11 Jul

0 degrees in hot summer

Who’d have thought you can find a 0 degrees Celcius spot in the heat of summer in Austria? Well actually, we didn’t have to look too far from Salzburg and found it in the Eisriesenwelt (ice giants world) in Werfen. We were looking for something to do with two children (aged 10 and 13) on Sunday, and a day in a hot city did not sound promising. Instead, we drove the 35 minutes to Werfen, up the mountains for 5 km and stood at the entrance to the Eisriesenwelt.

A short walk uphill, a 3-minute cable car ride and another short stroll uphill, and we were at the entrance of the cave, which is the biggest ice cave in the world. By that time alone we had climbed about 640 m. Most of that was via the extremely fast cable car though.

View from the entrance of the Eisriesenwelt

View from the entrance of the Eisriesenwelt

We put on jackets (and sturdy boots for everybody but me as I had left my hiking boots in New Zealand since I wasn’t expecting an excursion to the mountains) and were ready to go underground. Once it was our turn for the tour, every 4th or 5th person received an old-fashioned carbide lamp to light the way. Since we are in Europe, nobody worried about people mishandling them. There were no accidents and nobody burned off the pants of another person.

Entering the cave was a mission on its own as there was a wind blowing of at least 50 km/h once our tour guide opened the door. You really had to step through the door quickly and carefully, but as soon as you were inside, the wind was gone.

The cave itself is about 42 km long, but only the first kilometer is the actual ice cave. After that it is too warm for ice to stay. In winter, the door to the cave is left open so that icy wind can enter, and in the spring the snow melt trickles water through cracks forming the ice sculptures little by little in the way that stalacmites and stalactites are formed.

We went up 700 steps to reach the highest point in the cave (a walk of about 40 stories) that we could visit and down again 700 steps to return to our starting point. The biggest “piece” of ice in the cave is the ice wall and it’s about 25 m thick.

The ice inside the cave has a commanding presence, and it is fascinating to see that much ice inside the mountain and also wander through a huge cave like that. Since we only had the carbide lamps, the lighting was sparse but still plenty and added to the atmosphere. It was amazing to see the effort that had gone into exploring this cave and also creating the walkways and stairs (there was generally one for ascending and one for descending). Everyone was pretty quiet in the cave taking the surroundings in and being in awe of what we saw there.

The ice in the cave is mostly growing each year and the natural sculptures within it change all the time. What had been an elephant for the last many years is now slowly transforming into a dromedary. We could also see the growth of the ice over time clearly by looking at the layers in the ice. Our guide said though that in contrast to the rings in a tree, the layers in the ice can be added to or receed depending on the weather.

Since you can’t take photos inside the cave, you’ll have to go there for yourself to check it out.

10 Jan

Goodbye 2015 and hello 2016

The new year is now already over a week old, but I think it’s still OK to post a review of last year. This is a short one in pictures highlighting some of the places I was fortunate to visit in 2015.

It was an exciting, joyous, adventurous but also sad year (I’m not going to talk about the latter though publicly online [yet]), and I was ready to start 2016. Let’s see what it has in stock.

28 Dec

Stewart Island / Rakiura in photos and videos

During my vacation on Stewart Island / Rakiura from 20 to 27 December 2014, I took over 1,200 photos of which I kept roughly 50% and then uploaded about 370 to flickr. You can view them directly there or below in the slideshow.

I also took a few videos of weka searching for food (1, 2 and 3) and albatrosses in a food fight.

It was a great vacation to end 2014. Bring on 2015.

If you want to read more about my vacation on Stewart Island, check out the following posts:

28 Dec

A Local’s Tail and take-off

The last thing to do on Stewart Island on 27 December 2014 before heading back to Wellington was to watch “A Local’s Tail”, the “quirky 40-minute film about Stewart Island”. It was well worth it, and is the local attraction on the weekly community calendar.

The Bunkhouse Theatre, the home of the movie, is a well-kept, nice theater with comfy seats that is next to a Wine Bar which is strangely closed during summer.

The movie tells the history of Stewart Island – from the perspective of dog Lola – showing original film footage and historic photographs. It’s a great way to finish off my trip as I recognized a number of the places that I had seen while walking around parts of the group of islands.

Although it rained on Stewart Island when taking off by plane, it stopped while we were in the air and thus I could take some aerial pictures to have a different perspective. Stewart Island Flights take you to the airstrip by van and then wait until the tiny plane has landed. The plane was actually coming in right above us, and then it only took a few minutes to unload passengers and luggage from Invercargill and get us sorted to take off. Seeing a rather big town from the air is strange after a week of wilderness and only a small town. The trip down south was well worth it, and there are still a number of places to see to make it worthwhile to come back.

Lee Bay to Māori Beach from the air

Lee Bay to Māori Beach from the air

If you want to read more about my vacation on Stewart Island, check out the following posts:

28 Dec

A word on sandflies

Ok, so I should have done this research before I went on my trip, but I hadn’t realized that Stewart Island was prime sandfly territory, and only remembered that they were a complete nuisance in the Abel Tasman. Live and learn. There are a number of great sandfly resources online which is mind-boggling. To name just a couple: Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has a great article on sandflies including historical accounts of them.

If you don’t think that some little fly can cause havoc, consider the following:

While surveying Doubtful Sound in the summer of 1851, Captain John Lort Stokes of the Acheron was tempted but resisted putting the names Venom Point, Sandfly Bay and Bloodsuckers Sound on the map, after encounters with the biting insects. (Source)

There is also a Sandfly Nuissance Map, and Goodbye Sandfly, a company that specializes in offering non-toxic sandfly repellent, offers an interactive sandfly map of New Zealand where people can create sandfly reports.

Māori legend has it that sandflies were created to stop people admiring the stunning landscape of the Fjordland and keep moving (Source).

Things I already knew

  • Keep moving.
  • Apply sandfly repellent regularly (though I am happy that rancid bacon and camphorated lard from the 19th century did not become the remedies of choice).
  • Do not scratch (very hard!).
  • Cover up.

Things I learned

There are a few things I can keep in mind for next time when I’m in sandfly territory:

  • Wear light-colored clothing instead of dark clothes as sandflies are more attracted to dark / warm colors.
  • Sandflies are found closer to the ground. Thus, worry about feet and legs first and stand up.
  • Certain repellent may have to be applied every hour to be effective.
  • Check a sandfly map to determine the severity.
  • There are 13 species of sandflies and of those only two bite.
  • Only female sandflies bite (but how would you know when you see them?).

Product idea

Since it will not be possible to eradicate sandflies in some of the most scenic areas of New Zealand (just look at the map!), I think it would be great if manufacturers looked into producing sunscreen that is also an effective sandfly repellent (and to market internationally, has sister products for mosquitoes etc.). That way, you solve two problems at once and the luggage of the poor tramper is lightened as well. If that combination were non-sticky so you don’t end up with a heavy coat of cream / oil everywhere and can’t touch a camera anymore, I’d be in heaven.

If you want to read more about my vacation on Stewart Island, check out the following posts: