Removing background crowds from photos

Taking photos in popular public locations is complicated by that very thing – popularity. There are a lot of other people there to walk into my shot, or stand right in front of my raised camera to take their selfie. Every year I look forward to the stunning Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in Bondi, it is a photographer’s paradise, beautiful art in front of beautiful views. Plus forty thousand other people on the path at the same time as me. Many of them with children who will look great in front of, or on, every sculpture for a photo.

To make it look like I’m the only person there takes a lot of patience. I line up what I want and wait for 5, 10, 15 minutes for that split second break in the crowd. I look for vantage points, get low, get close, get high, get a long telephoto, crop in, wait, wait, wait. Or I incorporate them into the photo, if it adds to the composition.

So today I am celebrating the crowds, with these photos of what the Sculpture Walk really looks like, with all these marvellous people  getting out in the sun and enjoying the very same art as me.

Stunning Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi

The annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition is on again

This is one of my favourite times of the year, as spring is turning into summer and the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk hosts over one hundred stunning sculptures. With a backdrop of beautiful beaches, and ocean all the way to the horizon, it’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of people visit it over 18 days each year in late October/early November. You should too.

Gallery of the sculptures.

Relaxing on Rabbit Island, Cambodia

Cambodia does not have to be only about the heat (and hectic exploring of all those glorious temples) of Siem Reap, or the chaos and nightlife of Phnom Penh. When it’s time for a bit of back-to-basics relaxation, Rabbit Island is the place to go.

Known locally as Koh Tonsay, Rabbit Island is offshore from Kep, on the southwestern coast of Cambodia. To get to the island, head to the Kep port pier before 9am to catch one of the boats for a 20-30 minute (5 km) ride out to Rabbit Island. The island itself is two square km in size. Remember the number of your boat, as you have paid for the return trip and you need to catch the same one back in the afternoon, or you’ll be hit up for another fare.

For me, a big part of the attraction of Rabbit island is how undeveloped it is. It’s as loved by locals as by tourists. There’s a long golden sand strip shaded by towering palms. A few sun-loungers and low bamboo platforms are spread along the sand, all free to use. The water (in April anyway) is body temperature, as tranquil as a lagoon, no waves here. And being saltwater, it aided our buoyancy as we floated around happily for hours, only emerging occasionally to top up our sunscreen. There’s an open air tent for soothing massages, a couple of basic-but-good open air restaurants with cold water and beers, and a public long-drop toilet just out behind the trees. And thats all. A perfect place to relax with a few friends. Let’s hope it stays undeveloped for a while longer.

And if you want to stay overnight, there are a handful of nice little cabins that can be rented, I think I might need to try those next time.

Where have you found your ideal relaxation island?


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.






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.

Tangalooma – a tropical trip back in time

Shall I tell you a secret – a really well kept secret? There is an island, a tropical playground only 75 minutes by ferry from Brisbane. I’m talking about Tangalooma Island resort, on Moreton Bay island just off the coast from Brisbane. In my ten years in Australia I’d say that pretty much every local and about 50% of imports and visitors I have talked to have heard of Moreton Bay Island, and yet I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve come across who’ve heard of Tangalooma. I suspect if I lived in Brisbane that number might be higher, but for the rest of us, its been a secret for far too long.

Tangalooma Island Resort, a trip back to the seventies.

Moreton Bay Island is a large sand island surrounded by beautiful shallow turquoise water teeming with sea life. Its 95% National Park, so if you are on Moreton Bay island its likely that you are at the Tangalooma Island Resort. In spite of their excellent efforts to modernise the accommodations, what I love about Tangalooma is how it feels like a step back into a good seventies motel. Here’s a holiday spot where I can embrace my inner bogan. Bring out your beer brand t-shirts, your hawaiian shirts, your tracky-dacs or your checked bush shirt and you will feel right at home here. I order a XXXX Gold – no,  I don’t have a choice, its the only beer on tap – at least it is lovely and cold. I mull over my choice of fish and chips, pizza or meat pie for dinner, order from behind the bar, sit outside in the beer garden, watch the sky turn deep orange and realise I really don’t need any other mod cons.


It may be the 1970s but there is a raft of brilliant things for us to do. First off we are staying on a beautiful sheltered white sand beach with calm shallow clear blue waters. As well as swimming, we can snorkel, kayak, or go for a ride on a water trike (giant three wheeled floating tractor for those who haven’t yet had this thrill). Around the resort there is tennis and archery. Heading inland there is sand tobogganing and quad biking. But we are looking at the sea, so we head off for an afternoon of whale watching. The boat heads around to the seaward side of the ocean, where from June to October each year the humpbacks migrate right past the island. We see a lot of humpbacks, including a few that come right up and swim under and around us, slapping their tails, blowing through their blow holes, but sadly no spectacular breaches today.

Hand feeding wild dolphins.

Night-time brings the most unusual entertainment – hand feeding the wild dolphins. Now this doesn’t immediately sound very ecologically sound to us, but we are reassured that it is in fact a highly controlled program, only about 11 of the population of around 600 local wild bottlenose dolphins participate (at their choice), and they are all feed only a small proportion of their daily requirements so that it doesn’t stop their normal hunting and feeding patterns. Re-assured that we are not doing anything bad, we line up for the process of dolphin feeding, which goes like this:

  1. Strip down to swimwear.
  2. Stand under a cold shower and make sure we’ve washed off any trace of mossie repellant, sunscreen, moisturiser or any other lotions and potions, as these can irritate the dolphins.
  3. Stand in a queue waiting our turn, getting colder and colder  – warm sunny day has turned into cold windy night
  4. Wash hands again in a special antibacterial solution to ensure we don’t pass any bugs on to the dolphin
  5. Pick up nasty slimy smelly fish from bucket and try and hold in the approved fashion, which is “just like an icecream “, the head is poking out toward the sky and the tail resting in my palm, as apparently dolphins prefer to munch their fish head first.
  6. Then its my turn and I shuffle forward hip deep in the cold water with one of the biologists, hold my fish a foot under the surface, and wait while one of the dolphins swims up and and swallows it straight out of my hand. I notice what big teeth it has as it opens its mouth wide.
  7. There is a strict no touching rule (we can’t touch the dolphin) but the dolphins have their own rules, and my dolphin starts nudging my shin – the biologist says it OK so I stand there with it nudging me until it gets bored at my refusal to play, and off it swims – the whole time I am desperately trying to stop myself from reaching in and giving it a huge hug – dolphins do have that effect on us humans!
  8. We wade back onto the beach and start dancing around in excitement – again its that joyful effect dolphins seem to have on us.


Dugong spotting.

In the morning we go for a walk up to the northern end of the beach, where there is a large man-made ship graveyard just offshore. This has been created deliberately in recent decades, and has turned into a spectacular dive and snorkel spot, with rusting skeletons of boats in shallow clear warm waters housing a colourful parade of fishes and sea life.
Then we jump on another boat to go Dugong spotting. Dugongs are a protected species, are notoriously shy, and can swim a long time under water without having to come up for a breath, so they can be hard to find. Thats why we head to the sand banks, in some very shallow water between Moreton island and the mainland, as it is easier to spot them when they are close to the surface. The dugong are large, up to 3 metres long, and have a rather ugly bulbous head which rather belies their legend of being the animal that made sailors think they had seen a mermaid. But when spooked they can instantly accelerate and speed off like a missile, no speed boat has a hope of keeping up with them. So both we and our boat try and stay as quiet as we can, and we are rewarded with a mass of sightings, pod after pod of dozens of dugongs, and we are under their spell for the next couple of hours, watching as much of their antics as they will let us.
As the afternoon shadows lengthen, we head back to the jetty and are soon on the ferry and heading home to Brisbane, very happy with our sea mammal encounters for the weekend.

There’s more to Gold Coast than the glitter


Gold Coast, living on the canals
Gold Coast, living on the canals

Meter maids in gold bikini’s, schoolies on drinking binges, leather skinned woman of a certain age in tight white jeans,  plastic surgery outcomes on display everywhere – the tacky glitz and glam is something you either love or hate. But is there more to the Gold Coast than it’s popular image?

I didn’t think so but this weekend has convinced me that there is another Gold Coast and it’s one I like. My sister and I spend the weekend visiting our very charming cousins, Jill and Ernie. They have a house on the canals just ten minutes inland from Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. It is huge and modern and spacious with a gorgeous swimming pool in a tranquil river corner setting. Apart from wandering through the tropical botanical gardens just five minutes away, it would be easy to just stay here in on the loungers in the sun, especially as Ernie is such a great cook! But we drag ourselves out for some sightseeing.

Gold Coast, The Spit
Gold Coast, The Spit

Gold Coast – the northern end.

At the northern end of the Gold Coast is The Spit – a 5km stretch of almost undeveloped beach, very popular with surfers, picnickers and dogs. At the very northern end is the Seaway entrance, where a seawall provides a protected entrance from and to the rivers and canals to the open sea. A walk out along the seawall gives a fantastic view all the way down the gold coast. Near the seawall is a jetty extending almost half a kilometre out into the ocean, part of the sand bypass process that recycles sand back to the beaches as the sea washes it away. Walk out along the top of the wooden jetty until you are 450metres out to sea and feel the wind on your face and the giant swells making the jetty supports tremble (or maybe that is just my knees). From here I can see the beach stretch out straight for thirty six kms and then curve around to Coolangatta at the southern end of the Gold Coast. In the middle I can see the mass of glitzy highrises of Main beach and Broadbeach.

Gold Coast – the southern end.

Towards the southern end of the beach, the long white strip of sand finally starts breaking up into smaller bays and headlands. The first is at Burleigh Heads, an iconic surf spot. And just a little bit further south is Coolangatta, and finally Rainbow Bay and the famous surf of Snapper Rocks. Here is the perfect sunset spot. The glorious old Rainbow Bay surf lifesaving club is a two storey building with a large balcony running all the way around, a genuine spot that hasn’t been ruined by a flashy makeover. The perfect spot to pull up a chair, grab a cold beer and look back up all those thirty six kms of Gold Coast curling across in front of me on the horizon. Below me the surfers are out in force as dusk falls, and I am starting to wonder where I can find some fish and chips for dinner.

Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads
Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads

Gold Coast – the markets.

The Carrera Markets are another slice of Gold Coast without a flashy makeover. These hugely popular markets are open 7am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday, spread over vast fields and have an incredibly diverse range of tack and treasure. Looking for bargains on novelty electronic items and kids toys? Tick. Looking for bargains on summer beachwear and footwear? Tick. How about garden furniture and plants, new pets and pet accessories? Tick. Can I find Emu Oil, hair accessories, crystals, handbags, jewellery? Tick again. And plenty of food stores and fresh fruit and vege stands to boot. We buy the largest, melt-in-the-mouth strawberries, the sweetest I have tasted in years. It may not be the trendiest or the artiest, but it is a giant flea market with something for everyone.

Yes, there is a softer, gentler, more relaxing, low key  Gold Coast after all. Who’d have believed it?

Kata Yai – the best beach in Phuket

Imagine opening the door to your balcony, stepping out into the humid night air, lowering yourself down the pool ladder and submersing yourself into the deliciously cool water of the black tiled infinity pool, with tiny colourful night lights in the bottom. When they call this a “pool access” room they really mean it, and after a nine hour flight arriving in the middle of the night, this is the perfect antidote.
I have arrived at SugarPalm Grand Hillside in Kata Beach, which is just south of Karon and Patong, on Phuket Island. Not only do the rooms cascade down the hillside at the southern end of the beach, so do a total of eleven black tiled pools, with the water flowing between each level via waterfalls. My room opens directly into the one with the swim up bar – for a random internet booking, this could not have worked out any better. The benefit of coming in the low season is that great hotels are really cheap.

the black pools at Sugar Palm Grand Hillside, Kata Yai, Phuket
the black pools at Sugar Palm Grand Hillside, Kata Yai, Phuket

Kata Beach, the perfect Thai beach?

Kata Beach is the archetypal curve of white sand and turquoise waters of Thailand. It’s on the west coast of Phuket, looking out to the Andaman sea, so the seas can reputedly get large and dangerous in the monsoon months from May to October. But I am in luck this year, its unseasonably good weather, nothing but sunshine for the first seven days of May and then only a couple of midnight rains since, not the daily thunderstorms expected this time of the year. It is however, intensely hot and humid.

The ocean is a lagoon most days, and deliciously warm at 31 C but still cooler than the sun. Kata is not as overdeveloped as many Thai beaches, but this is not the place for a desert island fantasy. There is a continuous line of sun-lounges under the palms from one end of the beach to the other, but the rest of the sand is open for all. “Lady, lady, wanna massage, buy watch, coconut, sarong…” is always going to be a constant refrain, but a polite no thanks and they happily move to the next sun-lounge.

beach at Kata Yai, Phuket
beach at Kata Yai, Phuket

My only complaint is that the beautiful clarity of water makes it impossible to ignore the rubbish left behind by at least some of the tourists – a regular tide of cans, bottle, plastic wrap, chocolate wrappers, even cigarette lighters wash past each time you swim.

It’s so hot that the day turns into a series of swims – pool, breakfast, beach, pool, beach, pool, until its time for sunset drinks and dinner and probably another late night swim. Most of the development is on the two headlands at either end of the beach, because a gigantic Club Med sprawls over the flat in the middle – including golf course and circus aerial trapeze lessons. I find it amusing that the “girly bar” area of Kata (very mild compared to Patong) runs right along the street behind Club Med, very family friendly indeed. On the headlands there is a fine selection of tailors, massages (about $10 for an hour of reflexology), shops, bars and restaurants.

My favourite food and cocktails in Kata Beach:

  • Best beer – a cold Singha in a stubby holder during happy hour in the swim up bar (happy hour somewhat strangely being between noon and 4pm)
  • Most refreshing cocktail: the Boathouse Lemonade – run, triple sec, lime juice, blended with ginger and mint, topped with soda water
  • Best Mojitos (note: too many Thai bars ruin cocktails by adding lots of extra sugar, the following ones didn’t): Kata BBQ – perfect beachside table to watch the sunset and extra marks for the fresh prawn crisps; Boathouse – luxe sunset watching and a very civilised Mojito; Bella Vista, on a treehouse platform above the rocks on the south end of the beach, this superstrength mojito I dedicate to Rach and Dennis, as after one of these delicious “Cuban pour your own” superstrength drinks, you may not be able to get back down the stairs again.
  • Best Iced Coffee- the Italian Job – great for icecream too.
  • Worst for Icecream, the Tangerine with iberry icecream, next to the Kata Hotel – the icecream smelled of fish and tasted of bitter chemicals – avoid at all costs.
  • Best all round ambience: Dino Park –this dinosaur themed “Fred Flintsone meets Tiki Bar” food/drink/mini golf emporium should be terrible but it is brilliant. At the north end of beach on the headland to Karon, it has “rock” tables and chairs scattered amongst rain forest, fish ponds, bridges, an erupting volcano and dinosaur skeletons, with staff in Fred Flintstone uniforms. The top of the trees emit a cooling mist to combat the heat. There’s a great selection of cocktails and good local food, reasonably priced. I still don’t know how, or why, but there was a young elephant wandering around the bar last night. Yes, a real one, and no, I was still on my first drink!
  • Best Pork with Hot Chilli Basil – Bella Vista wins hands down, they do an excellent spicy version
  • Best food any day, any time – banana pancakes, from any of the roadside stalls, always perfect

    Chatachuk market, Phuket
    Chatachuk market, Phuket

Kata Noi – the other half of Kata Beach.

A five minute walk over the headland south of Kata Yai is Kata Noi, a smaller very quiet bay with a handful of upmarket resorts, the beach, and not much else. It’s a great bay to escape to for uncrowded sunbathing and swimming. And on the rocky headland between sits Mom Tri’s Kitchen. This is a great stopping off point for a cooling drink or a lunch on some of the best food in the area – it’s the “little sister” to the Boathouse restaurant and is much better value.

Phuket: Best market

It is possible to shop while lying on the beach, and on every road near every beach on Phuket, all touts and stalls selling pretty much the same stuff. But the hands down winner is the huge Chatuchak night market held Saturday and Sunday from 4.30pm to 10pm. All the other night markets in Phuket pale into insignificance when compared to the 1000+ stalls at this weekend market on the outskirts of Phuket Town -it has everything you’ve seen before and a whole lot more. On the edge of the market are an amazing array of food stalls, perfect for dinner, while the circular open bar right in the middle of the market is a great place for a refreshing beer break half way through. Come early as it gets really, really busy as the night goes on.