Vivid Sydney

 Tips for the best views (and photographs) of Vivid Festival in Sydney:

  • a great starting point is on Hickson Rd on the western side of the Harbour Bridge – walk out on the finger wharf closest to the bridge, towards the end is a great position to get shots of the bridge with the lower north shore and Luna Park in the background.
  • follow Hickson Rd around under the bridge and walk along the front of Dawes Point Park – the lights being reflected off the opera house sails are actually projected from Dawes Point Park, from the top of a large covered scaffolding (with flouro pink V on it)- when you walk in front of this and look towards the opera house, you will be able to see and photograph the bright beams of light coming into the opera house – they won’t be visible from any other point.
  • keep walking around in front of the Park Royal and then in front of the row of tourist restaurants with their outdoor seating under big sun shades – take a right up the stairs at the end of ‘restaurant row’ and then a left up the street bridge to Quay restaurant. Go up the stairs just to the right of the door into Quay, and you’ll come out on the top balcony at the front of the Overseas Passenger Terminal, directly in front of the Opera house and far above the crowds.
  • come back out the same way down the stairs, on the road outside there is a great view of the Harbour Bridge and some of the Vivid artworks on your right, and lights on other old Rocks building to your left.
  • turn left again onto Hickson Rd and then George St, when you reach the MCA take the steps down onto the grass in front of the MCA. There are continuos projections onto its walls, and Vivid artworks in front of it as well.
  • cut through the train station at Circular Quay and cross over Alfred St (between wharves 2 and 3) for great views of the lights on the front of Customs House.
  • There’s also Vivid in Darling Harbour but I haven’t checked that out yet so I can’t give you any tips for there.

If you have them, this is the time to use a DSLR or any camera that allows you manual control of aperture (Av), shutter speed(Tv) and ISO, a tripod, and a remote shutter release.

a day before winter in Bondi Beach

It’s the last day of the autumn months (Mar/Apr/May) and one day before winter sets in (Jun/Jul/Aug) and the weather is phenomenal, don’t you wish you were here in Bondi?

Bondi Beach iphoneography
stunning weather at Bondi in the day before winter

It’s not really a secret that we have a pretty good climate here in Sydney. Some years it’s just better (or worse) than others. The current weather is bright blue skies, highs of 20&#8451 -23&#8451 , crisp overnights at 10&#8451-14&#8451, on the coast at least. I’m loving it – here’s some more of today’s iphoneography to enjoy:

Bondi Beach iphoneography
the ocean pool at Bronte in stunning sunshine the day before winter
Bondi Beach iphoneography
Attack of the killer seagulls (I really don’t like seagulls)
Bondi Beach iphoneography
fishing off a ledge near Tamarama
Bondi Beach iphoneography
light filtered through this leafy street

And here’s a few more shots of the rest of this week of Bondi in the evening sun, in the gallery below.

 

 

 

 

 

Rapt in the rock art of Nourlangie, Kakadu National Park

Nourlangie Rock is one of the most accessible rock art sites in Kakadu, even in the wet season. It’s an easy 1.5km walk alongside the base of Nourlangie. The Anbangbang gallery of aboriginal rock art is the main attraction, and it holds some very eye-catching drawings. Keep an eye out for the drawing of Namarrgon, the lightening man, so named because a rocky outcrop on Nourlangi was used as a lookout to see the escarpment on the other side of Kakadu, and see when the wet season weather was about to arrive.

In Nourlangie its easy to see some of the steps taken to preserve the unique art from the ever increasing number of interested visitors. Key parts of the path are walkways, so our feet don’t stir up dust to coat the art work, the walkways and hand rails are set back to ensure we can’t touch the artwork or environs, and the rangers can add silicon drip lines around paintings at risk to redirect the water flow away for those parts of the rocks.

Ancient rock art, Nourlangie National Park, Kakadu
Ancient rock art, Nourlangie National Park, Kakadu

Aboriginal people have been coming to Nourlangie to shelter from the wet season for over 6,000 years.

The surrounding flora and landscape is vividly green in the wet season. the Gunwarddehwarde Lookout, an outcrop on the each of Nourlangie, makes a greatpoint for viewing the surrounding landscape. In the dry season there is a great view of Nourlangie from the other side of the Anbangbang billabong, but it’s not possible in the wet season.

Kakadu in the wet season – to go or not to go?

Mention ‘wet season’ in the tropics, and I usually think it would be better to visit in the dry – isn’t sightseeing hard in the rain? But when I had the opportunity to visit Kakadu with a couple of friends in February (wet season is Oct/Nov to Mar/Apr) and I took it. Here’s the pro’s and con’s of going in the wet season.

  • There’s not many other visitors. This can mean that the tours from Darwin don’t run as frequently, although we didn’t find it difficult to get the dates we wanted. We found it meant we were travelling with, and running into, only a few other people. And for one amazing day it was just the three of us and the local guides, incredible for such a well visited area. We had Ubirr and the stunning rock art to ourselves, climbed to the lookout and could see to the horizon without being able to see another vehicle or person, an amazing privilege.

  • Some of the roads will be flooded and and the areas that can be reached are more restricted than in the dry. Exactly what will be accessible will not be very predictable in advance, as it depends on the amount and timing of rain each year. The locals and tour operators know which areas will flood more than others, and which ones are pretty much guaranteed to be inaccessible. We thought the road closures were a great bonus, because we then transferred to small shallow bottomed boats and cruised serenely through flooded forests of soaring paperbark trees – we were floating in nature’s cathedral.

  • Its harder to see the crocodiles. We all want to see crocodiles in Kakadu (as long as we are safely out of the water), and they are still there in the wet, but with all that extra water, it’s much easier for them to hide from us.  They’re not sitting under the bush on the bank, as the bank has disappeared under water. And its the season when they are protecting their young in their nests, another reason to hide themselves more than normal. So we did not see a single croc (except for a stuffed one at the hotel). Apparently its a rare day when you don’t see at least one in one of the billabongs, but you will definitely see more in the dry season.

 

  • It’s not just the roads that can flood, its the walking paths to the famous rock art sites. If the water levels are particularly high, more of the rock art sites might be closed. The paths don’t even have to be flooded, the water just needs to have risen close enough in the vicinity, to make it possible for a croc to move in close by and decide the track is a good hunting spot. We were fortunate that the water levels weren’t that high during our visit, so we had no problems getting to some amazing rock art. And much as we would’ve liked to have seen crocs from a boat, we did not want to see one while we were walking.

  • One area virtually guaranteed to be inaccessible all wet season is the waterfall area, particularly Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls, running off the escarpment. Of course the waterfalls are at their most spectacular during the wet. The solution is a scenic flight, which not only allows a spectacular view of the whole western escarpment and the spectacular falls, but also a perspective of the splendour of the whole park, with the rock formations rising above the green wetlands. In the dry season the roads run right up to the base of the falls, the waterfalls will be very diminished or even dry but they have spectacular rock pools for swimming at their base.

  • The locals say the timing of the wet and dry seasons are very predictable, but how heavy the rain, how frequently, in which parts of the season, cannot be predicted. So a wet season visit could be days of continual downpour, or just an evening thunderstorm. We were very lucky, we had clear blue skies and no rain at all, which is very unusual weather, so I can’t promise that you’ll be as lucky. We went with the assumption that it would rain, we had rain jackets, and the weather was going to be hot no matter what,  so we wouldn’t mind if we got soaked – but we were fortunate enough to not even have to test that. All I can say is, I’d love to go back again, any season.

The Unbearable Lightness of Bondi Beach

I know, I know, it’s a very lame pun. But a daily view of Bondi Beach is a marvellous thing to live with. It’s the same view coated in an endless variety of light and colour. So I thought it was time to share a few with you.

For the last two months I’ve been focused on the Rugby World Cup – the rugby and the beer and the flights every weekend and the parties in NZ and all the work in between. So to get myself blogging again, I am literally posting about view out my front door.

From stormy skies to brilliant greens and blues

From grey and silver to pink and orange, the prettiest of palettes

and the moon at all hours of the day and night.

Make tracks to Tasmania’s Magnificent MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)

I had to rewrite this opening sentence three times, as I tried (and failed) to remove the excessive hyperbole that kept coming out of my head and off my keyboard. And then I thought “bugger it, I love MONA, there’s no point trying to pretend I am impartial here”. So instead I am writing an open letter to David Walsh.

Dear David.

Thank you for MONA. It may have only been open since the start of this year, but you sure have gotten our attention – and apparently visits from about 250,000 of us so far! Let’s face it, when was the last time someone in Australia, someone who has variously been labelled “art collector, gambler, entrepreneur, and Hobart’s infamous son”, do something this breathtaking? I love your MONA, it’s a testament to the power of one person’s passion and vision. This is clearly not an idea that came from a committee.

And it’s not just the art. It’s the beautiful site on the edge of the Derwent river. It’s arriving at the old white lighthouse merged into the wonderful huge sandstone and rusty iron architecture. It’s the wines of your vineyard Moorilla – I’m particularly partial to the Muse Pinot Noir by the way. It’s the crisply modern tasting room at the Cellar Door (if that’s the right term for a soaring two-storey glass pavilion with a fine dining restaurant attached.?) It’s the MooBrew artisanal beers from your own brewery.

It’s the ferry service to and from the docks in central Hobart (although I must confess I was slightly disappointed you don’t have white branding on a black hulled ferry instead of the more ordinary black on white – that would’ve been the icing on the cake of the superb design aesthetics consistently applied to your brands and your websites). It’s the ability to easily go to the MONA website, book my ferry transfer times, and have my wine flight and antipasto plate booked and ready to revive me at The Wine Bar when I need them. It’s the fact that I can have a nice glass of your vino on the ferry ride too, have all the booking and organising work like clockwork, and not be overcharged for any of it.

It’s all much bigger than I imagined. And the technology is great – how can I not love being issued with my own ‘iPod-like’ O on arrival, which then identifies the art closest to me, gives me a choice of reading about the artist, or reading a more gonzo view on it if I didn’t want to take it too seriously? At the press of a button it records what I stop and see, and gives me access to a permanent online tour that follows in my original footsteps. I like that I can click “love” or “hate” for any part of the exhibition. I like the rumour that any art work which gets “loved” too much gets removed from the exhibition and replaced with something more controversial. I love the idea that you may have spread that rumour just to mess with our heads and have us second guessing whether to claim to love or hate something.

I am quite delighted with the Cloaca. I hear that this is the most hated exhibit, and also the one people spend the longest time in front of. First off, the smell is not that bad at all, I think a lot of people may have been exaggerating. It’s quite a beautiful, clinical thing, this shiny machine representation of our human process from digestion to waste. Maybe people stand in front of it for so long, like I did, because it is so much fun watching other people’s reactions?

I really like that people who would never choose to go to an art gallery will probably enjoy  MONA , there is nothing stuffy about the place or the enthusiastic staff, and the art is a mix of fascinating old egyptian and a huge variety of modern and new. Some I loved, some I didn’t, some I even found boring, but many made me laugh – and there’s nothing better than art with a sense of humour. The bit.fall waterfall of words was beautiful, the bean bags scattered around the floors so I could plop down and watch videos on the wall or the roof were very comfortable and inviting.

And I love that I completely underestimated how long I would need to wander MONA, have refreshment breaks, do some wine tasting, maybe some beer tasting as well, definitely some eating, a browse through the museum shop, not to mention taking lots of photos. We booked ferry times to give us almost 5 hours there, and it wasn’t nearly long enough. But it does give me an additional reason to visit again soon. And we really did love the antipasti tasting plates to death before we left.

So thanks David, its a wonderful thing you have done.

Cheers

Vicki

Garagistes, the best way to spend a Sunday in Hobart

We are planning our long weekend in Hobart, Tasmania. “What shall we do on the Sunday?”. “We could rent a car and catch the ferry to Bruny island”. “Or go for a wine tasting drive”. “Maybe go to Port Arthur, get some history”. “How about a long Sunday lunch with the set menu at Garagistes?”. “Perfect, Tasmanian food coma!”

Garagistes Restaurant, Hobart
Garagistes Restaurant, Hobart

And so we do. Forget sightseeing, I firmly believe the best way to get under the skin of Tasmania is to eat and drink, and right now there is nowhere better to do that than at Garagistes. Chef Luke Burgess, who did a stint at the world’s current no 1 restaurant, Noma, a couple of years ago, and his partners, have turned an old auto garage into a cool industrial dining and bar space. All black, brick and industrial, matched with sensuous pottery plates and bowls in all shades of grey scattered over large communal tables, Garagistes have been earning praise for their food and wine ever since they opened. The wine list is mainly natural biodynamic wines, and the food philosophy is cooking seasonally with local produce. The outcome is reputedly some of the most exciting food being served in Australia, and we want to sample it. There’s also a no booking policy, except for their renowned Sunday lunch.

A quick 15 minute stroll from Salamanca Place and we are pushing open the large heavy stylish steel door and are seated at one of the communal tables, with an aircraft engine sized heater located not too far away from us, keeping the Hobart winter chill away. Over the next three and a half hours, the following six courses, plus the warmth of service, kept us delighted, amused and satiated.

    1. Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato and heirloom radishes – the tonnato was a splendid mayonnaise enriched with fatty tuna belly.

      Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato + heirloom radishes
      Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato + heirloom radishes
    2. Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress and saltbush – I was delighted to find a dish making leeks the hero!

      Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress + saltbush at Garagistes
      Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress + saltbush at Garagistes
    3. Poached striped trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon – a feast of strong creamy flavours

      Poached Striped Trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon at Garagistes
      Poached Striped Trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon at Garagistes
    4. Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow – melt in the mouth richness, except the celeriac – it had been roasted in salt and was way too salty for my liking.

      Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow at Garagistes
      Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow at Garagistes
    5. Garagistes washed rind cheese – perfectly ripe and runny

      Garagistes washed rind cheese
      Garagistes washed rind cheese
    6. Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat – sublime cream and crunch mix.

      Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat
      Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat
Accompanied by a french chardonnay, a local pinot noir, and in my case a Pedro Ximenez with dessert – thats some sightseeing I’d love to do every weekend!

Swimming with whale sharks

The 2nd best thing I have done while travelling so far.

three, two, one, go…and ten of us slip off the back of the boat into the water and follow our spotter – on her signal we try form ourselves into two lines of five, facing each other, ten metres apart, snorkels and fins on. My heart is pounding out of my chest. Somewhere, really close by, there is a 4-5 m whale shark, just below the surface of the ocean. We know this because a spotter plane has directed us to this exact spot – the whale shark is a couple of metres below the surface, so a plane in the air can see it but we can’t.

The plane directs us to a drop-in spot in front of the whale shark’s path, the boat drops us and then moves a few hundred metres away, and we form our two lines, hoping the whale shark is going to swim between our honour parade! Our spotter is ahead of us in the water, she raises her arm when she can see the shark, and directs us to the right spot.

Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia
Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia

Where am I and how did I get here?

I am offshore from Ningaloo reef, an amazing (and relatively deserted) coral reef off the west coast of Australia. Between April and June each year, whale sharks pass through to feast on the coral spawning, and some of them come near the surface, enabling us to observe the world’s largest shark. Luckily for me its a plankton eater, not a meat eater.

It is a shark, not a whale, and is so named because of it’s immense size – between 3 to 12 metres long, with a wide, flat, spotted body. It is possible to swim with the whale sharks here, in a manner designed to minimise the impact on the whale sharks, to ensure we do not affect their patterns and habits. There are a handful of licenced operators who operate out of Exmouth, WA, and who are only allowed to let 10 people at a time into the water with a whale shark.

Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia
Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia

Into the water for our first spotting

Although this is at Ningaloo reef, this is on the deep water, open ocean side of the reef, and my adrenalin is up. We attempt to form our orderly two lines of five, then our spotter starts shouting “move back, move back”. This means “you are too close to the whale shark, back paddle fast!” I start back paddling, all ten of us are going in different directions, no-one is sure what is happening.

So I decide it is time to put my head under the surface and see what is happening. I duck down and my heart stops – about 3 metres under me, and rising, is a teenage whale shark of about 4-5 metres, with a mouth about 2 metres wide, open, showing its three rows of teeth, heading straight for me. I gasp, someone grabs my foot and hauls me backwards through the water, the most beautiful and elegant fish I have ever seen underwater slides past me, and I surface into a maelstorm of snorkelers trying to swim after the whale shark.

I put my head back under but I have missed the moment, the whale shark is effortlessly moving away from me into the murk. We signal to our boat and wait for it to move back in and pick us up.

Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia
Whale Shark Ningaloo Reef Australia

Swimming with whale sharks five times over the day

(we think it is either two or three different sharks, surfacing more than once, but it is hard to be sure). After the chaos of our first swim, we get the hang of it, although no-one has ever told the whale sharks that they are supposed to swim between our neat line of snorkelers, so there is still a bit of improvisation. But we adapt more quickly, and each time we manage to watch the whale shark swim between us, and we turn and swim with it as long as we can.

The whale sharks look as though they are barely moving,

an occasional small flick of their huge tails keeps them going, but we have to swim our hearts out to try and keep alongside them. No-one manages to stay with them for more than a couple of minutes. I have my cheap underwater camera and every time I try and line up a photo I fall further behind the shark and have to chase. My photos are blurry and unfocussed, (my shaking arms?) but my memories are unforgettable, sharing the underwater with this most beautiful fish. From the front it is very wide and flat, it looks tranquil and friendly as it opens it’s mouth wide, sucking in the ocean and using its three massive rows of teeth to separate plankton from sea water.

I’m not sure I can really describe what it was like, for me, to swim with a whale shark,

but I am going to try – I apologise in advance if I fall into hyperbole. I float on the surface of the ocean, peering through murky water, which just fades into a dark depth, wondering if I will actually see anything. Then a shape starts to form a few metres down and drifts ever closer. From the front it is looks slightly cartoon-like, wide and smiley and harmless – but big! So much bigger than me, and it’s a beautiful blue/grey with an intricate pattern of white spots. As it’s head passes and I start to notice the body, it morphs into pure shark. The body is fluted and strong and streamlined, and as I fall behind, the view of the tail and body spells shark, upsized for Hollywood. It looks like it is barely moving, occasionally it twitches a muscle which moves it’s tail a few inches in a slow flick, but it is pure muscle and sinew, and the tiniest lazy movement torpedoes it through the ocean. I am not conscious of swimming as fast and far as I can, I only feel the rythm of my breath through the snorkel and an overwhelming sense of peace and beauty, I cannot take my eyes off this animal. It made me feel like I am dreaming of flying, but underwater.

Relaxing on the trip back in in the evening, after 5 whale shark swims
Relaxing on the trip back in in the evening, after 5 whale shark swims

After five swims for the day, we are all on an adrenaline high,

and the long trip back to shore, in bright evening sunlight, is euphoric. Even the crew telling us how they once, by mistake, dropped a group of ten in front of a tiger shark instead of a whale shark, is not going to dent our enthusiasm. For me it had an immediate impact beyond the experience itself, it made me question what I was doing with my life, made me admit that the job I once loved I now hated, and lead me down a path where I changed jobs within a few months and reclaimed the “me” I used to be – the one who was enjoying her life! I can’t guarantee it will have that impact on you, but I can highly recommend it as a unique and mesmerising experience.