travel

...now browsing by tag

 
 

More photos from Paris and the Notre Dame cathedral in Reims

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

More images from my brief interlude in Paris and Reims, all taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera hand held.

Paris

The morning jogger in Paris, makes me exhausted just seeing him work out so early in the morning when I am looking for a coffee to get me started.

Paris

A lone guitarist on the Seine.

Paris

One of my favourite images – Gucci man – a candid portrait.

Reims

Greg Tricker’s Lumiere Divine – Joan of Arc in Notre Dame cathedral in Reims.

Reims

Notre Dame cathedral in Reims.

The above image was taken using the Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 PRO lens at f/1.2, 1/30th sec, ISO 200.

Reims

The unsettling “Smiling Angel” statue near the front door.

Reims

Notre Dame cathedral in Reims.

Reims was once the capital of France, and the birth place of the Frankish Empire and catholicism in France, having evolved as the main Roman trade city. Most of the French kings were crowned here up until Charles X in 1825.

Sadly it was decimated in the World Wars, and its famous Notre Dame cathedral suffering major damage in each and requiring restoration, and now it’s main claim to fame is  being in the center of the champagne wine district.

It is only around 1 hour train ride from Paris, but unlike Paris, is not over-run by tourists and there are some nice AirBnB options – just don’t expect any Uber rides or eats, and its art gallery is quite small but still worth a visit if you love art.

Potsdam and the Sanssouci Palace of Frederick the Great

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Whilst in Berlin, one should make sure they take the 45 minute or so train to nearby Potsdam and then a longish walk or taxi / bus to the Sanssouci Palace (Schloss Sanssouci) and its gardens.

Entry to the gardens themselves is via coin donation, but if you wish to book a time to see inside the palace, you need to go to the ticket centre where you may wish to purchase the option of being allowed to photograph the interior (but not publish the photos) – in retrospect, one probably does not need to photograph the interior unless you have a special interest.

Unfortunately, the Neues Palace was not open the day we went, and we were running short of time, only having an afternoon there.

It is a gorgeous way to spend a gentle summer’s day walking through the extensive gardens and then back to the Potsdam train station, stopping by the old church and then grabbing a lovely dinner at the cafe on the corner.

Unless specified otherwise, these were all shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II Micro Four Thirds camera with Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 pro lens

Sansouci

This one was shot with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 pro lens

Sansouci

If only the statues and gargoyles could talk – what a history they have seen!

Sansouci

Sansouci

No, it’s not Napoleon but Frederick The Great:
Sansouci

Sansouci

A young lady posing on the steps of Orangerieschloss as a jogger passes by:

Sansouci

Sansouci

And if you like to people watch, the wonderful ambience and lovely angles of the sun make for some nice imagery if you are in the right frame of mind to look for them.

Sansouci

Sansouci

Sansouci

A beautiful image of a father taking his son for a walk:

Sansouci

When you walk back to the station there is an awesome old church (Friedenskirche) one can explore:

My friend Luigi posing for me.

Did I mention how lucky the northern Europeans are with their gentle angled summer sun in contrast to our high, harsh midday sun – when the sun is out in Berlin, beautiful sunlit images are easy!

Sansouci

A spy in the church with their iPhone:

Sansouci

My traveling band:

Sansouci

At the end of the day, dinner at the local Weiner Cafe on the corner of the Square with a view to the Potsdam Brandeburg Tor is a wonderful way to complete the afternoon. The main issue here is that the men’s urinals are obviously designed for tall Germans requiring tip toes for the height challenged!

Potsdam Brandenburg Tor:

Potsdam Brandenburg Tor

Weiner Cafe and Beer Garden:

Weiner Cafe

Berlin’s mixed architecture

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Berlin is a city of rapid change, dilapidated old communist styled austere buildings are rapidly being demolished to make way for modern developments – much to the chagrin and protests of locals, while 19th century buildings destroyed in WWII are still being re-built such as the palace near the Berlin Dome and the Kaiser Wilhelm Church.

Don’t forget to bring a rain coat, it does seem to rain often there and it is frequently very overcast – and I was there in late June – I did get absolutely drenched one day, but fortunately I was wearing quick dry shirt and shorts which had to be wrung out before I could allow myself entry back into the hotel in Potsdam Platz – I stayed at the Scandic Hotel which was very serviceable, clean and convenient with very friendly and efficient staff – only a hundred metres or so to train stations with their very regular train services (every 3-5 minutes or so) or the Berlin Mall shopping centre.

If you have not been to Berlin, here is a brief taste:

First we need to cross CheckPoint Charlie to get to the former East Berlin – this guy is just busking there posing as an American Soldier:

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

The rebuilding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in West Berlin:

Berlin

Communist styled Berlin Philharmonic Centre in Potsdam Platz:

Berlin

The TV Tower which the East Germans built to dominate the city, but ironically, in their effort to marginalise the churches and religion, if you are lucky like me, in certain sunlight, their tower reflects a cross for miles which is said to be the Pope’s revenge:

Berlin

St Thomas Church:

Berlin

Berlin

A slice of the old Berlin Wall in Potsdam Platz taken with the Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens:

Berlin

The rebuilt Berlin Dome church:

Berlin

The wonderful old buildings in Berlin’s Museum Island – some lovely art galleries and the history of Germany museum, all well worth seeing – buy a Museum Pass and you get 3 days to access them for free – but don’t buy it on the weekend as they are nearly all closed on Mondays:

Berlin

Outside Alte Nationalgalerie with its late 19th century and 20th century art works:

Berlin

Outside Bode Museum with its older art works – mainly religious works from 17th century and earlier:

Berlin

The Amazon with Nefertiti which is housed in this Neues Museum, next door to the Pergamon Museum:

Berlin

East Berlin was known as the capital of Spies, and today there are thousands of them:

Berlin

Unlike Paris, you don’t really need to dress up in Berlin, the tourists and locals dress very casually, so these two caught my eye, and there is something about this cool guy that reminds me of a young Bruce Willis:

Berlin

Don’t forget to head down towards East Side Gallery area, as there are some great little spots on the way such as this dilapidated building:

Berlin

And a riverside bohemian bar which I am sure would be closed down due to safety concerns elsewhere, but it was a cool spot to have a beer:

Berlin

Last, but certainly, not least, one can’t forget the great Brandenburg Gate or Brandenburg Tor which has a fascinating history relating to Napoleon’s invasion of Berlin and his desire to take the horse statues back to Paris:

Berlin

Berlin

Postcards from Berlin: reflecting upon the holocaust

Friday, July 14th, 2017

My little trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without taking time out to reflect on how men can behave so inhumanely and yet we still have not learn’t the lessons of where fear takes us to the dark side of absolutes and persecution.

Here are a few of my take on the horrors of the holocaust in World War II – the memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin is a must see just to spend some time reflecting and to read the many stories.

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

And, don’t forget the Jewish Museum and walking on these metal anonymous faces:

Berlin

Despite the sadness, Berlin is a wonderful, friendly city to visit which reminds me of my home town of Melbourne – perhaps it is the grunge and graffiti.

Which camera and lenses to take for your overseas travel holiday? Best travel camera kit in 2017

Monday, April 17th, 2017

For many people, they are happy with their smartphone, but as convenient as a smartphone is, it does have severe limitations on your travel photography and knowing these limitations may make it easier for you to determine what you need to take to supplement it.

For example, the iPhone 6S has a fixed optical focal length of around 35mm with the ability to digital zoom in albeit with loss of image quality. It has very limited ability to isolate the subject by blurring the background. It is difficult to take control of the exposure and manual settings. You can’t use an external bounce flash to take nice portraits. The image quality in low light indoors or outdoors at night is pretty awful unless you resort to the built in flash and then you have the on-camera flash issues. No RAW output for high quality post-processing. No high quality 16-20 megapixel resolution images. ISO limitations such as ISO 500 on the iPhone 6 Plus. Fixed default tone mappings to create the jpegs, for example the iPhone 6 Plus is renown for creating poor skin tones. Limited burst rates. Image stabilisation not as good. Fastest shutter speeds for freezing motion is probably around 1/500th sec despite the phone suggesting otherwise. Poor ergonomics.

But most modern smartphones do take serviceable shots in bright light conditions as long as you are happy with the 35mm focal length field of view and the lack of high quality RAW images, and the 1080 HD video and Slow-Mo video are not too bad in good light.

What then do we need?

  • preferably the camera and lenses coming in at under 3kg to comfortably allow other goodies in cabin luggage and still stay under the weight limit, plus it is not fun carrying around heavy gear everywhere – and if you are feeling exhausted, you won’t be feeling inspired to take great creative imagery!
  • ideally, the camera and at least one of the lenses should fit in a jacket pocket
  • the camera kit should not scream out wealth – it is not only insulting to people in poorer cultures when your camera is worth a year’s salary, but it may also place your life at risk!
  • a camera with:
    • a viewfinder
    • fast, accurate autofocus
    • full manual controls when needed
    • ability to wirelessly transfer images to smartphones without needing a computer
    • good image quality at least to ISO 1600
    • excellent image stabilisation to allow long exposure wide angle flowing water waterfalls, rivers and seascapes without needing a tripod
    • weathersealed would be nice
  • a wide angle lens to take in the epic scenes of our travels or the massive buildings
  • a bit more usable telephoto if possible, preferably with some ability to blur backgrounds and emphasize your subject
  • a kit for walking the streets at night for hand held urban night shots but discrete enough that it can be placed in a jacket pocket for safety
  • a kit capable of nice indoor shots (and if you are really keen, add in bounce flash for flattering portraits – no more need for those ghastly Instagram filters to plasticize everyone’s features out)
  • if you are super keen, then perhaps ability to use a tripod for night shots, or for long exposure flowing water shots with a ND100 filter during the day time.
  • unless you are shooting wildlife, you probably don’t need a long telephoto lens
  • unless you are going for a long time and are bored, you probably don’t need a dedicated macro lens

What options do we have?

Fixed lens compact cameras:

  • these are great, particularly if image quality is not as high a priority as having an ultra-compact 3x zoom camera or a relatively compact super-zoom
  • they are not usually weathersealed and they generally have a small sensor which does not perform well for low light situations without a tripod, or for blurring the background
  • some of these do have larger sensors for better image quality and low light capabilities but they generally only have a 3x zoom, but these are worth considering such as the Panasonic LX100 or the Sony RX series

Digital SLRs or full frame mirrorless:

  • these will do the trick but are a bit too big, heavy, noisy (dSLRs), and obtrusive, and certainly not jacket pocketable when the thugs start tailing you.
  • the larger, heavier lenses also can impact your airline cabin baggage weight limits.
  • BUT if you are prepared to accept the many problems of carrying full frame cameras and their large lenses, they can potentially take the best quality images, especially if you are shooting high dynamic range scenes or you need to shoot at ISO 6400 and higher – not sure why you would want to do that while traveling!
  • if I was going to go full frame, then the Sony a7II (or Sony a7RII if you can afford it) would be reasonable options but you do miss out of the fun, feature set and the much less burden of carrying the Olympus cameras, and it does really force you to take a big, heavy tripod for those waterfalls, etc, and then you may as well bring along large ND gradient filter sets and the mandatory large, heavy , expensive lenses – then you need to work out how to stop them getting stolen in checked baggage on airlines – good luck with that – and don’t be thinking travel insurance will cover it!

Micro Four Thirds mirrorless:

  • for me, the Micro Four Thirds system is the ideal compromise in terms of compact size, weight, image quality and versatility, and unlike the Fuji and Sony mirrorless systems, it has an enormous range of lenses to satisfy your needs.
  • the ideal compact travel camera is something like the Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark II, Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II or the Panasonic GX-85, but if you want something more substantial with built-in grip, then the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I or II (if you want bell’s and whistles!)
  • if you don’t already own a zoom and you have plenty of budget to pay for a pro 8x zoom lens then the new Olympus mZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS lens will serve most of your needs in the one lens, if this is too expensive, then there are many cheaper super zoom options,  or you can resort to a 3x pro f/2.8 zoom lens such as the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 and mate this with either the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 or  Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 for awesome portraits and background blurring in a short telephoto lens
  • for walking the streets at night or shooting indoors, I would recommend a compact, wide aperture wide angle lens (but you could potentially get away with an f/2.8 3x zoom lens) such as:
    • Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 but this is expensive
    • Panasonic 15mm f/1.7
    • Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8
    • Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens
  • if you are an ultra-wide angle fan, then consider the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 or perhaps even the Olympus mZD 7mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • if you really need a bit more telephoto and don’t mind a bit of extra weight and bulk, then the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens can come in handy

 My choice kits for best image quality but still relatively compact:

  • Panasonic GX85 + Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 + Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens (for jacket pocketability)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 mark II + Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 + Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II pancake lens (for jacket pocketability)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark I or II + Olympus mZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS lens plus perhaps Olympus mZD 12mm f/2.0 or Panasonic 15mm f/1.7

If you are budget conscious and can skip the smartphone WiFi transfer functionality, then a smart move would be to buy an Olympus OM-D E-M5 original version second hand ($AUS300 for body only or $AUS450 with a kit lens or two) for the same price as a entry level dSLR and you will have a far better camera in almost every regard, and the lenses will be smaller.

Disclaimer: I don’t work for the photography industry nor do I receive any incentives from them, but I do own Olympus OM-D E-M5, E-M1, E-M1II, Sony A7II, and a Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR – the latter two cameras will NOT be coming with me on my overseas trips!

 

Fascinating maps of cities comparing where tourists take photos vs the locals

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Tourists experience cities in a vastly different way to local residents.

Eric Fischer has created a series of fascinating maps of the major cities of the world from a database of geo-tagged photos.

The red bits indicate photos taken by tourists, while the blue bits indicate photos taken by locals and the yellow bits might be either.

See the maps at https://www.flickr.com/photos/24431382@N03/sets/72157624209158632/

and a more readable blog post at http://brilliantmaps.com/tourists-vs-locals/

Sydney

Sydney, Australia

 

 

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.

Early autumn road trip and camping holiday to the Australian Snowy Mountains

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

It has been over 30 years since I last drove north across the Victorian border to the Tumbarumba region west of the Snowy Mountains, and the last time I went I drove the long trek on mostly gravel rural roads from Tumut to Canberra via Wee Jasper (according to Google, this part of the trip now takes around 3hrs not sure how much is bitumen).

This week of annual leave I decided to embark on a solo road trip to Tumbarumba region, but this time explore the Snowy Mountains where I had never previously visited.

Tumbarumba is some 450km or 4.5hrs drive from Melbourne along the quite boring Hume Freeway, so on my way up I decided at the last minute to divert from Wodonga on the border and head through the more interesting but much longer back roads.

This took me through lovely hilly rural country sides, initially along the Hume Reservoir which is currently suffering from a massive toxic blue-green algae bloom which stretches from there down stream some 700km down the Murray River thanks to low water flows and the hot summer, early autumn weather over over 30degC on most days.

This is quite a nice drive and takes one through Tallangatta township and past the old now submerged Tallangatta township then onwards to Corryong some 1.5hrs drive from Wodonga. Just before Corryong there is a nice looking caravan park at Colac Colac adjacent to the highway on an open farmland region.

Between Tallangatta and Corryong there are opportunities for the nature lovers to further explore either:

  • Omeo Highway south to:
    • Lake Dartmouth
    • Mitta Mitta River valley
    • Mount Benambra
    • gold and tin mining relics at Mt Wills (granite summit, snow gums, and great scenery), Mt Murphy, Cassilis Historic Areas such as the Green Creek historic battery,Pioneer Mine at Mitta Mitta,
    • Harrington’s track historic bridle trail along Murray River from Tom Groggin to Bunroy Station, 20km one way
  • Bethanga Historic area and Wallaces Smelting Works to the north
  • The Plateau to the north
  • Mount Granya State Park to the north – steep slopes rising above Lake Hume, 870m elevation, Granya Falls are seasonal.
  • Tallangatta Valley to the south
  • Mount Lawson State Park to the north – steep slopes, rocky bluffs, 1041m
  • Burrowa-Pine National Park to its north
    • Bluff Falls and walk to Ross Lookout (not suitable for caravans, nearby Blue Gums camp ground)
    • steep sided Mt Burrowa (1300m) which sits atop a sub-alpine plateau accessible by walking tracks
    • Pine Mountain (1062m) – a gigantic granite rock monolith 1.5x bigger than Uluru – walking track to summit
  • Thowgla Upper to the south
  • the Benambra-Corryong Rd valley which takes one southwards to:
    • Wabba Wilderness
    • Pinnibar Pendergast State Forest
    • Benambra and nearby Alpine National Park, Tambo State Forest and the Mitta Mitta River valley
    • further south to Omeo and then through the Alps down to Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance on the southern Victorian coast

From Corryong I decided to head to the southern parts of the Snowy Mountains via the tiny town of Khancoban where I would have to pay my day access fees (these are only required for the southern areas – I accidentally paid for 3 days of fees but only used 1 day in the southern area).

Khancoban is also the last stop for fuel, food, public toilets that are not drop toilets, internet and mobile phone access, but as I was to find out, no car repair services.

After an early dinner, I proceeded up into the windy bitumen Alpine Highway past the Murray 1 and 2 hydro-electric power stations and to Scammel’s Lookout which looks southeast towards Mt Kosciuszko (Australia’s highest peak at 2228m) which is hidden behind the steep barren western fall of the Main Range and Mt Abbott.

View from Scammel's lookout

View from Scammel’s lookout.

From there it was a short drive down to popular Geehi Flats camping ground along the banks of the lovely shallow but fast flowing Swampy Plains Creek. I had intended to continue on to Tom Groggin camp ground on the banks of the upper reaches of the Murray River for the night then next day tackle the steep drive up to Thredbo, but as I pulled into Geehi Flats, I noticed a very loud noise coming from my front brakes highly suggestive of a lost brake pad from the mountain driving although I try to use my gears to brake downhill as much as possible.

Geehi Flats camp ground

Bridge at Geehi Flats camp ground.

Nevertheless, this meant an uneasy night sleeping in my tent at Geehi Flats wondering if this was the end of my holiday plans.

Milky Way from Geehi Flats

Milky Way and my tent at Geehi Flats taken with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Micro Four Thirds camera and Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at ISO 3200.

Although Geehi Flats camp ground is a lovely spot it is a LONG way for Victorians (perhaps 7.5 hrs from Melbourne) and does not offer any more than any camp site along a river such as around the Bright region, but for those traveling through the southern parts of the Snowy Mtns it does offer a more protected and warmer camp ground to rest at given it is around only 400m elevation and is accessible by caravans (caravans cannot get from here to Thredbo though as the Alpine Highway is too steep).

forest

Next day I drove back to Corryong (where they were getting ready for the Man From Snowy River festival over Easter) and after a wait of a few hours for the mechanics, had the welcome news that a stone and become stuck in the brake calipers and all is well.

So on early afternoon on day two, with storms, rain and strong winds forecast for the Snowy Mountains that night I decided to cut my losses, and head to Tumbarumba and get a better night’s sleep in a cabin out of harm’s way from the storms.

En route to Tumbarumba is a lovely drive through hilly rural countrysides reminiscent of Victoria’s Mansfield region, and past the Southern Cloud Memorial Lookout and on to lovely Paddys River Falls.

The Southern Cloud Memorial Lookout is a very exposed, but nice spot on a hill alongside the highway looking east at the western part of central Snowy Mountains and is a memorial for a historic Southern Cloud plane crash in the 1930′s, the wreckage of which was not found until 3 decades later – there is now a walking trail to the wreckage site. This plane crash was to change the safety of Australian aviation in profound ways.

Southern Cloud Lookout view

View south-eastwards from Southern Cloud Lookout.

Paddys River Falls is easily accessible at the end of a 2km gravel road and can be seen from the car park or a short easy walk down to the falls – although walking down to the stream itself can be a touch slippery!

There is no camping at the falls but just before you get to the turn off to the falls, there is a free camp ground on the river near the main highway which is popular for caravans.

Paddys River Falls vintage style

Paddys River Falls vintage style hand held long exposure.

Tumbarumba itself is a small town with little to attract a photographer but is a nice central location from which to base activities in the region. It was great to have a shower in the cabin and then steak dinner at the Tumba Hotel and a good night’s sleep.

See Day 3 next….

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.

Tropical north Queensland – the Daintree wilderness rainforests, beaches and Cape Tribulation

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

This will be the last on my current series of posts of the wet tropics of north Queensland – previous posts were:

Daintree wilderness rainforest is in far north Queensland and as far as mobile phones, TV and internet goes, one is mostly off grid once you cross the ferry on the crocodile infested Daintree River.

It’s tropical climate, relative isolation and unique rainforest flora and fauna and lovely beaches make it a must see destination – see earlier posts on tips on time of year to go, etc.

The road is bitumen up to Cape Tribulation so you will not have issues with normal cars although an SUV is nice to give a bit more ground clearance, especially if you are renting a car. The new  2011 Q5 bridge across Coopers Creek allows all year access to Cape Tribulation (apart from major storm/cyclone/5 yr floods).

The road from Cape Tribulation north to Cooktown has been sealed since 2005 but travel past Cape Trib may NOT be covered by your rental car hire insurance! You can check current road status here.

When calculating drive times, assume an average speed of around 60kph – there are many speed humps to reduce risk of killing southern cassowary birds.

Alexandra Lookout – looking south east towards Snapper Island and the mouth of the Daintree River:

Noah Beach

Golden Orb spider the size of my hand on the Jindalba Boardwalk in the rainforest (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

Golden Orb spider

There are 3 well maintained short boardwalks which you must do as each give access to different ecologies:

  • Jindalba boardwalk through the rainforest
  • Marrdja boardwalk  through mangrove swamps – very nice and perhaps the most likely place to see a southern cassowary
  • Dubuji boardwalk another coastal walk but this one takes you through tall fan palms

Bushwalks include the very steep walk from Cape Trib to Mount Sorrow for those who are fit – you are advised to start the walk no later than 10am and to allow 6-7 hours.

Swimming holes are available at Cape Trib Grocery Store and at Emmagen Creek north of Cape Trib (take the inland track from Emmagen Beach).

Sea kayaking is available just north of Cape Trib provided by Paddletrek, and also in Cow Bay / Snapper Island in the southern area, provided by Tropical Sea Kayaks.

If you want to snorkel with turtles then Ocean Safari‘s Great Barrier Reef tours take you 20km out to the to Mackay Reef or Undine Reef (25min fast boat ride) and depart from Turtle Rock Cafe at Myall Beach and also from Cape Trib.

There are quite a few nice accommodation options and a few restaurants and cafes and a pub or two, although grocery stores and fuel are not plentiful. Thankfully there are NO fast food chains such as Macdonalds. Make sure you stop for lunch at Lync Haven cafe – very nice lunches and they have some parrots to interact with and caged pythons as well as accommodation. Alternatively, the Whet Cafe Bar and Restaurant makes for a nice lunch or dinner spot near Cape Trib.

Camping in the beach-side camp grounds such as at Noah Beach is popular during the dry season (June-Oct) but be warned, in the wet season it rains hard and for much of the day although I am told it generally stops between 10am and 4pm unless there is a cyclone or tropical low really dumping rain. Also the local nocturnal giant white tailed rat (Uromys caudimaculatus) which can chew through the husk of a coconut, can also chew through tents, plastic, canvas, leather electrical wires and even into cans. They can damage car fan belts and radiator hoses!.

I stayed at the Heritage Lodge and Spa which is well situated in Diwan, half way to Cape Tribulation and near Thornton Beach and Cooper’s Creek. The cottages set within a rainforest environment are very nice indeed although en suites are tiny and there are no baths. The Cooper Creek runs within the site and allows walks and swimming in the crystal clear water. It has a very nice restaurant and a continental breakfast of cereal, toast, juices, fruit is provided.

The lower reaches of Coopers Creek is crocodile territory and boat tours are available from the bridge a couple of times each day – the walk along Thornton Beach to the inlet does make a newbie’s heart stir seeing the crocodile shaped shadows in the water (but these appear to have been sandbars although I didn’t wade in to find out!).

There is a kiosk serving fish and chips and burgers at Thornton Beach and there are some convenient affordable beach cabins opposite (Thornton Beach Bungalows).

Thornton Beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

Noah Beach

Coconut:

Noah Beach

I had been worried about annoying biting insects on the beach such as sandflies (aka midges/midgies which cause persistently itchy allergic reactions to their bites and which are important in the pollination of cocoa plants and thus chocolate!) but in October it seemed there were no nasty bities even without DEET insect repellents except for the occasional March fly in the mangrove beach area of Cape Tribulation (Oct-Nov is apparently the time of march flies in the Atherton Tablelands so I guess it applies on the beaches too).

North of Thornton Beach is the lovely remote Noah Beach with its nice camping ground.

Aerial view of Noah Beach courtesy of Tourism Queensland:

Noah Creek

Cape Tribulation:

Butterfly (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

butterfly

Lace monitor lizard goanna on the beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

butterfly

Cape Tribulation beach with fisheye lens:

flower

Surreal mangrove beach (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

surreal mangrove beach

Wild cannonball mango in the fantastic Marrdja Boardwalk through mangrove swamp (Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera):

cannonball mango

Aerial basket fern (Drynaria rigidula) – home to birds, tree snakes and other animals (Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera):

aerial fern