Kayaking: Sembawang to Pasir Ris, Singapore

One of our kayaking friends put together this ambitious plan – to kayak from Sembawang, the northern tip of Singapore, to Changi Village via the back side of Pulau Ubin. And then back to Sembawang. That journey would have been roughly 56km.

Not something I’d have undertaken, not in the heavy humidity of Singapore. Since we were going by Pasir Ris though, Jeff and I thought we could just load up our foldable Oru Kayaks into the car to Sembawang, then paddle home to Pasir Ris. Our two other friends who had their own kayaks as well also elected to pull out at Pasir Ris.

Credit: Carol, from Sembawang Park. The rain threatened, but never fell while we were paddling

The four of us with our own kayaks launched early Saturday morning, from the newly renovated Sembawang Park. We drifted just outside the park, on the Singapore side of the channel, waiting for the others who were renting from Sembawang Yacht Club. A Police Coast Guard came charging up the channel, towards us. They cut their engine and floated alongside us, asking for our trip itinerary. Malaysia loomed large just a couple of kilometers away – and in fact our phones had already jumped to the Malaysian networks.

Credit: Shan. The Singapore Coast Guard checking in on our itinerary

Satisfied with our answers, the coast guard soon departed as the others caught up.

It was a fun paddle, along a side of Singapore I’d never visited before. The winds and current were a bit against us, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We hit Pasir Ris after a leisurely 4 hour paddle, around 18km. By then, it was past noon, and the team who had to return back to Sembawang decided not to cull back their ambitious plans. Instead, we decamped as a group to the zichar food court by the beach for a quick lunch just as the skies opened.

Hiking Warrumbungles National Park

Last weekend, we went camping at Warrumbungle National Park, Australia’s first Dark Sky Park. Australia in general already enjoys really low light pollution; even in Sydney, we can see the faint band of the Milky Way with our naked eye. But out there in Warrumbungle, my goodness. We could see, quite clearly, those billion little stars that made up the Milky Way. It was most mesmerizing, and we only tore our eyes away at the end to get out of the cold.

For it was cold. We’ve been in Sydney for 2.5 years now, and have already acclimatized to the mild winters here. In Warrumbungle, the temperatures dipped down to -8 degrees C. Thank goodness that the temperatures climbed as soon as the sun rose.

Rose, our trip leader, planned a meticulous itinerary for the short weekend trip. The first day, we did a hike around Breadknife and the Grand High Tops Circuits. Gah, I haven’t been hiking in so long, I was quite winded and opted against joining the others for the slog up Lugh’s Throne. So I was very glad that she decided to swap another long hike the second day for a much shorter – but no less scenic – hike up Split Rock.

We went to one of the many private observatories surrounding the National Park, where we squinted through telescopes at the distant galaxies and planets. The owner of the observatory, Peter Starr, even let us stick our camera to the end of a telescope to shoot this nebula.

How is it winter already?

2017 is zooming us by. I can’t believe it’s just a few days more before winter arrives in the Southern hemisphere.

Looking at the number of photographs I’ve taken so far this year, my output has fallen quite a bit. Indeed, I haven’t felt that driven to go out for sunrise shoots, or just shoots in general.

I could probably point to more than half a dozen reasons why this is the case, but I think part of it is due to my lousy sleep patterns. I just haven’t been sleeping that well. Most nights, I wake up at three and either just toss and turn for the next couple of hours or just give up and read in bed. By the time I’m feeling drowsy again, it’s almost time to get ready for sunrise – but I’m not in a safe state to drive.

The other big reason though, is that increasingly, I’ve felt that my seascapes photographs, in of themselves, are lonely scenes. They are just static pictures and don’t tell a story, of life, of adventure. I’ve enjoyed my past year in learning how to read the different conditions of the clouds and tides, the myriad compositions I can take to capture a certain mood or drama. But I’m beginning to feel removed from the action. Rather than take pictures of the waves, increasingly, I want to dive between the waves. To have my senses shocked by the biting cold waters, to be knocked off my feet by it’s sudden ferocity, then embraced by the swash.

And so, this past weekend, we have chosen to do just that. Left my camera and tripod at home, and just went ocean swimming with our snorkels. It felt good. To be able to efficiently slice through the water with bare hands, and ogle at leisure the schools of fish in the clear waters. Baby dusky whalers, wobbegongs, sting rays, groupers, squids, trumpet fish, old wifes, flounders, flatheads, leatherjackets, yellowtail scads, wrasses etc.

After, we unfolded our kayaks and paddled around North Harbour, starting from the Manly Sea Life Museum and hugging the Fairlight beach to Dobroyd Head, before crossing the harbour to Quarantine Station Wharf, Store Beach and Collins Flat Beach. It was a glorious end autumn day with brilliant blue skies and a warm sun.

I did snap a couple pictures with my phone though. Just for keepsake. 😉

Kayaking and Camping: Bay of Islands New Zealand

We didn’t know if we could actually go ahead with kayaking and camping overnight on Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands until a day and a half before – and after we had flown into Auckland, New Zealand. We packed our tent and sleeping bags anyway, and let customs run the tent under their microscope for biohazards before they let us out of the terminal. But as soon as we got confirmation that yes, the forecast looks decent, and that yes, the winds look under control, we shot to the supermarket to load up on groceries and the camping store to pick up a bottle of fuel.

So it was with much anticipation that we loaded up our kayaks – a single and double – on Long Beach at Russel, and pushed off towards Motuarohia Island, the first island on our Bay of Islands 2-day kayak/camping expedition. There was a slight breeze playing about, but the currents were light and we crossed the channel easily. This was a popular first stop for many guided kayak and sailing trips, for the cove had many good snorkeling spots and there was a trail people could hike up to for a good vantage view of the surrounding islands.

Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
View atop Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand

We aimed for Moturua Island next, intending to pull up along a beach for a spot of swimming. But we made good time, and felt strong, and so decided to push on instead to Waewaetorea Island. Beautiful stretch of white sandy beach filled with sea shells. While Chris lay in the sun to try to soak up the heat, Jeff and I eagerly plunged into the waters for some snorkeling. Loved how clear the waters were, and how the sun rays filtered through the water like spot light on sections of sea grass and schools of fishes.

Paddling off Waewaetorea Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
Paddling off Waewaetorea Island

When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back into our kayaks again and pushed off towards Urupukapuka Island, the only island in the Bay of Islands with campsites. As it was the shoulder season though, the campsite was mostly empty, save a couple tents on far ends of the huge bay and a group of rowdy septuagenarians from a rowing club in the Sunshine Coast. They had arrived at the site a couple days before us, and were planning to stay a total of five nights, using the island as a base to explore. So cool. We want to be them when we grow up. 🙂

But anyway, we had the pick of the sites, so we pitched our tent right at the edge of the beach, by the water tap and an outdoor shower. 😀

Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island
Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island is one of the larger islands in the Bay of Islands, with many walking trails we could wander up on. So we did just that, after refueling ourselves with some hot vitamin C drink and soup. It was lovely to stroll through the sheep paddock in the golden evening light.

And even lovelier, when we’d filled up our tummies with more hot food and the stars popped out of the inky blue sky. We kicked back, relaxed, and luxuriously stretched out our sore muscles as we gazed up on the milky way, listening to the waves gently lapping onto the beach. Try as we might though, we couldn’t keep our eyes open for long, and so packed it in just before 10pm.

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island
We couldn’t ask for much more – a beautiful day out paddling around the Bay of Islands, cooling off in the crystal clear waters snorkeling, and relaxing under the stars by the beach

In the morning, we all woke up early to try to catch the sunrise. I hiked up the hill again in search of the beautiful golden light; Jeff went for a long swim in the still chilly waters in the cove, while Chris parked herself at the edge of the cliff to watch the sun’s first rays hit the water.

Seeing how invigorated Jeff was from his swim, I wanted in on the action too, and so grabbed my mask and snorkel and dove in. The water felt brisk on my skin, but my head was clear as I swam, marveling at the fishes darting in between the waving sea grass. Imagine my shock then, when all of a sudden, I swim on top of the largest sting ray I’d ever laid eyes on. It was calmly resting on the sea grass – crushing it in fact. I didn’t dare get too close to it, but from where I hovered 10 feet above it, it looked bigger than my wingspan. It was the short tail sting ray that we’d tried to no avail to spot in Jervis Bay a couple weeks ago! I yelled across the cove to Jeff who was now dressed and by the tents. He looked like he was hesitating to go back into the water again though, so I just continued on my swim. But he changed his mind and swam out to meet me. Alas, we couldn’t find the ray again. We did spot a couple other smaller species though, chasing fishes. Perfect way to start the morning.

We’d perhaps luxuriated too long in our island campsite though. By the time we packed up and pushed off, it was already 1045am. The winds had picked up from the day before too, causing larger waves to form against the eastern back of Urupukapuka Island. We’d planned to circumnavigate our way clockwise around it, but turned back soon after we saw how much rougher it was.

Probably a good thing. We needed all the time we could get to make our way back to Long Beach on Russel for the kayaks pick-up. Especially all the more so when I mis-read the map and had us fight the currents to Parekura Bay instead of Moturua Island. Ugh. Lesson learnt. Bring a compass next time. 😦 Still, that little misadventure did not damp our high spirits for what turned out to be an incredible start to our North Island adventure.

Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands
Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands

Hiking and Camping in Kangaroo Valley

As part of our training for our upcoming Overland Trek in Tasmania, Jeff and I have been trying to schedule in hikes on weekends. This past weekend, we headed down to Kangaroo Valley. My first choice would have been to paddle down to the gorge instead, since that’s more relaxing in my opinion haha. But training calls.

I chose as our trail the Old Meryla Road trail, a 16km walk that passes through the creeks and ends up at Lake Yarrunga. Alas, we couldn’t find the locked gate at the crucial fork described on the trail map and ended up on the Griffins Fire Trail instead. It was a workout of a walk though, with a 5km straight descent, 2km of flat respite, followed by 5km straight ascent on the return route. Oh well, all in the name of training.

We also stopped by Fitzroy Falls for the view. The rim walks look promising, even if they were shrouded in a thick layer of mist when we visited late afternoon.

We set up camp overnight at Bendeela Recreational Area. We weren’t quite sure what to expect initially, given it was just a huge expense of grass where everyone could park their trailers / tents, but it turned out beautifully. Given that it was still early in the season, there was ample room on the grass. We spread out a picnic mat, laid back and enjoyed a bottle of beautiful Malbec over dehydrated camp fare – including some really tasty apple crumble! – and watched the wombats lazily waddle amongst the tents.

An awesome way to take in some fresh air and the great Australian outdoors.

Camping in Bendeela Recreational Area


Camping in the Blue Mountains

Since we’d planned to meet our friends at the Three Sisters Lookout at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains bright and early Sunday, we decided to make a weekend camping trip out of it. The extra time allowed us to make the drive to check out the glow worm tunnel over in Lithgow. It’s a short trek, or at least we chose the short route, but we didn’t realize that the 30km drive to the start of the trail was over a dirt track, so by the time we arrived, it was close to sunset already. No matter, we were armed and ready with our headlamps.

Woot. Happy to have finally shot the glow worms. They’re quite a bit smaller than the species in New Zealand though.

Perrymans Lookdown Astrophotography-5252
It had been raining and overcast most of the day, but the stars finally came out to play at night. The lookout at the start of the Perrymans Lookdown trail

Perrymans Lookdown Camping-5268
Our campsite at Perrymans Lookdown. Brr, we’re no longer used to the cold. It went down to 1 deg C at night. In our previous life in Chicago, that would have been positively balmy!


Wentworth Falls
We met up with two of our friends bright and early at Echo Point, then decided to do the short trek down to Wentworth Falls.


Kayaking Berowra Waters

Berowra Kayak (1 of 1)

Berowra Kayak (1 of 1)-2

Enroute to the Blue Mountains for a day of kayaking this morning, we realized that the thick smoke filling the air was from controlled forest fires started by the NSW Rural Fire Service. So we scuttled that plan and turned north instead to Berowra Waters. Still a fantastic 20km paddle. Think we need more seat padding if we’re to attempt the 26km Nepean River Gorge though.