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.
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.
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. 😀
Dubrovnik has exploded in popularity over the past few years. To be honest, I’d never really heard of Croatia, much less Dubrovnik, before 2010. Since then of course, the city has been featured in the wildly popular Game of Thrones, as well as some South Korean drama, and soon, Star Wars VIII. So when we arrived in the late afternoon, there were people everywhere. We had to duck the hordes of tourists wearing headphones and sporting stickers stating that they were from some cruise ship or other, listening to their tour guide waving her umbrella at the front of each pack (Happily, the days of tour guides blaring their commentary over loudspeakers is now long past.)
I ventured out just after sunset to try to take some pictures, but even with long exposures, I could still see the blur of people blocking out the view of the charming alleyways of old city Dubrovnik. So I packed up my camera and tripod, and joined the rest in just soaking in the lively and cheery atmosphere.
Jeff and I woke up early the next morning though, before sunrise, to enjoy the city in peace. The streets and plazas were mostly empty, save for the few clean-up crew dousing the cobblestones down with water, the vendors setting up their stalls at the farmers’ market, and a half dozen other photographers parked in front of the main square.
We also got a Dubrovnik card that gave us access to the city walls, as well as a laundry list of museums and discounts at restaurants (it’s well worth it; and restaurants not even on the card gave us discounts when we asked!).
Jeff even tried to go for a swim outside the city walls. He had a dip in at Banje Beach just outside the old city before the sunbathers parked themselves down on the pebbles for the day. But that beach had nothing on the calm and clean waters at Podgora, so I was content to just sit back and listen to the sound of waves gently lapping against the shoreline.
After we disembarked from the Vranjak I at Sukosan, we picked up a rental car at the Zadar airport and proceeded south, winding our way along the beautiful Markashka Rivera.
Our destination for the evening: the tranquil seaside town of Podgora at the foothills of the Biokovo mountain range. S’s dad was taking his annual late summer vacation there, and where he’d gone faithfully for the past 15 years. I can definitely see the appeal. The promenade is lined with tikki huts, where bathers can seek some respite from the sun with some fresh seafood and/or cocktail. Like most Croatian beaches, these were pebble beaches, so most people spread out on padded yoga mats rather than just beach towels. Although they made walking a little more careful, we quickly grew to appreciate the relative cleanliness of the pebbles as opposed to fine sand that gets everywhere.
The main highlight of the beach though, was the absolutely flat and glassy waters. Early the next morning, before the crowds descended onto the beach, claiming territory with their neatly laid mats, we slipped into the waters for a long, languid swim. It was most glorious, and such a treat not having to worry about the undertow, blue bottles, or sharks like in New South Wales waters, and just kick back, relax, and feel the early morning sun on our skin.
We’d only done one other diving liveaboard before this one in Croatia. That was in Belize where we set anchor every night on the edge of the outer reefs. During that entire week, we only went to land once, and it was only because we’d just dove deep into the Blue Hole and needed a longer than usual surface interval, so we visited some red-footed boobies.
Aboard our boat the Vranjak I however, we docked every night at one of the island ports dotting the Adriatic coast. Some were sleepy villages, with just a main street hugging the water front. Others, like Hvar, were party isles, with super yachts lined as many as 6 boats deep to the docks and piers thronging with holiday makers decked in white linen in search of some late summer romance. As much as I enjoyed the diving and dozing in the sun, I looked forward every evening to when we pulled into port and we could throw on our sandals and jump back onto land to explore.
Our favorite island was the port town of Vis on the island Vis. A little more bustling than Komiza, a half forgotten village on the other side of Vis, but more sedate than thumping Hvar, we enjoyed our evening stroll along the promenade, through the cobblestone streets and past stone houses dating from the 17th century when the island was under Venetian rule.
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).
How fickle is this weather! Just yesterday we were leisurely floating down the Hawkesbury River, basking in the warm sunshine of late winter, laughing and looking forward to spring and the start of the kayak netball season. This morning, we awoke to drizzly weather and a dip in the temperatures. Looks like it’ll stay crappy most of this week. All the more to be thankful for the clear blue skies this past weekend then, despite some epic winds we had to battle through to get to our bush camp at Gentleman’s Halt.
A quick recap: our friend Laura of Sydney By Kayak organized a getaway camping trip by kayak along the Hawkesbury River this weekend. Leading up to the trip, we checked the forecast obsessively, worrying over the capricious weather and the warnings of gusty winds of up to 24 knots on Saturday. We bit the bullet anyway; the promise of fun company over delicious camp fare was too good to resist. So early Saturday morning, we loaded up our kayaks full of gear, and held our breaths as we eased the first boats into the water. Several of the kayaks hung precariously close to the waterline, and the duffel bag of sleeping bags and mats that we strapped onto the back of Jeff’s kayak slipped off into the water in the last bit of the paddle where the waves were the most ferocious. But everyone and everything made it safely to shore in the end, albeit a little wet.
Laura spared no effort in putting together the menus for our dinner and breakfast the next day, much to our effusive delight and the envy of the other groups of campers who drifted by our campfire, enticed by the smell. For dinner, we had starters of mushroom, capsicum, and halloumi kebabs with herbs, followed by roasted broccolini and sweet potato and entrees of tandoori lamb chops. We finished off with the requisite campfire smores and spent the rest of the evening huddling in front of the camp fire, trading tales with a couple hikers who joined our cozy glow.
Since we planned for a noon departure in the morning, people woke up at different times. A few of us awoke before the sun and restarted the fire to make some coffee and get a bit of warmth. For a pre-breakfast we had melted Tim Tams on toast, then Laura whipped up a few batches of scrambled eggs with cheese, dill, and smoked salmon, topped with lemon aioli. Camping, gourmet style. On the other side of the fire, one of the hikers rejoined us with a couple cans of baked beans and sausages that he heated up over an enamel saucepan. Camping, Brokeback style. 😀
Packs a lot lighter after we polished off most of our food, wine and beer, we restrapped our gear to the kayaks at midday and made our way back along the river. A fun, but too-short trip!
Saturday. Beautiful late winter’s day. Ventured back out to Long Reef Headland again. The last time I was there, it was on a very overcast and drizzly dawn. This time, the light was golden and the headlands crowded with folks just laying back and enjoying the cool breeze and warmth of the sun’s last rays.
This past weekend, we loaded our car up to the brim full with our origami kayaks and camping gear, and drove 3 hours up the New South Wales coast towards Myall Lakes. It was the perfect weekend for a getaway.
We arrived early afternoon, and wasted no time in setting up camp and assembling our kayaks, before hitting the calm waters of White Tree Bay for a few hours’ paddling. Initially, the sky was covered by a low layer of shelf clouds, leaving us a little worried about catching a beautiful sunset and astrophotography later on.
But miraculously, as we hit golden hour, the clouds dissipated, and the winds then died down completely, leaving us with a mirror-finish on the glassy lake.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Jeff slipped solar lights into his translucent kayak, and slid back out onto the water for a bit of a twilight paddle.
When the last of the blue hour light finally disappeared, we packed up our kayaks. We’d have to go back out again on a full moon night – that would be quite the magical paddle! But it was time to get some food on the camp stove anyway. On the menu: steak and bacon fajitas washed down with a delicious bottle of Shiraz and finished with some homemade brownies. Pretty cool what my trusty little rocket fuel could do.
In the quiet darkness, the stars overhead were as bright as we’d ever seen before, and appeared so close. I snapped a couple quick shots, intending to go capture more shots later at night when the milky way had shifted over the lake. Alas, when I crept out of my tent at midnight, the clouds had shifted back in, obscuring most of the galactic core.
In the morning, we went over to the beach section of the park to watch the sun rise, accompanied by a howling dingo. Initially, I’d thought the dingo to be someone’s dog at camp, seeing it by a camper van when we pulled in. But as it crept closer and closer to us, I realized from its scrawny profile and scraggly fur that it was a dingo. I shooed it away with my tripod and carried on shooting. Happily, it bounded down the beach and out of sight.
A short, but blissful weekend trip. Now, if only we saw the whales on the whale watching cruise we rushed to catch later that morning out by Nelson Bay. Oh well, something to look forward to!