Hidden Gems 2 – The Wholemeal Café in Takaka, NZ

If you are unfamiliar with the “Hidden Gems”, here is a little introduction.
But basically I share places I discovered while traveling that aren’t easily discovered, but worth looking out for.

The Wholemeal Café in Takaka (Picture Source)

When we were traveling New Zealands South earlier this year (already feels like a lifetime ago…), we usually went for a mid-day break from driving to explore and give Little Bean some distraction.
More often than not we paired it with a bite to eat in one of the many cafés out there. Read more


Mountains and sheep – New Zealands North

Following along with the route we took, it is time to cross the ocean and start exploring New Zealands Northern Island.
Just in case you missed them, I did two posts on the Southern Island before (Part 1 here, Part 2 here).

The white tree in Russell. Do you too see people in there?

But before we start, let me tell you in advance: We were doing it all wrong.
When visiting New Zealand, start up north and slowly travel south.

Because even though both parts are beautiful, the southern landscape is just a touch more. More breathtaking, more unique, more awe-inspiring.
Don’t get me wrong, the Northern Island was incredible to see, but I was so spoilt by the things I had seen that I don’t think I appreciated it as I would have before.

1. Wellington
We arrived in Wellington early and spend the whole day exploring this beautiful city. Despite being the capital city of New Zealand it is actually smaller than Auckland or Christchurch, but offers a variety of things to do. Food, shopping and Te Papa (the national museum) will keep you entertained.
For all my fellow LOTR-lovers: If you visit Te Papa, not only will you be able to learn a lot about Maori culture, but you will be able to take a selfie with Azog. Which I obviously did (see here).

Lots of pretty places to see.

2. Patea
After enjoying a little city break we drove up the Westcoast to Patea, famous for it´s black beaches and marvelous coast line.

Black Beach at Patea


Macro of the beach. Isn’t it pretty?

3. Forgotten World Highway
In order to cross from the Westcoat and it´s pretty beaches and surf spots to the East, we took the “Forgotten World Highway”. Such an aptly named route! I expected dinosaurs to step out on the road any minute while we were slowly making our way through a forest of fern.

Forgotten World Highway

We really drove for hours without meeting anyone else.
And of course, somewhere along our journey through the center to the east coast, we encountered Mount Doom aka Mt Ngaurohoe, looking a lot less intimidating in the bright sunshine as it had in the movies.

Much more pleasant in the sunshine, don’t you think?

4. Tongariro National Park and Taupo
If you are into hiking, Tongariro National Park will make your heart sing. Lots of short or longer walks through the forests on the slope of volcanic mountains and with the “Tongariro Alpine Crossing” the self-proclaimed “Most beautiful day hike of the whole country” will give you lot of options and you can easily spend days just roaming around and exploring.

Tongariro National Park

5. Rotorua
Leaving the mountains and forests and heading further up north, you will make sure to stop and experience another (literally) breathtaking adventure.
Along with volcanic activity come hot springs, geyser and lots of sulphuric gas. And while relaxing in a natural jacuzzi while admiring the colors around you certainly is great experience, I do not recommend staying to long if you are overly sensitive to smell!
Of course the mud and the waters are said to have several health benefits and be a great skin treatment, so I held my breath (not literally) and relaxed in a hot tub.

Rotorua Hot Spring. Look at these colors!

6. Bay of Plenty
To get some fresh air, it was the coast for our next stop. The Bay of Plenty has plenty of everything to be sure: Sun, Sea and lots of Maori Culture and Settlements, so we made sure to stay a little and learn about the Maori ways.

Bay of Plenty

7. Bay of Islands and Northland
Further up north we went, driving past Auckland and heading towards the Bay of Islands and Russell. While the Northern Island is much higher in population than the Southern, Northland is a little less crowded. Not that any part of New Zealand really is crowded, but you get what I am saying.
Many people living in Auckland spend their vacation there, so a relaxed spirit and beautiful beaches along with glorious food is what you can expect.

Hands down the best seafood chowder I have ever eaten

But there is something else up there that makes Northland a place you have to visit: The Kauri Forest. Kauri trees are a species unique to New Zealand, and they really are giants of the forest. Sadly, there are only a few places where many of them grow as they have been cut down quite a lot during the settlement.
Tane Mahuta, the biggest and oldest up there, is said to be more than 1500 years and reaches up for 51,1 m. Let me tell you, you feel very young and very small when standing in his shade.

Trees up on trees. Take Mahuta.


Macro of the moss growing on the Kauri Trees.

8. Auckland
Auckland was our last stop, so I have bitter sweet memories. I really didn’t want this trip to end. But this is not the city´s fault and we had a lovely time there.
Auckland is a big and busy city, but I felt safe there anytime and enjoyed the variety of culture and nature. Wherever you are, the sea is never far away, and just by taking a ferry you can leave the busy city centre behind and enjoy a mini.holiday on one if the surrounding islands, the best view on Auckland included.

Auckland, as seen from one of the surrounding islands

This marks the end of my New Zealand adventures.
And as I am sitting here all teary eyed and full of longing, I will let Chay Blyth have the final words:





Mountains and sheep part 2 – Exploring New Zealands South

I case you missed Part 1 of my travel diary, click here to indulge in pictures of breathtaking landscape and to mentally prepare for more to come.

Mt Cook

Last time I left you at Milford Sound, the place where the sea meets the mountains and tourists take the bus by the dozen to go for a quick boat ride among the sight of waterfalls gushing into the ocean.

To stay with the touristic theme, our journey took us further up north to…

HydroShark Queenstown (Photo Credit)

1. Queenstown
This city is called “The Adventure Hotspot” and this is no exaggeration.
Want to go skydiving, Bungee jumping or rafting? Queenstown has everything you need.
Fancy a tattoo? There are tattoo studios by the dozen.
Looking for company? Bars and cafés for every budget line the streets and they are crowded by the party people pretty much 24/7.
Too wasted from last night but still in for some adrenalin? Go jet boat driving or ride the “Shark” conveniently from the city harbor.
But if you are traveling with a baby? Don’t spend too much time in the city. You can do a lot of things when traveling with children, but staying out late and getting wasted isn’t one of them.

If you leave the city and drive to Glenorchy though, you are in for a treat. Set picturesquely at Lake Wakatipu it is a great way to start day trips exploring the mountains and even visiting “Paradise”, an aptly named piece of land which made an appearance in “The Lord of the Rings” and thus was a must-visit for me.

Driving up to Mt. Cook

2. Mount Cook
Leaving the party crowd behind, we made our way to visit the “Sir Edmund Hillier – Center” at Mount Cook, providing information about New Zealands most famous mountaineer and the Southern Alpes.
Only driving there is quite an experience: You drive alongside the most turquoise looking waters I have ever seen in my whole life with the snow covered mountains on the horizon, slowly drawing nearer. Make sure to stop and take pictures!

Hiking at Mt. Cook

Once you have arrived at your destination, there are several hikes waiting for you, suited for different fitness levels. We took a medium one, as we had limited time, and walked up to lakes with ice bergs floating and a great view of the Mount Cook glacier.
Is there anything more pretty than sunlight reflecting on a wall of ice?

Hiking at Mt. Cook

Crossing the mountains we headed for the West Coast, experiencing three different types of vegetation within four hours.
The alpine landscape gave way to dry and rugged steppe, wind-blown and wild, which turned into thick and green forest once again when you reached the coast line.
The further up north you drive from here, the more the forest gives way to stony shore.

Impressions of the shore I


Impressions of the shore II

3. Pancake Rocks and the seals
It is no secret that I have a big sweet tooth, so as soon as I heard of a place called Pancake Rocks I knew I had to go there.

Water gushing through the holes

Of course, the name refers to the shape of the rocks rather than the taste, but it still is an incredible place to visit. The ocean pushes in with all its might, gushing through holes formed throughout the years, and erupts in sky-high spouts, glistening in the sun light and covering you in sea spray. It is one of the places that shows you the force of nature spectacularly.

Wild and beautiful

A little further up north is the largest colony of seals on the West Coast, easily accessible by a coastal trail. The trail itself is a shorter trip (around three hours return) suited to people without much hiking experience, but offers a great view and isn’t too crowded, as most people just do the first 15 minutes to get a glimpse at the seals.

4. Nelson
After crossing the Souther Alpes once again, it was time to start exploring the northern part of the Southern Island.
Nelson, called the “Gate to the Food Trek”, is where we spend my 36th birthday indulging in a variety of excellent food before we drove up to the beach to settle for a camp ground directly at the water front.
Being born in February I rarely spend my birthdays sitting outside watching the ocean, so this was a treat for sure.

Crystal clear waters

If you don’t mind braving serpentine gravel roads, there are plenty of hikes waiting for you over there, and if you are in for some beach time, this is the place to be as well.
We went for the hikes most of the time, but happened to stumble upon out own secluded beach once and spend the afternoon there. There was literally no one around, so it didn’t matter that I hadn’t packed my bikini for the hike.
Another day, while crossing a beach to get back to our trail, we met a family with three kids that had set up their tent just at the beach side and were spending a week there. With the parents chilling with a book and the kids roaming the beach, chasing each other and splashing water it looked like the perfect family getaway to me.

The Marlborough Sounds

5. Marlborough Sounds
Time came to leave the beautiful and wild Southern Island and board the Interislander, but we decided to stay one more night at the Marlborough Sounds. Hidden among the trees, there are some pretty weekend getaways and very low-key campgrounds, which was exactly what we wanted.
Spending the night beneath the stars, no lights distracting from their beauty and no sounds except the waves and the wind was the perfect way to say Goodbye to New Zealands South.

Watching the sun rise over the Sounds
Sunrise over the Sounds again

We will be back!



Mountains and sheep – Exploring New Zealands South Part I

It was about time that I tackled the “Backpacking” part of my blogs header, don’t you think?
And what better way to do that than to share with you this years biggest adventure:
Our trip to New Zealand!

Our first sheep, met in Christchurch.

Expect lots of pictures and a sudden urge of Wanderlust!

Beautiful landscapes wherever you look

1. Christchurch
Before the big earthquakes in 2010/2011, Christchurch was known as the “most British town of New Zealand”. After the destruction of the historical city centre, it now is a city under construction.
Bars and Cafés change places, moving out of buildings liable of collapsing, making it impossible to rely on your trusted “Lonely Planet” and thus adding a very welcome sense of exploring to your stay.
The spirit you experience there reminds me a lot of the feeling I had when visiting Berlin shortly after it became capitol of the reunited Germany: A spirit of make-do, of improvising and excitement for the future, as well as the refusal to give up and just move away.

Construction going on everywhere

My favorite place had to be the Re:Start Mall. All the shops and cafés are housed in big containers, adding to the spirit of optimism.

Re:Start Mall

And while activities like pole boat trips on the Avon or relaxing in the beautiful Botanic gardens still are must-dos, make sure to check out www.gapfiller.org.nz to keep up with the ever changing art projects housed at demolition sites.

Hydrangeas in the Botanical Garden

2. Banks Peninsula
We left Christchurch going Northwest for some beach time. Akaroa, one of many small villages located at the beautiful Banks Peninsula, is home to the French community. It was there where the first French Settlers landed, mere weeks after New Zealand had been claimed by the British.
What a difference a day makes…
Apart from delicious, french inspired food and beautiful beaches The Peninsula is great spot to watch marine wildlife. Hector dolphins, a small and rare species, are living here exclusively.

Pretty beaches

Breakfast view from our campground close to Akaroa

3. Oamaru
Driving south, we headed straight for Oamaru to check out the Steampunk Headquarters located there.

Steampunk Headquarters

You may or may not know by now, but I am a big nerd and gaming girl, so skipping that wasn’t an option.

Throughout the whole victorian city centre you can find different installments, themed cafés and shops inviting you to dive in to this slightly dystopian version of our history. Or future?

Steampunk train


And even if you aren’t as into these things as I am, a visit to the Headquarters is highly recommended. You won’t find many of these places around the world.

Everything is “On Steam”

The Infinity Chamber, a mind-blowing experience

4. The Caitlins/Southern Fjordlands
Landscape took over as we drove further south. We skipped Dunedin, compared to Edinburgh by many, and headed into the wilderness via Invercargill.
If you are into hiking, this is the place to be.

Jagged coastline, an abundance of wildlife and primeval forest at its finest, all served with the view of the Southern Alpes rising at the horizon… What more could you ask for?
Of course, nature being nature, it rained seven days straight, but that didn’t keep us from exploring. There are many day-trip appropriate hikes that are easily done with a child, but honestly I can’t wait to go back there once Little Bean is old enough and go for the long hikes!

Fungus and moss on a tree
Day hike
Day hike
Lots of ferns
Mountains everywhere

5. Milford/Doubtful Sounds
When in the Southern Fjordlands, visiting one of the Sounds is a must-do. The Sounds are big fjords, offering overwhelming views, but they are also really touristy.
We visited Milford Sound, which is accessible by car (To visit Doubtful Sound you have to either book an overnight boat trip, highly recommended and very romantic, or go by helicopter).
If you go there, make sure you leave early to avoid the heaps of (other) tourists going there by bus, crowding the place between 11 am to 1 pm. That gives you plenty of time to go on short walks when returning, exploring a forest looking like the Fangorn from Lord of the Rings.

The drive up there has some breathtaking views

Sadly, there were no Ents to be seen during our stay there.

Looking out into the sound

Reminds me a lot of Norway

To make sure this post isn’t getting too long and boring, I´ll leave it here and will bring you part II in May, so stay tuned!

Have you ever visited New Zealand?
What was your last big adventure?