Lewis Coastal Walk

When I packed my suitcase to come to Scotland, I went out and bought another pair of fleecy Gortex pants because I was worried I would be wet and cold. My research of the weather said I could expect temperatures in high teens at best. I didn’t pack any shorts and only one t-shirt. That plan was sorely tested.

On the day I did this walk, The Outer Hebrides put on a summer day to rival summer in Wollongong! Not a cloud in the sky and at one point my car told me it was 30C!

After 5 km of walking, I decided to cut down my jeans with the little scissors in my trusty first aid kit!

After a thorough cost benefit analysis I deemed it worthwhile.

Pros:

1. It’s 30 C (86F)

2. The jeans are not expensive ones

3. It’s 30 C (86F)

4. I’m sweating like crazy and I am only carrying a litre of water. It’s a health issue!

5. It’s 30 C (86F)!!! In Scotland!!!

Cons:

1………

2. Still thinking of 1!

Wollongong Snapshot: Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Being a tourist in your own town has its advantages. It’s quick, inexpensive and you don’t need much planning.  I took myself off to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a glorious spring day in search of colourful flowers and interesting textures. I was not disappointed!

A large kookaburra sitting on a rock
Plenty of bird life to be found in the gardens

It seems like ages since I have been out for the express purpose of taking photos.  The  Gardens are one of my favourite places for a close-to-home photo safari.

The Gardens are across the road from the University of Wollongong, but it’s best to park in Murphy’s Avenue, Gwynneville.  (click here for a map of the area) Because it is right near the Uni, parking can be a bit tricky during Semester time. There is a small designated parking area in the gardens itself. (Enter on Murphy’s Road)

A black metal scultpure of a man in a baseball hat with is arms crossed
Sculptures adorn the lawns

The Gardens are free and a fabulous place for a picnic. There are limited BBQ Facilities near the entrance. An “all-abilities” children’s’ playground with a big sandpit, climbing web and maze will keep kids occupied for ages. The design ensures that is accessible for everyone including those with limited mobility.

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Well organised picnickers nab the best spots!

In summer, you can take along your family,  bean bags, cushions and a picnic dinner and catch a movie on a big outdoor screen as the sun sets and the birds twitter in the trees.   Not all movies are suitable for kids but many are, so best to check the program here Sunset Cinema first.

The highlights for me are the Dryland Gardens (good all year)  and the rose garden (you need to pick the season). In spring, of course, you will find the garden in full bloom. Since most trees in Australia are evergreen and our Autumn’s are not very cold, there is not much leaf colour  as you would find in colder climes.

If you wanted to make a full day of it take a packed lunch,  include a walk around the Uni which has pleasant grounds and have a peek at Glennifer Brae, the stately home of the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, both within an easy stroll from the Garden itself..

There are  guided tours run by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and there are various gardening workshops advertised on the website.

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These photos were taken on September 30th and while its  officially been spring for a whole month the weather was only just starting to warm up.

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I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.

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These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.

I hope you enjoy them!

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New York, New York (oh and a tiny bit of Maine)

I spent most of April in the US of A and most of that time, I was in New York with about 5 days in coastal Maine. I took nearly 6000 photos and around 300 short videos. I used 11 SD cards. It has taken me over a week to sift through them. Some I deleted immediately. Too blurry, too grainy or just too nothing. What I saw with my eyes did not transfer to the digital sensor. I cut the 6000 back to 2500.

These 30 photos are my favourites. Over the next few weeks and months I will go through them again and perhaps I will see some things I did not see the first time through. But for now, these photos stand out to me. (I think I did pretty well to pick 30!) I have not added any titles. I hope they stand up as interesting images in their own right. Stories about the photos will follow over the next few months.

My friend, a real photographer, says I am a “documentary photographer”.

I am happy with that title.

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Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

Wollongong Snapshot 3: The Active ‘Gong – a few free, fun outdoor activities when you visit Wollongong.

There’s plenty to see and do in my home town. People come here for holidays! You can easily fill up a weekend with active fun and fab food with very little effort. This post is about some free things you can do to keep active while spending time in Wollongong. I am not going to say much about accommodation or cafes etc. I will keep that for a separate post. This is certainly not an exhaustive guide but gives you a bit of an idea of things to do.

  1. Like swimming but not sand? Head down to the Continental Pools just on the other side of the breakwater from Belmore Basin.

    There are two 50 m pools side by side. They are filled with the sea water but not tidal and the bright blue pool shell makes them look like a regular chlorine pool. Entry is free! This blog post gives some more information about the pool. http://oceanpoolsnsw.net.au/continental-baths-wollongong-nsw-2529/ . The Wollongong Council website also has information about opening times. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/beachespools/Pages/pools.aspx#gref

  2. Like swimming and don’t mind the sand? Wollongong has more sandy beaches than you can poke a boogie board at! From Stanwell Park in the north to “Farm” down at Killalea State Park there are all sorts of beaches.
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    Woonona Beach

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    Bulli Beach Sea Pool

    If you are in the CBD, you can easily walk to City Beach or North Beach. The Bathing Pavilion at North Beach has been renovated and has good change rooms and showers and there are some cafes there too.

    You can walk along the Blue Mile and around the lighthouses to get from one beach to the other. City Beach and North Beach are patrolled (by life guards) in season and you should swim between the flags. Belmore Basin is a small sandy beach on Wollongong Harbour. This is a great place for little kids and swimmers who don’t like waves. If you are a surfer have a look at this site for a few suggestions. http://www.backpackaround.com/things-to-do/destinations/new-south-wales/wollongong/wollongong-surfing.html

  3. Bushwalking. There are some very fine bushwalks in the Illawarra area.
  • Sublime Point Walk. If you are a bit of an extreme exercise enthusiast, you might like to try the Sublime Point Walk. It’s short (less than a kilometre one way) but it’s straight up (more or less) the escarpment. Lots of people try to beat their own personal best and get it done one way in less than 30 minutes. That’s easy if you come down the track but not so much if you start at Austinmer and go up. The National Parks website tells you how to get there and where to park. You can take the train and get off at Austinmer. This is also uphill and will take about 20 – 25 minutes. Take water and snacks. There is a café at the top but it is not open 24/7. Apart from trying to beat the speed record lots of people aim to get to the top by sunrise, so many start the walk in the near dark. Please note: the local residents will get VERY narky if you park in their driveway so play nice if you drive. You should be fit to do this walk – it’s a hard slog and will be tough on your knees. You need to be comfortable climbing ladders and there are lots of stairs. But the view!! The view is amazing!

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/sublime-point-walking-track

 

  1. The Park Run: The Park Run is a global volunteer-organised running club. There are three places you can do the Park Run in the Illawarra if you are a registered member. One in Sandon Pont, another that starts from Fairy Meadow Surf Club and then down south in Shellharbour. These 5 km timed runs are all in great locations and attract lots of locals and travellers. http://www.parkrun.com.au/northwollongong/ . Links to the Sandon Point and Shellharbour runs are on this page. The runs are held on Saturday mornings.

 

  1. Bike riding: Fancy a long ride along the beach? There is a bike/walk path that goes from the just south of the city up to Thirroul in the North – around 10 km all up. You will wind your way past several beaches, Bellambi Lagoon and some urban areas. You can also ride around Lake Illawarra (about 31 km) http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/sportrec/Pages/CyclingGuide.aspx
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The Seacliff Bridge

In the future it will be possible to walk/ride from Stanwell Park in the north right down to Lake Illawarra.  http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/services/majorprojects/Pages/grandpacificwalk.asp Some sections are completed but it is not yet possible unless you ride on the road. You can walk/ride across the iconic Seacliff Bridge which features in lots of car ads. The bridge is on Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

6.  Wollongong Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer a more gentle walk the WBG are a real treat. Both Native and exotic plants are on display with picnic areas and secret trails. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/botanicgarden/Pages/default.aspx. They also host a Sunset Cinema in summer (which is not free). You could also duck across the road and have a wander through the University of Wollongong’s grounds.

Need a rest?

The following ideas, while not active may also be of interest to round out your weekend!

  1. Feeling Spiritual? Australia is a secular country but there are several large temples and churches in the Illawarra area that are interesting to visit.
  • Nan Tien Temple. The Nan Tien Temple is a huge Buddhist Temple and conference centre. It has beautiful gardens and you can wander around and look at the interesting buildings, gong the peace bell and sit in on the free lectures about Buddhism. There is a very good vegan café. This page has information on how to get there and what to wear http://www.nantien.org.au/en/visitor-info/directions-and-dress-code
  • Sri Venkateswara Temple. This Hindu temple is in the northern most suburb of Wollongong; Helensburgh. While accessible by public transport and a 4 km walk, a car would make it much easier! It is closed between 12 – 4pm on week days. Once again you can buy vegetarian food here. Find more information here

 http://www.svtsydney.org/contactus.html

  1. Museums and Art Galleries:
  • Wollongong Art Gallery: There is a small regional art gallery in Wollongong’s city centre. It has a permanent collection as well as several exhibitions each year. It would be a great way to spend an hour or so on a very hot or wet day! http://www.wollongongartgallery.com/gallery/Pages/default.aspx
  • Illawarra Museum: This cute little museum which is run by the Illawarra Historical Society is right on the beach and in the old court building. It’s free to enter but they can use a donation if you would like to contribute. See their website for more http://www.illawarramuseum.com/

 

NOT FREE!

 

[1] This is for the full track – there are several paces to start so you can cut it down to 6 km one way if you wish.

Summer in Australia – The Cicada’s Symphony.

As I dragged my bag from the airport carousel my Mum said “I will warn you now the cicadas are really bad this year”

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Despite Mum’s warning I was not prepared for the deafening, throbbing assault to my senses. Mum told me she had taken ill with vertigo for a few days as her eardrums rattled and reverberated due to the dreadful din. You could feel the rising crescendo as your whole brain is engulfed by solid sound.

 

Starting at 4:30 AM and eventually quietening down around 10:30 PM there is little rest from the cacophony. As a grand finale, frogs chime in just after dark adding a melodic bass note to the whining irritating insects.

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Spiders lurking in the shell
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Ants and other smaller insects feed on the remnants of the cicadas shells

Cicada shells festoon almost every vertical surface with trees and fence posts laden down with the grotesque dried-out  exuvia that support their own tiny ecosystem of smaller bugs.

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Rather than grumble, I decided to make the most of their presence and photograph these abundant subjects. So here is a photo essay about cicadas in Gordonville, NSW in the days leading up to Christmas.

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The Cherrynose was the most abundant species visible

Where did they all come from?

The life cycle of cicadas is still not fully understood. Females lay eggs in slits in  tree bark they make with a scythe-like appendage on their abdomen called an ovipositor.  The eggs hatch  after 2 – 7 months and the little nymph hatchling falls to the ground before burrowing in for a long wait.  The nymphs grow underground for an unknown period depending on the species. Same say four years, others seven and in the North America there is a species which apparently remains underground for 17 years. However long it is, some years are better cicada years than others.

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Razor Grinder – The rough slits in the bark may be where females have been laying eggs.

My hypothesis would be that cicada bumper years would be coincident with previous hot, wet summers. Given they have to burrow in the ground, wet soil would make it easier for the nymphs and more would survive to subsequently emerge and drive us batty. (I haven’t found anything to back up my hypothesis!)

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A Double Drummer

The nymphs feed by tapping into the fleshy roots of trees with their straw-like mouthpieces and suck the fluids from xylem and phloem tubes. During their time underground they moult several times. Returning to the surface in a distant summer, cicadas climb up any convenient vertical structure before splitting their shells to emerge as adults. Their soft wings need to air dry and stiffen before they can fly making them vulnerable to their predators, mainly birds, bats and reptiles like goannas.

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I only saw one of these Green Grocers – looking a bit worse for wear and fending off marauding ants.

The males are the chirpers and produce the  noise by vibrating thin membranes over hollow slits on either side of their abdomen. The volume is amplified by air filled cavities. Females remain silent. One wonders how one male can be distinguished from the thousands of others with so much noise all around. How can they tell a Tom from a Dick or Harry?

 

 

To us humans,  the 86dB 15-16 kHz love song is simply noise, unwanted and enervating on a hot summer day. Double drummers have been recorded at 120 dB!

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This graph showing a peak at 76dB with the highest reading at 91 dB

There’s an estimated 700-1000 species of cicadas in Australia, these photos show four that were in the trees around Mum’s place in Gordonville, inland from Coffs Harbour, NSW in the week before Christmas.

Want to know more about cicadas? Have a look here – http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/category/locations/australia/  these people are cicada crazy!

 

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Razor Grinders