Water time in Sydney

Before we moved from Sydney in 2018, we’d toyed with the idea of getting a short term rental up by the beach, say Manly, for a couple of months, where we could could indulge in early morning swims or paddles. We never did make that work then (although we couldn’t complain, since where we lived in Waverton, we had access to a private jetty from which was a short paddle to the Opera House!). But this trip, we decided to make Manly our base, and found a cute Airbnb that had a gorgeous view of Manly and Shelly Beach.

In the mornings, we enjoyed strolls along the beach, marveling at the crowds of active folks already out jogging, playing beach volleyball, surfing and swimming. We lead a super sedentary lifestyle in Singapore by comparison.

Our goal was to relax, and get in as much water time as possible. We made it out to Spit Bridge twice, to get in some quality kayaking time, as we’d signed up for a 50km circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan in New York City end May (yay for travel again). It was fun to paddle the old routes, out to Balmoral and around Middle Harbour – brought back memories of my training for the Murray Marathon. I haven’t used a Euro-blade paddle in far too long though, having gotten used to my Greenland paddle, and so suffered from numb hands pretty much the full 3-4 hours we were on the water. 😦

But since we’d lugged our paddle boards all the way from Singapore, we also made sure we got plenty of use out of them. We went out for a couple paddles in the North Harbour, in front of the Manly ferry terminal, and explored all the little coves and beaches. We were very tempted to paddle across to Balmoral and Watsons Bay, and even to the entrance of the Gap, the last of which we’d not even broached by kayak before… but we’re not the most confident of SUP boarders yet, and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. Next time! But we did bring our boards to the Manly beach-side on a day when the surf looked much smaller than usual, and had a blast trying to catch small waves at the break point just outside Shelly Beach. Goals for next time too – surfing on SUPs!

We also got in a few swims from Manly to Shelly. The water temperature was a cool but comfortable 21+ degrees. Most days, the rains and surf rendered the water silty, so visibility was not the greatest. But we did have one beautiful day on Sunday when the sun was out in full blast, the winds calm, and the surf small, when the ocean looked like a beautiful swimming pool. We spotted baby dusky whaler sharks, tons of fishes, blue groupers and rays.

We had friends come out to Manly to hang with us a few different days, which was tons of fun. Our last evening though, we decided to venture back downtown to meet up with friends, and enjoyed riding the ferry at dusk back to Circular Quay. That sight never gets old!

Glorious vacation; till next time Sydney. ❤

Adventuring in Australia: Weekend up by Cudgegong River

Australia was one of the second wave of countries to announce their re-opening to travelers back in November last year. Immediately, we booked tickets. We quickly found out though, that that plan was a soft launch, just for Singapore citizens, and did not include expats residing in Singapore (like Jeff). Then, Omicron hit, and while borders remained opened, travelers now had to do a mandatory 3 day quarantine at their place of residence before they were allowed to leave. In the end, we shelved those plans, and contented to staying in Singapore for the holidays.

Happily, we’re over that hump now (and hopefully it’s firmly in the rearview mirror). With borders re-opened – this time fully – we used the last of our carry over vacation days from last year to revisit what we regard as our second home.

Landed in Sydney on a bright and sunny Thursday morning, in time for a quick stroll around the quay before we settled down to work

We’d come in right before the ANZ long weekend, perfect to plan a weekend getaway with some friends. The Monday before though, after obsessively following the weather forecast, over a Zoom call, we reluctantly changed our plans to camp at Mungo Brush up in Myall Lakes, given the gloomy 8mm of rain projections every day of the long weekend. Happily, Dani found alternatives out west, and we easily swapped out our plans to explore Cudgegong River, west of Mudgee.

It was so, so, so lovely to be back on the water with these kayaking mates. This time, Jeff and I brought our standup paddle boards instead of kayaks, and Dani brought along her racing SUP for us to play around with (along with her trusty Elliot kayak and Oru Coast). We had the most marvellous afternoon paddling around together on Saturday afternoon, just like old times, before we returned to prepare a delicious hot pot meal and to lounge by our campfire and admire the stars and milky way overhead. Just like old times.

It’s always a special treat when one travels with friends who love to cook! For Sunday brekkie, we made french toast with fresh berries and mascarpone with vanilla and maple syrup. SO GOOD. Washed down with fresh moka pot coffee – we were nicely set up for a long day’s paddle!

The day’s paddle started off lovely. Though it was mostly cloudy, the winds were low and so made for a nice leisurely paddle to our lunch spot, a tiny brushy island on which we found a small clearing. Delicious build-your-own wrap lunch of roast chicken, pickled daikons, cucumbers, tomatoes, rocket, ham, and tuscan mix. Mm.

The wind picked up just as we finished lunch though, and sent white caps spraying in whichever direction. Initially, we’d entertained continuing up the river to explore, but very quickly decided with the strong headwinds, that it was more prudent to start turning back. What a mad struggle – especially for me, a semi-novice stand up paddle boarder! The winds were pushing us backwards at least 3 km/hr, and I’m on average just clocking in 4 km/hr on my board. Lol. After at least 45 minutes of full out paddling, I looked back and we were barely 1 km away from our lunch spot. Gah. Looking at the time, I decided that if we wanted any chance of returning before sunset, I had to get a tow assist.

Enter Garry! He gamely pulled me behind his kayak for a good 7km. And though the sun finally came out right at the end, and the winds died down, I was too spent from trying to hold my own end of the tow to volunteer to unhitch from his kayak. Huge kudos to Jeff for pushing through on Dani’s racing board, badly skinning the tops of his toes kneeling through the wind in the process.

We were pretty wiped out by our 17 km paddle – no thanks to the epic winds coming back – and woke up sore the next morning, but it was a beautiful sunny and calm day on Monday that a bunch of us simply had to take the crafts out for a last spin. We ventured up to what we thought was a cove at the end of lake, but it turned out to be a fun little creek that we could meander up for quite a distance, alongside curious cows.

To end off the trip, and to take further advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, we stopped by Lowe Wines in Mudgee for a bit of cheeky tasting, and walked away with four bottles. Just couldn’t resist.

Another amazing Aussie bush weekend for the books! So grateful for the lovely company as well. Our hearts are full.

Spot of kayaking in Sydney…

… for old times’ sake.

Got to spend a week in Sydney last week for work, so I got in the weekend before to meet up with friends. As usual, when the weather cooperates, I just had to get out on the water for a spot of kayaking.

Garry, Bridget and Natalie joined me for a short, leisurely paddle from Spit Bridge to the nude beach just past Balmoral and back. Perfect conditions to be out on the water too, for it was pushing 40 degree Celsius on land! When we returned, we splashed around in the cool waters for a bit to cool down, then met Kate and Aidan for a cheeky lunch by the Skiff Club. Good times!

Definitely grateful for the work opportunities that me back to Sydney to see these and other lovely folks!!!

2019 in the Rearview

Writing a look back on the past year hadn’t crossed my mind this time, not to mention my complete overlooking of the fact that another decade had just flashed by. I only realized this after the deluge of posts by friends online, listing their accomplishments, highlights and lowlights.

Photographically speaking (since this is technically a photo blog), 2019 was a year I spent capturing my experiences, vs. actively seeking out sceneries to photograph. There’s an important distinction here. I focused on the latter in 2016 and 2017, where I joined photography Meetup groups to visit beaches along the Sydney coast every weekend at sunrise, and later on with Sydney by Kayak every morning in Lavender Bay. My goal then was to learn to see, capture, and appreciate the same environments in the different seasons, clouds and light.

Here in Singapore, the beach-scape hasn’t inspired me to the same extent, though I admit it would be a good challenge to take up, to try capture the different essence that is Singapore. In any case, my motivation to consciously and actively seek out scenes to photograph has waned, and accordingly my DSLR and various lenses has for the most part, stayed in my cabinets.

So, 2019 was the year of documentation, of recording our numerous journeys and adventures around the world, and of little moments with friends.

We rung in 2019 while still on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, where we learnt that at those altitudes where the air is so thin, it’s safer to stow away our cameras and focus literally on just placing a foot in front at a time.

When Jeff went to Shanghai for work in January, we also made a weekend trip out of it, and spent long hours walking around the town, delighting in the clean streets and charming old school architecture.

In March we joined a friend for a weekend in Yangon. It was like stepping back in time, into a Singapore in the 1950s.

We also did our first week long kayaking and camping trip in Coron and Palawan in the Philippines. There, we got a first real taste of ocean kayaking, where wild waves and currents freaked us out just a tad. But the food, freshly delivered each evening on long tail boats, was heavenly, as was dips in the crystal clear waters at our lunch and camping spots.

We also spent a long weekend in Bali, where we dove at Manta Point and Crystal Bay, and also visited some padi fields.

Over the Labour Day long weekend, we visited Hoi An in Vietnam. We may have spent one too many days in that little tourist town, but had did enjoy visiting the Champa temples in My Son.

Mid-May, we went to Sydney for work, and made most of the weekends visiting with friends.

Over the Vesak Day long weekend in May, we went to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Even though the weather was unforgiving, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the different temples. Apart from the main Bayon temple, which was crawling with tourists, most of the other temples were quiet and serene.

Natalie visited for two weekends in June, so we went to Langkawi in Malaysia for one of the weekends. We were a little disappointed that none of the beaches had kayak or SUP a rentals because of the (small) surf, but we still had a relaxing weekend splashing about in the sea and pool.

August saw us visiting Copenhagen and Greenland for the first time. The food in Copenhagen was stunningly expensive but delicious, and the kayaking in Greenland was addictive.

In September, we spent another long weekend in Sydney, this time for our friends’ Garry and Linh’s wedding.

When we got back, I found that I had an extra week and a half before I started my new job, so I booked myself on a week long trip to Nusa Penida in Bali.

October saw me travel back to the States, the first time in almost five years, to San Francisco for onboarding. I made most of my weekend there, meeting up with various old friends.

Over the Deepavali long weekend in November, we went to Yogyajarkta with a friend. We weren’t blown away by the Royal Palace or Ratu Boko, but Borobudur itself is grand and worth a visit.

In December, we did the Raja Ampat liveaboard, and so thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and richness of live in these Indonesian waters, we are seriously considering jettisoning our plans to kayak in Greece this September for another liveaboard aboard the Blue Manta to Komodo Islands.

Jeff’s family visited over the Christmas break, and after a few fun and relaxing days touring Singapore’s attractions and lounging in our pools, we spent a couple days in Bangkok.

2019 was definitely a good year travel-wise. It turned out fantastic career-wise too. So I’m stoked for the many more adventures 2020 will bring!

The day I discovered unlicensed use of my photograph

On Wednesday, Laura, whose kayaking business, Sydney by Kayak, I’d guided and taken photographs for, tagged me in an article that made the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Render from Zaha Hadid Architects of the Western Sydney Airport

On the rendering of the spiffy new Western Sydney Airport was a familiar picture: of three kayakers (Laura, Jeff, and a reporter from Time Out Magazine) out on the glassy pink waters of Sydney Harbour. The photograph had been flipped, so that the Opera House appeared on the left of the image, rather than on the right, as would have been the view from Lavender Bay. But it was my photograph alright.

Laura was stoked, understandably so, for the indirect publicity to her business. For her, any exposure was good. But, personally, as the photographer, I was conflicted. How did the architecture firm, who had created the rendering, gotten my picture in the first place? I’d only given Laura and Time Out Magazine permission to use that photograph. Had Time Out perhaps sold them the rights to use the picture?

Having read countless articles and blog posts about infuriated photographers finding their photos illegally used in the wild, and their often frustrating and fruitless attempts to get due credit, I didn’t think that it was worth the effort to go down that rabbit hold. Instead, I just posted the link to the article on Facebook, to wonder aloud, digitally, on the situation.

So I was quite taken by surprise when friends quickly weighed in – mostly with outrage that my IP had been stolen. I’d reasoned that because the firm had only used my photograph in a rendering and not an actual print, it wasn’t a big deal. But friends insisted that I should still reach out and demand credit and / or payment. One friend in particular, told me: “I think it’s more for the principle. U don’t need the money but there are others who do this for a living. I also only realised these few years how hard it is for freelancers.”

Feeling curious about the provenance of their photograph, in the end, I decided to reach out to the Cox Architecture team in Sydney, using the emails that a friend helpfully provided. Within minutes, I had an answer from the lead, stating that they were provided the photograph from Western Sydney Airport themselves. So I went on the airport’s site, and contacted their media relations team.

Almost just as quickly, someone from the team responded, telling me that they could confirm that the photograph and the rendering had in fact been provided by the other architecture firm of the winning team, Zaha Hadid Architects, and that they would help me reach back out to the firm to get to the bottom of the business.

Bleah. This was the rabbit hole, that I didn’t want to get into. It didn’t seem worth the effort.

Imagine my surprise, when I woke up the next morning to receive a most apologetic email from a Senior Associate at Zaha Hadid Architects, readily admitting that someone there had screwed up. They asked if they could purchase a one time retroactive license, and asked for my price and the payment method.

Wow. I had NOT expected this outcome at all, and so quickly with no excuses proffered. I pondered about what to do for a while, and weighed in suggestions from a few friends.

I also searched online for reasonable prices to ask for, but they ranged from nothing to the thousands! I didn’t want to seem greedy and overask for a simple photograph, especially when they’d been so gracious. Neither did I want to charge for too little and set the precedent for other photographers. In the end, I decided to ask them to make a one time $50 donation to Make-A-Wish Australia.

They not only readily agreed, but also raised the donation to $250! I couldn’t have asked for a happier outcome. 

Through this incident, I learnt many things:
1. That people (my friends at any rate!) care about IP and credit that should be properly accorded
2. That I should speak up and ask for my rights, if not for myself, but for others who might find themselves in my shoes
3. That there’s never any harm in asking
4. That there are good and decent people who will readily admit to erring (especially encouraging these days with a US President who models the exact opposite behavior

All’s well that ends well!

Long weekend in Sydney

Our friends Garry and Linh tied the knot last weekend in Sydney. It was the perfect excuse to make the trip back for a visit. Just a long weekend, coming right off the heels from our Greenland vacation.

As always, we jumped on the chance to hit the water for a spot of kayaking. Just a quick 10k nip from Spit Bridge to Bantry Bay and back with Dani, done and dusted in time for us to clean up to get to the wedding too!

The wedding ceremony was beautiful. It was held at the Oatlands House, outdoors, on a cool spring evening. They exchanged vows under the golden glow of the setting sun. Afterwards, as the temperatures dipped, we moved indoors for the festivities – bottles of premium Japanese sake and wine. Fun times!

I managed to meet up with a few other friends too, which was always lovely, and also squeezed in a ferry ride and a walk across the Harbour Bridge. Ah Sydney. It was so good to be back. We need another excuse to make a return visit…

Week back in Sydney

We’d the opportunity to spend a week in Sydney. Work during the day, catch ups with friends over meals in the evening. And on the weekends, we did what we loved best in Sydney – exploring the outdoors.

Our original plan to kayak the first Sunday we were back was scuttled due to gusty winds of up to 45km/h. And our attempt to go again the following Saturday was stymied by the strong winds again, as was the SUP ball game our friend had planned for us in Manly.

Oh well. But Lisa had another idea up her sleeve happily for Saturday – hiking in Lane Cove National Park. It’s a beautiful little area of land, so serene and quiet amongst the trees, and so close to downtown! We spent an enjoyable 4 hours just meandering around, stopping for a warm cuppa tea (ginseng gin tea anyone!?).

The winds finally did die down Sunday morning though, before our 3pm flight. Garry, Jeff, and I managed to squeeze in a two hour paddle from Spit Bridge to Bantry Bay and back, one of my favorite training routes back when I was training for the Massive Murray Paddle. Good times.

Spied a seal rubbing itself against a moored boat

Back on the Sydney Harbour

My new job is with a company headquartered in Sydney, so I had the good fortune to return for a visit 3 months after leaving. 🙂

One of the first things I did was to schedule in time on the water. On the weekends, I went out paddling on the inner harbour, lousy spring weather be damned. And one morning before work, Laura, who had just returned to Sydney from a month back in Scotland, kindly arranged for a small crew of friends to go for a sunrise paddle, for old time’s sake.

Oh hello, glassy water.

Another glorious, peaceful morning on the water. Everytime Laura posts pictures like these on Facebook / Instagram, she gets bombarded with naysayers, claiming that we had to have photoshopped the pictures because no way Sydney Harbour is so flat and calm. Haha, that’s only cos they’re too clueless to enjoy the early dawn before the ferryboats stir up the water. 😉

Aw Sydney, I’m missing you already.

Fall weekend in Kangaroo Valley

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather this weekend when the group of 7 of us tripped down to Kangaroo Valley for a spot of kayaking and camping. The skies were clear, the air crisp and cool, and there was not a hint of breeze. A complete opposite of our January experience really.

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As we sluiced our way down the river, we gawked at wombats, eagles, and kangaroos, and reveled in the delightful chirping of birds. The water was a perfect mirror of the stringybarks along the riverbank.

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Fall is definitely here though. By 430pm, the sun had already dipped below the line of trees up Yarrunga Creek. But we were already comfortably set up in our sheltered campsite, and the beginnings of a merry campfire going.

 

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In the morning, well, pre-dawn really, we clambered out of our toasty sleeping bags and eased our way into the water. The fog was thick, enveloping, mysterious. The perfect ambience for our quiet sojourn up dead tree gorge. As the sun rose and warmed up the air, the fog slowly dissipated, leaving behind a steamy film on the water surface.

 

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Another amazing weekend in the books. 🙂

 

Fall has arrived

After what has seemed like an interminable but welcome summer, fall has arrived in Sydney. This week, the air has taken on a noticeable chill in the mornings when I head down to Lavender Bay to push off for our daily sunrise paddles.

This year has flown by.

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