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Texture and bokeh imagery from the Grampians

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Here are a selection of mainly texture and bokeh studies from Victoria’s Grampians mountain range in Spring taken with the Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

Grampians

For more pics from the Grampians, see my earlier blog post.

Tarra Bulga National Park and Aussie wildlife in the wild

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Tarra Bulga National Park is a mountainous region of cool temperate rainforest which once covered most of Gippsland until European settlers cleared most of it in the mid 19th century.

Access is via Traralgon from the north (2.5hr drive from Melbourne)  or via a windy narrow two-way bitumen road from the south along the Tarra Valley which is not suitable for caravans, but which takes you to other picnic areas en route such as Tarra Falls (not an easy photograph) and Cyathea Falls (a short circuit loop walk accesses this small waterfall), the remote Tarra Valley Caravan Park (this is as far north on the Tara Valley road that caravans can access – they can’t go further north to the NP), and then access to coastal Gippsland including historic Port Albert (Gippsland’s first port, established c 1850) and Wilsons Promontory  (The Prom).

If you are coming from the south then a short detour to Victoria’s tallest waterfall, Agnes Falls is well worth it:

Agnes Falls

Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm.

Tarra Bulga NP has a nice open picnic ground and nearby tea rooms. The picnic ground has a variety of birds including the very friendly crimson rosellas which you may find end up sitting on your shoulder while you try to eat:

rosella

The flighty wrens and robins are much harder to catch such as this flame robin which was about 10-15m away and required cropping:

wren

and even the Laughing Kookaburra likes you to keep your distance of about 10-15m:

kookaburra

on the road near the picnic ground was this poor wombat who appeared to be coping well despite a limp from past trauma:

wombat

The main attraction though at Tarra Bulga NP is the historic suspension bridge within the majestic Eucalpytus regnans rainforest (the tallest flowering plants in the world) – if you walk the full circuit “scenic track” it is a pleasant largely shaded 2.8km circuit walk with total ascent of 129m (mainly up graded path rather than steps) which will take just under 1hr allowing for time to get a few pics.

suspension bridge

suspension bridge

If you have the time to also visit Wilsons Prom you can complete your Aussie wildlife in the wild experience with a few more such as this cute kangaroo joey feeding at dusk:

joey

or these emus:

emus

and if the prevailing winds have been westerlies, you may find the beaches covered in these small beautiful but painful Blue Bottle Portugese Man’O'War jellyfish which will give you a painful sting if your skin touches the tentacles which can measure some 1m in length:

blue bottle

and nearby, this Sooty Oyster Catcher was taking a bath:

oystercatcher

I hope this has inspired you to get out and go for a drive, or better still stay for a couple of nights or more and explore the region.

We had an amazingly tasty and healthy lunch at the Port Albert Cafe and Wine Bar – the owner is a brilliant chef who obviously loves her cooking, the crispy duck with mango and cashew salad was awesome and the many cake options for dessert (or take with you for your NP walk) make it well worth the visit – unfortunately she has the business up for sale so make sure you get there before she has moved on.

Most of the above photos were taken with the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens, or for the birds, the Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 lens using a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 or E-M5 camera.

Road trip to Victoria’s wonderland – the Grampians

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Grampians is a group of mountain ranges formed from uplifted resistant Palaeozoic sandstone bed making it one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and the beautiful sandstone boulders, epic views and with access to native flora and Australian wildlife make it an iconic bushwalking destination for tourists from around the world.

You will see kangaroos, black wallabies, emus,  Australian birds such as tiny robins and wrens, parrot species, New Holland honeyeater, laughing kookaburra, wedge tailed eagles and the really noisy white sulfur crested cockatoos. While walking on a sunny day you are likely to see a range of small to medium sized lizards – mainly skinks (and hopefully not a snake – these are generally very shy and avoid tourist areas but are deadly if you step on one and it bites you – a great reason to stick to the paths where you can see where you are stepping!). If you are lucky you may see an echidna (a  monotreme) looking for ants on the side of the road at dusk. If that is not enough wildlife, or you want to get up close to a snake or other animal, you can visit the nearby Halls Gap Zoo – the largest zoo in Victoria outside of the urban districts around Melbourne.

This Australian National Park is the biggest national park in Victoria and covers 167,219-hectare (413,210-acre) and is situated in western Victoria and to the north of the volcanic plains which formed most of south-western Victoria. The forest is mainly dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest with an understory of tea trees with their white flowers dominating in spring.

The sandstone was laid down from sediments from rivers during the Devonian period 380 million years ago which forms a 7km thick layer of sandstone which then became uplifted, tilted and then eroded. When sea levels rose 40 million years ago, the sea lapped at the north-western area which now has become the Little Desert National Park. The Devonian period was a time of wooded plants, insects and amphibia but before spiders, reptiles, dinosaurs and conifers had evolved.

Aboriginal occupation of Gariwerd (their name for the Grampians) dates back more than 20,000 years and they had six seasons for the region – check out the Brambuk Cultural Centre for more information.

The highest peak is Mount William at 1167 metres creates the Grampian Wave – a weather phenomenon at certain times of the year when strong westerly winds create a large scale standing mountain lee wave enabling glider pilots to reach extreme altitudes above 28,000 ft (8,500 m).

Towards the end of a decade of drought, a massive bushfire in Jan 2006 devastated 50% of the forest, but this allowed Parks Victoria to re-discover places such as Fish Creek Falls and design and create new bush walks such as the Grampians Peak Trail which so far is at Stage 1 and allows for 3 days / 2 nights walk with overnight remote camping.

Major flooding in Jan 2011 and heavy rain events again in Sept 2016, forced parts of the park to close for several months. Before you go, check the park’s website to ascertain which areas and remote camp grounds are closed.

I am pleased to report that the park now looks even better than before the fires and is an absolute pleasure to explore as long as you take the usual precautions of sun protection, wind and rain protection for those sudden late afternoon thunderstorms, plenty of water (2L per person for 2-3hr walks on warmer sunny days), and sturdy shoes. On hotter days, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the extreme heat conditions which may prevail.

It is a two and three quarter hour easy drive from Melbourne, mainly along freeway and highways which allow for a nice coffee break half way in the small town of Beaufort. The more adventuresome with time on their hands might like to return via a longer and more interesting route either to the north through winery and historic gold field towns of Avoca, Maryborough, Maldon, and Castlemaine, or to the south to Dunkeld with its highly regarded Royal Mail Hotel restaurant, then the volcanic park of Mt Eccles, then to Port Fairy, the volcanic Tower Hill park and then along the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles and Otway Ranges.

The main tourist town in the Grampians is Halls Gap which lies in the valley and the shops and main camp ground are within a short walk to the beautiful Wonderland region. There are plenty of accommodation options but these can get booked out in peak seasons. There are dozens of kangaroos and maybe a few emus grazing in the camp ground and at the cricket ground, and as you sit and eat your dinner outside at the Harvest Cafe, you are likely to see a few of them hopping down the road at dusk.

Best time to go is in Oct-Nov when the spring wildflowers are at their best, the weather is not too hot and, to avoid the crowds, avoid school holidays, public holidays and weekends – although your choice of restaurants becomes severely limited, but your accommodation options increase and there are less people on the narrow winding roads and at the walks.

November can also be noisy cicada time – cicadas live most of their life underground (several years) as a nymph in burrows along a tree root from which it feeds on the sap. After spring rains and when the weather warms up, they climb a tree, latch on with their two big front claws,  and emerge from their nymph shell through the dorsum, leaving their dried shell and becoming green with transparent wings as adults. The rest for a while then for a few short weeks they join their mates in the trees, eating and creating a piercingly loud noise and mate before the females lay eggs and then die.

While I was there, a cicada had mistaken my car tyre for a tree and the nymph shell was on one side and the new adult cicada on the other:

cicada

Nymph shell – note the large front claws and the dorsal exit. Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens at 150mm f/5.6.

cicada

The newly emerged adult cicada – Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8 macro lens at f/7.1 with some mild cropping as I didn’t want to get too close in case it flew away but in retrospect I probably could have got a close up of just its eye!

pinnacles

Perhaps the number one walk to do is the walk to the Pinnacles which gives a great expansive view over Halls Gap and the valley looking eastwards and if, as with this young lady, you wish to partake in some daredevil mindlessness you can sit and enjoy the view from the adjacent protuberant cliff face edge. The actual Pinnacle is a protuberance which has fences to reduce risk taking behaviours.

There are several options to walk to the Pinnacle, all of which require rock hopping, rock steps and sun exposure, but are well worth it, and within the capability of most people – even sedentary ones as long as they can walk up steps and negotiate rocks:

  • a longer ascent from Halls Gap camp ground for the fitter walkers with good knees
  • a shorter ascent from Wonderland Carpark which can optionally include the Grand Canyon loop
  • an easier ascent from the Sundial carpark – 4km return, allow 2hrs, total ascent 180m

pinnacles

On a hot sunny day with cirrus clouds and blue skies, drink plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, but don’t forget to look for contrasty dramatic rock formations such as this one, but make sure you watch where you walk as it is easy to miss a deep ravine, step on a poor skink, or sprain your ankle!

sundial peak

When there is a strong, hot, north wind blowing, a better option may be the walk to Sundial Peak which is more sheltered from the wind and provides more coverage of trees in the event of lightning which tends to come on such days. The Sundial Peak also looks out over Halls Gap but being more south than the Pinnacle, it overlooks Lake Bellfield, although the Pinnacle cannot be seen from this lookout. The walk from Sundial carpark to the lookout is 4km return, allow 1.5-2hrs and ascent is only 115m making it more friendly than the Pinnacle walk.

sundial peak

You do also get lovely views to the south down the valley from the Sundial Peak.

sundial peak walk

The Sundial Peak walk early in the morning when no one was around – but I did get caught in a thunderstorm!

reeds Lookout

After your walks and you have had dinner, head up to Reed’s Lookout and The Balconies for an epic sunset view looking south across Victoria Valley. Be warned though – even mid-week, you will not be alone!

Boroka Lookout

If you are enthusiastic get up well before sunrise, drive the 20 minutes or so in the dark to Boroka lookout which faces east overlooking Halls Gap, for some shots BEFORE the sun comes up – I was lazy and couldn’t be bothered using a tripod and just relied upon the Olympus OM-D E-M1′s awesome image stabiliser plus used a Reverse ND gradient filter to help reduce the contrast at the horizon.

Grand Canyon

The “Grand Canyon” short circuit within the Wonderland on a cloudy day with the Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 lens at 7mm and f/8.

This is a first post on the Grampians and I have only touched the surface – the main tourist attractions – although I didn’t get to go to the Zumsteins and Mackenzie Falls on this trip.

 

 

 

Wilsons Prom – don’t forget the Big Drift on the way home

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Concluding my posts on Wilsons Prom, I again ventured up to the massive sand dune system again just before sunset, this time as a last hoorah before I drove home.

It’s great exercise and you will need a jacket on a mild afternoon if the wind is up as it usually is there.

These were shot on Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and follow on from my previous posts on Wilsons Prom:

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The Big Drift

The emu walked up to the top of this steep dune, had a look then walked back down again.

The Big Drift

I had the dunes all to myself – just how I like it!

More details of The Prom on my wikipedia.

 

Wilsons Prom – the beaches revisited

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Once you have had your quick explore of the main areas of the Prom, you really need to go back and take your time to feel the places and use your photographic mindfulness to see what others don’t see – because there is much to see if you take your time and look and wait.
These were shot on Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and follow on from my previous posts on Wilsons Prom:

Squeaky Beach in the morning sun:

Squeaky beach has to be one of my favorite remote beaches at low tide – the lovely white squeaky sand due to the rounded granules, the lovely clear stream you must cross with bare feet, the coloured plum pudding granite boulder maze at the north end while the south end has more massive rock formations with beautiful wild flowers in October – just don’t get too close to the edge – extra large rogue waves are common and will sweep you from the slippery granite into the ocean.
Squeaky Beach

How can you not like this stunning beach in the more gentle morning Spring sun before the school kids arrive?

Squeaky Beach

Down at the other end in the south, it has a different beauty as you watch in awe of the Bass Strait waves crashing on the rocks.

Squeaky Beach

It is so nice, the tourists are just happy doing selfie shots with the sea behind them – without regard for the beauties they have not discovered.

Squeaky Beach

The beach is not regarded as being a safe one for swimming but surfers don’t worry too much about strong under tows and the like.

Squeaky Beach

Young ladies taking in the sun watching the surf.

Squeaky Beach

Faces in the rocks and more wild flowers on the beach attracting native bees.

Whisky Bay:

Much less popular with the kids than is Squeaky Bay – makes it a nice spot to escape at low tide.

The are massive granite boulders at each end and a stream at the southern end.

Whisky Bay Beach

Whisky Bay Beach

Southern end as seen from the northern end boulders.

Whisky Bay Beach

A solitary surfer tackles the waves and boulders.

Darby Beach:

Darby Beach

Darby Beach is a 1.1km walk from the car park through some nice Spring wild flowers which are different to those at the other beaches.

Darby Beach

The beach is fairly desolate so a great place if you just want to walk to a quiet spot away from the crowds.

Darby Beach

 

The remote, desolate, Cotters Beach:

This is really only for the naturalists – there is unlikely to be anyone there on this rather expansive but non-descript beach but you do pass in the middle of Cotter’s lake to get there and with wetlands either side, I am sure the patient bird watcher will find what they want.

When I was there, at the start of the walk amongst the paperbarks were a group of blue superb fairy wrens flying around, while at the beach end it felt like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – lots of large black birds perched on the bushes.

The 1.2km 20min walk is a pleasant one along an exposed gravel road but with enough grass that one can comfortably do the 1km road part with barefeet but some foot wear is need for the last bit of gravel – just watch out for the sloppy emu droppings.

On either side is swampy wetlands.

Cotters Beach

The track to the beach through the swamp.

Cotters Beach

As I said, a fairly average beach – but it is remote and unlikely to have anyone else spending time there so if you like to be alone, this is the beach.

There are many other beaches, but access is via overnight camping hike trips.

If you are pushed for time, the must do areas are Tidal River, Mt Oberon Summit walk at sunset if possible, Squeaky beach and Whisky Bay (and don’t forget sunset at Big Drift if you have time on the way home). I would skip Darby and Cotters Beach unless you are looking for a more remote experience.

Wilsons Prom – you really need to stay overnight!

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Following on in my series of Victoria’s beautiful, remote Wilsons Promontory National Park, here is a blog to encourage you to stay in the park overnight rather than just do a day trip.

For a start, a day trip from Melbourne is a good 2.5-3hrs drive each way and in the southern parts, there are risks if driving around sunrise and sunset of hitting wildlife – although this risk is extremely high within the park – although the speed limit is 80kph, you probably should do 40kph once the sun is setting and well into the night. On one short drive of 2km at night I saw several wombats, several wallabies, and a young deer – and all of these are liable to suddenly run in front of you.

Vic Parks who run the park advises all day visitors to vacate the park by sunset – this means if you want great sunrises and sunsets within the park you really need to stay overnight.

But be warned, in Tidal River camping ground whilst there is plenty of space off season with over 400 sites it is usually full in peak season – but even off season there are about a dozen wombats who will destroy your tent if they smell food or shampoo, etc inside – they do have nasty sharp claws and can open eskies!

I heard a wombat gnawing on grass near my head while I slept but thankfully he ignored my tent.

tent

My tent with Mt Oberon in the background – see how nice the camp ground is when it’s empty off-season!

The showers in Tidal River have lovely hot water and are cleaned daily but I checked out the other main camp site at the entrance – Stockyards and whilst it is fitted with a nice shower, the hot water was not running.

Climb to Mt Oberon summit for sunset:

You can drive or catch a shuttle to the Mt Oberon carpark, and thence there is a 3.4km 1hr steady ascent of 359m along a shaded gravel road which meanders up on the south-east aspect to the rocky, windy and chilly summit which culminates in the last part being steep steps which can be slippery – bring warm clothes, gloves, jacket and torch as well as your camera with ND gradient filter and your tripod – unless you own Micro Four Thirds and then you could probably get away without a tripod thanks to the image stabiliser but your hands will be cold and tremulous so  a tripod is a better idea for serious work – even then the wind will make longer exposures problematic.

I thought I was going to be greeted with a really nice sunset however distant cloud on the horizon blocked it – nevertheless I did get a couple of nice shots.

Mt Oberon

Looking north-west over Tidal River camping ground and to Squeaky Beach and Whisky Bay.

Mt Oberon

Looking south – one could walk to this knoll and have a great sunset portrait opportunity – but being solo, this was not going to work for me – and anyway I was recovering from the ascent!

The descent is much quicker and can be done without a torch if you don’t stay too long after sunset, but take care walking down the initial steps, the rocks and wood are slippery when wet – hold onto the railing!

Get out at night and capture a cool astroscape on the beach

Wilsons Prom is a long way from city lights and has lovely dark skies – if it is not cloudy which is a high probability down there!

I timed this visit to ensure there was no moon in the sky at 2hrs after sunset then I could head to a beach – Tidal River is easiest and avoids any need to drive on the roads with the wildlife risks – check the tides though – high tide can be more problematic.

October is a great time as the core of the Milky Way arches over in the west from the Southern Cross and to Scorpio which, along with Venus (the really bright star) is setting later in the evening. Cape Liptrap lighthouse is visible across the bay.

Milky Way

This is a cropped version taken as a single shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens at ISO 1600, f/1.8 30secs but with a touch of dew on the lens as I discovered later.

Early morning sun on the boulders and sand:

I was really tired and missed sunrise but still, the early morning sun provides a better direction on the Tidal river boulders, especially better if it times with the tide having just gone out as it had done for me, leaving newly formed pristine textures in the sand.

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Tidal River

Plus, it is a great time for a stroll around and opportunistic capture of some birds such as this superb fairy wren while you are at it before you go and have breakfast and that lovely 4 minute hot shower before heading out for some more morning walks along other beaches - see next post here – the beaches re-visited.

No where else in the world offers beautiful remote beaches with lovely colored granite boulders to photograph, explore or just sunbake on (oops that’s bad for you!), nice sunsets, beautiful Milky Way winter-spring astroscapes without sub zero temperatures and unique Australian wildlife all around – emus, wombats, kangaroos, wallabies (thankfully the snakes seem to be not too plentiful but I hear they are around on the overnight hikes such as down to Waterloo Bay).

I would avoid the Stockyard Camp ground to camp in if possible though – seems to have much more mosquitoes, lots of noisy cockatoos, no hot shower (at least when I visited), is 30minutes drive to Tidal River and 20 minutes drive to the closest nice beach, and no cafe – but it would be great if you want sunrise or sunset shots on the Big Drift sand dunes.

 

 

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.

Great Ocean Road rock piling addiction – a little photo story

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

It starts off as an idle thought of what to do at the beach on a cool cloudy day without your wet suit ….

Your mind starts to wander … and then you see some nice rounded rocks …. and you think… why not pile them up …

rock piles

after all, a beautiful coastline could always do with a bit more interest, couldn’t it?

rock piles

and then you do another … this time with a bit more thought in construction …

rock piles

and then some more … even higher ….

rock piles

you find some nice big rocks to use as backdrops …..

rock piles

and then .. you are addicted…. you start doing them up the river too…

rock piles

and you start getting really good at it …

rock piles

and you just can’t stop ….

rock piles

then along comes someone to copy your craze, but rather pathetically, as everyone knows that this rock is not going to work like that!

rock piles

while other tourists appreciate all the hard work and stop to take pics …

rock piles

and eventually much of the beach is covered in rock cairns … and it looks kind of weird, rather than beautiful ….

rock piles

Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia.

All images shot with Olympus OM-D cameras and the pro lenses.

Of course I did not create these cairns I don’t have that much OCD – otherwise I would carry a big tripod and a Canikon dSLR with big lenses – although there is nothing wrong with that!

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.

Light, compact, weatherproof camera kit – the Olympus OM-D’s are a blessing for bushwalkers – especially if you fall into a river rock hopping

Monday, May 25th, 2015

OK, submerging your OM-D camera is NOT covered by Olympus for warranty repairs, nor do they recommend getting them really wet even if they have made them the more weatherproof than most dSLRs.

You probably have seen some reviewers “testing” this by sitting the camera in pool of water under a shower, or pouring a bottle of water on them, or running them under a tap without any obvious problems.

The Olympus advertisements themselves show off the OM-D’s with water droplets all over them to show you don’t have to fear the rain (as long as the lens is also weatherproof).

Despite the above, see looking after your Olympus camera in my wiki, and there is a link to an Olympus OM-D instruction manual regarding weathersealing of the E-M1.

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a week down in Victoria’s lovely Otway Ranges on the Great Ocean Road, and of course, bushwalking in the rain was on the menu given it is an extensive rainforest with around 2000mm rainfall per annum.

The Micro Four Third camera system has given me the ability to be more mobile, and access more places in less time thanks to its small size and light weight, plus, with its weatherproofing, I can make both my cameras even more accessible by mounting them onto a quick release plate on a waist belt which means no camera swinging dangerously from my neck hitting rocks I need to hands to negotiate, much reduced weight on my neck and back (I hardly need a back pack now for short walks), and best of all it only takes me seconds to access the camera and securely lock it back onto the belt, allowing me free to use my hiking poles when not taking pics.

Furthermore, the incredible image stabilisation system in the Olympus OM-D cameras means I no longer take tripods to waterfalls, or down the hundreds of steps to the beach, as I can get sharp hand held wide angle shots down to around 1/3rd second on my E-M5 and probably longer on the E-M1.

But even better, if I do need longer exposures, there is a lovely little Trail Pix device from kickstarter which converts my hiking poles (plus a 3rd collapse pole) into a tripod with a small ball mount tripod head – see my wiki page on ultralight bushwalking.

Back to my bushwalk and the dunking of my E-M5

I had both cameras on my belt and was attempting to walk upstream to this lovely little waterfall on Elliot River in the west Otways Ranges, when the slippery rock moved and I ended up half in the river – the E-M5 was submerged for a second or so, my E-M1 was on the other side and didn’t get wet, which was a good thing as I had the 75mm f/1.8 lens on it which is NOT weatherproof!

After drying off the water with a cloth, all was well and I continued my venture upstream, albeit, more cautiously and got a few long exposure hand held shots of the pretty little cascade (E-M5, mZD 12-40mm lens, polariser filter, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/4 second):

Elliot Falls

Not far from here, someone had kicked over a curious purple and orange/brown mushroom which Google has not helped me identify thus far – so if anyone knows, please message me:

mushroom

A stormy dusk over a wild but serene remote beach (still have sore quads after doing a fast uphill hike to get back to the car before darkness – must remember to bring a torch!):

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 100, f/8, hand held 1/5th sec to show motion in the pounding winter waves.

wild serenity

Moments earlier, a little of the sunset peaked through the dense clouds to allow this nice pastel effect:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 100, f/8, hand held 1/5th sec to show motion in the water.

sunset

Back up in the tops of the cool temperate rainforest of the Otways is the lovely Hopetoun Falls – quite accessible to tourists in a hurry as long as they don’t mind a hundred steps down and back up:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/5, hand held 1/10th sec to show motion in the water.


Hopetoun Falls

And, a visit to the Otways can’t not show the awesome ambience of being in the 300 year old Eucalypt Mountain Ash and Myrtle Beech rainforest with a touch of low cloud amongst the trees after rain:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 40mm, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/5, hand held 1/13th sec.

forest

Finally, resting at a remote mouth of a river on a secluded beach is sheer bliss:

Details: Olympus E-M5, mZD 12-40mm PRO lens at 27mm, polarising filter, ISO 200, f/3.5, hand held 1/40th sec.

river mouth

ps… all the current Olympus OM-D’ cameras are weathersealed EXCEPT for the E-M10.