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Long Weekend in Port Stephens

All in all, it was a fun weekend up in Port Stephens, despite awful traffic getting there and back, a flat tire, and my burgeoning cold and headache. But we ticked off a couple sunrises, sunsets, some night photography action, and lots of whale watching – both from the beach and on a boat.

Sunset at Birubi Beach
Sunset at Birubi Beach

I had a concept for a picture of us sitting with BB8 (yes we couldn’t help ourselves but bring it out to play) with the milky way in the background. Figured it would make for a good Christmas card. But it turned out too difficult to execute without use of Photoshop. Haha so it’ll remain a project for another time, when I’ve finally bit that bullet to use the tool.

 

Star gazing
Star gazing
We also managed to explore Morna Point for a bit of a hike. I had to go back for a long nap after though to get over my headache. But Jeff spent a relaxing afternoon alternately splashing about in the waves and reading on the sand.
We also managed to explore Morna Point for a bit of a hike. I had to go back for a long nap after though to get over my headache. But Jeff spent a relaxing afternoon alternately splashing about in the waves and reading on the sand.

 

Sunset at Fingal Beach
Sunset at Fingal Beach, where we spotted a very active pod of whales just off the coast that spent long minutes breaching and breaching and breaching. So cool!
Sunrise at Zenith Beach
Sunrise at Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach
Not much color – well zero – at sunrise, but we saw a lone whale just milling about close to shore.

We signed up for a whale watching cruise too! We actually had outstanding tickets we could use for a cruise in Newcastle since we spotted ZERO whales when we went out with that cruise in August, but because we’d changed our car’s flat tire to the rather bald spare, we decided not to take the detour and just booked another cruise locally in Port Stephens. Turned out great, as we saw at least 3 different pods of whales splashing about. 😀

Whale breaching at Port Stephens
Whale breaching at Port Stephens

Dolphin sightings in Sydney Harbor

We have been super lucky – two weekends in a row while kayaking along the Sydney Harbor, we have spotted dolphins leisurely swimming along.

The first instance was when we stuffed our kayaks into the back of a cab and took it to Balmoral. We then rounded the peninsula at Balmoral, and paddled home to Waverton. It was a calm morning, with flat glassy waters. Paddling was a dream. The day was still young, so traffic on the water was light. As we neared Bradley Head, Jeff spotted a lone dolphin cruising about.  


The second instance was this past Saturday, when we joined Laura from Sydney by Kayak on a sunrise paddle and breakfast by the Harbor Bridge. As we sipped on our coffee and munched on granola and yogurt and other snacks thoughtfully packed by Laura, Ben spotted a pair of dolphins right in front of the opera house. We hastily snatched up our paddles and raced forward to have a closer look. 

So awesome. 😃

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Underwater in the Adriatic Sea

We are just back from a gloriously relaxing holiday in Croatia and Singapore. In Croatia, we spent an entire week aboard the Vranjak I, a thoughtfully and sturdily appointed dive vessel.

Our lives on the boat were unhurried and chill: Wake up at 545am for the sunrise, wait impatiently for the bakeries to open to fill our burek cravings, watch the early morning glow on the island towns as the captain starts the engine and throttle out the port. Enjoy a warm cuppa on the couches on the bow deck of our vessel while soaking up the warmth of the morning rays. Squeeze into our wetsuits and plunge into startling clear waters for our first dive of the day. Lunch and siesta in the sun before the next dive. Dock at the next island, and explore its cobblestone streets and alleys in the golden evening light. Eat on board our boat, snap blue hour pictures, grab a dessert and aperitif on land after. Crash into bed after for a long and deep sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Our divemaster, Tommo, repeatedly stressed that we were blessed with the most beneficent weather. Think flat, glassy waters and blue cloudless days. Apparently, the week before we boarded, the divers had to content with gusty winds and waves 10 feet high. And indeed, the weather the days after we disembarked was alternately windy and stormy too.

The diving itself was novel. We’d only previously dove in warm tropical waters, and so weren’t expecting the brisk 62 F / 16 C waters that greeted us when we first plunged in. Although most of our dives were in deep waters (30-45m), visibility was good, and while we spotted no sharks, rays, or turtles, there were plenty of scorpion fish, sea centipedes, octopuses, lobsters, nudibranches, eels, cat shark eggs, and gigantic gorgonian sea fans to catch our interest. We also dove two wreck dives, the Vassilios (1920 Japanese trading vessel that sunk in 1930), and the Teti (1883 ship that also sunk in 1930).

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A chilly morning by Turimetta beach

It was cold this morning, with wind chills sending temperatures down to 3 degrees C. And there wasn’t any cloud cover in the sky, just low over the horizon out east, recipes for a not so stellar sunrise.

Still, it was nice to be out, hearing and seeing the waves crash onto the sand. That’s oddly relaxing.
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And then, just as I was setting up for the shot below, Jeff yelled out, dolphins! Indeed, a large pod of them were surfing the waves just 20 feet from the fishermen at the tip of the rocks. I impatiently yanked my camera off its tripod, ripped the ND filter out, and slipped my way onto the rocks to get a closer look. I didn’t quite manage to tune my camera settings in time to get tack sharp pictures of the dolphins joyfully skimming the waves, but they were beautiful to watch all the same.

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Another gorgeous morning in the books. Haha, afterwards, we went grocery shopping, bought a ton of food, and was home by 1130. Comfortably sitting out the rest of the beautiful blue-sky day in the warmth. Because hey, we had seen the light already. 😀

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Australia Day up by Nelson Bay

Fabulous weekend in all. Of hiking the dunes, soaking in the brilliant sunrises and sunsets, and a perhaps not well thought out adventure of deciding to kayak in crazy rip tide conditions where we ended up assisting three snorkelers.

It’s a place we definitely want to spend more time at, and can’t wait to return to. During whale season!

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Highlights of 2015

2015 was a good year, photography and otherwise. But since this is a photo blog, I’m just going to recap on the 12 photographic highlights of the year, by month.

Overall, it was a year of exploration, of the new place we now call home, Sydney, and its surrounds. It was a year of learning ever more closely of working with my camera, of understanding and appreciating light and clouds in their different forms and colors. I have chased more sunrises this year than I have in all my other years combined. I have realized how much of an ocean girl I am at heart, for nothing makes me smile more than the sight of the sea and all its varied moods – wild, frothy, raging or glassy, smooth, gently reflecting the color of the sky overhead.

January: We kicked off the year in Singapore, in my parents’ house that they rebuilt. Then moved to Sydney, and spent one weekend in Hunter Valley, and another in Melbourne watching the Australian Open. It was an action-packed month to say the least
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Februrary: Jeff flew us up in a seaplane to Palm Beach as a surprise. We spent the afternoon kayaking and then hiked up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse before flying back to Rose Bay

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March: Caught a beautiful sunset by the Sydney Harbor Bridge at Milsons Point. Haha, one of the most popular locations for shooting the bridge, but I had to see – and capture – it for myself
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April: Our first visit to the Blue Mountains. Well actually, to Mount Wilson
Blue Mountains Mt Wilson (1 of 1)

May: We brought both our parents to Maui Hawaii, for a week
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June: Jeff’s family came back to Sydney with us from Hawaii, and Joe and I went down to Bondi early one stormy morning to catch the incredible sunrise
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July: We spent a weekend in Forster, where we went whale watching
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August: Enjoyed a cool winter dawn up by Curl Curl Beach, watching fishermen and surfers. We also did go to Tasmania and Wellington to taste wines, but tasting took precedence over photography. Hehe.
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September: My high school friend V came to visit, and the two of us and TPR went up to Blue Mountains for a weekend. We also returned Stateside for a visit, but catching up with friends and family and battling jet lag took precedence over photography
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October: Big month for us, with loads of activities. Well first my family came to town, and we went skydiving for my grandpa’s 90th birthday. And then we went to Fiji with Wendy and Chris
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November: Sunrise paddle before work to Sydney Harbor Bridge where we saw two cruise ships come into the harbor
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December: After a wonderful Christmas in Melbourne, we explored the coast along Southern New South Wales, then rang in the new year with some friends first kayaking to watch the 9pm fireworks, then mooring alongside a friend’s sailboat to catch the midnight one

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Looking forward to another adventurous 2016!

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Diving in Fiji, Clown Fish Edition

The past couple of years, we’ve dove in Hawaii and the Caribbean, and consequently have missed seeing the colorful clown anemone fish. Happily, we had an abundance of them in Fiji, and a few different species (and in different types of anemones) at that!

Glassy waters
The storms were just abating Monday, the first day we plunged in the waters. But by Tuesday, the winds had died down such that the waters were calm, glassy.
Baby nemo
Baby Nemo

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Clown fish

Clown fish

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There’s obviously tons of other colorful fish besides these cute clown anemones of course, including our new favorite wrasse, the bird wrasse.

Bird Wrasse
Bird Wrasse

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Anthias galore

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Scrambled Egg Nudibranch
Scrambled Egg Nudibranch

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Diving the Somosomo Strait, Fiji

Except for one day, we spent the rest of our mornings in Fiji underwater. With over 2300 species of fish and nearly 400 species of corals, every dive was an exciting one.

Before this trip, I wasn’t really a fan of drift diving, because I preferred the opportunity to stick myself in one spot and have the luxury of slowly figuring out the proper exposure and strobe lighting for my subject. But currents are what lends the Somosomo Strait its fame and the title ‘soft coral capital of the world’. And with dive sites so brimming with life at every turn, photography can take a back seat. Half the time, I honestly did not know where to turn my head. From the moment we descended, there were so much to look at. Schooling black and red snappers, jacks, barracudas, big eyed brim, to the tiny thousands of blue chromis, orange and purple anthias. Heaps of corals – soft orange, white, blue, pink, purple polyps, hard stag horn corals, table top corals, fan corals. Beds of anemones with shy clown fish occupants. The odd sleepy white tip reef shark, the rainbow colored parrot fish and trigger fish. Nudibranches in all colors, stripes and patterns. Oy.

I did take photos though, loads of them. And I feel like I’m slowly getting the hang of this underwater photography thingy. If only half the time my camera doesn’t mysteriously reset itself to jpeg mode.

Getting ready for our first dive
Getting ready for our first dive

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Little puffer
This little puffer reminded us of the ubiquitous puffers we saw in Belize

 

Lobsters
Lobsters, always a feast for the eyes

 

Grouper
We saw so many different colored groupers
Anthias galore
Thousands upon thousands of these orange anthias greeted us on every dive
Green turtle
Initially, we lamented about not spotting any turtles. But Julie, owner of Taveuni Ocean Sports explained that wasn’t a bad thing, since turtles fed on algae and these reefs were healthy enough to have minimal algae
Nudibranches
Nudibranches
Eel
Spotted this tiny eel on the night dive
Honey and Tiger Cowris
Honey and Tiger Cowris

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Flying Gurnard
Flying Gurnard

 

Puffer
Puffer trying to hide behind this little twig of a coral

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Golden Tunnel Dive
Golden Tunnel Dive
Blue Ribbon Eel
Blue ribbon eels are a rare sight in Fiji

 

Sea crate
These highly venomous sea crates are a fairly common sight in Fiji. We also saw a baby one climb up our dive boat

 

Scorpion Fish
As a friend so aptly dubbed it, the scorpion fish with the ‘resting bitch face’

 

Green Moray
It wasn’t till our last day of diving that we saw morays. On dive #10 at The Ledge, we saw a giant moray. On dive #11 at Fish Factory, we spotted this green moray and a white mouth

 

White mouth moray
White mouth moray
Octopus
At our safety stop, the surge kept pushing us back and forth over this octopus, so safely ensconed in its hole
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Lavena Coastal Walk, Fiji

We’ve just come back from a phenomenal week in Taveuni, Fiji with a couple old friends. What a trip!

Inter-island travel
We took a 12-seater propellor plane from Fiji’s international airport in Nadi to Taveuni

I’d picked Taveuni, out of the 300 Fijian islands, because of its fame as the ‘soft coral capital of the world’ (Jacques Cousteau). What we didn’t realize – and reveled in – is that Taveuni, also known as the Garden Island, is a quiet slice of haven still quite set back in time and away from the bustle and smog of city life. The island is 42km long and 10km wide, and has only 18,000 or so inhabitants who mostly stay in small villages dotted around the lush land. There are two small towns with grocery stalls, but most of the villagers grow their own crops, rear their own animals, and catch their own fish. There isn’t much to do in town, and there are only a couple restaurants that the locals frequent.

We spent most of our time on land lounging around our resort anyway. Nakia Resort & Dive, a small eco resort with 4 bures (Fijian word for wooden and straw huts) and a maximum of 12 guests. The week we were there, there were just 6 of us, and our routine was that we’d wake up at sunrise for an early breakfast before going diving. In the afternoon, we’d come back to a late but hearty lunch, then lounge around by the pool or the hammock with a book in hand. In the evenings, we’d gather for more food and drink, spend a couple of hours comfortably chatting or playing some board or card games, then retire to bed by the moonlight. Rinse and repeat.

We did spend a day poking around the north-eastern part of the island though, on the Lavena Coastal Walk:

Lavena Coastal Walk
Visitors can choose to do a roundtrip walk (13km) to the waterfalls and back. We took a boat one way – the lazier, but infinitely more fun option
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The villagers typically keep a vegetarian diet, but rear animals for meat for special occasions
Lavena Coastal Walk waterfall
Wainibau Falls, the highlight of our walk. To get to the falls, we actually have to wade / swim our way through strong current. But the water was most refreshing

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Wendy and Chris Lavena Coastal Walk
Along the trek back, we passed by little villages and tons of banana, kava, cassava trees / plants

Weekend in Forster

We had, hands down, an incredible weekend up in Forster, New South Wales!

Let’s see: we enjoyed each other’s company, beautiful lakes and beaches, and spotted a koala in the wild, two pods of whales, and at least 4 pods of dolphins.

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Jeff looking up at the eucalyptus trees, trying to spot koalas

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We found one… way high up

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Oyster farms!

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Humpback breaching!!!!!!!!!

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We saw so many dolphins it was unbelievable

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