Tag Archives: Hotel

Australia Day 2017: Mudgee

For the Australia Day weekend, we decided to take a trip to Mudgee for a few days.

Mudgee is a large regional town in the central west of New South Wales, and it is a three-to-four-hour drive from Sydney.

The main purpose of the trip, other than getting away for a few days, was wine and wineries; but naturally, I packed my default photography rig, with the intention of capturing some of the sights of Mudgee at twilight.

We based ourselves at the Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel, where our deluxe queen room provided fantastic accommodation, as seen in this image of the separate lounge in our room:

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel - Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel – Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

After dinner and a nice bottle of Mudgee red, we took a two-minute walk down Market Street to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, which I had spotted and trial-photographed earlier in the day, and identified as my primary photographic subject for later that evening.

During the ‘blergh hour’ (my name for the scungy, drab light in between golden hour and evening twilight), I set up my camera and tripod, and composed the view I wanted to capture.  It was just a matter of time before the light would be right.

As it was Australia Day, the streets were practically empty, except for us and three late-teenage or early twenty-something boys who graced us with their presence as they continued upon their mission to become inebriated.

After a few laughs and a photo I captured of the lads standing in front of the church, they departed in search of more alcohol and a good time, and I set about capturing my image.

Here is the result:

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

I found my new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens to be an excellent lens for capturing this scene, as the leading line of the path draws the eye towards the imposing spire of the church a short distance away.

Very soon after photographing the church, I turned around 180 degrees and crossed the road onto the roundabout at the intersection of Market Street and Church Street.  On this roundabout is Mudgee‘s clock tower, a central feature of the town.

I found it difficult to photograph the clock tower with my 14mm lens, as it was just too wide — something I am not generally known to say or experience!

There was too much visual pollution due to street lights, the street itself and other unsightly subject matter; I just wanted the clock tower in a nice, clean image, or at least with pleasing surroundings.  I switched lenses, opting for my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM, which I have not used since mid-2014!

Here is the image I captured as the evening twilight became more rich and intense:

Mudgee Clock Tower

Mudgee Clock Tower

After capturing this image, we headed back across the road to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, where I shot some quirky angles of the stonework, looking up towards the royal blue sky.  (I have not processed any of those images at the time of writing.)

After a few more shots around Mudgee, we headed back to our hotel as the evening twilight gave way to the darkness of night.

The next day was all about wine, but we did venture out after dinner for another twilight photoshoot, which I found frustratingly difficult, as I could not achieve a pleasing composition.

The subjects I wanted to photograph looked great with my own eyes, but through my lenses, a combination of proximity and surrounding subject matter resulted in no pleasing compositions.  I did capture a few images, but by and large, I was not content.

Never the less, it was a great few days away, and we came away with more than just a few pleasing images.

Pleasant Dawn on Sydney Harbour

Since my return to seascaping last week, I have been keen to head back out at dawn to shoot more seascapes.

On the one hand, I failed; but on the other hand, I succeeded — at capturing a different kind of image at dawn.

Having checked the weather and cloud situation the night before, I knew the sky would be largely plain, which is terrible for seascapes, but great for twilight cityscapes.

So, in the pre-dawn darkness, I headed to the city and ventured further away from Circular Quay, where I had been the previous day, and where, I decided, I would be keen to capture a cityscape, depicting both the older and newer buildings of Sydney at dawn.

Here is one of the earlier images I captured:

Before Sydney Awakens

Before Sydney Awakens

It was great to be at Dawes Point on the harbour early in the morning before anyone else was out and about.

At the time, the sun had not risen, but there was a pink and orange glow in the eastern sky, which was due to rise 35 minutes later.

I also turned the camera around and pointed to the west, where the sky was darker, but where the increasing warmth and softness of the early morning light cast a pleasing glow on the wooden walkway and buildings along Campbell’s Cove.

Along the Walkway

Along the Walkway

This is a view along the walkway at the northern end of Campbell’s Cove.

On the left is Campbell’s Cove and the old woolsheds in Sydney‘s historic The Rocks, which these days contain restaurants.

In the distance is the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

On the right and in the distance central to the frame is the expensive and very nicely positioned Park Hyatt hotel.

One of the challenges presented when photographing a city like Sydney is to capture a less common view.  It’s all too easy to shoot the ‘postcard material’, but the city’s famous landmarks have been captured many times, and it’s difficult to depict a different or more interesting view of these, or of the city in general.

There are different views of the Sydney skyline, and this particular spot in Campbell’s Cove offers a view of the old and the new, and makes a change from the regular views we often see.

Later in the morning, I was treated to an unexpected and serendipitous sight of two large cruise ships making their way through the harbour.  The leading ship, Diamond Princess, docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal depicted in my earlier image; while the second ship — a P&O oceanliner — sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and docked at White Bay.

All in all, it was a nice, productive morning.

Welcome to Kenya

Today we arrived in Kenya, a trip which has been in the making since last August.

It was a long journey to get here, with two long flights and a ten-hour stop-over in Bangkok in between flights.

We arrived in Nairobi early this morning, where our friend and safari leader (for the second time now) Mario Moreno met us.

We headed to the Boma Hotel in Nairobi, which will be our lodgings for tonight.

Here’s a view of the beautiful African architecture which greeted us in our room at the Boma Hotel:

Boma Hotel, Nairobi

Boma Hotel, Nairobi

Today we’re heading into Nairobi to do some sightseeing and grab some lunch, and tomorrow our big wildlife photography adventure begins in the Maasai Mara.

Stay tuned for more updates, and accompanied by some images of the stunning landscapes and wildlife which await us.

Highlights of Jenolan Caves

In May we headed to Jenolan Caves for a few days as a getaway.  That was almost two months ago, but time has sure flown since then.

We drove down to Jenolan on Thursday, and had two cave tours booked for the day.

After arriving mid-morning, we soon headed to our tour of the Lucas Cave, where spectacular calcite crystal formations awaited our viewing pleasure.

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

These incredible calcite crystal formations are called shawls.

Developing over hunderds of thousands of years, rainwater seeping through cracks in the limestone rock follows the surface of the rock shelf and grows outwards, layer upon layer, forming delicate and often wide shawl structures.

One of the other feature formations in the Lucas Cave is called “The Curtain”.

The Curtain

The Curtain

One can see why this amazing, ancient feature is so named, as it very much resembles the subject of its title.

No visit to the Lucas Cave is complete without seeing the Broken Column, which is one of the iconic sights at Jenolan Caves.

The Broken Column

The Broken Column

This feature is incredibly difficult to photograph, as the chamber is very dark and the lights highlighing the column are exceedingly bright relative to the dark surrounds, thus causing parts of the feature to blow out where the light reflects most strongly against the calcite crystal.

In a perfect world, one would use a tripod and shoot seven to nine exposures to blend using HDR techniques, but alas, as tripods are not permitted inside the caves, all of my cave photography was achieved hand-held with fast lenses and higher-than-comfortable (for me) ISO settings.

After our visit to the Lucas Cave, I took the opportunity during some free time to photograph the lounge inside Caves House, where we stayed.

This is one of the views inside the warm and welcoming lounge:

Caves House Lounge

Caves House Lounge

In this interior image of this magnificent Edwardian building, one side of the lounge can be seen, featuring the piano in the corner.

The lounge also includes some other tables and chairs and a warm fireplace — a perfect place for a rest with a glass or two of fine red wine after a day out exploring the caves and bush trails in the area.

This is another view of the lounge at Caves House:

A Place to Relax

A Place to Relax

In the corner is a fireplace which was kept running by the staff, providing for a nice place to relax after a day of cave exploration.

During the late part of the afternoon, we headed outside for our second cave tour, which took us inside the Temple of Baal cave, a cavernous and highly decorated cave, and one of my favourite.

Here is a view of the elaborate calcite crystal formations inside the Temple of Baal Cave:

Temple of Baal Cave

Temple of Baal Cave

Later during the tour, we got to see the main attractions of the Temple of Baal Cave — Michael’s Sword and Gabriel’s Wing — both of which are positioned in close proximity within one of the larger chambers in the cave.

Gabriel's Wing

Gabriel’s Wing

Our first day concluded some twilight photography followed by dinner at Chisolm’s restaurant where a delicious steak and a fine shiraz were enjoyed.

The next day, we had three cave tours ahead of us.

Friday began with breakfast in Chisolm’s Restaurant, followed by a walk in the mountains, where we saw Carlotta Arch, the Devil’s Coach House, and the Blue Lake.

Our first cave tour on Friday morning was the Orient Cave, one of the popular show caves at Jenolan.

This magnificent cave chamber, adorned with calcite crystal stalactites, is one of the highlights of the Orient Cave.

The stalactites are formed by slowly dripping water over thouands and millions of years.

Chamber of the Orient

Chamber of the Orient

Our second cave tour of the day was inside the Chifley Cave.  This was the shortest cave tour, and photographically, it didn’t offer as much as the other caves.

After this tour, we had lunch and a few hours before embarking upon a tour of the Diamond Cave.

One of the most interesting features is a formation I call “City Walls”.

City Walls

City Walls

This city-like arrangement of stalagmites appears inside the Diamond Cave.

The Diamond Cave, which is one of the show cave tours, consists of the Imperial Cave (itself a separate show cave tour), plus an extra 30 minutes inside what is called the Diamond Cave.

In this image, the formations in the foreground resemble a mountain ridge on the outskirts of an ancient city whose walls appear deeper in the image.

After our tour of the Diamond Cave, at twilight I had planned to re-visit the location where I had photographed Caves House on the previous evening, as the timing of our late afternoon cave tour meant that I arrived at the tail end of twilight, by which time most of the royal blue colour in the sky had faded.

Our Diamond Cave tour finished 30 minutes earlier than our tour on the previous afternoon, so I scrambled back to our room to fetch my gear, and headed outside into the cold night air, where I captured this image of Caves House:

Edwardian Twilight

Edwardian Twilight

We had dinner reservations at Chisolm’s Restaurant again, so I headed inside and a fantastic dinner was soonafter enjoyed.

Saturday, our final day at Jenolan Caves, saw only one cave tour, followed by the long trip home.

Our last cave tour was also the longest in duration, and most physically demanding of all of the show cave tours: the River Cave.

This cave requires lots of stair climbing, which we didn’t mind at all.

The River Cave features a stunning formation called the Giant Shawl.

The Giant Shawl

The Giant Shawl

This calcite crystal formation, called a shawl, has been named the Giant Shawl, and is one of the main features of the River Cave.

Shawls develop over hunderds of thousands of years, whereby rainwater seeping through cracks in the limestone rock follows the surface of the rock shelf and grows outwards, layer upon layer, forming delicate and often wide shawl structures.

The Giant Shawl is quite a few metres in height, and in this beautiful backlighting, the rich colours, affected by iron, can be seen.

Later during the River Cave tour, we saw the main highlight of this cave: the Pool of Reflections.

Pool of Reflections

Pool of Reflections

The water inside the River Cave system is so still that it produces a mirror effect.

On our way out of the River Cave, we got to visit this scene again, and soonafter, our Jenolan Caves getway had reached its conclusion.

I hope readers enjoy this pictorial account of the several relaxing days we spent there, and Jenolan Caves is a place I’d recommend visiting and photographing.

As tripods are not permitted, all photography must be conducted hand-held, with the use of railings for support.  Thus, I recommend bringing fast lenses (I shot all of my images with my 35/1.4 and 85/1.2) and using higher ISO settings to achieve sharp images, as the caves, despite the bright feature lighting, can be difficult to photograph.

A Getaway to Jenolan Caves

For the past few days, we have called this magnificent Edwardian hotel – Caves House – home; for we headed to Jenolan, in the Blue Mountains, for a pre-Queen’s Birthday long weekend getway to reconnect with nature and give ourselves a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of daily life in the big smoke.

Jenolan Caves House

Jenolan Caves House

During our stay at Caves House in Jenolan, we spent many hours immersed in the magnificence of 420 million-year-old limestone caves, adorned with calcite crystal formations which have developed over thousands and millions of years.

Over the coming days I will publish more images from our Jenolan Caves getaway, featuring not only this magnificent hotel, but the incredible formations in the six caves we visited.

I captured this image of our lodgings on the second night of our stay, having recently emerged from the Imperial-Diamond Cave, in time for the beautiful twilight that presented itself in the short time before we went for dinner.

I hope you enjoy this image. It will always remind me of the fantastic time we had here.

Africa: Day 6 – From Jo’burg to Cape Town

Our sixth day in Africa began a new chapter of what was a short but intense two-week journey.

The day before, we had been in the African bushveld, surrounded by amazing wildlife, some of which we had never seen before.

After the conclusion of that trip, we had flown back to civilisation, where the only wildlife was the denizens of Johannesburg!  There was a massive change of pace as the reality of the conclusion of our safari hit us hard.

On the morning of the 8th of October, we woke and prepared for the day ahead of us.  We had a midday flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town, so we had a little more time than usual to eat, get ready and hit the road.

I was still struggling to walk after sustaining an injury in the Land Rover during a game drive.  The night before, I was concerned about whether I’d be able to walk properly, as I was limping around and also had the knowledge that we’d have a few adventures ahead of us that required upward mobility.

Soon enough, we departed the Protea Hotel OR Tambo, and were boarding an Airbus A340 to fly two hours south-west to Cape Town, which as we’d discover, would be worlds apart from the Timbavati.

We had booked accommodation at the Wilton Manor Guest House in Green Point, a locality close to both the city of Cape Town and the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, a hive of social, entertainment, shopping and tourist activity.

Through Wilton Manor, we had arranged for someone to collect us from Cape Town and drive us to the guest house.

After we landed in Cape Town, we were soon greeted by our driver, who whisked us off to Green Point.

Apart from a few trips to and from Jo’burg airport, we hadn’t spent any time on South African Roads.  Hitherto, we had spent eight hours a day in a Land Rover in the Timbavati, where the only other traffic was another Motswari Land Rover, or a herd of elephants!

It quickly dawned on me that South African drivers are somewhat crazy.  There’s incessant beeping and speed limits seem almost optional.  Later in the journey, in and around Durban, where I’d be driving, I’d discover for myself how crazy it can be.

Our driver drove us through the city, and soon enough, we saw the mighty presence of Table Mountain, an iconic geographical landmark that makes Cape Town world-famous.  Soon, we arrived at our guest house in Green Point.  Green Point is located high up, and overlooks Cape Town’s stadium, with the V&A Waterfront to the north-west.

We checked in, and were soon entering our room, which was a very pleasant room with a private entrance from the street, as well as a private verandah and braai.

This was our home for the next few days:

Wilton Manor Guest House

Wilton Manor Guest House

We settled in, and I jumped online.

In Motswari, Internet access had been almost unusable, as there was a problem with the WiFi at the time.  In Cape Town, we had much faster, reliable WiFi access right from our room.

A while afterwards, we decided to wander down to the V&A Waterfront and acquaint ourselves, as well as look for somewhere to eat dinner.

The Waterfront is about a fifteen-minute walk from Wilton Manor, and we’d make that walk numerous times over the next few days.

We arrvived at the Waterfront, and I found it similar in atmosphere to Darling Harbour in Sydney.  We strolled around, and very quickly noticed a large ferris wheel, called the Wheel of Excellence.  Normally we wouldn’t bother with such an attraction, but we were tourists after all, and a comfortable ride high over the Waterfront would give us a nice visual orientation from a better angle.

So, we hopped in, and spent five or ten minutes viewing the Waterfront from high above.

After the ride, we decided to look for some dinner.  We meandered around, before being warmly greeted by a hostess outside a restaurant called City Grill.

She told us that zebra, an uncommon dish in South Africa, was on the specials menu that night.

We decided to head in.  We wanted something African, rather than something we can easily get at home.

We were soon seated, and presented with menus and the wine list.

The wine list was huge, and I spent quite a few minutes flipping back and forth. Wine lovers we are, but we were spoilt for choice, and undecided.

One of the female staff noticed me agonising over the wine list, and offered to send the sommelier over to render some assistance.

I was soon greeted by Barry, with whom we very quickly became friendly as we discussed wine, the types of wines we like and the experience we’d had in South Africa so far.

Barry recommended a few wines to us, including the Meerlust Rubicon (2007 vintage), which we ordered.  It was a very pleasant red, and went well with our meals.

The service we experienced at City Grill on our first night was excellent, and the passion exhibited by Barry, as well as the personal service he gave us, made us want to return.

After a very nice meal accompanied by an excellent bottle of red, we headed home, catching a taxi back to Green Point.

And so concluded our first day in Cape Town.  It was a complete sensory change of everything: pace, scenery, sights, smells, tastes, experiences and moods.

Stay tuned for our seventh day in Africa, and our second day in Cape Town.

Africa: Day 5 – Final Game Drive in Timbavati and Departure to Jo’burg

After an intense fourth day in Africa, during which we saw all five members of the ‘Big Five’ (which, for those who don’t know, is a hunting term, not a relative descriptor of animal size) and a decent sleep, we rose before 5am for our final day in Motswari.

We knew that we had only one game drive left, and that later that day, we’d be back in Johannesburg.

We headed out before 5:30am, and quickly encountered three elephant bulls which were grazing in a thicket.  The plan for the morning was to head to a termite mound which a pack of hyenas had hijacked and turned into a den.  We’d later go looking for a breeding herd of elephants.

After spending a few minutes with the elephant bulls, we departed for the hyena den, and encountered a few zebras along the way.  I shot a few images, but the zebras were in the scrub, which wasn’t good for photography.

A short time later, we arrived at the hyena den hoping to see some cubs.  We spotted only one older hyena cub, which looked at us for perhaps a minute before disappearing into the den, never to be seen (by us) again.

We then headed to Hide Dam, where we were fortunate enough to spot a hyena cub and two adults on the muddy banks.  Here is an image I shot of the hyena cub:

Hyena Cub at Hide Dam

Hyena Cub at Hide Dam

After we left the hyenas, we spotted an African fisheagle high in the tree tops, before Petros soon discovered leopard tracks.  We dropped him in the middle of the Timbavati to see if he could track the leopard, while Chad took Mario, Xenedette and myself in search of more wildlife while Petros was scouting.

Soon enough we encountered a stunning nyala bull walking to our right.  It crossed the dirt track some distance in front of us and then continued on its way through the savannah to our left.

Here’s an image of that lone nyala I captured in the warmth of the morning light:

Nyala of Timbavati

Nyala of Timbavati

We continued on, and encountered a herd of zebras.  The herd decided to walk down the road on which we were travelling, and as we continued to follow, the zebras became more skittish and ran further along the road.  We followed them for a few minutes before they continued into the bush, at which we point we headed off.

Chad’s plan was to take us to a breeding herd of elephants.  Before too long, we found ourselves literally surrounded by these gigantic African creatures.  We were slowly navigating the thick bush as we continued to immerse ourselves in the herd.  There were elephants all around us.  I counted at least eleven that I could visually identify from where we were at one point.

The Old Giant

The Old Giant

We spent around 30 minutes following the herd from within it, before heading back to see collect Petros and see how had fared in his quest to find a leopard.  Unfortunately he had no luck funding the elusive leopard.

On our way back to camp, we spotted a few white-backed vultures, more zebras, and a herd of impala drinking at a watering hole.

Soon we arrived back at the lodge.  Alas, our final game drive had ended.

We soon had breakfast and relaxed for a little before it was time to pack our gear.  We had some time to sit for a while, and during our down time, a nyala had come up to the banks of the camp, and was grazing a very short distance from where we had eaten breakfast.  We returned to the communal area where I found Mario photograping the nyala.

A little while later, two warthogs walked right through the tracks on the property, in broad daylight, completely nonplussed by the presence of ourselves and the other guests.

Our flight back to Jo’burg would be departing at around 1pm or 1:30, so we had to start making final preparations for departure, including the very difficult part of saying goodbye to Chad and Petros, knowing it would be a long time before we would see them again, and still on a high from the magic of the past four days.

Chad drove us to the Motswari airstrip, and soon we were boarding the Cessna (incidentally, the exact Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that brought us to Motswari) for the ninety-minute flight back to Jo’burg.  Soon enough we were in the air, departing the place that had changed us; the place that even as I write this article six weeks later, still affects me.

After a short stop to collect passengers from another airstrip nearby, we were in the air again, on the final trip back to Jo’burg.

During the game drive that morning, I had badly injured my ankle as I was repositioning myself inside the Landrover.  While it hurt at the time, as the day wore on, the pain became more intense.

As I was sitting next to Mario in the Cessna, looking down over the landscape I hated to be leaving, the pain became more noticeable.  By the time we got back to OR Tambo airport, I was struggling to walk.

Back at the airport, Xenedette and I had to say our goodbyes to Mario, who was heading off to Egypt later that day to collect a tripod he’d left there, before venturing to Spain.  We thanked him for the magical experience we’d just had, and promised to keep in touch, which we’ve done.

That night we were staying again at the Protea Hotel OR Tambo.  We arrived and checked in.  After settling into our room, walking became more difficult.  We headed down to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner, but apart from my physical pain, I felt a sense of emotional pain.  The magic we had experienced over the past four days was over.  We were no longer in the company of Chad and Petros and the amazing Timbavati wildlife, and we were two again.  We felt Mario’s absence as we had dinner, as the last time we sat in that restaurant, he was there with us as we discussed the trip ahead.

By now, walking was extremely difficult, and I was starting to worry, as we had a whole new adventure ahead of us the next day.  After dinner, we retired to our room, where I continued to think about what we’d just experienced.  I wrote about it at the time, expressing the feelings I felt at the time.  Some of those feelings still exist now as I recall that night.

The 7th of October, 2012, was the end of an incredible experience that even now I miss.  I continue to read the Motswari Ranger’s Diary, which is a blog written mostly by Chad, as he chronicles the daily game drives he and the other rangers take.  Reading that blog and seeing the images keeps me connected to a place that affected me strongly, as I recall our own experiences, and long for our next trip there.

The 8th of October would introduce a new chapter in our African trip, during which we’d fly to Cape Town and experience people, places and adventures that were far removed from Motswari, Chad, Petros, Makepisi, Rockfig Jr, the Jacaranda pride lionesses and the Ximpoko lions that had dominated our existence for the first part of the trip.

Stay tuned for Day 6 of our African trip, and the beginning of our adventures in and around Cape Town.