Flying into the Gold Coast I was (as was everyone arriving lately) mindful of the serious bush wildfires wreaking havoc and destroying property through large swathes of NSW and to a lesser extent, Queensland.
A quiet week on Gold Coast with a couple of short journeys. Firstly, to the Broadwater and Spit for a coffee and quick look, also had a wander around the brightly coloured apartment village that was originally for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Then to Byron Bay and the lighthouse before heading off to Hervey Bay to start the Lady Elliott Island experience.
Travelling north the wide Queensland landscape becomes viewable from the lookout on Wild Horse Mountain.
And, a little culture at Ohinemutu on the way out.
A stop in bottom of Pyes Pa Gorge Road on way to Tauranga for some long exposure shots round off the afternoons shooting.
Morning beach sunrises, bush walks, waterfalls, and evening harbour and night lights shoots will follow over 4 days. We’ll throw in travelling in a vintage Ford Model T for a visit to a kiwifruit orchard, its pruning season, so not most interesting time but expect to see workers in action, and a cruise across, and around, Lake Rotoiti in a vintage boat with fish and chips lunch.
So here’s a little summary of the tour. It’s fair to say it went really well. We covered a lot of territory in the days available, we were able to share photography techniques, see some new ones tried and in the evenings look into expanding the use of Lightroom by a better understanding of some of its features.
A few facts, Skiathos is one of the northern Sporades group in the Aegean with a current population of abut 8,000, is recognized as a party island with tourist numbers said to reach up to 70,000 at a time. Its known for its beaches, olives and is very green compared to the mainland.
Walking the streets for a meal you’ll come across large trays of whole fish packed in ice, ready for your selection for dinner. This was along waterfront restaurants on Skiathos.
Cafes, shops and tiered buildings in Skiathos opposite the new port.
The streets are deserted at 6.00 am, peacefully awaiting the jostling hordes. The high point and church though looking distant here are only a short walk and climb.
From the hill with Church of Saint Nikolas, the town can be seen laid out below with it’s characteristic terra-cotta tile roof tops and whitewashed buildings.
Lights of Skiathos Town reflect along the water’s edge.
Streets of Skiathos
Though some of these shots show empty streets, July & August are the hot months, both from point of view of tourists and temperatures which have been well up into the 30’s.
Colourful quaint boats in Old Port at Skiathos
The sky’s have never had a cloud in them and the sunrises and sunsets are intense, especially on Santorini. The Greeks are on holiday too, and swelling the numbers of tourists and those returning home from the mainland, so hectic is the way here at this time of the year. Many heading to the beaches to hire a deckchair and umbrella, bare some flesh and darken their skin a little as well as bathe in the luke warm Mediterranean water and sipping the odd cocktail in between.
While on the subject of baring some flesh, see if you can read this fruiterers sign above the nectarines!
Dining on these islands offers great variety. From the rip sh.. and bust fries with everything including your Greek salad (excuse the mild exaggeration)to really lovely “fine dining” restaurants.
Luckily we spent our time here with a group of great friends who ensured we dined in splendor.
Our hotel at Santorini, our next stop, deliberately chosen to be out of the two main touristic hotspots of Ia and Fira is just the best. The Ampelonas Apartments, it turns out is situated at the highest point of Santorini. And it it is a lovely comfortable and well run property. Sunsets and sunrises without moving (other than to wait 10 hours and turnaround that is), quite unique.
And turnaround – 10 hours later;
Another Santorini sunset, with silhouetted thistles
This is an island in the Cyclades group. Has a resident population around 16,000 before tourists arrive. Grow grapes and olives and is comprised essentially of the 2 cities (Ia and Fira or in their alternative spelling Oia or Thira) built on the caldera.
From our hotel in Imerovigla its only about 20 minutes walk to Fira, one of the 2 postcard style towns and the capital of the island, and about 30 minutes bus or taxi (a story about this later) ride to Ia (or Oia).
Probably the most photographed church on Santorini, The church and Three Bells of Fira, with sailing cruise ship in bay below. But there is so much more photographically in this town.
As well as the over-exposed whitewashed buildings, there’s the fascinating walkways and staircases seemingly ending nowhere and everywhere
The classical Oia hillside shot.
Busker at top of the 230+ Oia steps to Ammoudi Bay below.
Mules, waiting to carry tourists up, in the heat can’t even keep their eyes open standing at bottom of Ammoudi Bay steps
Octopus drying by restaurant at Ammoudi Bay
So to Naxos on the ferry. Hell just getting on and off this this thing is an experience. The mayhem of Greek organisation seems at it peak in this exercise. No signage for the hordes to work out when or where to move, just people shouting unintelligible instructions, men in uniforms blowing whistles and waving their arms while the aspiring travellers rush about in some form of unmitigated confusion and chaos. Somehow most seem eventually to make it. A bit like the bus timetables, a lower level of chaos, but then often the bus will depart 5+ minutes early, so don’t arrive bang on time and expect to be on. That it seems to me is high -risk strategy.
Trucks, cars and poorly informed tourists all jostling to get aboard a Greek ferry leaving Santorini for Naxos.
Like the others the island of Naxos comprises historic buildings and not so historic presented for the tourists, separated by narrow stone paved lanes with those white painted mortar patterns.
Tourists traipse up the low climb to experience a sunset at another Temple of Apollo, this time at Naxos.
Along with the flowering bougainvillea, the oleanders, the wild figs and olive plantations cats abound. Little wonder there’s no birds or wildlife to speak of. They are everywhere and if you look, they are usually in multiples.
But our find in Naxos was in form of a very pleasant and helpful guide, Stuart Thorpe,
There’s little sign of any industry that’s not tourism or olive related, but this old abandoned industrial building just out of Chalki (or Halki) caught my eye as we walked between a couple of villages with Stuart.
We had to shift a modern wooden and iron bench seat placed for locals to rest on in front of this irresistible old wall. We did put it back! Other than a locked church and a few homes there was little else here in Kaloxilos, the next village
Byzantine era church of Agios Apostolos which although we didn’t see them has frescoes inside dating its construction back to 12 or 13th centuries.
Only standing part ot these stone remains in the countryside, an arch through which there’s a landscape of olive trees and in the distance, the methodologically named Mount Zeus, highest peak on Naxos
Ancient olive trees are the dominant landscape feature around here.
Couple of men in small town of Filoti, doing what old Greek men do best. Sit, drink and endlessly hour after hour philosophise.
Thanks to Stuart, we got to out of the way villages, a Byzantine church in a paddock somewhere and an authentic lunch up in the hills at a family run taverna. The owners quickly prepared a range of dishes we shared. All the produce was grown on their own small farm. A great experience and one to be recommended if you are seeking a bit more than the typical tourist.
Open sign on the only food place for miles, a family run restaurant in Moni in the hills of Naxos where all the produce is grown on their own small farm. An experience to stop for, and another we’d have totally missed without Stuarts guidance.
Below, the remains of our multi course meal.
Inside another small church next to where we stood to take the photo below at a spot known as Stavros Keramotis.
View to coast from the only spot on Naxos where you can see both coasts, by turning around off course, Stavros Keramotis.
A couple of cheese makers selling their artisan cheeses on the street in Filoti. Generously they cut sizable slices for us to try.
We had the opportunity to spend 4-5 hours with Stuart, a photographer and guide.
Would have to say this was probably the best value for money spent while here on Naxos.
Stuart’s knowledge and taking us to places we wouldn’t have made it to if we’d hired a car, which was the option we considered, was simply excellent.and cost effective too.
So, over 5,000 images, a number instagram posts and many to publish to my website there’s plenty more if you are interested, now we are about to complete our journey and head home to get stuck into processing all these images. Perhaps we’ve shared some travel inspiration and ideas through our experiences over these blogs.
I am progressively loading images to my site. Also some on instagram at “briansphotography” if you use that.
Stopping at seaside village for a coffee as one does, this sign offering free shower caught my eye.
Light and shadows and design, crossing Rion-Antirion Bridge
Later we turn left off the Rion-Antirion bridge and before long we are in Nafpaktos. Nafpaktos is built around a tiny fortified medieval harbour. Beautiful.
Boats moored in amazing little Nafpaktos Harbour
Bronze statues of I don’t know who on both sides of harbour entrance.
This town has a castle on the hill overlooking it, which we drove too before leaving only to find it was closed until 10.00. Didn’t want to wait so missed that, though did get some great views of the town and harbour below while up there.
From the castle hill looking down to Nafpactos, the little fortified harbout barely descernable in centre below flag.
From there we head to Arta as a stop off point en-route through the mountains of west Greece. Heading off we set the GPS for the back-roads as normal, but bugger me, somehow we get directed to the motorway with it’s multiple tollgates and boring vistas. And naturally, once you are on it, it hard to get off. But fast I guess.
Arriving in Arta we stop to find accommodation. Found something that looked ideal, booked it then tried to GPS it. Could not find it on the GPS anywhere. Reviewed our booking on the mobile and noticed we had somehow been directed to Arta, sure, but this one was in the Balearic islands, Spain. Ha. The GPS was of course set for Greece. Thats travel.
After a night in our re-booked lovely country hotel on the outskirts of the town we head off early through the mountains. The previous days mountains were interesting, small villages, mostly left behind by the passage of time, rugged roads and only reasonable scenery. Enough to make she who must be obeyed say “boring”. Would not go that far myself, but there you are.
One of two ancient stone arch bridges we see today.
Today was about to be a revelation. Some of the highest hills in the country, some of the windiest roads anywhere, and so many little and not so little groups of red roofed homes scattered among the trees.
GPS showing whats immediately ahead. Fun to drive these roads and well spectacular.
One of the cafe groups of card players. The grey bearded man tells me no work, so they play cards.
But spectacular scenically understates it. What a drive. One not to be missed if you are ever doing a road trip through this country. But, your GPS wont take you there automatically. There is a new toll motorway that Lonely Planet says is also pretty good, but they missed this one.
Have I mentioned the Greek Orthodox churches, shrines and memorials that almost out-number the population?
Brand new, a million miles from anywhere, high in the hills this little beauty stands out beside the road. Unfortunately locked, so we couldn’t enter but I’ll bet there was only room for about 5 or 6 chairs. The smallest we’ve seen had 2 chairs.
I later learn they are rarely, sometimes never used in prayer!
Gradually we make our way to Kastraki hotel. This is a beauty, getting to it another story in our excuse for a car. The wee Micra struggles on hills, its 2nd gear often doesn’t realise its being employed. I have never driven so far in 1st gear, but the revs drop and you may as well push. Bloody hopeless is another understatement.
So through the little lanes that double as streets and to bottom of a rise between houses almost less than 1 car with in parts and uphill. The Micra took several hill starts to make to the top. But we did it. And it was worth it.
Looking out of our room
Couple of sunset shots. We did a sunset tour on our first night in an effort to orientate ourselves. These are from the favorite spot for tourists at sunset. While waiting for the sunset we were taken to the main church in Meteora, We’re filling in time, our guide is explaining every part of every picture. As you’ll know, there is no part of a wall or ceiling that in not artistically painted and turns out they all have meaning. Talk about tedious, so we sat down. And as we do crossed out legs. Not long after a priest came bustling through, was past us when he realised our legs were crossed and in Greek launched into what I’d call a tirade about our legs. Not being sure what was going on I uncrossed mine, no good reason, just a reaction, but Anne didn’t. Well we nearly needed rescuing. Still don’t know what that’s about, but there’s a word of advice there if you are visiting Greek Orthodox churches. Anne does get caught out in these ways. On another occasion we are in a nunnery (monastery that’s been taken over!!). No hats. Anne, wandering around feels a tap on the shoulder, is about to react as she does when I do that, but just in time sees a rather severe nun on her shoulder. Nun points to cap and shakes head, message received, cap removed. A little while later instinctively returns cap to head, just in time for another shoulder tapping and head shaking. We only went into 2 of these monasteries.
Two of the dozen or so monasteries of Meteora.
A couple of days driving the Meteora hills and visiting a couple of the bluff-top monasteries has been a treat.
Kastraki is a quaint wee town that comes to life at night with diners and drinkers.
As well as tourists and the dining scene other businesses closed during the day come to life. A butcher works his meat!
Then from Meteora via the scenic route, across the cropping plains of Greece and through 3 mountain ranges. the the ancient town of Dephi, I’m just told the ancients regarded this as the centre of the earth. Clearly, they’d never been to New Zealand!
Travelling Greece by road is full of surprises, from the small churches and monuments to wild goats or cattle on the road there seems to be another point of interest around most corners.
AS we drive through the cropping plains of mostly nondescript crops an area with fields of sunflowers stands out
Then back up into the winding hill roads, a shell of what once was in middle of nowhere.
And around next corner, something Hitler would have been proud of.
Roadside rug shop on its own, caught in my rear-vision mirror.
Eventually to Delphi.
From our hotel room, view over Delphi roof-tops to town of Itea in Corinthian Gulf way down there.
The view the ancients had about 500 BC from the Temple of Apollo.
Itea, on coast of Corinthian Gulf below Delphi. #itea
So tomorrow, off to join the rest of the group on Skiathos, followed by some rime on a couple of other islands. Until then, keep in touch.
What can you see in three days in Athens before heading off to other parts of the country and a few of its islands. That,s what we’ve got – 3 days, this is some of what we did.
Mount Lycabettus is a great first spot to get to. From the top, all the Athenian known landmarks can be seen and their relationship to the rest of the city. You can walk to the top, but most of the year you might find that a bit hard going. I did see a few sweating it out. A taxi made the job easy. Gets you to just a few metres from the top, still need to climb a few steps though.
Pano of city of Athens from Mount Lycabettus.
Cold drinks vendor and church at Mount Lycabettus summit.
Temple of Olympian Zeus archaeological ruins in the city and below the iconic acropolis.
Pomp and ceremony, or just Monty Pythonesque silly walks. Guards outside Greece parliament building. Could they actually guard anything? Funny to watch though.
Across the street and down in the Plaka, interesting and hectically touristic district with its photogenic narrow streets lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.
All this antiquity, but still everywhere you turn, graffiti.
The Acropolis, the centre of antiquity. A citadel comprising ancient structures and theatres under restoration including the most significant Grecian structure the Parthenon.
Then off to pick-up the promised Polo that somehow mysteriously morphs into a Micra….. So, onwards and starting our Greek road-trip to the Peloponnese Peninsula, Nafplio and other interesting places.
Avoiding motorways and highways wherever possible, through mainly countryside, olive tree plantations interspersed with the citrus orchard or grape vine. The travel takes longer but exposes us to landscapes, villages and other experiences that would be missed by using highways.The roads are lined with rubbish. Scattered through the fields are small old deserted/derelict crumbling buildings normally adorned with graffiti. Not many flat vertical space in this country are left un-graffitied.
Napflio, what a find.
Dining to backgound of this duo and Greek music.
Ermioni, further down the Peloponnese coastline,another tourist seaside tourist spot and a great drop-off point for a short ferry trip and few hours on Hydra. for a night.
Next morning after delightful breakfast at Mourayio Bed and Breakfast (the place to stay in this part of country) to Nemea.
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Borneo, jungles, beaches and wildlife; a photographers dream. And we are expecting an experience like no other.
Borneo, the world’s third largest island. About 3 x size NZ and headed-off by Greenland and New Guinea. It is best known for its ancient 165 million years they say), bio-diverse rain-forest (15,000 plant species) , home to and incredible array of wildlife (over 1,4000 animal species) including the man of the forest, orangutans. But that is only the start.
Leaving Auckland incurs about a 40 minute delayed departure on 8 May. That’s traveling for you, and the first of a series of minor hiccups.
We arrive on May 8th. The Tawau forecast is for thunder storms, we fly though and above cloud and mist from KL the predicted weather does not eventuate.
Looking down on expanse of oil palm plantation through a break in cloud as we arrive.
Our bags though decide they want a holiday on their own and head off somewhere else. We’ve sent the search party out hoping to find, apprehend and return asap. Let’s hope, at least I have my cameras.
We are met by Zahari our naturalist photographer guide at airport 40 minutes late, but he turns out to be the nice guy we expected. He gets us to the Shervinton for or first night. A “flash on-the-outside but rough-as-guts on the inside joint”. Guess that’s the standard for the next 3 weeks but we didn’t come here for the hotels.
Tawau is a typically Asian city but with less motorbikes. The 3rd largest city in Sabah – Malaysian Borneo.
Earning a living. Row of umbrella protected shoe repair and second hand sales operators on street in Tawau and in local food market below.
From Tawau we head to Semporna and our first resort. Lato Lato is a built on stilts resort that looks spectacular as we approach by boat. It touches no land but the shallow coral seabed where the stilts made out of slim tree trunks (I’m told they are ironwood, never rot and as hard as hell, but never-the less a little spindly looking) a bit like old fashioned fence post.
Through the chalet window at Lato Lato looks relaxing and wonderful, but this belies the underlying story.
We check in and head to our room. Kind of unprepared for this we were. The room is rustic, but without charm, the bathroom has a dunny, no seat, a bucket and ladle as a substitute for a shower. a tap, a shower-head for appearances sake cos it ain’t plumbed. But something even more interesting, as we walked the gangplank, so to speak, to get here I noticed the external plumbing and wondered where the waste went. Looked specifically at ours and it appeared to terminate about where the tidal level then. We did a wee test, flushed the loo, and voila into the tide she flowed.
Hmm, went back to our guide and explained that we would not stay in that room and explained the environmental concerns we had. All denied, until we said we would photograph another test. Change of mind occurs, oh yes you right comes an admission, the tradie hasn’t quite finished comes the excuse, we’ll shift you.
Mattered not really, because it wasn’t long before someone else was checked into that room. uuggh. Temps are about 30+f, humidity about 500 and only a fan to cool us during any time we spent in our room.
Tall palm trees on one of the Semporna islands we visit.
Children of sea-gypsies we pass visiting some minute tropical Semporna islands see us approach and paddle out in their little boats in hope of receiving some gifts.
Sea-gypsie mother and two small children peer out at us from window of their boat off a Semporna Marine Park island.
Decided to check out a day early from this place, the Lato Lato Resort.
Idyllic tropical sunrise from Lato Lato Resort, on the morning we leave, Sabah Borneo,
Our guide had to find somewhere else. we end up at an expensive but very nice Hawag Danum Valley Resort in the middle of the jungle.
It’s expensive, but lovely. aircon and a nice clean room. It’s a package deal, so we get their guides to handle us for our stay. Sagely, we’re advised to buy some leach socks.
Dumb Kiwi’s that we are we put these big baggy things on, as you do, under your trousers, then to to meet our guide who asks if we have leach socks. proudly we say yes, pull up our trouser legs and display them. Laughs from our guide, and no doubt others standing around as its explained you put them on the outside and tie them below the knee, well we had that right).
Off we set, very soon to learn the importance of these things. By the time we get home the blood sucking leaches had beaten the socks and found ways to attach themselves all over us. Deprived of lots of blood and being in a place with no alcohol (that’s a blood substitute I’d always believed) we had to re-calibrate our expectations.
Although we spend 2.5 days being leached every which way (and i mean that) this was to turn out to be a beaut experience.
Dinner then a night drive. Bumping along a dusty on back of a ute with a couple of spotlight wielding spotters and our guide we look for critters under the trees, in the trees and flying about.
Venomous wrangler pit viper in Borneo in rain-forest, Sabah.Danum Valley.
Brown wood owl high in tree in Borneo Rainforest, Danum Valley, Sabah
File-eared tree frog in Borneo rainforest at in Danum Valley, Sabah.
There’s a long story to be told here, but that best left for a separate blog, or another time. It involves our guide, a few lies, and the police. enough said, but it becomes important to dump him.