We had some visitors from the wilds of New Jersey the other day. Mary Anne’s sister Ellen and her husband Steve came by our neck of the woods for a visit. The four of us took a walk around town and then made our way to Great Falls National Park in McLean Virginia. Among other things, the park is known for its stunning views of the Great Falls of the Potomac. Here (below) are a couple of shots taken in the park, along with one photo taken on a hiking trail by Lake Anne in Reston.
Fairfax County Virginia has an extraordinary system of public parks. There are lakes and nature trails everywhere you turn. In addition, Great Falls National Park in McLean Virginia features a spectacular series of waterfalls in addition to picnic grounds and hiking trails. Now that the end of October has arrived, the trees are bursting with fall colors; kayakers are braving the rapids of the Great Falls and fishermen are casting for perch and bass in the lakes. Have a look below at recent photos taken in the parks.
After traversing the Panama Canal, we arrived in the Caribbean Sea, leaving South America behind us. Our first stop in the Caribbean was Aruba. It is a small island, just 19 miles long and 6 miles wide and a population of about 104,000.
The geography of Aruba is very interesting. One side of the island is the Caribbean. That is the side with the large tourist hotels and white sandy beaches. The other side faces the Atlantic Ocean where the sea is fairly turbulent. The Atlantic here is violent enough to have carved out from the cliffs the highest and most spectacular natural bridge in the Caribbean. (It collapsed in 2005).
Aruba’s Atlantic Coastline
We went touring mostly on the Atlantic side of the island, visited the rocky shores of the Atlantic side as well as desert-like areas and a butterfly farm. Some photos are below.
When Peter Jackson filmed JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, he was determined to be as true to the book as possible. One of the first problems he faced was finding a location that looked like the Tolkien’s description of the fantastical Middle Earth which he dubbed “Endor”. Endor had snow-capped mountains, golden grass covered plains, sandy beaches and rain-forest creeks. As it turns out, New Zealand’s 400,000 hectare Kahurangi National Park fit the bill perfectly, which is why Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings there.
Which, in turn, is why we went there on a tour. It is not to be missed. The park has towering snow-capped mountains that slope down to a valley with wide open plains where some of the climactic battle scenes were filmed. First, we went to Lake Clearwater that served as a backdrop, as seen below.
Looking over Lake Clearwater
After Lake Clearwater, we were off to the mountains and valleys in the park. The shear scope of the landscape is hard to imagine. The valley is huge; it is home to rivers and streams and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. One of the photos below has a woman in the lower left quadrant to give some perspective on how vast the expanse of land is.
Woman in Valley
Snow Capped Mountains
Anyway, the next two stops are Nelson and Wellington, so we’ll see what adventures await us there.
We made our way to Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura by the Maori people who arrived from Polynesia about 800 years before Captain James Cook claimed it for the British Crown. It is the 3rd largest of the New Zealand islands measured by size. But the population is only about 400 people. So, we docked in the Tasman Sea and took tender boats over to the island to look around, which took all of 5 minutes, and then we were off with a local on a boat ride in the Tasman Sea.
While cruising around the Tasman Sea we were able to see a bunch (actually a rookery) of Albatross searching for fish, made easier for said Albatross by the ship’s mate who tossed fish over the side to attract them. If you get a close up look at these birds you understand why you don’t want an Albatross around your neck. They are big and aggressive, with large beaks which they do not hesitate to use.
We were also able to sail by the rock formation where the penguins hang out in the neighborhood, and saw lots of them, maybe numbering about 100. After that we headed back to the big ship to continue to sail on to Dunedin, which we reached the next morning.
Here are some photos of Albatross, Penguins and rock formations in the Tasman Sea.
We made it. By that I mean we successfully returned from a 2.5-hour hike through a Tasmanian rain forest in Mount Field National Park. The park is around 22,000 hectares (about 54,000 acres) and is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. When we finished climbing up and down the mountainside (2 times no less), it felt like we covered the entire 22,000 hectares in one shot.
A Walk in the Rain Forest
But, truth be told it was well worth it, even considering that the forest lacked elevators.
The first thing you notice in the forest is the air quality. It is bracingly fresh and clean with the scent of the eucalyptus trees everywhere. The sights and scenery are just spectacular. We visited at least 3 waterfalls, and hiked through a field of tall trees with some trees being hundreds of years old. It turns out that these swamp gum trees are tallest flowering plants in the world.
Anyway, we finished the hike and we are on our way to Sydney.
When you head out to the bush country you just don’t know what you are going to find. For the second (of three) Safari days out in the bush, the plan was to find some elephants in the morning, and maybe more lions in the afternoon. That meant getting a wake-up call at 4:30 AM and piling into the jeep and into the woods by 5:00 AM.
As it turned out, we didn’t find any elephants until later in the afternoon. But we did find a male lion. We also found a cheetah hanging out by a watering hole. Watering holes are a popular spot to hang out in the bush, except for the fact that some of the animals regard the others as dinner. So, the animals likely to be targets tend to go as a group—safety in numbers—while the lions hang out around the periphery waiting for one of the targets to stray from the group. Then the lions pick them off.
Another thing. Looking at the stars from the pitch black African bush takes your breath away. Without any distracting ambient light, you can probably see the stars the way the sailors saw them hundreds of years ago.
Anyway, here (below) are some more photos of animals and the countryside out in the bush. Next, we head for a short stop in Maputo, Mozambique. There are more photos available at Evocative Photos.
Macro photography, which entails close-up photos of a subject, is particularly well suited for nature photography. So in order to learn about the art of macro photography, composition and technique, I went to a Visions Photographic Workshop run by Michael S. Miller. I might add that Michael’s classes and workshops can benefit any and all photographers, from beginners to more advanced practitioners. Michael is a great teacher, and his classes and workshops are a lot of fun to boot. Try going to the Visions Workshops website to have a look. You also might want to check out the Visions Facebook page.
Anyway, for the Macro Photography workshop Monday evening, the light and weather were perfect. So we spent the evening on the beach crawling around in the sand to get some close-ups of seashells and other stuff lying around in the sand. Here (below) are some of the resulting photos.
Seashell with a Heart
Broken-up Seashells Litter the Beach
Mussells, Pebbles and Seashells on the Beach
A collection of seashells lying on the beach
A seashell lying on the beach in late afternoon
Seashell on the beach Surrounded by sand pebbles in late afternoon
We are back in Spring Lake after a 21 hour trip–but not before stopping at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge in Maui on the way to the airport. It actually bears a slight resemblance to the Edwin Forsythe Wildlife Refuge in South Jersey–except that it lacks the swarms of mosquitos that the Forsythe Refuge has.
It’s getting close to the end of our trip so we decided to book into one of the resort hotels on the West side of the island for a couple of days. Needless to say, the views were spectacular. Among other things, we were able to sit on our deck and watch the whales go by and an occasional porpoise. The sunsets (and moonsets) were stunning as well. Not only that, we could watch the boats and Kayakers float by. Finally, we got to watch the divers leap off Black Rock into the waters below. Not something I would try.
We’ll be back soon to enjoy the springtime snow in New Jersey. Photos below (of Hawaii).