Archives for posts with tag: nature

On our recent trip up to tropical North Queensland, following the first two stops in Port Douglas and briefly at the Mossman Gorge, we cross the Daintree River into the rainforest proper. I am going to get this single point out of the way now –

the Daintree Rainforest is awesome!

I had known about this place all through school and when my interest in travel piqued its prominence as a destination to explore rose even further. All I can say now is wow! The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest forest in the world. At over 120 million years in age, it has never been beaten by the ice ages of the past. It is also the only place in the world where you can take a photo of two world heritage sites in one shot – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It is also that forest that has the highest amount of biodiversity in the world. But this trip was focused on the forest that meets the ocean, and it turned out to be the perfect time of the year to go. It was surprisingly the low season, the weather was perfect, and the beaches were deserted. How else could I have got a shot like this one – no staging required.

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Crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River set the tone of the trip – adventure! We drove onto the cable ferry to cross the murky waters, waiting on the other side was the rainforest.

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Getting off the ferry, we immediately felt like we were surrounded by the forest with the tree lined route overhung with foliage. I couldn’t help but stop at the first lookout. I was surprised when we got there as the afternoon storm shower was rolling in. From the lookout we could see the mouth of the Daintree River, but it was the cloud and rain that I wanted to nab through the lens. This would be a perfect candidate for me to experiment with HDR.

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The drive itself along Cape Tribulation Road is fun. We hired a Subaru Forester for the the trip and it handled great on the roads. Along the route there are several aggressive speed bumps whose intent is to slow people down significantly around the areas where cassowaries are likely to cross. The cassowary in Australia is an endangered species with just over a couple of thousand still left in the wild. So my hopes in seeing one were to be random at best. But we got lucky, after traversing one of the many speed bumps my wife excitedly gestured to the left side of the road in the shrub. Sure enough there one was making a slow getaway back into the forest brush. This was the best I could do, given that I was behind the wheel.

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The expectation that the rainforest would be teeming with big fauna was quickly dashed. This is a forest of the small and nimble. I think this makes it even more beautiful, because it is not the domain of humans. The animals are definitely not scared of the tropical rain. Straight after the afternoon shower, these birds just got back to business in this red hued plant.

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The ferns, some of the most ancient of plant life, continued to slowly uncurl. The natural spiral pattern of the frond has an eerily mathematical beauty about it, and I will never get  tired of shooting them.

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Speaking of other animals in the trees, the largest spider I have ever seen was a common sight all around the rainforest. The golden orb weaver is huge, with its outstretched legs giving it a reach much longer than my outstretched hand. Initially they are quite confronting, particularly when a couple of the locals told us about the strength of their webs, but they are not aggressive towards humans. Their strands of spider silk have a greater tensile strength than that of steel. One of the locals said that American researchers were trying to work out how they could make body armour out of synthetically produced silk of this kind of spider, via goats of all things. In this photo I took you can see the tiny male in the bottom left of the photo trying to approach the female as she gorges herself on some insect food. The same local went on to tell us that the male would soon suffer the same fate as the insect “meal” but not before he went about his reproductive business.

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As dusk approached, the quite of the rainforest took over. There is no mobile phone coverage in the Daintree, no signal, no data, nothing. And the TV reception at the house we stayed in was dodgy at best. The noise of the forest takes over, the birds and beetles humming away. The moon was in the final stages of the waxing gibbous phase and illuminated brightly the night sky. The lack of other radiant light added to the aura of seclusion. I didn’t have my full blown Manfrotto tripod with me, but a mini one that I carry always was the steady arm for this shot.

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Before the above photo we took a guided walk in the rainforest at night. That is for my next post, but my recommendation is for anyone to do it!

The next morning, the sunrise was serene and spectacular. I didn’t quite get the shot that I wanted, the lack of a tripod hampered me significantly. But this was the best I could do. I like the “ladders” on the ocean that the sun’s reflection caused.

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We had a couple more days in the Daintree, and we chose to do some other adventures – zip lining and kayaking (again both for my next post). But I think the highlight for me was actually walking in the rainforest itself. There are a number of boardwalks where you can walk both into the dry and wet parts of the rainforest, whilst ensuring that you don’t get lost. The only danger being the swarms of mosquitoes hungry for the sting. The mozzies were relentless around the wetlands, but on the dry rainforest floor not so much. But it was nothing that a spray of repellent couldn’t keep at bay. Walking through the forest with my travel partner in crime, my wife, brought back our sense of adventure that has gone a bit dormant as parents of a 3 year old. My wife and I love to travel together, and over the last 14 years we have been to many, many destinations around the world. When we do travel together we naturally take on designated roles. I am chief pilot/driver, repairman, photographer, scout, and sherpa. My wife is chief travel planner, logistics manager, chef, spotter, and a somewhat accurate navigator.

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The flora is spectacular and was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The trees were very strange, and very seldom were adjacent trees of the same species. Here are two together, a regular tree being slowly consumed by a strangler fig. Eventually the strangler fig will devour its host and all that will remain will be the fattened roots of the strangler fig forming a tree on its own.

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A break in the forest canopy, caused by the last cyclone pounding the coastline is a prompt for regeneration. These Daintree fan palms are unique to this part of the world, and their leaf diameter was over a metre. For this part of the rainforest, this was the canopy.

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The Daintree is home to 28 different species of mangrove. You experience a significant change in your surroundings when you reach the wet part of the forest floor. The water runs off from the mountains and into the ocean. This is unlike anything that I have seen.

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The trees changed colour, notice all the orange, and it went from being very green to hues of orange and brown thrown into the mix.

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The muddy forest floor was teeming with crabs! Mostly they were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they were all shy. Everytime we came within a couple of metres of them, they burrowed back down in their holes. So to grab this shot I had to move slowly, silently, and softly on the boardwalk. It wasn’t until after I downloaded the image that I noticed the second one at the bottom of the shot who was motionless to avoid detection.

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While the waters of the ocean looked inviting it was very stinger season with the Irukandji jellyfish everywhere. The waters look sooooo inviting, even with the cloudy grey tropical sky.

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So the best place to take a natural dip is in the watering holes dotted around the forest. We went for a swim at Mason’s watering hole (no bikini shots of my wife allowed 🙂

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Tips for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest

The natural beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. Here are some tips that I picked up for the next time when I take my son when he is older.

  1. Hire a four wheel drive (SUV) – a small hatch or sedan is not worth the bumps and discomfort. Even if the 4WD you hire is only a small.
  2. Make sure you bring mosquito repellant – you have been warned.
  3. A solid pair of hiking shoes will increase your mobility – it is a forest after all.
  4. If you a bringing a camera, one that is good in low light is best – the forest canopy significantly reduces the available light with which to shoot, even in the middle of the day. First side tip is to keep your camera handy when you are driving (I would have missed the cassowary shot if my camera was packed in the boot). Second side tip is to bring an underwater case if you have one (the forest climate is very wet).
  5. Bring a pair of binoculars if you have them – I am sure there were things I did not see in the canopy above my head because I wasn’t optically armed.
  6. Get used to not having a phone – who needs to be constantly connected anyway.
  7. Water, water, water – carry with you a bottle, camelbak, flask, whatever. It is hot and humid, and you want to keep going to see more.
  8. Careful what you touch – the plants are more of a danger than the animals.
  9. Careful what you pick to eat – most of it is poisonous.
  10. Relax and take in the world of micro – it is awe inspiring, but don’t expect to see child size lemurs jumping out of trees.

Magic Accommodation

Finally I want to put in a plug for the accommodation that my wife found. We stayed at the Sanctuary Bed and Breakfast house at Cape Tribulation. The house is spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. It sits in the forest canopy and is far enough away to be privately secluded, but close enough to get to most of the sights in Cape Tribulation within 15 – 20min. Just don’t forget not to leave out any food for furry or six legged visitors.

Here are a couple of photos of the house (and I shot a number of the photos in this post from the wooden deck).

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This is a bit of an abstract post, in that it could be perceived to be a rather dull topic. Recently we went up to the NSW Central Coast again for my Mother’s 60th birthday, and we took the opportunity to show the rest of the family the Crommelin Native Arboretum (or as my son – AKA “The Pok” – calls it: “the jungle”). It was a bit overgrown this time round but with all the recent rainfall it was very green. This time around I noticed the large variety of tree types, and it is most evident in the beauty of their bark. This is nature painting the most beautiful textures. I am not a rabid conservationist, but I would like to see people appreciate the natural beauty of our native flora more… and it is beautiful.

Tearing away –

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Mottled cuts –

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Grey crackling –

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Burnt ribs –

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Shotgun scars –

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Vertical rips –

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Lunar landscape –

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A wooden face –

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Bleeding bark –

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A mossy canvas –

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A strange light descended over Sydney Harbour this afternoon as the sky was filled with smoke from distant bushfires and the sun was only peering through a small hole in the clouds to the West. The Golden Hour hadn’t yet arrived either. The buildings in North Sydney appear to be glowing, but they are not lit up.

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UPDATE: When I posted this photo I didn’t realise the extent of the threat unfolding in the West of the city. I was simply marvelling at the photo opportunity. There are a lot of people who are now displaced with the threat of losing their homes. A great number of Rural Firemen risking their lives to get the fires under control. Godspeed to all these people.

Back in Sydney, it has been dreary and cold. It has pretty much been Winter. It was cold enough for me to don my winter jacket with a high collar zipped up all the way to my chin. So it was no surprise that I was daydreaming at lunchtime about our trip last weekend up to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. No the people from up North of the border like to rub it in to Southern Australians with their tourism slogan “beautiful one day, perfect the next.” The challenge that I have with that is, you can’t argue against it. When you have temperatures in the mid-20s (celcius) in the middle of Winter, you have to love it. I wonder if the amount of sunshine these Queenslanders get affects them in other ways…

Going for a late afternoon walk by the seaside at the Sunshine Coast during the “magic hour” provided me with some cool photo opportunities.

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The typical conifer trees that are found all along the Australia’s East Coast were already blooming.

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My son, The Pok, was enjoying a bit of tree climbing (even if he had to get an initial boost from his Dad). He did get stuck a few moments later which came as more of a shock to him. Nothing like a bit of tree-hugging.

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And the Pelicans were slowly paddling on the surface in search of dinner. I wonder whether they would be affected by daylight savings?

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I love coming up to this part of the world.

 

On our third stop of our recent trip to Hawaii, we visited the island of Maui for a week. Like all the islands in the Hawaiian chain, Maui had plenty of different things to offer. The large slopes of the dormant and imposing volcano of Haleakala in particular offer you many places to explore and experience. We decided one day to visit one of the many botanical gardens on the slopes and the one we chose was the Enchanting Floral Gardens of Kula. It is located about a quarter of the way up to the summit of the volcano, and covers 8 acres. It was quite a change in scenery once you start to climb Haleakala, and the change in altitude brings a change in the climate to one of being more temperate. That shouldn’t have surprised me because we did climb to just over 2,500 feet, but it did and what was the most noticeable change was the amount of greenery in abundance. As the name of the title says this garden was very much focused on flowers. So while my wife, aunt, and son enjoyed (my boy thought that the best part of the trip was jumping on the directional arrows painted on the ground, and then instructing commanding the rest of us which ones were “our” arrows to jump on) the stroll through garden I delighted in the opportunity to capture the natural colour of the blooming flowers and flora. Here are my favourite photos from our walk through the gardens. As usual, all the images will link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site.

This flower is known as a ‘Red Jade’.

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And this next one is the blue version of the same type of flower – the ‘Blue Jade’

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Don’t know the name of this flower. I would love it if someone could tell me its name. Google searching “pink flower” gives me the phone book – it is tough reading phone books.

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This tree was awesome, and I had never seen anything like it. It is known as a ‘Silk Floss Tree’ which is native to South America. It’s spiky trunk reminded me of a rose stem, but this was a full size tree trunk and each of these spikes were the size of a small rose flower.

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This flower was my favourite of all the flowers in the garden – a ‘Red Ginger Lily’

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The purple petals contrasted beautifully against the yellow pistils. Again, my gardening ignorance left me wanting for its name.

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Took me a while to find out the name of this shrub, it is a ‘Coleus’

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The succulent garden had some pretty big plants on display, but I liked the detail of  the leaves and how they created a cage of green on this plant.

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There were many different types and colours of ‘Protea’ on display, and they were the hosts of many small insects. Maybe next time a bit of macro photography might be in order.

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I would recommend a visit to these gardens as we got to see hundreds of different flowers and trees in a brief hour long stroll through the garden. The views over the island of Maui are also a highlight. And from where we were staying in Kihei it was just over 30 minutes of driving to get to.

Our second stop on our Hawaii island hopping trip was the Big Island of Hawaii. The guidebook (yes I still do pick them up to get a point of reference) told me that Big Island’s area covers the area of all the other islands combined. So we were going to be in for a bit of driving. I did not know what to expect, as all I really knew about the island was a few things; it had cool volcanoes and one that was still active, it had Mauna Kea which is technically the tallest mountain in the world if measured from it’s base on the ocean floor (at over 40,000 feet it is taller than Mount Everest), there are the Koch observatories at top of Mauna Kea, and they do the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon there too.

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All cool things things to set the scene. I didn’t realise that it was from the Big Island that King Kamehameha I was born and set out to unite all the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii. We did have a lot of fun trying to learn the pronunciation of his name.

Flying into the Big Island airport of Kona is one cool experience! They have carved the runways and airport complex out on a lava field on the Western side of the island. It is kinda spooky and otherworldly being on such a barren rocky landscape. My boy, The Pok, was a little awestruck at the sight – taking it all in. After picking up our bags, we went to get the rental car that we would be needing for the stay. At this point I tried to convinced my wife to revel in the fact that we were in the USA and upgrade our ride to a Chevy Suburban! My Father had no idea what I was referring to until he was shown the big black beast in the car park. I even tried the argument that we could drive over lava in it. What won the day was the luggage capacity – the Suburban was mine… well at least for 3 days.

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I wonder if this thing could drive over lava, definitely over small children.

As soon as we got out of the airport I realised why cyclists love the Big Island so much. The main roads had massively wide shoulders that were super-smooth like glass for miles and miles on end. The kind of stuff that us cyclists have dreams about (sad – I know). Driving along you get a sense of the scale of the island. Big Island as the name says is big. The western side of the island is also quite dry, as a result of the weather break caused by the two massive peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We stayed at the resort village of Waikoloa, which is pleasant but could be anywhere – except for golf courses which have lava fields for the rough. Waikoloa proved to be a good base to explore many of the sites on the Western side of the island. We pretty much relaxed for the first day and night allowing me to indulge in a bit of photography and tasting what would become my favourite Hawaiian dish – kalua pork loco moco. I don’t do photos of food, but here is the my attempt at a bit of photography art at dusk. The first night we were there was also when my brother and all his mates arrived from Canada for his wedding, and we did savour a few cocktails at the Marriott Hotel at Waikoloa.

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The North of Big Island

The second day we had planned two stops for our travels. First stop was Pololu Valley up North which was used as one of the locations for shooting Jurassic Park. The second stop would be night diving with manta rays (my next Hawaii post). The drive up to Pololu Valley took us through the town of Kapa’au This is where they have one of the three statues of King Kamehameha I who was the one who united (probably through lots of bloodshed) all the islands into a single kingdom.

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Pololu Valley itself is stunning, and it is one that I would like to come back to with hiking boots on. You are greeted with rock cliffs dropping into the ocean from the Kohala Mountains. I don’t think that any photo that I could take would do these cliffs justice. The valley is surreal, and lush, and inviting, with cloud resting on the shoulders of the valley. I can see why Spielberg and his crew would have chosen this location.

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Driving back along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway made me jealous as I wanted to be out on the road on two wheels. Did I say that the highway is a cyclist’s paradise, with a massively wide road shoulder and super smooth tarmac for miles, and miles, and miles. This was probably one of the worst sections of road. I am definitely going back to spin some wheels!

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To the Volcanoes We Go!

The third day we took off to check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Waikoloa there is no direct route down to the South-West of the island where the park is located. So we knew were going to be in for a bit of a road trip – translation a few hundred kilometres of driving. We had a convoy of 5 cars with my brother, his fiance, and their mates along with one of my other brothers and my whole family (old people included). Heading South along the Western coast of the island the route took us through the Kailua-Kona region of the island. This is the world famous coffee growing belt of Hawaii. But it was not coffee that stopped us on the way – it was one of our crew’s yearning for Donkey Balls. That’s right, chocolate Donkey Balls – which are made there right in the store. There is every kind of tasty chocolate that you could imagine, and the packaging is a bit cheeky too. They also sell coffee – but we ALL stocked up on chocolate to fuel us for the trip. If you are driving through Kailua Kona, then I highly recommend anyone to pullover and taste.

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We continued driving along the Kona Coast for at least 100km constantly crossing old lava fields that had descended down from Mauna Loa and the Southwest Rift Zone to ocean. This part of the island is very green and the views from the highway down to the coast line are uninterrupted. Passing the town of Ocean View, we drove another 50km or so until we reached Punalu’u Beach. Our GPS unit told us to stop here and see the black volcanic sand beach, and if we were lucky some Green Sea Turtles. We were in luck, and the beach was beautiful – if not strange for its black sand. The sand is actually ground down volcanic rock that over the millenia has been eroded down to fine crystals. There were quite a few turtles swimming off the shoreline and a few up on the beach. Fortunately there were conservationists there as well to protect the turtles, who didn’t move as slowly as everyone makes them out to do.

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The National Park was only another 50km east of the beach and we set off again. Entry to the Park is cheap at $10 a car, which lasts for seven days. The Park includes the currently active Kilauea Caldera, where you can get close enough but at a safe distance from the open crater. Apparently at night there is an orange glow into the sky emitting from the caldera. Seeing an active volcano for the first time made me feel… small. It puts you in your place seeing the immense size of the caldera and what must have been an even larger active crater which it sits in. And it looked like the surface of the moon.

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You can see in the photo above the people walking on the crater bed, dwarfed by the immense landscape.

Further along within the park there are many hiking trails where you can walk through an old lava tunnel – minus the lava, and green forest trails. The Pok was having fun being in “the jungle” again, and this time he got to share it with his grandpare (my father). Even the fern fronds were massive, the one below in the photo was the size of my head.

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We hopped back in the cars to travel a bit further and see if we could see the lava fields at Kalapana which are dropping into the ocean. To get there we had to drive up to just South of Hilo and then drive back down to the coast. As we got close to the fields, the road turned into a jumbled mess of asphalt and lava – which was as close as I was going to get to driving on lava. Again I was left in awe of the size of the flows down the mountain side from the Kilauea Caldera. What shocked me were all the houses where the flow had just avoided the properties, but found a way around or across the roads that lead up to them. It was bizarre, but I guess if you made your home there then why move – this was their reality. By the way, did I say that lava looks cool?

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We waited until night fell to see if we could get some lava glowing on the river of rock – but it was a bit disappointing. All the tourist videos showing you the rivers of molten magma are epic, but you have to pay a lot of money and be fortunate enough to be there when the volcanic activity is roaring.

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I did try my hand at a HDR photo using my Canon Powershot G15, it works well for an in-camera driven setting.

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I think that next time we go to the Big Island, and there will definitely be a next time, we will take one of the ocean boat cruises that takes you to the ocean side of where the lava drops into the ocean. The tourism videos are the very best of the volcanoes that you could possibly see, but you are unlikely to experience this stuff unless you are a volcanologist or pro-photographer.

The drive back to Waikoloa was at night and the quickest route back was via Hilo and via the Saddle Road. Contrary to what the guide book says, they have just finished paving the Eastern side up Mauna Kea to almost freeway quality tarmac. The road takes you up to over 8,000 feet of elevation and that night took us up over the cloud line. As we reached the summit of the road just South of the Mauna Kea peak, we pulled over to get a glimpse of the heavens. One word – STUNNING. I have never seen so many stars in the night sky so clearly. My wife absolutely loved it too, but for all of us who hopped out of the car we just about nearly froze. The temperature difference between the coast and the Mauna Kea mountain side is close to 25 degrees Celsius. It was a long day in the car, but definitely worth it.

There are so many other things that we now want to do having seen what was on offer. The Big Island is one cool place which we can’t wait to go back to explore further.

Since coming back from Hawaii I have started a new job and been pretty time poor with normal life. So now I am settled it to the new role, I can get back to posting again and get some more kilometres down on two wheels. Back to the real world.

 

I have posted a couple of times now of our many trips to Singapore, including the Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands art and decoration. These posts were predominantly about man made structures. Singapore is known worldwide as the Garden City, but for some reason it was not until my sixth trip to the country that I managed to visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The gardens also contain the National Orchid Garden and it is a surreal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city state’s downtown area. Given Singapore’s tropic location, it is always raining there. But the rain didn’t deter us from visiting the gardens, and it added a different dynamic to the surroundings. I really enjoyed the few hours we spent there, it was relaxing, even though we walked a lot! I was surprised at being allowed to get so close to some of the flowers and plants to shoot macro. There are also some garden sculptures throughout the gardens, but it is not over the top and compliments the gardens well.

Even on a cloudy, rainy day the gardens are alive with colour. Below are my favourite photos from our trip, and as usual the images link through to my larger photos on Flickr.

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I spent a good portion of my visit carrying the Pok in his “rucksack” while he was asleep. It is quite strange trying to operate a Digital SLR camera with a big weight hanging from your belly.

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It is quite easy to get to the gardens with a bus stop right next to the Southern end of the park and a metro station at the Northern end. There are also quite a few exhibitions on as well during the year. Timing your visit, if that is possible, to be around the time of the orchid blooms makes for a much better visit. If you want to know where the Botanic Gardens are, I have attached a link to the location on Google Maps below.

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I brought my new MTB Steed – the VTT – with us on our recent camping trip to Patonga to let it rip properly for the first time. I was very much looking forward to seeing how it would handle and to get it properly dirty. The first long ride I had on it was on the road, and I realised that I had the seat up too high, almost the same position as what I had for my Road Steed. So I made a few minor adjustments to the bike before setting out. To get to Patonga we had to drive through the Brisbane Water National Park. Coming in on the road from Umina Beach and rounding the corner of Broken Bay we went steeply up to the ridge line in the national park. I could tell just from the gearing in the car that I would be climbing – a lot. I marked the area that I was to explore for the first time on the park map below.

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Day One of Riding

The first day I set out after pitching up our tent. I didn’t realise how late it was when I set out, but it was after 17:30 and we were in the last week of daylight savings for the South Eastern coast of Australia. This would prove to be a daylight miscalculation on my part. I decided to pack my trusty new Canon Powershot G15 in the back pocket and chuck on the front and rear mud guards too. I knew it was going to be steep before I reached the trail, but not 1.6km at over 8% gradient – with some parts hitting over 14%. That was with less than 2km of warmup in the legs and lungs. I suppose this was the test for how well the new MTB Steed would climb. It performed impressively up the climbs, and the Shimano XT shifters did their job very well. It’s no mountain goat going up inclines (it definitely felt it heavier than my former hardtail XC bike), but with its short wheelbase for a dual suspension bike it is was at least a mountain lion. Once again, the bike is better than the engine (me) – for the moment! By the time I had hit the entrance to the trail, the sun was descending rapidly towards the horizon.

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It had rained most of that first day and the trails were puddled and damp. There was running water across every one of the firetrail water breaks, which meant getting dirty at every crossing. The mud guards would come into their own and did their job well, but it was still fun hitting the water at speed with the spray going everywhere. What I wasn’t so sure of was how well the new Maxxis Ikon tyres would hold, particularly in the loose but wet conditions. But the wheels and tyres have turned out to be quite solid, quickly regripping after my back wheel slid out and very sure footed.

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I realised from the GPS that I would run out of light before hitting Pearl Beach. So with the light fading I decided to take in the beauty of the National Park and capture a few shots of the surroundings. The views from this trail are beautiful and there are many natural features of large sandstone blocks, waterfalls, and running streams through the bush shrub.

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Even with a bit of mud, my new velo looks cool!

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Daylight very quickly disappeared as I turned around to head back to the campsite, and what greeted me at dusk were some of the locals. I saw two wallabies go across the trail, both in front and behind me. There was a superb lyrebird running around strutting its stuff when I got to the valley. And finally a couple of hundred metres into my return journey a grey kangaroo bounded across the trail and disappeared into the native shrub before I could get my eyes on it again. There was absolutely no chance of me snapping these animals in what was very near darkness.

Animal Count:

Swamp Wallaby Superb Lyrebird Eastern Grey Kangaroo

The scariest part of the ride though was not the return on the trail, but the descent back to the campsite down that incline that I rode up at the start. The miscalculation was that I forgot to chuck on a set of lights, thinking I would be riding in daylight. I was bombing it down the descent in pitch black darkness on a slippery road – and it was exhilirating (if not entirely stupid)! I decided immediately after I hit camp that I would return for a second run the next day.

Day Two of Riding

The next day was much brighter and drier. I set out a good hour and a bit earlier for this run, determined to reach Pearl Beach. I did a couple of warmup laps of Patonga village before hitting the climb out, which proved to be a good idea. The view from the ridge line on the trail was awesome as I was able to get my eyes off the path this time with it not being so wet.

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I was determined to get to Pearl Beach for this trip, and was duly rewarded with some spectacular rock and waterfall features.

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Finishing up at Pearl Beach was when I found the Crommelin Native Arboretum. I also got the chance to get some views in of the Northern Head of the Hawkesbury River from the Paul Landa Reserve, where you can also see across to Barrenjoey Head and the back end of Palm Beach.

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Descending down to Pearl Beach meant a trail climb back up to the ridge line for the same Patonga descent that I rode in darkness the day before. But at least this time it was dry and I could gather up a bit of speed to enjoy the drop in.

I mapped out the trails I rode below on the map in solid lines, with the first day getting only halfway to Pearl Beach. Next time I ride here, and there will be a next time because camping at Patonga is fun, I want to explore the trails on the Northern side of Patonga Drive (marked out as dotted lines). These look like a bit more climbing to get to the trail, but a longer trail as the reward. Next time I will also bring a few riding buddies with me to get dirty.

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I want to thank my wife for letting me hit the trails on the second day – which also happened to be our 5th wedding anniversary. What can I say, she is awesome and I love her to bits.

A good friend of ours, whose son is also the same age as the Pok (our son), recommended to us a fantastic camping spot on the NSW Central Coast called Patonga. I must admit that while I have ventured up and down the NSW Northern and Southern coasts many times for holidays or a recreational break, for some reason I have not been very often to the NSW Central Coast. This is the area marked by the Northern side of the Hawkebury River and stretching up to the Hunter Region (where Newcastle and the Hunter Valley wineries are). The oversight on my part will not be made again, the area is stunningly beautiful. There is a large national park area, with walking tracks and trails for mountain biking. The beaches are calm and protected. And of course you have the Hawkesbury River and its many coves, inlets and tributaries. This area was originally the land of the indigenous Australian peoples – the Darkinjung. The Darkinjung have inhabitated the NSW Central Coast for over 25,000 years and there are still rock carvings preserved near Pearl Beach.

While the weather was a bit poor (we set off with me putting the bikes on the roof in the pouring rain), we got quite lucky – pitching our tent just before a shower and packing it up before another. We took a cruise down the Hawkebury River to Bobbin Head for a spot of lunch, and visited Pearl Beach and Umina Beach as well. Near Pearl Beach we also discovered a pristine nature reserve called the Crommelin Native Arboretum. I also got the chance to take the new MTB Steed out for a spin (that is my next post).

The Pok absolutely loved this trip with his Mickey Mouse in tow and exploring “the jungle”. Though he was awestruck at the giant pelicans near the Patonga jetty. All in all a great short break that we will be going back to, and all within less than a 90 minute drive from the Sydney CBD. Below are some of the photos I shot while down there, but I was not really in the mood for photography so much as enjoying the break. I did get the chance to shoot (photograph) some native Australian birds in their habitats, a couple of macro shots of the native fauna, and some eucalypt blue hued landscapes. As usual, the images from this post link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site.

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If you want to know where Patonga is on the map, I have attached a link (the map image below) to the location on Google Maps.

Google Maps - Patonga NSW

For many of us celebrating the Easter weekend, it is a religious occasion. One theme of Easter is that of new life (hence the tradition of the Easter egg). For me the rejuvenation of gardens and public spaces is akin to this. I have been to Singapore nine times now and enjoy immensely travelling to the city state. It has a buzz and energy about it, while presenting beautiful gardens that are boosted by the tropical climate and rains. Singaporeans enjoy presenting their gardens in new and innovative ways. The Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay are no different, and they are truly magnificent. We saw them under construction a couple of years ago when we took the opportunity for a stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, staying at the Marina Bay Sands (you can get amazingly cheap rates on the rooms if there is not a big event on at the same time as your visit). I didn’t know what I was looking at from the hotel balcony view until I got back home and found this article on inhabitat.com . So I said to my wife that next time we go to Singapore we have to see these gardens and their super vertical garden “trees”. Below are a couple of shots of the gardens under construction. BTW – as per usual, all these images link through to my larger photos on Flickr.

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Late last year we finally got the chance to go back and visit the gardens, open to the public and in full bloom. To get there you have to walk past the imposing Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, and over the bridge that separates the gardens from the uber-size hotel-casino. When you finally arrive it is like being sucked into another world full of flora and colour. The Supertree vertical gardens greeted us, and I must admit I was awestruck by the genius of their design and construction.

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The elevated deck that allows you to walk through the “trees” looks awesome. I think we will take the walk on the deck next time we go, now that the Pok (our son) has properly found his feet.

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There are several themed gardens located throughout the site, in many ways reflecting the diverse cultural backgrounds of the people of Singapore. We stopped for a rest in the Chinese Gardens, where the backdrop was the three huge towers of the uber-size hotel-casino. We could see the storm clouds approaching in the distance and it rained briefly on us several times while we were walking around.

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You can’t get away from the Supertrees and there are some 18 in total at the gardens. You can go right up to the base of these structures and there is excellent information about the trees and how they work – truly impressive!

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There are a few other themed gardens with different plants that are being nurtured. Turning a corner sucks you into what at first appearance would be a completely different garden from the one you just left.

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The Pok had an excellent time running around the gardens and spent a lot of time doing laps around the base of the Supertree above. At the time, with him being so young, he found it quite a novelty that he would walk the base of the structure and see Mummy and Daddy again, and again, and again.

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Finally, the proper tropical storm approached and brought an end to our visit. We had a fantastic time, and will definitely visit again to see a lot of the parts that were still being finished and maybe seeing the greenhouse too. I think a visit at night would also add a different dimension to our next visit, with the whole site lit up under the different coloured lights. I would definitely recommend a visit to these Gardens if you are spending 48 hours in Singapore. One tip, bring water! The humid Singapore climate coupled with all the walking you will do when visiting the gardens will leave you parched. If you want to know where the gardens are in Singapore, I have inserted the Google Maps link below.

Google Maps - Gardens by the Bay

For all of you that are celebrating Easter, have a happy one with family and friends.

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