Hong Kong, Dec 2002

Prior to arriving in New Zealand we scheduled a 3 day stop off in Hong Kong. This was my very first long haul journey, I hadn’t really ventured much beyond Europe prior to this, and I think what struck me most was what a small world we live in. I hadn’t really expected to walk into a Hard Rock Cafe, much less be able to sit and watch premier league football. It just surprised me that I was half way round the world, in a culture very different to our own, and yet good old english football was such a big thing. It was brought home to me even more when we were in New Zealand and Farnborough Town Football Club was mentioned on the radio. Small world. I wonder if David Beckham knows that in Hong Kong his name is being used to sell Brazil nuts?!

As we descended into Hong Kong airport it was dawn and the island was covered in a hazy orange fog. It felt a little like landing in Jurassic Park, and fitted the image I had of the place entirely. We were then taken to our very plush hotel on the Kowloon Peninsula and slept off our jet lag.

Hong Kong  Skyline

Hong Kong skyline at night

Waking next day we took the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island. Waiting on the other side were two old boys who didn’t look like they had long left offering us a ride on their rikshaws. We couldn’t say no, and it was just the funniest thing being carted up a hill by a man who looked like he may keel over at any second. Even the locals were taking the mick. Eventually they had to stop and we got out and had a good look round the municipal gardens. The view down the hill across all the skyscrapers was amazing. There were also a number of people practicing their tai-chi in the gardens, as indeed they do everywhere in Hong Kong. Some with knives.

tai-chi

Tai-Chi Practitioners

International Finance Centre

International Finance Centre, under construction, Hong Kong

Down by the seafront the International Finance Centre was in the process of being built. Absolutely enormous, by far the tallest building I’d ever seen, and I think at the time the third tallest building in the world. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe. The Bank of China building was also very impressive and I managed to get a few nice shots.

Bank of China Building

Bank of China Building, Hong Kong

The following day we headed for Peak Tower, an incredibly steep ride with stunning views at the top across the whole bay. Unfortunately the weather, or should I say smog, had closed in but very impressive all the same. We also had a look around the older parts on the main land, but decided against trying out any of the dried octopus, squid and whatever else they were serving up.

Performing Arts Centre

Performing Arts Centre, Kowloon Peninsula

The last night before we departed was spent down by a very packed front seeing in the New Year with quite a few Chinese let me tell you. We returned again for another day and a half on the way back, so in all experienced two New Year as at the end of January it is of course Chinese New Year. All the floats were out along the front, all very pretty. But I think by this stage we were just keen to get home.

Floats

Floats on the front, Kowloon Peninsula

Moscow, May 2003

My wife has, for as long as I’ve known her, always harboured a love of all things Russian. So for her 30th Birthday I thougt I’d surprise her by organising a long weekend in Moscow. It was only once booked that I began to read tales in all the travel guides of the widespread corruption and intimidation practised by the local police, giving on the spot fines for ‘passport irregularities’. We tried not to worry and boarded the plane with an open mind. On going through customs it was apparent that Russians weren’t the friendliest of people, and things only got worse when in Red Square I tried to pay for Pizza with a large note. The girl behind the counter was beside herself with rage! Blimey, I thought. Returning to our hotel on the Saturday night after a night at the Bolshoi (when in Rome) we had a car pull over from the other side of the road, with a couple of blokes getting out and shouting at us. We just kept our heads down and kept walking and thankfully they got bored and drove off. Moscow is indeed a very intimidating place. I’d like to say the receptionists at the hotel were very pleasant, but they couldn’t have been less helpful if they’d tried. It seems to smile in Moscow would hurt.

All that said, Moscow is an incredibly fascinating place. The history of the place is amazing, to see the likes of the Kremlin and Red Square something else. The hotel we stayed in was one of Stalin’s ‘Seven Sisters’ that he had built in the Fifties to compete with the American Skyscrapers. A beautiful piece of architecture. The view from our hotel window was pretty special.

Hotel Ukrainia

Hotel Ukrainia, on the Moscow River, Moscow, Russia

Moscow River

Looking the other way up the Moscow River

We were also incredibly lucky in that on the Saturday we saw two Russian leaders in one day. In the morning we visited Lenin’s mummified body, which looking at him most be more wax than human remains these days, and then in the afternoon, whilst looking around the Kremlin we had the good fortune to see Putin too. He even waved at us! The reason for his appearance was because Paul McCartney had paid him a visit with his then wife Heather Mills. He was set to play in Red Square that night and so it was completely filled with rows and rows of seats, with a huge stage down one end. Not quite what I had in mind I have to say. So we first saw a very orange looking Paul McCartney with very natural looking chestnut brown hair, surrounded by bodyguards. Then a moment later out comes an even larger group of bodyguards with Putin leading the way. Well I never, I thought to myself.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor the dead of the Great Patriotic War, outside the Kremlin walls, Moscow.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Church of the Twelve Apostles, Kremlin, Moscow

On the Sunday we travelled out, via there amazing tube, to Gorky Park, and paid a visit to Sculptures Park. Here is kept a large number of the statues that were torn down along with the Iron Curtain.

Stalinist Repressions Memorial

Stalinist Repressions Memorial, Sculpture Park, Moscow

Statues, Sculpture Park, Moscow

Statues, Sculpture Park, Moscow

One thing that took us completely by surprise was the heat. They only have 2 seasons, it leaps straight from winter to summer in Moscow, and I was totally unprepared. I didn’t even have a hat, and managed to burn my forehead so badly it actually swelled up. As we got on the plane home I was beginning to resemble the Elephant Man! Before we got on the plane however, we had one last scare. A soldier parading round the terminal inspecting passports. ‘Here we go’ we thought, but thankfully we escaped, with a couple of beads of sweat running down my forehead.

Am I glad I went? Hell yeah. Would I go again? Not on your life!

Canada and Alaska, May – June 2004

For me, there is nowhere more stunning than the Canadian Rockies. Much as I love New Zealand, there are maybe 3 or 4 beautiful glacial lakes to be had. In Canada there are maybe in the region of 30 odd! The sheer scale and majesty of the mountain range as you approach on the main road out from Calgary just takes your breath away. Its almost intimidating. Being America everything is on a much grander scale.

We were visiting Canada and Alaska on our honeymoon, so I almost felt guilty taking all my camera equipment with me (not really). The one mistake I made was booking the trip a little too early in the year (late May). If I’d done my research I’d have found out that the lakes I really wanted to shoot (Lake Louise and Moraine Lake) don’t actually thaw out until mid to late June. Its fair to say that I was absolutely gutted when I got to Lake Louise to find a layer of ice covering all but the very edges. Moraine Lake was actually shut off! Fortunately a couple of days later Lake Louise had thawed sufficiently to get some nice shots, and I think in retrospect I really like the inclusion of the snow and ice in shot.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise, Canadian Rockies

For me at least, it may be the best photograph I’ve ever taken. The location may be second only to Lake Pukaki in beauty. Its sits at the bottom of a natural amphitheatre, surrounded as it is by the mountains. When we arrived, before all the coach loads, it was just incredibly peaceful and serene, not to mention pretty cold! The colour showing through is just stunning.

Banff
Prior to travelling up to Lake Louise we spent the best part of a week in Banff. So many lakes here to photograph, so little time. We headed out one evening to the Vermillion Lakes to catch the sunset on Mount Rundle. Got quite lucky, with some nice pink in the sky and a nice still lake.

Mount Rundle

Mount Rundle, Vermillion Lakes, Canadian Rockies

Jasper
From Banff and Lake Louise we headed up the Icefield Parkway to Jasper. Headed out one clear morning at 5.30 to catch the sunrise on Patricia Lake. I’d been reading ‘When Bears Attack’, probably not a sensible thing to do as it puts the fear of God into you. To quote Bill Bryson I read saucer eyed the numerous tales of people being ripped to shreds by stalking bears. As I set up my tripod I noticed a massive paw print on the sand. ‘Eeek, definitely bear territory’ I thought but carried on unperturbed. On the way back past Pyramid Lake which sits right next to Patricia Lake, I just had to stop and set up again as the view was amazing. The resulting photo, its fair to say, has been my most successful photo to date, featuring in Outdoor Magazine as Photo of the Month.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake, Jasper, Canadian Rockies

Vancouver Island
From Jasper we took the long drive all the way down to Vancouver, meeting up with a couple of friends of Clare’s before making our way over to the far more peaceful Vancouver Island. Booked a trip out on a zodiac to see the Orcas, which fortunately for us, had just migrated back that day from warmer climes. We were treated to a large pod revelling in being back home, with a couple of them breaching, and alot of excited feeding.

Alaska
From Vancouver we then boarded a massive cruise liner bound for Alaska, the perfect antidote to 2 weeks of driving. Spotted our first bald eagles at Ketchikan, which soon became a regular sight as we moved up the West Coast. Booked a whale watch trip at Wrangell to see the humpbacks, but have to say it wasn’t the best. The Humpbacks were very shy, and as soon as one appeared 3 boats would descend upon it, which just sent it diving back down again. No bubble feeding on this particular day!

Continuing on up to Skagway we travelled up the Tracy Arm Fjord to see the giant Sawyer Glacier, before rounding off the trip at Haines.

Davidson Glacier
Had another one of those unforgettable days when we went to see the Davidson Glacier. Boarded a catamaran from Skagway and made our way through some beautiful fjords, spotting a humpback blowing on the way. Then we canoed upstream in beautiful weather to a very still lake full of icebergs calved off the Davidson Glacier that sits at the far end of the lake. One of the more pristine Glaciers I’ve seen (and you see quite a few in Alaska).

The Davidson Glacier

The Davidson Glacier, Haines, Alaska

Iceberg - Davidson Glacier

Iceberg, Davidson Glacier, Alaska

On the way back we visited a colony of seals, with a couple coming out to check out the boat. One of the guides suggested when we got back to Skagway to try a trail that leads out the back of the town and up to a beautiful lake somewhere in the forest. So we took her advice and began the walk. And then it happened. As we turned a corner a black bear was sat eating leaves to the right of the path. Panic immediately set in and we both legged it the hell out of there, and ran straight back to town!

From Skagway the liner headed back down to Vancouver, and after 3 and a half weeks it was time to come home, with the promise that I’ll return one day when the lakes are fully thawed!

New Zealand, Jan 2003

Of all the trips I’ve been on, none has had a more profound effect on me than New Zealand. Although it was 8 years ago now, its had a lasting impression on my outlook and memory. Maybe its because, despite being over 30,  I experienced so many things for the first time. Such a huge diversity of landscape and nature, and a friendly people that make a real effort to look after it. It’s almost hard to believe looking back, but prior to NZ I’d never seen a dolphin or a seal in the wild, not to mention sperm whales and orcas. Photographically, I finally started producing the kind of images I’d long since tried and failed to achieve in the past. I think above all it gave me a far greater appreciation of the great outdoors and made me see what’s really important in life.

We arrived in Auckland on January 1st from our 3 day stop over in Hong Kong, and promptly headed straight for the hotel and our beds! Slept for the rest of the day and through the night and by the next morning we were cured of the jet lag!

Paihia
After breakfast we headed straight out and up to The Bay of Islands. Our first port of call was Tutukaka to book diving out at the The Poor Knights Islands. Had a fantastic sunny day full of firsts, first off were stingray in the bay, then we witnessed a feeding frenzy on the way out to the dive site. Must have been over a hundred dolphin, with a couple bow riding our boat, and many gannets divebombing! I was very nervous for my first post-qualified dive, but had a fantastic couple of dives with some beautiful fish and stingray. The only downside being the nose bleed I gave myself for coming up too fast! After a night in Tutukaka we then headed to Paihia for three nights. Unfortunately the weather turned and we had nothing but grey and wet skies. Went on a dolphin watching trip, but we only saw a couple bow riding the other boat.

Rotorua
Headed south down toward Rotorua, taking in Morokopa Falls and the glow worm caves on the way down. The bad weather stayed with us as we reached Rotorua which only seemed to make the foul stench of sulphur in the air all the worse! Have to say we found Rotorua rather disappointing, but as we headed out to the geothermal reserve at Waio-Tapu the weather at last began to improve and a got a few nice shots. The most photographed location here is the Champagne Pools, but there are also beautiful bright green lakes and interesting natural sculptures.

Champagne Pools, Waio-tapu

Champagne Pools, Waio-tapu Thermal Reserve, North Island

Napier
From Waio-Tapu we headed further south, past Lake Taupo and onto Napier where we met up with our good friends Kim and Grant, who were over visiting their family. We all had a fantastic day out at the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers, which involved a quite precarious ride in a minibus up a very steep incline to get there. Once there you can get really close to the birds who don’t seem to mind your presence at all.

Gannet Colony

Gannet Colony, Cape Kidnappers, Napier, NZ

The next morning Grant then got us up at 5.30 to photograph the sun rising over Temata Peak. The sunrise lighting up the valley below made the early start very worthwhile.

TeMata Peak

TeMata Peak, Napier, North Island

Kaikoura
From Napier we left Kim and Grant and headed down to Wellington to make the crossing over the South Island, and once over the Cook Straits we headed straight for Kaikoura. As you head in to Kaikoura there’s a seal colony on the coast (another first) so we stopped the car and got a few shots before heading into town and sorting accommodation.

Seals, Kaikoura, South Island

Seals, Kaikoura, South Island

As a long time member of the WDCS it had been a long held dream to go whale watching, it was in fact one of my main motivations for going. I wasn’t to know it at the time, but it would prove to be the best whale watching I would ever experience (to date at least!). The weather was superb and we got 3 good sightings of Sperm Whale, who were very approachable, and getting classic fluke shots as they dived down was fairly easy.

Sperm Whale Fluke

Sperm Whale Fluke, Kaikoura

As we were about to head back we got word that 2 Killer Whales had come into the bay, so we then had a good spell riding alongside them. Truly awesome creatures, the male’s fin was massive, jutting 6 foot out the water.

Orca, Kaikoura

Orca, Kaikoura

A day I will never forget, we were truly spoilt. Kaikoura has to be one of my favourite places on the planet, there’s a special atmosphere, from the massive whales painted on the side of the walls, through the numerous cafes and shops, to just sitting on the beach, the mountains behind you, the beautiful turquoise sea in front and dolphins leaping out of the surf.

Pancake Rocks
From Kaikoura we heading over to the west coast to capture the unique formations at Punakaiki near Greymouth, otherwise knwon as the Pancake Rocks.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
We then headed south through Arthurs Pass and toward the Southern Alps. We stopped for a night at Lake Tekapo and caught a nice sunset with a thick mist rolling down over the mountain.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo at Sunset, with a thick mist rolling down from the mountains

The next day we headed down to Lake Pukaki and the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. Before we could even see the lake we knew it was there as the amazing cyan blue of the lake was being reflected in the clouds above. As we crested the hill the sight that greets your eyes is just amazing. The colour blows you away. We went for a trek to see the Tasman Glacier, and by the time we got back down the clouds had cleared and the colour of Pukaki was even more stunning, with Mount Cook looking majestic in the background.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook behind

Fox Glacier
From Pukaki we then drove round the bottom of the Alps and up the West side to see the Fox Glacier. The weather was pretty poor for a couple of days but on the third day it cleared sufficiently for us to get a helicopter onto the glacier for an ice hike (another couple of firsts).

Clare on the Fox Glacier

Clare with a rather fetching yellow mac on the Fox Glacier

Queenstown
We then made our way back round to Queenstown, another stunning and very relaxing town with some great shopping, amongst the backdrop of The Incredibles mountain range. From here we had a day trip out to Milford Sound, another awesome sight, especially as you exit the tunnel bored straight through the mountainside. The whole coach went ‘Wow!’. ‘We get that alot’ said the coach driver.

Moeraki Bolders
Next stop was Dunedin where we visited another seal colony, before heading up the East coast to see the Moeraki Bolders, perfectly spherical formations that literally appear to be coming out of the rock face. Apparently they only appear in one other place on the whole planet. Very strange.

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders, South Island

From here it was on to Oamaru to see the blue penguins coming back home from a days fishing. Very cute!

Kaikoura (part 2)
It had been our intention to spend the last 3 days in Christchurch, but we weren’t that impressed and so decided to travel the 200 odd kilometres back up to Kaikoura. We made the most of it by booking a dive with the seals, another unforgettable experience. The seals are very curious and playful and come right up to you before hanging upside down eyeballing you. I only wish I’d got some shots, but sometimes its better to simply enjoy the experience.

Homeward Bound
It was with real sadness that we headed back home, but it was an experience that will stay with me forever, I only hope that one day we can take the kids there and do it all again.