Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Day 23: Gray-headed Flying Fox

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Day 22: Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 21: 'And round and round he goes...'

Luna Park, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

August 29th, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

As I drifted in and out of shallow sleep, all that I can hope for on a long haul overnight flight in the three square feet that one is granted in economy class, somewhere over the south Pacific we crossed the international date line and in a blink of an eye, August 28th came and went.
The Air Canada flight 33 I was on touched down at Sydney International Airport a couple minutes after sunrise. The perfect beginning to another beautiful spring day in the land of Oz.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Day 20: Ekari

Fijian Village, Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu, Hawaii, United States

August 27th, Oahu, Hawaii, United States

Was it not for several independent recommendations from friends I would have dismissed the Polynesian Cultural Center as just another way to separate the gullible tourist from their money. But it was my last day on the islands and I decided to abandon my search for the perfect beach with the perfect palm tree and do something different. I'm glad I did. The performances at the villages into which the center is divided are both entertaining and informational but it's the friendly and knowledgeable staff native to the islands they're representing that steal the show. I spent as much time talking to them about their life and their islands as I did shooting.

I timed my drive back to the airport to take in one last sunset on the beach. As I sat on Sunset Beach watching the red disc of the sun disappear behind the calm waves of the Pacific I thought about the fun I had and promised myself to come back. Mahalo Hawaii!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 19: 'Diner in the sky'

Astronomical Observatory, Mauna Kea summit, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

August 26th, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

After a quick look at the map I decided to take the winding road to the summit of the worlds tallest mountain, Mauna Kea. The first 18,000 feet of its might are below the surface of the Pacific but that still left me almost 14,000 feet to go. I raced against the setting sun and just as I popped out from a cloud layer at around 10,000 feet, I caught the last rays disappearing on the wester horizon. Mauna Kea summit is home to a large astronomic observatory complex which I figured would make for an interesting subject at sunrise. As I didn't think the scientists would take well to my pitching a tent in their parking lot I decided to spend the night in the car. The temperature was dropping quickly so I put on a couple extra leyers, a winter hat and cocooned myself in my sleeping sack and bag. Between the level of comfort offered by the reclined seat, the headache that set in as I drove up and the after effects of the unidentifiable substance I picked up from the hot food counter at 7 Eleven at the last minute, I got very little rest at night. As I twisted and turned trying to lessen my discomfort I cursed myself for leaving my timer remote release at home which would have allowed me to create images of star trails against the foreground of the moonlit domes of the observatories. Getting up with the first light in the eastern sky was for once a relief. I was surprised at just how much colder it was outside than the inside of the rental vehicle, even after so many hours. Before I even finished setting up my tripod my fingers were numb and my headache intensified. With my senses dulled I decided to cut my session short and headed for lower elevations. As I drove down my symptoms disappeared confirming a mild case of altitude sickness.

August 24th, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

The problem with planning a trip far in advance is that you have no idea what nature will throw at you. Or won't. I already had a title in mind for an image of spewing lava against the deep blues of the twilight sky, now I just needed to take the picture. The ongoing eruption at Kilauea started in 1983 but the level of activity over time varies greatly. I checked the status a few days before arriving on the Big Island and it did not look promising. When I arrived the daily update posted at the visitor center confirmed my fears. The current activity was low and potential for a large land collapse near the flow meant very limited access. In late afternoon I hiked the two miles over the jagged edges of the lava crust to the remote viewing area. As darkness fell and a faint red glow appeared over the flow entering the ocean far in the distance it became obvious that I'll have to keep the title for next time. I stayed for a long time enjoying the spiritual experience of new land being formed in front of my eyes. The hike back in total darkness with only a small headlamp to illuminate the sharp contours of the lava field and a gps unit to guide me to my car was something else...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Day 17: Green Sea Turtle

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

Day 18: Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu Lava Field

Hawai'i Volcanos National Park, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

Day 16: Gold Dust Day Gecko

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

Day 15: 'Take me to your leader!'

Wooden guardian figure, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawai'i, Hawaii, United States

Day 14: Kalalau Valley

Koke'e State Park, Kaua'i, Hawaii, United States

August 20th, Kaua’i, Hawaii, United States

I went on a 12 mile hike today. I figured, if little Ellen can do it, so can I. It was a loop with a long section along the beautiful cliffs of the Na Pali coast. About 3 hours into the hike I saw a feral goat. It was all black. I wondered in how many cultures this would be considered a sign of bad luck. Good thing I'm not superstitious. A few minutes later the trail abruptly ended. The landslide to blame looked about 100 feet wide but I thought I could see where the trail resumed on the other side. At this point the cliff was very steep but faced with a 7 mile backtrack I decided to take my chances. As I hopped from one outcrop to the next I tried not to think about the fact that should I slip there was nothing to break my slide down. The trail on the other end was very narrow and in many places virtually invisible in the 4 foot tall grasses. With every step it got steeper and narrower and, oddly, in several places abruptly changed elevation by several feet requiring some serious scrambling. My thoughts went back to the goat. It was a trail alright, just not one made by humans. And then it disappeared. I was standing on a tiny ledge of an almost sheer cliff. I couldn’t see where I came from. The gravity of the situation finally dawned on me. I stopped to consider my options. My first thought was that this would be a dumb way to go and besides, I haven’t even reached Australia. Below me was a 3000 foot drop off. To continue or to go back not being able to see where I'm placing my feet was suicide. The only way was up. The tree line started about 30 feet above me. I figured that if I can reach it I’ll be safe. I started the very slow ascend sweating profusely in the mid morning sun. Every few feet I would slip an inch or two and my heart would stop for an instant. I wondered if the sight of my body plunging 3000 feet down would traumatize an unsuspecting tourist in one of the sightseeing helicopters that circled the valley every few minutes a thousand feet below me. The twenty or so minutes it took me to scramble up were easily the longest of my life. When I finally reached the tree line I became aware that every inch of clothes I was wearing was completely soaked through with sweat. Including the quarter inch thick leather belt I was wearing. I kept on going for another 10 feet or so before I stood up using a strong looking tree for support. Then I saw it, the real trail, some six feet wide.
Exhausted I dragged myself back the remaining five miles back to the parking lot in front of the park restaurant and decided that I deserve a reward for making it back. I collapsed into a chair at an empty table and ordered two bottles of their cheapest beer. The waitress looked around trying to figure out who would be joining me. Not finding a likely suspect in the nearly empty room she frowned with disapproval (I seem to get this a lot) and brought me a single bottle of Bud Light. Bad beer never tasted so good...
Later that day I made a mental note just below 'Don't tease saltwater crocodiles'. 'You're not a mountain goat'.

Day 13: Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt

Kaua'i, Hawaii, United States

Day 12: Taro fields

Kaua'i, Hawaii, United States

August 16th, Kaua’i, Hawaii, United States

Today was one of those days. On arrival in Lihu’e I headed to the rental car counter. I must have done this a hundred times before. But today was different for on this trip I didn’t bring my cell phone. Asked for a local address or phone number I cheerfully announced that I don't have either. I explained that I'm the ‘shoot from the hip' kind of guy. I'll figure it out. Maybe I'll camp. Maybe I'll check my phone messages this evening. Maybe I won't. I got back a frown. 'We can't rent you a vehicle unless we have a local contact'. I suggested he put a hold for the value of the car on my credit cards. Another frown. ‘We don’t do that’. A long phone call to the supervisor and lots of frantic typing on the computer and he had a solution. ‘I made a note on your reservation, you need to come back with a copy of your camping permits or call in with your hotel reservations’. I sighed and agreed. The irony of all this is that Kaua'i is barely larger than a postage stamp. There is one highway and it doesn't even go all the way around the island. There is no car ferry. Like where am I going go?
Compared to Oahu, Kaua'i is an island that time forgot. As I drove out of the airport I saw moas (local code name for wild chickens) along the road. My spirits lifted, this is more like my kind of place! But apparently I have not reached my quota of bureaucratic incompetency for the day. The lady at the camping permit counter in the county offices was the definition of indifference. Having established from her monosyllabic responses that the sites I’m interested in are on state property and a rough location of their offices I left. After wondering confused around the block for bit I stumbled into the right building and found the right clerk looking decidedly un-busy. She announced that I’ll have to come back tomorrow and pointed at a sign announcing that no camping permits will be issued after 3pm. It was almost 4pm. I made an off hand remark that I’ll come back tomorrow and get a permit for a county site for tonight. ‘They just closed' she announced. The frustration must have been obvious from my expression since she helpfully offered to look up local motels in the phone book. She wrote down four addresses and telephone numbers and then proceeded to inform me of limited availability in some of the campground locations I was interested in. As I glanced at the big ‘No exceptions!’ sign on her desk I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been quicker to just issue me the permit. But that would require her to make an exception. I stopped by the county offices again on the way back to my car in case the state clerk made a mistake but I found the counter window shuttered.
Apparently Lihu’e isn’t exactly a happening place. I could not locate the motels at the first three addresses (all incidentally listed by my copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2005 which helped me confirm that I was looking in the right place). The fourth was but the office was closed. One of a group of builders on a break who looked like they were ready to raze this place down also announced that the owner should be back in an hour or so. I looked around. I’ve stayed at cheap motels before but nothing in as sad a shape as this. Resigned I located an internet café and booked myself into a three star resort for the night blowing the budget for this day and the next...
I never did call the rental car company with my hotel reservation information.

Day 11: Na Pali coast

Haena Beach Park, Kaua'i, Hawaii, United States

August 15th, Oahu, Hawaii, United States

In daylight Waikiki was about what I expected, a thin veneer of glitz. The beach, which the guide books would have you believe is a never ending parade of beautiful bodies, was crowded by families with screaming kids.
I counted 5 JAL (Japan Airlines) 747s parked at the gates at Honolulu International. I know of at least two other airlines, United and All-Nippon Airways, that have daily flights to Narita and Kansai and I would not be surprised if some of the other US majors also fly this route. That would explain why I saw businesses downtown with signs only in Kanji...

Day 10: USS Arizona National Memorial

Oahu, Hawaii, United States

Day 9: Surfboards

Waikiki Beach, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, United States

August 14th, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii, United States

As I strolled down the beach at Waikiki late at night, my bare feet not entirely happy about the coarse sand imported from Molokai, it finally sunk in. This morning I was watching grizzly bear cubs by the side of the road in the Canadian Rockies. Not twelve hours later I’m wading in the surf on a piece of volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific. This really is a little more than just a short vacation.

Day 7: Elk

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Day 8: Edith Cavell Glacier

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Day 6: Mount Edith Cavell

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

August 12th, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Eventually the rain did arrive. As I pulled my tent out from the back of the SUV in the thin drizzle of the late afternoon I had a small epiphany. If, instead of setting up on a level surface, I were to pitch my tent on a slight incline it would avoid any water collecting under it! So I did. It turns out my idea had a downside, literally. I had many opportunities to think about it that night as I woke up every time I slid off my mat...

Day 5: Punchbowl Falls

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Day 4: Bald Eagle

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

August 10th, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I finally dragged myself out of my tent before sunrise. It took a couple days to fully recover physically and mentally from the stress of recent weeks, especially packing up and moving out of my apartment. But the weather is holding up and the mountain scenery does wonders to relax the body and mind!

Day 3: Glacier runoff stream pumping silt into Peyto Lake

Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

Day 2: Bighorn Sheep

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Day 1: The Fairmont Banff Springs

Banff, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

August 7th, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

In the time honored tradition of travelers everywhere I finished packing at 2am the night before the trip. After some last minute inventory cuts I was finally done. Some 50lbs of camera and computer gear made it. Towel and warm jacket didn’t. I left for the airport bleary eyed a little after six. Starting any journey on 4 hours of sleep is not recommended and one that involves 12 hours in airports and on planes, in particular. If you’re wondering how it takes a day to get from Washington DC to Calgary, less than 2000 miles away, trust me, it does if you have a three hour layover in Houston of all places.
The two hour drive to my destination was only interrupted by a brief period of congestion as a crossing family of ducks, the little ducklings falling and rolling over themselves as their little feet couldn’t keep up with the panic signals sent out by their even smaller brains, brought highway traffic to a halt. By the time I finally pitched my tent in the shadow of the imposing Castle Mountain in the heart of Banff National Park, Canada’s number one tourist destination, I was shattered. There was still one little wrinkle left. Before I left I checked the weather forecast for the towns of Banff and Jasper. Rain. Every day. For two weeks. And I didn’t bring an umbrella. As I fell asleep I drew a tiny bit of perverse satisfaction from the fact that even though I was only going to be there for a week, the following week’s vacationers wouldn’t fare any better…