We were scheduled to return to Mumbai on Malaysian Airline’s late night flight MH132 via Kuala Lumpur.
At the very last minute, the Airline announces that the flight was cancelled due to technical problems with the aircraft. (Sparking off sarcastic congratulatory comments commending them on making the information available prior to takeoff!)
Till the early hours of the morning there was complete chaos but once they finally got their act together I must admit we were well looked after.
We were put up at the luxurious Novotel Airport Hotel in Aukland followed by an additional night (to catch our Mumbai bound connection) at the Marriott hotel at Kuala Lumpur. Complete with all meals, late checkouts and airport transfers. In effect, it was a fully paid, 5-star, two-and-a-half-day extended vacation.
With nothing to do.
Ideal circumstances really, to pour over the hundreds of images and reminisce on our time in the land ‘down under’…
Darling Habour, Sydney, Australia
We arrived in Sydney in Mid October and checked into the newly opened Sofitel Hotel. Superbly located on Darling Habour the train station and Pyrmont ferry stop were just around the corner. Add to that a robust Uber Cab service and there was no corner of Sydney that was inaccessible.
Our first day in Australia was spent at Manly Beach.
It was all that the brochures had promised. Crystal clear, blue-green waters, quaint houses and shops and mouth-watering seafood!
Being spring, most of the locals found the water rather chilly. To us from Mumbai it was downright bloody freezing!
Manly beach had an interesting pedestrian street lined by shops and restaurants whose individually colored and contrasting facades were lined up edge-to-edge making a pretty picture.
The silver gull is the most common gull seen in Australia.
They are cheeky as hell and had perfected the technique of plucking food out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists down to a fine art. On that first morning on Manly beach we saw this happen on two separate occasions. And neither of the victims was injured. Not even a scratch.
Breakfast at Guylian Cafe, Darling Habour
On a recce the previous night, our daughter had discovered a Guylian café nearby and for a family that can’t get enough of the shell-shaped hazelnut confectionary, the decision on where to have breakfast the next morning was a no brainer.
We seated ourselves outside the café and placed our order.
A woman eating a snack was passing by when a hovering seagull positioned itself determinedly above and behind her right shoulder.
The previous day’s experience at Manly Beach primed me for what was likely to happen next and I raised my camera, focused on the woman and pressed the shutter. The action lasted barely over a second but the Canon 1DX2’s 14 frames per second meant an incredible sequence of 20 RAW images1 of which is shown in the slideshow below.
The speed at which the entire incident took place is evident from the change in the lady’s expression. It registers her awareness that something untoward was happening only after the seventh frame of the twenty that were taken. Well after the bird has already begun to fly away!
Post breakfast we picked up Opal Travel Cards and used them to catch the ferry from Pyrmont (on Darling Habour a few minutes walk from our hotel) to Circular Quay to visit the Sydney Botanical Gardens and the Sydney Opera House.
The advantage of taking the sea route is one gets to see, and photograph, the Sydney Opera House from the water with the added bonus of having it framed by the Sydney Habour Bridge. Unfortunately it was a horribly overcast day and the images above and below were the best I could manage.
The Sydney Botanical gardens were beautiful.
Being a rainy weekday the birds outnumbered people by a substantial margin.
Centennial Park, Sydney
No birder worth his salt will leave Australia without an image of a laughing kookaburra. And it is thanks to Ashlyn Pinto that I got the one below.
Not for spotting the bird ( which, by the way, he did) but for taking me out to spend an amazing day of birding at the 470 acre Centennial Park. The park is huge, and its numerous water bodies and forested areas are host to a large number of birds. If the botanical gardens was a ‘trailer’ then, for me, the ‘main show’ to Australia’s bird life definitely started here.
Over the few hours that we were there we saw a number of bird species including black swan, chestnut teal, hardhead duck, pied cormorant, Australian white ibis, Pacific black duck, grey lag geese, mallard duck, dusky moorhen, Australasian darter, Australian raven, masked lapwing, buff-banded rail, noisy miner, welcome swallow, magpie-lark, grey butcherbird, tree martin, Willie wagtail, crested pigeon, kookaburra, pied currawong, Australian magpie, spotted dove, common starling, common myna, and superb fairy-wren.
Below is a slideshow of some of the images I took.
Taronga Zoo, Sydney
This was the reason we were in Australia in the first place. To attend a family wedding.
Let me tell you, if you are a photographer, a wedding is THE place to be.
Everything is geared towards perfection. To ensure that the memories last a lifetime. The carefully selected venue. The hours spent to get the décor and the table settings just right. The finery of wedding couple and guests.
Gowns, saris, suits, sherwanis, ghagras, tuxedos. Matched with every conceivable fashion accessory. A globe-spanning cultural spectrum of formal attire if ever there was one.
And the icing on the cake is you get to blatantly photograph – and by that I mean, well-and-truly, camera-in-their-face photograph – people without even the slightest fear of getting hammered or sued!
As wedding ceremonies go, this was one of the most beautiful I have ever attended. It was held at the Taronga Zoo with a spectacular view of Sydney Harbour complete with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The ceremony itself was conducted by a special government appointed marriage official (coinage by yours truly as I have no clue as to what her actual designation was) whose every word was customised to be meaningful to the couple. No parroted prayers here to challenge the attention span of couple and congregation.
I must say I got some truly great images. Especially of the bride who was stunning in her wedding gown. And with her hair backlit against the evening sun – the magical ‘golden hour’ light – it was every photographer’s dream.
And so, with that preamble, you will understand why it is with absolute and uttter sheepishness that I admit that I may have inadvertently deleted the wedding images!
Part of the blame must surely go to the groom’s mother who passed on a mother of an Aussie virus to me that made every other virus I had ever experienced pale in comparison. And, believe me, coming from India that is saying a lot!
In the febrile haze of the next few days I do believe there is a distinct possibility that I may have forgotten to download the nuptial images. (I had three hard drives with me and a small part of me is still hoping that I’ve copied them somewhere.)
And so I will have to leave you with the only image I have of the occasion – the one below that was taken on my iPhone showing the view from the venue at sunset!
The next day we visited the Blue Mountains. Many thanks to Rayna and Peter not only for driving us there but also for the traffic tips that stood me in good stead when I drove in New Zealand later.
About an hour’s drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are so called because of a scientific phenonema that imparts a blue tinge to the mountain range due to Mie scattering, volatile terpenoids and eucalyptus trees.
Clear? No?! Never mind. It went clear over my head too!
The highlights of the day was a visit to three sandstone peaks known as the three sisters and a visit to quaint little Leura Town that began with lunch (yum) then some shopping (yuk) and ended with tea and the most delicious cakes (yum)!
My only regret was that I left the long lens in the car during tea. The view from the cafe was superb and the trees were swarming with sulphur-crested cockatoos just begging to be photographed.
Checking out from the Sofitel we left Sydney and flew north to Proserpine airport and from there took the airport shuttle to Airlie beach. The weather had changed noticibly. The chill of Sydney was now a thing of the past. It was warmer…almost hot, and what’s more, clear blue skies replaced the depressing grey ones.
The drive to our hotel at Airlie beach reminded me of a line from the movie The Dutchess and the Dirtwater Fox: “Here she comes…there she goes.” The bus approached the Main Street, drove slowly through and then continued driving…and driving …and driving!
The further we moved away from the beach area the more of a inconvenience it would be to commute. And it was not only our apprehension that was mounting. As we drove further and further away the road had begun to climb significantly.
Finally, about 2-3 kilometres and a couple of hairpin bends later we arrived at our home for the next couple of nights, SeaStar Apartments. Only to be told that our apartment was on the second floor and that there was no elevator in this wing!
By this time were were seriously asking ourselves: Had we made the wrong choice of hotel?!!
All doubts vanished when when we entered the apartment. It was beautifully furnished, very spacious, well equipped, extremely comfortable and the view…Ooo la la! It was nothing short of spectacular!!
Thanks to the bug I picked up, I was stuck in the apartment for the next couple of nights. Having said that, I could not have picked a better place to fall sick!
An added bonus was found in the row of flowering shrubs lining the driveway below. They were teeming with birds and even the occasional butterfly allowing for plenty of snapping between the sneezing and the snoozing!
Mackay was special.
A gem of a friend drove up all the way to pick us up from Airlie and drive us to his home in Mackay. We were to spend the night there and catch an early morning flight to Cairns on the next day.
Mackay is a beautiful town. It does not have the buzz of Sydney, or a spectacular beach like Airlie or even access to the Great Barrier Reef like Cairns or Port Douglas. What it does have however are two amazing residents. Which is why, of the thousands of images I took on the trip, the one above and all its attendant memories of the excellent waterfront diner the previous night and the sumptuous meal the next morning on the deck of Glenn and Giselle’s wonderful home in Mackay will be truly treasured for years and years to come.
Also, I simply could not resist the temptation to whip out the camera at the local duck pond!
Glenn informs me that these ducks are treated like royalty. Each Sunday morning parishioners will wait patiently in their cars as the ducks walk solemnly in single file across the road to the pond before proceeding to church.
Hmmmm…? A brand new and novel way to skip the sermon, perhaps?!
Thala Beach and Nature Reserve
Arriving at Cairns we took a cab to Thala Beach and Nature Reserve where we were scheduled to spend a couple of nights. Living accommodation was superb and in the form of individual luxury cottages that were set among the trees.
The closest town was Port Douglas and that was miles away so meals had to be taken in-house in a huge elevated circular dining area constructed in the canopy where strategically placed bird feeders ensured free entertainment during meals. The images above and below are testimony to that!
Thala is a densely forested property that promises a great birding experience. It’s brochure even boasts of a resident birder. Needless to say, staying here was my choice and I was really looking forward to doing a couple of guided birding sessions.
Unfortunately there was no sign of the ‘resident birder’ over our two nights stay. “You need to stay for at least 5 days,” I was told by the lady at the reception desk if I was to catch a birding session. Then why call him a resident birder? Also, when we checked in we (including my 80+ year old mother in law) were directed to walk to our adjoining cottages that were quite a distance away and involved walking down a fairly long path of stone steps cut into the forest. We found out later that buggies were available that could have taken us there more comfortably. This is the only hotel that will be not be getting a five star rating in my review. Which is a shame, as, for a nature lover or a wildlife enthusiast, the property is mind-blowing.
While the rest of the family used the hotel shuttle to spend a morning in Port Douglas, I opted to check out the bird life on one of the many walking trails that go through the forest.
Ulysses butterflies are large butterflies (about 14cm wingspan) whose upper wings are coloured an electric blue. The flashes of blue make a unforgettable sight as they fly by. Unfortunately they are constantly on the move and rarely stay still long enough to get off a shot. Which makes the image above so special.
Below are some of the other wildlife images I got here. If only I had a guide the numbers I’ve no doubt would have been much larger. Ah..well!
On the day we were to check out we booked a morning trip from Port Douglas to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, striking out yet another item on the bucket list of lifetime things that must be done. On that trip all I took was my GoPro and I will upload the footage once I get it sorted out.
Back at the hotel we needed to get back to Cairns where we were scheduled stay another couple of nights. Transport options included a shuttle bus and a limousine service. Thinking it was just a fancy name for a cab service we opted for the latter.
The surprise on Vanessa’s face when a stretch limo pulled up at the reception was quite comic and for the next hour or so (the time taken to drive to Cairns) we felt like royalty!
We had 2 whole days and 3 nights in Cairns and checked into the Comfort Inn Hotel. It’s a three star hotel that was nowhere as upmarket as Thala, Sofitel or Seastar apartments. But it was spotlessly clean, the washroom met with Vanessa’s approval and it was walking distance from the Esplanade. It even has a chinese restaurant attached where the food was really good.
While planning the trip we received conflicting advice on whether to stay in Cairns or in Port Douglas. Port Douglas is more upmarket and closer to the Barrier Reef but has not much else to do. Cairns on the other hand has lots more to do including has a long esplanade that has a humongous number of eating places and is humming with activity at night. Looking back we were happy with the choice we made especially since we did the Barrier reef from Port Douglas during our stay in Thala.
On the day we arrived Glenn happened to be in Cairns on work and took us out to dinner. (One would have thought that by now he would be fed up of us!) We wound up having a superb meat at a great restaurant on the waterfront at the Esplanade.
The plan was to do Kuranda on the next day. On the advice a very helpful receptionist at the Comfort Inn we booked tickets on the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Freshwater Station to go up to the Kuranda.
Kuranda Village and Kuranda National Park is 25Km from Cairns and situated on the Atherton Table about 330 metres above sea level. On the train journey up the Barron falls is a spectacular sight as the Barron River begins it’s steep descent to the sea.
Below are some of the images taken on the way up to Kuranda.
Kuranda Village caters almost exclusively to tourists. It has shops and restaurants and, within walking distance of the town, there are a number of places of interest that offer a variety of activities enough to keep one occupied for the entire day.
I (naturally) was interested in the Butterfly Sanctuary and the Kuranda Birdworld.
First stop: Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Kuranda Village. Its a huge enclosure beautifully landscaped to give the look and feel of a tropical forest and was teeming with butterflies! Some of the images I got are in the slideshow below.
Next was Birdworld and the rest of the family joined me. Like the butterfly sanctuary Birdworld also was a large enclosure that housed a number of birds that (with the exception of a few species like the cassowary below) are allowed to fly freely within.
At the entrance we picked up a packet of bird feed and the thrilled expression on my mother-in-law’s face (below) as a rainbow lorikeet helped itself to a snack more that justified the purchase!
The birds will go for anything that even resembles food. The Alexandrine Parakeet (below, that, incidentally, comes from India) was hell bent of making a meal of the button on the top of my cap!
The birds were a mix of both native and exotic species. Below are images of some of the native Australian birds at the park.
On the way back we took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The view as the cable skims over the canopy is breathtaking. It also passes over the Barron river seen in the second image below.
The next day was our last day in Australia and we had originally planned to do Daintree Forest. The trouble was by now we were exhausted and I had not yet recovered from my virus. There was also the little matter of next 10 days in New Zealand where I’d be driving for the first time out of India.
We decided to give Daintree a skip and spent a relaxed day at the Cairns Botanical Park instead.
Beginning with breakfast where were had the best- and by that I do mean the absolute best – smoothies ever! From there we strolled down a boardwalk to Freshwater Lake that had an picture-perfect Chinese garden. Below are some of the birds I shot that day.
Our last meal in Australia was at the Esplanade and needed to be special. With a seafood platter and mussels in the chef’s secret sauce (image below) it certainly was!!
That was the end of a great trip to the land Down Under. The only regrets are the deleted wedding images (although a small part of me is still hopeful that they will surface on one of my hard drives) and the missed trip to Daintree.
From a bird photography point of view, considering that this was not a dedicated birding trip I am more that satisfied with my selection of bird images (a screen shot of the list is below).
That’s it for now. Putting together this blog was fun and I’m really looking forward to doing the next leg of the trip that was every bit as good, if not better: New Zealand!!
I do hope you liked it.
I’ll leave you with this image of a sleeping koala taken at Kuranda Koala Sanctuary.