Category 'New Zealand'

Queenstown is surely one of the world's prettiest cities but the beauty doesn't stop at the city limits so I highly recommend a day trip or two to escape the adrenaline rush seeking tourists. This post covers the area to the north taking in Glenorchy and surrounds. [caption id="attachment_3770" align="aligncenter" width="960"]girl overlooking lake at sunrise, queenstown Sunrise in Queenstown[/caption]   After a couple of sunrise photos in QT sample the breakfast at Fergbaker and then head west out of town along Lake Wakatipu. You'll lose Internet access the second you cross city limits, but who cares when the views are this good. The drive to Glenorchy should take 45 minutes but if you're not stopping at every pullover for photographs then you're missing the best part of the trip. Particularly look out for Wilson Bay, Bennetts Bluff Lookout and Meiklejohns Bay.

The road to Glenorchy

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Wilson Bay

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Bennetts Bluff Lookout

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Meiklejohns Bay

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Glenorchy

Glenorchy is quaint and lovely but there's not a whole lot to do. Stop for lunch somewhere and then take a stroll to Glenorchy Wharf with its picturesque red boathouse. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3790,3791,3792,3793"]  

Paradise

If the weather is good there's supposed to be some excellent walks around Glenorchy but it had started to rain as we arrived. Instead we decided to drive to Paradise (actually called that) which isn't a popular tourist attraction but was the setting for many Lord of the Rings scenes so it was guaranteed to be interesting. You're back in unsealed road territory and while beautiful it was a little too rural for us with icy rain pelting down so we turned back halfway but not before Mum made me withstand blasting rain through the car window while she photographed some picturesque sheep. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3794,3795,3796,3797,3798,3799"]  

Moke Lake

On the way back to town we thought we’d check out Moke Lake which entailed a gravel road, a herd of menacing cows, wind, rain, cold and fog, and not the picturesque, serene experience you see in all the pictures. Still, I'd be keen to visit again on a clear day and I hear it's a great spot to photograph the stars. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3800,3801,3802,3803,3804,3805"]  

Queenstown

Back in Queenstown we chose to forgo Queenstown's most quintessential experience of eating at Fergberger and, on the recommendation of a friend, ate round the corner at Devil Burger instead with their chips and golden curry sauce. Yum. End the day with a stroll round the quaint little township and a spot of souvenir shopping. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3810,3812,3813,3814"]   We stayed atAlexis Motel & Apartments We stopped at: Wilson Bay, Bennetts Bluff Lookout, Meiklejohns Bay, Glenorchy, Paradise, Moke Lake, Queenstown We wore (in spring): Long pants, tee, scarf and jacket. It was a freezing evening so a full length puffer jacket helped. Distance: Queenstown to Glenorchy is approximately 45 minutes drive without all the scenic stops.

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There are no words powerful enough to describe what it's like to wake up in one of earth’s most beautiful places, Milford Sound, so here's some photos of why an overnight stay on Milford Mariner is an experience you can't live without. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3720,3725,3721,3722,3723,3724,3726,3729,3727,3728,3733,3732,3730,3731,3735,3736,3737,3734,3739,3740"] milford sound Argh my eyes! All the pretty! Once they prised me off the boat we boarded the bus back to Te Anau for the two hour return journey broken up by a rainforest walk to the gorgeous Chasm. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3741,3742,3743,3745,3746,3747"]   As if the overnight cruise isn't incredible enough, another highlight of the overnight stay is that the bus travels in the middle of the day so you miss all the crowds on day trips. The bus arrived back in Te Anau early but instead of dropping us at our hotels the driver used the extra time to take us to Te Anau Bird Sanctuary for another look around. The Real Journey's overnight Milford Sound tour was amazing from start to end and I genuinely believe it was the most incredible tour I've ever been on. Next time I'll have to choose the option of taking a helicopter back to Queenstown just to improve on the experience. Collecting our hire car, we then headed to adventure capital Queenstown surrounded by lakes and mountains that stole my heart. We chose to spend the afternoon in low gear with a wander around Queenstown Gardens (which is an adventure in itself trying to avoid being smacked in the head with a Frisbee - they have a Frisbee golf course which is actually a thing), and later stumbled across some Night Noodle Markets at the waterfront where we had our fill of yum. Queenstown, you rule! [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3749,3750,3751,3752,3753,3754,3755,3756,3757,3758,3759,3760,3762,3763,3764,3765"] [caption id="attachment_3761" align="alignright" width="300"]hotel Alexis Motel[/caption]   We stayed atAlexis Motel & Apartments We stopped atMilford Sound via Real Journeys, The Chasm, Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, Queenstown Gardens We wore (in spring): Except for the morning where a puffer jacket with hood was a necessity this was our warmest day so long sleeve tee, jeans and scarf. Distance: Milford Sound to Te Anau is approximately 2 hours without stopping and Te Anau to Queenstown is just over 2 hours, although quicker by helicopter!

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Mornings in Te Anau mean throwing open your curtains to panoramic views of a glassy lake and a strong desire to take a brief stroll or snap a few 100 photos, both perfect activities for working up an appetite. reflection, lake, te anau, panorama seaplane, te anau, lake, reflection   I have a little known obsession with deer, so much so that the few times we drove by a deer farm while in New Zealand I would squeal deeeeeeer at the top of my voice, which my mum certainly appreciated. So this morning we had breakfast at Wapiti Bakery & Café which was strewn with antlers and taxidermied deer much to my delight and disgust. Fiordland's epic natural beauty makes it a supposedly excellent area for hunting which breaks my animal loving heart, and locals will proudly regale you with tales of surprising animal cruelty all in the name of aiding their precious native bird population. (Pro tip New Zealand, your opinion on possums HORRIFIES tourists. You might want to tone it down.) Wanting to know what makes the precious native bird population so special we visited the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary (a small, free attraction) to view the endangered Takahe of which there are only 200 left in New Zealand. We managed to briefly spot one. There's also a tiny jetty nearby which is a prime spot for photos of the lake. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3679,3678"]   All morning I was trying to contain my excitement about the adventure ahead - an overnight cruise on Milford Sound! And I had every right to be because this trip is the stuff dreams are made of. Around midday we once again met with the Real Journeys crew where we joined our coach for the two hour journey into Milford. Our tour guide, Cameron, despite his blasé attitude, was the most informative and engaging guide I’ve ever come across and unlike most coach tours gave us plenty of opportunities to stop and check out the local attractions. Stops included Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, and Monkey Creek near the entrance to the incredible engineering feat, the Homer Tunnel. [caption id="attachment_3680" align="aligncenter" width="960"]snow capped mountains, milford sound Eglinton Valley[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3681" align="aligncenter" width="960"]lake, mountains, mirror lake Mirror Lakes[/caption] [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3682,3685,3684,3687"]   Despite being a rainy day there are no words for the immensity of the scenery on this road. Just go, just bloody go, without hesitation. And be sure to keep an eye out for the rubber eating Kea birds, so clever that they’re known to ride tour buses through the Homer Tunnel to save on flying, and Wekas, the day time version of Kiwis (see future posts for photos of both). Once in Milford we boarded the Milford Mariner where we were to spend the night amongst the Milford Sound scenery! And because it was raining – waterfalls EVERYWHERE. After settling in we chose the option of taking a tender craft (over kayaking or swimming) to get a closer look at the resident seals and penguins who apparently went into hiding when they heard we were coming. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3690,3696,3692,3693,3688,3689"]   When dry again we gaped at the excellent views before sharing an excellent meal with excellent fellow guests and watched an excellent presentation with the excellent nature guide Blair. The Real Journeys people sure know how to do five star and then some. And just when we thought everything was already excellent enough a baby seal boarded the back of the ship for a little sleep. OH MY. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3704,3691,3701,3697,3703,3699,3700,3695,3706,3705"]   We stayed at: Real Journeys Milford Mariner Overnight Cruise We stopped at: Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Monkey Creek, Milford Sound We wore (in spring): Snow boots, rainproof pants and jacket, thermal underwear, scarf and a puffer jacket with hood. Distance: Te Anau to Milford Sound is approximately 2 hours but it will definitely take you longer. We chose to go by tour bus rather than drive in case of potential road conditions but I think we would have been safe driving (it was late September).

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There's little to stick around for in Invercargill (although had I known about Demolition World I might have considered a visit) so instead we took the pretty, but not entirely memorable 2 hour drive straight to Te Anau. We didn’t know how to pronounce Te Anau and so the drive was filled with renditions of Laura Branigan’s ‘Ti Amo’ (that’s an 80s tune for you youngsters). It's 'T-R-no' for the record. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3575,3576,3577,3578"]   Te Anau’s claim to fame is that it’s the gateway to Milford Sound but being built around the South Island’s largest lake, Lake Te Anau, means it’s an entirely pretty town on its own. It actually stole my heart and if I had to choose a town to call home this one would likely be it. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3580,3581"]   The first place you’ll spot when you hit the main street, particularly when your stomach is grumbling after the drive, is ‘Miles Better Pies’ where the queue is often out the door for their renowned pies. Naturally we joined the queue to fuel up for our next adventure - a trip to the Glow Worm Caves! Pro tip - when taking a tour it's fine to leave your car in the main street despite the signs warning of parking restrictions. Apparently Te Anau doesn't actually have a parking inspector but just double check with one of the friendly shop assistants in case this has changed. We boarded the glow worm tour boat at the Real Journeys office across the street and sailed Lake Te Anau for the half hour journey to the nearby underground caves. After a short briefing we walked through darkness accompanied by the roar of flowing water to board another much smaller boat and glide about the underground lake while oohing and aahing (silently so as not to disturb) at the glow worms. A total sensory experience; and a much more pleasant one than on the larger boat where a group of Brazilian teens insisted on blasting their truly hideous music. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3582,3583,3585,3584"]   Back on land we checked into our hotel (I booked it because it specifically said they faced the lake but we found that most of the town’s hotels do) and at the recommendation of the hotel manager we went to the local cinema to watch ‘Fiordland on Film’, a stunning 30 minute visual documentary of the Fiordland region (complete with cocktails from the cinema bar). Afterwards we legged it back to the lake in the hopes of a decent sunset and boy, we were not disappointed when the sky turned an otherworldly mauve colour. Bliss. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3589,3592,3590,3591,3593,3594"]   We stayed at: Radfords on the Lake We stopped at: Miles Better Pies, Real Journeys Glowworm Caves Tour, Fiordland Cinema, Lake Te Anau Distance: From Invercargill to Te Anau via the "scenic route" is approximately 2 hours drive not including stops.

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The best part about staying at Larnach Castle was waking up in a goddamn castle and for a very brief moment this morning the dense fog cleared and we were able to see the breathtaking view that surrounded the property ... before it were gone just as quickly. After a lovely breakfast in the stables we took the audiovisual self-guided tour and learnt about the castle’s origins and tragic history followed by a wander through the gardens enjoying the little tributes to Alice in Wonderland. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3506,3507,3508,3510,3511,3512"] [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3505,3513"]   Our destination today was Invercargill but the journey was more about meandering through the Catlins to get there. The Catlins is an area of “rugged coastlines” “overlooked by tourists” which I can vouch for because I counted on one hand the cars we passed along the way. It’s one of those places where there’s no specific itinerary except to drive through and pull over at anything that takes your fancy. But I should have known by how hard the marketing tries to get you there that it would actually be disappointing. (Mind you a tour guide suggested we may have visited at the wrong time of year, so who knows? Seriously though - just skip it.)   [caption id="attachment_3528" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Farmland on the way to the Catlins[/caption]   The maps suggest a number of notable stops but from our experience most of them require lengthy drives along loose gravel roads with no guarantee of what you want at the end (I’m looking at you seals). These conditions made our drive more stressful than relaxed and I’d suggest if the Catlins truly wants to be a prime tourist destination they’ll need to pave their roads and maybe throw in a couple of cafes and servos. The stops we chose to visit were:

  • The oft photographed Nugget Point Lighthouse with its rocky outcrops that are supposedly teeming with wildlife (we didn’t see any but still a beautiful and worthy stop nonetheless). It's a ten minute walk from the car park to the Lighthouse.
[gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3515,3516"] [caption id="attachment_3517" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The view from the Lighthouse[/caption]  
  • Cannibal Bay, home of sea lions although we didn’t see a single one, and the long and winding gravel road to reach it was one of our most harrowing drives in all of NZ.
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  • Purakaunui Falls, a pretty waterfall down a short track. We had a couple of minutes to ourselves (just enough time to set up a tripod) before it was inundated with tourists, the only other people we saw all day. Asian tourists have this uncanny ability to sense when someone is setting up a shot and go out of their way to ruin it.
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  • Cathedral Caves, I was really looking forward to this because it looks incredible in photos but being totally dependent on tide times it was closed for the day.
  • Curio Bay, which is an interesting fossilised beach where you can actually see fallen trees in the rocks. Good for a wander but also dependent on tides.
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  • We really wanted to reach Slope Point but by then it was getting dark and we had grown weary of sketchy roads so we headed to Invercargill.
Invercargill seems to have a weird obsession with fast vehicles and not much more. If you are following along with this itinerary I would suggest skipping the Catlins and Invercargill altogether and use the extra night either in Wanaka to explore Mt Aspiring, or in Lake Tekapo for some star viewing with the extra day in Mt Cook doing another walk. We stayed at: ASURE Townsman Motor Lodge We stopped at: Larnach Castle, Nugget Point Lighthouse, Cannibal Bay, Purakaunui Falls, Whistling Frog Cafe, Curio Bay, Invercargill Distance: From Dunedin via the Catlins to Invercargill is approx 3 hours 50 mins drive not including scenic stops. It takes 2.5 hours if you take the direct road (ie. not through the Catlins).

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The benefit of staying in Oamaru, besides its steampunk fascination and its penguin playground, is that it’s quite near the Moeraki Boulders. These oversized and otherworldy boulders scattered along a beach are usually pictured in guidebooks bathed in glorious sunrise light surrounded by silky smooth water. To capture this same shot I plotted out sunrise, checked the tide times and dragged poor Mum out of bed at ridiculous o’clock for the 30 minute drive to the boulders. But because the weather gods hate me it was raining, windy and far too bitterly cold to be out at 6.30am (or 3.30am according to our body clocks). And if you do a Google image search of 'Moeraki Boulders' this weather seems more the norm than those sunrise shots would have you believe. Still, who can complain when you’re surrounded by 1 metre spherical boulders, believed to be 60 MILLION YEARS OLD. [caption id="attachment_3380" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Shitty weather, Koekohe Beach[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3377" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Moeraki Boulders[/caption] [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3374,3381,3375,3376,3378,3379"]   It’s hard to be cranky for long when nature is being so impressive so we hammed it up for the camera for as long as our bodies could handle and then bundled back into the car for the hour long journey to Dunedin. Dunedin is chock full of delights and your itinerary should include:

  • The Old Railway Station which is worth a wander for its grand architecture and if you time it right, you might even be able to snap a photo without bus-loads of Asian tourists.
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  • Cadbury World. I’ve wanted to visit here for YEARS only to arrive and find out that, due to school holidays, all the tours were booked out for the day. DO NOT make this mistake and DO NOT then try to relieve your misery by stuffing yourself full of sugar in the café.
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  • St Clair Beach. Lovely for a stroll and some snaps of the wooden poles. You may even spot a seal.
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  • Baldwin Street. The world’s steepest street! Much fun for selfies with a difference and if you’re really keen (and stupid) you can even attempt to drive it, but personally I prefer roller coasters when they’re under someone else’s control.
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  • Signal Hill for sublime city views
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3401,3398,3399,3400"] [caption id="attachment_3396" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Stunning panoramic views of Dunedin from Signal Hill[/caption]  
  • A drive around Portobello Road where the water’s edge is almost at your car tyres. This will take you to Otago Peninsula and the Royal Albatross Centre.
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  • The Royal Albatross Centre. If you’ve made the journey here, definitely take a tour (although it is pricey). We took a brief tour with a sweet Maori woman to do some incognito Albatross spotting (only one in residence at the time, but still cool). I mention that our guide was Maori because she was one of only a handful of Maori people we saw. Where are your Maori people, South Island?
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3405,3406,3407,3410"]   To top off your perfect Dunedin day, if your budget allows, I highly recommend a stay at Larnach Castle! A castle, you guys! If the weather is good, take the scenic Highcliff Road there, and if it’s not, don’t or you’ll find yourself on windy roads steeped in fog with not much scenery to be seen, let alone much road. Not super fun. However, arriving at a castle steeped in fog is another story altogether because that’s exactly as castles should be. [gallery size="large" ids="3411,3412,3413"]   Our evening at Larnach involved dressing in our finery (cleanest pair of jeans) and attending a three course meal in the Castle Dining Room where we mingled with fellow guests and learnt about the castle’s history, before eagerly falling into our fancy pants beds. See how much you can fit into a day when you’re up at the crack of dawn? [caption id="attachment_3414" align="alignleft" width="432"] Lodge Room[/caption]                   We stayed at: Larnach Lodge, Larnach Castle. We stopped at: Moeraki Boulders, Dunedin Railway Station, Cadbury World, St Clair Beach, Baldwin Street, Signal Hill, The Royal Albatross Centre, Larnach Castle. Distance: Oamaru to Moeraki is approx 30 minutes. Moeraki to Dunedin is approx 1 hour. Dunedin to the Royal Albatross Centre is approx 40 minutes. Larnach Castle is approx 20 minutes from Dunedin and 30 minutes from the Royal Albatross Centre. * Not including scenic stops.

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It’s not often you get excited about a drive but I was relishing the opportunity to travel the scenic Mount Cook Road once again as we made our way out of Aoraki / Mount Cook and down the east coast. But as usual low lying clouds insisted on hampering my plans, though Lake Pukaki was looking particularly stunning and the sky was an insane colour. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3317,3320,3318,3319,3562,3322"]   We travelled through Twizel, which didn’t seem worth a stop, to Omarama (if you’re headed to Queenstown turn off here via the reportedly beautiful Lindis Pass) and toyed with but decided against visiting the Clay Cliffs. The road travels on through the Waitaki Valley which is particularly pretty. [caption id="attachment_3323" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Lake Benmore near Otematata[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_3335" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Fields of yellow, everywhere[/caption]   We lunched in Duntroon where we discovered the delight that is New Zealand bakeries and their delicious range of interesting treats before exploring nearby Elephant Rocks, a collection of large limestone rocks in the middle of nowhere where not another soul was to be seen (well, except for some curious cows and skittish lambs). I love to photograph surreal landscapes and so these kinds of stops are always a must for me, although Castle Hill along Arthur’s Pass provides a similar experience if you can’t manage both. The rocks themselves were created because this whole area was once under the sea and now they act as a nesting place for local birds. You may recognise the area as Aslan’s camp from the Chronicles of Narnia films. The rocks are housed on private land but are free to visit and have basic toilet facilities if required. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3324,3327,3325,3326,3331,3330,3332,3329"] [gallery columns="1" size="large" ids="3328,3333"]   Afterwards we made our first petrol stop and nearly had a heart attack over the price of petrol at $1.87 per litre, about .60c more expensive than Australia! And this is apparently cheap. What the hell New Zealand?! Our stop for the evening was Oamaru which is a little like stepping back in time and then travelling to the future because this town has a bizarre obsession with all things Steampunk! Take a wander through the ye olde Victorian district with its fabulous old buildings and then visit the massive Steampunk HQ, full of rusty treasures, where you’ll delight in the infinity room. [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="3337,3338,3339,3350,3340,3341,3342,3343,3344,3347,3346,3345,3349,3348"]   Oamaru is also famous for its colonies of blue and yellow eyed penguins but due to the wild, windy weather (the worst the town had seen in weeks apparently – just my luck!) we decided to forgo a night out in the elements for a quick glimpse as they waddled home from the sea. You can take day tours of the blue penguin colony (put Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony into your GPS or follow the signs) but for some inexplicable reason this wasn't offered to us when we visited. Maybe next time penguins. We stayed at: ASURE Ambassador Motor Lodge, Oamaru, totally worth it just for their excellent drier which ACTUALLY dried our clothes within 30 mins (gasp) and was free! Also, free muffins (yay). We stopped at: Elephant Rocks, Duntroon and Oamaru including the Victorian District, Steampunk HQ and the Blue Penguin Colony We wore in Spring: Being a windy day a puffer jacket with hood was ideal plus layers including thermals. We were told it was unseasonably cold and overcast though. Distance: Between Aoraki / Mount Cook Village and Oamaru is approx. 2.5 hours, not including scenic stops.

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Whenever I travel overseas I always muse about how little history Australia has compared to the rest of the world but that’s because I live in suburbia and forget that driving just an hour or two inland is like travelling back in time. It makes me wonder how many tourists miss out on country town Australia by never leaving the beaten track. There are plenty of stunning coastal destinations within easy reach of Brisbane but when I need a fix of the country I head to the Southern Downs region; an area that contains the perfect mix of history and nature. From Brisbane, take the Cunningham Highway towards Warwick. Admittedly the drive is a little dull for the first hour but picks up around Aratula which is a great place to stop for some local produce and a bite to eat. Shortly after you’ll enter Main Range National Park as you drive up Cunningham’s Gap through the Great Dividing Range. There’s a number of hikes of various lengths around here, but as I always tend to visit in the warmer months I prefer to appreciate the mountainous scenery from my air-conditioned car. [caption id="attachment_3461" align="aligncenter" width="300"] View from Cunningham's Gap[/caption]   I tend to always visit the region during summer so I can photograph the sunflowers but with many outstanding outdoor locations the cooler months would be more pleasant for exploring. There’s a variety of ways to spend your time in the Southern Downs region so here’s a few of my favourites to pick and choose from. Click the map for exact locations.

Glengallan Homestead:

Once you reach the New England Highway take the turn-off towards Allora and then a quick right to visit Glengallan Homestead. Glengallan is a heritage listed and semi-restored house open to the public from Wednesdays to Sundays. Built in the 1800s, it later fell into disrepair and has since been revived with funding. I’ve seen a few old homesteads in my time but this one really tickled my fancy because the restoration is incomplete and I love anything abandoned and rundown. Don’t miss the mummified cat. A visit here will take roughly 30 minutes and costs $10. [gallery size="large" ids="3462,3463,3464"]  

Mary Poppins House:

If you have the time drive on to Allora where you can see the childhood home of P.L. Travers, the author of ‘Mary Poppins’. The house is found towards the end of the main street and can be visited by appointment only. We were incredibly lucky to be passing by just as the owner was out the front and she kindly agreed to allow us to look through. [gallery size="large" ids="3465,3466,3467"]  

Sunflowers:

My favourite reason for visiting the Southern Downs is sunflowers! If you visit during the summer months there’s a chance you’ll stumble across a sunflower field but I’d strongly suggest checking out my sunflower post for specific tips on where to find them.

Warwick:

It’s 20 minutes back to Warwick from Allora. Warwick certainly has that colonial country town feel we lack in the cities and no shortage of beautiful heritage buildings, but not a whole lot to do otherwise. We had dinner at Soban House which was a grossly understated gem and the best Japanese food I’ve ever had!

Queen Mary Falls:

If you’ve got a hankering for a waterfall 40 minutes east of Warwick near the lovely township of Killarney you’ll find the Falls Drive. There’s plenty to explore so refer to this map to plan your trip. We first visited Daggs Falls lookout which is just beside the road and then continued on to Queen Mary Falls. You can do a short walk here which overlooks the falls and then decide if you wish to walk on to the bottom of the falls (the on-site map makes this much more confusing than it actually is). I was devastated to discover that due to recent rainfall the longer track was closed so I’d suggest checking track conditions before you make the trip. [gallery size="large" ids="3469,3470,3471"]   If you continue on towards Boonah you’ll find Carrs Lookout with stunning views but be warned, if you decide to drive back to Brisbane from here you will find yourself on very steep, narrow and almost deserted road. There were a couple of times on this drive I thought I was going to die. The one perk is that you’ll drive through Main Range National Park where you’ll find yourself completely surrounded by the sound of bellbirds and cicadas. It’s truly magical but still not worth the stressful drive. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3472,3473"]

Stanthorpe:

If food and wine experiences are more your thing then a visit to Stanthorpe is a must. Only 45 minutes from Warwick you’ll start to discover an abundance of wineries and plenty of local stores full of farm fresh produce. The area is particularly famous for apples so you can’t go past Suttons Juice Factory for a slice of pie. And if you stay the night I recommend Stannum Lodge Motor Inn followed by Brinx Deli for an excellent breakfast.   [caption id="attachment_3474" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Mount Marley lookout, Stanthorpe[/caption]   Girraween National Park: Being a photographer I try and seek out unusual landscapes and Girraween National Park, 30 mins south of Stanthorpe, certainly ticks my boxes. Situated in the Granite Belt the landscape is primarily rock with huge boulders in impossible formations, walking tracks and waterholes. We visited in summer but apparently in the cooler months the place is alive with wildflowers. There’s also camping options if you’re that way inclined. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3475,3477"]   What’s your favourite thing to do in the Southern Downs?

Wandering through a field completely alone yet surrounded by flowers as tall as a man who whisper in the breeze to the sky above, ablaze with colour. Watching sunset from the middle of a sunflower field is one of the stranger, yet loveliest things I've done. The blooming of the sunflowers in the Southern Downs region is an event on every local photographer’s calendar as there are few things more picturesque than rows upon rows of the biggest, brightest flowers raising their faces to the sky. The places to spot them are around the areas of Warwick and Allora but they can be tough to find as they only bloom for a month of two throughout summer and only if conditions are prime. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3438,3439"]   Without doing the proper research you’ll probably find yourself like me on my first visit, driving along Warwick’s Sunflower Route expecting to be surrounded by fields of gold but finding only fields of green. My best advice is to check in regularly with Warwick QLD Visitor Information Centre’s Facebook page from December to March and once they announce the sunflowers are in bloom wait until people start posting their own photos to the page so you can hone in on specific locations. If you’re really keen there are a number of Brisbane Photography Facebook groups full of sunflower seekers who’ll be sure to offer advice. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3440,3441"]   The three best locations I’ve found (based on ease of entry and safe areas to pull over) are:

1. Freestone Road

My favourite drive from Brisbane to Warwick is via Cunningham’s Gap through the Great Dividing Range. As you get closer to Warwick, Freestone Road will be a turn off to your left. Travel along for awhile and once past Freestone (blink and you’ll miss it) there’s a well accessible field to your right with shoulder height, tightly spaced, sunflowers. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3443,3444"]  

2. Cunningham Highway junction between Warwick and Allora

The Cunningham Highway reaches a junction where you’ll need to choose between turning right to Allora or left to Warwick. Dead ahead you’ll find a couple of huge fields with 6 foot, well-spaced sunflowers. (They’re very close to Glengallan Homestead.) NB. When we headed up to Warwick it was heavily overcast and threatened to rain the entire day. About 30 minutes before sunset I looked out the hotel room window and noticed a touch of colour in the sky so I jumped in the car  and drove back to the sunflowers *just in case*. These images were the result. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3447,3446"] [caption id="attachment_3445" align="aligncenter" width="960"] The mean sky gave me an F-[/caption]  

3. Emu Vale, between Yangan and Killarney

From Warwick drive towards Yangan/Killarney and around Emu Vale you’ll spot yellow faces in the distance. Take the left just beforehand for best access and here you’ll find perfectly sized and spaced sunflowers.   It’s always recommended to get the farmer’s permission before you go tromping about in the fields but in all honesty I found it difficult to know which properties to approach and just tried to be as respectful of the flowers as possible. I definitely recommend taking gumboots as the ground can get squelchy if there’s been rain about and be prepared for bees and flies aplenty. Being the height of summer also remember the hat and sunscreen; I came away burnt after only twenty minutes. [caption id="attachment_3431" align="aligncenter" width="171"] The gumboots I've had in my car for 5 years finally came in handy.[/caption]  

Tips for photographing the sunflowers

Use a high aperture (f/11 or above) and take overhead shots of the field to get the rows of sunflowers in focus. Use a low aperture (f5.6 or below) among the flowers themselves to blur those closest to camera and direct the eye to an interesting flower or person. Try and put something or someone into the scene for interest, preferably in colours that stand out from the flowers. Aim for a time when the sun is low so you can capture it shining through the flowers. Warwick is a good two hour drive from Brisbane and if you’re keen to photograph the sunflowers at sunrise or sunset you’ll need to spend a night in the region so check out this post featuring recommendations on other things to experience while you’re here! Have you been to see the sunflowers?

[caption id="attachment_3358" align="alignright" width="300"] 'There Was' by Charles Blackman[/caption] If I haven’t mentioned it before my favourite artist is Charles Blackman and, in particular, his Schoolgirls and Angels series. He manages to imbue his simple paintings with this lonely darkness that I just adore. And it’s a theme that all my favourite art pieces seem to have in common. Lonely darkness. Anyway, recently I learned how to make a photo of day look like night. It’s really simple. Basically you drop your exposure and blacks and add an overall blue tone, but for some reason I’d never been able to figure out how to do it, and not for lack of trying. Sometimes the simplest Photoshop tricks completely elude me. But now I finally have the tool I need to create my own lonely darkness.   [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="3361,3360"]   ‘The Stars are Falling’ was initially inspired by an episode of 'Angel' I watched long ago that featured a storyline where the sky rained with fire. It got me thinking about the moment of peace the world would experience when everyone looked to the sky wondering what was going on, before everything erupted into chaos. With all that has gone on in 2016, political upheaval, the deaths of so many icons, as well as personal struggles such as losing my job, alienating friends, and reaching a plateau with my art, it’s impossible to ignore that everything is changing. All of which has manifested in this image, ‘The Stars are Falling’. I started the year with an image that symbolises rebirth, ‘Metamorphosis’ and I feel as if this new image metaphorically completes that “circle of life”. [caption id="attachment_2869" align="aligncenter" width="300"]bird, conceptual, art, phoenix, baptism, reinvention, photograph, fire, flames Metamorphosis[/caption]   The rooftop in the image is from the bakery of my favourite restaurant, ‘Harvest’, in Newrybar and was photographed during a road trip I took exactly a year ago. The ‘meteor’ is a stock photo sourced from Unsplash and is attributed to NASA. The girl is, of course, a self-portrait, photographed, as usual, in my backyard. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="3354,3357,3356,3355"]   Happy New Year and here's to 2017 and whatever it shall bring. :)

21
Jun

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 10 : Queenstown (Day 2) – Glenorchy

Queenstown is surely one of the world’s prettiest cities but the beauty doesn’t stop at the city limits so I highly recommend a day trip or two to escape the adrenaline rush seeking tourists. This post covers the area to the north taking in Glenorchy and surrounds.   After a couple of sunrise photos in […]

6
Jun

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 9 : Milford Sound & Queenstown (Day 1)

There are no words powerful enough to describe what it’s like to wake up in one of earth’s most beautiful places, Milford Sound, so here’s some photos of why an overnight stay on Milford Mariner is an experience you can’t live without. Argh my eyes! All the pretty! Once they prised me off the boat we […]

20
May

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 8 : Milford Sound

Mornings in Te Anau mean throwing open your curtains to panoramic views of a glassy lake and a strong desire to take a brief stroll or snap a few 100 photos, both perfect activities for working up an appetite.   I have a little known obsession with deer, so much so that the few times we drove […]

6
May

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 7 : Invercargill to Te Anau

There’s little to stick around for in Invercargill (although had I known about Demolition World I might have considered a visit) so instead we took the pretty, but not entirely memorable 2 hour drive straight to Te Anau. We didn’t know how to pronounce Te Anau and so the drive was filled with renditions of Laura Branigan’s […]

22
Apr

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 6 : Dunedin to Invercargill

The best part about staying at Larnach Castle was waking up in a goddamn castle and for a very brief moment this morning the dense fog cleared and we were able to see the breathtaking view that surrounded the property … before it were gone just as quickly. After a lovely breakfast in the stables we took […]

8
Apr

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 5 : Oamaru to Dunedin

The benefit of staying in Oamaru, besides its steampunk fascination and its penguin playground, is that it’s quite near the Moeraki Boulders. These oversized and otherworldy boulders scattered along a beach are usually pictured in guidebooks bathed in glorious sunrise light surrounded by silky smooth water. To capture this same shot I plotted out sunrise, […]

25
Mar

2 Weeks in New Zealand’s South Island. Day 4 : Mount Cook to Oamaru

It’s not often you get excited about a drive but I was relishing the opportunity to travel the scenic Mount Cook Road once again as we made our way out of Aoraki / Mount Cook and down the east coast. But as usual low lying clouds insisted on hampering my plans, though Lake Pukaki was looking […]

11
Feb

A weekend in the Southern Downs

Whenever I travel overseas I always muse about how little history Australia has compared to the rest of the world but that’s because I live in suburbia and forget that driving just an hour or two inland is like travelling back in time. It makes me wonder how many tourists miss out on country town […]

4
Feb

A visit to the Southern Downs summer sunflowers

Wandering through a field completely alone yet surrounded by flowers as tall as a man who whisper in the breeze to the sky above, ablaze with colour. Watching sunset from the middle of a sunflower field is one of the stranger, yet loveliest things I’ve done. The blooming of the sunflowers in the Southern Downs […]

31
Dec

The making of ‘The Stars are Falling’

If I haven’t mentioned it before my favourite artist is Charles Blackman and, in particular, his Schoolgirls and Angels series. He manages to imbue his simple paintings with this lonely darkness that I just adore. And it’s a theme that all my favourite art pieces seem to have in common. Lonely darkness. Anyway, recently I […]