THE TIWI ISLANDS NORTHERN TERRITORIES

 

Our flight north took us to the Tiwi Islands where we spent a day.  The islanders there are the oldest known aboriginals in Australia.  The live in a community that largely involves keeping their art and culture alive.  The artwork is intricate and quite outstanding.

[Picture of Tiwis]

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Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

From the Tiwis we made a short hop to Darwin.  We stayed the night here in a Rydges hotel where we paused for breath overnight.   The next morning it was up and off to Faraway Bay on the Timor Sea.  Two hours later we landed on another grass landing strip that in no way prepared us for what was to come.  We managed to squish into a unique, somewhat aged land cruiser for a jolt and jump drive over boulders down to the wilderness camp.  There are just two means of getting to Faraway Bay; by boat or as we did, by air.  What we banked on being a 10 minute drive to the camp turned into a 30 minute negotiation of aforesaid boulders up and over a narrow road kept clear by the resort.  The term clear is an approximation of what you find.  Every cyclone that comes through will demand a re- grading of the road to provide access again. Being in such isolation brought the environment into a sharp focus I found exhilarating.  

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Kevin is the present owner of the small camp resort, but I’ll come back to him later.

In the late 1980’s two diamond prospectors arrived here in search of bling. They worked in the area for some time and had no joy in their prospecting.  In the early 1980’s they called it quits, concluding all the diamonds waiting to be dug  could be found by someone else.  Nearby the men had set up camp in a sheltered a bay.  They named this bay Faraway Bay.  They were loathe to leave the idyllic haven  carved out of cliffs and the turquoise blue sea that broke on the white sand.  A pretty beach was already waiting to be accessed.  Unfortunately the saltie crocs had already laid claim to the bay, but the idea had already taken hold; to develop a place where people with adventure in their souls, and enough money to get them there could kick back and recharge their batteries.  This enterprise was hatched twenty years before the onset of eco-tourism. The aboriginal of the pair needed little encouragement to get the project underway but after a decade his partner tired of the hard labour and lost the drive to offer warm hospitality.  Enter Kevin, a chef from Perth.  Bill might have called it a day but JD (Johnny Dark) stayed in the Bay.

 

 

OUTBACK ODYSSEY

We were a group of 10 (including the pilot, the tour leader and the tutor photographer) setting out on an ‘Air Adventure’ customized for photographers.  I was the only one ‘along for the ride’ so to speak.  Below: our 10-seater Cessna outback jet.

 

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I opted out of a lot of the photo shoots and workshops to do my own version of out back adventuring.  Some of this time has included languishing in chlorinated swimming holes rather than crocodile infested billabongs scattered along the way.  Getting out of bed at 4am to do sunrise shoots didn’t appeal unless there was some hiking involved so most mornings I’ve enjoyed a slow start to the day taking in the early-ish hour of morning rather than a pre-dawn call to arms.  The tour manager, John, has been brilliant and worked like a border collie to keep his wandering herd in check.

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We’re a multi-national lot; me the only Kiwi.   Dee-Dee and Mike from Kentucky (‘happy as clams’), Andrea from Melbourne, Graeme from Canada, Romaine from Minnesota and Harry of course from the UK.  Jack, our pilot is local from Melbourne.  I wonder what his first impression of us must have been.  After introducing herself Dee-Dee commented ‘you look awfully young – when did you learn to fly?’  He’s still in his twenties so Jack was the ‘I-phone photographer’ of our little group.

Ewan Bell is a professional landscape/wildlife photographer.  Ewan is an extremely talented individual.  His work is outstanding and I look forward to his daily roundup of shots that include a very different perspective to what I’ve been looking at all day.  Harry has been a keen student and the two of them get on well together, Ewan always keen to have Harry along on each shoot. So it’s up most mornings by 5.00am; for him, but not for me!  Needless to say sleep comes quickly for Harry each night.

Our first photo stop after Broken Hill was the opal mines in Cooper Pedy.  The name was offered up in wonderment by local Aborigines when they witnessed “white man down a hole”.      The area is still mined by individual prospectors today. Mounds of earth appear scattered over a huge area resulting in a lunar-scape. Oh yes, it was hot.  And there were a million pesky little flies.  And yes, ‘there was an old woman who swallowed a fly….. and it wriggled and tiggled and jiggled inside her.  I didn’t do much talking after swallowing that first fly.  Now my speech took on that familiar nasal twang. Below:private opal mines, Cooper Pedy.

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We kept flying North in one-two hour hops.  I became very fond of the little jet and only did we hear the pilot a couple of times mutter, “oh dear!”  This usually arose as cross-winds buffeted us on landing.  The remoteness of our airstrips were often neglected in his received weather report, but we had a lot of faith in Captain Jack – all 24 years of him.   From now on the air landing strips were either compacted earth or grass.

A two hour flight and we were right above the Kings Creek Canyon.  First stop – lunch; a very big Kangaroo burger followed by a delicious slice of berry pie.  And the food got better as we went on.

The King’s Canyon is an extraordinary land mass developed from wind and rain of millions of years.

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We were to come across land formations in the Bungle Bungles, and those within the Flinders Range that are often photographed or documented on television.  In no way are you prepared for the emotional impact the land has on you, and you are so alive here in a landscape of sculptured rock .

 

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20140612-_53C9123The Bungle Bungles at sunrise, and

 

sun up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West Flinders Range

The West Flinders Range

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RELOCATION

Here we go again! Okay I’ve lived in NZ 14 continuous years. Yikes!! The most I’ve ever done is 13. I thought I’d grown out of the wander/live abroad thing, but no it seems the constant desire to relocate was merely suspended.
There are so many reasons to go and live in the States but of course our wanderlust is an important one. We spend so much time and money getting out of NZ it made sense in both cases to base ourselves in a more central location until we enter our ‘rocking chair years’ and come back to the Bayswater apartment at the Mount.
This Friday we leave for 7 months to Australia/Vanuatu then up to San Fran where we’ll spend five months touring around North America. We’ll purchase a house while we’re over there. We’ve decided to set up house in Vacaville, California about 1hr 45mins from San Francisco. We’ll use most of our time here looking for property and making a purchase. Our target date to get over there is by the end of Feb 2015.
We’re all going; the cat, the dog – the lot!
I’m sending this out as a new post on the blog to keep everyone in the loop. As all progresses I’ll put up more posts with contact details. Hope to see many of you over there; not too far from SanFran so we can come up and collect you. Once you hit Vacaville you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

ANIMAL ANTICS

The wonderful thing about the wildlife down here is they don’t run away as you approach them. The penguins are likely to waddle up to you and take a good look. Tourism is restricted down here and those who do tour are usually nature enthusiasts. I was in my element walking among fur seals. They will occasionally squawk at you and even venture to take a lunge, but if you talk back to them gently and wave your arms around you’re fine. Walking amongst the penguins is wonderful. I have a smile on my face from start to finish. They’re the most comical creatures and I’ll try to upload a short video of one particular Gentoo penguin I sat and watched for ages. If you sit long enough your eye will soon begin to follow a group of two or three amongst the hundreds in the colony. Their interactions are hilarious and by the time you leave you’ve anthromorphasized the creatures to becoming family members. That long word I don’t know how to spell means giving animals human character. It’s impossible not to. Them wobbling along upright on two legs brings them within the human experience just as chimps and baboons lolloping along the forest floor. Penguins are a lot less threatening of course which strengthens our fondness.

We saw three separate pods of whales on different days. The first sighting it was thought up to 40 and the last sighting of over a hundred. Everywhere you looked, and walked around the entire ship all you’d see were whales spouting. Again, there was that wonderful feeling they were putting on a show for us as they showed no fear of our presence The ship’s propellers would have been bringing a lot of krill and other fish to the suface. We had a penguin try to jump up in our zodiac. A humpback whale slid alongside and under our zodiac giving everyone on board one of those minty moments. Our expedition leader teased a leopard seal who moments later corralled a group of penguins, and I’m sorry to tell you the seal managed to catch a wee penguin. It was gone in a flash. One thing about observing all this wildlife so closely you realize how everything depends on eating something else, often just as appealing and cute. We saw hundreds of different species of birds. Some fly all their lives even managing to sleep on the wing.

The food chain of course ends with the krill which makes up over 50% of the food diversity in the Antarctic. We seemed to eat heartily too after a day watching animals feed all day on one another.
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Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-5

Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-2

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Fur seal Sanders Island

Sanders Island- gentoo & Rockhopper Penguins

A WORD ABOUT BIO-SECURITY

Sometimes this cruise feels more about an exercise of dressing; checking dressing; adding more and undressing at the end of the day.  I’m both surprised and very pleased to discover the stringent enforcement of bio-security down here.  We travel from island to island; bay to bay and in every instance you slosh through tubs of bright pink stuff to ensure there are no live bugs or vegetation hitching a ride to the landing.  Likewise coming back from a tour around ice in the zodiac you go through the same procedure and this time need to scrub footwear and brush this horrid pink stuff over anywhere you might have come into contact with what was on land.

But that’s only part of it.  Once we came aboard we were issued with canary yellow PVC raincoats with polar fleece inner; a total of 4 zips to cope with.  Boots that make cow-cocky gumboots look positively feminine. Then there’s the other three layers underneath that all have to be tucked in and zipped up over the ever-growing ‘you’.  Bugger!  I forgot my three layers of socks and now I can’t bend over in what has become 5 layers to pull them on. When you’ve reached this stage you’ve only got putting on the boots, gloves and lifebelt to go.  Started off taking us around 40 mins but at this stage we have it down to about 15 mins but usually need some readjustment at the point where we exit.

me alldressed up

Before disembarking at  an official Port we first need to eye-check all outer clothing for grasses that may have become caught in Velcro tabs (a dozen) then take all the clothing along to bio-security stations set up on each level to get vacuumed.  After this final step you sign off as having been cleared and you’re ready to step on land.  This procedure has been responsible for us all getting to know each other on the respective decks very quickly.

BEEN TO THE NORTHERN ONE, TO THE AMERICAN ONE, NOW FOR THE SOUTHERN OCEAN ONE.

This Georgia will be on my mind forever more!  I had no expectations of what I would see or do here.  All I knew was this is where Shackelton’s odyssey ended when he raised the alarm at Stromness Whaling Station of his men waiting to be rescued on Elephant Island.  The derelict station lies rusting yet still a reminder of the exhilaration Shackelton must have felt on first glimpsing the tumble of buildings below him.  We walked the final part of his trail from a ridge through colonies of king penguins and ran the gauntlet through dozens of very snarly, yet probably only curious fur seals.  They do this lunging thing when you least expect it but we were instructed to ‘hold our ground’. They easily out-run us and evidently inflict a very painful bite which renders you helpless for the rest of the cruise while being  hooked up to drips of antibiotics and painkillers.  Consequently I not only held my ground, but waved my walking poles and did a lot of unfriendly growling and speaking rather sternly as if to a group of naughty children.  They respected me cos I did make it to the Antarctic Peninsular, and on to the mainland.

This was our introduction to the islands and we stopped at different ones over the next three days.  Diversity of wildlife here is incredible and you take it for granted after a while that every shore trip will be taking in not only massive colonies of penguins and hundreds of fur seals but viewing the communities at close range and therefore treated to the domestic bliss of the colonies on one hand and very defensive behavior as well.  King penguins for the most part are just plain curious and their interaction with the cruise group held us captive for hours.

We spent Christmas Eve at Gritviken.  Shackelton is buried here in the cemetery.  There is a very humble wooden church. This Christmas celebrated its 100th year anniversary.  It began life as a Lutheran church. Last century it morphed into an Anglican church, becoming the largest Anglican diocese in the world!  It covers the areas from Stanley in the Falklands and every habitable piece of land down to Gritviken.  Here the only residents are from the research stations and a couple of Scots who have been spending 6 months of the year down here, every year over the past decade.  travel down here to keep a store and gift shop open through wintering over.

Stromness, South Georgia-3 Stromness, South Georgia-2 Stromness, South Georgia-4 Stromness, South Georgia-5 Stromness, South Georgia-6 Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-2 Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-5 Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-4 Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-3 Stromness, South Georgia Stromness, Murrays Bay South Georgia-6

FORWARD TO THE FALKLANDS; SAUNDERS ISLAND, PORT STANLEY

Two nights at sea and the lbs were packing on! Approaching Saunders Island, part of the Falklands, I looked forward to walking against the wind and hopefully shed a few hundred grams (never be over-ambitious). The sea had been calm and a little boring. Quite a lot of birdlife followed the wake of the ship to eat at the buffet of seafood churned up by the propellers. The weather was sunny and so far our ‘adventure’ in the South Seas could be described as uneventful. However, I wasn’t prepared for the fun of riding ashore in a zodiac; wet and wild. Hooray; a load of fun! A few metres from shore we disembarked (read slithered out) and waded up to the beach. We wore waders and all the gear so there was no fear of getting wet.
And the penguins; hundreds and thousands of them – everywhere you looked. King penguins, their hicks, hatching eggs, we certainly had come at the right time of the year. The Gentoo penguins were engaged in lots of to-ing and fro-ing; bustling here, there, and everywhere; wobbling from side-to-side, flapping their wings with much purpose. We walked a kilometer or so along the beach and we came to the Rockhopper penguins. Only one word to describe them: cute. Very, very cute. I took so many photos of this species but not one of them captures their quirky habits. They jump rather than hop. They’ll waddle a few steps then for no reason decide to jump. It makes perfect sense to hop between rocks, up and down (hence their name), but jumping along a sandy beach for no apparent reason makes them very comical with their long, yellow eyebrows and whiskers. We were disappointed to miss out on getting closer to these penguins at their colony. Harry got some great shots that of the Emperor and Gentoos but the rock hoppers were just too far away.
After a couple of hours we headed back to the ship. The weather had cooperated and stayed dry and all the layers of merino & possum, wool, thermals etc had paid off. Boy was I relieved to get rid of it all. I felt like the Michelin man plus some, but not a blade of wind penetrated all those layers.
The next morning the ship berthed at Stanley. Stanley is a very small port so a lot of the cruise liners have to drop anchor in the harbor and set passengers ashore in zodiacs or lifeboats. Our boat however, the Sea Spirit, is comparatively small with just over a hundred passengers. We berthed at a wharf. A few minutes by bus and we were in the town. With a population of just 2,000 it has evolved in isolation and developed a character reflecting the absence of outside influences. People here are all very much involved with the outdoors and local dress comprises gumboots, windbreakers and waterproof pants. Walking along the waterfront the usual array of souvenir gift shops open their doors to tourists and belie the strange goings-on. We came across a wedding in a small local church that was named a ‘cathedral’. The oddest thing though was the guest list. Someone hadn’t been able to make it and set a life-size cardboard cut-out of himself to accompany the wedding party; just hope it wasn’t the groom!
We headed up toward the residential area and peeking over fences found gardens full of gnomes. Someone found a ‘gumboot’ monument on a hill; dozens of odd gumboots on stakes driven into the ground. A notice in a women’s toilet requests: ‘Only flush it if it’s been eaten’ something getting lost in translation there! Everywhere is evidence of the 1982 conflict, and what the residents of the Falkland Islands support. A very obvious patriotism exists toward Britain. This is evident more in the declarations of independence from Argentina. I made the mistake of asking one shop open whether they took ‘pesos’? I received a very frosty stare in return. My credit card was grudgingly accepted.A day at Port Stanley was long enough. We arrived on a Sunday and there was nothing much going on; not much open and very reminiscent of NZ in the 1970s pre Sunday trading. I was becoming increasingly excited as we headed down toward South Georgia.
Fur seal Sanders IslandSanders Island- gentoo & Rockhopper Penguins-3Sanders Island- gentoo & Rockhopper Penguins-2Sanders Island- gentoo & Rockhopper Penguins-4

 

 

 

Port StanleyPort Stanley-3Port Stanley-2

 

 

Sanders Island- gentoo & Rockhopper Penguins