Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Delta Works

For the last part of our excellent road-trip, it was off to Zeeland (where New Zealand comes from) to see the Delta Works. Another UNESCO site, here we celebrate human engineering I suppose. The Netherlands has a very long coastline, and it would be even longer without the Delta Works. What the Delta Works does, is to shorten the coastline. Here’s a picture (CC:BY Classical Geographer)

The Netherlands came up with a risk profile that they were prepared to agree to, and then enshrined that in law and put aside the cash to keep the flood defences maintained. Different parts of the country have differing levels of risk associated depending on whether you’re in a flood zone. That is, some places will be purposefully flooded if the water gets to certain levels.

Anyway, a magnificent feat of engineering, but it sure had ecological effects, as you can imagine (places which were seawater becoming fresh etc.)


This was put in place because of the huge floods of 1953 when 1,836 people died in The Netherlands (307 in England)

We visited an excellent museum of the disaster (partly designed by Eveline du Perron, a friend of Maaike’s)


And then it was back to Posterholt and the end of the road trip. I had a really excellent time travelling around and getting to see a bit more of The Netherlands and spending time with Maaike’s mum and dad :)

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Leaving Fort Vuren behind us, we headed into town to hire a couple of bikes for the day.


I can empathize with this sign… it still surprises me how sore my posterior gets when biking longish distances on the (otherwise) very comfortable Dutch bikes..

Anyway, hired bikes, and went for a bit of tour through the streets of Dordrecht.. (I think?)


and then took a boat up towards Kinderdijk Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk is a UNESCO site which is the largest concentration of old windmills in The Netherlands. They were built in 1750, and while not strictly required for draining the polders, they are still in operational use. People do live in them (you can apply), but you have to be a certified windmill operator.

Anyway, a very pretty place, and interesting to see the drainage in operation.


You can go inside a couple of the windmills and see what life was like, back in the day. Here for example is one of the (childrens) beds:


Then it was a nice bike around the surrounds. It’s just such a lovely way to get around, and so many bikers everywhere.. good country for it (if windy)

I imagine this is a road that tall vehicles don’t travel down. I wonder if accidents happen… I guess they must?

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Loevestein and surrounds – Day 2

After breakfast (traditional Dutch style – being breads, cheeses, meats and decent coffee) it was off on the bikes. A lovely place to explore, old buildings everywhere, often leaning (falling?!) towards the road, held back by cables. Slightly disconcerting at first.


And yes, that’s marshmallows foamy stuff in a jar. This I have not seen before. It was fun biking around, every so often we had to take a short boat trip crossing, a nice way to break up the ride.

Oh, this old church had had the top of the tower blown off by the Spanish during one of the many wars. They didn’t put it back on again.


The main event for the day was visiting Castle (Slot) Loevestein. The building started as a small stone structure in 1357, and then built on over the years until finished in it’s current state around 1600. There was a good exhibition showing the transition of the castle, and how it became less effectual once warfare included the use of planes. It was also used as a prison. One famous prisoner was Hugo Grotius. He was imprisoned (political prisoner), but was allowed to receive books etc.. eventually escaping in the book chest…


Hugo wrote a lot of the foundation of international law concerning the freedom of the seas and the rights / obligations of nations going to war.

Back via another road / canal crossing.


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Quick trip to the national museum, then off up and away.

It was raining hard on our last morning in Iceland. I was all for being lazy (ok, reading my book, which I was quite engrossed in at the time), but, Maaike suggested making the most of it and going to the national museum (correct call)

There was a decent collection – some of it dealing with law & crime & punishment, and some with the role of Christianity in Iceland. Lots of beautiful carvings. They have no idea how the clock worked unfortunately.


This little figure is of God. Or Thor. Or Thorgod.. they’re not quite sure… certainly shows the transition period though.


Some quite funny things, like in this portrait… note how exceedingly similar all the figures look..


I did enjoy the “stuff through the ages” part at the end. It probably did have a better name.. but that’s what it felt like to me.


Finally, it was time to leave for The Netherlands. Iceland was amazing, I’d go back in a heartbeat for more hiking. There is so much to see and do there.


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Gullfoss, Geysir and Pingvellir National Park

First stop, some buildings built into the rock. I forget why exactly, but yes, here they are:


It was right by a (canny) family who had built an exhibit on the Eyjafjallajokull eruption. I really liked this slice of time through the soil section.


It was interesting reading about the various ways Icelanders have utilised their natural resources. Through hot water, to creating small hydro schemes (the family had their own) etc. Resourceful people. Also a pretty waterfall at Sejalandsfoss


Then it was on to Gullfoss, this huge waterfall and a monument really to environmentalism, as the waterfall was due to be dammed in the 1920s, but was effectively stopped by civic movement (and lack of cash from investors…) and Sigridour Tomasson – the daughter of the landowner (who never wanted the dam in the first place). Anyway, stunning spot.


Then it was on to the town of Geysir! Yes, the town (well, village really) is where the name “geyser” comes from. Geysir itself no longer goes off, except after strong earthquakes. Some … idiots.. tried to trigger it some time ago, by throwing rocks into it. This effectively blocked some important section, and now it no longer goes off.

There is another one (Strokkur) goes off every 5-10 minutes though, so you get your pictures :)


I also really liked the safety sign… especially the last point… And of course, the obligatory tourist ignoring all the signs to get their special shot.


Then it was on to Pingvellir National Park, where the national assembly used to be… and also where the North American and Eurasian plates separate. This is where a lot of their laws were “read” (at the law rock – where the flagpole is (they reckon)). Basically, back in the day the Icelanders decided they needed some form of law, so one guy went off to Norway to study law, and his foster brother walked around until he found the best place to situate the assembly. It was right by a big lake full of fish, lots of firewood, and a stunning setting. Perfect. Every important decision affecting Iceland was hammered out on this plain.


Really nice campspot too (well, the one we stayed at, away from the main place). It was _extremely_ windy and rainy that night… we were definitely happy we had our trusty macpac tent!


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Fimmvörðuháls – the best day walk money can’t buy

This walk certainly goes down as my favourite day hike ever. It was a longish walk (23km), starting at the campsite by the Skogafoss waterfall. It’s simply waterfall after waterfall after waterfall (22 of them) all the way up to the eruption site (more on that later – first, some pictures)


Then the landscape changes dramatically to being stark and barren (and damn cold, I definitely didn’t wear enough warm clothes on this hike). You’re sandwiched between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers. Yes, that’s the Eyjafjallajökull which nuked air traffic over Europe back in 2010. We did see some bikers here crossing over the ice. They’d been driven up (there a 4wd track part of the way up, which you mostly get to ignore when walking), and then did what turned out to be really a very short ride. I doubt it was really worth the effort to be honest.


When Eyjafjallajökull first erupted, it did so at two smaller fissure craters, called Móði and Magni. There’s quite a nice diagram here of where the various vents are. Anyway, it was a welcome stop, as even now, 4 years later, the earth is still _hot_ (and steaming). A great way to warm up cold hands!!


Then the scenery changes dramatically again as you drop down into Godaland (Gods land – and you can see why, (S)He has a taste for the dramatic!). Absolutely beautiful. We actually hadn’t planned on making it down the other side, as we hadn’t realised that there were twice-a-day connecting busses from the other side. Fortunately we met a German couple on the hike, and they told us about it… very handy, as it would have been a shame to miss it.


You can see track work (volunteers) being done above too. Great place to come and help out for a while.

Got back via one of those beasty Mercedes busses at about 10pm. So a long day (the busses take their time..) but what an absolutely excellent day walk.

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PUFFINS!!!!!!!! (and towards Fimmvorduhals)

This blurry shot is of a small hillock. On the top of the hillock you can see a tuft of grass. Well, if it was a better shot you could. It’s there because birds stay there to survey their surrounds from a higher spot, and leave their guano. Funny.


The main event though was at Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara. It was a hellishly windy day. Very very windy. And there was this huge sea stack which I thought would make an excellent Facebook profile shot (it’s terrible when you find yourself, even occasionally, thinking in Facebook profile shots.. I should probably quit immediately). Anyway, Maaike wasn’t that excited about going out onto it (did I mention the wind).. but she did venture out a bit – and then she spotted the PUFFINS!! (we had hoped to see them here, but still.. they should have left already)


Puffins are awesome. I also really like the Dutch word for them “papegaaiduiker”, which translates as “parrot diver”

puffins - tick

Then it was off to Fimmvorduhals, we had a quick hike up the waterfall (5 mins from the campsite), and got ready to do a day walk the next day.. turned out to be one of the best hikes I’ve ever done anywhere.. absolutely amazing.. pictures to come in the next post ;)


Oh, finally, we went to another glacier (they’re everywhere!). Retreating fast, and leaving these interesting mounds of dirt behind (conical).. The dirt insulates the ice underneath, so it melts more slowly, leaving these conical formations. Also, I ate a lot of prince biscuits… really brought me back to the many many wonderful family summers I spent camping in France. Nyom Nyom Nyom.


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Skaftafell & Laki (and thereabouts)

Next it was on down to Skaftafell, a national park which came highly recommended. On the way there we passed Dverghamrar, a slightly strange place with some columnar jointed volcanics


There are actually two distinct sections in this picture, with the lava having been cooled from beneath and above respectively (and the above cooling was more rapid, probably by a river flowing over it). Honestly, you need to come here with a geologist in tow.

So, after that it was Skaftafell. In fairness, we caught it on a miserable weather day and I found out that my waterproof jacket… wasn’t… any more. So, cold, wet, miserable and with little views, I can happily say that it was the complete lowlight of Iceland for me.


The one tiny redeeming feature was the tree life! (we hardly saw any trees to note while being in Iceland, probably the starkest difference from NZ).

The next day we visited Laki
Worth reading the article.. but some quotes

The system erupted over an eight-month period between 1783 and 1784 from the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano, pouring out an estimated 14 km3 (3.4 cu mi) of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide compounds that killed over 50% of Iceland’s livestock population, leading to a famine that killed approximately 25% of the island’s human population.

The Laki eruption and its aftermath caused a drop in global temperatures, as sulfur dioxide was spewed into the Northern Hemisphere. This caused crop failures in Europe and may have caused droughts in India. The eruption has been estimated to have killed over six million people globally, making the eruption the deadliest in historical times.


The consequences for Iceland, known as the “Móðuharðindin” (Mist Hardships), were catastrophic. An estimated 20–25% of the population died in the famine and fluoride poisoning after the fissure eruptions ceased. Around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle and 50% of horses died because of dental and skeletal fluorosis from the 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride that were released.

Bad stuff in other words. Stunning scenery though. You really get an idea of the scale of the thing, as you’re driving for miles and miles through barren lava flow scenery. Ok, green, as moss has returned, but still – totally totally devastated.


Yeah, fantastic place. We live on a violent planet at times.


These weird rings are formed by a fungus. Nor fairies. Well, no one has spotted them anyway.

Stayed the night in… a town… and they have this monument pointing towards Britain. There’s a sister monument pointing back this way. Celebrating the links through the seafarers life.


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