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Waimea to Waikiki

Waikiki Beach at sunset
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 06-10-2019 18:10 | Resolution: 5106 x 2872 | ISO: 250 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | State/Province: Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 14

Waimea is an odd place. After a lazy morning we go out in search of a coffee. The tiny cinema opposite has updated its programme. Apparently this week it’s "Angry Bird 2", showing on 5 days, "Sat cloed". There are two obvious inferences: they’ve run out of Ss, and they are closed on Saturday. However neither is supported by the evidence – last week the film was "Hobbs and Shaw", and later on (on Saturday evening) there is plenty of evidence of punters arriving…

We walk the length of Main Street looking for a coffee shop in increasing desperation. We’re just about to give up, when we realise the very last building has about 10 signs saying "coffee" or "expresso". It’s only missing a Terry Gilliam hand in the sky pointing down.

Can I get a coffee here? (Show Details)

The lady who runs the coffee shop cheerfully announces to us that she’s an old hippy but we could probably have guessed… However she then goes on to explain that before she dropped out she was a professor.

I am about to say "What were you a professor of?" but some sixth sense kicks in, and it comes out "Of what were you a professor?"

"Comparative linguistics."

"I’m glad I just got the grammar right then."

"Don’t worry. I used to correct my husband’s love letters to me."

The conversations we have on holiday.

Day 15

We have a very quick and efficient transfer to Oahu. After the other islands Honolulu is a bit of a shock, but the busy freeway takes us to within a few hundred yards of our hotel. This turns out to be a rather twee historic guest house up on the hill well above the bustle of the city.

The check in process is slightly fraught as the hotel seems to be staffed entirely by an oriental family each of which commands a different subset of the English language, and Frances is also somewhat concerned about the reports of multiple dogs and cats. However in practice the only real problem is a very low door into the bathroom which leads to a few "ow, bugger" moments.

The hotel is near the University and we get lunch at a nice student café, followed by a second course at McDonald’s when Frances gets a sudden craving for an apple pie.

After settling into our room we go down to the Ala Moana Beach Park, to see what’s going on and to case the joint for catching our tour in the morning. The recce proves to be worthwhile as the Ala Moana Centre covers multiple blocks and houses a mall of over 300 shops.

The beach front is a hive of activity. We see fishing, surfing, jogging, family parties and multiple weddings or photo shoots taking advantage of the late afternoon light. We get a great sunset and in particular dramatic golden light on the big buildings behind Waikiki Beach.

Waikiki Beach at sunset (Show Details)

Back in the shopping centre we go into Macy’s and look for their food court. There’s something called "The Bakery", which suggests a couple of old ladies with a stack of sandwiches and a coffee machine, which would do fine. However this turns out to be a lively full service restaurant which does a great prime rib for very little money. Result.

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Tours and Shows

Luau Kalamaku
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 04-10-2019 19:52 | Resolution: 2913 x 2913 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/50s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 62.0mm | Location: Luau Kalamaku | State/Province: Puhi, Kauai, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Day 13

We have booked a guided tour of the Allerton Gardens. We are both expecting a short walk through a botanical garden with someone spouting a lot of Latin names, but it turns out to be nothing like that. Robert Allerton was a contemporary of Hearst and created what can best be described as an "outdoor Hearst Castle", a series of wonderful "outdoor rooms" spread over a large bay previously owned by Hawaiian Royalty. Robert’s companion John was a talented architect, and the gardens are full of clever water features, all still working well as they approach their centenary.

Allerton Gardens (Show Details)

Our guide Dave is very entertaining. A successful farmer and botanist in his own right he is knowledgeable about both the history and the biology of the gardens. In addition he tells us about the extensive use of the gardens as film locations, including for the famous "fruit kebab" chase in the second Pirates of the Caribbean. However the highlight are the enormous ficus trees which provided not one but three separate iconic scenes in Jurassic Park.

Allerton Gardens (Show Details)

In the evening we celebrate Frances’ birthday at a Luau, a classic Hawaiian dinner and entertainment. We have chosen well, the floor show is up to West End standards with great costumes, dancing and a thrilling fire eater/dancer. We also get on very well with the others at our table, yet again (as in the helicopter) comprising not one but two honeymooning couples.

Luau Kalamaku (Show Details)

Tomorrow is Frances’ birthday – we’ve celebrated very well.

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Helicopter over Hawaii

Flying above the rainbows (Waimea Canyon, Kauai)
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 03-10-2019 10:12 | Resolution: 5176 x 3235 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/250s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 12

The morning is centred on an activity I have been looking forward to all summer, my helicopter flight. After a short drive I arrive on time, check in, pay, and watch the safety briefing, which seems to be significantly more involved than that for flying over Namibia with the doors off, or over Barbados in a motorbike with wings.

Then about two minutes before take off I discover that they’ve actually managed to miss me off the passenger manifest, so we have a short panic while that is resolved. However I end up with the prime seat in the front of the chopper, next to a very small lady to balance the load!

The Na’Pali Coast from the air (Show Details)

The flight itself is wonderful. Shay, our pilot is very entertaining, the scenery is magnificent and we fly really closely to the Jurassic Park waterfall, the Na Pali Coast and the big mountains in the middle of the island. The doors make photography a bit more challenging and I’m continually adjusting the polarising filter to try and handle internal reflections, but the results look promising.

Proof! (Show Details)

In the afternoon we explore the tourist centre of the south of Kauai, and end up having dinner at a hotel restaurant watching a classic Hawaiian sunset. Perfect.

Typical Hawaiian Sunset (Show Details)
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Waimea Canyon

Looking down to the Na'pali Coast from the top of Waimea Canyon
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 02-10-2019 12:35 | Resolution: 5583 x 3489 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Location: Waimea Canyon | State/Province: Haena, Kauai, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 11

Sleep is again interrupted by bedding problems and over-keen roosters.

Chickens are in fact a major factor on Kauai. Almost everywhere you look you can see one or two padding around, and it’s rare that you can’t hear a cockerel. We learn later that although most are feral, they are quite welcome as they feed on insects which would otherwise be a problem, and are effectively protected (in contrast to feral pigs, for which the Parks Service will happily give you a permit and probably a gun.)

One of many feral chickens in Hawaii, here at Allerton Gardens
(Show Details)

Wherever I travel there are usually species which has adapted to living off the scraps of human activity: pigeons, the little brown birds on Barbados, the feral dogs of Bhutan. Here it’s chickens, and they’ve even got bloody good at crossing roads!

We opt for a light breakfast and then head up into Waimea Canyon. This is just as dramatic as billed – deep and full of interesting forms, but a combination of rock with contrasting greenery and dramatic waterfalls, unlike its cousin in Arizona.

Waimea Canyon
(Show Details)

An entertaining and informative busker at Waimea Canyon
(Show Details)

The views are also enlivened by quickly changing weather. At one point we are looking down onto the inaccessible Na Pali coast, the view is clear, then completely disappears in low cloud and then clears again, in less than 5 minutes. We eat our sandwich lunch sheltering in the car from a sharp shower, and read that the mountains in the west of Kauai are arguably the wettest place on earth.

After exploring the canyon we have a relaxed afternoon shopping in a local historic town. However it proves surprisingly hard to purchase a cup of coffee after 4 pm. Kauai shop working hours are so short they make a joke of it themselves, but it does seem oddly un-American.

We have a good dinner, and then an early night, with a rather more restful nights sleep.

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To The Summit

At the Summit of Haleakala
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 29-09-2019 11:17 | Resolution: 5381 x 3363 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | Location: Haleakala NP | State/Province: Kaʻonoʻulu (historical), Maui, | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 8 – Haleakala

For a mountain lodge the night is surprisingly noisy: large vehicles on the road, guests moving cars around all night, and a rooster who gets confused and starts crowing at 1 am. In addition we have a somewhat binary provision on bedding – a quilt which is far too hot, but it’s too cold for nothing.

We make an early start. An excellent breakfast makes up for some of the privations, and then we head up the mountain. In contrast to the Road to Hana the road up Haleakala is consistently two cars wide and beautifully surfaced and cambered. It would be a joy to charge in a sports car, but on a normal day it’s also very pleasant to motor up gently observing the speed limit and the great views.

At the top there are three viewpoints providing different perspectives on the volcano’s crater. This isn’t a true caldera – the main vulcanism stopped a long time ago and what’s now visible is the result of erosion by wind and rain, with a few volcanic vents breaking the surface. However the range of colours and shapes make for some great photos, with Mauna Kea (on the Big Island) visible in the background, showing what Haleakala looked like in its prime.

From the summit of Haleakala. Mauna Kea in the background. (Show Details)

The crater of Haleakala (Show Details)

On the way back down I’m getting a bit mesmerised by the constant turns and the warm afternoon, and we stop just outside the park at an excellent coffee shop. We get there just a few minutes before they close. At 2pm!

Back at the hotel mid afternoon we have a pleasant few hours in the sun, although we have to sit at a picnic table (no loungers) and I become slightly annoyed at the bureaucracy one shop assistant attempts to impose on my buying a second beer…

Dinner is again very pleasant, we dismantle the quilt to just use the cover, and the rooster keeps quiet until after 4 am. Much better.

Day 9

We bid farewell to the mountain and spend the morning exploring the west coast, location of the main tourist beaches and hotels. It’s OK, but not visually exciting and the retail opportunities are very poor after Paia and Makawao.

On the way back into Kahului Frances finds a fabric shop. After about an hour we leave with several lengths, including both a fish pattern and Angry Birds for future shirts for me.

We have a quiet afternoon by the pool and an early dinner – tomorrow we move on to Kauai.

Day 10

The flight to Kauai is full but short and uneventful. It flies very low and we get great views of the intervening smaller islands. As the plane is a Boeing 717 I reckon that "completes the set" and means that over the years we have flown all major models of the company’s jets.

There’s a slightly annoying bus ride to the Lihue airport car rental lot, but once there I literally just show my ID and get handed the keys to a shiny new Mustang. Whether this is astounding efficiency or the general Hawaiian avoidance of work is hard to assess.

The road to Waimea is heavily reminiscent of the main road through northern Barbados, but with occasional glimpses of much higher scenery in the island’s centre. When we reach the hotel it turns out to be more of a motel – perfectly well equipped but again nowhere to sit in the sun, and very limited on-site service. The most confusing instruction is an 11am check-out time, before the office opens in the morning!

Waimea is where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii (Show Details)
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We’re On The Road FROM Hana!

Waterfall from the Garden of Eden
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-09-2019 13:00 | Resolution: 5184 x 3456 | ISO: 1000 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 50.0mm | Location: Garden of Eden | State/Province: Haiku, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Back on “The Road to Hana”, but now “from”. The northern stretch is well-surfaced but we’re soon back to regular single-lane bridges. Our early start means we are well advanced on the way back before we meet consistent traffic, but you can imagine that later in the day in peak season it could get a bit frustrating.

This is the wet side of the island and there are some great waterfalls along the way. However some of the expected landmarks seem to be either absent or hidden, and others are a bit underwhelming, although the wet weather doesn’t help.

The honourable exception, and definitely our favourite attraction, is the Garden of Eden, a charming arboretum laid out just above the road, reaching about a mile up the slopes with views of a couple of dramatic waterfalls and also right down to the sea. We get a latte at the coffee stand (at last!) and have an entertaining chat with the operator who admits that at age 20 she effectively “ran away to sea”. This appears to be a common pattern among the non-Polynesian Mauians.

Waterfall from the Garden of Eden
(Show Details)

“Rainbow trees”, alongside the Road to Hana
(Show Details)

We finally get back to Paia in the early afternoon, and head up the mountain. First stop is Makawao, a small town with a twee “western style” shopping street housing a range of galleries and boutiques. Frances and I are both attracted to one gallery where the artist puts her designs on a variety of media including T Shirts. Apparently Mick Fleetwood is a regular customer, but we establish that he is a rather different shape to yours truly, and sadly I come away empty handed, but Frances buys two.

Colourful shop at Makawao
(Show Details)

The road continues rising, and eventually we reach the Kula Lodge. Dinner is Prime Rib while looking down on a very dramatic sunset over West Maui.

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Hunting Coffee in Hana

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 27-09-2019 06:40 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 64.0mm | State/Province: Hana, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Day 6

I make a fairly early start and go down to the small beach to watch the sunrise. Just as the sun is getting established it starts raining, but the result is an amazing rainbow behind the hotel, and great light on the beach.

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
(Show Details)

This was planned as a rest day, so we have a gentle morning. After lunch we try the Museum and Cultural Centre, but it’s shut. Fortunately the Lava tubes are open, and absolutely fascinating. I learn a bit about the different types of lava, which seem to be most accurately described using Hawaiian and have fun trying to photograph the cave with camera in one hand and torch in the other.

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
(Show Details)

Hana does seem to be a town without a coffee shop. We stop at the banana bread stall, but at 3.30 they have switched off their coffee machine and are not prepared to just sell us a slice of cake, only a whole one. Useless. Is this really America?

I have no idea why, but I don’t have much luck with sandals. Today for the third time in about as many years, both of my relatively new sandals decide to simultaneously self destruct, on this occasion with both soles completely detaching. The Hana local store sells me a pot of glue, which turns out to be a sort of foaming filler. The soles are now firmly attached, but with odd blobs of yellow filler poking out around the circumference. Frances not amused at the inelegance. Evo Stik added to holiday checklist.

Dinner is accompanied by an entertaining game of "do you know what it is yet?" Crowd pleaser standards, played on a Ukulele and sung in an impenetrable Hawaiian accent. :)

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
(Show Details)
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We’re On The Road To Hana…

The Pools at Ohe'o
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 26-09-2019 13:42 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 13.0mm | Location: The Pools at Ohe'o | State/Province: Kīpahulu, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Day 4 – Retail Therapy

We’re awake early, and spend an hour catching up with political developments in the UK. Then at 7am we discover behind a nondescript door next to the “boutique doss house” a wonderful coffee shop which does the best breakfast of the trip so far.

Fed and watered we explore Paia. There are some good “retail therapy opportunities” (much needed after the previous night), but we have to forgo those which don’t open until 11, or only when there’s a Q in the month… Nevertheless I get a couple of great T shirts in a shop part-owned by Alice Cooper (Alice in Hulaland). Frances finds some pineapple fabric to replace the net curtains which she washed when slightly the worse for wear after a glass of wine at the end of a long day, removing the pattern!

Frances also takes a fancy to a rather nice blouse embellished with one-off appliqué. We start to move away when we realise it’s $300, but the sales lady seals its fate when she points out that the workshop has added pockets. “I don’t do pockets,” Frances announces, “in fact I usually remove them if a garment has them.” Of which more later…

After that we bite the bullet and drive back towards Kahului, the island capital, and find a more suitable hotel. Lunch is delayed slightly while we pay a visit to the Hawaiian version of Primark: Frances has yet again come on a hot holiday without any summer dresses! For the princely sum of £30 we get not one, but three. Sorted.

The new hotel is in a less charming location, but everything works, the staff are friendly, the room is a good size, and we get a quiet afternoon by the pool and a decent night’s sleep. Tick.

Day 5 – The Road to Hana

Maui is dominated by two main features. In the middle of the main part of the island is Haleakala, a 10,000 ft volcano. Around the edge is “The Road to Hana”, named for the small town at the opposite end to Kahalui. Read the tourist guidance and you would think this is a slightly scaled down version of Bolivia’s “Road of Death”. Fortunately that’s bollocks.

Recovering from the Road to Hana
(Show Details)

It is a small road which gets a lot of tourist traffic, especially along the North shore of the island. A lot of people try and drive the road to Hana and back in one day, and that can be a bit fraught. The southern section is shown on maps as unsurfaced and is described with dire warnings. However we’ve been told that a counter-clockwise circumnavigation is not only possible but desirable as there’s a lot less traffic, so that’s what we decide on.

The Western section is a good road up over the edge of Haleakala. We stop at a charming new church, a garden dedicated to Sun Yat Sen and all the Chinese who helped develop Hawaii, and a great little coffee shop attached to a winery. We decide against the wine tasting, just in case the southern section is really as bad as described.

Sun Yat Sen Garden
(Show Details)

It isn’t. Most of the road has a very good tarmacked surface with appropriate barriers where required. One stretch is down to the standard of the roads in Surrey, with multiple patch repairs but still surfaced. A few short stretches don’t have any asphalt, but they are well graded. This is the dry part of the island and has almost a moorland feel, but it’s a moorland which borders a dramatic Pacific coast, and for a while we can clearly see the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, peeking out from a cloud just like Bali Hai. Our own island is the same, with our views up Haleakala truncated by low cloud a couple of thousand feet up the slopes.

Church on the Southern Road
(Show Details)

As the road rounds into the Eastern section things change a bit, with the road hugging the base of dramatic cliffs. Some parts are narrow and we have to pay attention to passing places. Things are somewhat fraught for a few miles north of the park and waterfalls at O’heo Gulch, but only because the more substantial traffic has to carefully juggle through narrow stretches including a number of one lane bridges.

After a while the road widens again and we come into Hana itself. We find that in contrast to Paia we have lucked out with a great apartment with a stunning sea view. Excellent.

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Off To Hawaii

Panorama from Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 23-09-2019 14:16 | Resolution: 17390 x 3581 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Location: Union Square | State/Province: Downtown, San Francisco, Califor | See map

We finally managed to make our trip to Hawaii, which was cancelled at the last minute in 2016. Here’s how we got on…

Day 1

We have a faultless flight by Virgin to San Francisco. Despite dire prognostications we leave and arrive on time, and speed quickly through US Immigration. I decide we should try the BART which gets us fairly quickly half way (after being shown how to work the ticket machines), but we then sit forever at a station awaiting clearance through a section undergoing engineering work (this is a Sunday afternoon). We transfer to a taxi and complete our ride to Union Square that way. Our hotel Handlery’s is still as it always was. However there’s just a suspicion that this trip may have some aspects which take a few goes to get right.

Day 2 – San Francisco

Thanks to copious jet lag we’re awake in the middle of the night, but then manage to get back to sleep through to nearly 7, amazing.

American TV is weird, and some of the adverts are unintentionally hilarious from a British viewpoint. We love the drug adverts, with their long lists of potential side-effects, just like the "Caine Madness" in Evolution. There’s a new nadir today which has us both in stitches: a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, but the compound has apparently "… been linked with PBL, a brain disease leading to paralysis and death". I’ll take my chances with IBS, thanks.

We find an early breakfast, then do some shopping around Union Square based purely on who’s open (Forever 21!!). By the time we’ve shopped and had coffee the queue for the cable car is around the block. We decide to walk across the city and try and get the cable car back, which turns out to be both good exercise and a great way to observe the changes to San Francisco since we were last there. The tourist spots are definitely busier, and some areas look a bit dingy and in need of a bit of TLC, but otherwise the changes aren’t too dramatic. We visit Lombard Street, "the crookedest street in the world" and Fisherman’s Wharf, then manage to get the cable car back for an hour by the pool and an early night.

Sea lions near Pier 39
(Show Details)

Day 3 – The "Boutique Doss House"

Back to San Francisco Airport, and we get our flight to Maui. It all goes like clockwork, the plane arrives 1/2 hour early, and we’re punished by an equivalent delay before the luggage even starts to come through. Fortunately the car hire process is very quick and we reach our initial destination, Paia, in time for a late lunch.

Arriving at Maui
(Show Details)

Paia is clearly where artists, surfers and hippies who don’t quite fit in elsewhere end up. The shops are charming, but some of the practical arrangements less so. Our "boutique hotel" turns out to be poky, noisy and with zero customer service. The woman who gives us our keys literally runs before we can ask any questions, there’s a long list of dos and don’ts on the bed, and I realise it’s the only hotel of the whole trip which has taken full payment in advance (probably due to a history of people cancelling when they see "the accommodations"). The toilet is not so much as "en suite" as "dans chambre", next to the head of the bed separated by a thin curtain. I suppose "boutique doss house" doesn’t work as well…

We have an interesting hour watching wind and kite surfers at the local beach, then an early dinner.

Wind-surfing at Ho’okipa Beach
(Show Details)

Our much-needed beauty sleep is interrupted by pillow problems, what appears to be a loud lecture in Dutch at about 1 am, and a literal cat fight at about 4…

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Testing, Testing

Kolmanskoppe Single Shot
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 25-11-2018 15:49 | Resolution: 4080 x 4080 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | State/Province: Kolmanskop, Karas | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

I’ve been having a few problems with my RSS feed, hopefully now fixed. If you view my blog via the feed and don’t see a picture from my trip to the Kolmanskoppe diamond mining town, please let me know.

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The World’s Worst Panorama 2018

The World's Worst Panorama 2018
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 19:48 | Resolution: 25535 x 3194 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/30s | Aperture: 3.2 | Focal Length: 13.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Here’s my traditional end of trip contribution to the world of fine art photography. Peter Lik watch out!

From the left: Alison, Yours Truly, Nigel, Keith, Paul, John L, John B, Ann, Lee

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Namibia – What Worked and What Didn’t

Colourful rest stop somewhere in the Kalahari!
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 12:08 | Resolution: 12935 x 2067 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 14.0mm | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Here are some facts ands figures about our trip, and some guidance for prospective travellers and photographers.

Cameras and Shot Count

I took around 2900 shots (broken down to 2788 on the Panasonic G9, 78 on the GX8, and a handful each on my phone, the Sony Rx100 and the infrared GX7). A fair proportion of these were for "multishot" images of various sorts, including 3D, focus blends, panoramas (especially at Wolwedans), HDR / exposure brackets (essential at Kolmanskoppe), and high-speed sequences (the bushmen demonstrations, and a few wildlife events). I’m on target for my usual pattern: about a third to half the raw images will be discarded quickly, and from the rest I should end up with around 200 final images worth sharing.

The G9 was the workhorse of the trip, and behaved well, although it did have a slight blip mid-trip when the eye sensor got clogged and needed to be cleaned. It’s battery life is excellent, frequently needing only one change even in a heavy day’s shooting, and the two SD card slots meant I never had to change a memory card during the day! The GX8 did its job as a backup and for when I wanted two bodies with different lenses easily to hand (the helicopter trip and a couple of the game drives). However it is annoying that two cameras which share so much technically have such different control layouts. If I was a "two cameras around the neck" shooter I would have to choose one or the other and get two of the same model. As I’ve noted before, my Panasonic cameras and the Olympus equivalents proved more usable  on the helicopter trip than the "big guns", and if you’re planning such a flight then make sure you have a physically small option.

As notable as what I shot was what I didn’t. This trip generated no video, and the Ricoh Theta 360-degree camera which was always in my bag never came out of its cover. Under the baking African sun the infrared images just look like lower resolution black and white versions of the colour ones, and after a couple of attempts I didn’t bother with those, either.

This was the first trip in a while where I didn’t need to either fall back to my backup kit, or loan it out to another member of the group. One of the group did start off with a DOA Nikon body, somehow damaged in the flight out, but his other body worked fine. There was an incident where someone knocked his tripod over and broke a couple of filters, but the camera and lens were fine. Otherwise all equipment worked well. Maybe these things are getting tougher.

Namibia is absolutely full of sand, and there’s a constant fine dust in the air which is readily visible if you go out in the dark with a torch. This gets all over your kit especially if you go trekking through the dunes (tick), spend all afternoon bouncing through the savannah in an open jeep (tick), encounter a sandstorm (tick), or spend half a day in a ghost town world famous for its shifting sands (BINGO!!!). The ideal solution to remove the dust is a can of compressed air, but they really don’t like you taking one on a plane. On previous trips to dusty environments I’ve managed to get to a hardware store early on and buy a can, but that wasn’t possible this time. Squeezy rubber bulbs are worse than useless. In the end I just wiped everything down with wet wipes, but it’s not ideal. I’ve now found a powerful little USB blower (like a tiny hair drier) which may work, but I won’t be able to really test it until the next trip.

It’s a good practice to check your sensor at the end of every day, especially if like me you use a mirrorless camera usually with an electronic shutter (meaning the physical shutter is often open when you change lenses). I recently purchased a "Lenspen Sensor Klear" which is an updated version of the old "sensor scope" but with proper support for APS-C and MFT lens mounts. That was invaluable for the daily check, but in practice I didn’t find sensor dust to be a significant problem.

The subject matter is very much landscape and wildlife. Others may have different experiences, but I suggest for art, architecture, action and people you should look elsewhere.

Travel

Setting aside my complaints about the Virgin food service and the Boeing 787, the travel all worked well. The air travel got us to and from Windhoek without incident. Wild Dog Safaris provided the land transportation, with Tuhafenny an excellent, patient, driver/guide, and a behind the scenes team managing the logistics and local arrangements. The latter were mainly seamless and without issue, although there was a bit of juggling regarding some of the transport at Sossusvlei, and some of the departure airport transfers. I would certainly recommend Wild Dog Safaris.

If you want to cover anything like the sort of ground we did on a Namibia adventure, then you will spend a lot of time on the road. I reckon that on at least 7 days we spent 5 or more hours travelling, and on most of the others we probably managed 2+ on shorter hops or travelling to specific locations. According to Tuhafenny’s odometer we racked up 3218 km, or about 2000 miles, and that excludes the mileage in open 4x4s provided by the various resorts. The roads were at least empty and usually fairly straight and smooth, even those without tarmac, although the odd jolt and bump was inevitable. However we all managed to get some decent sleep while on the road, and I could dead-reckon our ETAs fairly accurately at 50mph, which is a far cry from the 10mph average I worked out for the Bhutan trip!

Although most locations have airstrips, there doesn’t seem to be any equivalent of the air shuttles which move people between centres in Myanmar, at least not unless you have vast funds for private charters. Just make sure you have a soft bottom and something to keep you entertained on the journeys.

Practicalities

I was advised beforehand travel to carry cash (Sterling) and change it in Namibia, on the same sort of basis as my Cuba, Bhutan and Myanmar trips. That was complete nonsense. In Namibia all the larger merchants happily take cards and there are ATMs in every town. Changing £200 at the airport was painless enough, but my attempt to change £90 in Lüderitz turned into one of the most annoying and convoluted financial transactions I have been involved in, and I’m tempted to include buying cars and houses in the list! Namibia hasn’t quite got to the point where you can just wave your phone at the till to buy an ice-cream, but it’s getting there quickly.

Another bit of complete nonsense is "it’s cold in the desert". Yes, it may be a bit chilly first thing some mornings, but I needed a second layer over my T-shirt for precisely two short pre-dawn periods. Obviously if you’re the sort of person who gets a chill watching a documentary about penguins, then YMMV, but I was clearly heavy a sweatshirt, a couple of pairs of long trousers and one raincoat. In addition to shorts and T-shirts one fleece, plus the jacket and trousers for the trip home, would be adequate.

On a related subject, there’s one thing that almost all the hotels got wrong. Apart from right at the coast daytime temperatures are up well into the 30s if not the 40s, and the temperature inside most of the lodgings at bed-time was in the high 20s, dropping to the low 20s by the end of the night (all temperatures in Celsius). In those temperatures I do NOT need a 50 Tog quilt designed for a Siberian Winter. One sheet would be plenty, with maybe the option of a second blanket if absolutely necessary. The government-run lodge at Sossusvlei got this right, no-one else did.

It may be dusty, and there are little piles of dung everywhere from the local wildlife, but beyond this Namibia is basically clean. You can drink the tap water pretty much everywhere, and it’s not a game of Russian Roulette having a salad. It made a welcome change from the experience of Morocco and my Asian trips not having to manage our journey around tummy upsets, which is just as well when we had at least two stretches of over 150 miles without an official stop. Obviously sensible precautions like regular hand cleansing apply, but Namibia really presents less of a challenge in this area.

The larger challenge of the Namibian diet is that there’s a lot of it. Portions tend to be large, and there’s a lot of red meat, frequently close relatives of the animals you have just been photographing. I was fine with this, but I suspect vegans should not apply. Between the food, the beer and snacks in the bus I definitely put on about half a stone, which I’m desperately trying to lose again before Christmas…

Communications are good in the larger towns, but elsewhere you may struggle for a mobile signal and the roaming costs for calls, texts and particularly data are very high. WiFi worked well at the town locations, but at the more remote sites service was intermittent and almost unusably slow. On the other hand, we were in the middle of Africa! This is one of those cases where you wonder not that a thing is done well, but that it is done at all. (The odd exception, again, was Sossusvlei, where they charged about £3 a day, but the bandwidth was excellent.) However Namibia is a country where practical problems get fixed, and I suspect in 5 years this will be a non-issue. In the meantime if you want to do anything more than check the news headlines (say, just for the sake or argument, update a photo blog :)) then plan ahead and batch updates ready for when you’re somewhere more central.

I did suffer one related annoyance. On a couple of occasions an Android app I was using to entertain myself on the long drives just stopped working pending a licensing check, which couldn’t be completed until I got connectivity at the end of the day. There’s not much to be done about this, apart from a post-incident moan to the app developer to make the check more forgiving. It’s worth having a Plan B for anything absolutely vital.

Do carry a small torch. It’s great to get away from light pollution, but the flipside is that it’s dark (shock, horror!!) As well as for night photography we often had to walk quite long distances between our accommodation and the resorts’ central areas, with minimal lighting, and you really don’t want to trip over a sleeping warthog or tread in a pile of oryx poo. I have a tiny, powerful cyclists’ head torch which is ideal. It’s also rechargeable via USB, although as far as I can remember it’s still on its first charge from when I bought it in 2015, so I’m not quite sure how that works.

Finally, retail therapy. Surprisingly for a country trying to optimise the income from high-value eco-tourism, there was almost nothing to buy until we got back to Windhoek and visited a craft market. Most resorts had a shop, but I wasn’t impressed by the merchandising, and when I did find something I liked it was usually not available in my size (clothing), or language (books). It’s not the purpose of the trip, but I do like the odd bit of retail therapy. There’s an opportunity for some enterprising young Namibians.

In summary, Namibia is a very civilised way to see the wild. Some of the wild is not quite as wild as it might be, but that’s part of the trade-off which makes it so accessible, and this certainly worked for me.

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Normal Service Will Be Resumed After Completion Of This Rant

Sleepy Cheetah!
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 16-11-2018 17:29 | Resolution: 3345 x 3345 | ISO: 800 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 193.0mm | Location: Okonjima | State/Province: Okonjati, Otjozondjupa | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

The last day of any trip is always a bit sad, and hard work with the travel. However this year three separate organisations covered themselves in something which is not glory, and I have to get this out of my system before I write the traditional tail piece for my blog…

As a bit of compensation, here’s a nice picture of a cheetah, feeling about like I did at 1am on Friday.

Thanks.

Rant 1: Designing Hotel Bedrooms

The recurring dysfunctional ingenuity of hotel designers never ceases to amaze me, and provides an endless supply of material for this blog. On our way back through Windhoek, we stayed at Galton House, which while still quite smart overall and in the communal areas, was probably half a notch down from the Pension Thule, where we stayed outbound. My room was a bit poky and had a couple of major challenges, including very noisy air conditioning, and an Iceland-class duvet (in Windhoek, in the summer!). However the worst fail was that it had one accessible power socket, to the right of the bathroom door, while the desk, the only place I could rest laptop and things on charge, was to the left of the same doorway. I therefore had to spend my stay with a power cable stretched right across the bathroom doorway, limbo dancing under it when I needed to use the facilities.

One wonders what sort of hotel designer comes up with a room with a desk, and no power socket on the appropriate side of the room. That’s up to the standard of the Calais hotel I once stayed in where the lift worked but the stairs were out of order (due to a 10 ft gap half way down.) Admittedly about 20 years ago I did stay in a hotel in England where the only place you could get simultaneous power and modem connectivity was in the hot tub in the middle of the room, but that was an adapted medieval abbey, and plain weird. Galton House is a smart new purpose-built venue. Not a clue…

And to add actual injury to potential injury, most of us had got the whole way around Namibia without many bites, and several of us, including myself, woke up covered in nasty little red marks. Blast.

Rant 2: Midnight Food Service

I’m fully in favour of Virgin holding onto the "full service airline" concept when BA and others have abandoned it. However, if you are running a night flight which leaves Johannesburg at 21.00 local time, and arrives in London at 06.00 local time, I would suggest that your highest priority is to try and enable your passengers to get as much of a decent night’s sleep as airline seating and turbulence allow. This is not promoted by serving, slowly, drinks, followed by a rubbish collection, followed by tepid towels (they were probably hot when they left the galley, but I was at the front of Economy), followed by a rubbish collection, followed by "supper", at about 00.30, followed by hot drinks, and finally followed by another rubbish collection at gone 1 in the morning!

…Followed by inedible breakfast, at about 05.00…

Would it really not be better to just give everyone some booze and turn the lights off?

Rant 3: The 787 Nightmare Liner

I wasn’t impressed by the 787 on the flight out, but my assessment reduced a further notch on the way back. That plane revealed a number of areas where the new technology has aged very badly. One example: the window dimming switch on my window had obviously been jabbed so frequently and hard that  the rubber cover had completely failed and peeled away. Worse, the toilet is supposed to retain the seat upright via some magnetic mechanism, with a nearby "non contact" switch operating the flush. In the loo nearest my seat the seat retainer had completely failed, meaning that I had to sit holding the seat upright with one hand, and every time I moved, the flush mechanism triggered randomly.

This was all on a "nearly new" plane which has by definition only been in service for a couple of years. How that plane will look after 10 or more years use I shudder to think.

I suspect that the 787-200 or whatever they call the "2.0" version will be a good plane, but I’d hate to be in charge of maintaining the oldest versions.

 

</Rant>

In fairness to Galton House, Virgin and Boeing, I arrived back at Heathrow at 06.00 safe, sound and slightly ahead of schedule. In the words of Old Blue Eyes:

It’s very nice to go trav’ling
To Paris, London and Rome
It’s oh so nice to go trav’ling
But it’s so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer, to come home…

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The Andrew Johnston Iceland Camouflage Masterclass

The Andrew Johnston Iceland Camouflage Masterclass
Camera: Canon EOS 7D | Lens: EF-S17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM | Date: 26-08-2011 15:19 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 10.0 | Focal Length: 28.0mm (~45.4mm) | Location: Kirkjufell | State/Province: South | See map | Lens: Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

The trouble is, there’s a recurring theme here…

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The Andrew Johnston Namib Desert Camouflage Masterclass

The Andrew Johnston Namib Desert camouflage masterclass
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Typically Tropical!

The 2018 Photo Adventures Namibia Tour crosses the line
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 13:19 | Resolution: 3767 x 3767 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 28.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Well, a line, anyway. We’ll all be back over the line sometime tomorrow, when we fly back. That’s sad.

From the left: Lee (group leader and owner of Photo Adventures), Ann, John B, Paul, Alison, Keith, Nigel, Tuhafenny (our excellent guide and driver from Wild Dog Safaris), John L, and yours truly.

Posted in Namibia Travel Blog, Travel | 1 Comment

The Twin-Lens Reflex :)

Shooting with twin Canons
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 08:52 | Resolution: 5184 x 2920 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/800s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

I noticed while gathering for the bushman walk that five of our group were "packing" a pair of Canons. This shot was inevitable.

Thanks to John B for the title – excellent photographer’s joke. I am happy to explain if required.

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Into the Kalahari

Kalahari Bushmen
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 07:26 | Resolution: 3046 x 3046 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/1000s | Aperture: 5.5 | Focal Length: 59.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Having been out until gone 11pm doing the night photography, I boycotted the dawn shoot back in the quiver tree forest, had a bit of a lie in, and joined the party at breakfast. We then moved off north. On maps the B1 looks like a major road: Namibia’s main north-south artery. In practice it’s a fairly narrow single-carriageway road with a surface which has seen batter days, and our average speed was even lower than on the good road from Lüderitz. This adds insult to the potential injury that from where we joined the road to the next major town at Mariental is over 220km without even a gas station or loo stop!

Anyway, we did the trip without incident and only one emergency stop (just as well, as trees are also in short supply), and after Mariental turned east into the edge of the Kalahari Desert, ending up at another game reserve, Bagatelle. I have to say that for a "desert", that edge of the Kalahari is currently looking a lot greener than I expected, but apparently the rains this year were a bit later this year, and that region got more than usual.

We had a relaxed lunch, entertained by some meerkats, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera. Towards sundown we set off for another game drive. This started well, with good views of kudu, springbok and giraffes as well as various birds. It was spoilt slightly when our driver panicked thinking he had lost his bird-recognition crib sheet, and insisted on turning round and driving back at break-neck speed along the route we had already covered, ignoring our instructions to calm down. (The missing sheet turned out to be behind his seat…). However after a couple of beers watching the sun go down I was reasonably mollified, and I’m quite pleased with the bird photos.


Lilac breasted roller

In the morning we joined a couple of Kalahari bushmen who walked us through the reserve to their camp, pointing out various tracks and giving us a demonstration of traditional hunting and trapping techniques. At the camp we met the wider family and got a chance, unique so far on this trip, to do some portraiture.

It was a little sad when we learned on the way back they actually live in a nice house attached to the lodge and carry the camp around in a Hilux, but I guess that’s progress…

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The Quiver Tree Forest

Quiver Trees
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 26-11-2018 18:40 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Sadly we’re into the last few days of the trip and have to spend most of the next few days hacking back from the extreme south west of Namibia to Windhoek which is well to the north.

Monday started with a short walk around the very colourful town of Lüderitz, which is a Bavarian seaside town, if that’s not a massive conflict of metaphors… The short walk was then followed by one of the longest and most frustrating financial transactions I have experienced – trying to change £100 in the Standard Bank. This involved all sorts of ID checks, the young teller had obviously never seen British money before, and their counting machine refused to recognise one of my £20 notes, so I actually managed to change £90. In 20 minutes. Grr…

The long drive east was straightforward but surprisingly slow, with our driver obviously obeying some size-related limit which hadn’t been an issue on the unsurfaced roads. It’s more comfortable on tarmac, but not necessarily quicker.

By mid afternoon we reached our overnight destination, the Quiver Tree Forest. These "trees" (they are actually giant succulents like cacti or aloes) are found in ones and twos all over Namibia but only grow in significant numbers in a few places. As well as the forest there are other attractions: we were just in time for feeding the rescued cheetahs, which I had expected to be caged in a compound but turned out to be wandering around with the farm’s dogs and toddlers. I got to stroke a cheetah, another personal first.


Go on, pull!

Sunset photographing the quiver trees was very enjoyable and generated some great images, and after dinner a few of us went back to try and capture the night sky with the trees as foreground. I’m not yet 100% convinced about my images, but it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless.


Night sky over the quiver tree forest

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Ghost Towns

Obelixa the brown hyena
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 25-11-2018 11:48 | Resolution: 5184 x 3456 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 300.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Today we visited two ghost towns based around diamond mines. In the morning we visited Elizabeth Bay, which is about half an hour from Lüderitz behind a substantial security screen as it shares its location and access road with an active diamond mine.

Elizabeth Bay is quite obviously an industrial site supported by worker accommodation and facilities, even though it is right next to the sea. The location is because diamond-rich sand was dropped as rivers reached the sea, and diamonds could be collected simply by washing and sieving the right seams of sand.

The town is in an advanced state of decay despite only having been abandoned in 1951 because the seaward bricks of each building are simply disintegrating under the onslaught of wind and salt spray, and then buildings collapse in turn.

The highlight for me was an encounter with a brown hyena. These shy and almost (by hyena standards, anyway) cute animals are endangered, and only about 2500 live on the Namibian coast. Some live near Elizabeth Bay, and when we arrived we met a BBC team who are making a documentary about them, using camera traps in the buildings.

Anyway, during my explorations I came face to face, on three occasions, with one hyena, who was completely unfazed and quite happy to be photographed. Our guide confirmed she is an elderly female known as Obelixa, who is habituated to humans, but it was still a fascinating encounter with a quiet, rare creature.

In the afternoon we explored Kolmanskoppe, which is much closer to Lüderitz, and a more straightforward tourist location. This is the source of another set of iconic Namibian images, abandoned mining buildings filled with sand. We had several hours to just wander and photograph at will. However it was quite hard work due to the constant strong wind and biting sand. At one point the eye sensor of my camera got so clogged it stopped working.


Image from Kolmanskoppe

While the fabric of most buildings at Kolmanskoppe is in better condition than at Elizabeth Bay, what seems to happen is any which is not actively maintained eventually loses a window or part of the roof to the onslaught, and then the sand rapidly pours in.

The sands around Kolmanskoppe may be a bit worse, but generally sand is a recurring theme of this trip. Just outside Kolmanskoppe there’s a road sign which says "sand". Without any loss of accuracy the Namibians could just put this outside the airport and have done with it.

Hopefully we will shortly be back at the hotel for a shower. Tomorrow I want to photograph Lüderitz, which is a pretty town, and not completely full of sand!

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The British Government Reviews Its Brexit Strategy

Poly-tickle commentary
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 24-11-2018 09:49 | Resolution: 2409 x 3213 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 4.9 | Focal Length: 193.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy and not properly focused, but that’s nothing to do with my photography!

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Empty

Ostrich and oryx at Wolwedans
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 24-11-2018 09:48 | Resolution: 3386 x 3386 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 150.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Lee agreed that we could all have a lie-in, so of course I woke up at 4, and was just getting back to sleep at 6 when the sun rose over the mountains and shone straight into my room. Bugger…

Today we moved on from Wolwedans to Lüderitz, a "Bavarian" town on the coast, which meant most of the day on the road. Southern Namibia is staggeringly empty: it’s over 300km of well-graded road from Wolwedans to Aus, at the South-East corner of the Naukluft National Park, during which we passed two graders working on the road, but we think no other vehicles at all.

The new game to entertain myself is to build up playlists for our intended destination or attractions. We were promised a view of the wild horses at Aus, so I had to work to a "wild horse" theme. Obviously I started with Ride A Wild Horse by Dee Clark and Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. I have two versions of Horse With No Name, by America and Paul Hardcastle / Direct Drive, both good and quite different, so they both got added. A search for "Wild" was fruitful, including Born to be Wild, Walk on the Wild Side and Wild Thing (I have the Trogg’s original, but sadly not the Hendrix version at Monterrey), and then several on a theme: Reap the Wild Wind, Ride the Wild Wind, Wild is the Wind (two versions, Bowie, but also Nina Simone which doesn’t really work in this playlist). Some of the others don’t quite work, but I never miss a chance to listen to Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry), even if it’s cheating and slightly out of place.

Tomorrow it’s a "Diamonds and Ghosts" playlist, as we’re exploring the abandoned mining towns near Lüderitz.

We did get to see an ostrich on the way out of Wolwedans, but badly the horses at Aus were a bit of an anti-climax. We’ll have another look on the way back on Monday.

Predictably as we got nearer the coast the African sun disappeared and the weather got a lot colder and greyer. I’m now sitting in my hotel room in Lüderitz, with major breakers rolling straight off the Atlantic and breaking on rocks a few feet from my bedroom window. What this presages for sleep tonight I’m not quite sure: it may be quite restful, or it may be bloody annoying. Time will tell.

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The Wolwedans Game Drive

Oryx and zebra at the watering hole
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 23-11-2018 15:10 | Resolution: 4515 x 2822 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 300.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

We’ve been a bit spoiled by the game drives at Okonjima, where it was almost a challenge not to see a great variety of game. The Wolwedans equivalent was less productive: after 4 hours in the jeeps under a blazing sun we saw a lot of oryx, one solitary zebra, fleeting glances of a jackal and a fox (they really don’t like being anywhere near humans), and a dot on the hillside which my longest lens just about resolved to something ostrich-shaped.

On the way back the sun was steadily on the back of my neck and I was lucky not to get sunburnt. I can really recommend Coppertone Sport.

However, I really mustn’t grumble. The scenery is magnificent, the oryx are fun, and I’m still privileged to be here. Please enjoy another picture of an oryx:


Oryx sheltering from the sun. I could usefully have done the same thing!

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And Another Dead Tree…

Dead tree at Wolwedans, Namib-Rand Game Reserve
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 22-11-2018 18:58 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 46.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

There’s a long-running joke between Frances and myself that I like to use a dead tree as foreground interest in my photos. In Namibia, it’s often the only viable target, and I’ve found that I’m in very good company. We all had a couple of goes at this one, first in poorer light, and then when the sun appeared from behind a cloud we got the Land Rover to reverse back down the track to have another go. I think it works…

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Into Wolwedans

Sunset in Wolwedans, Namib-Rand Game Reserve
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 22-11-2018 19:32 | Resolution: 5593 x 3495 | ISO: 640 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

My cunning plan to have a lie-in worked, and I had a great night’s sleep, sorted myself out, and had a leisurely breakfast. Those who had chosen the "third 4.15 start in a row" option got back looking distinctly frazzled.

The drive to our next location was mercifully quite short, as we were getting onto progressively more tricky unsurfaced roads. We’ve come to a private game reserve called Wolwedans (Vol-Ver-Dance). This is one of about half a dozen private owned reserves which together make up the Namib-Rand Game Reserve, a privately owned game preservation area over 2,000 km2 in area, or a bit bigger than the area inside the M25. Wolwedans has a total of 20-30 rooms split over 3 or 4 camps, and is usually frequented by the likes of Brad and Angelina, although I suspect they fly/flew in rather than taking the long road route. I’m not quite sure how we’ve managed to get here for a reasonable fee, but very grateful that someone’s made it work.

The topography is quite different to anything we’ve seen before, with a combination of large savannah areas, dunes, and quite substantial mountains particularly along the western edge where the reserve adjoins the Namib Desert National Park. While the terrain is obviously African, the "big skies" also put me in mind of Montana. So far we have had a very dramatic sunset and sunrise, and we’re off to try and track some game down later.

The drive back after sunset last night was interesting, with the drivers of the two Land Rovers opting to drive with lights off, relying on their night sight. It was quite peaceful, and probably avoided spooking the game (which seems to be a guiding rule here), but I suspect I would have used more light.

The Namibian diet (or at least the tourist version) is taking its toll on my waistline. Last night we only got to dinner at 9 and then had 5 courses (although the first three were only a couple of mouthfuls each).  I couldn’t get into my green shorts today, so I just hope the other ones come back safely from the laundry… I suspect it’s going to be the apple and coffee diet for me when I get back.

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Deadvlei

Tree at Deadvlei
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 21-11-2018 07:06 | Resolution: 5224 x 2939 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 38.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Deadvlei is the home of the iconic Namibian desert image: a dead tree on a salt plain with an orange dune in the background. Despite the ubiquity of such images, in practice it’s a single relatively small location, a bowl in the dunes maybe 500m x 200m. Hundreds of years ago it was a small oasis with fairly healthy vegetation, but the shifting dunes cut off its water supply, and the trees died. However in the dry, sterile conditions they have only decomposed very slowly, and are effectively now petrified. The other thing which is surprising is the salt pan – I was expecting a fairly thin even crust like you see in pictures of Bonneville, but instead it’s a rocky, lumpy and very solid arrangement.

Our tour bus took us the 70km down the Sossusvlei valley to the end of the surfaced road, and we then took a 4×4 shuttle 4km through the sands to the jumping off point for several walks. It’s about 1.1km to Deadvlei, a distance which I would normally knock off in about 12 minutes, but walking on the sand proves very difficult, and it took me over half an hour. My combination of small feet and, er, large frame means I just sink into the sand with every step, and it’s suspiciously like wading through treacle.

Regardless, our timing was good and the walk fully justified by the scene. We had timed our arrival to be there just as the sun was reaching into the bowl, and we got great shots of both trees just emerging from the shadows, and in full light against the orange dunes and cloudless blue sky.

We were just packing up to go back when we got the first hint of what was coming, some lines of sand being whipped across the salt, which stung the legs as they hit them. We had a brief respite as we walked back, but by the time we arrived at the car park we were in the middle of a full-blown dust storm, so bad at times other vehicles were invisible except for their lights. We had a 4km drive in an open 4×4 through this, which was not pleasant. I’m not sure that it was ever actually on my list, but "sandstorm" can now be ticked off.

We had a relaxing middle of the day, but I was starting to feel a bit weary and couldn’t face the walk into Deadvlei twice in one day, so at the end of the day while the rest of the group went back to Deadvlei John and I commandeered the 4×4 and went photographing dunes off the sand road. We got some decent shots, but it’s a challenge as the salty ground and scrub vegetation make getting a neat foreground a real challenge. I made a few "rookie errors", including shots out of focus and then trapping my finger in the car door, and decided that I really need to not do three 4.15 starts in a row. Tomorrow I’m going to boycott the dawn start and have a lie in…

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Oryx from the air

Oryx from the air
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 20-11-2018 07:06 | Resolution: 3174 x 1984 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/1000s | Aperture: 3.2 | Focal Length: 100.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

‘Nuff said.

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Nice Chopper (Ride)

Namibian dunes from the air
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 20-11-2018 06:45 | Resolution: 5391 x 3370 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Up at 4.14, but in a very worth cause, our helicopter flight over the Namibian dunes. We had to take it in turns, as the company only have one helicopter with three passenger seats flying at this time of year, so I volunteered to go first along with Alison and John. We were met at the park gates by the pilot, a big South African called Pierre. After the usual necessity of signing one’s life away, he drove us out to the chopper, which turned out to be dramatically smaller than the last one I flew in, many years ago in Barbados.

Called a Raven II, this is a great sight-seeing device, with a clear bubble canopy, plus in honour of the photographic trip they had removed the doors, giving us each a wide view to the side, plus I could also shoot through the canopy to the front. It was fitted with harnesses very similar to standard car seat belts, but at least Frances’ fear that I would be left with two odd ends like Sam Neill in Jurassic Park was unfounded.

I have to confess that the first minute or so of the flight was a bit disconcerting, in that such a small craft has to tilt down quite sharply to build up speed, when you are still fairly low to the ground. However things quickly stabilised and we were humming along down the Sossusvlei Valley. We were initially battling poor light, but our luck held and the sun came out exactly when required, when we were turning over Deadvlei and Sossusvlei. However the slow appearance of the sun meant I got some very rare shots of the hills behind the dunes wreathed in cloud and mist – Pierre reckons he only sees anything other than straight sunshine about 8 days a year.

We then flew deeper into the dunes, and back to the airfield via some meadows with oryx, ostriches and jackals. These were trickier to photograph, but I did get one great shot of the oryx.

We were back at the hotel by 8am, just in time for breakfast, and had a great lazy morning before the rest of the group arrived back.

For the afternoon shoot we were meant to all go back to Deadvlei, but there was a problem with the booking for the 4×4 required to take us through the last 4km of sand track from the bus stop, and we had to re-plan. We spent the rest of the afternoon shooting dunes and trees along the road back to the hotel.

Another early start tomorrow – our turn to go to Deadvlei.

Addendum – Size Matters

If you’re going to do a “doors off” helicopter flight then the physical size of your equipment matters (ooh er missus :) ). Smaller is definitely better. I got great results with my Panasonic G9 and the 35-100mm lens (70-200mm equivalent). Another group member shooting with the equivalent Olympus kit was also fine. However those shooting with the big Canons and Nikons and 70-200 or 70-300 lenses were finding great difficulty getting sharp images. The dual stabilisation of the Micro Four Thirds cameras helps, but the biggest contributor seems to be the fact that the big lenses project out of the cockpit into the slipstream, and the wind-shear on them makes them very difficult to hold still.

I also had the Panasonic GX8 with the 12-35mm lens for wider shots, and I was able to have both on the floor in front of me and switch between them. That arrangement also worked well, but would be tricky with physically larger cameras.

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We’re On The Road To Nowhere

Old vehicles at Solitaire, Namibia
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 19-11-2018 14:40 | Resolution: 5098 x 2867 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 28.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Playlist for today:

  • On The Road Again : Canned Heat
  • Highway Star : Deep Purple
  • Bright Side of the Road : Van Morrison
  • Call Me The Breeze (I keep blowin’ down the road) : Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Goin’ Down The Road (A Scottish Reggae Song) : Roy Wood
  • King of the Road : Roger Miller
  • Rockin’ Down The Highway : Doobie Brothers
  • Roll On Down The Highway : Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • Rollin’ and Tumblin’ : Canned Heat
  • Davy’s On The Road Again : Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
  • The Long and Winding Road : The Beatles
  • Crossroads : Eric Clapton / Cream
  • Rollin’ On : Uriah Heep
  • Road to Nowhere : Talking Heads
  • Road to Hell : Chris Rea
  • Highway to HellI : AC/DC

Did I mention it was going to be a long drive?

The south western quadrant of Namibia, an area comparable with Northern England, consists of the Namib Desert, and apart from a narrow corridor about 2/3 of the way down, plus a short stretch of coast, is all in one of two national parks. These are not crossed by road, and the few tracks into them are strictly controlled. The problem is that we start the day just north of the north western corner, and we need to get about halfway down the eastern edge. Therefore we have to circumnavigate the park on a Namibian "C" road. These are mainly unsurfaced, but wide and well graded. However speeds are inevitably slower than on tarmac, and there are periods where the ride is very rough, or it gets very dusty, or both.

We left civilisation at Walvis Bay, just south of Swapokmund, and the next habitation and services are over 200km away, at Solitaire, which appears to exist to service weary travellers at a key road junction. They do so in style, with a great collection of photogenic wrecked old cars, and their special, an excellent apple pie.

Another hour or so of driving brings us to Sesriem, gateway to the Sossusvlei area, and our base for the next few days. More than one night in one place? Luxury.

The Sossusvlei Dune Lodge is inside the park, which is good news for our forthcoming dawn starts. It’s run on a surprisingly Germanic basis, with more rules and constraints than we’ve experienced elsewhere. Quite a few of the rules seem to relate to keeping pests out of the rooms: mosquitoes (fair enough, although it is the middle of the desert), and baboons (I wasn’t expecting that).

Another early night: up just after 4 for the helicopter flight!

Addendum: 4am

Well, that blokes’ baboon repellent seems to have worked. The mosquito net also proved an effective barrier, locking a single mosquito in bed with me all night. Bugger.

Sleep was OK for quality…

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Hot Dry Desert, Cold Damp Desert

Yous truly under the rock arch in Spitzkoppe Park
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 18-11-2018 11:05 | Resolution: 5184 x 2920 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0.33 EV | Exp. Time: 1/800s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 64.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Despite the distractions of the chalet’s canvas roof I eventually got an OK night’s sleep, and woke up ready for action. With the sun just rising we had a great pre-breakfast shoot at Spitzkoppe, with the rock formations beautifully lit by low sun, and just a few whispy white clouds breaking a clear blue sky.

The Spitzkoppe Lodge is quite new. The unresolved issues with the roofs are one challenge, breakfast turns out to be another. Lukewarm coffee is a recognisable drink. Lukewarm tea is a waste of ingredients and a challenge to the nausea response.

After breakfast we drove to the other side of the park and made a short climb up to a rock arch. I scrambled up to the arch itself and had my picture captured, just in time before the group of about 15 Germans arrived via a much gentler path from the other side…

We then headed for the coast, along an absolutely straight, flat and empty road. At the start we were at about 1000m, in baking sun with the sand punctuated by occasional clumps of scrubby grass. At the end we were at sea level, under a grey sky, much cooler, with the sand punctuated by occasional small mossy mounds.

Lunch was taken at our driver’s favourite cafe in Hentis Bay, which appears to be a sort of African Clacton-on-Sea. The cafe is also recognised by another member of the group and clearly a known target. The food is tasty and the portions more than generous: I have something called a terrazini, a large flatbread stuffed with chicken, bacon and cheese and then toasted. Nigel goes for a burger, which turns out to be about the size of a discus.

After lunch we spend an interesting but surprisingly cold half hour photographing a shipwreck using very long exposures. It’s very good practice for me to remember how to drive a camera in manual mode, something I rarely do.

It’s a short drive down the coast to Swapokmund, a rather larger city, somewhat reminiscent of a European seaside town. This looks prosperous, but somewhat dead on a cold Sunday evening.

You can tell when a Namibian town developed by the signage and street names: somewhere which has developed since independence will be almost entirely English. Those which developed in the mid 20th century will use English and quite a lot of Afrikaans. Swapokmund obviously dates back to the 19th century and there’s a lot of German – our hotel is just off Kaiser Willhelm Strasse.

Early night. Long drive tomorrow.

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