Iceland, June 2009

I’ve always been fascinated by Iceland, and it was our original intention to honeymoon there, but instead ended up going to Canada. But I always intended to one day make it here. With the advent of 2 kids I hadn’t been away outside Britain for some time, but with air fares to Iceland being really cheap it began to look like a possibility. My only problem was finding someone to go with, and for a while nobody seemed interested. Then Big Rich stepped up and said he’d love to come, and when mentioning it to another friend, Colin, he then wanted to join us, and finally Grant then decided, at the very last minute, that he too was in. I was quite relieved when Grant joined us, as a fellow photographer he’d be a useful ally when the others had decided we’d stayed really quite long enough in one spot taking photographs!

We decided that as it was only the one week we wouldn’t try and spread ourselves too thinly and so planned the route to spend a day or two in Reykyavik before sticking to the south coast, heading east as far as Hofn before heading back the way we’d come.

The Blue Lagoon
As we touched down at Keflavik airport we were greated by bright sunshine and a cloudless sky. We picked up the 4×4 hire car and headed straight for The Blue Lagoon, a geothermally heated, bright blue pool thick with mineral deposits that I’m told are very good for the complexion. You can also buy a beer in the middle of the pool, it was all so nice and relaxing none of us wanted to get out. After 4 hours we eventually dragged ourselves out and headed to Reykyavik to book into our hostel.

Blue Lagoon

A friendly Chinese couple that wanted their picture taken, Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Big Rich covered in mineral deposits, Blue Lagoon

Colin was intent on having Lobster Soup in an authentic Icelandic restaurant, but the first night we were running out of time and ended up in an american style diner with a sarcastic waitress. I was just glad to see the locals had a sense of humour, even if she was taking the mick out of us.

The following day we went whale watching. As well as a humpback we had a minke whale pass right under the boat. It was one of those times I should’ve just put my camera down and enjoyed the moment, as in trying to photograph it I missed most of the action. Ah well.

That evening we did actually get to eat in a little restaurant on the sea front. Colin got his Lobster soup, and I think I had tuna salad or something similar. Also on the menu was Minke Whale, which I wasn’t too happy about, but decided against launching a protest.

Viking Sculpture, Reykjavik

Viking Longship Monument, Solfar Sculpture, Reykjavik

Gullfoss and Strukkor
The following morning, after photographing the Viking Sculpture on the sea front we headed out to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall, I think the second largest in Europe and an awesome sight(Dettifoss in the north of Iceland is the largest). On the way we also took in the Geysir, Strukkor, that must shoot up a hundred feet plus into the air and goes off every 10 minutes. After exhausting Gullfoss we started making our way to the next hostel at Skogarfoss.

Strukkor

Strukkor blowing off some steam

Blue Pool at Strukkor

Blue Pool at Strukkor

Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Seljalandsfoss
As the evening light began to kick in we rounded the corner to be confronted by the truly beautiful sight of Seljalansfoss sitting pretty in the middle of the landscape. I’ve always had a thing about waterfalls, and Iceland being ‘The Land of Waterfalls’ is certainly the place to be, and this was probably the most beautiful waterfall I’d ever seen. It’s around 60 metres tall, with the added bonus that you can walk behind it. We spent a good couple of hours here photographing before deciding it really was about time we made our way to the hostel.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss. To give a sense of scale you can just see Big Rich about to walk behind the rainbow. Not looking quite so big here.

When we got there they’d locked the front door! We managed to persuade one of the tenants to let us in, and then I had to ring the owner, who’d long since gone home, but thankfully she wasn’t too annoyed, and thankfully our beds were still available.

Skogarfoss
The hostel sits at the base of yet another awesome waterfall, Skogarfoss, so we spent the following morning here, before pushing onward to our next stop at Hvoll.

Skogarfoss

Skogarfoss

On the way we stopped at Vik for lunch and had a look round. We found an Artic Tern colony and spent a good hour amongst them, being dive-bombed as we tried to photograph them!

Artic Tern at Vik

Artic Tern at Vik

Hvoll on the map gave the impression of being a large town, but in actual fact was just a hostel in the middle of nowhere, although in Icelandic terms I suppose that does constitute a town! It was however, the nicest we stayed in, brilliant facilities, really nicely kept, and some great photos on the walls for inspiration.

From Hvoll we travelled out the following morning to the turf roofed church and houses. The church is tiny, the smallest church in the country. If you go inside there’s a piano, a small altar and pew, and that’s about it.

Turf Church, nr Hvoll

18th century turf covered chapel at Núpsstaður, nr Hvoll

Vatnajökull
We then headed toward Skaftafell National Park, with the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull. Just before you get there you’re confronted by a sculpture of 2 of the steel girders from the bridge that was destroyed when the volcano exploded in 1996 and sent massive icebergs and floods downriver.

Steel Girders

Girders from the bridge destroyed in the floods from the volcano at Vatnajökull in 1996

We booked an ice hike on the Svínafellsjökull glacier, one of the tongues of the Vatnajökull ice cap. Another great day blessed with great weather.

Glacier hike

Grant and Rich Ice Hiking on the Svínafellsjökull glacier, Vatnajökull, with our guide from the Icelandic Mountain Guides. See what they've done there.

After we’d had a nice cup of tea we then hiked up a steep climb to yet another waterfall, Svartifoss, distinctive due to the basalt columns that surround it.

Svartifoss

Svartifoss. Just behind me was a massive column that looked just about ready to come down. I was glad to get the shot and move the hell away from there!

The following day we started making our way to Hofn, stopping off on the way at the magical Jökulsarlon, a lagoon that has 3 or 4 glacial tongues feeding into it. The lagoon is filled with ice bergs that slowly float out to sea, a very serene atmosphere. Big Rich got into the spirit by sitting inside a small stone circle with a bottle of vodka and his iPod. The lagoon also has a number of Harbour Seals that I was able to get reasonably close to before a couple of idiots just charged straight up to them. Thanks then!

Seals

Harbour Seals, Jökulsarlon

Jokulsarlon

Ice floes, Jokulsarlon

Höfn was not what we expected at all, almost a ghost town with very few people on the streets. Rich had been to Iceland before and insisted we try horse-riding as apparently it was ‘really easy’, so we decided to give it a go. I’ve never been too keen to get on a horse, it seems an awful long way down, but with Icelandic horses being considerably shorter I thought I’d give it a go. Can’t say as I felt too comfortable but managed to stay on, which is more than can be said for Colin, and the sight of 6 foot 4 Grant with his legs dangling almost to the floor on a horse with a mind of its own made it all worthwhile.

After a night spent at Höfn we began the journey back. The weather took a turn for the worse, we re-visited Jökulsarlon but the rain took the edge off it. We stayed for another night at Hvoll before heading back to Reykjavik. We thought it might be a good idea to head through the middle and see the brightly coloured rocks and steam pools. Petrol was running a bit low but we thought it would be ok, until that was we came across a stream running across the road. We’d been warned against trying to cross these, cars can very easily get lifted up and swept downstream, but we’d come so far it seemed too much hassle to drive all the way back and petrol might become a factor. Colin in his panic decided to reverse the car into a rock, smashing the rear tail light. Rich waded through the stream with his trousers rolled up to see how deep it was. We were very close to doing it before an Icelandic couple turned up in their car, and laughed at the suggestion of crossing. So we turned back, and I thank God we did, because the bill for that car would’ve left us all in debt for a number of years!

4x4

Grant, Colin and Rich and the 4x4 during happier times before its 'little accident'

We visited Þingvellir on the way back, where you can stand between 2 continental plates, so I’m told one of only 2 places in the world you can do that. Don’t ask me where the other one was because I can’t remember. We had a last night out in Reykjavik before returning the car and thankfully being able to distract them enough during the inspection for them not to notice the smashed light.

I’d definitely recommend Iceland to anyone. At only 3 and a half hours away there’s the proximity in its favour, but far beyond that is its unique landscape. Mile upon mile of solidified lava fields with very little vegetation, stunning waterfalls, glaciers and an abundance of wildlife. The people are very friendly, but also very curious, you’ll notice them staring at you which is a little strange at first. Don’t think I would ever get used to their water, being pumped up from the ground their heating bills are very low but the downside is it stinks of sulphur. Next time I go I’ll hope that it coincides with another volcano going off, now there’s a shot just waiting to be taken!

Pembrokeshire and the Story of the Standing Stones

Oct 06
I love Pembrokeshire, its such a beautiful part of the world, with many photographic opportunities, an abundance of wildlife and not least several standing stones! I’ve got a thing about standing stones, and so it was with this in mind that myself and Grant travelled down for the weekend in his camper van and booked ourselves onto a campsite.

The first morning the sunrise didn’t look that promising, but then things began to improve so we had to race from the wrong side of Fishguard to the Pentre Ifan standing stones.  When we arrived the cloud was covering the sun, but it soon made way for some glorious early morning light.

Pentre Ifan

Pentre Ifan Standing Stones, Pembrokeshire

From here we then headed down to St. Davids and booked ourselves onto a boat trip on a very fast and bumpy zodiac around Ramsey Island. Located here are the largest concentration of Atlantic grey seals in the south, and there were quite a few on the beaches, with several coming out to see us. In fact, even before boarding the boat we found a seal pup that had come ashore just to the left of the jetty, so managed to get a few shots up close. The geological make up of the island was also very interesting, not being dissimilar to the Giant’s Causeway in places, and their are a great number of guillemots, razorbills, kttiwakes and fulmars on the cliffs.

Sealpup

Atlantic Grey Seal Pup run ashore

After the boat trip it was back to the camper van for a nice cup of tea and some cheese sandwiches left over from the day before, but still tasted great (thanks Clare!) We took it easy for a couple of hours before heading to Dinas Head for the sunset.

Dinas Head

Dinas Head Sunset, Pembrokeshire

A great end to great day.

June 08
I returned again in 2008, this time with the family. This time we stayed at Trefin on a small caravan park that was conveniently situated between The Carig Sampson standing stones and a stone circle a mile or so in the other direction!

My main aim was to photograph the puffins on Skomer Island, and with the first sign of the sun we headed out to Milford Haven and boarded the boat across. A word of advice to anyone going to Skomer Island – pack plenty of food and drink, there’s none on the island! We learnt the hard way, and after a frustrating walk each carrying a child that was getting heavier, hungrier and more irritable by the second we finally had to throw in the towel. We retreated back to the building that sits in the middle of the island for refuge, and it was only then I realised the puffins were only a 10 or 15 minute walk from here. So another word of advice – if it’s the puffins you want to see just head straight for the building in the middle and turn left. So with tempers strained I managed to negotiate a half hour release in which I hot footed over to the puffins. It was incredible just how close you could get to them, they really didn’t mind your presence. I didn’t want to push my luck with Clare so after 10 minutes I had a few decent shots and left.

Puffin, Skomer Island

Puffin, Skomer Island

On the way back I noticed a hide, so I went in for a quick look to see gulls collecting mud for their nests.

Gull Collecting Mud

Gull Collecting Mud

I headed out one evening to get Carig Sampson, but was more than a little nervous of all the cows and bullocks in the field, so bottled it and decided to head for the stone circle. Along the way I stopped and got a nice shot from the top of the cliffs out across the sea.

Trefin

Trefin

When I then arrived at the stone circle I was quite horrified to find cows in this field too! So I thought dammit, its Carig Sampson I really want, I’m just going to have to overcome my fear and get in that field. Before I did I checked with the farmer first, and she said the cows were ok, and were quite used to people walking through the fields. As soon as I entered they all got up and started to move off. Whilst I was in the middle of it though, they became braver and started to move closer! I began to get distinctly nervous, these were really quite big let me tell you! They then moved further round so they were now between me and my exit with the big ones asembling at the front. I had visions of them chasing me round the stones Benny Hill style. Once I’d got some shots in the bag I tentatively made my way back and was mightily relieved  to throw my leg over the gate and get the hell out of there. My legs were shaking!

Carig Sampson

Carig Sampson Standing Stones. The cows are to the left of the shot planning an assault!

I noticed on the way back a lovely little fishing port called Abercastle so returned there the following evening and got a couple of nice sunset shots.

Abercastle

Abercastle Sunset

Snowdonia, Feb 2005

Mount Snowdon

Across Llynnau Mymbryr to Mount Snowdon

This was one of those magical mornings of photography that you are so very rarely lucky enough to experience. The light was as good as I think I’ve ever photographed in. It hadn’t always looked so promising however. We drove up the day before. I’d suggested to Grant, having seen Joe Cornish’s photographs at Mewslade Bay, that we check it out on the way. Hardly on the way I know, so instead of taking the much faster M40 we found ourselves tootolling up the middle of Wales. It began to snow and before long we were in the midst of a very heavy snow storm. I can honestly say it was the worst conditions I’ve ever had the displeasure to drive in. Visibility was shocking and I was hanging on to the coat tails of the car in front for guidance, although we barely ever exceeded 20mph. On every corner I thought we were going to carry straight on, and in the hills it was particularly hairy. I kept thinking to myself ‘What are we doing?? What a complete waste of time!’,  but by this point we’d reached the point of no return.

Thankfully we made it to our B&B in one piece, and the snow did eventually stop. The following morning we set the alarm for 6 o’clock and were down one end of Llynnau Mymbryr all set up and waiting. It really didn’t look like anything was going to materialise, there was broken cloud, but it was all quite grey. Then as we were chatting we noticed the clouds behind us were starting to turn pink! We rushed back to our cameras, and then had the most amazing couple of hours photographing. For 10 minutes or so initially the whole sky was lit up pink with everything reflected perfectly on a very still lake.

Mount Snowdon

Across Llynnau Mymbryr to Mount Snowdon

The light continued to change without losing any of its drama, and as the sun rose higher in the sky it lit up all the bracken to the right hand side of the lake. I was shooting Velvia at the time and it captured all the vibrant colours I remembered beautifully.

Mount Snowdon

The sun lighting up the horseshoe rather nicely

The light hitting the bracken, Mount Snowdon

Bracken, Mount Snowdon

I guess the one thing I took from all this was how sometimes good light follows bad weather. Not always the case of course, but never let it put you off!

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.