Dunedin is a great small city towards the lower end of the South island of New Zealand, there is a bunch of stuff to do there but one of the experiences that really stood out to me was the peninsula encounters wildlife tour.
The bus stopped off in town at each of the hostels and hotels to pick up the guests before heading out towards the peninsula.
As soon as we reached the windy narrow roads of the peninsula it was a completely different feel than the city. It felt much more as if we were in among the wilds of the country, even though we could still see the city across the bay.
There were some wonderful views out the bus window of the rolling hills, passing various wildlife and small cottages along the length of the peninsula.
The first place we stopped off at was the Albatross center, it was so windy down there most of us were permanently standing at a 45 degree angle.
This meant good news for spotting albatross though as they are more likely to be out flying in gusty conditions. We all stood waiting to see their huge wingspan appear from over the hill bracing ourselves against the wind, and after a few minutes we spotted our first albatross off in the distance.
Then suddenly another appeared, this time a lot closer so we could get a proper look at one in flight. They are huge, there were seagulls in the air too and they looked miniature in comparison.
Next on the agenda was to visit the Sea lions on the beach, after a short scenic drive along the coast of the peninsula we reached the private beach area which the tour has access to.
We all got off the bus and headed down the hill towards the beach, were we could spot the sea lions as we descended.
Once we reached the fence to the beach we stopped and looked at them for a while, some were asleep but a group of males were fighting or practising at least. Some of sea lions that were previously sleeping eventually woke up and decided to join in on the fighting, I was surprised at how fast they could move.
We headed onto the beach and had to pass the giant animals, luckily they were busy jostling with each other to take much notice to use as we passed. But it was a great opportunity to get so near to them and see (and smell them) up close.
Yellow eyed Penguins
We walked further down the beach to reach the yellow eyed penguins, we had to climb up a series of steps to reach the area they were located. We spotted some among the trees nesting, and we got a really close view of them too, We even spotted a blue penguin sleeping in its hole.
We stayed here a while to take some pictures and take in the scenery and wildlife when one penguin arrived on shore from the sea and started to waddle his way up on to the hills past the sheep and reach another penguin.
I never thought I would ever see a penguin and a sheep together, and it was one of the highlights to me of the trip.
Afterwards we headed back up past the sea lions and up and the hill to reach the fur seal colony on the other side of the cliffs.
They looked tiny in comparison to the sea lions but it was a great sight as there were loads of them covering the entire surface of the rocks. Some babies playing tin the rock pools, and one that looked to be surprised to see humans and stared at us constantly.
Overall the trip was great and definitely one of the highlights of my New Zealand experience!
I booked the tour through elm wildlife tours, and the whole day lasts about 6 hours or so so be sure to bring a snack or two and a jacket in case it’s a bit windy.
About the circuit
I trekked around the Annapurna circuit last October and it was an amazing experience, so I thought I would share some of my experiences and provide an overview of the trek for those that are interested in giving it a go.
The circuit lies in central Nepal among the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas, the circuit passes through thorung la pass which is the highest mountain pass in the world.
Guides and Porters
There are a few different options to doing the circuit, whether that be part of a group, hire your own guide and porter or to do it completely solo. The choice is largely based on your confidence in trekking in high altitude and your fitness levels.
I personally did it solo, and would highly advise you to do that also. The feeling from completing it solo is highly satisfying and you can go at your own pace and explore things as you wish.
Along the circuit there are various small villages in which you can find accommodation, it is all quite basic with a simple bed and sometimes a hot shower. To be honest the quality of the accommodation wasn’t that high on my priorities at the end of a long days trekking, as long as the bed is comfortable enough I was happy.
You food is also provided at your accommodation, there is a large variety from local dishes, such as dal bhat which is a rice and vegetable dish to pizza and pasta is some places. There is even a German Bakery near the highest point in the circuit which was full on high calorie goodness.
When you first arrive in Nepal chances are you will be staying in Kathmandu for the first few nights. Here you can get your mountain pass for the circuit and any gear you will need during your trek.
You can get most clothes, bags, accessories and snacks that you need for your trek in Kathmandu, and for a much cheaper price than at home, after some haggling of course. Be sure to prepare for hot and cold weather as the first few days are nice and warm, but as you ascend it does get cold quite and frosty quickly.
Be sure to stop by a pharmacy for some stomach bug tablets, altitude sickness tablets and water purification tablets, those are the main 3 to pick up. You may also want to take some vitamin supplements as well just to keep yourself in top shape.
Your fitness levels need to be decent to complete the circuit, I mean you don’t need to be in the gym every day but you should be able to walk at least 6 hours daily without any trouble.
On average I trekked about 5 or 6 hours a day, I would recommend setting out quite early every morning as to avoid the midday sun. The track itself is a mixture of dirt roads and small winding paths, it’s fairly easy going and nothing too dangerous or extreme in general.
You should be aware of the changing environment though, twice on my trek the path had completely vanished because of a landslide.
The first time it happened was within 2 hours of starting the circuit, I had just passed through a small village and the dirt road I was walking along suddenly changed into a steep slope of loose rocks with water running down it. There were 2 other trekkers and their guide here as well, just trying to figure out what to do next.
I looked up to the peak of the landslide and large rocks were still bouncing down the 100 meter slope right past where we were standing. A few of the locals appeared from the direction I just came from and quickly ran across the sloped gap, and the guide that was with the other trekkers instructed them to do the same. So I then quickly followed suit, looking up as I did for any dangerous rocks crashing down at high speed.
After I got across to the other side I took a small breather and looked back to the landslide getting progressively worse. I didn’t want to hang around too long so I continued on for the day.
The second time I encountered a landslide was maybe around day 6, and this one was much larger. It was about 4 hours into the day’s trekking, where I was quite tired and looking forward to stop for lunch somewhere.
The road was high up on a cliff edge, and as I came around the corner to see the road ahead I got a wide panoramic view of the landslide. It was about 300 meters across and must have happened a day or two previously as there had been a small path created amongst the slope so that people could still access the villages beyond.
The vehicles would stop just before the landslide and the passengers would get out with any luggage and navigate across the dodgy path, sometimes carrying absurdly large objects like one man had a mattress on his back.
Get out there
Over the past year I have traveled to over 8 countries, and the Annapurna circuit still sticks in my mind as one of the best experiences. It wasn’t easy as I was carrying a lot of gear, probably too much but it made it that much more satisfying to complete it.
I made so many great friends along the way, both trekkers and locals. There is a camaraderie as everyone has the same goal to reach the mountain pass and continue on to complete the circuit.
The views you are presented with along the way are breathtaking, sometimes quite literally because of the altitude. But really because of the sheer size of some of the mountains you will see.
I remember on day 3 when I was beginning to reach a decent altitude and started to see the snow topped mountains, I turned around a corner in the path and had to just stop for half a minute just to take in the awe of the peaks in front of me. It took a few extra seconds to realise that the white on top of the peak wasn’t clouds, but more of the mountain just covered in snow.
I know Nepal has suffered recently because of the earthquake but I would highly recommend you visit this wonderful country and do some trekking, it will be one of the experiences I will remember for the rest of my life, I know you will too.
I am pleased to announce that I have a new photography exhibition, but this isn’t just an ordinary exhibition, its in Virtual Reality.
I have been travelling lots over the past year, and when I returned to Scotland I had a new found perspective on my home country, I saw it with fresh eyes again. So I really wanted to find a way to let others experience what its like to visit our wonderful country and see the natural beauty that the Scottish landscapes has.
Virtual Reality (VR) has just recently made a resurgence, and I had been aware of Google Cardboard which is a low cost way to experience VR using a smartphone.
I thought Google Cardboard would be a great solution to lets lots of people experience Scotland through the power of VR and view my images from all over the country.
I try to convey the feeling of a place through my images, let the viewer be transported to another place and have a brief glimpse into another place, culture or point of view. So I thought making use of virtual reality would be a great way to really let the viewer experience another world in a very strong and experiential way while also seeing images from that part of the world.
The Exhibition can be viewed on your smartphone, combined with the Google Cardboard accessory you will be transported to a Scottish castle in which you can walk around. You can look out across the loch into the mountains in the distance and explore inside the castle and view a selection of photographs I have made from all over Scotland.
The app took a lot of time and effort, but I am really pleased in how it has come together. Everyone that has experienced it so far has really enjoyed it, and now it has officially released I am really looking forward to hearing even more from people who have tried it!
The app is currently available from the Google Play Store for Android smartphones.
I recently purchased a Canon 17-40mm f4/L USM lens as a wide angle lens for my full frame Sony a7ii using a lens adapter, and I thought I would share my thoughts on it. I typically do not go into the techincal aspects in my reviews, but give more of a real world impression and performance of it.
I am mainly a landscape photographer and I wide angle lens is a much for my type of compositions. I have been using the Canon 10-22mm lens for the past 3 years or so on Canon 550D which is a crop sensor camera, so after switching to a Sony a7ii which is the full frame camera and I needed a lens that would support the sensor size.
I will be making comparison to the Canon 10-22mm lens through out the review as that is a good reference point for me to go from, I have also embedded multiple sample images I captured with the 17-40mm as a practical example of the type of images that can be created.
My previous Canon 10-22mm lens was the equivalent of a 16-35mm lens on a full frame sensor so there was only 2 options, either the Canon 16-35mm or the Canon 17-40mm and I ended up choosing the 17-40mm because it is considerably less expensive and its lighter and more compact while still providing the good focal range.
The 17-40mm doesn’t go quite as wide as a 16-35mm but thats not a big deal for me, and it is only slightly larger than my previous 10-22mm
I have been using the lens for just over a month now, and overall I am very pleased with it.
The perspective this lens has really lends itself to giving that epic feel when shooting landscapes.
At 40mm this lens results in a decent amount of scene compression, I found this useful as I dont need to change my lens as often.
The auto-focus speed is nice, fast and accurate which isn’t exactly a high priority in landscape photography but it doesn’t hurt.
The lens is rated as being weather proofed, there is a rubber ring around the lens mount to prevent water and dust. However you need to have a UV filter attached to the front to provide a seal on the front glass element.
The lens captures plenty of detail, with a little bit of falloff around the edges.
The lens is nice and sharp in the centre of the frame, the corners are noticeably softer if you examine them but its not a big deal when viewing an image as a whole.
Compared to my Canon 10-22mm the distortion and vignetting seems to be reasonably more noticeably on the Canon 17-40mm, the corners have a distinct darkness to them but it is an easy fix in Lightroom. The distortion at 17mm is quite severe, which you would expect with an wide angle lens and it is much more subtle at 40mm.
The color reproduction makes for some great effects in bright frames.
I am really happy with this lens and it has a great wide angle focal range for landscape photography, the fact that it can go to 40mm means that it can be used as a wide general prupose lens as well which I have found useful as I dont need to swap lenses as often.
The vignetting is a little more than I am used to, but it is an easy fix in software like Lightroom.
A fairly surprising shallow depth of field can be archived with this lens at f4 and and nice sharp frame north of f8, I would recommend this lens for anyone looking for a more compact wide angle lens for a full frame camera compared to the Canon 16-35mm.
I love the perspective this lens gives when its set to 17mm.