Heiko Spallek | digital imaging: Blog https://photos.spallek.com/blog en-us (C) Heiko Spallek | digital imaging [email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Sun, 28 Jan 2024 03:49:00 GMT Sun, 28 Jan 2024 03:49:00 GMT https://photos.spallek.com/img/s/v-12/u75301363-o1041325852-50.jpg Heiko Spallek | digital imaging: Blog https://photos.spallek.com/blog 120 85 New Zealand 2024 - Part 2 https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2024/1/new-zealand-2024 Click here for Part 1.

We stay in Aoraki near Mt Cook in the Aoraki Court Motel. We had a late second lunch upon arrival, watching two avalanches coming down from the remaining snow on the mountain.


We do the Hermitage Big Sky Stargazing at 0:30 am with clear skies in the unique location beneath the mountains in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. The two guides explain by pointing with lasers into the sky. They also had two telescopes on tracking mounts. We learn that the closest star system in the night sky is called Alpha Centauri, and it is one of the pointers that help us find the Southern Cross. The light you see from it has taken nearly 4.5 years to reach the Earth! In addition to the Milky Way, there are two other galaxies to look for on nights in New Zealand, called the Magellanic Clouds. We went to bed at 2:30 am.


In the morning (well, 10 am), we did the Hooker Valley Track but turned around after 1.5 hours (about half the way in). The swinging bridges were a bit scary, and no one obeyed the 20-person limit as the track was super crowded.

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We read at one spot, “The rumble and crash: Shhh! Listen of an ever-changing landscape: Can you hear the rocks and snow tumbling down from the mountains above? The rushing of water? It is the sound of change-of glaciers retreating and mountains being torn down by water and ice. A hundred years ago, the Mueller Glacier filled the valley floor. You could have walked onto the glacier from near here. Today the glacier is all but hidden up the valley. Glacial ice left behind is still visible at the far end of the lake. Piles of rock rubble (moraine) dropped by the glacier mark its past extent.” 

On Tuesday, 2 January, after Checkout, we met up at the Activity Retail Centre in the Hermitage lobby at 7:30 for the Glacier Explorer. Our guide tells us a bit about Aoraki: 300 people live in the village during the summer and only 100 in the winter, as there are almost no winter activities available. The area is government owned and all services are run by eight companies. The highest mountain is Mt Cook, which is 3724 metres high. It is also called the Cloud Piercer, as its peak is above the clouds for every two of three days. We are told that the Waitaki Hydroelectric Power System connects the three big lakes by man-made canals. Two lakes have a bluish colour from the glacier water. The contributing rivers have a milky, chalky colour from the rock ground up by the glaciers. However, the big particles sink to the bottom while the smaller ones stay at the surface. We learn that the last ice age was about 18,000 years ago, with the Tasman Glacier about 100 km long and 4 km wide. During the glacier’s movements, it “plugs” big rocks as glacier till and deposits these on the floor after melting as “abandoned glacier till”—sometimes up to 400 m deep. The valley receives up to 7 metres of rain per year, resulting in, among many other things, the Wakefield Waterfall, which is the highest waterfall in the park.

After a short bus ride and a 20-minute walk, we embark on small zodiacs with outboard motors in groups of 12 people with a guide/skipper. We are told that the Tasman Glacier is currently 27 km long, the longest in NZ. Its black surface comes from all the water melting while the till stays at the top, forming now a 2-3 metre layer of rocks and gravel. The glacier was 100 meters high only 80 years ago at the terminal phase (and there was no “Tasman Lake) and now is only 30 metres high. It retreats 150 meters per year at the 1.5 km wide terminal phase. Interestingly, there are another 270 metres of ice below the water's surface, which sometimes results in big breakaways, creating an ice shelf reaching 200 metres under the surface. We stayed 600 metres away from the calving area.


We also stopped at some floating icebergs to observe the bluish ice crystals from close up. I have the GoPro with me and record some short videos.

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After returning to the car, we started our drive to Wanaka, where we have an Airbnb in Albert Town. We stop by in Twizel at the High Country Salmon Farm. We have a Salmon Plank with various samples of their salmon dishes, from sushi to salmon pate.


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After arriving in Albert Town and unpacking, we drove the two kilometres into Wanaka, where Gisela went shopping while I sat at Lake Wanaka writing these lines. We have dinner at Bombay Palace’s second-floor balcony, allowing us an unobstructed view of the Lake. The food is delicious, and the service provided by the friendly staff is superior. I leave a nice review on Google.


The next morning, Wednesday, we go for a hike at Diamond Lake Conservation Area. The climb is steep, but we are rewarded with an excellent view of Diamond Lake and Lake Wanaka. “Diamond Lake Conservation Area is part of a spectacular mass of rock shaped by glacial action. Native forests and shrubland nestled into bluff systems add an attractive component to the landscape. The lake is impressive with its dramatic backdrop of high schist cliffs. The summit of Rocky Mountain (775m) provides excellent views over Lake Wanaka and its two largest islands, Mou Waho and Mou Tapu. From this vantage point to the west rise the peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park with the distinct shape of Mt Aspiring/Tititea dominating the sky line.”

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In dense traffic, we stopped at Lake Hawea before returning to Airbnb. We go to the nearby Clutha River for a picnic in the evening. Across the river is a densely packed campground, but our side of the river is thankfully deserted.

The next morning, we drove 100 km to Queenstown to our hotel, Villa Del Lago, with a view of Lake Wakatipu, just 2 minutes drive from Queenstown.


After arriving, we walk 3.4 km to eat at Pedro’s By The Lake. I have a glass of El Coto (Rioja -VIURA Easy drinking dry white with a rounded texture and notes of pear.)

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We have a variety of different tapas. We watch people do fake skydiving.

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We then go to Queenstown into the Kiwi and Birdlife Park. We watch the Kiwi show: “Kiwi numbers have plummeted - from millions 200 years ago, to about 70,000 today. Many of the places they lived are now cities, towns or farms. Kiwis are killed by stoats, dogs, cats, ferrets, pigs and possums.” “Kiwi are Unusual, More Like a Mammal Than a Bird: Kiwi is New Zealand's most ancient bird and a biological oddity. Because New Zealand had only three native land mammals (tiny bats), kiwi evolved to fill a mammal's niche. Unique features of kiwi are feathers are shaggy, like coarse hair; bones are heavy and marrow-filled; they have a mammal's low body temperature;  live in burrows; chicks hatch fully feathered, but they take 3 - 5 years to attain adult size; only bird with nostrils at the tip of their bill.”

At 4 pm, we watched the general animal show with a Tuatara, New Zealand's Living Fossil: “When it's cold, tuatara go into a form of hibernation called torpor. They retreat to their burrows, barely move and slow their breathing and heartbeat right down to save energy.” They can get 150 years old and do not belong to the family of reptiles, lizards, or crocodiles but form their own family. They have one individual Tuatara in another zoo, which is 130 years old. The tuatara has a third eye, a photoreceptor, on its forehead.

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They then showed us Australian Lorikeets that were introduced into NZ.

The other introduced species is opossum of which there are 80 million in NZ now. They are trapped, and then their fur is mixed with Merino Wool for socks and other wool products. Later, we see socks in a local store. “Possum Merino: 33% NZ Possum Fur, 44% NZ Merino, 7% Silk, 16% Synthetic Cushioning. The sole and heel areas are cushioned with a plush zone for enhanced comfort and wear.“


They also show us a Weka and Kereru at the show. Wekas are flightless birds with a great homing instinct. They can walk great distances and swim across rivers and streams, some have been known to swim distances of up to a kilometer to get home. Agricultural development and the introduction of mammalian predators were the reasons for a drop in the number of Weka in the late last century. But the biggest problem was between 1915 and 1925 when many vanished…many probably due to disease.”

We also see a Kea in an enclosure and read: “Kea have the same problem-solving (and mess-making) ability as a 4-year-old child! We are given many toys and enrichments to play with so we don't get bored.” We read, “The young Kea learn by mimicking what their parents do and playing with each other. Once they are two or three years old and on their own, Kea spend a few years hanging around in Kea gangs. These are the Kea's 'teenage' years, and it is these gangs that are most often seen around places such as ski fields.” “Kea are cheeky and inquisitive, the clown of birds and the only alpine parrot in the world - definitely worth protecting!”

We tasted different kinds of honey and learned that bees make 22,700 trips to produce a jar of Manuka honey.

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We learn about the Haast’s Eagle, the now-extinct biggest bird ever that lived on Earth with a 3.5 m wingspan. “Believed to have gone extinct in 1400. The largest predator among New Zealand's animals, it is believed to have weighed up to 17.8kg with a 3 metre wingspan. Its feet & claws were as large as a modern-day tiger's. Moa were the eagle's main food source, but Maori tales suggest they attacked human children. The extinction of the moa led to the extinction of the eagle.”

We learn about NZ birds and how they are protected: “New Zealand.. land of the flightless birds? 32 of the 60 species of flightless birds worldwide are from NZ - that number has now halved to just 16, due to extinction. New Zealand is spending millions of dollars to create a safe haven for our native species.”

On Friday, we start at 6 am with a tour to Milford Sound https://www.viator.com/tours/Queenstown/Doubtful-Sound-Wilderness-Cruise-from-Queenstown/d407-2264RJ301. Our tour guide, Cameron, picks us up from a hotel 20 min walk away from ours. Cam talks a lot; some of it seems odd, like that Albatrosses are extinct except in New Zealand, that Americans pay $100k to hunt deer on NZ farms, and that Fungi caused the development of humans because when monkeys ate magic mushrooms it opened up their minds and allowed them to discover things.

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We stop at Garston, a district that “was established in 1858, made up of two sheep stations - Glenquoich and Greenvale. Garston is renowned for being the most inland village in New Zealand and is nestled in the Upper Mataura Valley in the Southern Lakes district. It was named after a suburb of Liverpool in England. The valley in which Garston lies is flanked by the Eyre Mountains (1968 metres) to the west and the Slate Range (942 m) and Hector Mountains (1675 m) to the east.”

We stop at Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in NZ. “While we may not see them, the dark waters conceal a wealth of underwater life, including both introduced and native fish. The natives: New Zealand's long-finned eel/tuna is one of the largest freshwater eels in the world, growing up to 2 metres long. Adult eels breed only once, at the end of their long lives, travelling thousands of kilometres from New Zealand to spawn deep in the Pacific Ocean. Young eels make the return journey. How they find their way upriver to this remote place is a wonder. Koaro are among the native fish whose juveniles are collectively called whitebait. Unlike some of its relatives, the koaro can spend its whole life in freshwater and is well suited to rivers like the Eglinton/Upokororo. Newcomers: Trout are also likely to live in Mirror Lakes, although they tend to prefer faster-flowing waters. Brown trout were introduced to Fiordland in 1867 as an angling fish; rainbow trout followed in the 1880s.“

We also stop for breakfast and get packed lunch. We see the white flowering Manuka trees which make the Manuka honey, well, with the help from the bees. We learn that Beech trees are “climbing” up the mountains with their roots. As they are all vertically interconnected, tree avalanches rip out trees on a stripe of mountain denuding it from vegetation. It takes 150 to 400 years until it is covered again.

We arrive at Fiordland National Park, the biggest national park in NZ, and one of the largest in the world. We stop at Mirror Lakes and at Falls Creek, a beautiful stream and waterfall. At one stop, we see Keas and take pictures of them eating and flying. 

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Shortly before arriving, “the road climbs through a cascade-tastic valley to the Homer Tunnel, 101km from Te Anau and framed by a high-walled, ice-carved amphitheatre. Begun as a relief project in the 1930s and completed in 1953, the tunnel is one way (traffic lights direct vehicle flow - patience required). … Dark, rough-hewn and dripping with water, the 1270m-long tunnel”.

When we come out of the tunnel, we see the “Wall of 1000 Waterfalls“. When we arrive at the Milford Sound, we embark our ship, the Milford Cruises. The captain, Roger who was born in Stuttgart, explains that the top layer of the water is freshwater with tannins (brownish) and the lower sections consist of saltwater. When there is no rain for 3 weeks, the Fjord water turns blue. We see a pod of Dolphins and some Fur Seals.

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We learn that the Fjord was formed by glaciers. It is 300 m deep, but at the entrance to ocean it is only 60 m deep. I chat with Roger, the captain, who has been doing this job for 30 years—one week working and one week off.  We then start our 4-hour drive back. “Milford Sound receives an estimated one million annual visitors which is an almighty challenge to keep its beauty pristine. But out on the water, all human activity - cruise ships, divers, kayakers - seems dwarfed into insignificance.”


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We encounter dolphins.

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On Saturday, we do a wine tour with Altitude Premium Small Group Travel. “Throughout the day, you can enjoy tasting over 18 spectacular cool-climate wines, with the option of a scrumptious lunch. You will be well looked after and hosted by an Altitude wine guide and cellar staff, and educated and entertained with local winemaking facts and stories. Your Wine Tasting Journey Begins: Start your day being met by your wine-certified guide at or near your Queenstown accommodation. From there, we’ll travel a short distance to the Gibbston wine region, home to top-rated wineries, award-winning winemakers, and, of course, delicious Pinot Noir. Gibbston Valley Winery: Our first location is the iconic Gibbston Valley Winery. Gibbston Valley is one of the region’s founding wineries and it’s here that we will join a guided tour through New Zealand’s largest underground wine cave and enjoy tastings of some of their world-famous wines."

"Kinross: Kinross is a fantastic location to try a range of different wines from multiple winemakers. Along with producing their own, they will also showcase wines from smaller producers and share their incredible stories. After your wine tasting, we allow extra time to enjoy lunch. Kinross has a range of delicious dishes on its menu, including pizzas, platters, smaller bites, and mains. This is ordered and paid directly on the day, giving you the flexibility to order what you would like based on your taste and budget."

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"The Church Cellar Door: We finish our tasting tour at The Church Tasting Room. This is a picturesque location, in a small refurbished church sitting on large sweeping grounds. This is the tasting room for Mt Edward Wines, who are a family-run producer in Gibbston growing small batches from single vineyard sites. Their wines include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, and Chenin.”

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Later, we have dinner at finz Seafood & Grill Restaurant. Gisela had half a crayfish, and I had pan-seared scallops and a whole sole.

As the sunset is only at 21:35 pm at the 43 degree latitude in Queenstown, we walk back to the hotel when there was still light outside.

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After checking out, we have breakfast at The Boatshed and a stroll through the nearby Marina. We returned the rental car (initially, there was no empty parking spot at Sixt) and then checked in (20 min for baggage drop and 30 min for security).

More pictures here

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Akoara Cook Garston Homer Kinross Milford Mount Mt New Rosa Sound Tunnel Zealand https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2024/1/new-zealand-2024 Sat, 27 Jan 2024 00:41:04 GMT
New Zealand 2023 - Part 1 https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2024/1/new-zealand-2023 After some chaos at the check-in, we make it to Christchurch almost on time. The flight was extremely bumpy—to the degree that we could not read anymore, and the crew stopped serving food. Strangely, there were clouds outside at the cruising altitude of our plane, which I had never seen.

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In Christchurch, we see a passenger being asked to put on a jacket and walk with it through security at the airport. The biosecurity dog then finds an apple in her jacket pocket. The dog gets a treat. We picked up our car at the airport and drove to the Wyndham Garden Christchurch Kilmore Street. We do a small excursion in the city, admiring the large murals, the historic tram, the Weeping Willows of Christchurch, and the artsy elephants, and we have dinner at a wine bar.

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On the 28th, we drive to the Akaroa Marine Reserve with our rental car—a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch “Shore Excursion Guided Sea Kayaking through Akaroa Marine Reserve”. After arriving in Akaroa, we look around in the little town and then meet with our guide, who operates out of a van with a trailer full of "safe stable NZ-made sea kayak(s)”. 

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We have “a spectacular tour through an untouched marine reserve which now exists in a flooded volcanic crater from millions of years ago. The geology and scenery will blow your mind during this intimate sea-kayaking safari. Paddle along through the clear turqouise waters of the pacific, you get the feeling you are in a postcard! Your guide will keep watch for sightings of native New Zealand marine and bird life” We do not see the famous Hector Dolphins, white-flippered penguins and the NZ fur seals, but a lot of kelp and mussels. It was nice that there were only 8 people in our group. John, our guide, originally from Vancouver Island, tells us about the geology of the waterway we are kayaking: The 9 million-year-old volcano is 50 m deep in some places. He also shares marine biology facts about the importance of kelp and that a single mussel filters 50 litres of water per day. The Dolphins are hunting with echo and therefore don’t mind the cloudy water, while the sharks don’t come in as they need clear water to see their prey. We find giant big black mussels, twice the size as what we buy at the fish market. We also venture into a 10-metre-long cave accessible only from the water with our kayaks.

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After two hours of paddling 3.6 NM, we have lunch at Bully Hayes, eating Battered Chatham Cod and a Chowder.


The town was first a French settlement which is still reflected in the French culture and cuisine. Later, the British arrived and took over the administration, allowing the French settlers to stay. We also see remnants of the long whaling history that has shaped the early stages of the settlement.



We take the scenic route, called the tourist route, back to Christchurch, from which we can see the entrance to the bay. The fields are full of sheep and cows (and we saw rabbits). We also note a lot of patches of Scandinavian pines which grow faster here than in Scandinavian countries, but they mess up the environment as their needles create acidity which kills runoff the marine life.

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Next to the roads, we see a lot of Fingerhut and Lupinen—the latter also a pest in NZ. On our way back, we stop at Little River where we walk around at the Silo Stay (https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/HotelHighlight-s1-g1600810-d6353495-Reviews-SiloStay-Little_River_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html) which I think would be ideal for international students in Sydney. We also look at galleries but cannot go into them as they all close at 5 pm. 

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On Friday (29th), we visit the Antarctica New Zealand Centre in the morning ($69 per person). Christchurch is one of the main gateways to Antartica. From the early 1900s, British expeditions used the port of Lyttelton on their way to Antartica. In 1995, Christchurch became the base for the US Antartica Program known as Operation Deep Freeze. “New Zealand is a key international player in Antarctica. Scott Base was built in 1957 but Christchurch's Antarctic heritage dates back more than 100 years. Scott Base is Antarctica New Zealand's research station and the hub for science activities in Antarctica year-round. Up to 86 people can sleep at Scott Base at any one time but more than 350 people visit each year. Antarctica New Zealand is the government agency which supports science and peace within the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.“

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We learn about the legacy of adventure “A century ago Antarctica was in the grip of the 'heroic-age' of exploration. The early expeditions typified leadership, courage, passion, sacrifice and sometimes tragedy. Led by explorers including Ernest Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ronald Amundsen, their legends were writ large in the Antarctic continent. From their simple wooden bases, they set out to explore the continent. A century on the expedition huts still stand, crammed full of supplies and equipment. They have been described as the most evocative heritage buildings in the world. The Antarctic Heritage Trust cares for this extraordinary legacy on behalf of the international community to benefit both current and future generations.” We go shortly into a -8C climate chamber and watch (from the outside) a -18C windshield storm.

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We then watched the feeding of the Blue Penguins, which are only 30cm high and weigh 1 kg.  “The breeding season starts around August and September. The female Little Blue penguin lays two white eggs, which will take about 20 days to form inside her. Males and females share incubation equally in 1-12 day shifts. While one of the couple stays with the egg, the other parent is at sea. The changeover of nest duties between the adults occurs at night when the parent at sea returns to the nest. The incubation of the Little Blue penguin chick lasts on average 37 days.”

HEI_3428HEI_3428 We watch a 4D movie about the Antarctic station with moving chairs and water spray getting onto our faces during the voyage over the ocean. We also learn that at its deepest, the Antarctic ice is 4.5 km thick.  At the end, we watch a guide showing his 5 Huskies who can wrap their long, bushy tails around their faces for extra warmth while they sleep. 

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Christchurch Bonatic Garden, passing on our way by a building of Canterbury College where Ernest Lord Rutherford , father of nuclear physics, studied.

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On Saturday, (30th) at 6:45 am, we walked to the bus interchange for a 20-minute drive to the railway station, passing our hotel (no pickup from our hotel available). We board the train with assigned seats. The departure time is between 8 and 8:30 (not exactly determined). 

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The train commentary tells us that there are 360,000 residents in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Located in the Canterbury region which stretches to the Southern Alps—mostly processing agricultural products. The Arthur Pass is 900 metres high.

Passing through the plains, we see a lot of agricultural supply shops where one can buy tractors and plows. The landscape is “on the move,” geologically speaking. Some plains are 400 metres higher than others, shaped by earthquakes, erosion and volcanoes. Some birds, which lived here before their extinction by humans 700 years ago, stood 3.5 metres high. Now, dairy farming is the big business here. We see the biggest milk processing plant for milk powder, which can process 600 million litres of milk per day.

Sheep farming in the Highlands is still done by Stochmen on horses with dogs. Mostly, Merino sheep are raised here in harsh conditions at high altitudes. Some of the meandering rivers run underground. The olive-green alpine parrots, the Kea, can sometimes be seen at the station. The 40 cm bird is among the most intelligent animals on earth, able to solve sequential tasks.


The Arthur’s Pass National Park is a 90.000 hectares alpine park founded in 1920. The Forrest is made up of Mountain and Silver Beech, which can live up to 400 years. 

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We do a 45 min walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl with 450 steps on the way. The driver tells us that the Keas will come to parking cars to eat the windshield wipers and other rubber as the rubber includes Zink which tastes sweet on their palates. We see a lot of lichens and moss in this temperate rainforest. 


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Afterwards, we have lunch in the village: beef pie and quesadillas. During the lunch break, the driver tells me that the train killed 10-15 sheep which were grazing on the tracks while we were going towards Arthur’s Pass. We also manage to take some pictures of the Keas which try to steal food from the tourists.

We stop at Lake Pearson in the afternoon. Another stop is at Stockhill where the Disney movie Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was in part filmed (Battle scene).


We learn more about the underground rivers: “Beneath your feet, a mountain-fed stream runs underground. Take time out from your journey to see why this spectacular limestone landscape has inspired generations of other travellers.”

On our way back we stopped for 50-minutes at Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area “The majestic limestone formations of Kura Tawhiti are of outstanding cultural and ecological importance. This area has special significance to Ngãi Tahu, with ties that stretch unbroken from distant ancestors to present generations  (authority) over the lands and waterways of this area is still held by Ngãi Tuahuriri, who are the descendants of Ngãi Tahu ancestor Tuahuriri. Kura Tawhiti has Topuni status (a symbolic cloak of protection), which is a legal recognition of the site's importance to Ngãi Tahu.” The basalt rocks are amazing in size and arrangement—as placed there on purpose.

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We read about extinguishing species: “The first iwi (tribes) to hunt moa in this area also had to contend with the threat from pouakai (Haast's eagle) - the largest eagle known to have existed. Fully grown pouakai weighed up to 15 kg with a wingspan of up to 3m and had talons that could pierce the skin of a moa and sever its spinal column. When moa numbers began to decline, pouäkai also targeted humans as prey, attacking and killing both children and adults. To escape this threat, iwi learned how to snare pouäkai and kill it.“

On our way back, we hear again about the importance of dairy farming for the region and seed and grain production for NZ. Farmers grow hedges to break the wind as the plains lack surface features.

In the morning, we leave for Mt Cook—a 4-hour drive of 330 km. We stopped at a few sightseeing spots, like Geraldine (skipping Fairlie) and then Lake Tekapo.  We had lunch at Lake Pukaki, which was very windy. The terrain is officially protected as an International Dark Sky Reserve—the world's largest Gold Status International Dark Sky Reserve. “At 4367 sq km, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve lies in the heart of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.”

We stop at Lake Tekapo and have lunch while the wind blows like crazy.

Continue to Part 2.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Antarctica Centre Christchurch Cook Island Mt New South Zealand https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2024/1/new-zealand-2023 Sat, 27 Jan 2024 00:29:56 GMT
Pyrmont Peninsula https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2021/8/pyrmont-peninsula After moving to Pyrmont in March 2021 while being severely travel restricted due to COVID-19, here is an account of our new neighbourhood. We live in Jacksons Landing which constitutes the northern tip of the Pyrmont Peninsula. Jacksons Landing is a community of 2,500 residents in more than 1,000 apartments, terraces and townhouses on the site of the old Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) industrial complex. The redevelopment of the CSR site of over 11 hectares commenced by lendlease in the early 1990s, and the first residents moved in during 2000. 

The modern landscape, society and economy of Pyrmont were shaped mainly by two industry groups: sandstone quarrying and the Colonial Sugar Refinery complex. It was a long tradition for sugar plantations to distil rum and other by-products of sugar. Eventually (from the 1930s) Caneite and other building materials were processed, using bagasse, the cane from which sucrose had been extracted. For a hundred years the CSR Company processed sugar here, distilled rum and industrial alcohol, and transformed sugar cane refuse into building material. CSR was founded in 1855 by a Danish gentleman named Sir Edward Knox and commenced operations in 1877. CSR was not only a sugar refinery, it was also a distillery which at one stage supplied half of Australia’s industrial alcohol needs. It also supplied a third of Australia’s rum. As Australia’s second-largest industrial complex (behind BHP) CSR even had the resources, the engineers and the skills to produce fuel, and weapons, during the Second World War. More about Jacksons Landing here and about its First People.

Part of the Evolve Building, part of Jacksons Landing, with ANZAC bridge:


Distillery Hill building, part of Jacksons Landing:

Antias' architecture by Architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer "reflects its industrial heritage through the use of industrial forms and materials such as rust weathered steel cladding. Such cladding is a direct response to the site: it echoes the site’s industrial aesthetic, associates the building to the Eastern Knoll sandstone cutting by use of tone and colour, and expresses the steel sheets at a scale compatible with the Anzac Bridge." (source).

DJI_0014DJI_0014 L_GI0955L_GI0955 IMG_1505IMG_1505 The building is named after a street name of a street that doesn't exist anymore. The building is overlooking the ANZAC Bridge--sunsets and thunderstorms can be observed.



Aerial Shots of Antias and ANZAC Bridge

The ANZAC Bridge, crossing the Johnstons Bay, is an eight-lane cable-stayed bridge that carries the Western Distributor (A4) across Johnstons Bay between Pyrmont and Glebe Island.

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Here illuminated for ANZAC Day in 2021. 


We often enjoy the Pyrmont Waterfront Park with its two iconic spheres--old digesters used to produce hardboard. In 1936, CSR expanded its operations to produce caneite and particle board which are both building materials. The wood chips were expanded using high-pressure steam, releasing the natural lignins in the wood that turned them into fibre that was pressed into boards for use as a building material. 

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Quarrying was carried out on a modest scale by the 1830s, when sailing ships could take on ballast at the tip of the peninsula, anchored in deep water and loading local stone. "Master masons such as the McCredie brothers branched into building: Charles Saunders levelled Glebe Island and Darling Island, then supplied stone for Sydney’s new University, its Railway Station and its new government offices. Eventually, Pyrmont sandstone was celebrated in Italianate wool stores and the Queen Victoria Building." (source

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Often, the sandstone is exposed and integrated into the modern architecture or Jacksons Landing.

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Sydney Harbour is a working deep-water harbour with commercial ships often mooring at Glebe Island and many marinas along the Blackwattle Bay.  HEI_7600-2HEI_7600-2 HEI_7284HEI_7284https://www.superyachtfan.com/yacht/moatize/ HEI_7255HEI_7255

Fisher boats deliver fresh fish to the Sydney Fishmarket, the second biggest fish market in the world after Tokyo. 


Expensive day-charter boats are moored in Jones Bay Wharf at its Marina. The Jones Bay Wharf is a unique example of early 20th-century waterfront technology and represents an integral part of Australia's maritime history. Its survival serves as a key reminder of Australia's development as a trading nation and its association with important events such as World War II and the immigration boom. the combination of reinforced concrete, steel and hardwood made it a highly innovative structure for its time. The quick and efficient loading of cargo at the wharf was made possible by its rail connection, overhead lighting and modern handling facilities including several internal lifts and a mobile gantry. In the 1940s, Jones Bay Wharf was adapted to serve as a modern passenger terminal to accommodate a post-World War II immigration boom. Modifications enabled the boarding and disembarking of passengers on the upper level, while their luggage was handled on the ground level. The wharf operated as a passenger terminal until the 1960s when a new passenger terminal was constructed at Circular Quay. 

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View of The Crown and the Sydney Harbour Bridge with the Darling Harbour waters used for recreational stand-up paddle boarding. 

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Everyone enjoys the spectacular view:


During a walk along the foreshore through Pirrama Park and the Pyrmont Waterfront Park, one can see the remnants of the old timber and bollards as well as modern art installations, such as Tide to Tide which is a kinetic sculpture that translates the eternal return of the tides as well as the more unpredictable wave wash and wind chop of Sydney Harbour into movement.

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Fish cleaning station for amateur fishers:

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Timelapse video of Johnston Bay with ANZAC Bridge during a storm in October 2021:

More pictures here.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) ANZAC Australia Bay Bridge Crown Harbour Jones NSW Pyrmont Sydney https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2021/8/pyrmont-peninsula Sun, 15 Aug 2021 20:40:18 GMT
Caves Beach https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/11/caves-beach After our short stay in the Hunter Valley, we departed to Caves Coastal Bar & Bungalows which we had booked  "with Gourmet Grazing Hamper". The accommodations were near Lake Macquarie, Australia's largest coastal saltwater lake covering an area of 110 square kilometres (42.5 sq mi) which is connected to the Tasman Sea by a short channel. Our bungalow oversaw the ocean at Caves Beach, not the actual lake.

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Caves Beach is well known for its namesake - a network of sea caves at the southern end of the beach, which can be explored at low tide.

HEI_6001HEI_6001 HEI_5957HEI_5957 We enjoyed our days at the beach a lot with long beach walks, dinners at local restaurants and in our bungalow.

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I let the drone fly observing surfers from above and spend early morning hours taking pictures of the Galactic Centre.


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We also observed nature, seeing for the first time a Purple Swamphen.


Here the combined video including surfers.

More images here.






[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Beach Caves Lake Macquarie https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/11/caves-beach Sun, 29 Nov 2020 05:22:57 GMT
Hunter Valley https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/11/hunter-valley In November 2020, we went for a short vacation trip to the Hunter Valley--about a two-hour drive north from us. We started with a wine tasting and picnic at the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard in Pokolbin.


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The vineyard's history is interesting as it is one of the oldest vineyards in Australia, acquired by the Wilkinson family in 1866. Audrey Wilkinson took over his father's vineyard at the age of only 15 years, with his father having died. He assumed the daunting role of running the family’s vineyard which he did until he died at the age of 85 in 1962. Audrey was blessed with a wonderful sense of taste and produced some of the finest wines in Australia. In 1897, Audrey helped develop leading-edge technology such as cement fermenters and steam-powered crushers and hopper. In 2004, the Agnew family enters the Australian wine industry with the acquisition of the historic Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard in the Hunter Valley. 

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We then checked into the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens for two nights. On our first night, we booked dinner at éléments which is run by executive chef Michael Watson "who has created a menu with an elements base, influenced by the flavours of France and Italy. Michael brings extensive experience to the kitchen, a finely tuned palate and a passion for excellence. éléments signature dish - duck confit has been an inspiration throughout Michael’s career and takes a different form across the seasons. To enhance the dining experience, food and beverage manager Amanda wise has paired éléments menu with Hunter Valley wines which enables the wines to be fully appreciated. The interior design of éléments is boutique and overlooks stunning manicured gardens with a feature fountain, éléments offers a unique space to dine and engage." After reading this announcement, we had expected a great culinary experience , but the food was rather ordinary.

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The next morning, we visited the Hunter Valley Gardens which are advertised as the largest Display Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere--we left rather disappointed after 30 minutes as the only word that came to mind was kitsch. In addition to the rather underwhelming gardens, they were full of plastic Christmas decoration including life-size reindeer and large plastic sculptures in the shape of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.

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Then, we did a wine tasking at Andrew Thomas Winery which was really impressive in style, how the wines were presented including the display of soil samples and taste, how the wine tasted and which convinced us to purchase a few cases and also sign up for their wine club.

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In the evening, we had an excellent chef's tasting dinner at EXP Restaurant in Pokolbin: (1) Hiramasa Kingfish, fennel pollen vinegar, chilli ferment and Hunter Wagyu Tartare, beef fat emulsion, eschallot and Duck Ham, macadamia, focaccia, (2) Sourdough, cultured butter, native seasoning, (3) Zucchini, cherry truss tomato, lemon verbena, society garlic, (4) Petuna Ocean Trout, shiitake, mushroom xo, radish, native pepper, (5) Paroo Kangaroo, onions, black garlic, beetroot & davidson plum, (6) Canelé, milk & honey, (7) Wild Fennel Cheesecake, mulberry, caramelised white chocolate, waffle. 

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Here a video of the Hunter Valley experience:

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Hunter Valley https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/11/hunter-valley Sat, 21 Nov 2020 21:00:03 GMT
Bowral, Southern Highlands https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/10/bowral-southern-highlands On our first day, we visited Berrima situated on the Old Hume Highway, first trying to get lunch at the PepperGreen Estate which was solidly booked for the long weekend.

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HEI_5143HEI_5143 We then walked through the village of Berrima admiring all the old cottages and small galleries. Berrima is located on the traditional land of the Gundungurra People.

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Finally, we made an evening walk at the Wingecarribee River where we saw many Australian Water Dragons, but not the promised Platypus that should be part of the Berrima River Walk.


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We have read about the German Internment Camp that located at the river: The internees’ constructions during their enforced stay during World War I was built along the Wingecarribee River. Berrima was the only camp that not to confine the more than 300 internees within the camp perimeter. The internees were merchant naval captains, senior officers, the senior executives from German shipping companies with offices in Australia, and a small number of prisoners-of-war from the German light cruiser SMS Emden. The had times when they could leave the camp and were free to shop in the village. The men from larger companies were on half-pay—forwarded from Germany throughout the war. The men were used to confined shipboard life and a disciplined routine. As they were not required to work they put their energy into recreational pursuits—the River was their playground.


On Sunday morning, I tried to photograph at 4 am the Galactic Centre and the Orionids, a meteor shower that marks the second occasion the Earth encounters the stream of debris left behind by Halley’s comet each year. Neither worked out very well due to the strong moon and the light clouds.


After breakfast in Moss Vale,... 


...we embarked on a 4-hour bushwalk in the Gibbergunyah Reserve starting on the Goanna Circuit—without visible goannas. A later search on YouTube confirmed that we heard their hissing sounds.

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During the walk, we saw literally a hundred or more entrants to wombat burrow systems. As they are mostly nocturnal, we saw no wombat. They eat grass and herbs and their teeth grow continuously throughout their lives.


I took a picture of a Red-and-black spider.


In the evening, we had dinner at the Porterhouse Bistro in Moss Vale. On Monday, we did a 3-hour bush walk in Box Vale admiring the Hawkesbury sandstone formation as the paths are cut through the stone.


The Box Vale Walking Track follows the formation of a historic railway line and through a tunnel 84m long. One of the displays showed a picture of a “Saddle Tank” locomotive emerging from the tunnel—it had been built in Leeds, UK, in 1862 and imported to Australia by John Whitton who is recognised as the father of the NSW Railways.


The surrounding terrain is steep and rocky—often with little topsoil that can be used by the wombats to build their burrows. We read that the vegetation is classified as dry sclerophyll forest—most of it was burnt during the December 2019 bush fires that raged through the area. Most trees show new growth and the ground is mostly green now. Since the removal of the railroad line, late last century natural regeneration has occurred along the embankments.


We saw a lot of birds—apparently, they flew away during the fires and are now back, unlike snakes and spiders.


Afterwards, we drove to Berrima for a lovely lunch at the PepperGreen Estate for which we had reservations this time. On Tuesday after checking out at the Briars Country Lodge & Inn in Burradoo, we first visited had a delicious breakfast at the nearby Magpie Cafe in Berrima.

HEI_5515HEI_5515 Our first stop after breakfast was the Bendooley Estate vineyard and tasted (and bought) some vine. Then, we advanced to Centennial Vineyards doing the same but combined it with a light lunch.

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In the early afternoon, we made it to our second hotel, the Blue Wren, Pines Postoral Cottages. We stayed in a cottage with 4.5-metre high window overlooking the pastures. "A spiral staircase leads to a mezzanine level with king-size bed (with electric blanket). When the sun rises, waking up in Blue Wren is magic! An extra luxury is the private cedar-lined sauna. This is a dry Scandinavian sauna, ideal for relaxing in the late afternoon.”

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I flew my drone around the property as the cows did not seem to care. On Wednesday, we woke up dense fog and rain, so we spent a very quiet day with reading and some gallery browsing in Mittagong and Moss Vale. On Thursday, the rain made us postpone our visit to the  Fitzroy Falls to our next trip into the Southern Highlands.

Here some video impressions of the trip:

More picture here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Berrima Bowral Highlands Mittagong Moss NSW Southern Vale https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/10/bowral-southern-highlands Fri, 09 Oct 2020 20:06:28 GMT
Hawkesbury River https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/4/hawkesbury-river In February 2020, we rented a boat to explore the Hawkesbury River. The 8-ton Resort 35 boat with 3 cabins provided plenty of space for our family but was hard to steer as it had only a small Diesel engine that limited the speed to 8 knots. The speed limitation permitted us to drive the boat without a boating license.


But, we were not permitted to approach a wharf and had to use a mooring for the night. The dingy (tender) that came with the boat gave us access to the shore. The boat was equipped with two hot showers (one indoor and one outdoor), a microwave, a cooktop, a gas BBQ, two toilets, chart plotter, depth measurement, two bedrooms and an additional 4 bunk beds.

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HEI_1320HEI_1320 We drove two hours to Refuge Bay where we went to shore to stand under the waterfall that comes from high above the mountain. Then, we drove another hour to Smiths Creek where we moored at a spot where there were only two other boats.

Alexandra caught three fish for dinner—part of the dinner as they were really small.


We used the dingy to drive into the shallow areas of the Creek. Except for the occasional airplane, we could only hear nature sounds during our dinner. During the night a bad thunderstorm rocked the boat quite a bit—shaking as in the wake of another boat or on the ocean. But all was holding up—just the outside parts of the boat, like all the chairs and benches, were drained in the morning.

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On the second day, we had lunch at Cottage Point Kiosk and Boat Hire.
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[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia boat Hawkesbury River NSW Sydney https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/4/hawkesbury-river Sun, 12 Apr 2020 07:47:15 GMT
Fiji https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/1/fiji During the 2019-2020 holiday break, we went to Fiji, a common tourist destination for Australians. We took a 6 am flight to the South Pacific country which is an archipelago of more than 300 islands. The Republic of Fiji is an island country in Melanesia, part of Oceania in the South Pacific Ocean about 2,000 km northeast of New Zealand's North Island. We arrived in Nadi on the main island, Viti Levu. We then flew further to Savusavu, located on the smaller island of Vanua Levu.

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We were picked up and brought to the Savasi Island Resort, where we stayed in the Seabreeze Villa with a pool about 20 metres away from the beach. Here the drive into the resort.

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We were greeted with a tropical fruit drink on our arrival and brought to our beach villa.

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We ended the day with dinner, enjoying the delicious food and the beautiful sunset view. 



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In the morning of our second day, after a nice breakfast overlooking the ocean, we were driven to a waterfall by one of the guides.

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We first had to buy a Kava plant, also known by its Fijian name yaqona, as an offering for the local villagers allowing us to visit their waterfall. The waterfall was only a 5 min walk, enough at the blazing heat, away from the parking spot. On our way, we passed what could count as a small vegetable farm with Kava plants, bananas, pineapples, wild chilly, wild ginger and even some sugar cane.

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Here the flower of wild ginger.

HEI_3488HEI_3488 We were swimming in the small lagoon underneath the fall and observed the many spiders and birds around the waterhole.

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Shortly before lunch, we drove back, stopping at a beautiful scenic overview.



For lunch, we enjoyed rice paper rolls and a glass of wine. In the afternoon, I took pictures of insects around the villa.

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When stepping on the paths, we had to watch out for not crushing the thousands of hermit crabs (Coenobita rugosus) that crawled around the property and near the beach. I took pictures and a time-lapse video of them.

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They did not like to be held in a hand and vigorously attack my fingers.


Before dinner, I discovered a small jumping spider in our bathroom that I caught and then photographed on a napkin and then on a leaf.

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Dinner during sunset was excellent with a concluding barbecued pineapple as a dessert.

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After dinner, Sophia and I, equipped with a strong LED panel and a flashlight, continued on hunting animals in the dark. We saw large Golden Orb spiders, a Huntsman spider, mating stick insects, small lizards, a mouse, huge hermit crabs, fruit bats and many mosquitoes on our skin. 

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The next morning, Sophia and I explored the beach and coral area uncovered by the low tide. We saw many sea cucumbers, an amazing amount of crabs and of course countless small fish. We also disturbed three sea snakes or eels that quickly slithered away from us. We poked the little sea stars until their body including tentacles retreated into their coral niches.


After a good lunch and a short nap, we went to Split Rock for a snorkelling trip. The 30-minute drive brought us to an area from where we started to snorkel from the beach. While we saw a lot of bleached corals near the shore, the actual split rock was colonised by hundreds of colourful fish and corals. We took some picture and video with the new GoPro Hero Black 8.

In the evening, we packed our belongings for the next morning’s boat-snorkel trip. While at dinner, we learned that a cyclone was threatening to hit Fiji on the 29th of December. 

On December 25th, we started early in the morning with a 6:45 am departure for the boat tour. We drove 40 min to the Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous ocean explorer Jacque Cousteau. We took a bumpy 50-minute boat ride to the Namena Marine Reserve of Fiji where we snorkelled in very choppy waters. It is "known to be one of the best diving spots in all of Fiji, this exclusive site is home to many endemic and rare species. Surrounding the tiny island of Namenalala, the approximately 70 square kilometre Namena Marine Reserve was established in 1997, stretching between the two main Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.” 


We saw bigger fish than the day before and also a small white-tipped reef shark (1.2 metres long) and a turtle. As the waves were too large for good snorkelling, we went to a more secluded place far away from the big waves. Unfortunately, the corals were all bleached there and only few fish and colourful corals remained.

We returned to our lodge by lunch and used the time after lunch to re-book Return flights to 27th of December. In the afternoon, I took pictures of a jumping spider that was very jumpy.

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On our way to the dinner, we saw many fruitbats landing on trees in the resort. The size of these Fijian flying foxes (Mirimiri acrodonta) was not unlike the ones we see each evening in Sydney. 

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Before dinner, the local church group performed Christmas songs in the resort dining area.


Afterwards, we had a lovely dinner at sunset. IMG_1208IMG_1208

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The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, we enjoyed another walk on the low tide beach. We saw many small colourful fish and dark sea cucumbers. We also discovered near the villa a huge Golden Orb Spider and her egg sacks.

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In the afternoon, we were driven to a “river” that connects a lagoon lake with the ocean. The approaching high tide supported our sea kayaking towards the lake. The stream, as well as the lake, were surrounded by Mangroves. We learned that the area around our resort and this lake (650 acres) was owned by Paul Savasi.

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A stop on a hilltop on our way back allowed us to see the largest bay in Fiji. 

After a shower, we had our last dinner in a cave—a special table facing the ocean on one side a meter above high tide and embedded in rocks carved out during ages. The staff had decorated the cave with fresh flowers. 


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Early breakfast on the next morning ended our trip on Fiji—the first rain that we experienced on the island foreshadowed the incoming cyclone. 

Here more pictures.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Beach Fiji Nadi Savisi Island Resort Savusavu Island Spider https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2020/1/fiji Mon, 06 Jan 2020 04:56:21 GMT
Taiwan https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/11/taiwan After having visited Taipei alone in October 2018, I had the opportunity to visit the School of Dentistry at the National Yang-Ming University together with Gisela for the opening of their new Centre for Digital Dentistry and Clinical Education in November 2019. By invitation of Professor Allen Ming-Lung Hsu, Dean of the Dental School, we stayed in The Grand Hotel. We experienced wonderful days in Taiwan that were well choreographed by our host Professor Allen. 

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The view from The Grant Hotel:

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The next morning, Allen and Isabel picked us up for a High-Speed Rail (HSR) trip to Taichung following by sightseeing in Taichung City and accommodations at the Windsor Hotel.


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We saw motorcycles everywhere as they seem to be the preferred transport mode for Taiwanese people.

We visited a temple and had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant.



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Then, we went to an art store where we enjoyed traditional Chinese tea.

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Among many other sightseeing highlights, we admired the National Taichung Theater’s modern architecture.


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Taichung street festival:

In the evening, we had a business dinner with dentists from the area who invited us to a fabulous restaurant, excellent food, great wine and inspiring conversations about the future of dental education and dental healthcare delivery. 

The next morning, we had a VIP tour of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery. We went to a lot of staff-only areas where we saw amazing aspects of the Monastery’s history, life and culture but were not permitted to take pictures. The tour started with a presentation by one of the Monastery’s leaders who explained Buddhism and how it relates to Mindfulness. We could take some pictures in the entrance hall and outside the massive gates.

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Then, we had one of the best vegetarian lunches ever, accompanied by two of the female monks.

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After lunch, we visited the museum with Buddhist art.

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Then, we returned with the High-Speed Rail to Taipei arriving at not too late at the Taipei Grand Hotel.

The next morning, I attended the opening ceremony at the National Yang-Ming University for the new Centre for Digital Dentistry and Clinical Education.

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This event was followed by a Gala Dinner with traditional dancing by representatives of each of the attending countries in the evening.


The dinner menu:


My thank-you speech:


On the following day, we drove to the Lanyang Museum to learn a lot about Taiwanese culture, flora and fauna.


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Later we had lunch at The Cherry Valley duck restaurant with coffee at Mr Brown Café’ Castle. In the afternoon, we visited one more temple before returning to the hotel.

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During the final day in Taipei, we explored the city. First stop was the famous 509.2 m high Taipei 101 Tower, also known as the Taipei World Financial Center. We took the fast elevator to get to the 89th floor going 60.6 km/h-a 37 seconds ride.




We visited the 660-tonne steel pendulum that serves as a tuned mass damper suspended from the 92nd to the 87th floor. The big sphere sways to offset movements in the building caused by strong gusts. We watched a small video that was taken in 2015 when strong winds from Typhoon Soudelor swayed the damper by 100 centimetres. 


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Then, we took the train to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China. We fed the Koi that were swimming in the surrounding ponds.






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We had lunch with our host at the world's tastiest dumpling place, Din Tai Fung which can also be found in Chatswood, Sydney. Fortunately, he ordered for us as there is no way one can understand the system, or how to properly eat the dumplings, such as opening them before putting them into your mouth.

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Then, we visited the National Palace Museum where we admired Jade artefacts and traditional drawings among many other interesting cultural exhibits from 2000 BC to the 18th century.

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We saw a carving of bokchoy cabbage in jadeite as well as meat-shaped stone.  

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The development of Chinese characters:

In the evening we returned with a direct overnight flight back to Sydney.

HEI_1846HEI_1846 Here more pictures from this trip.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Buddhist Taichung Taiwan https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/11/taiwan Sat, 23 Nov 2019 23:05:57 GMT
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/9/kuala-lumpur-malaysia In August 2019, we spent a week in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Its modern skyline is dominated by the 451 metres tall Petronas Twin Towers, a pair of glass-and-steel-clad skyscrapers with Islamic motifs. The towers also offer a public sky bridge and observation deck on the 48th floor.

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We stayed in the VE Hotel and Residences in Jalan Kerinchi. I attended the 30th Annual Scientific Meeting of SEAADE, with the main conference at the Nexus Convention Centre.

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In addition to an intense conference schedule, Gisela and I had the opportunity to explore KL on the weekend days. Kuala Lumpur stands for "confluence of two muddy rivers” when literally translated and was originally a tin-mining settlement in 1800. The city was occupied by the Japanese army from 1941 to 1945, a period which almost halted the economy. After Japan surrendered, the British returned to Kuala Lumpur.

On our first day, after a long flight and two hours time difference which made the day even longer, we visited the KL Tower which is a communications tower constructed between 1992 and 1996. It features an antenna that increases its height to 421 metres and is the 7th tallest freestanding tower in the world. The roof of the pod is at 335 metres. We had lunch in the Tower Restaurant rotating almost 360 degrees during our time there which gave us a good overview of the city despite hazy conditions. Malaysia receives 2.5m of rain per year, but the recent lack of rain has made the air very dusty.

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We also walked to the Merdeka Square (Independence Square) with the famous Sultan Abdul Samad Building in the city’s colonial quarter as well as the Central Market. It was here where the first flag of Malaya (now Malaysia) was raised. 

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We strolled through the Kuala Lumpur Forest Eco-Park situated within the city. This rain forest has several nature trails & a forest canopy walkway which was quite dilapidated. It was originally gazetted as a forest reserve way back in 1906 with a land area of 17.5 hectares, but since then, a large part has already been taken up for building the KL Tower and other purposes. The Park is the only remaining tropical rainforest in the middle of Kuala Lumpur city centre. The monkeys were posing for the tourists. 


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On our day off, we visited the Batu Caves that were discovered by an American in 1868. His discovery was triggered by observing bats fly off the mountain at dusk. We climbed the  272 steps into the temple of Hindu Deity Lord Subramaniam who is honoured during Hindu festival Thaipusam. The Cave is guarded by a 142 feet biggest statue that costs $3 million. Our tour guide told us that 20 years ago, the guards captured a cobra snake in the cave, which was eating the many Capuchin Monkeys that are near the entrance. 


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We also had the chance to see how Batic Fabric is produced for scarves, shirts and other apparel. Batic is part of the Malaysian culture and already taught in secondary school. 

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Later we stopped by in an Orang Asli village, who are the original people of Malaysia. 

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We visited The National Elephant Conservation Center at Kuala Gandah. It was established in 1989 as a base for locating, subduing and translocating elephants where their habitat has been encroached upon. The Center educates and creates public awareness of endangered species. We saw baby, orphaned and rogue elephants in their enclosures and were allowed to feed them. Their trunk suction was very strong—like a shop vacuum. 

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We learned that the palm oil industry is big business in Malaysia. Each tree can produce up to 50 litres of oil. 

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We stopped at a place where tourists can feed Silvered Leaf Monkeys who normally are slender, intelligent, grey coloured, live in social groups, and found in coastal mangrove forests in Kuala Selangor. Here, they appeared rude and quite aggressive when foraging for food provided by tourists.

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Here some video from my Canon R:

In comparison, video from a cold shoe-mounted GoPro HERO6 Black while shooting pictures (you can hear the shutter sound):

In the evening, we had a seafood dinner in a restaurant by the river. We saw a bit more of the fish and the kitchen we bargained for.

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After dark, we took a boat tour to see the Lightning Bugs as they shone brightly to attract a suitable partner. They come out at dusk for feeding, resting and to mate. Their synchronous light flash is produced by a biochemical reaction in their light organs situated on their bottoms. The boat ride to watch fireflies was like driving through a Christmas tree. 


It was Durian fruit season in Malaysia—the sidewalks were full of mobile vendors selling the fruit. We learned that “D24” or "Mosing King” is the best quality. A fruit of that high quality can cost up to USD 60 per fruit.



In 1877, rubber seeds were introduced in Malaysia. The oldest rubber tree still alive is now 140 years old. The shoes for playing soccer are still made of natural kautschuk. 


Here are more pictures.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Batic Batu Caves Durian Elephants Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Monkeys Rubber https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/9/kuala-lumpur-malaysia Sun, 08 Sep 2019 12:26:28 GMT
Visiting Seoul, Korea https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/4/visiting-seoul-korea After visiting Seoul in November 2018, I had the chance to attend the QS Subject Focus Summit on Dentistry “Changing Paradigm in Dental Education for Future Excellence” at Kyung Hee University in April 2019. I presented on "Why is innovation so hard in dentistry?”. Kyung Hee University is one of the best private universities encompassing an educational system from kindergarten to graduate school. Kyung Hee University has 24 colleges, 82 departments and majors, 65 master’s and 63 doctorate programs, 18 professional and special graduate schools, and 43 auxiliary research institutions. Kyung Hee was founded in 1949 by Dr. Young Seek Choue, first president of Kyung Hee University, whose founding philosophy was “Toward a New Civilization.” In 1993, Kyung Hee received the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. 

Gisela and I arrived Monday night, and then we explored the area surrounding our hotel on Tuesday. We visited the Jogyesa Temple, one of the main temples of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism which was built in 1910.

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We admired the modern architecture and street art in Seoul. 

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Finding your way around in the city is complicated given the signage is mostly Korean.

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We visited a local market that presented many opportunities to buy brushes for writing, or painting, the Korean letters.


Then, we visited the Unhyeongung Palace--house of Yi Ha-eung and his family. It is the only palace that includes mannequins depicting how the people lived in these palaces. The majority of the palace was built in 1864 during the time of King Gojong’s reign.
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During our visit to Seoul, spring arrived with many flowering trees throughout the city. 


We ate a traditional lunch, experimenting with the various spicy dishes.

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In the late afternoon, we visited Lotte World Mall and Tower and its 9 floors of shops and restaurants. 

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We had a glass of champagne on the 123rd floor admiring the sunset over the outskirts of Seoul.


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We concluded the day with a dinner at Saint Maison, World Gourmet Seafood Dining, enjoying a 6-course dinner.

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On Wednesday, we visited The Secret Garden enjoying the beautiful scenery during the sunshine.

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In the afternoon, we strolled around in the traditional neighbourhood of Hanbok where many signs remind tourists that this is actually a residential area asking for quiet conduct—with not much success.  

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In the evening, we had a traditional dinner.

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The next day, after a Cherry Blossom Tea and green-tea cake at Starbucks…


...we went to the Seoul tower, an observation tower located more centrally than the World Lotte Tower. 
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The tower is located on Beacon Hill in Mongmyeoksan, also known as Gyeongbongsu. The beacon system, created in the Joseon period, used fires to warn of an enemy invasion approaching the borders. 

We were amazed by the tradition of placing a padlock somewhere on the structure to demonstrate lifelong attachment to a loved one. The area is so full of locks that Christmas Tree like structures had to be placed there to permit more visitors to place their locks.  


In the evening, Gisela and I attended the opening event of the conference at the Westin Chosun Hotel featuring a keynote by Prof Young Guk Park, Acting President of Kyung Hee University.  

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The evening concluded with a Jazz performance by academics of Kyung Hee University. IMG_9021IMG_9021

On Friday, I attended the QS Subject Focus Summit at Kyung Hee University's Grand Peace Hall, delivered my speech and enjoyed the conference.  

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The day concluded with a Gala Dinner at a Korean Restaurant, Samchcheonggak.

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On Saturday, the conference started in the morning with more presentations. At noon, students from the local dental school took us on individual tours through their city.

We first had a traditional lunch with our students...



... followed by a tour of the Gyeongbokgung Palace




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The day concluded with a visit of the memorial stones, statues that honour civil officials.

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Afterwards, we explored a gourmet supermarket—shopping for an in-room dinner after a long day. 

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On Sunday, we explored the city further until our lunch departure. First, we visited the Namdaemun Market where one can buy anything. 

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Then, we walked to the futuristically-shaped Design Museum and the Design Exhibition Hall.

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After lunch, we walked back along the Cheonggyecheon Stream and saw a Blue Heron catching a fish and flying off.

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In the evening we departed for an overnight flight returning to Sydney.

Here are more pictures.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) "Unhyeongung Beacon Hill Gyeongbokgung Palace Gyeongbongsu Hanbok Jogyesa Temple King Gojong Korea Kyung Hee University Lotte World Mall Lotte World Tower Mongmyeoksan Palace" Samchcheonggak Seoul The Secret Garden Yi Ha-eung https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/4/visiting-seoul-korea Sun, 28 Apr 2019 05:27:22 GMT
Wet Tropics https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/2/wet-tropics We enjoyed our first trip to Cairns so much that we ventured into tropical Queensland again, this time during the wet season. We kept ourselves busy in in the city for two days, enjoying unique experiences such as a seafood dinner on a boat “The Prawn Star” docked at the Reef Fleet Terminal.

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After dinner, we observed the Flying Foxes crossing the city sky on their journey to food sources.
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On Saturday, we arrived at Silky Oaks Lodge, at the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, on the north east coast of Queensland. We had a wonderful lunch in the “Perch” hanging over a steep cliff down to the Mossman River. 

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Just wandering around the lodge, we already got a glimpse of the variety of flora and fauna in this incredible rainforest, e.g. orchids, ferns, figs, insects, strangler plants and bush turkeys.

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In the evening, we could see the humidity accumulating over the surface of the River—which had increased in volume after a heavy afternoon rain.


On our way to River House 10, our home for the next 3 days, we discovered a curled up snakeskin on the path. 

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We began our first day with a 6 km walk, which took us more than 3 hours to complete due to the high humidity, and the many things to discover. We saw huge spiders, avoided spiky palm trees and most importantly the “probably most dangerous plant along this walk, Calamus Australis” — a vine that can grow 500 m long, often use for Rattan.

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Often we had to wade through ankle deep water - and in one of the little Billabongs, we discovered a turtle.

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The rain forest is so dense that often only tiny rays of light can shine through the lush foliage.


We saw many strangler figs, and were impressed with their capacity to kill the host tree through pressure, as well as the fact that their roots can fuse when they meet.

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Some of the trees had huge dimensions.


From time to time, the trail leaned towards the banks of the Mossman River.

I ended up with a leech on my neck that took it's time slowly filling its expanding body with my blood, until it dislodged later during the walk. But, we also observed more beautiful creatures, like these butterflies.

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Next to our Tree House, we discovered magnificent large blue Ulysses Butterflies.

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We were very impressed by the levels and layers of the forest. The various growths half way up the trees seemed to create a whole separate ecosystem, 10 to 20 metres above ground and 10 metres below the tree canopy.

HEI_1705HEI_1705 In the afternoon, I went snorkelling, only to see some grey fish in milky water.

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Near the river, we discovered green-bodied ants.

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We decided to take advantage of our porch that overlooked the Mossman River, and ordered room service for dinner. We enjoyed the view of a stick insect which had decided to visit us in our Tree House.

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In the evening, we went platypus hunting—only with the camera. After almost an hour of waiting, there was the first sign of a platypus.

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We stopped when my camera switched to ISO 25600.

The next day, we went to Cooper Creek Wilderness Daintree Rainforest for a tour with Neil Hewett who lives with his family on a privately-owned rainforest that was unprecedented in its inclusion within the World Heritage Area. But first, we had to cross the Daintree River via ferry to get to the Cooper Creek Wilderness

After the crossing, we were greeted by Cassowary road warning signs.


Then, after arriving on the Hewett property, we had our first (short) wild Cassowary encounter: The bird that was “only” 45 kg—fully grown female cassowaries can stand at 1.8m and weigh over 60kgs. Mature males are much smaller at 1.5m and about 35kg. The latest study (CSIRO 2014) lists the number of cassowaries in Australia’s Wet Tropics to be around 4,000. These magnificent and archaic-looking creatures are large flightless birds. The Southern Cassowary is an important disperser of seeds in the rainforest, with 37 different species requiring transmission through the big bird’s digestive tract to facilitate germination, and a further 200 or more seeds being more likely to thrive if transported away from the parent trees that may retard their growth.

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We saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of young Cane Toads on Neil Hewett’s lawn, whose 100 hectares of privately owned land are a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Neil Hewett explained to us that the average annual rainfall in the Daintree rainforest is approximately 2000mm (79in) per year. Some areas have even recorded up to 9000mm (345in) in a single year. The wet seasons is between December and March. Over 60% of the rain falls during this wet season. The Daintree Rainforest is estimated to be 180 million years old—the oldest tropical rainforest on earth and tens of millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest. It houses some of the most biologically diverse flora and fauna in the world. The forest has 80% of the world’s fern species, 40% of Australia’s bird species and 35% of Australia’s mammals all reside and contribute to the Daintree’s ecosystem.

Neil pointed out a Bird-dropping crab spider that mimics the appearance of a bird dropping including run off to attract flies and keep away birds. The appearance closely resembles the white splatter of liquid in bird faeces. There is even a runnel in a dip in the leaf, simulating flowing movement. This is its protection: No bird wants to eat its own excrement. Not only does the spider look like a bird-dropping, but it also gives out a smell that attracts insects that like to eat bird-droppings. The attracted insects are then grabbed by the spider.
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During the walk, we saw many fig trees with plentiful fruits attached to the trunk. 

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Another famous inhabitant of the Daintree Rainforest is the Idiot Fruit. The huge trees from which this fruit comes, have large brown fruits that look quite similar to baseballs. The Idiot Fruit was discovered over a hundred years ago when it was responsible for the death of cattle who would chew the toxic seeds. This plant species is twice as old as a Tyrannosaurus Rex which makes it an impressive 120 million years old and still going.

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Neil also explained how plants that developed before flying insects evolved to pollinate. This fern-like plant is able to increase the temperature of its cones up to 17 degrees above the local air temperature. This usually happens in the afternoon — between midday and 2pm is peak glowing time for the cones. The heat is created by the breakdown of starch and lipids stored in the cone scales. This happens when the cones reach maturity and increases the chances of fertilisation, as insects are attracted by the plants’ odours, which become stronger when the cones are warm. (These odours may attract male insects by mimicking female hormones.) The heat may also help the male cones to shed pollen. More about this here.

He made us also aware of the Stinging Tree, probably the most dangerous tropical rainforest plant in the Daintree Rainforest. While it looks attractive it causes extreme pain with symptoms including an intense stinging sensation that can be reactivated through water contact as long as 3 months after the encounter. Aboriginal people call this plant ‘Gympie Gympie’, which means ‘devil-like’. It has large green leaves with serrated edges that are toxic and lined with fine silica-tipped hairs that inject venom, like mini-syringes. The Stinging Tree is found close to walking tracks or areas where a big tree has fallen due to a cyclone impact, instead of in the middle of the dense rain forest. Ecologically, it keeps herbivores away from the young rainforest that develops when a big tree falls.

During most of our 6.5km walk, we only saw a few rays of sunlight passing through the canopy to the ground.

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Neil pointed out some 30-year-old tree mushrooms that have remained unchanged since he purchased the property. 


Other tree mushrooms impressed because of their shape.


And we saw insects that have perfected the art of camouflage, such as crickets that blend into tree trunks.

The Fan Palms that make up the middle of the layer of the rainforest, between the ground and the canopy, are growing an average of 1 m in 100 years. This makes most plants 1,500 years old when they reach this half-way mark. 

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Often, there were reptiles that quickly ran away when we approached--only a few permitted me to take their picture.

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And of course, spiders everywhere.

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More pictures from Daintree Rainforest here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Cairns Daintree Mossman Queensland Rainforest River Silky Oaks Lodge tropics wet https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2019/2/wet-tropics Sun, 24 Feb 2019 07:22:10 GMT
Seoul, Korea https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/11/seoul-korea My tour of Seoul started at the airport arriving from my trip to Taiwan. I was picked up from the airport by an Assistant Dean from the School of Dentistry, Seoul National University, from whom I learned that Korea has 11 dental schools. Interestingly, the airport had infrared cameras installed prior to the immigration area to detect if anyone with a fever who poses an infection risk. The drive to the hotel MayPlace was pleasant crossing the Hangang River (or Han River) which divides the city in a south and a north part.

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The next morning, I visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace. On my way, walking the 30 minutes to the palace, I was impressed by the displays of various live fish in front of eateries.

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The palace was built in 1395, also commonly referred to as the Northern Palace because its location is the furthest north when compared to the neighbouring palaces of Changdeokgung (Eastern Palace) and Gyeonghuigung (Western Palace) Palace. "Remarkably, the most representative edifices of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Hyangwonjeong Pond have remained relatively intact. Woldae and the sculptures of Geunjeongjeon (The Royal Audience Chamber) represent past sculptures of contemporary art.”

The Sumunjang (or the gate guard) was first introduced in 1461 under King Sejo. The gate guards were not only managed systematically also managed the gate passers. Since 2002, the Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation exhibits the comparable environment of Joseon dynasty with the weapons, the armours, and the traditional clothes.

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Many of the tourists dressed up in traditional HanBok costumes that could be rented next to the palace. 
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Afterwards, I visited the Lotte World Tower and had a snack in the lounge on the 123rd floor enjoying the amazing view.


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Next day, an academic from the Seoul Dental School picked me up for a visit to the War Memorial.


I have learned a lot about historical armies, wars and armour beginning at 900 AD and expanding into different dynasties including the occupation by the Japanese.

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The most important part, however, was for me the Korean War (1950-1953) about which I knew only the basic facts. I have learned the role of the 24th Division under General MacArthur's command. My hosts' grandparents had been captured by the communists during the war, their fate still unknown as most of the 100,000 citizens that got kidnapped.  Among the kidnapped were many government officials, National Assembly members, soldiers, policemen, journalists, religious leaders, artists and scholars who were exploited for North Korean's propaganda efforts. 

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Then, I had lunch with Ice Cold Noodle Soup and Kimchi as well as a slice of Asian Pear for desert. One of my lunch hosts made a point that he never understood what pear-shaped meant in English anatomy books or the like until he had a pear outside Korea where all pears are round. Cultural differences! 

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They gave me these polished metal chopsticks (not very helpful) and also cut the noodles in pieces using huge scissors even less helpful). I washed my pants as they got a few spots.


The next day, the official conference-related tours started. So, I met the co-presenters for the first time during the tour of the Secret Gardens at Changdeokgung Palace which was the second royal villa built following the construction of Gyeongbukgung Palace in 1405. Changdeokgung Palace’s rear garden was constructed during the reign of King Taejong and served as a resting place for the royal family members. Changdeokgung Palace was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage site by the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Committee in December of 1997. I was amazed to learn that they even had underfloor heating in some of the buildings constructed in the 15th century. There is also a night tour offered but is limited to 100 people. HEI_8042HEI_8042 HEI_8045HEI_8045 HEI_8048HEI_8048 HEI_8044HEI_8044
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I learned that none of the academics from the Seoul Dental School that is about 500 metres away have ever visited the Secret Gardens—they all work too hard, up to 52 hours per week as I was told. Here a picture of the Secret Gardens from a window of the Dental School.


Then, we had a Korean-style lunch during which I learned that Japanese eat only with chop sticks, but Koreans also use a spoon. After lunch, we embarked on a Seoul National University Campus Tour, including the academic study environment where their dental students work. We also visited the brand new education areas, such as the Digital Dental Center and the Dental Library. In addition, we visited the dental hospital (SNUDH) where about 1,000 patients are seen every day. Their technical lab employs 11 dental technician. 



On the day of the conference, Saturday, I presented on "The Use of Data for Better Dental Education and Research” following by a video-recorded interview. The 2nd SNUSD International Conference for Future Dentistry featured topics ranging from "Surface modification of titanium for the enhancement of osseo- and soft tissue integration” by Kiyoshi Koyano Dean, Faculty of Dental Science, Kyushu University to "Involvement of non-neuronal cell activation in ectopic orofacial pain mechanisms” by Koichi Iwata Professor, Nihon University.

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Gyeongbokgung Palace Korea Lotte World Tower Secret Gardens Seoul War Memorial https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/11/seoul-korea Sun, 04 Nov 2018 06:58:43 GMT
Taipei, Taiwan https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/10/taipei-taiwan My October 2018 trip to Taiwan included a 3-day stay in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. By invitation of Professor Allen Ming-Fun Hsu, Dean of the School of Dentistry at the National Yang-Ming University, I stayed in The Grand Hotel which is a historical hotel used as the symbol of Taipei City. "The Grand Hotel was established in 1952. Supported by red columns and with golden roof tiling, the Grand Hotel stands midway up Yuanshan, much like a majestic 14-storey palace. Facing Keelung River, with Yangming Mountain to its, the hotel offers an amazing view of Songshan District to the East and Danshui to the West. The Grand Hotel, structured through western construction methods, is decorated with elegant classical Chinese details. This fusion of East and West makes the hotel a fine expression of Chinese art upon a foundation of modern western architecture.”

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The hotel hosted luminaries like President Bill Clinton, President Eisenhower, President Lyndon Johnson, Nelson Rockefeller and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. 

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A PhD student and her postdoc friend showed me Taipei including the famous Taipei 101 Tower.


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We had many conversations about school and life in Taiwan. I learned that many Taiwanese go out for dinner several times a week as it is cheaper to eat out than eating at home. We also ate steamed dumpling and noodles at Din Taifeng (or sometimes spelling Din Tai Fun: "In an article published on January 17, 1993, the New York Times rated Din Tai Fung as one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world (Din Tai Fung was the only Chinese or Taiwanese restaurant to receive this accolade).”

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In the evening, we had dinner in The Grand Hotel with Professor Allen Ming-Fun Hsu, Dean of the School of Dentistry at the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei and his wife Isabelle overseeing the city of Taipei. 

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I had a wonderful breakfast at The Grand Hotel which allowed me to sample many exotic dishes that we offered as part of the buffet-style breakfast menu.

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The next morning, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the National Yang-Ming University's Headquarter. After the official part was over, we had a limo that embarked on a sightseeing tour. Passing a military base, I learned that the Taiwanese make a difference between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China when describing their relationship to China. We visited the sea in the North of Taiwan: The Nanya Peculiar Stone—a weathered sandstone.


Then, we visited a Gold Mine near Jiufen.

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We strolled around at the market and visited the ShengPing theatre that was founded in 1934—a Baroque-imitated style that was popular during the Japanese occupation. The original projection machine to show the movies was still in the theatre for visitors to see. Pictures showed kids walking around with a poster and a speaking funnel to announce the night’s movie to the people in the mountain village.

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We also visited a local temple:

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After a tea break in the traditional style in one of the famous Jiufen tea restaurants, we made it back to Taipei.

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In the evening, we had dinner at the Yun Jin Chinese Restaurant a Grand Hyatt Taipei--one of the best restaurants in Taipei. Allen organised a private dining room and invited one more of his professors to the get final together of my visit. The highlight of the dinner was the Cantonese roasted goose (not duck as usual) and the excellent Spanish wine that Professor Allen had organised after I had mentioned a few days earlier that I like Spanish wine. Next morning, the PhD student and her postdoc friend came to the office to ensure I made it safely into the limo that headed for the airport.

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More pictures here.



[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Din Taifeng Gold Mine Jiufen Nanva Peculiar Stone ShengPing theatre Taipei Taiwan The Grand Hotel Yun Jin Chinese Restaurant https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/10/taipei-taiwan Thu, 25 Oct 2018 11:33:53 GMT
Kaohsiung, Taiwan https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/10/kaohsiung-taiwan The 41st Annual Scientific Meeting and Dental Exhibition of Chinese Taipei Association for Dental Sciences brought me to Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I flew to Taipei via Hong Kong (HK). The first leg of the flight was 9 hours. Then, I spent 3 hours at the HK airport during which I attended a meeting via zoom video conferencing using the excellent wifi network and the HK airport. Arriving in Taipei, I managed to get through immigration in just under one hour to be welcomed by Professor Allen Ming-Fun Hsu, Dean of the School of Dentistry at the National Yang-Ming University in Taipei. He traveled with me to Kaoshiung by high speed railway. The Taiwan High Speed Rail is a high-speed rail line running along the west coast of Taiwan from Taipei Main Station in the north to Kaohsiung in the south. The line opened for service in 2007, using trains with a top speed of 300km/h covering the journey in as short as 96 minutes. The HSR is most commonly referred to as Gaotie (prounounced Gāotiě), and is generally the preferred method of transit for travellers to cross the island due to its simplicity and speed. 

Taiwan High Speed Rail

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In Kaohsiung, I stayed in the Han-Lai Hotel.

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The hotel was 10 minutes away from the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center (KEC). 


Taiwan has unbelievable production facilities over tens of kilometers, one adjacent to the next. Industrial parks in Pittsburgh where a few square miles, here I was driving in a bus 45 min on a highway alongside them (or was this just one?).

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They were only interrupted by aquaculture ponds.

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Our destination was the Southern Taiwan Science Park where we visited the medical device industrial cluster founded in 1977.

It includes a large building full of dental manufacturers, including several implant companies, like Anker, and hand piece makers, like codent. Several companies started out as OEM manufacturers for established German and American companies, for example, codent made handpieces for KAVO and Siemens but distributes now under their own name. 

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We also visited Eped that does tracking systems for education and implant placements as well as for brain surgery.


They also use a Google-glass-style device to overlay the field of vision of the surgeon when doing minimal invasive brain surgery.


Interestingly, all these companies look for partners in industry and academia for running clinical trials and obviously to get into the market. I also learned that there are 7 dental schools in Taiwan and that dental care is part of the public health insurance scheme with wait times of less than a week to get an appointment in one of the public dental care facilities.

Next day, we embarked on a cultural tour that started with a visit to Chi Mei Hospital, part of Chi Mei Medical Centre which has 4000 staff for 2400 beds. They performed 191 kidney transplants in last decade with 90% survival rate and have also advanced da Vinci robots for surgery. The Chi Mei Hospital was founded by Chi Mei who then converted it to a public hospital. He also founded the Chimei Museum that we visited next. The museum is built in European style and features a Fine Art section as well as section for Musical Instruments, a Sculptor Hall, Arms and Armour, Natural History and Fossil and a Rodin Gallery. We were equipped with English-audio tours and spent 2 hours roaming the museum followed by a nice lunch in the museum’s restaurant. 

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In the afternoon, we visited the Koxinga Shrine that had been established in 1662, dedicated to Zheng Chenggong (aka “Koxinga”). At one point, the Japanese rulers named the shrine “Kaisan Jinja”. Part of the shrine is the Koxinga Museum. The gate and the monumental archway are built in the traditional Sanchuan style, the independent entrance. We learned that “real" dragons have five claws instead of three or four as often depicted. 

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Then, we headed off to Fort Provintia (Chicken Tower), a national historic site built by the Dutch VOC and located at the Taijiang Lagoon. We could still see the entrance of the Fort that was erected in 1653. It has witnessed the rise and fall of Koxinga, the Qing dynasty and the Japanese regime. In 1886, the Taiwan County Magistrate built the Wenchang Pavillion to encourage education, dedicated to Lord Kuixing. He was believed to be in charge of academic achievements and job promotions. People in imperial China prayed to Lord Kuixing for passing the state exams in much the same way that students do nowadays. We were able to observe some of them doing exactly that. Lord Kuixing was also the one who laid siege to Fort Provintia in May 1661 and after the Dutch surrendered he established it as the Chengtian Prefecture. In 1980, the Lions International, Chicken Branch erected a memorial statue depicting King accepting the surrender of the Dutch VOC with the Dutch kneeling. It was later renamed in “Statue of Compromise Between Koxinga and the Dutch” with the Dutch standing on their feet—this apparently sealed the deal for a submarine contract between Taiwan and the Dutch. 

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More pictures are here.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Chi Mei Medical Centre Chimei Museum Fort Provintia Han-Lai Hotel Kaohsiung Kaohsiung Exhibition Center Koxinga Shrine Southern Taiwan Science Park Taiwan https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/10/kaohsiung-taiwan Tue, 23 Oct 2018 11:41:11 GMT
Melbourne, October 2016 https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/melbourne-in-october-2016 In October 2016, we visited Melbourne for the first time using Sophia's school break. Melbourne is a very diverse city with immigrants from all over the world, specifically it is called the third largest greek city outside Greece by number of citizens of Greek decent—47% of all Greek Australians live in Melbourne—and the third largest city outside Italy—according to Wikipedia “over two-thirds of people in Melbourne speak only English at home (68.8%). Italian is the second most common home language (4.0%).”. We took advantage of this diversity and had each night different ethnic food, such as Greek and Japanese.

After flying two hours from Sydney to Melbourne, we spent the first day in the Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium. Highlight was a Glass Bottom Boat Tour above the 2.2 million litre Oceanarium to get closer look at a giant Queensland grouper (800kg) and a huge Grey Nurse Shark. The guide, called “Skipper” on this 20 metres “sea” journey, revealed many details of how the aquarium works behind the scenes.

We explored the tunnels that allow you to venture under the water tanks.

The penguins were fascinating to watch.

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We were impressed how much you can see through the thick plexiglass walls.

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On Thursday, we used the free tram to explore the second largest city in Australia with its Queen Victoria Market and Victorian architecture, often referred to as "cultural capital” of Australia. Melbourne is located on the large natural bay of Port Phillip which means that it has a huge inland body of water next to the city, but as many people from Sydney point out, no ocean beaches. According to Wikipedia "Melbourne rates highly in education, entertainment, health care, research and development, tourism and sport, making it the world's most liveable city—for the sixth year in a row in 2016, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. It is a leading financial centre in the Asia-Pacific region, and ranks among the top 30 cities in the world in the Global Financial Centres Index.

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On Friday, we ventured out of Melbourne visiting the town of Gembrook via a historical train ride, a narrow gauge heritage railway operated by steam engines, from Belgrave to Gembrook, called the Puffing Billy. We were allowed to ride by sitting on the ledge of the open-sided carriages.

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Here a time lapse video of our ride: 

On Saturday, we visited Captain Cook's Cottage located in the Fitzroy Gardens. The cottage was constructed in 1755 in the English village of Great Ayton in England by the parents of Captain James Cook. Then, in the 1930ies it was moved to Melbourne and is now a historical site and museum—deconstructed brick by brick and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels for shipping. In addition to the actual building, one can walk a vegetable yard that mimics what English countrymen were growing in their yard in England at the time.

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On Sunday, we visited the Old Melbourne Gaol and the old City Police Watch House next to it. the gaol was first constructed in 1839 operating as a prison between 1842 and 1929. It held and executed some of Australia's most notorious criminals, including bushranger Ned Kelly. Wikipedia states that "Prisoners convicted of serious crime, such as murder, arson, burglary, rape and shooting, would begin their time on the ground floor with a time of solitary confinement. They were also forbidden from communicating with other prisoners, which was strictly enforced by the usage of a silence mask, or calico hood, when outside their cells. They would only be given a single hour of solitary exercise a day, with the remaining 23 hours spent in their cells. Inside the cells, prisoners would be able to lie on a thin mattress over the slate floors. They could only bathe and change clothes once a week, and attend the chapel on Sundays (with a Bible provided to promote good behaviour). Prisoners might only have been allowed to finally socialise with other prisoners towards the end of their sentences."

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On Sunday night, we returned to Sydney in windy weather on a very bumpy flight. 

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Melbourne https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/melbourne-in-october-2016 Fri, 29 Jun 2018 07:48:46 GMT
Two Creeks Track https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/two-creeks-track Gisela and I walked from East Lindfield to Echo Point Park via the 7.5 km Two Creeks Track that is managed by Ku-ring-gai Council and Garigal National Park. "Much of the western shoreline of Middle Harbour was declared a park in April 1892 and called 'Roseville Park' under the control of a board of trustees. Formal stone walking tracks, stone seats, stone bridges and sandstone steps were constructed in areas used by Aboriginal people for centuries. In 1917 during WW1, an Engineer Officers Training School was established and temporary bridges, walls and trenches were constructed. An inscription “C Coy Engineers” chiselled into rock near Moores Creek provides evidence of this. The gatehouse at the track entrance to Seven Little Australians Park was constructed in the 1920s by Council workmen. Additional track work was done in the late 1920s when the sewer was built and during the Great Depression by Government Unemployment Relief Scheme work gangs from 1932, when Eastern Arterial Road construction began." (Ku-ring-gai Walking Tracks)

The track passes under Eastern Arterial Road via the stormwater tunnel, which "may not be passable after rain” -- it was pretty dark while we walked there, but almost no water.

Stormwater tunnel under Eastern Arterial Road The track then is descending beside Gordon Creek to Middle Harbour and continuing along Middle Harbour to Roseville Bridge. Along the way, we saw post-war cobbled tracks and stonework and Coachwood forests. The Roseville Park was often likened to the Blue Mountains.


Some of the gumtree roots wrap around rock formations in an amazing way.

I used my GoPro capturing us walking on the tracks and let my drone fly obtaining impressive aerial views.

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia East Lindfield Sydney Two Creeks Track https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/two-creeks-track Sun, 24 Jun 2018 06:29:33 GMT
Wamberal, Central Coast, NSW https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/wamberal-central-coast-nsw In April 2018, we embarked on a short vacation to Wamberal, NSW Central Coast. We made walks at the nearby Wamberal Lagoon Nature Reserve and enjoyed the porch overlooking the ocean. The Wamberal Lagoon is an intermittently closed intermediate saline coastal lagoon. We took some relaxing walks on the near-empty beach.

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We also visited the nearby Terrigal with its prominent landmark, The Skillion, a steep cliff facing the ocean rising to a convenient lookout area that is easily accessed by a flat grassy area leading up from the reserve.

The Skillion

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On several occasions, I flew my drone for an aerial view of the region.  

One highlight of the stay was the arrival of the Lyrids—a comet shower that peaked on April 22 and could be observed from Australia. "The Lyrids hold the record for the shower with the longest recorded history, having been observed since at least 687BC. That longevity is linked to the orbit of the Lyrid’s parent comet, discovered in 1861 by A. E. Thatcher. Comet Thatcher moves on a highly inclined, eccentric orbit, swinging through the inner Solar system every 415 years or so. Its most recent approach to Earth was in 1861.
Compared with many other comets, Thatcher’s orbit is relatively stable, as the only planet with which it can experience close encounters is Earth. This means the meteors it sheds continue to follow roughly the same orbit. Over the millennia, that shed debris has spread all around the comet’s vast orbit, meaning that for thousands of years, every time Earth intersects Comet Thatcher’s orbit, the Lyrids have been seen, as regular as clockwork. One study of the orbits of Lyrid meteors even suggests the shower may have been active for at least a million years."
As the comets can be best seen an hour before sunrise, I got up early as usual and spent time on the common-space roof of the apartment building in which we stayed trying to capture the comets—I was only once lucky.


While waiting for the comet shower, I took some pictures of the stunning landscape in the early morning hours.

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I also had a chance to fly my drone (DJI MavicPro) for the first time at night with two Lume Cubes attached. Here a short video from this flight taken from the drone and from a GoPro Hero 6.


More photos here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia central coast nsw terrigal wamberal https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/6/wamberal-central-coast-nsw Sat, 09 Jun 2018 06:41:26 GMT
Killcare, Central Coast of NSW https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/4/killcare-central-coast-of-nsw In January 2018, we rented a house with a huge patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the Central Coast, in Killcare, about one hour drive North of where we live.

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We stayed mostly close to Putty Beach and the surrounding area that encompasses 27 ha including beach, rehabilitated sand-mined area, natural areas, Killcare Surf Club and public facilities.

We mostly enjoyed the beach in the early mornings before it got too hot. 


Each morning, we admired the newly built nets of the Garden Orb Web spiders. 

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We also hiked in the Bouddi National Park, a park that was established in part by the relentless fight for the environment by bushwalker, Marie Byles (1900-1979). The close-by bay area features a huge marina and many stores and cafes next to the shoreline which we exploited for late breakfasts during our stay.

Sophia and I snorkelled from the beach finding a luscious underwater flora:


During one of our beach walks, we found several washed-up Bluebottles.


It was still moving a little bit:

Alexandra invited her boyfriend, Alex, over and both enjoyed swimming in the ocean.

Both, Sophia and Alexandra, modelled for me while I was flying my drone over the sandy beaches.

We had breakfast in town where the Rainbow lorikeets unashamed visited the restaurant tables.

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Finally, I pieced together the best drone shots and came up with this movie:

In June 2018, we visited Killcare again for a few days to enjoy watching whales that can be seen passing the shores at this time of the year on their migratory route from Antartica to breed in warmer tropical waters. Between the month of October and November, they can be seen making their way back to the rich waters of Antartica to feed after giving birth. We learned that the common species are Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales. We spent several hours at Captain Cook's lookout to observe breaching Humpback Whales.

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I assembled a video from the best snippets taken while flying my DJI MavicPro drone from Captain Cook's lookout:

Our four-months-old Parson Russel Terrier, Lilly, enjoyed Putty Beach that permits dogs off leash.  

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Here another video from November 2018:

We visited again in January of 2019 with Lilly:


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We spent another week in Killcare in June 2020:

And then in December 2021, we visited Woy Woy to enjoy the Brisbane Water, a wave-dominated barrier estuary located inland from Killcare with short trips to the beach:

More pictures here.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia bluebottles Brisbane central coast dog beach drone humpback whales killcare lorikeets nsw swimming Water Woy https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/4/killcare-central-coast-of-nsw Mon, 02 Apr 2018 06:35:29 GMT
Canberra, ACT https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/1/canberra In January, Gisela and I spent three days in Canberra, the capital city of Australia which is inhabited by ~400,000 people. The city is located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 280 km (170 mi) south-west of Sydney. We drove the Federal Highway — the motorway that links Sydney with Canberra passing Lake George-an endorheic lake that has no outflow of water to rivers and oceans. The 25 km long lake is currently half empty creating a strange, perfectly flat, meadow with grazing sheep and cattle.

Lake George

Upon arrival, we visited Canberra Glassworks observing glass artists working in a hot room with blast furnaces blowing and melting glass. The venue also showcases art by several local glass artists serving as an inspiration for Gisela's art.

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In the evening, we had dinner at The Boat House with a fascinating view of Lake Burley Griffin and the beautiful lakefront. We had a 4-course menu of Modern Australian Cuisine including cherry-wood smoked duck which we liked.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the Urban Pantry. We started the day visiting Parliament House admiring Canberra's most recognisable landmark up close: the stainless steel flag mast with the Australian flag flying above Capital Hill. We have learned that “the flag mast is the main focal point of the Parliamentary Triangle and you can walk directly under it when you explore Parliament House's grass roof. You can also see it from vantage points all around Canberra. The design of the flag mast pays homage to Walter Burley Griffin's plan for a pyramidal Capitol building—a ceremonial public space that would celebrate the achievements of the Australian people—which he envisioned as the centrepiece to his design for Canberra.” The flag is 12.8 metres long and 6.4 metres high and flies 24 hours a day—under the Australian national flag protocols, it can be flown at night because it is floodlit.

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We enjoyed easy access to the building's 'law-making axis', on which the House of Representatives and Senate chambers are located. Parliament House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988 and consists of 4,700 different rooms of which many display stunning architecture and design.

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At the National Gallery of Australia, we enjoyed Indigenous, Australian, Pacific, Asian and European art.

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We extended our visit to the outside where one can find the Sculpture garden between the National Gallery of Australia and the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

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We then visited the National Carillon—a very tall bell tower.



Before dinner at Sage Dining Rooms, we stopped at the Australian War Memorial— Australian’s most visited landmark. The Australian War Memorial brings together a world-class museum and a shrine of remembrance to offer a diverse experience of war. 

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The next day, we started with breakfast at Little Brother Cafe at the Red Hill lookout with friends. Afterwards, we visited the National Library of Australia which dates back to the early years after the Australian Federation in 1901, admiring work by Peter Dombrovskis. Clearly, Tasmania moved up on our bucket list of destinations. His technical expertise was amazing! He clearly not only waited for the right time for the light to have good tone but also waited for the wind to produce the desired ripples on water for the best reflection. We really liked the colourful bark of the Snow Gum.

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At the Old Bus Depot Markets, Gisela was again looking for inspiration for her Glassart.

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Finally, we went to the National Museum of Australia and experienced the epic narrative of the Songlines, Tracking the Seven Sisters. Remarkable! We really liked the dome with the two short all-around movies projected to the ceiling. 

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On our way back, we stopped by at a winery for a quick lunch and some tasting. 

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More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia canberra parliament house https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/1/canberra Sun, 21 Jan 2018 07:54:42 GMT
Lake Parramatta Reserve https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/1/lake-parramatta-reserve On Saturday, we were bush walking at the Lake Parramatta Reserve, a 73-hectare bushland reserve located within two kilometres of the Parramatta central business district. It is the largest bushland remnant surviving in the Parramatta Local Government Area. It is also recognised as one of the most significant and beautiful bushland remnants in Western Sydney.

We enjoyed the many Eastern Water Dragons that run away when approached as well as the colourful flowers. 




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More pictures here.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia bushwalking dragon eastern lake parramatta water https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2018/1/lake-parramatta-reserve Sun, 31 Dec 2017 17:30:00 GMT
Singapore https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/12/singapore In October, we used our strategic geographic location to visit Singapore--an 8-hour flight that is considered a short flight, given the relative distance of Australia from pretty much everywhere. Singapore, a city-state, is comprised of 75% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indians and 3% other minorities where you can do literally hundreds of things.

Gisela and I explored the city at 30 C combined with 90% humidity—the normal conditions in Singapore located only 137 km away from the equator. 

We visited the Gardens by the Bay, with the Cloud Forest Flower Dome probably the most impressive plant display that we ever encountered anywhere. We were impressed by the lushness of the vegetation:


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The Super Tree Grove is illuminated at night:

Super Trees

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While walking between the domes, we spotted a Water Monitor Lizard in close proximity to our path:

Water Monitor Lizard

The entrance of the Marina Bay, where the Gardens by the Bay are located, is guarded by the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. "The complex is topped by a 340-metre-long (1,120 ft) SkyPark with a capacity of 3,900 people and a 150 m (490 ft) infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67 m (220 ft)." HEI_0519HEI_0519

Inside the Marina Bay Sands:

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More pictures from the Gardens by the Bay here.

We used a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to learn more about Singapore and also to get around. We learned that the port manages 90,000 containers per day making it the largest trans-shipment container port in the world. Singapore has also a thriving medical tourism with half a million foreign patients per year. We also visited Chinatown which is a cultural centre of the city given the large proportion of citizens with Chinese background.

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More Singapore pictures here.

Based on recommendation by our Faculty’s General Manager who is from Singapore, we had breakfast  at Tiong Bahru and actually found something to eat from the thousands of different offerings. Our breakfast was delicious, but it was so much that we could not finish the SGD 3.50 meals.


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More pictures from Tiong Bahru here.

On our last evening, we had dinner at the Salt grill & Sky bar on level 55 of ION Orchard in the heart of Singapore enjoying the stunning panoramic views of the city and sea. As we only left at 10 pm from Singapore flying overnight back to Sydney, we spent our last day at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with its National Orchid Garden that impressed us beyond comprehension. The variety and lushness of orchids seen here appeared to be unreal and we wondered several times if these are actually real plants or fake ones. Since 1859, orchids have been closely associated with the Gardens. The products of the Gardens' orchid breeding programme brings over 2000 hybrids to the Orchid Garden. Due to the high humidity, we speculated that the gardeners are mostly busy cutting back the overgrow, but pretty much everything else is taken care by the natural conditions in Singapore. We also learned that Singapore is the biggest orchid exporter in the world—we did not need to be convinced to believe this as orchids grow everywhere like weeds.

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When leaving the Botanic Garden, we observed huge catfish, a water monitor lizard and turtles in a large pond:

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More pictures from Singapore Botanic Garden here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) bay by garden gardens national orchid singapore the https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/12/singapore Wed, 27 Dec 2017 22:49:04 GMT
Cairns, Queensland https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/10/cairns-queensland In August 2017, we flew to Cairns to explore the tropical north of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. We landed in Cairns in the evening, right on time to explore the city’s landmark Esplanade which fringes around the shoreline for two kilometres.

Esplanade, Cairns Esplanade, Cairns We saw a colony of huge Australian Pelicans and Fig Birds. We enjoyed a seafood dinner right next to the boats at sunset.                                                             Australian Pelicans   Fig Bird sunset, Cairns                                                                                                      
The next morning, we took a ferry to Green Island for a day of snorkelling.

Green Island

While snorkelling, we saw a sea turtle eating underwater as well as starfish and all kinds of tropical fish including coral eating parrot fish.


I explored the Green Island National Park in the afternoon letting the drone fly above the water for over a kilometre away. We also watched Pale White-eyes, feeding in bushes along the western shore of the island.

Taking a break from the water, we headed to Wet Tropics World Heritage in Kuranda on Saturday. However, I first spent two hours in the early morning at the shoreline to view the sunrise over the bay.

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HEI_7753HEI_7753 During the trip, we learned from a botanist that a small part of the rainforest plants grow taller than the canopy of the rainforest, and these plants are collectively referred to as "Emergent" trees. The mature Kauri Pine is an example of such a rainforest giant that uses as little leaves as possible to work up and concentrate on the sunny place to grow. It is continuously peeling bark to shed all other plants that might grow on its bark. The Kauri Pine can grow up to 50 meters, is the tallest tree species in Queensland. However, it is difficult to determine the age of these trees as there is no dry season so all plants grow all year around, resulting in the absence of any growth rings.

Kauri Pine

We also saw a blooming King Orchid that flowers only every 3-4 years and wilts after just a few days.

King Orchid

The Southern Cassowary is a huge endangered seed eating bird. They are usually shy birds, but are dangerous and unpredictable as they use their clawed toes as weapons, jumping and kicking with both feet at once. We learned that the rainforest plants need big seeds because they require a lot of food reserves for the seedling to get to sun. So big seeds mean big seeds eaters. In fact some plants will die out if not passed through the Cassowary's gentle digestive system.


eggs, Southern Cassowary

We looked at the Barron Falls that carried almost no water at this time of the year, but can become dramatic water falls after a Cyclone. The falls are located in the traditional homelands of the Djabugay Aboriginal people. We read about the Barron Gorge Hydro-Electrical Station that produces 60 Megawatt and was commissioned in 1963.

Barron Falls
In Kuranda, we first visited the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which is the largest butterfly flight aviary and exhibit in the Southern Hemisphere with over 2,000 butterflies from a variety of species. We spent most of our time in the main aviary, but also checked out the laboratory and the egg laying area. We were most impressed by the Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion)--the largest of all Australian butterflies found along northeastern Australia. "The female’s wingspan can measure 18cm. As soon as adult butterflies hatch they mate quickly because they only live for 4 to 5 weeks.”

Cairns Birdwing They are mating only once in their lifetime—between 8 and 14 hours with the male hanging upside down.

Cairns Birdwing, mating

In the hatching area, we saw a Hercules Moth appearing from its cocoon. This is the world’s largest moth that is only found in North Queensland and New Guinea. "The largest Hercules moth ever recorded was a huge female caught in 1948 at Innisfail, just south of Cairns. The Guinness Book of Records states it had an incredible wingspan of 36cm (14.17 inches).”

We then visited the Australian Venom Zoo which also serves as harvesting station for spider, scorpion and snake venom. The dungeon-like facility showed some of the most venomous snakes of Australia, and the world, on display. One of the harmless snakes was trained to be carried around the neck by tourists. 

On our way back, we used the Kuranda Scenic Rail—a historical railway line established in 1891. But before we boarded the train, I had my drone explore the Barron River near the Kuranda Railway Station. 

The next morning we explored the Great Barrier Reef from a boat. We signed up for a full day snorkelling tour including lunch on the boat. It took the boat about two hours to reach the outer reef. 

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On our departure day, we visited the Cairns Botanic Garden with its unbelievable diversity of tropical plants. We saw many heliconias, cacti, orchids, bromelia and tropical trees, such as Teak with huge leaves.

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We were particularly impressed by the Tassel Ferns that evolved 400 million years ago—150 million years before flowering plants.

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Many leaves were of enormous size.

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Other plants showed spikes on their stems to scare off any unwanted guests.

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Near the mangroves, we were able to observe Mudskippers and colourful Fiddler Crabs.


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More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia barrier great green island kuranda queensland reef https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/10/cairns-queensland Mon, 09 Oct 2017 09:08:32 GMT
Adelaide and Kangaroo Island https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/10/adelaide-and-kangaroo-island In Adelaide, I attended the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Australia and New Zealand Conference that was held at the Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences building, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, and was hosted by the Adelaide Dental School.


While in South Australia, Gisela and I could not miss a visit to the Penfolds Winery at Magill Estate Cellar Door, the birthplace for some of the most famous Australian winemaking stories, dating back to 1844.

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The Magill Estate Cellar Door offers fine dining and serene views of Penfolds first vineyard. It’s located just 8 kilometres from Adelaide CBD in the sheltered haunches of the Mounty Lofty Ranges, making it one of the world’s few urban single vineyards.

HEI_9047HEI_9047 After the success of early sherries and fortified wines, founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold planted their vine cuttings they had carried on their voyage over to Australia. In 1844 the fledgeling vineyard was officially established as the Penfolds wine company at Magill Estate. In 1948, history was made again as Max Schubert became the company’s first Chief Winemaker.


A loyal company man and true innovator, Schubert would propel Penfolds onto the global stage with his experimentation of long-lasting wines - the creation of Penfolds Grange in the 1950s. In 1959 (while Schubert was perfecting his Grange experiment in secret), the tradition of ‘bin wines’ began. Here all the vintages of the Grange in a long row.


The first, a Shiraz wine with the grapes of the company’s own Barossa Valley vineyards was simply named after the storage area of the cellars where it is aged. And so Kalimna Bin 28 became the first official Penfolds Bin number wine. In 1988 Schubert was named Decanter Magazine’s Man of the Year, and on the 50th anniversary of its birth, Penfolds Grange was given a heritage listing in South Australia. After the tour and the wine tasting, we enjoyed a tasting menu of (1) mussels + lemongrass + chilli, (2) beef tartare + fries + béarnaise, (3) roasted cauliflower + lemon + nuts, (4) snapper + parsnip + beetroot crisp + cassalinga, and as last course (5) chocolate parfait + honeycomb + ginger + rhubarb. And of course, all with wine pairing. 

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On Wednesday, we started our 3-day vacation on Kangaroo Island, the third largest island off the coast of Australia with a population of 4,600 on an area of 4,416 square kilometres (155 kilometres long and up to 55 kilometres wide). We rented a cabin at Hanson Bay. Due to its isolation, the impact of  European settlement is minimal on the island’s flora and fauna. When accessing the island via the SeaLink car ferry, many warning signs make visitors aware of the dangers of contaminating this pristine island with pests only found on the mainland.

IMG_0110IMG_0110 HEI_9169HEI_9169 It also features the oldest bee sanctuary in the world being home to the only pure strain of Ligurian Bee stock. Fifty stationary bee hives at Hanson Bay produce honey on a 20,000 acres foraging area which is 90% old growth native woodlands and 10% native grassland. 

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Arriving at our cabin at Hanson Bay, we enjoyed the spectacular ocean view of the rugged coast and Southern Ocean and learned that we were surrounded by the 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  

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Porch at Hanson Bay Cabin.

On Thursday, we visited the Koala Walk among Eucalyptus trees. Koalas are an introduced species on Kangaroo Island with their population exploding in the past years.

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During our visit, while walking between the Eucalyptus trees and in an open grassland area observing the Wallabies, we were attacked by Australian Magpies. We were able to find many of the Cape Barren Geese, the rarest geese in the world. 

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On Friday, we visited the Remarkable Rocks, a formation of rocks that was exposed to erosion (heating, wetting, cooling and drying)  for the last 200 million years creating a granite dome.

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Near the Remarkable Rocks, we saw a colony of Australian sea lions and Long-nosed fur seals at Admirals Arch. We explored the board walk at Seal Bay.

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We also saw Echidnas, but only as road kill, but these egg laying mammals can sometimes be seen when they forage for ants. While our first visit to the platypus water holes was unsuccessful, we drove to the same location later at night again and saw for first time in the wild these very elusive animals coming. They came out when it was almost dark, so my pictures leave much to be desired.  

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On Saturday morning, we drove at dawn back to the SeaLink ferry. During the 150 kilometre drive we stopped counting the kangaroos and wallabies on street when we hit about 50 and estimate that we saw far more than 100 hopping animals on the road... which made as slow down so much that we almost missed the ferry.

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Here are more pictures.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) adelaide australia barossa penfolds valley https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/10/adelaide-and-kangaroo-island Mon, 09 Oct 2017 09:08:13 GMT
Litchfield National Park https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/litchfield-national-park Following Kakadu National Park and Nitmiluk National Park, we visited Litchfield National Park.


The famous Magnetic Termites (Amitermis meridionalis) have wedge-shaped towers which are placed that the long side faces the shade and only the narrow side is exposed to the sun to reduce the temperature in the mound—aligning in the north-south axis to balance the temperature. These termites are found nowhere else on earth. Scientists discovered that the blind worker termites really build the mounds based on the magnetic field by exposing them to artificial magnets that change the direction—the workers dutifully repaired the mound to align it again with the north-south axis. The mounds are often 5 metres high, in comparison the termites are only 5 mm long.

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Then, we drove to the Florence Waterfalls and took a nice walk along the creek. The kids enjoyed swimming the the Rock Pool and I made it up the 170 stairs ahead of time and let the drone fly.

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We then stopped quickly at Wangi Falls that spill over the Tabletop Plateau into a large pool. The pool is closed when the water levels are high as strong current and the increase risks of crocodiles make it too dangerous to swim.

IMG_9146IMG_9146 We were able to see some Rainbow Bee-Eaters which fly way to fast and erratic to take nice pictures of these colourful birds.

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We also saw some kits and many large spiders. In the evening, we drove back to Darwin. 
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More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) amitermis australia litchfield magnetic meridionalis national northern park termites territories https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/litchfield-national-park Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:54:22 GMT
Darwin, Northern Territory https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/darwin-northern-territory In July 2017, we traveled to Darwin and from there tour the Kakadu National Park, including visits to the Nitmiluk and Litchfield. From Sydney, a 5-hour flight brings you to Darwin where we stayed at the Darwin Central Hotel. Darwin is a small city with a huge history. Its glistening harbours were strong holds for allied troops during World War Two. Gold was found at nearby Pine Creek in the late 19th century. Paul Hogan shone a global spotlight Down Under when he traversed its surrounding regions for crocodiles depicted in the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee. While Cyclone Tracy also made worldwide headlines, devastating lives and homes in the mid 1970s. As Australia’s gateway to Asia and the outback, Darwin is melting pot of people and traditions. Indigenous culture, natural treasures, tropical weather and a laid-back lifestyle attract thousands of visitors every year. We heard many German tourists on the streets who were looking to explore Australia’s vast and majestic Top End. Darwin has only a population of approximately 112,000 people. Our Swiss friends arrived from Singapore only hours after us and we explored a bit of Mindel market and then found hidden garden restaurant, nice dinner outside.

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We also explored Darwin’s famous Fish Feeding spot. We took a walk from the hotel to the area enjoying the shoreline that features mangroves used as hunting ground for various water bird species.

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We had the opportunity to observe several fish, such as the Diamond scale mullet, Sting ray, really big Milk fish and Catfish.


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Next to the feeding station, we saw Crimson Finches in the mangroves. 

Several warning signs reminded us that Darwin is not a place to swim.

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More pictures here.


[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia catfish crimson darwin diamond finches fish milk mullet ray scale sting https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/darwin-northern-territory Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:51:21 GMT
Nitmiluk National Park https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/nitmiluk-national-park After exploring Kakadu National Park, we drove to the Nitmiluk National Park (Jawoyn Land) with the Leliyn (Edith Falls) being our first stop in the West of the park. After a picnic we were swimming in the lower pool going close up to the lower falls—the pool was open, but we were supposed to "be croc-wise”.



A short drone flight gave us a good overview of the area and provided stunning visuals.

Next, we went to Katherine, an important crossroad in the Australian Outback with about 7,500 people living there from tourism and cattle farming.  

We continued to explore the Nitmiluk National Park taking a two-hour walk at Katherine Gorge to a beautiful lookout platform above the Katherine River. The Gorge is 30 km long and on average 100 m deep, housing 160 bird species. It was first explored by a Scotsman in 1862. 

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We took a boat tour in two steps with walking from one boat to another as they could not get with the boats over rapids in the dry season. But before boarding the boats we observed thousands of Red Flying Foxes hanging in the trees near the river. I attempted to photograph some when they changed positions to avoid direct sun exposure which seemed a futile exercise given that most trees were devoid of any leaves due to the impact of the fruit bats hanging there to the thousands— in fact, signs warned of tree limbs breaking off due to the weight. 

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We saw crocodile indicators made of a plastic float that gets damaged when crocs chew on it. If this happens then park rangers try to catch the crocodile and transported to Darwin adding it to a breeding program. Interestingly, Saltwater crocs defend their nest whose temperatures determines the gender of the offspring. The crocs crack the eggs and carry the young ones to the shore—however, if it is a bad year with little food, they just eat them. The invading cane toads have reduced the crocs from thousands to hundreds as they have poorly adapted to the poisonous toads. Crows have figured out how to eat them by opening them and only eat the liver of cane toads. 

I took a time lapse video during the tour:

The sandstone in the Gorge has three colours: white signifying the original sandstone, black showing the dormant stage of an alga that is active in the wet season and red where water is coming to surface in the dry season and oxidised the stone. We learned that during the wet season the water amount going through the Gorge could fill up Sydney Harbour in 9 hours. 

We stayed overnight at Mount Bunny Station established in 1911 by Pioneer Buffalo hunter Fred Hardy. The original size of this cattle property was 1.1 million acres, or 4,000 sq km. Mt Bunny was one of the first pastoral leases in the Top End of the NT. We walk on the farm visiting water buffalos, wallabies, peacocks. At night, we enjoyed a dinner at home on the screened porch observing the geckos near the lamp eating the insects attracted by the light.

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Later we discovered a tree frog in the toilet. 

We were told that 30 meters from our porch the pond is full of "freshies" aka freshwater crocs and that 200 meters behind the house is the Adelaide River (well, stream 20 m wide) where there are salties, aka saltwater crocs.  

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Early next morning, Gisela and I walked around on Mount Bunny Station observing the farm animals, including the Water Buffalos and Peacocks.

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The Peacock family actually slept in tree in front of house and woke us up in the morning. 

HEI_6387HEI_6387 Our first stop was a German-run breakfast place that served coffee and sandwiches. The place was full of kitsch and the owner was quite rude showing many hints of a special Teutonic level of sensitivity. However, we enjoyed the breakfast and marvelled at the Banyan tree: This Banyan is a remnant of coastal monsoon forest vegetation which once covered most of the peninsula. Birds feeding on the small fleshy fruit of the Banyan deposit the undigested seed on other trees. The seed may then germinate and eventually develop long aerial roots. In order to obtain nutrients from the soil, as well as support its heavy crown, the Banyan finally strangles its host.

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia banyan buffalos bunny edith falls flying foxes katherine mount national nitmiluk norther park peacocks red station territories wallabies https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/nitmiluk-national-park Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:48:51 GMT
Kakadu National Park https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/kakadu-national-park During our trip to the Northern Territory, we visited the Kakadu National Park driving first to the Jabiru region. The park covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres and is a UNESCO cultural heritage. In the language of the Aboriginal people, it is called Gagadju. We first stopped at the Fogg Dam Conservation Area where we were not allowed to walk on the dam due to the danger of saltwater crocodiles.


But, we observed Black-necked Storks with 2 metres wingspan and Straw-necked Ibis with up to 75 cm size.


I let me drone fly to get some nice aerial shots. 

Afterwards, we went to the crocodile feeding tour with jumping crocodiles. We learned that the crocs have a heart with four chambers, so they can never bleed to death. If a crocodile gets his arm or leg bitten off by another croc, he’ll just shut off that chamber, go somewhere quiet and secluded and simply wait for it to heal over. Crocs can survive for up to 12 months without food! It’s almost impossible for them to catch or get an infection even if they do graze their knee and then get a bit of dirt in it. They never stop growing; as they get older they just keep on getting bigger. When they snap those jaws that’s two and a half tons of pressure striking!

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Then, we bought some dinner for a picnic and Ubirr Rock at sunset. The park has a lot of aboriginal art, but as it was getting dark, we could not enjoy these paintings.

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In Jabiru we stayed in the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel that is built in the shape of crocodile. 

On the next day, we started to explore the Aboriginal heritage. Kakadu contains one of the greatest concentrations of rock art sites in the world and constitutes one of the longest historical records of any group of people. Archaeological excavations in the Park have revealed some of the oldest occupation sites in found in Australia dated at 50,000 years old. We visited some of this great aboriginal art at Nourlangie Park. The actual name is “Burrunggui” and “Anbangbang”. A sign describes that the aboriginal people live privately elsewhere in the park and leave this place for visitors to see now.  

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After enjoying a tasting plate with Buffalo terrine, picked Crocodile, Emu pate, smoked Kangaroo, Buffalo mozzarella, Davidson plum pickle, muntries chutney and damper at the Kakadu Lodge Cooinda....


... we enjoyed a walk near the edge of the one of the waterways hoping that the crocodiles are unaware of us eating one of their buddies only an hour earlier.


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We stayed overnight at the Kakadu Lodge Cooinda where we saw a snake near one of the cabins and a gecko running up and down the door or our room. 

Next morning, I flew the drone ...

... and took some aerial shots of Jim Jim Creek in the early morning light.

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Then, we participated in a flatboat cruise from Yellow Waters Cruises on the South Alligator River near Yellow Water.


We saw birds like the Rainbow Bee-Eater, Swifer, Snake neck bird, Purple swamp hen, Sacred kingfisher, Blackneck stork, jabiru and many crocodiles.

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One of the crocs was hunting fishes in the shallow waters of the swamps. We learned that there are three native species of bamboo in Australia. 


More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) australia kakadu national northern park territories https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/8/kakadu-national-park Sat, 12 Aug 2017 08:56:22 GMT
Jervis Bay https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/7/jervis-bay In January, we took a short weekend vacation to visiting the South Coast, Jervis Bay in particular, which is located at the southern end - Booderee National Park. The area is a coastal paradise in the Shoalhaven region. 

We took the scenic route of the Grand Pacific Driveway from Sydney to the Shoalhaven area. The route starts in the Royal National Park and continues for 140 kilometre as scenic coastal drive through rainforests, over the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge and through the coastal cities and townships of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama.

Sea Cliff Bridge

We used the GoPro mounted on the car's windshield to capture the scenic drive over the 665 metre Sea Cliff Bridge--a highlight along the Grand Pacific Drive. 

GoPro mounted

We admired the brave (foolhardy) young blokes jumping into the Kiama Blowhole. We were told that, with the right sea conditions, it can shoot water up to 25 metres in the air.



We stopped at the Two Figs Winery to purchase some of the excellent wines from the region.

The girls and I were snorkelling at Callala Beach and we enjoyed the local seafood as well as the relaxing atmosphere. 

Beach Vacation

At the beach, we found dried shark eggs.

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We finished the trip with a short stop at the Seven Mile Beach National Park located between between Kiama and Nowra.

Seven Mile Beach

And had lunch at the harbourfront Seafood Restaurant in Wollongong prior to driving back to Sydney.


Some video impressions here:

More pictures here.




[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) bay bridge cliff figs jervis sea shoalhaven shores southern two winery wollongong https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/7/jervis-bay Tue, 04 Jul 2017 03:16:13 GMT
Wentworth Falls https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/wentworth-falls During the weekend, we explored Wentworthville Falls, specifically the waterfall that plunges 100m to the valley floor and gives Wentworth Falls its name.

Wentworth Falls

We also walked on the National Pass and the Wentworth Falls Track, one of the Blue Mountains iconic walking tracks that was constructed in 1906-1907. There is also a nice picnic area nearby.

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"In 2002 the track underwent major restoration works that included helicopters depositing sandstone blocks along the trail and heritage stonemasons perching on cliff faces to set sandstone inserts into steps eroded over the years by weather and walkers. It's an inspiring walk, with fantastic views of the Jamison Valley and beautiful waterfalls at either end.” (ref)

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The actual water falls can be seen from many different angles and from various levels of the adjacent stairs:

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The drone video has captured the beautiful aerial moments.

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Blue Falls Mountains Wentworthville https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/wentworth-falls Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:37:05 GMT
Bicentennial Coastal Walk https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/bicentennial-coastal-walk Last weekend, we walked part of the Bicentennial Coastal Walk. We started at Long Reef Beach at the Northern Beaches near Narrabeen Lagoon and made it up to Dee Why Lagoon. 

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Sandbanks shape beach breaks that are great for beginners and intermediate surfers.

HEI_4077HEI_4077 While we did not see migrating whales as we had hoped, we enjoyed an Eastern Osprey circling around us with his prey in his claws.

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The Australian Pelicans, Australia's only species of pelican, can have a body of up to 1.8 m long.

Australian Pelican

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From the headlands next to the Long Reef Golf Club as well as from Dee Why Lagoon, we started the drone to enjoy the arial view:

More pictures here.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Beach Beaches Bicentennial Club Coastal Dee Golf Lagoon Long Narrabeen Northern Reef Sydney Walk Why https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/bicentennial-coastal-walk Mon, 19 Jun 2017 20:20:00 GMT
Wattamolla, Royal National Park https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/wattamolla-royal-national-park On Sunday, Gisela and I walked 5 kilometres of the 26 kilometres Coast Track within the Royal National Park. We started at Wattamolla—a cove, lagoon, and beach on the New South Wales coast south of Sydney. 

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We parked at the Wattamolla Picnic Area and walked South, taking pictures and letting the drone fly above us.


During our walk, we spotted two humpback whales traveling North along the shoreline.

Here more images.



[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Coast National New Park Royal South Track Wales Wattamolla https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/wattamolla-royal-national-park Sun, 04 Jun 2017 20:22:17 GMT
Central Tablelands https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/central-tablelands In August 2016, we visited the Central Tablelands in New South Wales. After meeting Aboriginal Elders and visiting several Aboriginal Medical Services under guidance of the Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, we explored the beauties of the Central Tablelands.

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Driving can be challenging on dirt roads.

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Airplanes and airports are often very small and everything is handled in a very informal way.

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We did not expect to see so many impressive waterfalls in a modest highland area that peaks at 1,500 metres. The "New England National Park” features a so called Waterfall Way that connects the various waterfall attractions.


We also enjoyed a tour of the L P Dutton Trout Hatchery that releases Rainbow Trout into the streams of New South Wales for fishing.

We were also lucky to spot the signature bird of the area, the Superb Lyrebird - the largest songbird in the world apparently. This bird can mimic man-made sounds, like a chainsaw, a car alarm and toy guns

Superb Lyrebird
Here a short video of the waterfalls and the Lyrebird.

Here more images.

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Central Hatchery Lyrebird Superb Tablelands https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/6/central-tablelands Sat, 03 Jun 2017 18:54:46 GMT
Vivid in Sydney https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/5/vivid-in-sydney Vivid, the annual lighting festival, includes performances from musicians, artists and an exchange of ideas in public debates. I participated in the "Collective Walking Tour" with Canon to get advice on the best spots to capture the beauty of the various projections--the light show on the Sydney Opera House probably being the most impressive one.

Sydney Opera House - Vivid 2017

I had the opportunity to stand next to the light projectors on the cruise ship terminal. Next to the light projectors

In 2016, Vivid Sydney was extended to 23 nights from 27 May to 18 June and was attended by more than 2.3 million people according to Destination NSW. No numbers for 2017 yet, but there were many people...

Crowded walkways at Vivid   

Crowds at Vivid Crowds at Vivid

The Harbour Bridge is bathed in light as well.

Harbour Bridge

However, Vivid extents beyond just the iconic symbols of Sydney.

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Impressive projectors provide the light for the various displays.

Powerful Projectors at Vivid

Vivid displays can be seen from many angles and view points.

Small video here (mostly as time lapse):

More pictures here

[email protected] (Heiko Spallek | digital imaging) Australia Canon Light Sydney Vivid https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/5/vivid-in-sydney Mon, 29 May 2017 06:11:54 GMT
Broken Hill https://photos.spallek.com/blog/2017/4/broken-hill In September 2016 and in April 2017, we made trips to Broken Hill, called the "Capital of the Outback". The first trip was with the family and the second one with Professor James Deschner from the University of Bonn. The "BH" in the world's largest mining company, BHP Billiton, refers to "Broken Hill" and its early operations in the city. The closest major city is Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, which is more than 500 km (311 mi) to the southwest. Unlike the rest of New South Wales, Broken Hill (and the surrounding region) observes Australian Central Stand