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Vanuatu : Efate, a happy medium.

Saturday July 6th

The positives are that Aquana Resort is beautiful, well furnished and the staff are extremely professional and knowledgeable. The negative is that I’ve been KO’d with a bout of gastro for the last 6 hours. Hoping that is all part of an overnight infection.

The Friday night we arrived was a great introduction with performances and information about local culture over a huge dinner. The staff at Aquana had already been expecting us and led us straight to our rooms with paperwork to be sorted out in the morning. Then, it was off to bed in our separate rooms and the promise of a good nights sleep. Sadly my stomach started to play up meaning I got little sleep after 2am.

Aquana Beach resort at dawn

I ventured out in the predawn with beautiful light all around. But really, shooting at a resort isn’t exactly the most amazing nor inspiring thing to be doing after being out wild like we had for the previous few days. Marianne then went with her driver James to spend the morning with Big Blue Scuba completing her open water advanced diving course. I managed to get our laundry sorted, pick up the hire car and take the kids to Rarru Rentapao Cascades nearby. This was a beautiful series of small cascades ending in a small waterfall where loads of tourists were enjoying a dip. We had a go at the rope swing and a dip for 20 minutes before heading back to the resort to check on Marianne’s transport needs. It was odd that the opposite banks of the Rarru cascades were owned by different operators charging different prices ? The side we were on was the cheaper , less crowded , but also less scenic in that you could not see the cascades front on.

Waterfall at Rarru Rentapao : the ‘cheap’ side

After some communication hiccups, we went to meet Marianne in town for lunch at Namabwan (number one) café before picking up snacks and heading home for a bit or rest. This is when the stomach started the churn badly. On arrival back to the resort, Charlotte and Jaime were super keen to join the Kids Club , so they were gone all afternoon! I took the opportunity to attempt a local jog as I love exploring on foot but I really knew that something was wrong after a mere 4km had me feeling like dying! Shortly afterward, I started rigoring and having profuse diarrhoea without able to tolerate any oral intake. Fortunately ,even by the time bed time came around (and the Crows took a beating at the hands of the Power live on TV!) I had started to feel a little better. A gorgeous sunset was missed while I preferred to cover up in bed – a true sign on holiday that I was unwell!

Sunday July 7th:

I am thankful that the gastro I had was very self limited. After a feverish sleep where minutes seemed like hours, I woke feeling fatigued but without diarrhoea and with some appetite. Marianne headed off again without incident to Big Blue and I was of the mistaken belief that the kids club was free! Turns out that if you are off site, you get charged $10AUD an hour for babysitting which is actually a pretty good rate. I was away at the gorgeous Mele Cascades all morning and decided that the walk was not challenging, and looked very much like the kids might actually enjoy the experience.

Mele Cascades

When I returned and collected them, we headed back into town (by now I knew Port Vila reasonably well and didn’t really need google maps). Marianne was very excited about her experience save for a few aspects 1. She had managed to slice her fingers along a mooring line requiring some vinegar treatment and plenty of bandaids 2. She forgot the go pro! 3. Having to wait for an additional hour afterward for her theory questions and dive certification 4. Having the dive centre call later that evening on the presumption that she hadn’t paid (when she actually had). During that time, we again had lunch at Nambawan Café which was packed that day! Thereafter, with overcast skies, we headed to Mele Cascades.

Walking up the waterfall was very fun for the kids!

The girls were at first very tentative but after the initial climb up the flooded stairs of the cascades, they wanted to do it a further three times! By then , they were quite wet and had worked up the courage to go jumping into the pools at the base of the waterfalls. After a few dives, the skies opened up with heavy rains soaking us further as we walked the 800m back to the car. Even though the price was pretty steep (2000VTU for adults and 1000VTU for kids), I felt that it would have really been a shame to not see this location merely out of principle. By the time we were done, it was 4pm with sunset approaching and we were the last to leave the area.

I attempted a normal dinner that night but could only manage some rice and half of my serve of pappadams and Melanesian curry. A great comeback day from illness!!

Monday July 8th:

Last day! It began with a rush as I drove off quickly to Eratap point for a gorgeous sunrise that just kept evolving – similar to the Fingal head dawn at the start of the trip. On the way out, as suspected, someone questioned me about what I was doing there. They seemed satisfied that I was just interested in photography , though for future noting, I should have simply called them prior to arriving so that they would not have any security concerns.

Eratap point at dawn

Next up, the kids were torn between wanting to do what they wanted with us and joining the Nannies for an excursion to a neighboring island. In the end, after several changes of mind, they went on a boat while Marianne and I kayaked out to the island and explored some of the lonely beaches there. The island seemed very wild with enormous spiders, abundant crabs and other wildlife even more plentiful that in other places that we had seen. If only we didn’t have to return the car by 4pm we would have stuck around that island for much longer. By 12pm, we had kayaked back with the kids to the resort and had a quick (resort quick) lunch before driving off the to the Blue Lagoon as our last stop.

Pristine Beaches near Aquana

The road heading out east was amazingly good and in bright sunshine, the stretch of coast was pure inviting! There was a minor disappointment when we arrived that the locals had raised the entry price to 1000VTU for adults and 500VTU for kids (a doubling) which highlighted our conversation with Esso earlier in the trip about the need for regulation of the tourism industry to some degree.

From tree to Lagoon via rope

The lagoon was quite stunningly turquoise and again, in bright sunshine, nothing but inviting. Except for the temperature of the water which had us shivering after a few minutes! I had a few goes at the rope swing including from an elevated position on the tree – it was actually quite an exhilarating experience as evident from Marianne’s screams on her go! We had to leave due to the 4pm car return time looming. Most of the crowd there were Aussie tourists, many of whom we would see on the plane home the following day. Our return drive and pick up of breakfast from Shefa Bakery went smoothly and the car return was also uneventful.

Inviting (but cold) waters of the blue lagoon

After pre-ordering dinner (definitely the way to go in the future) we were told that we had somehow ended up in credit following our social media deal for $500AUD credit. Turns out that with the laundry and babysitting fees, we actually owed 60AUD. So overall, that was the entirety of our costs for being at the resort on top of the accommodation.

Tuesday July 9th

James, our reliable driver was waiting for us in a van 10 minutes before the arranged pickup time at 5:20am. Our last minute packing the previous evening was really a mad scramble to clean our gear to avoid customs delays and to make sure our gear was as dry as possible. The drive in the early morning was done in quick time and by the time we arrived at Bauerfield International Airport, we were only the 2nd family present in an otherwise deserted airport. Oh and a #dbreezied also greeted us. A very seamless check in and a chilled security clearance (where no one was ahead or behind us) was our last experience of Vanuatu. As we waited in the departure hall, we saw several familiar families from our trip to Tanna also going home. Our flight was again on the very spacious Air Nauru plane back to Brisbane where we acclimatised back to western civilisation and normal humidity.

One of the greatest joys from travelling around Vanuatu is the seeeing number of people randomly smiling either among themselves or waving a greeting at you. When I’m on my way to work and on the road, I’m going to take note of how many people are actually smiling here in Adelaide. It seems to me that in our Western ‘superior’ way of thinking, we have actually made ourselves confused and unhappy, while hubris prevents us from accepting this. People here are largely travelling with a purpose and are preoccupied with tasks that in part necessary, in part self inflicted ‘bloat’. Perhaps finding ways to declutter our complex lives really has some merit. I’m really going to commit to spending time ‘just being’ and seeing the positives in any situation. At least, this will be in the immediate future until I get ground down again by the pressures of the western model of living!

Bye Vanuatu – until next time!

Vanuatu/Gold Coast : Part 1

For this trip , I went old school by recording our thoughts and adventures with a pen and paper. This was to save time and space during the trip by not having the laptop around to gawk and half edit images that I know I will be re-doing when I get home anyway. I have to say that in retrospect, it did leave me having a much more restful holiday despite the activities that we managed to squeeze in! The only piece of new gear we were looking forward to trying out was a go pro hero7 with underwater housing for Marianne’s planned dives.

We left Adelaide on a balmy winter’s morning travelling in a maxi cab that was probably the equivalent of our UberXL experience last trip. No dramas with check in to Brisbane. The kids had their customary playground session at the airport before boarding the plane with their customary excitement that lasted for the entire trip this time! Two hours on the plane was easy for everyone save for Charlotte’s ears. Before we knew it, we were back on the ground and heading off in our rental Nissan X trail courtesy of a smooth pick up from alpha rentals.

Our first hiccup of the trip , though rapidly resolved, occurred when we were trying to check in to our accommodation at Upper Coomera booked through getastay. Apparently, since they had allowed us to use the house for 3 nights instead of 5, they booked us in for the wrong 3 night block of the 5 nights. This meant that they weren’t expecting us for another 2 days! Thanks to some understanding behalf of the hosts,as it was our mistake, we were still able to use the property, albeit later that afternoon than anticipated.

We took that opportunity to have our customary ‘can’t be bothered’ Maccas lumch on arrival followed by some supplies shopping at the Westfield Coomera. Then, finally, we checked in to our house which was huge for our purposes and complete with pool table and arcade games deck! Oohh boy did we spend some time playing the likes of Donkey Kong, Galaga and Dig Dug!

Coomera River on a beautiful evening

That evening, after a brief shoot at Coomera River where the sun created some great rays and golden light, we had a great pizza meal courtesy of Don Angelo’s Pizzeria (well, takeaway since it was full beyond bursting despite the torrential downpours)

Saturday June 29:

At 5am amdist some rapidly changing skies, I drove to Fingal Head in hope of some good conditions. It was eerily similar to our 2016 visit. It seems that each time I go there, I end up getting drenched on as the heavens opened up just after dawn on this occasion. In timing with that and some splash action, the A7R2 decided to malfunction at a critical moment ….thankfully it recovered quickly for the rest of the trip.

Long exposure of the Giant’s Causeway at dawn

When I returned home, Marianne told me that the girls had been chatting to each other all night and Charlotte’s cough had developed a hacking quality to it along with bouts of continuous sneezing ….hopefully some kind of local allergy rather than flulike illness??

Within the hour, we had eaten breakfast, packed and headed off to Seaworld for the day. In all honesty, I felt that it was starting to show its age as my memories as a teenager back in the 1990s seemed to correlate exactly with what I was seeing in 2019 ? It was still a great deal of fun and the girls’ best memories of the days were of the seal and dolphin shows. The shows were ironically the weakest point for me. I wonder, is there anything wrong with providing entertainment for purely entertainment’s sake /value these days? Seaworld does well to provide education , especially for young children, but perhaps the subtlety of a blunt axe isn’t needed for all ages! During the day Charlotte also loved her first experience on a full sized roller coaster while Jaime enjoyed her Manta Ray feeding experience despite having her finger nibbled on. Bigger rides for both girls next time , height permitting!

Charlotte and Jaime really enjoyed the dolphin show
Charlotte and I , 3rd row back – is that really a fun face??

After a brief rest at home, I headed to Ouyan street for a sunset shoot of the Surfers Paradise skyline. Somehow I ended up assisting with fixing someone’s tripod in between a couple of long exposures but it ended up being a win-win situation. There was some ‘hangriness’ (hungry/angry is a term we use a lot at home!) when I returned home which was exacerbated by a long wait at ‘My Friends Asian takeaway’. Unfortunately the food was not worth the wait either so that place will not be high recommendation at all.

Post sunset hues of Surfers Paradise

Sunday June 30:

It was a great morning down at Southport where joggers, photographers , cyclists and surprisingly few surfers all congregated pre-dawn. The light ended up being quite beautiful and being not so far away as Fingal Head, it meant that I returned home in good time for breakfast with the kids and Marianne.

Southport at Dawn

The rest of the day would be spent around Mount Tamborine and driving through the Gold Coast Hinterland. There was great natural beauty , however the heavy traffic was definitely off putting after 10am. Our first stop was Curtis Falls which in the morning, was not yet crowded. Eventually, more people would stream in (some wearing some pretty inappropriate clothing). Thanks to the previous days showers, there was reasonable flow in the waterfall. I ventured barefoot on the downstream side of the falls away from the barricaded areas and managed a couple of shots before leaving.

Curtis Falls

Next stop was the Tamborine Skywalk. The entrance fee was reasonable for the experience but honestly, I’m sure the ground sections were equivalent to any of the trails in the area. The price of commercialism and regulating access to sensitive environments I guess. On our way out from the skywalk, traffic had really started to build up as I presume visitors from the Brisbane area started to filter through. We had planned to have lunch and explore the Cedar Creek Falls area but were unable to find a park in the overwhelmed and far undersized car park. Instead, we randomly parked anywhere we could do so legally and had our packed lunches on some random rocks. While we eating, quite a number of visitors turned around also unable to find a park.

Gopro Selfie on the Cantilever

After lunch, we decided to drive back to the holiday house to get clean, pack up and chill out before departing for Vanuatu. Dinner was again courtesy of Don Angelo’s and by 630pm the girls were in bed attempting to get an early night’s sleep ahead of a predawn trip to the airport.

Monday July 1

4am start, pack-up and off to the airport. I think time has accustomed us to this routine and there were few gripes from the girls. Even at 5am albeit on a Monday morning , the highways into Brisbane were already starting to suffer from congestion but not enough to delay our rental drop off. Alpha car rentals had a very smooth and efficient drop off process and overall, I’m sure I would rent from them again given that their prices were very competitive compared to the other major rental companies.

The airport side of things was again smooth with no interruption and again, without fuss, we ended up on the Air Nauru plane bound for Port Vila!

Autumn in Tasmania : trip notes as they occurred!

April 20:

It was a little unusual for us to be departing for a destination at the end of the day. Somehow in the past, it has always worked out that we’ve been on morning flights so the girls have had something to look forward to on waking up instead of the anticipation building throughout the day. We managed to get a few things packed during the morning as well as drop off aging Giz (our Jack Russell) to my parents place. After a quick lunch, we introduced Charlotte to her first superhero movie Wonder Woman . From a 7 year old’s perspective, she was just interested in the fighting and glory scenes rather than any character building or plot advancement moments!

We took our first ever UberXL ride to the airport which I have to say, worked out at least as well as any cab we’ve taken. Then the girls went through their usual airport routine of checking in while stopping off for a play at the playground before boarding the plane. Everything went smoothly. Oh except for the swearing bogans behind us …..clearly situational awareness and foul language around children are aspects that some don’t care about?

The flight itself went very well and our landing , baggage collection and car pickup all went seamlessly. By the time we landed, it was well after 7pm so we opted to go for the quick MacDonalds option for dinner before meeting up with Marianne’s parents, Pat & Quyen at the supermarket since things had gone so well.

Arrival at Hobart Airport

The accommodation was in the suburb of Dynnyrne. It was a beautiful and massive home which was really meant to be two separate 2 bathroom apartments which we had hired out for the whole family. It was one of the best places we had stayed in save for the rather tricky parking. There were two parks nearby and Mount Wellington was basically straight up a road two blocks away from us. South Wellington was the plan for the following morning.

April 21:

This was one of many early dawn walks for the trip. Pat and Quyen decided to come along for the hike to South Wellington. We left at 5am and arrived on the mountain a bit more than an hour before dawn. The colours had already started to shine and unfortunately I took a wrong turn down the zig zag path which chewed up 5 minutes of valuable time. Having never been to the area, I decided to explore off track before the Rocking Horse and photographed some of the leaning dolerite columns before attempting some commercial shots for icebreaker. The wind up there was pretty intense and it was good to have shot on the leeward side of the mountain.

South Wellington Dawn

When we returned home, everyone was up and about ready for a day’s activities. We decided to visit Mount field National Park, which on an Easter Sunday  , we anticipated would be very busy. Along the way, the fall colours of Westerway and New Norflolk were particularly striking , especially the poplars lining Tyndall Park. By the time we arrived, it was late morning and we spent a good 90 minutes exploring Russell and Horseshoe Falls. The kids enjoyed a ‘secret’ path to the 2nd tier of Russell Falls. Unfortunately at Horseshoe Falls ,  I slid and dented the V6 ring- it was able to be undone and a testament to its strength!

Second tier of Russell Falls
Horseshoe Falls at low flow

On the way back, we dropped by the Possum Shed for a yummy BLT lunch, stopped by the raspberry farm before heading back to our apartments for some rest. I thought about going out to Mortimer bay for sunset but decided against it based on the cloud; rookie mistake photographically but it turned out great nonetheless because we had a great time with everyone at a local park (Parliament street park) with its massive blue slippery dip. Dinner was a struggle to organise on Easter Sunday, but we finally ordered some OK pizza anywhere we could find! Cargo pizzeria was the only one open on the public holiday and was kind of acceptable for hungry people!

Autumn colours at Westerway

April 22

I arranged to meet Luke at Fossil Bay for dawn while Pat and Quyen decided to sleep in after considering coming out earlier. I forgot to bring my 12mm and regretted it! The 16mm really had limitations down there and ever since, I’ve made sure the 12mm and the filter kit was with me. So far , on all of the shoots save for the waterfalls, there hadn’t been anyone else photographing.

Fossil Bay at dawn

After a very efficient clean up and goodbye to an awesome rental, we were on our way to Freycinet in great weather. Our first stop was more grocery shopping before stopping by at Richmond for an un-anctipated long stop on account of its charm. On Easter Sunday, the place was buzzing with tourists. After stopping by the sweet shop and hanging around the historic bridge, we headed to Swansea for lunch , one of several bakery lunches for the trip at the Bark Mill Tavern and Bakery. As a side note, bakery lunches while on the road were something we sorely missed while we were travelling in North America – it’s not everyday that I feel like having a full cooked lunch!

Richmond bridge (Marianne’s phone pano)

Our second rental at Coles Bay was situated off the main road toward the national park and had amazing grandstand views of the Hazards from the upstairs deck. The living area upstairs was very well setup however, compared to the previous 2 nights in Hobart, the place was not as well set up for 2 families. Downstairs was crammed with 3 bedrooms and a tiny bathroom and the bifolds on our bedroom just didn’t close! Nonetheless, I’m not one to complain about such things given the amazing setting.

That afternoon , in dry weather, we set out for Mount Amos and arrived after 1 hour of sweaty climbing on the granite rock faces. Marianne was able to get out for the first time in ages since her parents looked after the kids and kindly looked after food preparation for the evening. At the top, we were alone for the evening as everyone else was headed down. Overall , the walk was not as long or as difficult as I remembered from 2008 given I was in a big rush on that occasion.

Halfway up!
Sunset Panorama
Post sunset hues over Wineglass Bay

April 23

The morning looked slightly cloudy and  I was keen to get some colour and clouds in images of Mount Amos so I set off in very calm initial conditions . Inexplicably, after 1.5km of the 2.2km, it started raining! Rain on that side of the mountain was basically an extreme hazard , so I donned my emergency spikes and carefully made my way down the mountain without incident save for one short slide which was almost unavoidable due to the lack of footholds. I still managed to get to Sleepy Bay in time, however, dawn cleared completely and I later found out that the Hazards looked great from the Coles Bay side of town.

Sleepy Bay at dawn

After returning, we made plans to go to Friendly Beaches and Bicheno for lunch. Friendly beaches were pure pristine white with blue waters and comfortable temperatures. With holidays in full swing, there were quite a few people around. We ended up spending much longer at the beach than anticipated as the girsl made a beach nest and castle. During that time, I think we managed to get a couple more shots for Icebreaker.

Friendly Beaches

We moved on to Bicheno where we spent much more time looking for critters rather than the blowhole itself . After another bakery lunch, we scoffed some icecream courtesy of the local IGA before heading back to relax at the rental. Marianne’s parents went to buy some Oysters and Mussels from Coles Bay.

By mid afternoon, we were again ready for an outing. This time, the whole family went to the Wineglass bay lookout which was extremely crowded. Charlotte showed her very good fitness by following Quyen up and down for parts of the way while not even working up a sweat . As nice as the views are, once you’ve been up to Mount Amos, the lookout here is almost no comparison. Our evening was spent at the esplanade photographing a beautiful sunset. This was literally the only occasion from the whole trip where we met other photographers – on this occasion Serena Ho and Kaspars Dzenis who were on honeymoon appreciating the warm weather after settling down in Iceland.

Wineglass Bay lookout
The Hazards from Coles Bay Esplanade

Dinner was a feast of pasta and seafood purchased earlier in the day.

April 24:

My morning shoot was not an ambitious one. I went to Sleepy Bay having scouted out positions to shoot from previous day’s mistakes. The shoot and light itself went very well but i became convinced that I had lost my gopro there when in fact I had let it slip out in the boot of the car.

Sleepy Bay with pink!

After we had speedily packed up and readied ourselves for a long drive, the whole family went to Sleepy Bay to help with the search for the gopro. It was only as we were leaving that i found it stray in the boot ….. egg on face for wasting everyone’s time!

First stop afterward (after gas) was Campbelltown for a pee break, then onward to Liffey Falls. Our timing was a bit off because google maps directions took us to the campground and not the upper carpark! We arrived there just before normal lunch time and by the time we had finished up shooting (Charlotte again showing her hiking strengths) , it was after 1pm.

Liffey Falls
The spout at Liffey Falls

Lunch at Deloraine was at 2pm at the Amble Inn . It was a pretty hearty lunch since most of the family decided that enough bakery food had been consumed (I could have kept going!). We then stocked up for our anticipated bad weather run at Cradle Mountain before finally setting off for Highlander cottages at 330pm. Fortunately, the drive there was pretty uneventful and we arrived at 5pm to a no frills checkin . We were staying in Pandani cabin , the smaller of the two with two levels. One queen and 4 bunks in a separate room upstairs. The others had the bigger Stringybark cottage which had one queen and a queen and bunks in the other room. It was definitely the more spacious of the two and had a genuine log fire.

Dinner on the first night was a home favourite of salmon and couscous (replaced by risoni) with quinoa. The weather started to set in that night and that made Pat and Quyen decide against a Cradle summit attempt – a wise decision that I was trying to push them toward gently since they didn’t have full on wet weather gear.

April 25

I woke to showers , wind and no visibility. Nonetheless, I decided to take the gear up pfaast Marion’s lookout and to Plateau creek overlooking Dove Lake as that was really the only direct sunrise facing option. On a morning like that, that was the best and possibly only chance of getting any light. After a cold slosh along plateau creek battling the cold and mists pouring over into Dove Lake, I managed to catch the 1 minute of glorious light before it all faded away.

Plateau Creek, Cradle Mountain

When I returned, the latest time of any trip this holiday so far, everyone was ready for an outing so off we went to Dove Lake along the shuttle bus system. While Pat and Quyen went up to Marions’ lookout (which was misted out), Charlotte and I hiked to the Wombat pool while the others turned back at Lake Lila. Jaime needs to build endurance and patience in the wild to be more like her big sister!

Dove Lake Boatshed
Wombat pool
Fagus in variable bloom

The weather became wilder that afternoon, but after a crowded lunch back at the visitor centre, we went wombat hunting at Waldheim. This area has never disappointed and true enough, we encountered a total of 13 wombats that afternoon. By the time we headed back at 330pm, the day had been a great one and the girls rested up with some screen time before we popped over to the other Cabin for another home made dinner.

Near Waldheim , crazy weather!
Wombats everywhere!
Weindforfer forest walk

April 26

Snow set in overnight! Unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasant kind of snow fall but a wild and temperamental mix of rain, snow, hale and other precipitation through the day. The girls were great sports in the morning , enduring the wild conditions through short hikes based at the Ranger Station before we returned for a warm up and lunch at the bigger cabin. Afterward, with the snow build up, we managed to have a brief snowball fight and snowman creation session before the afternoon was yet again indoors. I had  a brief outing to Upper Quaille falls which was every bit as pretty as I had seen.

Snowing at Pandani cottage
Upper Quaille Falls

The last dinner with a happy crew was at the Cradle Tavern – great food, great atmosphere and here we are packing up about to drive back to the airport and back to Adelaide where its 20 degrees warmer than the 0 degrees here today!

Avengers Endgame on Sunday to round off a great week!