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Victoria’s famous Wilsons Promontory – the Prom – a mecca for nature tourists

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Victoria has several main tourist destinations which are must see for many who come to Australia such as:

  • the fairy penguin parade at nearby Philip Island
  • the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road along with the rainforests and beaches of the Otway Ranges
  • Wilsons Promontory with its unspoilt beaches, lovely orange moss covered granite boulders and plenty of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, emus, wombats, echidnas and perhaps you may see koalas and other animals.

This week I had the luxury of a few days off by myself to explore the Prom – it’s been a long 30 years since I was last there, and is only now recovering from devastating bush fires, storms and floods from just a few years ago – but none of these have adversely affected the lovely beaches which are just as I remembered them.

The following photos were taken with my Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5.

The Prom is around 2.5-3 hrs drive from Melbourne (including the 30 minute drive from the entrance gates to the main camp ground at Tidal River).

Before you go, check the 7 day forecast here.

Note that the Prom is regarded as THE most windy place on mainland Australia thanks to the exposure to the south-easterly winds coming across Bass Strait from the Antarctic, and note that October is generally the most windy month of the year. Hold onto your hat when you climb the Big Drift!

October is a great time to visit the Prom because:

  • there are not too many people down there, especially mid week when you can often have the beach to yourself and accommodation is not an issue (accommodation needs to be booked months in advance for school holidays and public holiday peak periods)
  • the weather is not too hot given that most of the walks and the beaches as well as the very exposed Big Drift dune system have little sun protection
  • the weather is not too sunny – October is generally a rather cloudy month but that makes for more pleasant walking and more interesting photography
  • the weather is not too cold, although it did struggle to get to 21 deg C, the overnight lows though were only down to around 9 deg C so not too harsh for overnight campers
  • it is Spring and the multitude of wild flowers including native orchids are in bloom, along with the swarms of native bees (which don’t attack you!) and other flying insects including butterflies – a downside is that your car will need the multitude of dead insects removed from windscreen and bonnet!
  • in Summer and Autumn, there is not only far more people to contend with but sand flies with their delayed onset severe itching, and biting march flies are more problematic.

Facilities at the Prom:

The prom is managed by Parks Victoria who run the bookings for accommodation – which includes cabins, huts, powered and unpowered camp sites including the various unpowered remote overnight walk camp sites  (there is no free camping within the park).

An overview map of the park can be downloaded here and the Parks Visitor’s Guide can be downloaded here.

The last petrol is just before the park entrance at Yanakie where there is also a general store and a bakery cafe (although the cafe is not open every day!).

There is a general store and take away food cafe at Tidal River and they make nice hamburgers, although obviously, prices at such a remote place are not on the cheap side. Note that this cafe closes at 4.30pm in daylight saving time and 4pm at other times (winter). This means you MUST provide for your own evening meals in the park – but they do offer free gas BBQs to use.

There is a general store in Yanakie and Sandy Point but like most rural shops close around 5-6pm, so after this time you will need to go to the pub in Fish Creek or a restaurant further afield such as Meeniyan or Foster.

A map of Tidal River can be downloaded on this link.

At most of the camp sites the tank water probably should be treated to ensure it is potable, or bring your own water.

An information pamphlet on the many walks can be downloaded from this link.

The lovely beaches that require only a short walk from your car:

Tidal River and Norman Beach:

This is an incredibly beautiful pristine beach with a lovely tannin-colored but clear freshwater stream flowing alongside uniquely coloured granite boulders to the sea.

On warmer days, the beach will be filled with kids playing beach cricket or football, while others surf or just enjoy the sand, river and exploring the boulders.

tidal river

Squeaky Beach:

A favorite of mine – the sand grains are fine which results in a lovely squeaky noise as you walk – you will need to get your toes wet as you need to cross the shallow stream to get to the beach – but it is well worth it.

The north end has a maze of large “plum pudding” type granite boulders in which to explore at low tide with a back drop of Mt Bishop whilst one looks out to small islands.

squeaky beach

squeaky beach

Whisky Bay:

Another photographer’s favorite beach with its large boulders at each end which can be explored at low tide.

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

whisky bay beach

Hand held long exposure using a ND400 filter and the Olympus OM-D cameras with their amazing image stabilisation.

The regenerating forests make for relaxing walks:

An easily accessible nature walk is the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk which not only takes you through some nice eucalypt forest regenerating after the bushfires but is abundant with wild flowers and wild life such as these which were all taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens:

echidna

An echidna quickly crossed the path ahead of me – it pays to have your telephoto lens always ready to shoot!

native orchid

Native orchid

butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

Butterfly on a flowering native grass tree

forest

Forest

forest

Fire affected forest

At the end of the day you may be blessed with a lovely sunset:

forest

This image was taken with the brilliant Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens giving hand held 600mm telephoto reach allowing good views of the peninsula at South Walkerville in the distance which in itself is a nice area to explore with its historic limestone kilns on the beach.

My next post, is my favorite area at the Prom – the massive, remote and very eerie sand dunes that are the Big Drift.

One week in South Korea – Part 5 – Seoraksan National Park

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Seoraksan National Park is a beautiful mountainous park dominated by rugged granite peaks and maple gullies amongst cyprus forests only 15 minutes drive from the coastal resort town of Sokcho on the north-eastern coast of South Korea.

One should take care with mosquitoes as there apparently is a small risk of mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus and even malaria according to WHO, but the more dangerous animals such as tigers and bears are now extinct from most of South Korea including in this region.

Sokcho is a 3-4 hour bus ride from Seoul depending upon traffic conditions.

These images were taken with Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 and Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lenses.

We only had one day in our itinerary to hike in the park and that one day coincided with almost constant heavy rain which absolutely soaked not only my active wear but also my Olympus E-M1 with 40-150mm f/2.8 lens and its lovely rain protective lens hood which fortunately are highly water resistant and did not suffer any ill effect from the constant rain over a 5 hour period – unlike my friend’s “water-resistant” Garmin watch we failed permanently half way due to the rain.

The hike we chose was to the rugged granite peaks which was some 11km and 5hrs return in the rain with seemingly thousands of steps and a total ascent of over 600m to the ~1200m altitude peak which overlooked the Sokcho valley in the very brief intervals where the clouds parted and we could see what was below us.

The scenery so reminded me of Japanese ink sketches that I decided to post-process these images in that style.

The peaks which we were to climb up as seen from the Seoul-Sokcho bus.

At the start of the walk is a Buddhist Temple which provided for some very nice imagery:

Whilst at this temple we took pity on a very keen Canikon elderly Korean man who was trying in vain to get some shots of this temple with his camera on a tripod wrapped in towels to keep the camera dry as well as trying to hold an umbrella in the wind – unfortunately for him he did not choose a weatherproof camera and lens with image stabilisation such as we had with our Olympus gear, and so we helped him out by holding his umbrella so he could get his shot.

As we start our walk alongside a fast flowing stream, we walk over some nice old bridges:

and then perhaps half way up our ascent we arrive at a remote old Buddhist temple built into the mountain side:

a tourist wet and tired and its only a third of the ascent work down:

Perhaps at this point I should have said a few prayers because the ascent from here on became very steep indeed but gave very rewarding vignettes dominated by these beautiful trees amongst the peaks:

and now ascent into the clouds:



and finally to the peak – the hiker and his umbrella – as we found – no match for the strong up-draught winds hurtling upwards and playing havoc with the umbrellas:

The price to pay for these beautiful sights was 3 days of very painful calf muscles but thankfully, we did not trip and fall in the wet, slippery conditions.

After the hike, an incredibly kind young Korean lady who worked in a park cafe finally worked out what we were trying to ask her – “where is the local thermal spas?” and she offered to drive us there as the cafe had closed and so we made it to the thermal spa baths which were in another valley – but to our naive surprise they were authentic Oriental style baths which banned all forms of clothing – so when in Rome ….

One week in South Korea – Part 4 – Seoul by day

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Seoul is an interesting city to walk around the various neighborhoods, and unfortunately we did not get time to visit more palaces or other interesting sights such as the Seoul Tower, the wall around the city, etc.

So this gives me incentive to head back there another time to continue my explorations.

These images were taken with Micro Four Thirds cameras – the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and E-M5 with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 and Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lenses.

cityscape

From the top of a building

Quintessential Seoul urban streetscape.

The old and the new – traditional Korean residences with the Seoul Tower in the background.


Korean gate

Gate on one of the traditional residences.

The far majority of tourists in Seoul are Asian – Caucasians are a rare sight indeed!

graffiti

Seoul is generally a very clean city at least on the surface and has very little graffiti – but I did manage to find some in a remote alley way.

and some minimalistic graffiti in a shopping area laneway.

another gate to a residence

The locals dressing up in hired traditional costumes for a day of taking pics in the streets.

One week in South Korea – part 2 – The Secret Garden

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

sunrise from my hotel room

My first sunrise in Seoul – from my hotel room using the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle zoom lens

Our first morning in Seoul was a hot 34degC partly sunny, humid day with little wind as we headed off to a guided tour of The Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace – a lovely relaxing walk with plenty of shade and beautiful little vistas.

The local Koreans seem to love to hire traditional apparel and wander the palace grounds and taking selfies, and on some I was asked to assist and others I asked them for permission to take an even better shot with a proper camera and lens – my trusty Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera mated with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens while I also carried a E-M5 with Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle zoom lens for the occasional wider perspectives.

It was a great introduction to Korean culture, although unfortunately much of these palace structures were severely damaged during the early 20th century Japanese occupation.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Korean people I met were lovely, quiet, generous, respectful and honest looking people with no evidence of pick pocketers, violence or aggression.



Out of a population of 50 million, there are apparently only some 130,000 muslim people, and these are nearly all foreigners.

A modern Korean lady on the garden tour.

Yours truly helping out a couple of ladies with their “selfie” shots.

Of course there are hundreds of shots one can achieve of the gardens and palaces which I will not post here apart from these:

My crazy tour buddy!

One week in South Korea – part 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Last week I had the fantastic opportunity of spending some time in South Korea (the Republic of Korea), most of which was in its bustling capital Seoul but also a weekend in the coastal resort town of Sokcho on the eastern coast and adjacent to the beautiful Seoraksan National Park.

This first post is to give some background of South Korea and introduce its culture.

Geography and how to get there.

South Korea is the mountainous southern part of the Korean Peninsula located between China and Japan and, obviously, south of North Korea, with which it is still technically at war and thus is separated from it by a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

Seoul has a population of 25 million (half of Korea’s population) being the world’s 6th leading city and 4th largest economy while over half the population live in high rise apartments and only 3% are non-Korean foreigners and half of these have Korean ethnicity! South Korea had the world’s lowest birth rates in 2009 but it has been increasing since

It’s time zone is only 1hr different to Australian Eastern Standard Time.

From my home town, Melbourne, Australia, there are no direct flights to Seoul as thus I needed a short flight to Sydney first before catching a direct 10hr 30m flight via Asiana Airlines.

One should allow around 90 minutes to get from Incheon Airport to Seoul CBD by bus or taxi, and there is also a train service.

Be warned taxi drivers can be lacking in safety awareness with Korea having high road trauma rates, one of our taxi drivers thankfully slowed to 140kph in 80kph zone.

In Seoul, there is a very advanced subway system, just download the app for your smartphone to navigate it, purchase a CityPass card at the vending machine (there are English instructions), load it up with some won – perhaps around 5000-10000 won at a time (~$US5-10 and this pass can be used on buses, or even to buy food in some shops).

Half of all tourists are Chinese.

Climate:

South Korea has a humid continental climate and a humid subtropical climate and the best time to visit for comfort is Sept-Nov (autumn) but no matter what time of year, an umbrella or rainwear is advisable.

Seoul has an average annual rainfall of 1,370mm, mostly in July and August which receive over 300mm each month.

There are four distinct seasons:

  • spring: late-March to early-May which may bring yellow dust pollution from strong winds from China and Mongolia
  • summer: mid-May to early-September which is hot, wet, humid and may be associated with East Asian monsoonal rains as well as a brief high rainfall period “jangma” which occurs in July
  • autumn: mid-September to early-November
  • winter: mid-November to mid-March which can be extremely cold with the minimum temperature dropping below −20 °C (−4 °F) in the inland region of the country

July and August are the hottest, most humid and wettest months, and we arrived in a mini heat wave with daytime temperatures of around 34degC with high humidity and night temperatures dropping to around 27degC. Later in the week the temperature cooled to 27degC max and 18degC minimums and the last two days on the east coast were dominated by heavy rains.

A brief history:

Koryo was one of the leading East Asian powers from around 1st century BC and ruled northern China, Inner Mongolia and parts of Russia for over a millenium of relative tranquillity.

Buddhism was introduced to Korea in the year 372.

In 1446, Sejong the Great, created a unique alphabet Hangul, which enabled anyone to easily learn to read and write.

These dynasties resulted in establishment of 12 World Heritage Sites.

In the 19th century, the Joseon Dynasty tried to protect itself against Western imperialism, but was eventually forced to open trade.

After the 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), Korea was liberated from Chinese influence as a state of the Qing dynasty, and after the Donghak Peasant Revolution of 1894 to 1895 , a short-lived Korean Empire formed (1897-1910).

After Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Korea initially became a Japanese protectorate and then was annexed by imperial Japan in 1910.

Towards the end of World War II, Russia liberated Korea north of the 38th parallel, while USA liberated the areas to the south. After Japan surrendered to Western and Russian powers at the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was then divided into North and South Korea, and this, along with Cold War issues resulted in North Korea invading South Korea with China and Russia coming to aid the North, and USA-led UN forces backing the south in the Korean War (1950-1953) which saw Seoul change hands four times, until a truce was formed by signing an armistice, but the two states are technically still at war, and the threat from North Korea, always present and seemingly increasing.

 Culture, language and health:

It has the world’s eighth highest median household income, the highest in Asia, and its singles in particular earn more than all G7 nations, and half have no religious affiliation, most of the remainder are either Buddhist or Christian.

The world’s most innovative country in 2015 and has the world’s fastest Internet speed and highest smartphone ownership.

South Korea is the most industrialized member country of the OECD.

South Korea has a universal healthcare system and amongst the most technologically advanced healthcare in the world and has over triple the number of hospital beds per capita compared to USA, UK, Sweden, and Canada!

Compulsory military conscription for men continues and South Korea has very high defence spending – 15% of all govt spending.

Few Koreans speak English as it only became compulsory in schools this century and although young adults may be able to read some English, their verbal skills are quite limited. This is compounded by the very few English speaking tourists who arrive and the monoculture of 97% Koreans who live there. Despite this, the Korean language is quite phonetic and signs are often  in English.

Korean food is still largely devoid of Western influences (although there are some Western take away food places such as MacDonalds, Dominos Pizza and many coffee cafes), you will probably not find fish and chip shops, dim sims, potato cakes, french fries, chocolate bars, ice cream and in addition, wine is rare but beer, soju and whisky/rum are plentiful – in fact, the Koreans are generally heavy drinkers after their long hours at work.

The Korean population generally come across as quiet, cool, calm, collected, well dressed, high-tech savvy, generous, respectful and kind people with very little obesity issues although smoking and high alcohol intake is still problematic.

Seoul feels to me to be the safest of cities I have been to – I felt ashamed that I may cause offense in securing my valuables in the hotel room but I still did so. There is no evidence of pick pockets in the areas I visited and free WiFi is everywhere and given the apparent trustworthiness of the Koreans and lack of Western tourists, I felt I could get away with not using a VPN.

The widespread free WiFi – in hotels, on train platforms, bus stations, airports, etc, meant that one does not really need to have a Korean sim card or use international roaming – just switch phone to airplane mode and turn WiFi on and communicate using a messaging app such as WhatsApp.

Koreans respectfully bow to each other to thank or give leave and there is a strict aged-based hierarchical respect system stemming from Confucian and Buddhist teachings and Koreans are taught from a young age that they need to know who is their senior and who is their junior and that they must obey and respect their seniors, who in return, provides support and pay for meals, etc.

Young men in the city generally wear a shirt, tie, trousers with black belt and stylish shoes reminiscent of the well dressed Italian.

Young women generally wear smart summer dresses, shorts or short skirts whilst the upper part of the body for both sexes remains covered – no cleavages or open shirts (even for men as the upper torso is regarded as a sexual zone – legs are not).

The Koreans appear to have a body image issue as plastic surgery rates are amongst the highest in the world with some 25% of young adults having had surgery – and the surgical skills appear to be very high tech and transformative – see here for some mind blowing examples!

As most Korean young people live with their parents in high rise apartments, many go to resort towns for the weekends for romantic getaways in “Love Hotels” such as in Sokcho.

Koreans appear to like booking small rooms for karaoke fun for 2-4 people. K-pop is an extremely popular Asian music and culture phenomenon.

Communal thermal spas are generally true Oriental style with clothing and underwear banned, and a requirement for a good, long, whole of body soapy scrub and shower before entering the bathing area au naturale (although women and men have separate areas).
Korean temple

Korean temple in Asian ink sketch style – Olympus OM-D.

old and the new

Old and the new – Seoul – Olympus OM-D

the essential umbrella

The umbrella – an essential sun shade and for those rain periods – Olympus OM-D with mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens.

a sprinkling of snow on the eucalypts on the mount at sunset

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

On my way home from my day jaunt into central Victoria, I decided to drive over Mt Macedon in search of a bit more snow.

My 2degC earlier walk turned into a sub zero walk on the mount but was rewarded with a pretty powder coating of snow.

Here is a hand held shot in low light with my cold hands with a touch of sunset glow in top left background.

snow on gums

Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 pro lens on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera at ISO 400.

and here is another in very low light of snow on a bracken fern in the forest, also with this lens:

fern

Overnight camp 1400m hiking ascent to Mount Feathertop – how a sedentary middle aged photographer survived to get some great pics

Friday, December 4th, 2015

I decided it was time to re-invent my life and instead of restricting myself to 2-3hr return bush walks, I needed to push the envelope and get a new outlook and actually be there for the golden hours at the start and end of the day instead of having to be heading home well before it.

For those reading my earlier blogs on central Australia, you will note that my largely sedentary lifestyle combined with man flu resulted in a lumbar disc prolapse back in August this year but I pushed through this and only a few weeks later with some help from my friends, I climbed up the 360m steep ascent to Mt Gillen near Alice Springs, then walked around Uluru and then followed this with a rocky hike through the Olgas – all of which markedly improved my disc prolapse pain to such an extent, I vowed I would regularly hike up some hills.

My friend then encouraged me to embark on my life changing aspirations and suggested we tackle the “gentle” climb up Mt Feathertop (altitude 1922m making it Victoria’s second highest mountain peak) and camp overnight.

Climbing Mt Feathertop is one of those bucket list items for many Australians as it is relatively accessible and the walk at the top is very enjoyable.

I was very dubious that a guy such as me, who, much to my wife’s disgust, hates the boring gym so much that he can only stand being there for 15 minutes twice a week,  would actually make this – yep, 2 minute sprints on a bike at the gym probably is not enough endurance training for this kind of hike – but he did say it is a “gentle” hike.

If I was going to do this, I was going to have to get as much as possible in my favour and this means buying some reliable, light gear and doing some planning as well as taking along 2 fit guys in case I needed them.

I did make it

Spoiler alert – Yes, I did make it to the peak!

Phase 1 – planning

I needed an ergonomic back pack that would not put too much strain on my neck or back – so after a bit of research I purchased the rather unique New Zealand Aarn Peak Aspiration “body pack” which encourages you to walk upright instead of stooped over as the load is not only mostly transferred to a nicely designed hip belt, but is counter-balanced by 2 packs on your chest in which you carry your camera gear, munchies, and water. These packs are cleverly designed to also place the load on the hip belt and at the same time lever away from your chest to allow air flow and visibility of your feet. I bought the “Long” version which allows some 47L in the rear pack and 6L in each of the front packs. The front packs are purchased separately as there are various designs for different purposes – I bought the regular photo version which is large enough top hold my Micro Four Thirds camera – the  Olympus OM-D E-M1 attached to a Olympus mZD 40-150mm lens in one pocket. If you are a dSLR user, you will probably need the Pro Photo version which is larger and better padded but makes the pack very bulky indeed. The back pack does need an experienced user to  customise the many fittings to your body shape, and I found that I could slope the hip belt downwards so it it optimised placement over my ASIS point of my pelvis while the buckle sits comfortably BELOW my little paunch which hides the 6 pack which should be there somewhere.
the backpack

The Aarn Peak Aspiration back pack with Photo pack on the front (Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lens).

My aim was to be almost self-sufficient (apart from cooking which my friend was providing) and carry around 12kg which for me should make the ascent bearable.

Next I needed a 3 season light, compact, versatile sleeping bag which could be used for any temperature down to 2degC comfortably, and for this I chose the highly regarded Sea to Summit Micro II sleeping bag with 850 goose down and ability to keep foot end open, or open the whole bag into a quilt for thye warmer nights. This weighs about 600g.

For a light but stable, reliable 3 season spacious tent I chose the Big Sky Revolution 2 tent – a silnylon (and thus very slippery but waterproof and light) 2-man tent with 2 porches and although advertised at 1.3kg, actually weighed in closer to 1.5kg.

I picked up a Nemo Astro insulated air mattress on Ebay as reviews rated it well for comfortable sleep although it was a touch heavy at just over 500g, but much more affordable and less noise than the Thermarest Neoair XLite.

Being paranoid I decided to spend big and purchase a Camelbak All Clear UV light water sterilisation kit which weighed an extra 250g and which my colleagues thought was overkill as there would be plenty of water at the camp site, nevertheless, it came along as well as my EPIRB radio beacon, first aid kit, repair kit, extra guy ropes (gale force winds were forecast as 2 cold fronts were passing over that night).

Finally, camera gear. I had hoped to test out the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens on the last of the Milky Way for the season, so I brought it and a small tripod, plus spare batteries, gradient filters and my Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 and Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, the combination of all of these would hit around 3kg – thank goodness I no longer use my heavy Canon dSLR gear.

Unfortunately, when all this plus some warm change of clothes, water and some food is weighed up it came to a potentially back breaking 17+ kg, but I hoped the ergonomic design of my pack would get me over the line – my family just laughed and said I was crazy – maybe they were right!

So an important part of my planning was to have 2 fit colleagues!

Other contingencies to consider:

  • re-check the ever changing weather forecast
  • ensure you sign the check-in book at the start of the walk and notify your family of where you are going and when you will be back
  • wet weather gear
  • warm thermals, gloves, beanie to combat the wind chill overnight
  • usual bushwalk gear – first aid kit (including blister repair kit), radio beacon, map, compass, water sterilisation, torch, multi-tool, emergency thermal blanket, trowel (probably not needed on this hike), compostable wipes, rubbish bag
  • cooking and food gear – stove, pots, cutlery, bowl, hand sterilisation liquid, tea towel, knife to chop veges, and of course food +/- wine
  • 3L water container to transport water from source to camp
  • Leave No Trace principles
  • snakebite bandage
  • usual medications if any, and include EpiPen if anaphylaxis is a possibility (eg. bullant bites), plus analgesics, aspirin, NSAIDs
  • turn off mobile phones to save battery, consider small USB power pack
  • be aware of the constant dangers in summer of bushfires, lightning, etc.

Phase 2 – getting there

Mount Feathertop can be approached via several different walk routes – we chose the “gentle” walk from Harrietville called the Bungalow Spur Walk.

Harrietville is some 340km from outer NW suburbs of Melbourne and takes around 4 hours drive plus time for lunch at the Milawa Cheese Factory, so after departing Melbourne around 9.30-10am after peak hour traffic had subsided, we reached Milawa around 12.30, had lunch then reached Harrietville around 3pm for the start of our alpine walk.

Phase 3 – the ascent

 

GPS map of actual walk

The actual walk from our GPS tracker – yep there are NO flat segments to catch your breath!

Despite it being 3pm, the early Summer sun was quite warm and temperatures were around 28degC – a lovely day as long as you were not carrying a heavy load up a tall mountain!

Hiking gear included broad rim hat, sunglasses, trekking poles (although often these were a nuisance in the many sections of very narrow overgrown trail), waterproof Gortex hiking runners, moisture wicking shirt and shorts active wear, sunscreen. I took gaiters but it was too warm for them and benefits were not sufficient to justify them on this walk and the snakes here were mainly copperheads which are unlikely to bite you unless you tried to capture them or you stood on it.

The walk is a leisurely 10.5km walk and the sign at the start advised one should take time to stop and smell the roses (metaphorically of course – we don’t have roses in our forests), and the walk would ascend 1100m to the camp site where there is a hut for emergency shelter and a rainwater tank. This camp is some 300m below the peak which we planned to do on the next morning.

The three of us set off in high spirits and even I felt pretty good in my new backpack despite the 17kg – but it didn’t take too long for me to realise this was going to be torture for my poor heart – the “gentle” walk was an unrelenting climb which took us almost 5hrs (thanks to my lack of endurance fitness – it would take fit hikers 3-4hrs) – and each time I found a little shade in which to get my heart rate below 150 per minute for a few seconds and catch my breath, my personal fitness trainer encouraged me that the next rest is just around the corner – although it never was just the next corner.

I managed to get 90% of the way (to the Bungalow Hut ruins) before the sun was getting low in the sky and every muscle in my legs started to cramp, so my colleagues took pity on me and jointly carried my backpack up the last steep ascent to the hut only to find the rainwater tank was as empty as our water bottles!

By this stage the temperature had dropped and the wind chill had dramatically increased so it was time to get into some warm gear with some rain protection although we probably only received 1mm overnight.

My colleagues then volunteered to go back the 200m down the mountain side in the dark with head torches to find the little spring past the well marked sign “DO NOT DRINK” – thankfully I had brought along the UV sterilisation unit and it tasted better than any water I have had – dead giardia and all – now to wait the 7 days or so incubation period to see if it worked!

It was too windy and cloudy to test the fisheye out on the Milky Way :(

The forecast 35knot winds soon unleashed on our tents and blew all night – I managed to get to sleep by inserting my noise isolating earphones and listening to some Beethoven and although a few times I felt the tent lift in the wind, I awoke in the morning to find I was still in the campsite. My colleagues in their tent did not get much sleep at all – perhaps it was the red wine with the late pasta and chicken, or the balmy warm (10degC) windy night.

The tent, sleeping bag and mattress all performed flawlessly, although some may find the Nemo mattress a touch “bouncy”.

For cooking, we used a MSR Whisperlite Internationale shellite stove which is highly regarded for being reliable in all conditions and worked extremely well.

Phase 4 – the walk up to the peak of Mt Feathertop

After breakfast, despite the occasional light rain shower, we decided to walk up to the peak with just a rain jacket, single trek pole each and our Olympus OM-D weatherproof cameras.

Photographically, phase 3 was not inspiring for me at all, perhaps mainly because of my fatigue, but phase 4 was a different story – walking up that ridge was inspiring and I was making my 40-150mm lens work hard although in the strong wind I had to be extra careful to avoid camera shake.

walking along the highest ridge

which way?

into the abyss

Not long after we had reached the peak, we saw another band of rain coming and to our surprise, a lightning storm – not a great thing to enjoy when you are the tallest objects on a very exposed highest ridge on the tallest mountain in the storm. We took a few more pics and headed back as quickly as possible to the safety of the hut where he had a quick lunch and packed up.

See here on how to reduce your risks in a lightning storm.

the incoming storm

Phase 5 – descent back to the car

cleaning up the hut

Cleaning up the hut – Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens

Hiking back down the trail was vastly different to the previous day’s ascent, I was not troubled by the back pack and could even run some of it – the trekking poles of course were very helpful in taking weight of the knees and for avoiding spraining the ankle when one loses concentration on the loose rocks.

We collected some more water from the trickle of trackside “spring” and sterilised it with the UV kit.

Ironically, just as we were getting into the car, 2 very close lightning strikes made sure we didn’t waste any further time.

The next day, the second cold front produced unseasonal dusting of snow.

I am going to work on trying to get the weight down further – prhaps the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens instead of the Olympus 40-150mm lens as a start.

More of my info on ultralight bushwalking on my wiki

More info on hiking to Mt Feathertop on my wiki

WARNING – if you are sedentary and over 35 years of age, DO NOT DO a strenuous hike like this without getting the OK from your doctor first – if you have coronary artery disease, such an activity is the perfect way to have a sudden death and your family won’t be happy! I know my heart can cope, nevertheless, on the way down, I took a NSAID to help with muscle soreness, and to offset its potential to increase the risk of heart attacks, I also took 300mg aspirin.

Disclaimer: I am NOT sponsored by any of these manufacturers or retailers and I purchased all items.

Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter for hiking

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Those who follow my blog probably realise that I love getting away by myself and doing short 2-4 hour hikes into the forests and gorges, and if, like today, you start one of these hikes 2 hours before sunset and you take more time than one should for photos, it works better than a personal trainer as you really have to get a move on climbing those steep gorges to get back to the car safely before it really is too dark – there is no mobile phone reception in these gorges, so all the more reason to take extra care and not sprain an ankle in the process.

As is my want and need, I carry 2 Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras on these hikes, and to take the weight off my back I carry them on a waist belt harness with quick release systems for the cameras.

This works superbly for me except for a few potential problems:

  • if you are not careful, direct sunlight can enter the rear of the viewfinder of mirrorless cameras such as these and potentially cause permanent damage to the EVF as happened with my E-M1 whilst walking around Uluru (see previous posts).
  • if you use the Olympus HLD-6 grip for the E-M5, the weight of the camera supported by the quick release mechanism gradually and permanently deforms and twists the HLD-6 grip making the grip part feel loose – hence I bought a dummy grip from China to try out for this walk and so far it works fine.
  • I have noticed that with heavier lenses such as my Olympus ZD 50-200mm lens and with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, there is a risk the lens can rotate on the camera mount with risk of it coming off – I now regularly check for this.
  • your cameras are exposed to knocks against trees, rocks, etc, so you have to remember to allow room for them as you walk
  • you need to be mindful that you might dislodge the lens cap, especially the one for the 7-14mm lens – consider buying a lens cap cable attachment

Today on my Spring walk through Werribee Gorge, I chose to take just two lenses – the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter, and the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens (the latter lens I will talk about in a future blog post), and although rain was not on the radar, both these kits are very splash-proof, so a bit of rain would not be hurting them whilst carried in this manner.

Carrying these two lenses made me visualise the scenery in very different ways, with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens with MC14 1.4x teleconverter, I am always looking for distant scenes to capture, wildlife, or for closer scenes to explore how it paints the out of focus backgrounds and how pleasant or busy the bokeh is, in much the way as I use my Olympuis mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.

The Olympus 40-150mm with MC14 adapter effectively becomes an easily hand held, relatively light and compact 112-420mm f/4 zoom in 35mm full frame field of view terms.

Some of the images below could have been taken without the MC14, but I didn’t have the time to be taking it on and off, so I just left it on until dusk when the very low light levels meant that leaving it off was the best option to gain that extra 1 stop of light.

Here are a few quick edits of some of my ugly Australian gorges taken with some nice golden hour light – I wish I could have just stayed and sat there until the stars came out – maybe one day when I get my ultra-light one man tent set up!

gorgeous light silhouetting a gum tree

above image taken at 56mm f/4 (widest zoom with MC14 and widest aperture)

bokeh testing

above image taken at 95mm f/8

bokeh testing

above image taken at 77mm f/4

bokeh testing

above image taken at 155mm f/4.5

bokeh testing

above image taken at 210mm f/4 (longest zoom with MC14 = 420mm in full frame terms and widest aperture)

surreal granite

above image taken at 73mm f/9

the van with added flare

above image taken at 210mm f/6.3 and I have added some extra sun flare in post.

gums on the cliff

above image taken at 210mm f/8

After the sun had set, and the light became dim in the gorges on the way back, it was time to take the MC14 teleconverter off, ramp up the ISO to 800, so I could take this bokeh-centric image at 67mm f/2.8 at 1/15th sec hand held while I was catching my breath after walking up and down the valley path along Ironbark Gorge:

value walk

I really enjoyed this walk although it was like interval training for my heart, and didn’t even notice the weight of the cameras on my hips, although I do prefer the beautiful bokeh of the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens, but of course, this lens cannot give the telephoto reach of the 40-150mm.

 

1 month of playing with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

I finally indulged myself and added the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens + MC14 1.4x teleconverter adapter to my Micro Four Thirds travel kit.

I have already blogged about the specs and comparisons with other lenses on my earlier post here.

Why would I  buy this?

when I already have the awesome Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD Four Thirds lens?

  1. Olympus Australia are kind enough to be selling this kit at a very low price given the $Australian has plummeted some 30% over the past year – you can still get the lens + MC14 for $A1648 whereas on amazon.com, the kit sells in USA for $US1819 which at the current exchange rate would put it at $A2600!
  2. It is an extremely versatile lens covering 80-300mm field of view in full frame terms with a constant f/2.8 wide aperture for fast AF and better low light shooting in a wonderfully compact well built weathersealed body and very close focus to boot!
  3. The MC14 extends reach to 210mm at f/4 which equates to an easily hand-holdable 420mm sports/wildlife lens.
  4. It is a great match for the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO and the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lenses making up the “holy trinity” of zoom lenses providing weathersealed image stabilised coverage from 14mm to 420mm.
  5. I have loved the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD Four Thirds lens as a lens to have beside me in the car as I drive through the country side and stop for interesting distant scenery, and this lens will do a similar job but with much faster AF especially on my E-M5 camera

Comparison with full frame 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses

Yes, this lens is also f/2.8 and covers a wider focal length range at half the price and half the weight, but please do not think this lens will give anywhere near the same imagery as a f/2.8 full frame lens when it comes to subject isolation and shallow depth of field, it will NOT!

If you want this degree of shallow depth of field on a 2x cropped sensor as is the case with Micro Four Thirds, then you are best to use the wide aperture prime lenses such as the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 and the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.

This lens will give lovely out of focus backgrounds to your portraits when used at 150mm f/2.8 (equates to a 300mm f/5.6 on full frame in this regard and although the focal length is very long for portraits, you do get a nice compressed, minimally distracting background).

At shorter focal lengths, the effective full frame aperture is f/5.6 and as such the lens will not be able to give the same out of focus blur as with a f/2.8 full frame or a Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens.

Some reviewers have commented the bokeh can be quite busy with this lens when shooting a busy background but in my tests below, it is not much different to shooting the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8.

See table of comparisons of telephoto zoom lenses.

Now for some of my real world tests over the past month:

I had it with me when I decided to check out the Hermitage art exhibition at Melbourne’s National Gallery Victoria (NGV) and decided to see how such a lens would fair hand held without a flash taking shots of a few of the art works. I had no trouble getting sharp, beautiful images of the paintings (although it is not the lens I would choose for this), however I won’t bore you with these images – just take my word for it – they came out extremely well thanks to the OM-D camera’s image stabilisation system.

Bokeh tests:

What I really wanted to discover is how well it rendered the background, so here are a few comparison images:

wattle

Winter wattle in bloom – 150mm f/2.8 – this wattle is about 2m tall and I was some 3m away so this would give you an idea of the beautifully crisp, imagery with wonderful micro-contrast that one could expect for a portrait as well, but the busy sun dappled background is starting to look a touch busy but very acceptable.

cactus

Prickly pear at 150mm f/2.8 to show that even a fairly busy background full of grass blades can render very nicely indeed.

But how does it compare with the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens when shot at 75mm f/2.8 and a busy background?

First, the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8:

mZD75mm at f/1.8

Now the 40-150mm lens at 75mm f/2.8 – yep, the background is much busier and more distracting

mZD 40-150mm at 75mm f/2.8

BUT, it looks almost the same as the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8:

mZD75mm at f/2.8

Next, how does it do with birds in flight with the MC14?

Disclaimer – I do not shoot birds in flight usually, but in my first go at a blackbird some 100m away, it got 3 out of 4 frames in focus but you do need to have your settings optimised – here is a substantially cropped version:

bird in flight

Now, a test of its lens flare capabilities:

Here is a shot almost directly into the setting sun and in this extreme test, it does show a large area of magenta flare below the sun – hand held long exposure waterfall shot:

waterfall

Well, what do I think?

I think it is a fantastic lens as long as one is aware it has limitations and it is not going to replace a full frame 70-200mm f/2.8 for shallow depth of field work!

When mated to the Olympus OM-D cameras, they really value add to it with their superb image stabilisation, fast, accurate AF and their amazing ability to accurately autofocus on your subject’s closest eye almost anywhere in the frame – this is just not possible with dSLR cameras.

This lens is great for a multitude of uses – distant landscapes or scenery (perhaps the biggest lens I would like to carry on a bushwalk, and great for driving along the backroads and shooting interesting farm buildings, etc without entering private property),  portraits (especially when used at 150mm f/2.8 if you can stand far enough away), sports, wildlife and nature photography.

Why not buy a Canon or Nikon dSLR and telephoto zoom instead?

Sure you can buy a Canon 70D dSLR for a similar price as a E-M1 or E-M5 II, and you could get even further telephoto reach if you mate it with the excellent Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS  USM lens BUT:

  • the Canon lens is almost twice the price and twice the weight at 1.6kg – far too heavy for my longer bushwalks and far too intimidating for many situations
  • the 70D is not well matched to such a heavy lens and will not AF on a subject’s eye
  • the f/4.5-5.6 aperture means you need to bump up the ISO by 2 stops resulting in less image quality in low light – you could buy a full frame dSLR such as a Nikon D810E or Canon 5D Mark III and get better image quality in terms of megapixels, and similar noise at the higher ISO needed, but then you have an even bigger and much more expensive camera to carry, and you lose the telephoto reach advantage of the cropped sensor camera.
  • shooting movies on the 70D without a tripod is much more problematic as you can’t look through the viewfinder to steady the camera
  • you don’t get all the lovely EVF functions to assist manual focus and exposure such as live magnified view, focus peaking, live histograms, live shadow-highlight warnings, etc.
  • the 70D viewfinder is no match for the latest EVF’s.

Let’s do a comparison of pro quality weathersealed image stabilised 3 zoom lenses + fisheye in terms of weight and cost:

Olympus OM-D E-M1 + 3 x f/2.8 zooms
Canon 70D Canon 5D MIII + no f/2.8 zooms
Nikon D810 + 2 x f/2.8 zooms
camera $A1169, 0.5kg
$A1229, 0.76kg $A3299, 0.95kg $A3349, 0.9kg
fisheye lens Oly 8mm f/1.8 $A1265, 0.32kg ?? – Canon do not make one for APS-C cameras Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L $A1618 0.54kg unique zoom fisheye but f/4, no IS Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8D $A1177, 0.29kg BUT NOT weathersealed and no IS
14-28mm lens Oly 7-14mm f/2.8 $A1499, 0.53kg Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 $A766 0.64kg BUT NOT weathersealed and only 16-35mm fov Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS $A1599 0.62kg only 16-35mm fov, (alternatively, Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L $A3897 wider fov but no IS) Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G $A2797, 0.97kg
24-70mm lens Oly 12-40mm f/2.8 $A859, 0.38kg Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS $A1069, 0.65kg but NOT weathersealed Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS $A1499, 0.67kg (or Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 $A2372, 0.8kg but no IS) Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 VR $A2998, 1.07kg
comparable pro telephoto lens reach Oly 40-150mm f/2.8 +MC14 $A1699, 1.05kg Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3L $A2600, 1.6kg Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3L IS $A2600 1.6kg Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR $A3443 1.59kg but flimsy tripod mount
total cost $A6491 $A5664 but no fisheye lens, and wide angle and std zooms not weathersealed $10,615 but ultrawide only to 16mm $A13,764 but this includes the best image quality camera and the best wide angle and standard zooms, both at f/2.8
total weight 2.78kg 3.65kg but no fisheye 4.38kg but std IS zoom is f/4 not f/2.8 4.82kg but great f/2.8 lenses
comments fast CDAF with eye detection AF; EVF functions; ultra-wide and fisheye have IS; faster more accurate AF;
1 stop more shallow DOF for std zoom lens only; no coverage of short telephoto range but get more reach although camera is ergonomically too small for this telephoto lens v.good image quality; 1 stop more shallow DOF as these are f/4 lenses best image quality; 2 stops more shallow DOF if using the f/2.8 lenses

The weight differences get even greater when you start adding in a 2nd body, a macro lens and prime lenses not to mention a 600mm field of view super telephoto lens.

With the Micro Four Thirds solution, you can even add a second body and a 75mm f/1.8 prime and an iPad and still be under 5kg for air travel cabin luggage!

If you need more telephoto reach:

There are 2 forthcoming lenses for Micro Four Thirds which should whet your appetite: