When people used to ask me what my favourite country was I always told them that I love different places for different reasons but that the most beautiful country is New Zealand. But as memories faded and new places (Himalaya, Patagonia, etc.) were visited, Kiwi land got some serious competition. But in just 3 weeks NZ managed to claim back its spot at the top hands down. The variety of different landscapes in this country is really incredible. From pristine beaches and bays, lush green hills, desert like plateaus to volcanoes, glaciers, fjords and other alpine scenery; NZ has it all on such a small surface. It seems like mother nature has combined all her forces on the land to make it look as beautiful as possible; volcanic activity on the North Island to create volcanoes and geysers; tectonics to push up mountain ranges on the South Island; the full forces of the ocean from all sides to form bays and beaches; and a couple of ice ages to build glaciers that would carve out the fjords. Continue reading
Nearly seven years ago I visited New Zealand for the first time. In a bit less than a month I travelled all around the country on both North and South Islands. A month may seem like a long time but it is not nearly long enough to see the whole of New Zealand (NZ). To everyone planning to go there, I would suggest to foresee at least 1,5 month: three weeks for the North and four weeks for the South Island. If not you will probably end up like me rushing through the country and constantly making mental notes “I have to come back here to do this and there to do that”. The reason why I chose to come back to NZ on this trip was precisely that: filling in the gaps, doing those things I didn’t get to do last time. With only 3 weeks and a pretty long list we would need to be quick and flexible.
“Jacques Brel s’en va aux Marquises” . It was one of the lines printed on a t shirt I received from my father for my 14th birthday. It was one of those shirts with a number of main events that happened in the year of one’s birth. Freely translated it means something like “Jacques Brel is leaving us for the Marquises”. In 1978 the famous Belgian singer died and was buried on the Marquesas islands. At the time I didn’t like that present at all mainly because it was in French and thanks to a not so great French teacher, I really hated that language. But a little older and a little wiser, a couple of years later I found back the shirt and got intrigued about this place where our national icon Brel spent his last years. I looked up what these Marquesas were like and it seemed like an interesting place. Something to visit some day…
As we arrived in Tahiti, I realized this the furthest I have ever been away from home. It is actually about as far away as one can get from Europe. If we fly any further westward we will be closing in on Belgium from the east. So why would anybody want to travel that far to visit some small islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? I suggest you google ‘Bora Bora’ and choose ‘images’. A number of gorgeous pictures of a lush green island surrounded by a lagoon in all diffent shades of blue; from turquoise, over indigo to navy blue. It does look like paradise doesn’t it? Most budget travellers that come here only spent a couple of days on the main Island of Tahiti and or the neighbouring Mo’orea, tick the box for ‘French Polynesia’ on their ‘travel CV’ and quickly hop back on a plane that will take them to either New Zealand, Australia or Chile/Easter Island. Why this rush? This has all to do with the reputation of French Polynesia of being a ‘high end’, ‘super expensive’ destination.
As a kid I once saw a picture of one of the huge Easter Island statues and I got really intrigued. The picture was part of a scientific article dealing with all the mysteries surrounding the island, its people and the statues. I remember my mom made a summary of the article but unfortunately, I had a lot more questions than there were answers in the article. When some time later I saw those intriguing statues appear again in my then favourite Belgian comic book (Suske & Wiske: De Windbrekers), I decided that someday I would travel to the island to find some answers. A look in my world atlas slightly tempered my enthusiasm as this little island seemed to be a bit further away than let’s say Switzerland where we spent our summer holidays and which already seemed to take ages to get to. But some day… Continue reading
Chile has been the biggest surprise of our travels in South America. Until about a month ago I would not have been able to name any highlights apart from Torres de Paine and the desert regions near the border with Bolivia and Peru. As our time in South America was limited, we had from the start decided that we would not explore Chile further north than the capital of Santiago. However during our stay in the Chilean Lake region aka el Chico Sur ( the small South) we became aware that there was way more to this part of the country than we had imagined; national park after national park, the island of Chiloe and great surfing at the pacific coast. Moreover due to our unexpected trip to Antarctica the time we could spent in Chile was reduced by almost 2 weeks. With only a couple of days left, some though choices had to be made and in the end we decided to make a beeline for Middle Chile; the region of its capital Santiago de Chile.
The region around Bariloche in Argentina and across the border in Chile is known as the ‘lake district’. But that only tells you a part of the story. There are indeed a lot of gorgeous lakes in all kind of shapes from small lagoons to huge ‘inland seas’ and in all kind of colours. But more interesting there are also the mountains and volcanoes. And who says mountains says hiking. And so we put on our hiking boots once more and got out there…and we soon found out that this region has way more to offer than we had time for. Continue reading
Patagonia had the very ungrateful task of welcoming us after we had been completely awe struck by Antarctica. But Patagonia is definitely up for such a challenge. This huge region with plains that stretch out far beyond the horizon, awesome mountain peaks and winds that can knock a grown man down is the stuff of legends. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Che Guevara on his motorcycle it has attracted adventurers, eccentrics and outcasts for centuries. These days it is tourist central during the summer months with crowds of tour groups that fly in and out to check out glaciers and mountains. But no worries the place is huge and even in the most visited regions one can still find some quite places to take it all in. Continue reading
Although I try not to overdo it, I know I have been throwing some superlatives at you in previous blog posts but I think this post might be the mother of all superlatives because our trip to Antarctica really was the best thing we have ever done. Looking back at it all, you really wonder if life will ever get better than those couple of days we spent cruising through the Antarctica. Ever since I read an article of a Belgian reporter visiting Antarctica on one of the first ‘tourist expeditions’ many years ago, it has always been my dream to one day be able to do the same. Unfortunately these expeditions are really, really expensive.
We are not ‘city people’, give us mountains, oceans, deserts, bush, savannah, etc. and we are happy. After a couple of days in most cities we get restless and start looking for the exit. There are only a very limited number of cities we really love but we just got to add one to the list. Even though we only spent 3 days there we really got charmed by Buenos Aires (BA). The big avenues and boulevards lined with trees and beautiful buildings , cafés everywhere, little markets, the covered shopping galleries…You would be forgiven if you thought you were in Paris. They even have their own version of the famous Paris cemeteries . But Buenos Aires is much more than just a copy of Paris. Actually due to the large immigration (especially Spanish and Italian) in the 19th century, it is a very nice cocktail of all kind of European influences spiced up with some truly local elements.