Vancouver in the sunshine felt like Melbourne.  That is high praise because I love Melbourne.  Both cities have lots of impressive steel and glass structures and a welcoming friendly feel.  Both have great restaurants and craft beers.  Both are easy to get around.  But, if I were pushed to say which one was better….I would say Vancouver because of its location surrounded by water and wooded hills.



With a self-confessed hippy as a Mayor, Vancouver wants to win the “greenest City in the World” title by 2020.  There are lots of bike lanes but I think this ambition is likely to be thwarted by Canadians’ love of gas-guzzling pick-ups.

Vancouver also has a homelessness and drug issue – much more evident than any other city I have visited.  It didn’t ever feel threatening, but it was sad to see in such a rich city.


But the (occasional) grime of the city is easily escaped by walking around Stanley Park (a peninsular jutting out into the sound that forms a park bigger than New York’s Central Park)


or by taking a trip into the surrounding countryside where you can appreciate pine forests and rivers.


There is a lot to see in Vancouver and I would highly recommend a visit, but a few days there is enough to get a feel  for the city.  The quickest way to our next destination would have been the sea-plane service from the downtown waterfront.


But we took the slower, cheaper way to Vancouver Island on the ferry.





When I mentioned to friends that I was going to Porto for the weekend a few of them said “Where?”, or even “Is that in Italy?”.  This surprising lack of knowledge made me realise that Portugal’s second city is still not firmly on the tourist map.  Unless, that is, you talk to the locals who say that tourism exploded in the city about 4 years ago.  My advice is to go soon before it gets even more popular.

I had a few ideas in my head about Porto.  I knew about Port (the fortified wine), I knew about the Douro valley and the river, and I had seen pictures of the iron bridge that makes the skyline, at first glance, reminiscent of Newcastle.  And that was all I knew.


Over the next four days I learned a lot more, and fell in love with the city.  The residents of Porto are loud and brash and, apparently, use swear words like commas when they talk.  But, despite this brashness, they are exceptionally friendly and happy.  They are fiercely proud of Porto and, should you mention anything about the city that is superior to Lisbon, they will be your best friend.

Staying in an Airbnb in the Vitoria district, close to the centre, I felt welcome.  Down our street (more of an alley) was a family run shop.  Grandma and granddaughter sitting outside chatting in the warm October evening.  Wanting basic provisions for the next morning, the young girl, using perfect English, helped us out and charged a ridiculously low price.  Tourists were still relatively rare in these side streets, probably deterred by the steep steps up from the city.


Things I didn’t know about Porto included the fact that it had beaches only half an hour away by tram or bus.  One of the beaches was used by surfers, riding the Atlantic rollers.  I felt glad to have hired a wet-suit for my attempt because the water is cold.

I also had no idea that “Porto” on the south side of river, isn’t Porto, but a completely separate city called Gaia.  Gaia is the home to all the Port producers.  Looking from Porto over the river to Gaia at night you will see the illuminated names of familiar, British sounding names like Taylors, Grahams, Dow, and Sandemans.  A tour, for about 12 Euros, of one of these producers is well worth the time.  We went to Taylor’s where the history and production processes are well described.  You get to tour the large cellars with stacks of sweet smelling oak barrels, and, after the tour, try the wine in a beautiful gardens overlooking the river.


Food is very important to the Portuguese and a tour of the old market didn’t disappoint – mountains of fresh vegetables, dried pulses and fresh fish.


And if you want “bad food” you can also get a 2,500 calorie sandwich called a Francesinha…lots and lots of meat and cheese and covered with a beer and  tomato sauce…  it’s an experience!


I spent an hour or so one evening trying to capture a long exposure of the famous bridge and the lights of the city at dusk.


The river valley fills up with sea mist overnight creating some spooky early morning photo opportunities as well.


Overall I think Porto is towards the top of my list of favourite places.  It is certainly a good choice for a weekend away.


Photographing the Cinque Terre

If any area of Europe needs no marketing it is the Cinque Terre in north-west Italy.  All you need to do is look at the thousands of images online and you just want to visit.  The brightly coloured houses piled on top of each other around quaint coves just scream out to be photographed and posted to Facebook.

For our recent visit I new I wouldn’t be capturing any new or particularly original images but I wanted to make a good attempt at capturing the light during the “golden hours” either side of sunset.

To do this you need to use a tripod so, despite the weight and the hassle, that is what I packed and lugged up several very steep hillsides.

The five little towns that make up the Cinque Terre are all pretty in their own way but a couple of them stand out, Manarola and Vernazza.  They are both best approached from the north on the rugged coastal walk.  That way you get glimpses of the towns as you approach them, and then they reveal themselves into all their glory as you round the final bends in the path.

This image shows Vernazza at dusk.  The long exposure turns the bobbing boats in the foreground to blurs but the tripod keeps the detail of the buildings crystal clear.


This next image shows Manarola as the sun is setting, turning the town orange in the glow.  Swimmers are enjoying jumping into the sea from the rocks in the foreground.


As the sun sets and the lights of the town come on, the exposure gets longer and the surf breaking against the rocks takes on a ghostly blur.


The final picture is of Riomaggiore, the town we stayed in.  It has a small harbour and small boats parked all over the town and its high street.  We experienced an early evening thunderstorm (the first real rain for 3 months) and  found the long exposure brought out the shine of the wet pavements.


Images of Auckland

The problem with travelling light is that it is hard to bring along all your photographic equipment and editing software, or, indeed, have time to use it.  So, now, back home, I have started sifting through the images and editing the better ones.

So here are the images of Auckland, way back in January….

Mount Eden
CBD in Black and White
Moody sky
From Waiheke Island
The marina area
Street scene

Hong Kong

Tired and weary, we visited Hong Kong as a 3 day stop-over on our way home.  Perhaps this state of mind didn’t give Hong Kong a level playing field with the other destinations that we visited over the last 3 months.  Perhaps we just wanted to get back home.

Anyway, on the positive side, the city was cool and dry compared to Queensland.  Low 20s centigrade felt like heaven.  We even swapped shorts for longs.  Hong Kong is, as expected, spectacular, with a relatively narrow strip of land between water and mountain housing skyscraper after skyscraper.

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Along this strip, the unique, brightly coloured double-decker trams trundled back and forth.

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Side streets revealed markets full of unusual food (sharks-fin, abalone, still-flapping fish, unusual fruits and vegetables).

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But it was busy and confusing and badly organised.  Signposts seemed to be non-existent.  Shopping streets were heaving with a relentless human tide.  There was no-where to sit, no parks, no benches.

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So we decided to escape to Cheung Chau, an island half an hour by ferry away from Hong Kong.  It was much more tranquil there, and it provided a glimpse to what life would have been like in Hong Kong a few decades ago…

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Fishing boats, old men chatting in the streets, fish drying on any available surface.

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So Hong Kong was interesting and, I understand, there are spectacular walks in the countryside around the city, but, for me, it was a place that I won’t rush back to.

Far North Queensland

Far North Queensland

Heading north from the Whitsundays, we had a long road trip, towards our final destination of Port Douglas.  The most notable stop was Mission Beach, a village with a bit of an “alternative” feel to it.  Our Airbnb there was an old wooden Queenslander house – a bit of luxury, especially when we were met by our host with a cup of tea and homemade cakes.

As we headed north the climate got hotter and more humid and the natural world around us became more interesting – with huge beautiful butterflies, lush forests, unusual birds (such as the endangered Cassowary) and mountains with streams and swimming holes.  The coast became more beautiful but the signs warning of the dangers from crocodiles and marine stingers became more insistent.

Skirting Cairns, we arrived in the small town of Port Douglas.  Apparently this was an even smaller town 20 years ago but has now been surrounded by posh resorts which support a vibrant bar and restaurant scene in the town centre.  It also has its own river or “inlet” that is the home of several abandoned yachts and some very large crocodiles.

The town attracts visitors for two main reasons, the Great Barrier Reef and the Rainforest.  Both are unique and highly important from a scientific point of view.  Visitors to both are carefully managed to ensure that tourism causes minimum damage.  Both are amazing to see and get close to.  With the reef I was fortunate enough to get above it ( in a helicopter) and down into it by scuba diving.

The rainforest meets the reef at Port Tribulation.  

This is also just about where roads finish and further progress north is by four wheel drive vehicles.  It is also just about where our Australian adventure ends.

Whitsunday Islands

Whitsunday Islands

Roughly two thirds of the way up the Bruce Highway between Brisbane and Cairns is the town of Airlie Beach.  The town has a bit of a backpacker / party feel to it, but it is a popular destination because it is the gateway to the Whitsundays…a group of 70 odd islands sitting between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef.

With only 2 days to see the Whitsundays we decided to prioritise with a day on Whitehaven Beach and a day on Hamilton Island.

Whitehaven Beach is an unspoilt and undeveloped stretch of white sand.  The 99% pure silica sand is so white that it remains cool underfoot as it reflects the heat of the sun. 

The beach is fringed by forests that are the home to huge lizards that have the unnerving habit of appearing beside you as you are relaxing.  There are also lots spiders and seabirds around.

We then visited the more exclusive Hamilton Island.  

This island is unusual in that the best way to get around is on one of the hundreds of golf buggies hired out by the day or by the hour.

The Whitsundays are an absolutely beautiful group of islands and, whilst a visit will make a dent in your budget, it is well worth it.