Exchange N to S and autumn to spring – a month in New Zealand

It has been a very long time since the last update. We left Abisko in October, after the first snow had come and temperatures had dropped below zero. We had very nice hikes even then, the munchkin and I. In the end of October we left and went on a long road trip all the way south through all of Sweden, catching up with the autumn in Falun.

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After some late-autumn, dark and foggy hikes and a lot of hey-and-ho with friends in Lund and Malmö we left the planet towards New Zealand. What a different world. And climate. Not just the climate-climate but also the one among people. Rarely have I met so genuinely friendly people! It all started right after landing with the first security officer on the airport. Imagine to land after two very long flights, tired, exhausted, the child with the full diaper on your arm … not the best mood you are in. But the staff was very nice and helpful, just down-to-earth and understanding besides still following their rules. We spend a whole month on the southern Island, hanging out in sunny Nelson, exploring the west- and the eastcoast, beautiful and exotic places like Punakaiki and Kaikoura as well as the Nelson lakes, the Abel Tasman Nationalpark, little picturesque Picton and part of the Queen Charlotte Trail. All in all a very interesting experience. But New Zealand is not just exotic, heaven and beautiful. It also has its less beautiful sides, very clearly to see on any roadtrip through the countryside where hills covered with farmed forests, extreme clear-cuts, natural forests or fed down open grasslands were present.

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Punakaiki was the place with the magical green and lush forests, covering the hills inland. We explored the coast and marveled at the oceans power playing with the pancake rocks and blowholes along the craggy coast. Alongside the ever changing beautiful countryside we made discoveries just in everyday life. Instead of renting a cabin (the northern European way of vacation) we rented a bach. Just as a cabin but more the private summerhouse-type. Instead of sleeping on standardized-EU-normed IKEA-madrasses we got to climb up on some kind of Sleeping-Beauty mountain of madrasses always half awake to make sure not to roll down the mountain midnight. I thought it was Australia where one has to be afraid to be joined at night by some poisonuos, thorny creature…

Foodwise we discovered new tastes on familiar food, fresh fruits and british specialties. We joined for traditional friday dinner with fish`n chips at places like the Black Shark Takeaways and ate our way through the rich café scene in Nelson. Harsh east coast winds denied us a whale-watching trip but seals were a common spot along the coast. The scenery of trees and plants was as a wild mix as was the background concert of bird songs. Instead of covering your face with vaseline against the cold, we immerged all open skin into suncream. Otherwise life was simple. Getting up, getting in food, getting out to explore. The hills around Nelson are a playground for any biker or off-the-asphalt runner. We’ve seen part of the inland on long and lonely roads, walked through the tourist-awaiting sleepy Hanmer Springs, diving into the hot springs there and exploring off the track forests. We made it to Abel Tasman Nationalpark just two days before leaving home again. What an exceptionally beautiful place on Earth. Just a day was long enough to hike to a little beach, lay back and enjoy the postcard scenery.

It was a great trip and a grim counterpart of early winter Europe. But back home the family was waiting and after two-and-a-half months it was a relief to be home in one owns house again. Here it was winter for real with greeting temperatures in the -30ies. But that is the next story.

 

 

The most colour- and beautiful time of the year

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One of many small lakes south of Abisko

… is gone. September was awesome. The birches and bushes burst out in the whole colour range of all yellows, oranges and reds available. Sun was shining and the days were filled with beautiful hikes. All it needs are some pictures.

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and here we go … october started and right there the winter came around Nuolja. It sneaked in around the corner, bringing cold, snow and northern lights. Now we await eight months of snow.

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The munchkin and I on our daily hike

Autumn’s colourful display

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Scenic view on the trail to Kårsafallet

The summer season has gone. To fast. As usual. I call it the “summer season”, it was an epic year in terms of hikers, visitors and water levels. All high. But not though the temperatures. All low. The snow on the mountain tops persisted, until now where it’s joined by the coming winter’s first fresh snow. While Europe was sweating we rarely got 15 degrees. It did not feel like summer even though – on sunny days – it was a pleasure to enjoy the outdoors. In the second half of August we got something like summer. Warm, sunny days. So beautiful. So longed after. It feels tough to say it but we only managed to “jump” into the cold water once. It was in Norway. Into the North Sea. We traveled with the roadmap open, just following a road here, a fjord there or into blue because there was a little cabin symbol drawn on the map. Tent and DNT-key where always with us so we could stay wherever we felt it was best. We discovered the “end of the road” in endless seeming fjords and open norwegian fjell. We surrounded islands of islands and dicovered many beautiful spots.

Most of the days of summer we spend working and many days “babysitting”, carrying the little one up and down the mountains. She loves it. She even started to point at the backpack and refuses sitting in the pram. The backpack rocks. It gives a much better view I guess. And you are closer to mum or dad. We went to look for blueberries but found only small patches. By now the leaves turn goldenyellow and it is the most beautiful season of all. But nights bring frost and that diminishes the chances for berries.

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The lemmings are running wild

Yes we said it, yes it is true – this is the predicted lemming year. To the left you see a shy little baby-lemming which we met just a few metres from our house. Having so many lemmings around is fun for some, no fun for others. It is not just lemmings but also hundreds of voles and they like to move in with us humans = no fun. They are eating a lot of nice plants = no fun. But they are food too – for owls and raptors and this takes the pressure off other birds = great fun for them. Calenderwise it’s summer but the temperatures are halting behind. It is first now – in the middle of July – that it gets warmer. The days are beautiful though with white covered mountain tops, lush green forests and endless sunshine.

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Tjåmohas in the middle of June 2015

Still there is a lot of last winters snow left. This hiking season got spoiled widely by to much snow. On the other hand I heard a lot about happy hikers simply exploring the accessible parts of the “fjäll” on day hikes. A few days of rain in a row washed down a lot of the snow and rivers went up high. As well did the Torneträsk. It is impressive to see the water rise at even such a big lake.

After nearly a month abroad it felt good coming back. I think I missed the fresh air, the silence and the views. The sky is just wide here. This is what means freedom to me. Leaving the house in any direction and spending a few hours out there, just sitting on the shore of Torneträsk or somewhere on a little hill above the forest and doing nothing. I also started running again, getting the map and compass out and exploring the hills and lakes south of the village.

There is plenty of restlessness and energy due to the light and midnight sun. It just keeps you awake. People always ask about the winter, the darkness and cold. What do you think? The winter days are like yours in continental Europe – everybody likes to complain about going to work when it’s dark and coming home when it’s dark. Well, guess this is the same for us. But in between we sleep very good. And that is clearly not the case in summer. No matter how dark the sleeping room is, your body knows it’s light outside and it is impossible to darken the whole house.

So what do we do all day long?

We try to spend as much time outside as possible. We go for hikes, watch birds, sit in the gras and watch it grow, look out over Torneträsk, find controls, meet friends and talk about the weather, bake cakes and bread, enjoy the precious time playing with our child or we simply sit with a cup of tea and enjoy the scenery.

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When looking at the mountains I find myself dreaming about hiking there. Living here doesn’t automatically makes it easier to get to know and hike through all the “fjäll”. It just shows you clearly every single day what you miss out on. Living here means having a job and having to spend most of your days right there. I have two jobs right now – one at the Touriststation and one to spend time with my child. Playing with the little munchkin is the best thing. We also take her along, sometimes in the pram, sometimes in a backpack. It still doesn’t mean to reach the highest peaks and deepest valleys. All the beauty we see around. It is hard to tell what comes next but I don’t want to leave before we explored the mountains around us.

Arctic life experienced at 81° North

The plan was to give an update about the “the least beautiful month of the year” named May, but time went to fast and it is already June. 2/3 of the team are south at 50° N since two weeks now, sweating in above 25° C temperatures. The big 1/3 left – Dr. Keith – is up north, really north, “sailing” around Svalbard. He enjoys temperatures around zero on a ship from National Geographic exploring the norwegian coast up to the islands of Svalbard. I will attach some of his own words, written as part of the official trip report.

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Our ship is slipping through the icy waters of Svalbard. Out the porthole is Spitsbergen with its snow and ice covered peaks. The sea ice is gone, another record year. Flocks of little auks speed across the sky to some unseen colony site on a rocky slope. Northern fulmars glide effortlessly through the sky wing-tips brushing the surface of the sea or catch an updraft of air created by the ship. What a landscape.

Earlier this morning we were outside on the deck going over life-raft procedures for the unseen events that virtually never occur, but being prepared in these arctic waters is wise. It is only minus two, but the air feels especially frigid.

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The ship is now for the first time pushing our way through the ice! The conditions change from minute to minute. We are on the hunt for the polar bear! The bridge is filled with eager passengers all in a race to be the first to spot the bears. The ship’s crew, mostly Filipino, are really the experts at locating the bears. Looking outside there are fissures of water like veins criss-crossing the ice. It is so surreal to sit in the comfort of the ship, eating extremely good food, and sleeping in my cozy cabin, when outside is the harsh Arctic. What a dream.

Two days ago we departed the relative comfort of spring on the Norwegian coastline. Our last stop was Trømso before heading north into the Atlantic. The coastline of Norway creates a dilemma for the visitor. It is a continuous landscape of beautiful peaks covered with snow above and green forests and fields below. It is maddening to sit on the deck and try to decide when to push the button on the camera and when to wait. Melfjord 2 Day 5

Heading north the seas do what they do when they are vast and expansive, they raise with the winds and weather. The ship began to rock and roll creating discomfort for some of the passengers.

We have stopped, so I must investigate…

We have entered Hornsund on southwest Spitsbergen, Svalbard. The seas have calmed and ice surrounds us. The sounds of the ice grinding on the hull surrounds us. Now that we have stopped I went up to the bridge and see that the fast ice is breaking up behind the ship. The captain has decided to back out as to not break-up all the remaining ice in the fjord. This ice is not only important for resting seals, but for hunting polar bears.

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All eyes are on the ice and shoreline. We all scan intensely for the big white monarch of the north. The first one to spot the polar bear gets to bask in the glow of the passengers who dream of this animal. Soon we spot a large male walking along a shoreline exactly where we want to go ashore for a hike. The guests are all at lunch and only the staff has seen the bear. Our expedition leader confers with the captain and the ship is turned around. They make way for an icy bay pushing through the ice and low and behold we intercept the bar at the edge of the fast ice. Now the guests are notified and all are outside on the decks taking thousands of pictures. Of course no one wants to miss the chance, but they do not realize the bear is moving towards our ship on the ice and the first pictures are with a small bear in the distance and the later pictures you can see the ear tags. Slowly the bear turns away from us and walks towards the glacier on the ice.

Guests satisfied we opt for a zodiac cruise through the small icebergs that have calved off the glacier. I am driving a boat and it is pretty cold. The cliff above rises 1000 meters and is covered with thousands of guillemots, kittiwakes, and northern fulmars. Picking my way through the blue ice my passengers all have a frozen smile on their faces. Camera’s still click and we watch as the fog rolls in and out, ice floats by, and a bearded seal pops up to check us out. Kittiwakes have flown down to the water to bath as the breeding ledges are dirty with guano. Northern fulmars glide effortlessly over the water’s surface and almost touch our heads. All around use guillemots swim and dive.

After two tours with the zodiacs I am sufficiently frozen, but in complete awe of this polar landscape. A short break before dinner and then another delicious meal. Now I head up to the bridge to see where we are heading as we are slipping through glassy seas. Moffen Island Walrus Haul-out 150601 Day 13

To the northwest. The ship moving through shallow seas and then over the shelf break to follow the continental shelf. Here there are thousands of seabirds foraging because the deep water is forced up at the shelf bringing nutrients to the surface. I ask the captain about whales and we see three Norwegian whaling ships on the horizon hunting minke whales. Within minutes I spot the first humpback whale and then three more. Next three minke that seem to be in a hurry to leave the area.

What a day and I know tomorrow promises to bring more of the same.

Hinlopen Strait, Svalbard
31 May 2015

The morning brought the National Geographic Explorer around Kapp Fanshawe. An early wake-up call from Lucho, the Expedition Leader, stirred most of us to the bridge or the bow. As our eyes and bodies adjusted to the cold clear air we were treated to a truly spectacular sight, tens of thousands of pairs of Brünnich’s Guillemots. The scale of the cliffs and the density of birds at Alkefjellet was stunning, everyone smiling and shooting hundreds of pictures while the Captain eased the ship’s bow into the nearby waters below the cliffs. On all sides guillemots floated in the thousands and above even more were flying to and from the cliffs. To the left and right of the ship we all struggled to comprehend the numbers of birds nesting in front of us.
Numb we all moved inside the ship to warm and eat breakfast while it continued south in Hinlopen Strait chasing our Arctic dreams. The waters of the Strait were open and the shores lined with pack ice pushed by the wind into piles that hid the seals from the polar bears and the bears from us. Every now and then one or two walruses were seen hauled out onto the ice. A lone bear was spotted in the distance. The bridge was filled with eager observers hunting with binoculars and spotting scopes.
Day 1 Hornsund Southwest Spitsbergen
After lunch Eric, our Lindblad Expedition Photo Instructor, spotted the next polar bear out in the distance on the fast ice of Wahlenbergenfjorden. As the ship was maneuvered into the edge of the pack ice, everyone emptied out on the decks to watch the bear. Soon thereafter, Naturalist Bud located another bear with two cubs of the year. All four bears were far off and the spotting scopes and telephotos lens helped provide better looks. The Captain then repositioned the ship as another bear was seen in the distance. Scanning the fast ice we counted many ringed seals which explained why we saw five bears at this one location. Fortunately the slight repositioning took us out of the wind and made the bear watching even more enjoyable.

Celebrating our day the ship’s kitchen prepared lobster and champagne on the back deck. While we enjoyed the food the ship turned back north. While everyone sought to unwind for the evening Lucho and the Captain conspired to take the ship north of the archipelago in search of the pack ice. As many were nodding off to sleep ice began to bang against the hull stirring us as we slipped further north.

Captain Leif Skog, an excellent observer, first noticed an Ivory Gull. These birds are often associated with polar bears that have made a seal kill on the ice. On cue, Eric our polar bear finder, searched and located a male laying on a large piece of ice. As the ship approached slowly the bridge and bow once again filled with eager guests. The bear appeared to be laying on something covered with snow and as we approached more and more Glaucous and Ivory gulls landed around the resting bear in search of a meal. With the ship stopped we all watched the bear as it rested and then decided to unbury the ringed seal it was laying on. Memory cards full we turned south after reaching our furthest north point on the trip so far, 80° 48.66’ N, 017° 03.39’ E, just 551 nautical miles from the North Pole.

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The Blue Whale!

The final day of the expedition to Norway and Svalbard is winding down. We woke this morning in the lovely Krossfjorden where we anchored off a large glacier actively calving into the sea. After breakfast we launched the zodiacs and took our guests on their last hike of the trip. It was a narrow stretch of beach below a lovely series of cliffs craved by the receding glacier. Several cliff faces are filled with breeding Brünnich’s Guillemot and Kittiwakes. The every present Glaucous gulls circled waiting for a chance to steal and egg and later chicks.
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The base of the cliffs are fertilized from above with tons of guano annually. This south facing slope and beach is snow free early and due to the fertilizer quite green and aptly named ‘Stefan’s Garden’. As we arrived in our zodiacs we see both Barnacle and Pink-footed geese foraging in the green grass as they wait for the tundra to become snow free for nesting.

Everywhere we see tracks from the Arctic fox and the geese. In the turquoise waters below the beach Kittiwake’s bath or relax on large blocks of glacial anchor ice. The ice is melted into all manner of shapes creating the appearance of a garden of ice sculptures floating in a sea of blue-green water.

Along the shore we find purple saxifrage flowering, the only plants we have seen flowering in the Svalbard Archipelago. Down the beach to the glacier and back, we returned by zodiac to the ship.

As we ate lunch the anchor was hoisted and the ship departed for our final destination of the expedition, Longyearbyn.  By the evening the ship was sailing south along the continental shelf in search of whales. This area to the west of the archipelago is a great place to find foraging whales, especially later in the summer. We all wondered if we are too early to see these mighty animals.

Dinner came and went without a call over the ships public address system. Ready for bed the call rang out loud and clear, whales! Dashing to the bridge all binoculars were searching the surrounding seas for the whales. Several painful minutes went by without a sighting when the two whales surfaced and blowing and billowing plume of water into the sky and then took a deep breath…
The Blue Whale
Finally, we pulled the ship alongside these two massive behemoths as they cruised at 7 to 8 knots along our side. They surfaced several times giving us great looks at their big bluish backs and small dorsal fins. We travelled with them through four series of surfacing and breathing breaks, punctuated with dives below the surface. The bridge was just burning with happiness as we knew we had shared a very small piece of this vast sea with the largest animal ever to live on this earth, the Blue Whale. With a fluke up dive, they disappeared into the abyss, the dream of the Blue Whale fulfilled.

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Life is good – with sun, snow and skies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis post should have been published a week or two ago. In the middle of April it is, when you call it “vårvinter”, probably the favourite season of many (northern) Swedes. It is the time between “spring” and “winter”, combining the best attributes – the sun and the snow. It is often warm enough to ski in a t-shirt only, sunny enough to burn your skin and icy enough to go out and fish.

 

never-enough-lapportenThis year I have learned to enjoy this time. No better way to be outside than on skis and with the munchkin pulled along in a comfy pram. I have also learned to truly appreciate the silence when being out alone. It is a strange feeling to see a landscape that empty. Here and there are snowhare tracks crossing, once in a while a moose walks over the hardened snowmobile tracks, but that is it. But this silence, this emptiness of the space around, this is really a gift. Maybe it takes the background of a life spend in noisy cities, but maybe it is one of the things people in small places like that love the most. It calms your mind being out here, it washes away all those busy thoughts.

Once in a while I read some news about the world and it always, always poisons my mind. It makes me upset. There are rarely any good news. Whenever I feel upset like that I go outside, I walk, ski or run a few kilometres and somewhere along the way the “medicine” kicks in. It is nothing more than having all this pure nature around and it takes over the bad and sad thoughts. After a while I feel calm, I dream about going on longer excursions, crossing this valley over there and climbing that mountain over here. I think about my friends, my family and all the good things in my life. funWhen I return it made my day.

I also discovered something the people in Abisko have, which is a true rare thing out there in our “modern world”. I would like to bottle it and sell it. But it is simply time. Time to stop and talk to each other. It is often not more than a few words about the weather, about what you did the other day, life here and the job there, but it is those few minutes – and if you know half the village those minutes add up – I enjoy a lot. I feel rich having this time just spending chatting, because non of those meetings are planned. If I go to the store I do not know if it takes me half an hour or one-and-a-half hour. I also spend this time by myself, just watching the skyline in just the right light or a bird in the tree next to me. It is those moments which not just make my day but add up to the story book of my life. And guess what? The bird in the tree next to me the other day was a hawkowl, just sitting there outside our house. I spend around half an hour watching it while it was watching everything else. Oh, and no, I had no camera with me.

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Update: since a few days the time of “May” has started. “May” is the worst month I heard up here. It is “neither … nor”, slush and mud, wet snow or soft snow, even no snow. Something in between, but nothing right. But with time on my side I will continue going out and find a way because no matter what, being outside is always better than being inside!

Enjoy your outdoors!

 

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Three lemmings enjoying the snow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a long break since the last published report on this blog. Just to many things happening. We enjoyed the most beautiful moment of our life in mid November, just 23 miles south of here in the hospital of Gällivare. Our little munchkin joined us on a dark afternoon, bringing immense joy and love into our life. She is a real arctic baby, enjoying the winter and cold as much as we do!

We love being outside and after some initial fear about the cold we soon figured out how to wrap her in blankets and a lambskin to ensure her being warm down to -20°C. This is as cold as we dared to go out with her. Finally it is March and temperatures rised to around 0°C, even though supported by hefty winds it might feel colder.

Looking back, this winter season’s November and December just passed without much disturbance since we were busy puzzling together our new family life. We spend Christmas in Germany, getting some more light. Back here we endured till the middle of February, only traveling within northern Sweden. We did go to Umeå, which still showed some signs of “Cultural European Capital” but also presented itself with a noisy shopping street only. I was not prepared to be hit by so much street noise, all the cars and people around, just created some kind of “stress”? The pace of life is definitely different depending on where you are. I learn more and more that a slow pace is what I want.

We finally escaped to the spanish sun. Great thing to do, they have spring weather there. I experienced again that it takes more than a day to adapt to even the nicest temperatures. For being such a little baby our munchkin traveled quite a bit. We went all the way to Luleå, simply to gOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAet the signature under her first passport application and the passport itself. This is when we realized that traveling by car is the worst. When everybody has to be strapped in their seats, feeding or changing diapers is just not possible without a break. It took us ten hours for those 450 km, one of the many moments in a parents life when you learn about being patience.

Living up it is hard to avoid traveling. As it requires some check-ups during pregnancy so does the baby time. Lucky for us we only have to go 90 km to Kiruna every other or third week. In case of the baby being sick we do have to travel all the way to GOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAällivare. All of Norrland are served by two major hospitals, one inland (Gällivare) and one on the coast (Sunderby, between Luleå and Boden). We did go once, precautionary and prefer to have a healty baby. Without many people around the risk of a cold or flu is minor, that is one of the advantages up here.

We got snow in November and since this year it only got more, so much so it simply piles up in all corners of the town. We had snowstorms, coming late this year, but so much bringing more and more snow. Moose seem rare, I guess it is no life dragging your belly through the snow. The heavy loads created quite some avalanches, revealing themselves after the dust of storms calmed down.   When we got a week of ongoing storm in February, it got less fun since it kept us trapped indoor. The other hard times were those days of -30°C in January … almost forgotten at this point.

Ski-AdventureThe lake froze over earlier but I did not make it down there until two days ago. It was fun again skiing over such a wide and open field. But also so different, since the ice was covered by some 20 cm of snow!

We do enjoy the snow and sun a lot, but with a heavier load to pull. Each time we are outside, we have to pull the pram behind us, which is kind of this “runner pulling a truck tyre”- training.

It makes a difference knowing how the season will move forward. I’m prepared for a long snowsturmerprobt-season, even though the sense of spring just comes with a breeze. The weird thing is the light, which returned so fast, it wakes us up at 6 am already. It is easy to appreciate life in this little “town”. There is simply time for stopping by at a friends place, talking to a colleague at the supermarket or strolling around outside without following the time of day. The swedish parental-leave makes life easier too. It is great being at home, going out whenever the weather is right, catching some 20min. of training when the baby is asleep and enjoying the little ones smiles.