Category Archives: Adventures

Off to the Alps

Now that I’ve satisfactorily humiliated myself with a job advert that has probably left the entire academic community questioning my sanity and believing that, in fact, I smoke banana peels for entertainment, I’m heading off to the Swiss Alps to relax for three weeks. By relax I mean attempt to climb as many 4000m peaks as I conceivably can. No banana peels involved.

I’ll be back around the end of September. Sayonara.

Jesu von Schwarzenegger

On the weekend I visited the nearby German city of Wuerzburg, a beautiful city with countless churces, a well preserved castle, and a lot of other historical sites. Much to my amusement, in one of the many churces we visited I discovered a statue of Jesus unlike any I have ever seen before. Normally Jesus is depiceted as a skinny, fragile character. Oh, not this Jesus. Introducing… super-Jesus. This Jesus has gone buff. He’s got the six-pack. He’s got biceps and calves that pop out like a TV model. This Jesus goes jogging on the beach and makes the women swoon. Check him out…

Erlangen Bergkirchweih

Last night I attended the famous Erlangen Bergkirchweih with my colleagues from the Max-Planck-Institute. This is a 10 day annual festival dating back about 250 years, and attracts about 1 megapeople every year, which, for a town of 100 kilopeople is quite impressive. There’s some long historical and cultural story about the origins and significance of this event, but the bottom line is that it’s a massive piss-up, where the entire town, and a million others, get insanely drunk while wearing lederhosen, in true Bavarian style. The whole festivity reminds me a lot of the good old college days – the difference being that there are somewhat more people, and they’re all wearing lederhosen. But all the rest – the drunk minions lining the streets, and the stench of bile – is much the same.

Myself and my colleagues at the Erlangen Bergkirchweih. Notice how my stein is much emptier than the others’. I poked quite a bit of fun at my Bavarian companions for this. “You call yourself Bavarian? One Australian versus five Bavarian’s and the Australian wins!”. However, as per usual, my mouth was faster than the rest of me, and it didn’t take long for the tides to turn and I was out-drunk by a ratio of 5 to 1. Bavaria vs Australia – one, nil.

Erlangen to Bamberg with three gears

Yesterday some of my colleagues at the Institute invited to come along for a bike tour from Erlangen to Bamberg, a nearby city. I don’t have my own bike with me. Instead I’m borrowing a fairly primitive 3-speed (no that’s not a typo – that’s three- not thirty-speed) old-school bike. These things are designed with inner-city travel in mind, not long bike tours, the ones where you sit upright and the handle bars come up in a V-formation. Hence, I was reluctant to go on a long bike tour. But, my colleagues assured me that it would be a leisurely stroll and my bike would be more than sufficient. So I hesitantly agreed.

Initially they said it would be around 30km in total to Bamberg, from where we would catch the train home. At 30km they looked at the signs and said “Oh, it seems that we’re roughly half way”. So we continued on, until, at about 55km, we reached Bamberg. So much for the leisurely stroll.

Bamberg is a very nice city. It’s quite small, about 50 kilopeople, but also very historical, with much of the old-city preserved and many beautiful churches. After having lunch in a beer-garden on a hill overlooking the old-city, my colleagues democratically decided that we should ride the return trip instead of catching the train. So, by the time I got home late-evening I had ridden around 120km in total. Now you’re probably thinking “what’s he winging about? 120km on a bike isn’t THAT much”, and ordinarily you’d be correct. But let me tell you something, riding 120km with three gears, where you have to pedal at 5Hz the entire distance, just to keep up with the leisurely pace of the others, oh boy, never again. If this 3-speed technological marvel of a bike can last you for a 120km bike ride, then I’m surprised man hasn’t jumped over the moon yet.

Having said that, I should complement Germany on its nice bikeways. It’s a cyclists dream here. You can ride virtually everywhere, whether it be within cities or between cities. I wish Australia would be more like this.

Erlangen, Germany

Following the conference in Minsk, I’ve now arrived in Erlangen, Germany, near Nuremburg, where I’ll be working with Christine Silberhorn’s research group at the local Max-Planck Institute for the next 3 months. I’ve arrived just in time for the local beer festival, apparently the next biggest thing after Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. This, in conjunction with the shortly-to-begin World Cup, must be making my supervisor back in Australia quite suspicious of my motives for coming to Germany. So, to set the record straight, let me be perfectly clear up-front about what my motives are for wanting to come to Germany. It’s not the beer drinking, and it’s not the World Cup – neither of these things are especially close to my heart. It’s the close proximity to the Alps, where I intend to spend a few weeks climbing following my stay in Germany. Hopefully I might even squeeze in some weekend trips to the not-too-distant Bavarian Alps.

Mt. Warning sunrise – first light on Australia

Sunrise from Mt. Warning (1157m), the first point to be hit by sunlight on mainland Australia every morning. We started the climb at 3am by torchlight to arrive at 5am for the first twilight.

Mt. Warning is extremely popular on New Year’s Eve, for people who want to see the first light of the new year. It’s also a favourite destination for pagans, who enjoy the vantage for sun-worship, and the numerous hippies who live in the surrounding area, who enjoy just chilling out. And with a view like this, why not?

Travelling in New Zealand

I just returned from three weeks in New Zealand. The first week was spent at the ACOLS’05 conference in Rotorua. Rotorua is in a highly geothermally active area. In the middle of the city is a geothermal park featuring boiling mud, springs and steam vents.

Mt. Ruapehu
Following the conference I headed of to Whakapappa village with my friend Chris Foster, where we intended to climb Mt. Ruapehu (2,797m) in the Tongariro National Park in the central North Island. Mt. Ruapehu is New Zealand’s highest volcano, which is still active. When we arrived mid-afternoon, we decided to probe the path we would follow the next day. We drove up to the base of the mountain, where many ski-lifts are located, and headed off. At about 2000m it became dark and the weather suddenly moved in, so we turned back. We rushed down at full speed so as to avoid being caught by darkness and bad weather. However, the darkness beat us causing to make a wrong turn on the descent. We ended up cowering under rocks to escape the rain while we examined our map trying to figure out where we had gone wrong. Thanks to our altimeter and compass we were able to estimate our position and made it back to the car, by which time the cloud cover was so low and the rain so strong that we had a visibility of about 10m. This made for a very slow and tedious drive back to the lodge.

The next day we got up early to make a start on Mt. Ruapehu, which typically takes around 8-9 hours return. The weather was still very bad and the entire mountain was hidden in cloud cover. We approached the Department of Conservation (DOC) office for information on the weather, which was forecast to bring gale-force winds up on the mountain. However, we only had a couple of days so we had to continue today despite the objections from the DOC office. We went on our merry way and sure enough by 2000m were submerged in complete whiteout with visibility around 50m, and sporadically dropping as low as 20m. With no capacity to navigate from visual landmarks we navigated entirely by compass and altimeter. A couple of hours later as we ascended the crater ridge of the mountain the winds really picked up. The wind was sufficiently strong to support us standing freely at about a 45 degree angle. Gusts literally bowled us over. We were fortunate enough to find a small rock outcrop, which gave us sufficient shelter to have a lunch of Moro bars and a few slices of plain white bread. 5 hours after departing we returned to the car park.

Mt. Taranaki
Chris departed back home following our couple of days at Ruapehu following which I continued on my own. My first destination was Mt. Taranaki (2518m), another active volcano on the west coast of the North Island. Once again I was faced with miserable weather and once again had to defy DOC recommendations. At about 1500m I entered the cloud cover and as I ascended further my old friend, the raging blizzard, came back to greet me. At 2450m, 50m below the summit, I decided to stop since the summit had a hard ice cap which would have been quite unsafe without any ice gear, not to mention a partner. No loss, 2450m is good enough for me. It’s not as though the view would have been any better. At this point I took the following charming self-portrait after which I descended again. At about 1800m I noticed that my sunglasses were missing. I had taken them off for the self-portrait, laid them down on the rock beside me and forgotten to pick them up again. So back up again I went to recover my sunnies. Thankfully I found the same spot again, which was not by any means guaranteed given the visibility, and I safely recovered my trusty sunglasses.

Following my visit to Taranaki, I made my down the west coast to Wellington where I would catch the inter-island ferry to Picton. Wellington is a very nice city indeed – very cultural, a nice beach only minutes from the city centre, and aesthetically very appealing.

My first destination on the South Island was Kaikoura, a small city on the east coast. The mountains behind Kaikoura rise very steeply to alpine altitudes, only kilometres away from the coast. This makes for very spectacular views from even the smaller mountains, such as this one

Kaikoura is also home to a seal colony, the first wild seals I have come across.

Hanmer Springs, Christchurch and Akaroa
After spending a few days bushwalking around Kaikoura, I made my way to Hanmer Springs, another geothermally active area with some very nice bushwalking. Following this I made my way to Christchurch, where I was due to fly out from. I still had a day to spare, so I took a look at Akaroa, the oldest settlement in New Zealand, founded by the French (I think).