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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
We all decided to go on a sunset cruise sponsored by the Pacific Whale Foundation, of which Mary Anne and I are now members. The PWF has guides on the boat who act as spotters and teach everyone about how the whales live and behave. Not to mention that they serve cocktails and appetizers during the cruise. Nature never looked so good.
And—while we were on the sunset cruise, we bumped into some friends from the 2016 Crystal Serenity world cruise. Hello Beth! Great so see you. Who knows where we will meet again. Anyway, the pictures below are from the Maui sunset cruise.
After taking a day trip to Oahu to see Pearl Harbor, we spent the next few days sightseeing around Maui. From wide expanses of green farmland, to meadows and beaches, mountains and volcanoes there is no lack of stuff to see. Including Makawao, a town about 5 miles away that it is, believe it not, a bit of a cowboy town. And if you want to live in a place that never quite left the 1970s behind, you might want to visit a small town on Maui called Paia.
A final piece of very important news: we are close to a Whole Foods store that has excellent wines at very good prices.
Anyway, here are a bunch of photos from our sightseeing adventures.
We went on a mildly terrifying drive up to the summit of Haleakala, a shield volcano that forms more than 75% of the island of Maui. The summit is about 10,000 feet high. The road leading to the summit winds around the side of the mountain, with no shortage of death-defying hairpin turns. (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration). Death defying or not, it is well worth the trip. Especially now that I have a Senior pass.
At the Summit is Red Hill. From there, at the crater’s edge, you can look down into the cone of the volcano, which is 2,600 feet deep. It is hard to describe the scale and beauty of it except to say that it is like looking through a crystal ball into the land that time forgot.
The photos that follow give a taste of what it looks like.