Along the Away

travel, dream, create, inspire, appreciate

Archive for October, 2014

We drove into Nelson just as the sun was going down. We drove through the town to our accommodation close by Tahunanui Beach. It may be winter, but that’s not going to hamper the enjoyment of a sundown stroll along the sand.

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

The sun set boldly into the horizon, the clouds changing their colour every few minutes.

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

As I was fiddling around with the mysterious settings on my camera I saw a group posing for photos in the fading light so I snapped a few of my own.

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, NZ

Before arriving, I was mostly looking forward to visiting the arty, laid back town of Nelson just to have down time exploring the town’s galleries, caf├ęs and pubs, but then the opportunity to go on a quad biking adventure at Happy Valley came up and I unexpectedly decided to give it a go! There are so many things to do in New Zealand and a lot come with a significant price tag so I have been picking and choosing as I go. The quad biking offered a chance to see some of the local bush though and I find it hard to turn down nature time so I signed up with some buddies from the tour.

It was so much fun! We went with Happy Valley Adventures who picked us up from the hotel and took us to the property. When we arrived we were fitted with our helmets and hopped on our quad bikes for a quick lesson how to use the gears, accelerate and brake.

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

We rode around a circular practice track for awhile to build a bit of confidence which I was grateful for; I was stop-starting a bit at first and braking down the little hills haha! But soon felt like I had control and could pick up the pace.

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

One of the girls in my group couldn’t quite get comfortable with it (she doesn’t even have her drivers license so I can understand) and the guys were great, they put no pressure on her at all and she was still able to come on the ride with us by riding on the back of the guide’s quad bike.

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

We went on the Bay View Circuit track led by our guide Fletcher and accompanied by the charismatic Border Collie, Jenna, who very happily sat on the back of Fletcher’s bike the whole time.

Dog Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

We winded up through the mountain on a well worn 14km track through native forest. There was never any particularly hairy bits, just twists and turns, ups and downs, over bridges and through big puddles. Over the two hours I picked up speed and had more thrills. I only ever went as high as 30kmh (hey it felt faster on a twisting dirt track!) but the guys from our group that went on the tougher track went as fast as 60kmh!

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

Once we reached the top of the mountain track we had the option to go on the Skywire, which is a paid extra. It is basically the world’s longest flying fox. There is a hanging car with four racing car seats; we got securely strapped in and told to brace ourselves for the chill factor – I soon realised why! The first 800m is a freefall drop onto the flying fox where we apparently reach up to 100kmph! It was stomach dropping but a lot of fun! The wind chill sliced right through me in the drop but then we slowed as we flew 150m across the valley.

Skywire, Happy Valley, Nelson

The view was beautiful, it felt like my feet could touch the native forest densely packed below us.

Skywire, Happy Valley, Nelson

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

From there we headed to a lookout where we stopped to drink Milo and refuel on biscuits. It was a nice opportunity to stretch the legs and appreciate the view.

2014 New Zealand (2564)

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

Back at the bottom we got about ten minutes for some crazy freestyle riding on a track laid out between some farmland. Somehow a sheep found his way on the track and took off running at the sight of me bearing down on him. Of course I slowed down, but did the silly bean get off the track? No, he kept running on the track taking peeks over his shoulder at me as he went. I tried pointing and waving at him to move sideways off the track which he eventually did, but not before we were all banked up behind him doing 5kmph hahaha!!

Quad Biking, Happy Valley, Nelson

After our ride we got driven back into town where our first priority was food. I did my usual online cafe researching and led the quad biking crew to The Morrison St Cafe, we sat at a big round table and had a wonderful hearty tummy-warming lunch.

After that we all split up and went our own ways for a wander around the town of Nelson. I checked out some of the art stores with a couple of the girls and the Christ Church Cathedral at the end of the main street.

Nelson, New Zealand

Then I struck off on a mission to visit a jeweller I had read about, Louise Douglas. I had seen photos of her work and loved the reflection of nature in her designs. I splurged on a treat to remember NZ by and bought a beautiful freshwater pearl ring designed like a seed pod… It is like the pic below but I got the gold tone pearl not a black one. I love it, wear it all the time, and remember NZ and Nelson every time I wear it.

Louise Douglas Ring

I’m interrupting the New Zealand travel post transmission (because let’s face it, that was so three months ago and I guess it’ll take me as long to catch up as it takes me to get through culling my photos) to share about a great camera class I went to this morning in Hyde Park (Sydney).

Just before I went to New Zealand I splurged a little more than intended on a new camera for myself. What started as a bold $500 budget to buy myself a high quality digital compact camera, became a research-heavy, peer-encouraged investment in the Sony Alpha 6000, a compact system aka mirrorless camera. It’s a hybrid type, with the convenience of a smaller size and intuitive viewfinder as per digital compacts and manual functions and lenses as per an SLR. I spent about AU$1000 on the camera, plus a couple of hundred more on a bargain for a fixed 50mm f1.8 lens. It doubled my budget, but I was happy based on the weeks of research and opinion-gathering I did. I love to travel and taking photos while away is a big part of that, it just felt like the right time for me to invest in a camera that I can continue to make lens investments into.

My camera arrived the week before my holiday. Yikes. So I read the instruction manual back-to-front, purchased a month’s subscription to Gary Fong’s Sony A6000 video tutorials and experimented with the various settings in my free time.

My trip photos were the result of a mix of auto setting, program setting and experimental forays into manual setting with lots of dial twiddling which resulted in 20 versions of each photo intended ‘to look at and compare later’ (which became mass deletion efforts). I was really happy with my purchase but I knew that to make it worth the investment I had to spend some decent energy learning how to use it properly.

After some Googling, I found Andy Piggott’s photography class website and signed up with my housemate to do his three hour beginner class in Hyde Park. It was such an informative class and really worth doing. Obviously there is a lot to learn, but I definitely walked away with a better understanding of what the core components of manual photography are and how to start considering light, movement and framing using aperture, shutter speed and lens choice.

For example, with the twiddle of a button I saw how manipulating the exposure affects the image:

Hyde Park Water Fountain

Hyde Park Water Fountain

Hyde Park Water Fountain

Included in the course fee was a coffee stop at the Hyde Park Barracks Cafe; we had lattes and delicious chocolate brownies while Andy covered a lot of theoretical components.

Andy Piggott Photography Class

We were there for about 45 minutes which was a nice way to break up the time and be able to sit and learn without all the distractions in the park.

Andy Piggott Photography Class

After our break we went back to the fountain to experiment with Shutter Speed. What a nifty thing that is; the projectile vomiting turtle in the fountain went from spewing frothy light beams…

Andy Piggott Photography Class

…to water droplets just by changing my shutter speed.

Andy Piggott Photography Class

We stopped in the shade to look at samples of the niftier things you can do with shutter speeds.

Andy Piggott Photography Class

Next up was looking at depth of field which is manipulated through the aperture. Here my fence is in focus and the background is blurry:

Andy Piggott Photography Class

Then the I brought the background into focus. Simple basic lessons I know, but important foundations.

Andy Piggott Photography Class

Once the class wrapped up I decided to make the most of the glorious Sydney day and walk back to the north shore over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was so happy to have my camera ansd whipped it out to take advantage. After all I learnt I was excited to put it into practice…. and took the photo on Program mode. Hahaha! But that’s OK because now I know when Program mode is suitable and when it’s not.

Sydney Harbour Blue

I absolutely recommend doing Andy’s class if you have a camera that you’re not sure what to do with. The class was fun and I learnt heaps. Andy also gave us a laminated cheat sheet and emailed us class notes and lots of links.

Hopefully you will see an improvement in the photos on this site in the near future ;-)

Donna-Snap

PS. My housemate and I couldn’t wait to try out the shutter speed light effects that Andy told us about. It works! Though I my poor spatial awareness rears its head – that’s supposed to say ‘Donna’ if you can’t tell.

Donna Light Trick

As enjoyable as my North Island adventuring has been, I headed off to the South Island with a skip in my step knowing that the consensus among many is that things only get better the further south you go. It’s no secret that the South Island takes the prize for jaw dropping scenery and it’s no secret that nature is my thing.

So I travelled over the Cook Strait nice and early in the morning on the inter-islander ferry.

Wellington Ferry

The trip took over three hours crossing through the Marlborough Sound, my eyes peeled for whales (which never showed). It was a relatively smooth trip though and I was there in a jiffy!

Cook Straight, Malborough Sound

For the next part of my trip I decided to do with the tour company Topdeck to make it easy to get about the icy island, particularly traveling over to the glaciers (the place I’m most looking forward to!)

There was a full bus of about 30 of us which is the biggest group of people I have ever travelled with! Everyone was really nice, a mix of Aussies, Canadians and Europeans, though I was the oldest at 32, they ranged down to about 20 which was an adjustment. I have previously travelled with Intrepid tours who have smaller groups (12 maximum), a wider age group (mid twenties to fifties, with the average around 30) and who travel on local transport not their own dedicated tour vehicle. I think by nature I’m more suited to the Intrepid style, but I enjoyed what Topdeck had to offer and had a great time.

Our first stop was to a winery I’m the Malborough region – Forrest Wines.

Forrest Wines Vineyard

Forrest Wines Vineyard

There was lots of taste testing but my favourite thing was the picturesque landscape and the first glimpses of mountain ranges along the horizon.

Forrest Wines Vineyard

Forrest Wines Vineyard

And the sheep ;-)

Forrest Wines Vineyard

From here we piled back in the bus and drove down to Nelson, via a night stopover in Christchurch. More on that in the next post!

Blowing into windy Wellington, New Zealand’s hip capital city, on the back of rainy weather, it was refreshing to see the clouds clearing just as we arrived.

First up was a drive past the long waterfront, craning our heads up the hill at the residential homes complete with cliff side personal gondolas installed to make the hefting of groceries from the car to house a bit easier. Don’t think I haven’t thought of rigging something similar to my third floor apartment balcony back in Sydney!

We stopped at the Weta Cave, an interesting hole in the wall museum at Weta Workshops, the special effects and prop studio co-founded by Peter Jackson. It’s part collector’s gift shop, part museum (some of the price tags were a pretty penny such as $700+ for a hand calligraphied contract owned by one Bilbo Baggins).

Weta Cave Troll

The coolest thing there was a tiny theatre where a 15 minute film showcasing the prop making and visual effects genius Weta have contributed to such films at The Lord of the RIngs, The Hobbit, TinTin, Planet of the Apes and Avatar to name but a few. It showed some behind-the-scenes talent, the creative minds working on such projects in their day-to-day job of a lifetime.

Weta Cave Gandalf

After that we drove up to the top of Mt Victoria for city wide panoramic views over Wellington.

Mt Victoria Lookout

Mt Victoria Lookout

We drove through the Mount Victoria Tunnel which our bus driver honked the bus horn through, oh, about twenty times. It is apparently a tradition to honk your horn while driving through the tunnel for no other reason than to get someone to honk back at you. Apparently it has recently been clamped down on by the police, which may explain why no one honked their horn back at us… :-(

In the afternoon, I took a wander through Civic Square down to Te Papa (the National Museum). There was a series of city art pieces with quotes from poems and literature about New Zealand. It was really cool.

Wellington City

Wellington City

Wellington City

I wandered down through Cuba Place where I stopped for lunch at Felix Cafe, a good place to eat and people watch.

A guy I chatted with there suggested I take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens so of course I did!

Wellington City Cable

Wellington Botanic Garden

There is a loop walk starting from the cable car station at the top, which takes about 45 minutes and includes a sculpture walk, rose gardens and benches in pretty, peaceful spots.

Wellington Botanic Garden

It was windy! Time for a random selfie :-)

Wellington Botanic Garden Selfie

The gardens feature a sculpture trail with some really interesting pieces.

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

This one creates music when you run a stick along the outside of the cone!

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden

I spent about twenty minutes down on the ground taking about two hundred photos of the cutest inquisitive bunch of little sparrows. I’m still trying to figure out my new camera so it was fun to play around with it while these little guys hopped in and around me.

Wellington Botanic Garden

And the ducks :-)

Wellington Botanic Garden

I watched the sun set with pretty colours.

Wellington Botanic Garden

I went into the observatory where there is the usual astronomy exhibits as well as an interesting showcase on New Zealanders who have contributed to global space and astronomy achievements and another on the Maori interpretation of the stars and use of the sky for navigation.

Wellington Botanic Garden

I joined a show session in the planetarium which included a screening of ‘Dynamic Earth’ narrated by Liam Neeson and then a tour through the sky by a resident astronomer. He brought up the night’s Wellington sky on the dome roof and pointed out star patterns and shapes and their European and Maori names and interpretations, it was really fascinating. For example what we know as the lion, Leo, is interpreted by Maori’s as a kind of fishing hook!

The astronomer also told us about ‘Matariki’ which is a cluster of stars that only appears once a year in winter and heralds the start of the Maori New Year. When it appears in the sky in May-June it means the new season has arrived.

Afterwards I caught the cable car back down the hill to the city (it takes about 6 minutes) and wandered down to Courtney Place for dinner at Enigma Cafe a busy cheerful place with hearty and affordable food. When I was in there a diverse range of characters sat at the tables; groups of friends having tea, couples eating dinner, a running group calling in for smoothies, three guys playing a board game, and me eating vegetarian nachos and reading my kindle, just making myself at home.

I walked back to my hotel through the relatively quiet night-time streets just soaking up the European-esque laneways and making note of quirky hole in the wall bars and restaurants (like the crumpet bar… Seriously, a crumpet bar? If only I had the time!)

As I was walking down one dark street I noticed a lost looking fellow coming towards me who stopped to ask for directions – as the words left his mouth we recognised each at the same moment from having chatted in a bar a week before in Rotorua! What in the world? Moments like this make you think maybe it’s not so big after all!

Wellington City

When I spotted this man and his dog I knew I was home for the night, my hotel being just behind it. It helps to have such handy landmarks in a new place!

Wellington City

This marks the end of my NZ North Island adventures, tomorrow the South Island is only a ferry ride away!