside as the entrance facade does not look like it leads to a church. In fact it is a small building in the top right corner of the Burg square. The building has a very decorative facade but … many buildings in Bruges look like that.

The both chapels were originally built in Romanesque style. The upper chapel was however transformed into the Gothic style at the end of the 15th century and once again on the Gothic revival architectural wave in XIX together with other major revival works in the whole historical city of Bruges.


A close up onto the main entrance facade and the front view of the interior


Index of posts on Brussels and Bruges >>>