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Dear friends,

last year just before Christmas we were traveling with our 4WD campervan
Our 4WD campervan
in Tasmania, an island and the southernmost, and definitely coldest State of Australia.  It looks more European than Australian, rolling hills, meadows, forests. We travelled down the East Coast first, there are spectacular beaches with red rocks, white sand and blue water.  We found campgrounds with very limited facilities, which had beautiful secluded spots on the beach for nearly nothing. I even went into the water sometimes, but not for very long, because it was rather cold. Driving further South we explored hiking trails through the bush and saw a lot of wildlife. Echidnas, more furry than the Northern variety, walked beside the road. Small kangaroo-like animals called Pademelons visited our campsites and at night the possums played on top of our camper van.
Just one animal we really wanted to see it, because it only lives in Tasmania, eluded us, the black Tasmanian Devil. Therefore we went into an animal park near Bicheno where we could meet some adult and baby devils. The grown devils are about the size of a medium dog and they have very strong jaws with big teeth, which they like to show off, often sitting there and opening their fangs wide. They have a small white spot on their breast, otherwise they are black with short fur. Some looked rather cute, but others nearly ugly they had cancer boils, especially in the face. This cancer poses a big threat for the survival of the animals in the wild, because it is spreading rapidly. Some scientists study the captured animals to find a cure or prevention for this disease. The animal park also had a large variety of other animals and birds. Here we saw the only live poisonous snakes on our whole tour of Australia.
Further south is the Freycinet Peninsula and also the famous Wineglass Bay. It is a strenuous hike uphill, to see this bay and IF the sun shines, it looks quite nice and blue, but we didn’t care too much about the view and the bay, especially with loads of tourists around. We went down to the bay and back around the mountain, which was a long 11 km walk, but very nice with overlooks across the inlets and bays to the West.

During the week before Christmas it was getting harder and harder to find a nice place to camp, all spaces and campgrounds were overfilled with tents and campers with fancy Christmas decorations, barbeques and beer drinking Australians. But they were all very nice and friendly and they always found a spot for us to squeeze in.
Driving further South we crossed the narrow man-made Dunally Canal, which separates the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas from mainland Tasmania and provides a substantial shortcut for small craft from the rugged East Coast to the sheltered waters of South Tasmania and Hobart. After crossing the Forestier Peninsula, the road leads over a very narrow strip of land into the Tasman Peninsula. Down there they brought all the convicts in earlier years, because it was more easy to control them there. Ferrocious dogs and armed soldiers were stationed along the narrowest part, called “the dogline”, additionally the prisoners were told, that the sea is full of hungry sharks. So only very few attempted to flee and a bare handful was successful to make it across this line and into freedom, at least for a while.
On the 24. of December we visited the former convict settlement Port Arthur including a boattrip to see the bay and the islands offshore, were more prisoners were held or their dead bodies buried.
It was quite impressive and also a little sad to see, how the prisoners had lived and suffered, being severely punished for little crimes in England or Australia and ever so small offences  while in captivity.
One can visit the nice cottages of the leading personnel, restored buildings with tiny prison cells, ruins of the main building, churches and a hospital. The whole expansive area was a little town in itself, the prisoners providing the work to keep up the comfort for the others and also being worked to death in numerous mines in the vicinity.
After a long, interesting day at Port Arthur we spent the Christmas Holiday totally relaxed at a nice beach where we even could swim a little.
Driving up to the North again we visited Fortescue Bay and tried to hike to rugged Cape Pillar, but had to give up after two thirds of the way, because it was getting too late.
At the end of the Forestier Peninsula we explored the Tasman Arch, Devils Kitchen and the Blowhole, impressive sculptured rock formations, where the sea has eroded parts of the rock.

December 28. we went to the main town of Hobart, to watch the arriving fleet of sailing ships from the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Ten years ago, 1998, they had started the race despite bad weather forecasts and the boats had to battle a very severe storm. Sadly there were quite a number of sunk boats and lost lives.
This year, the weather overall was much better, but the yachts had to race each other toward the finish line off Hobarts yacht basin tacking against a fierce northerly wind. The favorite yacht WILD OATS XI finished just before SKANDIA. We could even welcome a German Trans-Ocean Club boat, the WALROSS 4, and her tired, but happy skipper and crew.
Two more yacht races from Melbourne and Launceston to Hobart filled the harbor and marinas to the brim and we watched the New Year fireworks over an impressive assembly of cruising and racing yachts with their high masts.

The first day of the year 2009 found us in our camper van tackling the steep ascend to the top of Mount Wellington, 1700 meters above sea level and Hobart. We survived the storm winds, fierce cold and snow showers to have a truly spectacular view over the bays near Hobart and across the islands far out to the open Southern ocean. On the precipitous way down the brakes started smoking in midst of a sleet shower.
We drove all the way to where the road ends at the Southern most point in Tasmania, met some sailing friends and then drove to the most Southwestern point one can reach on the road. A huge wilderness area in the Southwest of Tasmania is totally inaccessible by car.
From Strathgorden and Lake Gorden with a huge dam and power plant we backtracked our way to the road leading to Strahan on the West coast of Tasmania. Here are still ancient forests, lakes and waterfalls, mountains, caves and old mining areas.  We visited the former miningtown Queenstown lying in midst of a totally devastated landscape caused by bad mining techniques poisoning everything in much earlier years.
The weather was foggy and rainy, so we did not see the mountains too well and our hike to the wellknown Saddleback Mountain was unfortunately marred by pouring rain. But the beautiful Mole Creek and King Solomons Caves with their filigran stalactites and bats zooming around our heads in the dark made up for that.
Liffey Falls was a nice place to visit and also the Cataract Gorge, which lies in very close proximity to the inner city of Launceston. On our last day we drove over narrow streets through small villages with British names like Exeter, Sheffield, also called the Town of Murals, which has a painting on nearly every wall, Forth, Leith to the Northern coast of Tasmania and in the evening we boarded our ferry SPIRIT OF TASMANIA in Devenport.

In the morning of January 12. we arrived back on the Australian mainland in Melbourne, visiting a good friend for a few days and exploring the great old town and it’s museums and attractions.
From Melbourne we drove East along the coast and then North through little towns we remembered from our last visit here in 1993 with funny names like Ulladulla. All that area is well settled and leaves little space to camp out free, so we had to use commercial campsites. Too many houses, people and tourists, so we did drive through quite fast.
On January 24., an especially hot day with 46° Celsius, we rolled over the Great Ocean Road into the outskirts of Sydney, where a former brother-in-law of Werner lives with his family in a grand house. He invited us to stay there a few days, so we visited Sydney by bus, marveling over the changes the city has made in the last 16 years, especially around Darling Harbour.
The highlight of our visit was the 26. of January, Australias National Day. The family took us to Sydney via a ferry on the Parramatta River, in which we approached the Harbour Bridge from the West with a beautiful view of the Sydney Opera House, which we passed, then docking in the middle of the city. We made our way through thousands of people waving Australian flags, wearing them as tattoos on their faces, T-Shirts, Skirts and you know where else. Everywhere were bands playing music, Aborigines performing dances and playing the didigeridoo. Square riggers plying the bay, ferries and yachts racing through the harbor, so the water was literally boiling. We strolled from pub to bar, explored little markets, listened to the music and had lunch… at the Hofbräuhaus in German tradition with a three-man band of old men playing German songs. A wonderful Australia Day outing, we even missed the later rain by heading home early.
After the big city we were ready for more nature adventures, so we left for the hills, got sidetracked  to the ocean, to attend a pelican feeding at the beach of Terrigal, then got back into the mountains and hiked from waterfall to waterfall (Wollomombi, Chandler, Ebor) and climbed high up to Cathedral Rock.
Then we explored Coffs Harbour and Muttonbird Island as well as Moonee Beach, crossed the Clarence River with a ferry and on to Evans Head.

Having been (almost) to the Northernmost and Southernmost point in Australia, we could not bypass Cape Byron, the most Eastern point in the country with the large white lighthouse atop the hill and a perfect view across the shoreline and the ocean. From up there we could even watch a pod of dolphins playing in the crystal clear turquoise water, a turtle paddling around in circles and two sharks zooming through the breaking waves.
The following coast leading up to Brisbane is called the Gold Coast and is plastered with highrises, tourist attractions, and far too many people for our tastes. We went to Hope Island, to visit sailing friends from New Zealand.
After that we had no desire to stay in that area, so on we went and after being "on the road" continuously for five months, we were happy to arrive safe and sound back at Scarborough, Deception Bay and our friend Anita (, but also a bit sad, because our big Australian voyage was all over now.

Twelve months in Australia (12-07 until 6-08 and 9-08 until 3-09), seven months with the 4WD-Camper on the road (April-June: 2008 Brisbane - Cooktown and back, September 08 – February 09: Brisbane – Darwin – Alice Springs - Ayers Rock – Adelaide – Melbourne - Tasmania – Melbourne – Sydney - Brisbane).
 23.000 = twentythreethousand kilometers, no accident, only a few small breakdowns and repairs, 7.000 pictures/films, we had tremendous fun and a whole lot of wonderful experiences.
Would we do it again?  YES, but then we would include the West of Australia and bypass some of the populated eastern shores.

The last few weeks of our stay went far too fast. We had to find a buyer for the car and on one of our last outings to visit friends in Mooloolaba, the cylinder head of the van developed a crack and sent out white smoke.
Fortunately the auto repair shop, who had to overhaul the van including engine anyway for the sale, had a spare used head and could fix it fairly cheap.
We had put the van up for sale in the internet and on billboards, so quite a few people came to have a look, but nothing moved. Then my luck having been born on Sunday took over once again. We received an email saying:  "Your van is terrible.."  which made me wonder, why somebody bothers to send an email telling me, that he didn't like the van. Then I realized, that the person writing was a French man and that he meant the van was terrific.
It stayed that way during our negotiations and on the very last day of our stay we received the money, which was enough to cover the purchase and the repairs and we could deliver the van to a friend of the new owner close by. After coming later to Australia in June and actually seeing the van, we received more happy emails from him, so the deal was very satisfying for both of us.

On March 1.  our plane landed in Los Angeles, U.S.A., where we spent 10 days with my relatives. Together we visited the Getty Museum and Villa, Mt. Griffith Observatory, Joshua Tree National Park, we threw snowballs at each other in Idyllwild in the mountains. We walked along Sunset Strip and across the stars on the Walk of Fame and had a look at the footprints and the madness around the Chinese Theater, where they also celebrate the yearly presentation of the OSCAR awards. A huge aircraft museum came next and "shop 'til you drop", then it was time to board the plane again.

Eleven hours later saw us in Munich, Germany, then on to Stuttgart, where my dad and brother picked us up from the airport and drove us through snow covered landscapes to our home in Wurmlingen.
We celebrated my dad's 84. and mum's 82. birthday, took in some opera, theater and concerts in Tuttlingen, visited friends and doctors, as well as Werners extended family of 3 brothers, a sister and two sons in Gütersloh and Abensberg near Ingolstadt.

Then we took off on a long planned tour to Italy with the family camper van. There we were on the road again, through Switzerland, Vierwaldstätter See, upward on small winding roads to the top of St. Gotthard mountain, where 2 meters of snow still covered the sides of the road, and down again into the fragrant warm air of Northern Italy. We walked inside and on top of the huge cathedral of Milano, passed quickly through Genua and made our way towards the coastal area called Cinque Terre with narrow winding roads and small villages hanging on to the cliffs above the ocean. No problem for all the tiny Italian cars and the thousands of little motorbikes, but definitely a challenge for our VW camper van. Sometimes the gap was so narrow while passing houses or other vehicles, that we had to reach out and pull in the side mirrors to gain a few centimeters. More than once I thought to hear a screeching noise in a moment, luckily it never happened. In this area we wanted to visit Portofino, where Werner long, long ago had spent time with his first boat in the harbour. It took us a long time with stop and go on the very narrow road downhill between lots of cars, hiking people, motorbikes and oncoming buses until we reached Portofino, just to find out that all the cars vanished into a parking house with 2 meter high entrance, which we could not pass. It was hard enough to turn the van around so that we could crawl up the hill again and we only got a glimpse of the harbour far below. Just a bit later we realized that it was White Sunday and also Italian Holidays, no wonder it was crowded everywhere.
We visited other small villages on this rugged, but beautiful coast, then decided to make a run for ROMA (ROME), stopping on the way in the town of PISA to visit the amazing Leaning Tower .

They say: "See Rome and die…", nowadays that comes probably true on the roads, because the traffic is crazy.  So we left the van in the campground and boarded a bus to town where we walked, and walked, and walked…. The Vatican and it's wonderful museums, the Capella Sixtina, where they elect the pope, with Michelangelos marvelous paintings, Duomo San Pietro (Basilica of St. Peters) to the highest point up in the cupola, the grand Piazza San Marco, numerous streets up and down and with sore feet back to the bus and a relaxing dip into the swimming pool on the campground.
Second day saw us at the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, Palatin, Column of Trajan, Palace of Victor Emanuel, numerous churches, relaxing beside the famous fountain Fonte di Trevi surrounded by loads of other tourists and just in time for sunset we finally reached the Spanish Stairs, where the youths of Rome congregate in the evening.

Time was short, so we had to drive back North the next day, stopping for a few days in ancient Siena, then on to Volterra high on it's mountainous perch, where nearby some sailing friends had rented a beautiful local cottage and invited us to stay with them for a few days. Together we made forays to the ocean and nearby villages and had wonderful food including loads of cherries right from the frontyard and yummy cheeses and semidried bacons form the local speciality shops.

On to Florence, where we had a long wait in line to visit the churches and museums,  especially the Uffizi, despite ordering entrance cards a day before.  Without pre-ordering, we would have waited the whole day, and the time of year was still far away from high season. We never made it into the museum that has the original famous sculpture of David from Michelangelo on display, but saw a lot of good copies on the town squares.  

Back to Germany, this time across St. Bernardino mountain and through Switzerland along the border to Liechtenstein on to a village near the Lake of Constance in Germany, where friends where waiting for us already.
Hurrying home to celebrate birthdays, my brothers 50. on June 23., then my 55. and my nephew Robins 12., followed by Werner's 71. and it was time again to pack up and leave Germany by plane.

Stopover, 4 days in Singapur.   Lots of different nations, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, held together by a strong hand. Little India, Chinatown, Arabtown, small houses, the streets cluttered with articles for sale, restaurants, people in their traditional dresses, churches and temples for the different beliefs, Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, all close together and living in harmony. Not far away the highrises and the glamourous Orchard Road, streets with the huge shopping malls of the brand names, Sony, Prada, Louis Vuitton…
We explored it all including Sentosa Island, where we met sailing friends (yes, we have them all over the world!) and of course the old Raffles Hotel, which occupies a whole town square. At "High Tea" you have to drink the famous Singapore Sling Cocktail there, which we omitted after having heard the outrageous price they ask for it. Later in the plane we were served one for free!
Every night we ate delicious cheap meals in the small Indian or Chinese street restaurants.

The last day of our stay was the Singapore National Day, and like everybody else we made our way down to the harbor, where all the celebration took place. We had no ticket for the show on a huge outdoor platform, but found a place on the water close to the platform in front of a huge TV screen broadcasting the show. Thousands of different people clad in Singapores national colours red and white packed the places, all were happy and expectant.
Then the show started with the formal arrival of the prime minister and his aides, speeches dances and music. As a sudden, right in front of us, the military and navy started an anti-terrorist action with a lot of loud gun shooting, boat racing, para-shooting, big turmoil on the water and a military parade on the streets. It was all show too, but seemed very real. When it got dark, they had beautiful lights and boats with backlit sails on the water and the finale was a grand firework, after that all Singaporians as one put their hands on their hearts and pledged their allegiance to their country. It was quite a touching scene.
Then the exodus started, the huge crowd started walking towards the streets. We were tired and wanted to find a taxi to take us to the hotel, but all the streets were blocked with heavy gates, military and police, allowing the people only two choices of escape and both ended at an entrance to a Subway station. They did not make any exempts, even we were forced to follow the crowd along the streets and under the earth, where the efficient metro system hauled away the masses in extremely short time. Everbody was content and calm and the whole operation went very smooth, we were back at the hotel in no time. But in my mind I had to compare the people with puppets-on-a-string, obeying their rulers. Maybe that's how it works.

The next morning it was raining while the taxi took us to the airport, 9 hours later we landed in sunny Brisbane, where our friend Anita picked us up and took us to her house.
After a week in Australia meeting our friends there we took off via Nadi in Fiji, where we had to stay one night at the airport then on to Tongatapu,the main island of TONGA, and finally Vava'u Island . There friends picked us up from the airport, happy to see us again, because for a while they had feared we might be the two drowned Germans that had been on the island ferry Princess Ashika when she sank about 10 days before between the islands. The ferry had gone down in a few minutes, taking everybody, who was not out on deck, with her. There were only 50 survivors, mostly men, from about 150 people on board. A very sad day for Tonga and the families of the deceased.

Fritz brought us with his sailing yacht to our place ANALULU on the island of Fofoa. Home again!

We slept the first nights in our motorboat, which was sitting on his trailer on land. Then we had cleaned out the hut and furnished it again with all our stuff we had stored in the stonehouse while away. The garden also needed quite some work and our large dinghy La'a was falling apart, the plywood being rotten.
Our rubber dinghy Malolo was fine, but when we wanted to carry it to shore all handles and everything that was glued on fell off. We are still in contact with the manufacturer Southern Pacific, begging them to send us some glue, but they refuse to do this despite the dinghy being still under warranty! Not our idea of customer care. (More on this in my upcoming page of pros and cons.)

We put some antifouling paint on the hull of the motorboat now also called ANTAIA like our sailing yacht we sold in Australia.  Then we could launch it with the trailer on our concrete ramp and we were mobile again.
For ten days we had a young French man living with us and with his help, Werner rebuilt La'a in no time, made concrete posts for the boatshed and started cleaning the place.

While we were away, our new neighbours had started building their house, living full time on the island now. They had brought a dog with them and later a small kitten.
When we came back we started to put out food for our 14 year old cat Taika, which, until then, had come back everytime we arrived back living with us, while we were there. Unfortunately, this time he did not show up anymore, but Minks, the neighbours grey and white tom-cat, found the food and a nice dry place safe from the dog and decided to move in with us. The neighbours liked that idea too, because Minks had lived up in the trees in fear of the dog for quite some time, crying out loud every night. Now he is nearly grown up, busy catching rats and enjoying himself and we are happy to have him, but still feeling quite sad about our Taika..

On the morning of September 30. while still in bed I felt a small earthquake around 6:50. I didn't think much of it, because we have earthquakes here ever so often and this was much lighter than the big one a few years back, when the whole hut shook like crazy. But around an hour later the usual noise of water crashing over the reef sounded unusually loud despite the tide being only halfway up and our neighbour came running over asking what was going on in the lagoon.
We all ran down to the water where we witnessed the water dropping very rapidly inside the lagoon, showing coral heads and parts of the reef, we had never ever seen before. A Tsunami! I raced back to the house to get my camera and missed the very lowest part, because when I came back just a few minutes later, the water was already rising fast, the surge of it pulling the boats in the lagoon in the opposite direction and coming up over the highwater mark. Then the water receded again, pulling the boats hard around on their moorings, leaving them nearly grounded at the lowest level, then rising again. This went on for quite some time, eventually diminishing in height and strength, the first wave having been the highest and lowest. It was like extremely high and low tides shown in a quick-motion picture with 3 to 5 minutes for one tide. Hours later the lagoon was still in motion and we were happy, that nothing had happened to us or the boats and we could watch this nature show we had never seen before. Later the news started coming in and we realized, that we were very lucky to have been so far away from the center of the quake. We are positioned at 18°42‘ S und 174°10‘ W, Samoa lies about 600 km and Niuatoputapu, the northernmost Tongan island, about 300 km North of us. The quake happened South of Samoa (15°30 S and 171° West) with a strength of 8.3 Richter scale. The tsunami waves crashed with full force against the South shores of Samoa and onto the small islands of Niuatoputapu, washing away trees, houses and everything in its path, devastating whole villages and sadly killing or hurting a lot of people. In PagoPago, American Samoa, sailing yachts touched ground on their moorings in the middle of the harbour or literally sailed across the road circling the bay. Nowhere they had put out a tsunami warning despite the effects being felt all the way down to Nuku'alofa, a further 300 km South of us.

Fearing, that this was big news all over the world, and people were worrying about us like at the sinking of the ferry, I immediately put out a "we are ok" message to family and friends. Still we received some more concerned emails, thanks a lot for caring about us, feels good!
One week later there were some more earthquakes in Vanuatu with up to 8.1 RS, then everyone was alerted, the warnings went out for all of the Southern, even parts of the Northern pacific. Shops and schools were closed and everybody in low lying areas fled to the hills. There was no tsunami wave this time.


In these months the sailing season was in full swing and we enjoyed meeting a lot of sailors including members of our sailing club Trans-Ocean, of which we are the local support point or port captains, providing local information and help when needed. We had quite a number of boatcrews visiting us here or we were invited to their yachts.
On November 1. the monthlong drought ended with some very welcomed rain, rescuing the many fruittrees, which had already begun to drop their developing fruits in lack of water and filling our empty watertanks to the brim. The washing machine was doing overtime while the rain poured down.

A few weeks ago with the help of some Tongans we felled some very high old palm trees, which had begun to be a threat to the house and the area, where we wanted to build an extension. One of them climbed the palm tree and secured a line around the stem. While Werner cut the tree with the chainsaw the Tongans tried to pull the stem in the desired direction. More easy said than done, because these old twisted stems have their own mind and we have very little space where they can fall without hitting anything valuable, being it house or cultivated plant. Three palms came down as planned, the fourth turned and despite a lot of pulling, ended up hanging in another tree, now still hovering, secured with ropes, over our boatshed and a freshly planted section in front of it.
The last palm was even more critical and indeed it took off to the wrong side taking down some big branches from other trees and clattering loudly onto the roof of our sheet metal garden shed. All workers from the next lot came running, thinking we had wrecked our house, but despite all the noise the damage was only minor, a few bends in the metal, which Werner could easily repair.

Now we had space to start our long planned building project with the first step, a bathroom done in ferrocement techniques. Werner made concrete poles which we put upright. Around them came some fencing material on which the cement was plastered. We are still in the process of determining the best method to do this, the bathroom is up by now, but maybe we need to make some adjustments for the next rooms. We'll tell you all about it in our next Christmas letter.

In the meantime we wait for our seasonal avocados, mangoes and lemons to ripen and hope that we will be spared further desasters like cyclones, floods, tsunamis, droughts and earthquakes.

Therefore we wish you all



We thank all our friends for their generous hospitality during our travels and those who thought about us in dire times. We look forward to everybody who wants to visit us and are happy to receive your emails.

With our best regards from the South Seas

Elke & Werner  

            and cat Minks   Minks


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