zaterdag 13 september 2014

Inside the shearing shed

A couple of weeks ago I had the exciting chance to visit a shearing shed. This was one of the things high on my 'to-do/visit in NZ' list, I'm amazed that I could tick this one off so soon already!
It was a very interesting and educational day for me as a spinner. So...especially for all fellow fiber enthusiastics (and others interested), here's a little photo journal of the visit!

(I actually wrote a super extensive blogpost that covered pretty much everything my guide explained to me during this day, plus some extra information I researched myself about merino sheep, their wool and the shearing business here in New Zealand. And then somehow Blogger didn't save my post, and when I wanted to finish it today it was all just GONE! *dangerously frustrated*... Now all the info is in my head, instead of in this post (and I refuse to start over, I already spent a couple of hours on it...grrrrr!). Let's just agree that if you've got any questions, you'll post them in the comments, and I'll try to answer them as well as I can, okay?)

Above the shearing shed in action. On the far right you can see Shaun (my guide for the day and an employee of NZ Merino). Shaun is my housemate's brother, who kindly arranged for me that I could join Shaun on one of his shearing shed visits.

The shearing team consisted of 4 shearers and lots of helping staff (guiding the sheep, swiping the floor, picking the wool, etc.). These guys can shear up to more than 100 sheep a day (per person!), depending on the breed. The complete, average flock contains around 3000-4000 sheep here in New Zealand, so they often spend around a week at one farm. When the whole flock is done, they move on to the next farm...a kinda unique lifestyle! One that seems to be paying off quite good as well, according to one of the shearers I spoke with. The better and faster you shear, the more money you make. Shearing contests are held regularly around these regions as well, which is another way to make big money.

The shearers all work with their own gear, which they take with them everywhere they go. The machine shears have a power-driven toothed blade, that is driven back and forth over de surface of a comb (behind the comb teeth in the picture above...but they move so fast that you can barely see them!). 


A little video of all the productivity that was going on in the shearing shed. There's a busy vibe, everyone's constantly moving. The team works together like a well-oiled machine, it was so fascinating to observe!

The Merino's, patiently waiting to be shorn. Different parts of their bodies produce different kinds of fur (varying in fineness, staple, quality, etc.). All parts are being sorted and collected, literally nóthing goes to waste. If you'd like to read more about the Merino's and the (kind of awesome!) fiber that they produce, click here. I'm thanking part of my outdoor clothing to these animals; layers that keep me warm and dry without overheating me...and also without a sweaty smell! So yeah, I think Merino's rock :)

Spreading out the fleece to pick, sort and class it. It's really amazing to see how big it is, and that the shearers manage to shear this all in one piece! 

First the raw edges of the fleece are picked (also called 'skirting', this removes the dull and shorter locks), then the fleece proceeds to the classer...a person who looks at the quality and fineness of the fleece (see below). 

I was totally impressed by this female classer, who manages to distinguish 16.5 micron fleeces from 17 micron fleeces (and so on). can you feel a 0.5 micron difference?! That's years of experience and a thorough education going on here, so don't underestimate it ;)

My favorite pictures of this day, the shearers in action. They work super quick, while constantly bended over (no surprise one of them actually used a kind of belt to support him). This job is physically tough, really tough. I was blown away by one of the shearers telling me that his niece, a small and skinny girl, is actually a top shearer...are you kidding me?!


Now look at those jumps of joy when the shorn sheep are released outside! They just lost about 3-4 kg of wool, so they literally feel like a heavy burden is taken off them. 

During the day Shaun and the shearers explained a lot about the whole process: what happens to the wool after the shearing, where does it go, who's involved, etc. If you'd like to read more about it, check out this wikipedia page that covers the basics pretty much, or ask me any question in the comments. It's interesting stuff!

vrijdag 15 augustus 2014

Our first weeks in New Zealand's been a little while since I posted the first post on our arrival in New Zealand. Lots has happened in the meantime; we've been trying to find our ways here, get rid of the jetlags and slowly but steadily discover all great things New Zealand has to offer. Now we finally have real, working wifi at hand (bloody Vodafone...I'm not done with you yet!), it's time for a new update. Luckily I continued to keep track with little journal entries everyday, which turns out to be very helpful if you try to remember all that you've been doing (I'm getting old, you know?). I'll translate the entries in English again for this post, with some random ramblings in between.

Me and a Moa, in Queenstown :)

We went car hunting today: we had a look at 3 vans and also took some test rides, but honestly they're just a bit too small for our taste. We have to be able to live in it for at least a couple of months, preferably without getting claustrophobic or attacking each other ;) 
Oh, I also spotted a little handspun yarn shop in town! Unfortunately it's closed today...I really have to take a look again tomorrow.

The little handspun yarn shop in Queenstown

PROUD OWNERS OF A NISSAN CARAVAN! Yup, we found a van. And a big one too, filled to the max with camping gear, a bed and all kinds of extra stuff...for a very fine price. Lucky bastards we are! We decided to call her: Carrie. (Caravan - Carrie, get it?)

Actually, the van was loaded with SO much stuff we're still discovering new things. The former owner traveled in it for about half a year together with his girlfriend, who was 'quite the princess' (his words). So...they had a portable toilet, a foldable shower tent, solar panels (so she could charge her hair dryer and curling iron), etc. I wonder why they decided to live in a van anyway, but hey: you won't hear me complain!

We had to scrape together the funds for the van from all our creditcards and bank accounts (stupid cash withdrawal limits!) and bargain a little, but we made it. While doing money business anyway, we also opened New Zealand bank accounts and received our payment cards. Let the money roll in! (Feel the need to sponsor us? Anyone? :P lol)
Mark's already completely accustomed again to driving on the wrong(?) side of the road. I think I'll wait a bit longer, until we've got a decent car insurance.
I also visited that little handspun yarn shop in town again, this time it was open. I had a chat with the owner and visited another wool shop as well. We saw lots of possum/merino wool mixtures, which are incredibly soft, ánd incredibly expensive. You pay around 50 bucks for a ball of yarn, and over 200 for a knitted cardigan or sweater! I really have to score a possum fleece somewhere so I can try spinning it myself.

(Possums are a plague in New Zealand, check it out here.)

Bungi Hostel, our place in Queenstown

Sigh...I think I truly found out how annoying jetlags are. Yesterday I was deep asleep at 9 pm already, while my sweet boyfriend was eating away our bag of potato chips all alone (believe me, that says it all)! 
Mark bought new snow chains this morning, while in the afternoon we went playing disc-golf in the Queenstown Gardens (a kind of competitive frisbee-ing, with serious holes and pars and all that stuff, as already mentioned in my previous post). The person who invented this activity must have been a genius. Also for establishing the course in the middle of a forest. Really, it's not difficult at all to throw your disc in between all those trees and make it land right into the 60 meter far away hole. Not at all.

Like a pro...let's not talk about how he beat me.

Seconds before my typical throw: releasing the disc too early (or too late), so it
will fly in a completely wrong direction. But that takes skill as well!

Tonight we went climbing in an indoor climbing hall (read: little climbing corner in a gym). It was nice to be physically active again...though they used a weird system with the belay devices permanently attached to the ground. I hope they won't have that same system in the Wanaka rock climbing centre, it's quite annoying not being able to walk around while belaying. 

Today we drove towards our next destination (bye Queenstown, bye hostel, bye too-little-fridge-space, bye never-clean-kitchen-cutlery! Oh, and bye sweet little hostel were cute :)). 

The hostel cat...feeling véry at home :)

The road between Queenstown and Wanaka (Crown Range Road) is a stunning pass with breathtaking viewpoints. Carrie has proven quite trustworthy so far, even uphill she goes steady and without complaints. Good girl! 

Stunning views become even better with a hot cuppa :)

Wanaka is a cozy town, a bit smaller than Queenstown but at least just as beautiful. About a 20 minute drive further north lies Lake Hawea, a small settlement at the side of another giant lake, and our home for the next couple of months. Gwen (the landlady) awaited us there, it was nice to finally meet her after having had a lot of digital conversations for the past couple of weeks. She's been so helpful! 

Lake Hawea (about 200 meters from our house). 

The house is - in 1 word - fantastic. We couldn't have gotten anything better (and don't get me started on that industrial Singer sewing machine standing in one of the bedrooms: I smell a new challenge!). 
By the way, I don't believe any person has lived here for the last couple of's almost colder inside than outside. Where are the professional wood burner-lighting moms (yes, my mom has hidden talents!) when you need them? Brrr!

The house, with Carrie in the front. 

I've made some pictures inside the house, so I can give you a little tour. Below you can see the kitchen and the living room, with on the right (lower photo) the stairs going down. They lead to the main entrance, a little washing machine room and a huge garage. The glass doors behind the kitchen lead to the garden (with a biiiig bbq!). The house is built on a hill, that's why the front part actually has 2 floors and the back part is parallel to the garden.

The kitchen (with my personal chef) and
the living room. 

The next pictures shows the living room again, from a slightly different angle. See the wood burner? Cozy huh? It keeps the whole house warm (you have to keep it burning though). The doors next to the burner lead to a big terrace, which we don't really use at the moment since it's way too cold. Mark manages to set things on fire though (shoes and gloves so far), so it's handy to be able to quickly throw them outside.

Living room again, and the wood burner. 
A hallway leads from the kitchen towards the bedrooms (4 in total, 3 double bedrooms and 1 single), a toilet and a bathroom (with a shower ánd a bath, yay!). We managed to find 2 other people to share the house with, they occupy 2 of the double bedrooms. The single bedroom holds the Singer monster machine. The third master bedroom is ours, this one has its own little bathroom. 

Our bedroom. And yes, I did bring my dollies. How could I not?
So...all in all, I think we could say we're pretty lucky to have found this house, and then I didn't even tell you anything yet about the beautiful neighborhood!

Taken from the balcony, a typical early morning view. 

Settling in, trying to find our way around in our new home. Mark has a very nasty cold and I'm still suffering from the jetlag, but we'll manage :) Grocery shopping, walks along the lake, setting up skiing/snowboarding gear, watching Breaking Bad...and tomorrow, if all goes well: to the slopes!

Setting up my new splitboard

For all serie junkies: yup, we started watching Breaking Bad (we went through all available Game of Thrones and Hannibal while we're waiting for the new seasons to start, we had to find a new series we could watch together. We're already at the second season and both love it so far!

Snowboarding in July, I still can't wrap my mind around it! Cardrona is a small ski field (4 reasonably large ski lifts, to get there you have to ascend around 500 meters on a twisting unpaved road (who says you need gondola's?)).
Skiing long distances isn't really possible here, that's probably why an above average amount of skiers and boarders have decided to focus on freestyling, for which there are plenty of facilities. It's a fascinating subculture, actually! Mismatched baggy clothes, filming yourself or your buddy with a go-pro (uploading it to youtube or vimeo in the evening of course), hipsters with beards as lift employees ('lifties') and typical slope names as 'Swaggerman', 'Sluice Box' and 'Lil' Bucks Park'. There was even a complete Asian film crew at place to capture all the impossibly sick tricks! You definitely won't be bored while sitting in the chair lift :)
My new snowboard rides super smooth (instant love!), but we could use a little bit of extra snow, if we want to test our new gear in real and fresh New Zealand powder.

Ski field different from Europe! See the lake in the background?
That's Lake Wakatipu, with Queenstown on its side!

Cardrona ski field. 

I'm still very unsuccessful at getting the woodburner started, much to the amusement of Mark. He keeps saying: "It's okay hun, you're a woman after all..." GRRRRR!!!!

The wind's blowing like crazy and it's raining cats and dogs. Looks like we're at home, real Dutch autumn weather! Good news is that up high in the mountains it's probably snowing (which we need). Mark's working on the van, yesterday we bought a leftover piece of carpet and some wood. In the meantime I cleaned the house and did the laundry (yes, you read that correctly mum & mum-in-law!). I'm starting to feel like a real domestic goddess, who would've ever thought that? 

Now many (mostly female :P) friends have asked me about the van and how I will decorate it. It's a funny girls always trying to make things cozy and cute (who doesn't dream of a lovely vintage van with cute checkered curtains and crocheted pillows?). Mark on the other hand is totally the other way around, just very practically oriented (like most guys, probably). We end up having very eehm...'interesting' discussions sometimes, haha! But honestly, I think we form a good team, having both a different approach but trying to make it work together. At the carpet shop, we said to the employee that the color didn't really matter (of course it does, but I swallowed my words here!), we just wanted a cheap leftover piece of carpet, easy to clean and preferably around the necessary size. We ended up with, we went to the second-hand shop, where I picked a lovely supersize duvet (checkered in blue, purple and white) to make matching curtains. See? A little bit of both sides, practical and pretty!

By the way, that second-hand shop is really awesome. It's called Wastebusters, and it has literally everything. The shop has a huge outside part (with gear, timber, metal, outside furniture, garden stuff, sports equipment, etc.), and then inside you'll feel like you just entered thrifting heaven. There's a wood burner keeping the place warm, and a cat in a vintage suitcase. Do I need to explain more?

Thrifty cat in his suitcase with a tropical view. Not for sale!

Wastebusters: best second hand shop ever. 

Oh, by the way: good news! My spinning wheel arrived (an Ashford Joy) today! I did a little dance of joy in the living room (really)'s small, cute and works like a charm! 

I really want to say thanks again to Lynne, who sent me the spinning wheel (which is foldable, how nice for traveling?!) all the way from the North Island, and who made me feel welcome in New Zealand even months before I actually arrived. Another thank-you goes to Adriana (also part of the NZ craft community)...who sent me the book 'The crafty girl's road trip' as a little welcoming present. It was actually the first mail we found in our mailbox at our new address! Heartwarming, really.

In the meantime I'm trying to work my way through the avalanche course books, dreaming at night of slab avalanches, fischmauls, couloirs and corniches...

Studying hard!

More domestic messing around. It's still storming, but that doesn't withhold Mark to continue working on our van. The kitchen is almost ready! 

Our back-entrance kitchen with folding-out table.

Yesterday we went climbing at Basecamp, the indoor climbing hall in Wanaka. Unfortunately they have that same silly belaying system as in Queenstown, but the nice routes make up for it (awesome roof as well!). 
Today we hooked up with Isabelle (NL) and Sabrina (DE), two freestyle ski chicks who are here for the season (mostly for training and competing). It was fun to finally meet Isabelle in real life, after having shared many hours of house hunting via Facebook!
In the mean time I'm doing some more avalanche studying, and made 50 bucks with repairing someone's pants. I've spun some yarn (Lynne sent some merino roving with the spinning wheel, thank you!), we watched Food Inc. this morning (very interesting documentary!) and we tried to get our financial administration right. We're being very frustrated about Vodafone's annoyingly bad service, since we still don't have wifi after 2 weeks, and are also quite fascinated by all the female visitors our housemate bring's home (4 so far, in 1,5 week time). (Sorry Glenn..haha! We both think you're an awesome housemate ;)). 

Yes, you read that correctly. I made 50 bucks repairing someone's pants, can you believe that? Mark spotted this add at the local supermarket, from a guy looking for someone to fix his pants. So Mark said that I should do that (since I got the Singer monster working) was an easy peasy job, and the guy was so happy he paid me big money!

The monster machine...a real industrial Singer. It's attached to the table and
has a big noisy engine underneath. 

Now there's some other exciting news, that (for some reason) is not mentioned in my journal entries, but is actually pretty awesome: I found some work! And not just work, it's actually kind of a dream job (I guess lots of creative folks will recognize this): I will do some shop hours in the new craft store  that's opening up in Wanaka, ánd also teach a crochet (amigurumi) art class there. Now how cool is that?! I'm really beyond happy with this chance. I met the founders (2 very nice girls) of the shop over coffee last week. The shop opens at September first, at which time the courses (mine, and some very interesting other ones) will start as well. You should definitely take a look at their website, which is starting to look very good if you ask me...and don't forget to check their first blog. I really like where these girls are going, they want to create a welcoming and supportive place for local and starting artists, which - I think - is a noble and beautiful goal.

Hand spun merino yarn and some crochet balls, preparations for the crochet class.

Tomorrow our course will start, but the weather forecast is pretty bad. It's been storming for a whole week and the avalanche danger is high. I hope it will be okay...our backpacks are filled with clothing layers and power bars, so we're ready anyway (Mark even has the most sexy skinny thermal legging!)

That's it for now, I will write about the course in the next post! So stay tuned ;)

maandag 21 juli 2014

Arrived at last!

Yes, you read that correctly...we've finally landed in New Zealand! It was almost surreal, after so many months of dreaming, preparing and looking forward to it.

Ready for take off!

Many people at home have asked me to keep them updated - of course I will. I'm not really feeling like starting a new blog though, so I will  just proceed on this one. I hope that's okay :) I will also keep writing in English so my international friends can read it too if they want, but for all the Dutchies out there: I will post a link to an automatically translated version of the blogpost every time! Here's it for this one: Nederlandse versie.

Mark was not at all looking forward to the long flight, while I was pretty much indifferent about it. I now do totally get him though, flying to the literal other side of the world is a VERY tiring thing. My longest flight so far has been to Indonesia, but you still have to fly about 10 hours further if you want to get to New Zealand. Airplane chairs are super cramped, crying and pooping (yes...) Indian kids are no fun and don't get me started on carrying about 50 kg of luggage around. However, we made it, and that's something to be thankful for. Just before boarding in Frankfurt we heard about the Malaysian Airlines plane. With no time left to find out what exactly happened, I got on the plane quite scared, worried we would fly over Ukrain as well. I'm glad that my dad posted a message on Facebook to let everyone know that we were not on that flight, and moved by all the worried questions and relieved responses of friends and family. My heart goes out to the ones that could not be soothed at the exact same worried questions, who could not be told that their friend or family member was not on that plane. It feels unfair, that we can start our great adventure here, while that of others was horribly ended before it could even begin, leaving their loved ones behind in deep and inconceivable grief. Makes me all the more aware of how blessed I am.

Saying goodbye was hard, especially to my parents. It's so strange to realize I won't be seeing them again for a whole year, still didn't sink in completely. They're really the best... I found out that sadness and happiness can coexist. It's not the easy way, some parents might stick with the grief or even bitterness, while others are so easygoing about their child leaving that its abuts indifference. I know mine are proud of me, love me and are very enthusiastic and happy for me, while at the same time they are quite sad about not having me near and missing me lots. Both sides, the sad part ánd the happy part make me feel extremely loved and valued. What else could a child wish for?

Beside a little discomfort our trip went relatively easy and without much trouble. We were pretty worried about our shitload of luggage (especially the ski- and board bag, which we filled with all our outdoor gear - to the point were the seams just didn't tear), but with a printed email from a friendly Dutch Air India employee and a relatively small extra fee we got checked in very easily. Our luggage even got checked through right to Queenstown (even though we'd fly the last part of our trip with Jetstar) no more sweating our guts out! Really, you should have seen us with all our bags loaded on a cart. Try to get through a doorway with a ski bag lying horizontally on a cart that has no swaying's a challenge, believe me ;)

Almost 100 kg of luggage..

Our first flight went from Frankfurt to Delhi (7,5 hours). After a couple of hours at Delhi Airport (looking out over skyscrapers adjoining slums...) we flew to Melbourne (another 11 hours). The last part of the trip went from Melbourne to Queenstown (3,5 hours), leaving at around 11 in the morning. During the flights I started journaling. Just short writings, so I will always be able to track back what we've been doing. I thought it would be nice to copy bits of it in my travel blogs every now and then (the fun parts ;)). They will be in Italian font.

Mark accidentally ate a VERY hot pepper this night at the plane. He got all red with teary eyes and kept asking for water. Took about half an hour before he looked more or less normal again... Just be careful what you eat when flying with Air India.

Delhi-Melbourne takes about 11 hours of flying, which turns out to be long, to put it mildly. Every meal exists of rice and seems to be served at random times. 
Just lost a game of chess against Mark, again... 90% of the passengers is Indian and watching Bollywood movies the whole time. Very typical, those Bollywood films. Regardless the genre (action, thriller, romcom), every 5 minutes all actors suddenly burst into overly enthusiastic singing and dancing.
I watched "The Budapest Hotel" and "Hachiko - A dog's tale". First one was absolutely fabulous, second one got me crying like a baby. 

The arrival in New Zealand was breathtaking. We took off in Melbourne at around 11 am, so it was midday when we flew over Fiord Land and Mount Aspiring National Park. In between the clouds we could see the snowed tops, small and big lakes, rivers and green hills...every new part even more breathtaking then the former. Everyone says: "New Zealand is beautiful" and I've seen thousands of pics, but really? All the descriptions and photographs fall short with the real thing.

Flying over Mount Aspiring National Park...

...and the Queenstown rural area (already pretty low here). 

Stepping out of the Queenstown airport, we took a deep breath of fresh air with a faint smell of wood burners, forming little clouds in front of our mouths when exhaling again. We'd arrived.

A taxi took us to our hostel, this is where we stay: Bungi Hostel. The taxi ride went by like in a dream, even though we drove past the most amazing sceneries...seriously, I don't believe I've ever been this tired in my life before. Lightheadedly and spinning on my legs, I could barely keep myself together. I think I now know what a real jetlag feels like - it's no fun. About 12 hours of sleep later (in a real bed...oh the pleasure!) we were more or less able to have coherent conversations again. Time for action!

At lake Wakatipu.

It's around zero degrees Celsius here, while back at home it's been over 35 the last few days..what a difference! Finally I can wear my new gear, keeping me warm and toasty :) Today we bought New Zealand sim cards for our Iphones (easypeasy!) and did some grocery shopping (would've been 40 or 50 euro's max at home, here it was 'only' 140 NZD. Seriously?!). After that we walked through Queenstown Gardens. Continuous amazement, words fall short to describe the views. People play frisbee here, just like the French play Jeu de Boule. They even have holes and scoring cards! Have to try it out sometime. Tomorrow we will start our car hunt. 

Disc Golf (or 'frisbee', as we'd call it in Dutch :))

Biiig trees...

Queenstown Gardens

That sums up more or less what we've been doing our first full day in Queenstown! It's pretty expensive, but véry beautiful...and that's still an understatement, believe me. Queenstown lies directly at the side of Lake Wakatipu and is surrounded by snowy mountains (among which the Remarkables). The town centre is compact, everything's at a walking distance, which is nice if you don't own a car just yet. The hostel's alright as well, there's an adorable and stubborn little red cat living here who likes to pay the guests a visit every now and then :) I always feel happier when there are pets around. The cat's purring on our bed sounded so much like home!

Like you could already read, today (21/7) we started our car hunt. Had a look at 3 vans, took some test drives and found out more about registration and such. Most vehicles are sold just alongside the road here (instead of at a car dealer). Taking a long walk through town, stopping by at the supermarket to have a look at the community board and checking the local newspaper will get you a long way! Most vans are just a bit too small for our taste though...that's fine if you use it for work, or short (weekend) trips, or maybe even traveling around for a couple of months. But we plan on living in it for probably longer than half a year, so a little bit of space will be nice. We hope we can get it all settled before moving to Wanaka (Lake Hawea) next thursday.

Well..I guess that's it for now, a complete update! Oh, there's one last thing I'd like to say: the Kiwi's have been very friendly so far. Several strangers showed condolence to what happened with the passengers of MH17, some people I've only met online so far sent worried messages, and warm welcoming texts after they heard we were safe. Heartwarming!

woensdag 25 juni 2014

Mudflat hiking

Last weekend I went mudflat hiking. I always wanted to do so and now - just before leaving the Netherlands - seemed like the perfect time.
Since mudflat hiking is a typical Dutch activity, I thought it would be nice to write a little blogpost about it, to give my international readers an idea of this recreation :)

Ready for take-off! You have to admit that my purple
raincoat is the pretties one you've ever seen...

In the sea that adjoins the north side Netherlands lie 5 inhabited islands; the Dutch Wadden islands (named on the picture below). These islands consist mostly of sand dunes and are (compared to the rest of the Netherlands) relatively quiet. Most of them have a couple of small towns, but that's it.
The Wadden islands form the border between the North Sea and the Wadden Sea, which lies south of the islands (between the islands and the Dutch main land).

There's something special about the Wadden's a so-called intertidal zone (yup, I'm getting a bit nerdy here ;) Don't worry though, this won't become a geography class!). An intertidal zone is the area that is above water at low tide, and under water at high tide. At low tide, when mud is deposited and the sea draws back, muddy flats will form. These are also called tidal flats or 'mudflats'...and you know what? Dutch people like to walk on these flats, all the way from the mainland coast to the Wadden islands! Now this is called 'mudflat hiking'.

Clean shoes...but not for long!

Mudflat walking should be done with the aid of a tide table and preferably under supervision of a guide. The guide will lead you onto organized routes on which you are allowed to traverse the seabed (mudflats are important ecosystems, our guide even called it the 'birthing room' for a whole bunch of sea creatures!). But beside the possible dangers for wildlife, there are also other risks. Even though the tides change in very regular cycles, without a licensed guide it's quite easy to misjudge the situation and you might find yourself quickly surrounded by rising water on all sides, far away from the beaches., thank you!

So, last weekend was my own very first mudflat hiking experience (something that usually takes place in the childhood of every Dutch, dad, did you miss something here?). Mark and I went for the full deal (there are many different hikes offered by the guides, some of them relatively short and easy, others a bit longer and tougher) and signed up for a route of 13 km starting in Holwerd going all the way to Ameland, the fourth Wadden islands. The map above shows how we walked. You might wonder why there's such a silly curve in our track...well, that has to do with the deeper tidal trenches (or 'tidal creeks') you will come across. Not all parts of the Wadden Sea become dry when the tide is low, it's called 'wetlands' for a reason. Some areas are still relatively deep under water, not suitable for walking!


Still, even though we didn't swim...we had to wade through water that came up to our belly buttons (as you can see on the little video above...please ignore my stupid grin!). Backpacks high everyone!

Tiny shrimps!

Other areas we crossed were formed of mud cracks, salt pans and zones with lots of crabs and mollusks. Our guide picked up all kinds of slimy sea-creatures to show us (yikes!) the things that live there and tell us about the environment. These little pauses were perfect to catch a quick snack and drink some water...the 13 km route took us almost 4 hours!

Expect to get dirty when going mud walking...

The last part of the hike was definitely the hardest. You think you're almost there, the island is clearly in sight and seems to be oh-so-close...but it's kinda misleading actually, and hard to estimate the real distance. To make it worse, the last 2-3 km's (more or less) we had to walk through clayey silt in which our feet sunk 30 cm deep with every step! Believe me, that's hard on your muscles (and pretty strange when you finally reach the shore and walk on normal ground again!). By the way, you need to wear tight-fitting shoes when you go mud walking, otherwise there's a chance they will be sucked into the mud and slip off your feet. You really don't want to have to dig them up again...let alone trying to put them back on, standing on one feet in the slimy silt!

Arrived at last!

Once on Ameland, we had to walk another short distance to a farm, where we could wash our feet and legs and put on clean and dry clothes, that we brought with us in our backpacks (all safely sealed in plastic bags!). After that, it was time for a bit of island exploration. It was my first time on one of the Wadden islands and I really loved that 'island-feeling'. It was so quiet compared to the rest of the Netherlands! It's not the high season yet though; in just a couple of weeks the number of people on the island will rise from 4000 to 40.000(!)...I guess the Dutchies just have some kind of talent to make small places crowded.

Many sheep live on the Wadden islands.

At one point, Ameland made me ponder about New Zealand. Which is wáy bigger of course, but also quiet and calm and with lots of nature. I have no idea if my comparison makes sense at all, maybe it will sound totally ridiculous once I've really arrived in New Zealand. But I think it's safe to state that Ameland at least shares more resemblances with New Zealand than the Dutch mainland. And you can't blame me for my current habit of constantly incorporating of New Zealand in everything I think and say and do :P

Mark and I explored a small part of the island by bikes. We went to Nes (one of the four villages on the island), where I saw houses that were built back in goodness, can you imagine?! We went to the beach on the north side of the island (facing the North Sea) where we had a beer and 'bitterballen' (a typical Dutch snack). At the end of the afternoon it was time to head back to the mainland again, luckily not by feet again (pfew!). A ferry goes back an forth between Holwerd and Ameland several times a day, so this time we had a relaxed transition in the shining sun with our heads in the wind.

It was a lovely day, for sure. I believe there are many things I won't miss about the Netherlands...but this day I saw one of its beautiful sides :)

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