Down Under Again

Milford Sound – New Zealand

It was exactly a year ago that my wife and I spent three weeks in Australia and New Zealand.  It was a wonderful trip and people often ask me if I’d like to go back someday and the answer is, absolutely!  But . . . 20 hours on a plane to get there . . .  nope, not gonna do it anytime soon.  Instead,  I’ve chosen to virtually re-visit this experience by re-examining some of the photos that I overlooked as “keepers” the first time around.  You just never know what lurks in the “rejected” file and I found quite a few images that I now deem blog-worthy.

Some Kangaroo antics

Throughout the past year my wife and I have frequently asked each other “what was your favorite part of the trip”?  After much deliberation, I’ve whittled my list down to these top three excursions:

  1. Tracking kangaroos and koala bears in the wild
  2. Climbing to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  3. Searching for dolphins off the East Coast of New Zealand

Everything else we did was certainly enjoyable but not as remarkable as those three activities.

My lone goal for our time in Australia was to photograph kangaroos and that was quickly accomplished.  Since there are approximately 30 million of these bouncy marsupials on the continent, finding one wasn’t much of a challenge. Many open spaces away from urban areas are home to kangaroos.

In addition to kangaroos, we saw many of their cousins, the wallabies.

What I didn’t expect was to see multiple koalas in the “bush”.  These elusive creatures sleep about twenty hours a day – typically nestled high atop a eucalyptus tree – and spotting more than one in a day is rare.  Fortunately, we  had an expert guide who, working in conjunction with her team of spotters, led us to three different sightings.  All were asleep and unaware of our presence but they put on an entertaining show nonetheless.

Koalas are marsupials and mothers carry their young in the pouch

One of the highlights of my trip to Africa in 2012 was the many unusual species of birds found there and so I was happy to see a diverse population of bird life in Australia also.  The rainforest is a prime habitat for colorful and exotic birds and we found more than our share of feathered friends under the canopy.  Although this trip was by no means a wildlife adventure, I was very pleased to photograph a variety of animals not found in the States.

The galah, or rose breasted cockatoo, likes to nest inside tree cavities
Cockatoos are not only found in the “bush” but often out on the streets of town
Ibis are plentiful within the rainforest
Getting the “stink-eye” from a bird I have yet to identify
View from our hotel balcony on the Island of Tasmania

No trip to Australia is complete without a visit to its largest city, Sydney.  Even though this is a world class metropolis, prior to my visit I didn’t know much about it.  Aside from seeing fireworks over it’s harbor as the first noteworthy place on the planet to welcome in the New Year every January 1st, watching the 2000 Summer Olympics from Sydney was my only exposure to this impressive city.

Sydney is home to about 4.5 million people

I knew it had an iconic bridge that spans its harbor but up until just a few days prior to our departure, I was unaware that people could climb to the top of this structure.

Over 3.5 million people have climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge 

Now, I’m not that fond of heights but climbing the bridge wasn’t a frightening experience at all.  In fact, after ignoring our guide’s advice to “not look down”, I snuck a peek at the dark blue water and bustling traffic beneath me and quickly found my bearings and my nerve.  The rest was a cakewalk.

Britain’s Prince Harry recently climbed the bridge but his pregnant wife, Meghan, wisely chose to opt out

One disappointment was our time snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.  Although it was warm, the rain, rough seas and overcast skies made for viewing the reef challenging to say the least.  What we did see lacked the vibrant colors that I expected.  It’s an item checked off my bucket list but sadly, not that memorable.

The city of Cairns in Northeastern Australia is the launchpad for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef
Divers are dropped off onto a sandbar in preparation for exploring the Reef

New Zealand is a gorgeous country and the South Island is absolutely stunning.  The Southern Alps mountain range may not be as impressive as its European counterpart, but still spectacular.  I especially enjoyed the Queenstown and Milford Sound areas and those two destinations alone are worth traveling halfway around the world. My only regret is that we didn’t spend more time in this region and that we didn’t do more hiking there.

View of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown Bay from the Bob’s Peak observation deck

Speaking of hiking, airport security and Customs in New Zealand were particularly focussed on examining travelers’ hiking shoes for potential agricultural contaminants from foreign soil.  Domestic flights within New Zealand are not subject to airport screening – something that seemed odd to us in this day and age – but Customs agents at the point of entry into the country insisted on inspecting our footwear.  Even the sniffing dogs seemed more preoccupied with our boots than our luggage.  My advice to those trying to smuggle drugs into New Zealand: don’t wear hiking shoes that have traipsed through a cow pasture in Australia otherwise the Customs dog will start barking immediately upon your arrival.

We were told to “take the back roads” through the Southern Alps and didn’t regret it
Off the beaten path near Glenorchy, New Zealand
New Zealand is best known for its sheep but they don’t pose for photos as well as cows
View from our hotel balcony in Queenstown
All roads lead to mountains on the Southern Island
New Zealand offers no charge “freedom camping” on most of its public lands

Making our way to the east coast of the South Island was somewhat challenging as an earthquake several years ago significantly damaged the roads in that region and many had yet to be repaired.  We were encouraged to take several mountain pass routes on our way to Christchurch and to later fly rather than drive to the North Island.  It turned out to be good advice but some of the mountain roads led to some major-league white knuckle driving – particularly the last dozen or so kilometers to the resort town of Akaroa Bay

The road to Akaroa Bay from Christchurch, New Zealand

It was in Akaroa Bay that we went on a dolphin watch that came highly recommended by an American we met in the hotel’s laundry room.  The sun was bright and the seas were calm as we set out for the two hour cruise that included complimentary drinks – something I desperately needed after the nerve wracking drive.

A small dog aboard the boat would bark whenever he heard dolphins approaching.  Canine sonar at work.
Traveling organist in Akaroa Bay

The scenery on the North Island is not nearly as spectacular as in the southern part of the country, but cities such as Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland offer a great deal of interesting things to do.

Mural at the New Zealand History Museum in Wellington
A warrior at a Maori Village re-enactment
Auckland, New Zealand is a city I could relocate to if the cost of living wasn’t so expensive

Australia and New Zealand are relatively safe countries and mass killings and terrorist acts are extremely uncommon.  Yet, several weeks after our return to the States, some deranged individual purposely drove his car into crowd of people on a busy sidewalk in Melbourne directly across the street from the hotel we stayed in. The incident injured about twenty people, some critically.  Some of the news clips appeared to be filmed from the front steps of our hotel. It left my wife and I with the eerie thought of “what if”.

I highly recommend traveling to Australia and New Zealand.  The people are fabulous, the food is great and the experience is unforgettable!

 

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Leaf Peeping

Lake Chocorua, New Hampshire

Now that I’m retired, I suppose that qualifies me as an official “leaf peeper”.  However, until my hair turns completely white or totally disappears, I refuse to board a tour bus with other senior citizens to view nature’s autumn spectacle in the White Mountains, the Catskills or the Adirondacks.  That day will come soon enough but for now I still prefer to take in the fall foliage by bicycle or hiking boots.

Albany Covered Bridge, New Hampshire

This year I made it a point to not only travel to my favorite destinations but also on some roads that I have never been on before.  Part of what prompted me to seek new surroundings was something that a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook.  It said: “don’t let your age control your lifestyle; let your lifestyle control your age”.  Now that I’ve reached what is likely the final third of my life, I’m feeling the need, more and more, to experience new sights and adventures. I have a lot of the world left to see – including what’s in my backyard – and I hope see it.

The new Dunstan Crossing Trail near my home

Unfortunately, it won’t happen in the very near future as I am currently a “stay at home husband” caring for my wife who just had significant back surgery and a dog that is still recuperating from an operation to repair a torn ACL in her rear leg.  The bike and hiking shoes aren’t going anywhere soon but I’m not complaining.  My two girls will be back to health by New Years and I look forward to when we can be out and about together once again.

Somewhere near the Scarborough-Buxton line
Along the Ossipee River just over the New Hampshire border from Maine

Spending more time at home has offered me the opportunity to peruse my favorite photography websites with more regularity and this week I stumbled upon a very thought provoking quote.  The photographer said:  “if you want to impress me, don’t tell me HOW you took the picture, tell me WHY you took it”.

In photography and other endeavors, sometimes “know-why” is better than “know-how”.

Canoeing on Lake Chocorua
Biking on this road in Buxton, I wasn’t exactly “lost” but doubtful I could find it again.

 

The Maine Lighthouse Ride

Spring Point Ledge Light – Start of the Maine Lighthouse Ride

The Maine Lighthouse Ride is an annual cycling event that serves as a major fundraiser for the Eastern Trail Alliance.  Riders suit up for one of four distances: 25, 40, 62 and 100 miles – all with views of Southern Maine’s lighthouses.  This year’s ride drew 1,285 cyclists – some from as far away as California.  I, along with three other friends, rode the 62 mile “metric century” (100 kilometer) route and enjoyed every minute of it.

No lighthouse ride would be complete without passing by tiny “Bug Light”

Starting from the Southern Maine Community College campus within eyeshot of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland, the course took us along the Eastern Trail and through Scarborough Marsh – eventually passing all the major area beaches on its way to and from Camp Ellis in Saco.  The weather was refreshingly cool and the filtered sunshine made for a pleasant day.

This heron was frequently spotted on my early morning training rides through Scarborough Marsh
Riders along the marsh were treated to Snowy and Great Egrets on display

Although I ride these roads frequently on my own, doing so with 1,200 other like-minded people is a whole different experience.  Seeing how other cyclists gear up and equip their bicycles elicits both some good ideas and some chuckles.  Overhearing people “from away” marvel at the natural beauty of our rocky coastline makes me appreciate my Maine roots.  Encountering the many volunteers that help make the ride safe makes me thankful that there are people willing to give up a perfectly good late summer Saturday to allow this event to take place.

I photographed this gorgeous light at Pine Point in Scarborough several days before the Lighthouse Ride
The advantage of pre-dawn rides – spectacular skies 
The Bait Shed deck at Bailey’s Seafood in Scarborough

Riding in and amongst a large group of cyclists demands a bit more attention than when out on the roads by one’s self.  Although I trust my riding partners to point out road hazards and other potential obstacles, I was pleased to see the vast majority of riders doing the same.  A constant chorus of “car back” and “walkers ahead” could be heard on every stretch of the course.

The rest stop at Old Orchard Beach
A group of cyclists from Washington, DC were also raising money for leukemia research

Since the rather drab weather wasn’t conducive to good photography, I have included some images taken at other times while out on my bicycle training for this ride.  Some were shot with my cell phone and others with my “real” camera

Portland Headlight is the major attraction along the Maine Lighthouse Ride
Each participant received a pair of “lighthouse” cycling socks

This was my first lighthouse ride and won’t be the last!

Up, Up and Away

When I was a child my father gave me a copy of Mark Twain’s classic, Tom Sawyer Abroad, and I read it cover to cover multiple times.  In the story, Tom and Huckleberry Finn travel across the Atlantic to Africa in a hot air balloon where they survive encounters with lions, bandits and fleas.  It’s how I learned that the flea is one of the fastest animals on earth – a concept that Huck Finn challenged ferociously –  as it has the ability to leap several hundred times the length of its body in a single bound.

Preparing for launch is hard work

Later, I read the Jules Verne novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and became even more fascinated by this mode of transportation.  A bit more realistic than The Wizard of Oz, the characters nevertheless had to battle adversity using some very creative means – ruby slippers not an option of choice.  This was the subject of my first “oral” book report and I breezed through it with flying colors.

The South Bridge spans the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn

My first trip in a hot air balloon took place in Napa Valley and was a wedding gift from my wife, Mindy’s, siblings.  It happened on one of the clearest days of that year and once aloft just after sunrise we could see the San Francisco skyline some 30 miles away.

My second balloon ride was over the western mountains of Massachusetts and was a gift to my daughter on her 21st birthday.  Not as enamored with ballooning as her parents are, she “survived” the ordeal and celebrated with a, now legal age, champagne toast following the landing.

The Great Falls Balloon Festival has been a fixture in Lewiston-Auburn for twenty-six years and counting but this weekend’s event was plagued with poor weather conditions that forced cancellation of half of the scheduled launches.  Fortunately, I picked a good time to attend as Sunday evening’s launch featured gorgeous light.  The afternoon’s strong winds caused a bit of a delay but eventually calmed around 6:30 pm and about a dozen balloons lifted off much to the delight and roar of the crowd.  During the delay, Elvis kept the throng entertained with a Vegas-style performance.

The winds carried the balloons westward into Auburn where there are many open fields primed for a gentle landing on the city’s outskirts.  I am always impressed by balloon pilots’ ability to control their vessel – Professor Marvel notwithstanding.  I once witnessed a balloon land in the Irving Station parking lot across the street from my workplace in Auburn – the traffic on the Turnpike exit ramp coming to a complete standstill in awe of this pilot’s skills to avoid the many power lines and other obstacles.  I imagine there were a few white knuckles on that ride.

I highly recommend a ride in a hot air balloon.  It’s not cheap but well worth the money!

 

The Grass is Always Greener . . .

Lately it seems that other photographers are capturing way better photographs than I do.  I’ve been combing the various websites that I follow and seeing an awful lot of images with a very high “wow” factor.  It has me asking myself why I’m not doing that.

I know there are many photographers out there that are more talented than me, and quite a few that have better equipment.  Talent and gear go a long way towards success as a photographer but I know there is one other common denominator that sets them apart:  they are out making photographs when the conditions are extreme or unusual – something I haven’t been doing.  Up until last week I hadn’t picked up my camera in over two months.  Seems as though one thing lead to another and then another forcing me to rattle off the litany of excuses I created for myself – work being at the top of the list.

But all that changed on August 3rd when I retired after 28 years with the company and 45 years in the industry.  I can’t use “work” as justification for my photographic idleness any more.   I’m a free man!

I kicked off my retirement with a week’s worth of fun and relaxation at a lake-house on pristine Pitcher Pond tucked away in the Camden Hills region of Maine.  Family and friends joined me for the celebration and the beds, couches and even a tent were filled to capacity for most of our stay.

The water was pleasantly warm and the kayaks, canoes and a borrowed paddle-board saw a lot of use – as did my camera.  Adding to the photographic ambiance was the fact that warm days followed by cool nights created an early morning mist that enveloped the pond in a captivating shroud.

A good portion of my photography was chronicling the aforementioned friends and family but I did spend most mornings sitting on the dock armed with camera and coffee cup awaiting the sunrise and wildlife to make their appearance.

 

There was no shortage of creatures as loons, bald eagles, herons, hawks, geese and deer all put on a spectacular show every day.  A nature preserve couldn’t have provided a better setting.

Pitcher Pond is also a dog heaven and my dog, Emmie wasn’t the only pooch having a blast.  She was as sad to leave this unspoiled place as I was.

I’ve often found the grass to be greener on the other side – literally and metaphorically. The solution is to go out there and do something about it and that’s my plan.  Look forward to more frequent Bicycle With a View posts – no excuses anymore!

As always, you can click on any photo to se a larger version.

In Honor Of . . .

Fiery sky at Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to pay a visit to Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk.  It turned out to be a good choice as I was rewarded with some gorgeous early morning light this past Saturday.

Officially called Kennebunk Beach, I don’t know how the name “Mother’s” came about.  Maybe the nearby playground has something to do with it.  I can envision kids playing on the swings while mom relaxes on the beach with a Dunkin Coffee-Cool-A-Da in one hand and a good book in the other – the scent of coconut sunscreen gently carried by the sea breeze.   That scene is hopefully only a few weeks away but beach weather seemed very distant on this 37o mid-May morning.  As I got my bike out of the car upon arrival I was happy that I threw in that extra “just in case” fleece layer.  I immediately donned it.

Nearby Gooch’s Beach where George and Barbara Bush often walked their dogs

Kennebunkport is a very busy town in the summertime.  Tourists flock here for the stately inns, charming boutiques, fine restaurants and the chance to spot a former president, or two.  I didn’t see either of the Bushes – in fact, at 5:30 am this popular destination was more of a ghost town than a bustling seacoast resort.

Built in 1905, The Narragansett Condominiums was once a hotel of the same name 

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to take a ride up Ocean Avenue to Walker’s Point in honor of the late Barbara Bush who so loved this area and its residents.  I can only imagine the stories the home holds in its memory of this amiable first lady.  Fortunately, her legacy will live on through the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.

The Bush compound at Walkers Point

On the route to the Bush compound I spotted some sure signs of spring.  Tulips were in full bloom, tree leaves were blossoming and “open for the season” proclamations were clearly visible.

 

Much to my surprise, many of the inns and hotels in town were already well occupied as evidenced by the assortment of license plates from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey in the parking lots.   No matter the temperature, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and relaxation.

Let the tourist season begin!

Surfer at Gooch’s Beach

P.S. I am happy to report that Bicycle With a View now has a new set of wheels.  With the twenty year old Mongoose mountain bike showing signs of wear and corrosion due to winter riding, this lighter and sleeker bicycle will hopefully provide years of travel to photo destinations near and far.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Younger Next Year

Several readers have asked me why I haven’t posted a blog article in a while and wondered if everything is OK with me.  I’m happy to report that I am indeed well and busy working on getting younger.  Let me explain.

Several months ago a friend of mine recommended the book “Younger Next Year”.  It’s co-written by a doctor and one of his clients and it’s aimed at people like me getting ready to retire.  It outlines some steps that can be taken to reverse the aging (or more accurately the decaying) process and is a must read for anyone over age fifty.  As the authors point out, not much can be done to stop the aging process.  Hair will eventually turn gray and skin will someday take on a prune-like texture but there is something that can postpone muscle and bone decay.   Exercise.

For many years I was very active training for running events including marathons.  I also spent many hours on the bicycle participating in group and solo rides and, for nearly fifteen years, commuting 50 miles round trip to and from work by bike once a week during the summer months.  I seemed to have an endless supply of energy and motivation until one day, for reasons still unclear, the couch became a more appealing option than a long run or a lengthy bike ride.  I didn’t completely give up exercise but it was no longer a priority in my life.

The book Younger Next Year changed all that for me.  The crux of the authors’ message – and one of their cardinal rules – is to “perform serious exercise six days a week for the rest of your life”.  That sounds like a daunting task but I have faithfully followed that advice since reading the book and am already feeling “younger”.  I don’t plan to run another marathon but have embarked on a run/walk interval program that’s a little more forgiving than traditional running.  My indoor stationary bicycle was put to good use over the winter and now that the snow has finally disappeared, my outdoor bike typically hits the road at 5:00 am sharp on weekdays.  Consequently, with so much time devoted to exercise, photography was relegated to the back burner.

Of course, all work and no play make for a boring life so decided it was time to wipe the cobwebs off my camera gear, charge the batteries and choose a photo destination reachable by bike.  At the top of my short list of picturesque and inspiring places within striking distance of my home is Portland Headlight and, as tempting as simply throwing the camera in the car and driving to the lighthouse sounds, I reasoned that biking the hour or so from my residence would better embody the true spirit of Bicycle With a View.  Besides, it’s the perfect way to synergize exercise and my hobby.

Cycling in the dark is beginning to grow on me.  I’ve outfitted myself with good lights, reflective clothing and some warm socks and gloves to defend against the chilly Maine mornings.  As I become more accustomed, I realize that the solitude and lack of traffic that pre-dawn rides offer far outweigh the reduced visibility and lower temperatures I have to contend with.  Moreover, there’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” associated with encountering a runner or another cyclist at that early hour where a simple nod acknowledges the mutual admiration of our efforts to become “younger”.  Truth be told, it’s becoming addicting.

I set out for Portland Headlight at 4:00am this past Saturday and the journey was fairly uneventful.  I spotted a rollerblader shortly before 5 o’clock and my first thought was geez, that’s pretty strange but then realized I was being a pot calling the kettle black.  I noticed fewer steamy bathroom windows lit up in houses than I do on weekday mornings.  People obviously tend to take their showers later on weekend days.  Thankfully, no lions, tigers or bears (oh my!) jumped out from behind a tree as I rode the forested section of the Eastern Trail in the darkness– but the prospect crossed my mind having recently heard on the news of bears spotted in some southern Maine neighborhoods.

Friday’s cloud forecast from the National Weather Service predicted 50-60% coverage for 5:00 o’clock Saturday morning and that’s just about perfect for a dramatic sunrise sky.  To my disappointment, their calculation was considerably off the mark as there was nary a cloud overhead leaving me with rather mundane looking vistas.  Only a small cloud bank hovering at the horizon offered any hint of drama.  No award winning lighthouse photos would be made on this morning.

I took the scenic route through South Portland past two other lighthouses before jumping back on the Eastern Trail for home.  Walkers, runners and cyclist were out in full force by then as were the birds that call Scarborough Marsh their home.  I came upon a large blue heron in the water by the trailside and approached ever so quietly.  I was careful not to make any sudden movements as I retrieved my camera from the backpack when, for no apparent reason, my bicycle fell over and spooked the bird into a frenzy (I hate it when that happens!).  No award winning heron photo on this excursion but “I’ll be back”.