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Photography has changed the way I see the world around me.

Through it I discover new things and rediscover old ones. Like my island, New Caledonia.

This blog is just me sharing my world through my photography.

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HITACHI SEASIDE PARK AND ODAIBA

Japan

day nine

Our second last full day in Japan. Today we head to Hitachinaka, just north of Tokyo, to visit the Hitachi Seaside Park. Then we head over to Odaiba island for the evening.

There’s about an hour train trip and a half hour bus ride from Tokyo to get to the Hitachi Seaside Park. This place is a lot bigger than I had ever imagined. We spent about two and a half hours and only saw a fraction of what there is to see and do. Most of our time was spent in the beautiful nemophila (baby blue-eyes) and poppy fields on Miharashi Hill. With different flowers blossoming every season, you can be amazed all year round. The park has so much more to offer though. Hitachi Seaside Park is also a huge amusement park for families with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, stores and that’s not all. BMX course, golf games, trampoline, water games, ferris wheel, a 400 metre obstacle course in a tube and lots more. You can even hire push-bikes to wander around this enormous 350 hectare park. We came for the baby blue-eyes fields and other flowers but if you decide to visit, give yourself a whole day. You won’t regret it. There’s so much to do and see here.

We headed back to the hotel a little early to relax a bit and freshen up before going to Odaiba. To get there, we took the Yurikamome, a computer operated train that runs on rubber wheels. There are no drivers nor guards onboard. Pretty cool, I must say. Another reason we took it is because it crosses the Shuto Expressway No.11 Daiba Route. Publicly named Rainbow Bridge because of it’s beautiful lights at night. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to see the multi-coloured lights. We got off at the iconic Statue Of Liberty replica for some blue hour photography. Lady Liberty is only 11.5 metres in height but looks much taller because of it’s strategic placement, overlooking Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. Beautiful views from there.

Once blue hour was over, we made our way to the Oodeo-Onsen Monogatari. This place is a complete onsen theme park. It’s literally a replica of a town from the Edo era. This place is open from 11 am to 9 am the next day. And you need all that time to experience the place. There’a so much to do and see here. There’s a food court with street foods, there are restaurants, shops, bars, saunas ,spas, onsens, relaxation rooms and tatamis, massages, the list goes on and on. Checkout my last post where I talk a little more about this amazing place. As I mentioned on the post, a must visit but give yourself a full day to appreciate and immerse yourself in the experience. Two days if you’d like to visit Odaiba.

That’s it for day nine my friends. Thank you for watching and hope to see you for the last video of Japan. Oyasuminasai.

SAKU AND SHINJUKU

Japan

day eight

Today we spend the day with my best mate and his wife, Marcin & Chie, in Saku then head to Tokyo before nightfall.

After last night’s late nightcap, we got up late this morning. In fact, just in time to checkout of our hotel, the Ueda Plaza. A small room but clean, comfortable and affordable. The hotel is also well located near the Ueda Train Station and centralised to, just about, everything else. We both wished we had more time to visit Ueda a little. Not just the city but it’s surroundings too. There’s so much to see here.

We caught the train to Sakudaira Station, the next stop on the line, to spend the early afternoon with Marcin & Chie. They picked us up from there and we drove through Saku city to the beautiful Pinkoro Jizo, the guardian deity of children. In general, Pinkoro Jizo means to wish for a long and healthy life with a quick and peaceful death. I wish for that. With a small Shinto Shrine and a couple of large Buddhist Temples, this place is beautiful, peaceful and fascinating. Very happy Chie brought us here.

As you walk out of the temple’s main gate there is a long, narrow pedestrian alley with one stall held my an elderly man. I could imagine this alley busy with stalls, people and festive on weekends or special days. The man was selling a lot of things but also did palm readings. My mate, who’s interested in that sort of thing, decided to get it done. It was a 30-40 minute reading that I won’t go into. Suffice to say, Marcin wasn’t too impressed.

On that same corner, is a restaurant specialising in carp, called Kagetsu. Cooked and prepared in different ways, it was an eye opener and a delight to the palette. No b-roll of the meal as I wanted to enjoy these last moments with my friends before heading off.

They dropped us back at Sakudaira Station where we caught a bullet train to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo then a local train to Shin-Okubo Station. Our hotel, the Shin-Okubo Sekitei, was only a ten minute walk from there. A Japanese-style Ryokan (Inn) with decos from the Showa era. Though the rooms are small and doorways low, they are very nice, comfortable, clean, inexpensive and well located. Great as a base to travel in and around Tokyo. It was perfect for us.

We dumping our luggage, freshened up and heading back to the train station. We got off a few stops farther at Shinjuku Station. From there we navigated the underground labyrinth to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is the headquarters of the Government that governs all the towns, villages, cities and wards that make up the Tokyo Metropolis. It comprises of two high-rises, both with an observation deck. We were hoping to make it up there for, at least, blue hour but we almost gave up on the idea when we realised one of the decks was closed and saw the queue and bag search before getting into the elevator. To our surprise, they were very quick and efficient, and we arrived up there right on time. You are wowed as soon as you walk out of the elevator. An open, high ceiling room with a cafe and souvenir shop in the centre, and huge windows all around with magnificent cityscapes of Tokyo. I was so busy taking photos of the skyline that I forgot to take some b-roll of the interior. I tried a time-lapse but that didn’t turn out to well. Nonetheless, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Building is a must visit when in Japan. I highly recommend it.

We headed back to Shin-Okubo as there are a lot of places to eat and the hotel was only 5-10 minutes away. We had dinner at Tenkazushi, a small conveyor belt or sushi train restaurant. Fast, cheap and excellent quality. They have an English menu and very helpful staff. Oh and everyone says hello and goodbye. Everyone. Impossible to enter or leave discreetly. We loved this place.

OK my friends, that’s it for another day. Thank you for watching and hope to see on day 9. Oyasuminasai.

SHIRAKAWA-GO

Japan

day seven

Traveling through the mountains via coach from Kanazawa to Shirakawa is fantastic. And especially beautiful as you head down the mountain and see the village in the valley. We arrived on a cool but sunny day yet we could see snowcapped mountains in the not too distance. Shirakawa-go is a small, traditional village within Shirakawa, best known for their gassho-zukuri style minka houses. Recognisable by their very steep and thick thatched roofs designed to easily shed snow. An interesting fact, the upper floors of the two and three story houses were used for sericulture, silk farming. Not sure if that’s still the case though. One thing’s for sure, they still grow rice. All the farmhouses have, at least, one small field around the house.

We strolled though the small village on our way up to the lookout, which has a magnificent panoramic view of Shirakawa-go. There are two lookouts or observatories, the Ogimachi Castle Observatory Deck and the Tenshukaku Observatory, both with quite similar views though the latter has a couple of restaurants and a few boutiques. Not much left at the Omigachi Castle Ruins near it’s observatory deck but the best view, in my opinion.

Rain had started to fall whilst at the observatories and didn’t really stop for the rest of the day. The weather changed quite quickly and we could feel the cold now too. We explored farther into the village, getting a closer look at the minka houses and crossing paths with not-so-scary scarecrows. There’s a lot to see around this tiny village too. Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, stores, museums, Shinto shrines, the Big Bridge, the Sho River, so much to see. We were here five hour and weren’t able to visit everything.

Cold and hungry, we ducked into Shiraogi, a restaurant that serves set meals. Very nice and inexpensive. Warmed up with soup and tea… OK, I had to try the rice ale too. Once finished, we made our way back to the bus stop for our coach to Toyama.

From Toyama we caught a bullet train to Ueda where we were staying for the night and catching up with my best mate, his wife and his family. We had just enough time to check-in before meeting up for dinner at a Japanese pub called Hananomai, near Ueda train station. After dinner we accompanied his parents and aunt back to Ueda Plaza Hotel, where we were also staying. We, on the other hand, headed to Uotami, another Japanese pub, just down the road from the hotel. All in all, a great catchup.

Just a couple of words on my thoughts about Shirakawa-go. In 1995 it gained the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Unfortunately, it is in danger of loosing this status. Here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Shirakawa:

The local economy is dominated strongly by seasonal tourism. Due to the income from the tourists who came to see the gassho-zukuri villages, the financial condition of the village has been greatly improved, and tourist traffic increased further once the village became a UNESCO site. However, the increasing number of visitors has resulted in damage to the area from pollution, and by local inhabitants their homes into hostels, gift shops and parking lots, which in turn has endangered its World Heritage status. There is also a fear growing that the change to catering to tourists will harm the charm of the area's simplicity and fundamental Japanese scenery.

Shirakawa, Gifu (village)

Having visited this amazing village, I can attest to this. I really hope they find an equitable balance to keep their World Heritage status on one hand and profit from the economics of tourism on the other.

Once again, thank you very much for watching. Hope you enjoyed it. See you on the next one. Oyasuminasai my friends.

KANAZAWA

Japan

day six

Ohayo my friends and welcome to the small town of Kanazawa, or so I thought until I saw it was more of a city. We could tell as soon as we walked out of the station. We were only here for the day and night. An early rise the next morning to catch the coach to Shirakawa-go. Which we bought the tickets for just outside the station.

I think we arrived just before 11 am and, once the Shirakawa-go tickets bought, took the JR bus to the Omicho Market. Our hotel was on the other side so we walked through it to have a look. There’s everything from meat, fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, patisserie, ice-cream and confectionary, florists, cafes and restaurants… I think you get the gist. Quite fascinating walking through here. 

The Hotel Pacific is a great place to stay and is pretty centralised in Kanazawa. Loved the entrance, a cafe that doubles as a reception. And a beautiful cafe at that. And they make a great coffee too. Rooms are small but that standard in Japan. Clean, tidy and great service. If your on a budget, the Hotel Pacific is worth checking out.

Once we dumped our bags and plugged everything that needed to be recharged, we went back to the market for lunch. I saw a restaurant with things on skewers in a broth and thought we should try it out. Géraldine wasn’t as enthusiastic as I but she went along with it. Once the kimono girls had finished, we passed our order, a few skewers in a bowl with the same broth they’re cooked in. I ordered a Japanese beer with the meal and Géraldine an ice tea. She also wanted to try what the girls on the next table were all having, a White Horse. We couldn’t tell what it was from the menu but when I ordered at the bar, I knew she wouldn’t like it. White Horse Scotch Whisky and lemonade. Wish I had capture her face on camera. Light, crisp, not bad for a lunch drink on a hot day. The food, well, what can I say? Probably the blandest meal I’ve tasted on the trip. Everything was cooked in the same broth so it all tasted the same, really. The textures was the most noticeable difference between the servings. Overall not bad but, really, nothing to brag about. An experience though.

Once we had dessert at the market and looked around a little more, we made our way to the Kanazawa Castle. Surrounded by spacious green lawns, ponds and waterways, the castle is on a slight elevation. We could see similar characteristic to other castles but seemed to be built in length rather than height. We entered through the  beautiful, gigantic Kahoku-mon gate, which is where I took the photo of the Hishi Yagura from. Walking through the main courtyard, San-no-maru Hiroba, we saw a couple of women getting rid of weeds against the wall of the gates. The L-shape castle is very dominant and impressive as you walk through the courtyard. Then we saw a couple of men doing the same work as the women around a small fence near the Information Center. We left through the Ishikawa Gate, making our way to the Kenroku-en garden via a footbridge.

There is a beautiful little alley with shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and ice-cream alongside the Kenroku-en garden. Talking about ice-cream, I had to try the gold and platinum leaf covered ice-cream. Apart from the slightest metallic taste, there is nothing special about it. The ice-cream, overall, was very nice though. From the subtle vanilla flavoured soft-serve to the thick and crispy wafer and rich yet smooth chocolate tip, all the flavours and textures were well balanced and complimented each other. I particularly liked the wafer. ¥300 fee gets you in to the perfectly landscaped Kenroku-en. We were here in Spring where everything was green with beautiful flowers. Ponds, waterways and waterfalls all contribute to the harmony, tranquility and beauty of the garden too. It’s no wonder it’s one of the Great Gardens of Japan.

After visiting the garden, we walked our way towards 1 Chrome Higashiyama suburb in hopes of seeing Geishas. Arriving at the Asanogawa Bridge though, we got a little distracted by the beautiful and tiny suburb of Kazuemachi. Where wooden structured homes and restaurants lined small alleyways running along the Asano River. We kept walking upriver to a small bridge that had a view of the Asanogawa Bridge. We crossed the river and made our way back down, deciding to head back to the hotel for a shower and rest before dinner.

The restaurant we wanted to go to was booked out so we ate at a small Kaiseki restaurant just down the road from the hotel, called Kokochiya. We were able to get a table but not before the chef made himself understood that tonight was a set menu. A set menu of which we have no idea of what it comprises, all for it. We were lead upstairs to be seated and, literally, closed off to the rest of the tables. Very private. Though we were served tea, we ordered hot and cold sake. The hot sake was for Géraldine, I don’t particularly appreciate it. I didn’t film all the servings, mainly because my stomach had the upper hand on my state of mind. There were ten servings all up and suffice to say, the whole meal was delicious. Sure, there were a couple of things that had gooey textures but delicious nonetheless. We quite enjoyed the whole experience and even had a bit of a laugh at the end. No one had come back to check on us for quite a while after the soup was served. So not knowing whether there was another serving or they were just waiting for us to finish up and leave, we thought we’d check downstairs to see what was happening. We slowly made our way down the stairs like kids sneaking out of their bedroom to see what their parents are doing. A waitress suddenly appeared and startled us as I was peaking around the bottom of the stairs. Rushing back up we quickly realised we were being quite childish for a pair of adults. It was time to leave.

Hope you enjoyed this little video. The next one will be of an ancient little village in the middle of a valley. Oyasuminasai my friends.

KYOTO

Japan

day five

Ohayo my friends, an early morning rise meant no breakfast until we got to our destination, Arashiyama. We were hoping to come across an open cafe for breakfast once we got off at Saga-Arashiyama Station and made our way down towards Katsura River. It was still quite early so most places were closed but we found Hirose, a little mom and pop coffee shop, literally. A small place with big vibes and wonderful atmosphere. You could tell the, quite old, couple have been doing this for a long time. Each were very efficient in their own work and together. Very friendly and helpful with customers. We were served in beautiful sometsuke (blue and white pottery) cup and saucer. We had a quick little breakfast, coffee and cinnamon toast. So delicious though, we had seconds.

Once we arrived at the river, we saw the saddest thing of our whole trip in Japan. Old and young men, women, kids and even school kids in uniform with their teachers, all volunteers on a Sunday morning cleaning up the banks of the river of rubbish left by tourists. There were even groups in diving suits in the river. It shows that a lot of tourists have no respect for their surroundings, their environment and worst, the people that live there. It’s a shame because Arashiyama is a beautiful place. And Katsura River run pretty much through Kyoto. A very sad scene.

Our first big visit of the day was the Monkey Park Iwatayama. I was a little apprehensive of the conditions I would find the monkeys in but was reassured once we arrived on the plateau and saw them all wandering freely. Only one cage was visible and that was part of the shop where you buy food, water and feed the monkeys from. Or just get a bit of shade or escape the monkeys and relax, enjoy a drink. Magnificent view of Kyoto from up here as well. The monkeys seem to stay in and around the plateau but I’m guessing that’s because of the food. I’m sure if they head back into the forest once the park is closed. There are a number of supervisors making sure there’s no monkey business going on. I felt safe surrounded by the monkeys but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t careful. They can get aggressive with each other, as we witness just as we were making our way back down, which can be very dangerous if you’re caught in the middle. It was broken up fairly quickly by a supervisor. Watching them, you quickly realise how similar they are to us, humans. The way they act and react to things and each other, the emotions they show each other and have in their eyes, even moments between a parent and a child. And talking about kids, the baby monkeys are just adorable. So funny seeing them playing around the pond trying to catch fish without falling in. Typical kids.

Our second visit was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Located just on the other side of the river from the Monkey Park, we strolled through the town a little before ducking into the forest. Unbeknown to us, we took a turn that make our visit quite short and miss half to two thirds of the Bamboo Forest. And it wasn’t the best part either. We left Arashiyama Bamboo Forest unimpressed but not just because of that. We got there at the wrong time of day, midday, and there were hundreds of people, tourists and locals alike, strolling through the forest. I think we would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if we’d visited before the Monkey Park and the crowds. And of course, the whole forest would’ve been nice to visit. I think a great way to visit the Bamboo Forest would be on a jinrikisha or rickshaw, as the two young ladies in the video did. They have their own path and stop for photo opportunities. And they’re not that expensive. Next time?!

Third visit of the day was Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavilion. For that we had to leave Arashiyama and head a little farther north. Located on the Rukuon-ji complex or Deer Garden Temple complex, Kinkaku-ji is magnificent. Absolutely stunning. I was worried I wasn't going to be able to avoid the crowds in my photographs but I worried for nothing. Though there were hundreds of people around, the pond in front of the temple made it possible to captured beautiful photos void of humans, people. A very impressive temple and even more so in real life. Even the small islands in the pond look like miniature gardens on their own. Just wonderful. The walk through the complex is beautiful and quite peaceful, even with the crowds. Near the exit there are stalls of food and souvenirs, and a beautiful teahouse to experience.

Our last visit of the day was the Gion District but not before heading back to the motel for a shower and relax little. There are no video of our night in Gion because I left all my gear back in the room, except for my camera. Done on purpose, I wanted to concentrate on photography and take a break, chill, relax a little this evening. Thus the reason for only pics of the area. Gion has a great vibe, atmosphere. It’s lively. Géraldine and I both loved the small streets and alleyways that lead to bars, cafes, restaurant, boutiques. Some plain, some colourfully decorated and most lit with different types of lanterns. We saw Geisha or Geiko as they prefer to be called in Kyoto and Maiko, apprentice Geiko. Beautiful women in magnificent kimonos. They were one of the reasons we wanted to visit Gion. So happy we got to see them. We ate dinner in one of the restaurants along the river called Ponto. More an informal Japanese pub (Izakaya) but looks more like a restaurant to me. Pulled out my phone for the food but I think that was a mistake. Did the best I could with the clips. Lovely restaurant, especially dining on the terrace at sunset, beautiful. Great food, drinks, service. Glad we could experience a restaurant along the river. After dinner, I thought we’d checkout a bar I saw, as we were strolling the alleyways, called Bar Hop Seed. They claimed to have a variety of Japanese whiskies so, a nightcap we had. They had Japanese whiskies I’ve never heard of but tried one I did and have wanted to taste for quite a while. The Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Very nice. They also offer their own rum arrangements. Géraldine tried their apple/cinnamon rum and loved it. The place was almost empty when we arrived but filled within a half hour or so. Mostly tourists and a handful of locals. Though small, Bar Hop Seed is cosy and has a nice, lively atmosphere. Anyways, on our way to the bus stop, I thought I’d take another photo of Yasaka Shrine. It looked beautiful illuminated in the night. Didn’t catch the bus though, saw a taxi and caught that instead. Home in ten minutes. Excellent.

Till next time my friends, Oyasuminasai.

KOBE, YAMAZAKI AND KYOTO

Japan

day four

First of all, I’d like to apologise in advance for the lack of video of the Yamazaki Distillery and the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine. I was pretty sure I had recorded something but I couldn’t find the clips. And now I’m uncertain if I deleted them by accident or if I never took any in the first place. In any case, I’m very disappointed with myself. I added photos instead to help tell the story. Hope you enjoy the video.

After an uneventful sunrise, I went for a stroll around the Meriken Park looking for something to photograph. Lucky I took a shot of our hotel, we have no souvenir of our room. I also photographed the Starbucks with the Port Of Kobe Tower just behind it, before heading back to the room. We packed up a little, once Géraldine was up, then headed out for breakfast. It was still too early for places to be open so we wandered around the Meriken Park and the Mosaic before heading back to Starbucks for breakfast. Once our stomachs were full, we finished packing our stuff at the hotel, checked out and caught the hotel bus to Shin-Kobe Station.

At the station, we put our luggages in storage before making our way to the Nunobiki Ropeway. The cable cars took us to the top of the Nunobiki Herb Gardens. Magnificent views, on the way up, of the gardens and Kobe city. A beautiful building at the top with stalls, boutiques, a cafe and lots of flowers. We took the walking path to get back down which gave us the opportunity to check out the Nunobiki Falls - Ontaki and more views of the city. It’s also a beautiful forest walk.

The Yamazaki Distillery was our next visit for the day. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and we didn’t do a tour of the distillery itself but visited the museum and whisky tasted. The museum is very interesting, informative and quite amazing. Even Géraldine, who isn’t a whisky drinker, loved the museum. In the main hall and at the end of the museum, you’ll find a bar arranged in a circle. Here you choose the whiskies you’d like to test from a menu. I was surprised when I saw the Hakushu and Hibiki on the list. My choice was the most expensive whiskies on the menu. My favourite, the 25 year old Hakushu Single Malt Whisky.

We end the day back in Kyoto. We’re here for two nights. On full day. Once we checked in our tiny hotel and relaxed for a few minutes, we went to visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto Shrine. Didn’t realise there was going to be so many people there. I thought most would visit in the day and not so much at sunset. This place is amazing. Beautiful. I was able to get a few photos with very little to no-one in them. We were too tired to walk the senbontorii (thousand torii) all round the mountain but did a small portion which showed small, medium and large torii. They’re stunning to see. And so are the shrines. Small and large alike.

So, all these places, the Nunobiki Herb Gardens, the Yamazaki Distillery and the Fushimi Inari Taisha should be on your to-do list when visiting Japan. If your a photographer, you’d probably want to visit the herb garden and Shinto shrine at sunset. All worth a visit but give yourself a few hours to, not only, see it all but to really appreciate your surroundings.

That’s it for day four of our little trip in Japan. Day five brings a very busy day of visits. Oyasuminasai my friends.

MIYAJIMA, HIMEJI AND KOBE

Japan

day three

Oyaho and welcome to day three in Japan. Today we spend the morning in Miyajima (Itsukushima Island) before leaving for Kobe, with a stop-over in Himeji.

We started our day with a Japanese breakfast which we had pre-ordered the previous day from the reception of the Hotel Kikunoya. A savoury breakfast which looked a lot like dinner, really. We’re used to a bit of sweetness to start the day but we did enjoy our Japanese breakfast, nonetheless.

The hotel has onsen (hot spring baths) which we just had to try before checking out. Unfortunately, you’re not permitted, for obvious reasons, to film or photograph inside the baths. If I’d known I was going to be alone, I wouldn’t have left my gear in the room and have some b-roll to show you. Let me briefly explain how onsens work, if you’ve never been in one. Men and women have separate onsens. That said, if you’re shy being naked in front of the same sex, this is not an experience for you. In the change room you strip naked and store your clothes, in this case, in a basket on shelves. You may keep a hand towel as you enter the bath area. Yes, a hand towel. Not enough to cover everything, if you know what I mean. Before getting into the baths though, you need to wash yourself. There is a small stool and bucket, soap, shampoo and conditioner provided next to the shower heads against the far wall. Once you're clean you can make your way into the hot spring baths. Without the hand towel, of course. That’s just in case you get a little too hot and need to wipe the sweat of your face. Let me be clear, these are not spas. There are no bubbles whatsoever. No soap either. Just clean, clear water. I see you, you see me. Here they have two baths, one very hot indoors and the other very warm outdoors. I quite enjoyed that little onsen.

The Hotel Kikunoya were very kind to mind our luggages after checkout, while we made our way up Mount Misen. Actually, they’re so great, they’ll pick/drop you and/or your bags off at the ferry whenever your ready. We just had our bags dropped as we made our own way there while visiting. We strolled through Momijidani Park to catch the Miyajima Ropeway to Shishiiwa Observatory. This park is beautiful and must be absolutely stunning in Autumn with it’s red and orange maple leaves. Along the way we saw the Shinomiya Shrine, walked by the closed Momiji-so restaurant and over a beautiful little bridge before reaching the Miyajima Ropeway. There are two different cable cars to catch to get to the observatory. The first is a six seater with views of Momijidani Park and Hiroshima. The second is a twenty standing place with views of the Seto Inland Sea and Hiroshima Bay. Once on Shishiiwa Observatory, you have stunning 270º views of Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Bay and the Seto Inland Sea. Magnificent ! That day was ethereal with haze and very thin, low lying clouds in the distance.

Our goal was the Misen Observatory. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realised it was, at least, a half hour walk from the Shishiiwa Observatory. That’s not counting the time to get back and for photos once there. We just couldn’t spare the hour and a half. So we took the disappointing decision to head back down to town.

Itsukushima Town is very different during the day compared to last night. It was nice to see all the shops and restaurants open and feel the atmosphere of a busy little town. I loved walking down this street. It’s probably why I filmed so much of it.

Well, it was time to leave the beautiful island of Itsukushima and make our way to Kobe for the night. On the way though, we stopped in Himeji to visit the White Egret Castle as the locals call it or Himeji Castle for the rest of us. We didn’t actually want to visit inside the castle but rather see it up close from the surrounding grounds. Not only is it beautiful but quite impressive too. It was a easy ten minute walk from Himeji Station to the castle. You can even see the castle from the station and the single main road to get there. Well worth the stop-over.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything in regards to Kobe, in this video. Apart from a brief look at the inside of the Meriken Park Hotel, where we stayed, and the view from our room. We splurged a little for this accommodation. We arrived late afternoon and exhausted. All we wanted to do was have a drink, eat and go to bed. We had a beer while taking photos of the gorgeous view. By the time we got ready to eat, it was quite late. We headed to the Mosaic on the Kobe Harborland. Unfortunately for us, most kitchens were closing so my wish for Kobe meat was out of the question. But meat I did have at the Brasiliano. And plenty of it. Skewers of perfectly cooked meats kept arriving at our table, carved right in front of you. Not forgetting the accompanying buffet of assorted salads, the service, the people, the atmosphere… made it an unforgettable experience. Not the Japanese meal we were hoping for but a memorable one nonetheless. To end the night, we headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap.

Sorry for the lack of b-roll of Kobe. We only spent the night and the next morning here. I have a little more for the next video. Until then, I hope you come back for the photo posts. Oyasuminasai my friends.

HIROSHIMA AND MIYAJIMA

Japan

day two

Ohayo my friends and welcome to day two of our trip in Japan. Today we leave Kyoto and head to Hiroshima. From there a local train then a ferry to Itsukushima Island, also known as Miyajima.

We had a late night and thus didn’t want to get up for the early train to Hiroshima. We decided to wait after peak hour to avoid the locals going to work and school. We had breakfast at Delifrance (of all places) but ate things that weren’t very French. Delicious though and their coffee brewing method is interesting to watch.

By the time we arrived at Hiroshima Station it was lunchtime. We left our bags at a luggage holder and went looking for something to eat. One of the dishes my friend, Géraldine, had on her to-eat list while in Japan was the famous Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. To our great surprise we saw advertisement for the dish everywhere as we were walking through the station. A couple of floors up and we found a corridor of restaurants with two or three of them specialising in okonomiyaki. We picked the one with the most crowd, Goemon Okonomiyaki, and sat right at the counter in front of the hotplates. A very memorable experience. From watching them prepare the dish in front of us, to tasting the meal, to seeing every single staff member saying goodbye to every single client leaving the restaurant. That was amazing. It was quick, delicious and surprisingly fun.

With our stomachs full, we started our long walk to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or more popularly known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. Though long, it was nice to see a little of the city along the way. The landmark is quite impressive in itself but to see how everything has been rebuilt around it, is just a amazing. It makes you wonder if there ever was a atomic blast. Walking around the park felt like I was on religious grounds. I’m not a religious person but I felt an inner calmness and peace. A respect for what had happened here and the courage and strength the people of Hiroshima, of Japan, had to get through it. And build a park that evokes peace. A well named park.

On the way back to Hiroshima Station, we walked by Carp Castle, better known as Hiroshima Castle. Actually, it’s the castle’s second compound that you see here. The original castle was, obviously, destroyed in the atomic blast and a replica built in it’s place. Now though it serves as a museum of Hiroshima’s history before World War II. We didn’t get to visit as time was short to get to Miyajima before sunset.

Back in Hiroshima Station, we jumped on a local train to Miyajimaguchi to catch a ferry to Itsukushima Island, better known as Miyajima. This is a gorgeous place. Little town atmosphere on the shores of Hiroshima Bay. The old and the not-so old architecture. The Itsukushima Shrine is amazing and it’s Torii is just a wonder. We got here in time to drop our bags at the hotel before heading straight back down to the torii. We stayed about two and half hours taking photos of it and the shrine, and watching the sun set. What a beautiful sunset it was too. Then we made our way to the town to have a look around and find one of the very few restaurants still open. Both Géraldine and I loved the main street of Itsukushima Town for it’s old look and atmosphere. It gave us the impression of being in a different era. We chose to eat at Mametanuki restaurant. A wonderful little place where the owner is, I think, English but the cuisine definitely Japanese. Very friendly place with good service and delicious food.

Once full and warm we made our way back to our hotel, Kikunoya. A beautiful hotel with a restaurant and onsens. When we told the receptionist we weren’t going to have dinner there, they happily showed us the locations of restaurants that were going to be open and advised not to eat to late as their kitchens close quite early. Very friendly and helpful. Oh and they have a foot spa at the front entrance.

Well that’s it my friends. The end of another wonderful day in Japan. Hope to see all of you for day 3. Oyasuminasai.

FROM ARRIVAL TO KYOTO

Japan

day one

Ohayo my friends and welcome to our first day in Japan. I’m travelling with one of my best friends, Géraldine. If you follow my blog or Instagram, you would’ve seen a couple of photos she’s in. This is just a small video of our arrival, train trip to Kyoto and afternoon visit of the city.

Because of the language barrier, I thought we were going to have problems getting around. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the moment you land to the time you leave the airport, you are guided and helped. We exchanged our JR Passes with no difficulty and they even reserved seats for the Narita Express train to Tokyo and also for our bullet train (Shinkansen) onward to Kyoto. I highly recommend the JR Pass if your trip to Japan involves a lot of train travels between cities. We bought the 14 day pass for our 10 day trip and calculated we saved between 40-50% on tickets. It’s even valid on some local trains, ferries and buses. 

Not only did we get to see Mount Fuji from the plan on our approach to Narita Airport but also from the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were pleasantly surprise on our first day in. Another surprise was how delicious the food on the Shinkansen was. My best mate, Marcin, told me to try it out if we ever got the chance to. Not all Shinkansen have the food carts onboard but this one did and it was lunchtime. The bento boxes were fresh and oh so delicious. They even sell beer. What more can a man ask for? 

I was amazed at how huge Kyoto Station was. The number of tracks, the boutiques, cafes, restaurants… didn’t think it was so big nor that Kyoto was such a large city either. As soon as you walk out of the station, you see Kyoto Tower. I was looking forward to get up there.

We made our way through little alleyways to get to our hotel, the Karasuma Rokujo Hotel. We did have the help of an extremely nice lady, who went out of her way to walk us to the front door of the hotel. She was actually heading in the opposite direction. We were a little bothered but greatly appreciated her act of kindness. We found the hotel very well placed in Kyoto. Only a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower. And not even five minutes from the grand Higashi Honganji Temple. Yet located in a very quiet area. We were very pleased with the Karasuma Rokujo Hotel.

We literally dropped our baggages and headed back out. We visited the wonderful Higashi Honganji Temple. I thought I was amazed at the entrance to the temple but when I saw the interiors of the founder’s and Amida Halls, I was literally in awe. These halls are stunning from the ground up. The structures, the tatamis, the decorations, the amount of gold… the beauty and wonder of it all really struck me. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to photograph nor film the interior of the halls but you can see some photos on their website.

Our next stop was Kyoto Tower to checkout the view for potential photos at blue hour. Unfortunately, as we approached the tower, police arrived and stopped everyone from entering. The policewoman that stopped us, later approached us with a translation on her phone saying there was a bomb scare and to move away of the area. So we went for a walk around Kyoto. Saw the torii (gateway) of the Fushimi Inari Taisha Otabisho and a couple of Geisha or Maiko, or just a couple of women dressed in Kimonos, I don’t know. We did head back to the tower in hopes it was all over but it got a little more serious. The police had moved across the road from the tower and men in black were now positioned at all entrances. We ended up taking photos from the Kyoto Station side and was pleasantly surprised by a small water, light and music display.

After blue hour we looked around little for a place to eat and stopped at Saikatei restaurant. We ordered sashimi, dumplings and a few other things, and a couple of Japanese beers. Service was quick, food was delicious and quite cheap for the quality of the food and service.

Well that’s it my friends. Thank you for joining me on our first day in Japan and I hope you will join me for day 2. In the meantime, head over to my website or Instagram to see photos of the trip. Oyasuminasai.

MUSIC : Zen Garden from Adrikm (YouTube)

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

AUCKLAND

LAST DAYS

So I have to start by apologising for not having added some dawn photos from Roselands Restaurant. No excuses, I just forgot. I had rendered and uploaded the video before I realised the beautiful morning was missing from it. But you’ll get to see them on the photo blog.

A beautiful, quiet morning in Waitomo this morning. Alain and I went for a walk and took a few photos before heading back to the camper-van for breakfast. Roselands Restaurant is situated in gorgeous, countryside surroundings. The light we had this morning made for beautiful photos. Some of my favourites of our trip.

Not much to show from our last three days in New Zealand. Which is why I decided to put it all into one video. We mostly shopped and ran around looking for specific things. So this video is a mish-mash of our last days.

We made a small stopover in Hamilton just to grab a couple of things. It was more a drive-by than anything else. Arriving in Auckland we stopped at a service station to empty out the grey water and toilets of the camper-van before returning it. We then made our way to the hotel. The Auckland War Memorial Museum is in the video because I’d intended to go to Mount Eden to shoot sunrise but because of the grey, overcast, rainy morning I decided to just wander around the city and found myself here. A decision I regretted as the sun poked through the clouds about an hour after sunrise. The park around the memorial is beautiful though. We checked out the Skytower and the casino where I got screamed at for filming. I stumbled upon the beautiful hall of the Grand Central Apartments which are situated next to Spark Arena. I met up with Jenny, a friend who worked at the Mexican Cafe, to catch on how things were going. Vegetation walls in a building and old architecture as I wandered near the quay heading back into the heart of the city. A DJ in a shoe store… nothing else to say about that. And on the eve of our departure, we had friend arriving to start their holiday. The teenagers wanted to checkout a nightclub but weren’t confident doing it on their own so we went with them. The teens were surprised that we recognised the music… at our age. Actually, they were old tunes remixed. No creativity these day. We felt a little out of place as we walked in when we saw we were the only “adults” in the joint. And felt even older when a guy walks up to us to say “Man, I thought I was the oldest guys here but you guys… f**k!”. We’ll just leave that as is. Early morning departure meant the oldies had to get their sleep.

So that’s it for our little camper-van trip around the North Island of New Zealand. Thank you very much for following us through my videos. I hope it’s helped you in some way, if not, then at least entertained you. I’m heading to Japan in a couple days but more on that on a later post. For the last time, a big thank you to Alain for the use of his videos and photos to help me tell a better story. Not to forget Manu and Paloma for a memorable trip and for letting me include them in the videos. And of corse to all of you for watching. Goodnight.

p.s. I haven’t mentioned it before, only because I hadn’t realised, but all the links I provide in my blog posts are NOT affiliate, commercial or sponsored links. I DON’T make any money from these links. I provide them as quick access to extra information, that’s it. If that ever changes, in any way, in the future, I will let you know. Promise.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

WAITOMO CAVES

day 11

A fresh, foggy morning on day 12 at the Taumarunui Holiday Park. Alain and I went for a stroll to the Whanganui River. Today we keep heading north to Waitomo to check out the glow-worm caves.

We didn’t have far to go so we weren’t in a rush this morning. After breakfast we tidied up the campervan and all the necessary maintenance before hitting the road. We thought it was going to be overcast today, which didn’t bother us as we were going to be underground most of the day, but the clouds broke up and the sun peaked through throughout the day. It was a nice drive. We arrived in Waitomo before lunch but ate anyway because we didn’t know if we were going to have the time between caves visits. And we’re all glad we did.

Our first cave was the Aranui Cave. The tour group was small and our guide was fantastic, right from the get-go. We started with a little walk in the forest before arriving at the entrance. A fairly narrow cave that opens up into some high ceiling areas. A lot of small stalactites hanging from the ceiling and much larger ones on the walls of the cave. There were some beautiful formations. We were assured none would fall on our heads, hence no helmet, but nonetheless we were a little apprehensive.

The Golwworm Caves were our next visit. The entrance to the caves is a cocoon-like architecture over a wooden structure. There are cafes and souvenir boutiques and a large area sitting area. Unfortunately photos and filming are not permitted in these caves. A shame really because it’s beautiful but I understand why. There are at least three groups in these caves at once and if they had to wait for everyone, they would never get out of there. Apart from the cathedral area, a huge chamber, the rest of these caves and pathways are very narrow indeed. We finished this tour aboard a small boat in pitch darkness and silence, under millions of glowworms. Absolutely stunning! It would’ve been impossible to take photos anyway. Moving boat, low light (no light), handheld... impossible. Hence no video nor photos. This cave is very different to Aranui Cave. Though there’s limestone everywhere, there is very little stalactites and stalagmites. Very impressive nonetheless.

Our last visit was the Ruakuri Cave. The entrance to this cave is spectacular. A spiralling walkway heading down, I don’t know, about 40 metres deep. This cave is a combine of the last two. You get stalactites and stalagmites and glowworms, small passages, cathedral ceilings and great history to go along. You’ll notice there’s no video of it, that’s because my phone died. It pretty much confirmed the possible battery problem I thought I was having on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I had a touch more time for photos on this tour as there was quite a bit of narrative. I was very lucky though, my second and last battery died just as we were leaving the cave. I didn’t think I took that many photos but I think the cold used them up quicker.

So the caves are a must and I highly recommend doing all three. It takes about 4 hours to do the walking tours of all three but may take longer if you intend on doing the abseiling or tubing in the caves. They cost more too.

It was mid to late afternoon by the time we’d finished so we searched for a free campsite for the night and found the Roselands Restaurant. They offer free parking for campervan in their carpark. Which is pretty smart because I think every campervan that was there ended up eating at the restaurant. We did too. They had a buffet but you could also pre-order your meat for a bbq that they cooked. It was well worth the price and delicious. We were pleasantly surprised.

Once again, the end of the day has arrived. Tomorrow we keep heading north back to Auckland. Goodnight.

p.s. you know what this is all about, a big thanks to Alain for the use of his material.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING

DAY 10

Today we do only one thing. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A 19.4 kilometre hike.

Thank goodness for the early night on day 9 because we had to be ready and waiting the shuttle, that would bring us to the start of the crossing, by 6 am. Shuttles to and from the car parks are provided by most of the areas’ hotels and campsites as parking is limited to 4 hours at the alpine crossing. The crossing doesn’t loop so unless you’re a super athlete, there’s no way you make the 19.4 kms AND back in that time. I think it took us 7 hours to complete it. One way. So book a shuttle in advance.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing starts at the Mangatepopo carpark and ends at the Ketetaki carpark. It is well managed and accessible to everyone. The young and the old as long as you’re in good physical shape. I saw an 8 to 10 year old kid and a lady, at least, in her sixties on the hike.

The terrain changes constantly along the way. Starting with low lying brushes, streams, a moist environment to a very rocky and dry earth. Then desert-like as you reach the craters. Made me think of Mars, I don’t know why. It must be the movies. Very loose, rocky earth after that as you climb the steep hill before arriving at the summit. This is where my iPhone gave out on me. It wouldn’t stay on for more than a couple of seconds before shutting off completely. I’m pretty sure it was the drop in temperature. Hence no video of the most crucial time. It was the beginning signs that my battery needed replacing. Anyways, once you hit the summit, all your efforts are compensated by the beautiful Emerald Lakes. Three lakes, three different colours. Magnificent! And, of course, the 360° views of the valley, the snow capped Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, the craters, steam coming out of the earth... just spectacular! You really feel like on another planet. The descent to the lakes is probably the most dangerous... maybe not dangerous but the probability of injury is most likely to occur here if caution is not adhered to. Take your time and you’ll be fine. After another crater crossing, you arrive to a fourth, much larger lake, the Blue Lake. You see this one before the others from afar and is more impressive then than up close. In my opinion anyway. 

I forgot to mention that there are toilets available every 6 kilometres or so. Very handy. We stopped near one of these for lunch with a view. Not of the toilets. It’s where we got a spectacle of a helicopter bringing in materials and men to empty the toilets. Amazing the speed at which they conducted their work.

From here on end it was pretty much all down hill. Dry, low lying brush to the Ketetahi Shelter where almost everyone stopped for a break and a chat. After that you enter the forest until you reach the second car park. Quite welcoming this forest for it’s shade.

Oh and talk about shade (apart from the forest at the very end), there isn’t any, anywhere, on the alpine crossing. So come prepared with the necessary. Sunscreen, hat, windbreaker (lots of wind and the temperature drops as you arrive towards the summit, even in summer) and most important of all, water. Lots of it. Minimum a litre, more if you can. 19.4 kms up and over mountains is nothing to sniff at so be prepared, take your time and you’ll enjoy every moment of it.

We got back to the lodge around 2 pm. Had a shower, relaxed a little and decided to hit the road. From here on end we were heading north back towards Auckland. We stopped at Taumarunui Holiday Park in the town of Mananui for the night. We arrived a few hours before sunset and took the opportunity for a snooze, tidying up, relaxing, aperitif, dinner and bed. I think we were all in bed by 7:30-8 o’clock. The hike took it’s toll.

That’s it my friends. Tomorrow we head to Waitomo Caves. Goodnight.

p.s. just a self reminder to thank my friend, Alain, for the use of his photos and videos.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

ROTORUA

day 7

Day 7 presents us with a full day of visits. Day 6 was easy going, which helped us recover from a lot of driving and walking of the pass couple of days.

An early start for me this morning, as I was hoping to capture sunrise. It was very cloudy but I got a break in the clouds just long enough to capture golden hour. The composition wasn’t great but glad I got something. It was overcast for the next few hours. I found myself on a sulphur plateau on Lake Rotorua near Puaranga Stream. There were thousands of seagulls, very protective of their environment. I had a few flying very close around me, screaming or what those birds do. It reminded me of a Hitchcock movie. There’s a path that leads into the bushes among the sulphur. It’s a nice walk and I got a couple of photos.

Our first visit of the day was Kuirau Park & Mud Pools. A beautiful area with ponds, hot waters, mud pools and flowers. There’s an area where you can dip your feet in hot water, which the girls took advantage of. 

Next, we took the Skyline to the Volcanic Hills Wine Tasting Room. Before the tasting we visited the Jelly Belly store, bought some lollies and ate some very bizarre tasting Jelly Bellies. Then Alain and I did a luge race before we stopped for lunch. Alain went back to do more luge afterwards while his wife, Manu, and I went wine tasting. A wonderful room with amazing views. And so is the wine. I didn’t know New Zealand had so many wineries and good wines. Our hostess was lovely, taking the time to chat with us yet giving us time to savour the wine. Very nice experience.

At the end of the afternoon, we visited the Ohinemutu Maori Village. Beautiful buildings with amazing carvings for decorations. We were the only ones there and it didn’t take long to visit. Worth the stop.

The Cosy Cottage Thermal Holiday Park is where we stayed for the night. We needed to secure a spot for the night as we intended to visit the Redwoods Tree Walk. Unfortunately, the weather turned grey and it rained heavy pretty much all night.

That’s it for day 7 my friends. Thank you for watching and, please, come back for the next video where we visit a wonderland and head to Taupo. Goodnight.

p.s.   a big thanks to Alain and Manu for the use of some of their photos and videos.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

ROTORUA - AGRODOME

day 6

Welcome back for day 6 of our little trip around the North Island of New Zealand. Today we leave The Coromandel for Rotorua. This video is the first of the two and half days we stayed here.

Arriving in Rotorua, Alain and I dropped the girls at a shopping mall before heading to the Agrodome. They have four experiences you can choose from or you can do all of them if you have the time. Alain and I did two, the Farm Show and the Farm Tour. Before the show started, we were treated to a sheep gathering performance outside. The show itself is entertaining, has a bit of humour, is educational and has hands-on experiences. It is very interesting. I didn’t know there were 17 different types of sheep in the world. The tour is also great because you, not only, visit the farm but you also get to mingle with some animals and feed them. Oh and you get a little tasting of their homegrown kiwifruit juice. Delicious.

After the Agrodome we joined the girls for some shopping and just walk around a little. We ended up wandering down to Rotorua Lake where we saw swans and their cygnets. A beautiful area. Coming down here, we walked through Eat Street where we had a delicious dinner at Mac’s Steakhouse. And I have to give a shoutout to the waiters and waitresses who were just fantastic.

Tonight we stay at a free camper-van parking area near the the Polynesian Spa. Though there were a number of camper-vans, it was very quiet. So I bade you goodnight my friends and invite you to the next video, where we dip our feet in hot water, race, wine taste and visit a small Maori village. Goodnight.

p.s. yes, I’m sure you know by now but I without his photos and videos my story wouldn’t be coherent. Thanks Alain.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

The Cathedral and The Gorge

day 5

I want to apologies for the time it took to get this video out. I’ve been having difficulties colour correcting the videos and am still not happy with the outcome. I thought I’d better stop fussing about and just get it out.

So here we are, day 5 of our little trip around the Northern Island of New Zealand. Again, picking up from the last video , today we do a small hike to Cathedral Cove, visit the Hot Water Beach and explore the Karangahake Gorge.

As with every morning, I got up early to explore the surroundings. Cooks Beach in this case. It was an overcast morning but warm nonetheless. It was sooo quiet and calm as I walked along the river to the beach. Even there it was surprisingly tranquil. Not a soul to be seen. 

Though it was a beautiful area, I had great difficulty finding a composition. So I snapped a couple of photos just to document the area. I did find a wild mushroom, which took all of my attention. I must have taken half a dozen shots of it. Trying out macro photography. I quite like the photos.

After breakfast we headed to Hahei Beach where the track to Cathedral Cove starts. An easy walk that anyone can do. A couple of small, steep hills but take your time and you’ll be just fine. The breathtaking views make it worth the effort. The first thing you see as you arrive at Cathedral Cove is the Smiling Sphinx Rock, seemingly floating in the water not far from the beach. Then you notice the hole in the cliff and wonder how it’s possible. At low tide you can make your way through it,to the other side, where the Te Hoho Rock sits, just like the Sphinx, in the middle of the water. The late morning and the amount of tourists, including us, didn’t make for beautiful photos. Quite happy with what I took but I’ll have to come back here to get the shots I was looking for.

By the time I got back to the campervan, where my friends were waiting in hunger, it was already past lunch time. We took off for Hot Water Beach for lunch and the hot springs, of course. Lunch was delicious and so was the local beer at Hotties. The hot springs though, we never got to try. Though the beach is, I don’t know, a kilometre long, the hot springs’ area is tiny. There were sooo many people there in a frenzy digging up holes everywhere that the wonder of it all had quickly disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a must do but maybe in a period of the year where there may be less people. What did amaze me though, were the large boulders on the southern end of the beach. That was beautiful.

Once over our disappointment of the hot springs, we made our way to the Karangahake Gorge. There are a handful of tracks ranging from an hour walk to eight hours. I can’t remember if we did the Rail Tunnel Loop or the Windows Walk Loop but, either way, it was absolutely amazing. A wonderful walk through tunnels with beautiful views down the valley and the Waitawheta River. It’s a pity we didn’t have more time, I would’ve loved to do the four hour track.

It was late afternoon and we needed to find a spot for the night. We chose the Paeroa RV Center because it was close and had powered sites and most importantly, a laundrette.

That’s it for day 5. I hope you enjoyed it. I know it’s not easy with the jumpy footage. I hope to see you on the next video where I receive my Masters in Milking, dip our feet in hot water, race downhill and visit a Maori village. Goodnight.

p.s. special thanks to Alain for the use of some of his photos and videos.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

The 309 Road

day 4

This video is short but fast paced. We drove quite a bit that day so I took a few time-lapses. I hope you don’t get too queazy.

Day 4 of our trip around the North Island of New Zealand, took us from Warkworth to Cooks Beach on the east side of The Coromandel. With, of course, a quick stop back at the camper-van hire place in Auckland. We were having two or three problems with our camper-van.

On the last video, we ended the day at the Sheepworld Caravan & Camping Park in Warkworth. I didn’t get the chance to wander around the place the night before so I thought I’d do that this morning. Apart from the common lounge you would have seen on the last video, there was also a large dining and kitchen area as well. Outdoors and country style looking. Rustic and beautiful. I found the Crash Start stranded out the back. Unusual place to have a boat. I saw red sheep. Yes, red sheep. And I don’t mean a red spot on their bottoms but the whole sheep painted red. And I almost had my tripod eaten by Cow50. The weird and wonderful Sheepworld.

Anyway, it was time to head to Auckland to solve our camper-van problems. From the three problems we had, one was legitimate (heater problem), one was our misunderstanding (can’t use power socket without being plugged to a powered-site) and one was our misuse (not plugging the powered-site cable properly). Well, didn’t we feel stupid for a moment there.

Onwards with the trip. We made our way to Preece Point and I must say, the scenic road of the east coast of The Coromandel is just magnificent. It’s so beautiful that we all forgot to record it. Darn it! From Preece Point we turn onto the very winding The 309 Road to cross over the mountains to Cooks Beach. Many view points along this road. We stopped at one that was at the entrance to the Ohana Farms. A while later, we stumbled upon Stuart & the Pigs. Well, just the pigs. They were crossing the road to head over to their… car yard?! Then we stopped at a place we all wanted to visit, the Waiau Waterfalls. Small falls but with the waterhole at it’s base and the surrounding forest, it really is worth a visit. We didn’t stop again until we reach Cooks Beach where we stayed the night. A free campsite on the south end of the beach behind the Purangi Regional Reserve. I think it’s along the outlet of the Oyster River but don’t quote me on that.

That’s it for day 4 my friends. I hope you come back for day 5 where we visit a cathedral and a gorge. Goodnight.

p.s. Once again, a huge thank you to Alain for his clips and photos.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

PAIHIA

day 3

Good morning and welcome back for this third video in a long series. I must warn though the quality of this video is… not great. Not as bad as day 1 but not as good as day 2 either. I tried to do slow-motion videos but I just couldn’t stop the focus from jumping around. So you may feel a little queasy sometimes. You’ve been warned.

Picking up from where we left off on the last video, where we decided to camp on a free site which led us to a town called Kaikohe. A town about 45 minutes west of Kerikeri. Today, we were heading to Paihia but I wanted to visit Kaikohe before doing so. I got up early and headed for Broadway, the main road. I bought a cup of coffee to accompany me on my little visit. A charming town and lot bigger than I thought. I saw these beautiful murals in a small alley. There are only a couple in the video but there were a lot more. I had a very nice conversation with a couple of retirees. A Maori woman and a Kiwi man, friends enjoying each other’s company, watching people walking by. They were sitting on a bench and said hello as I walked by. I said hello back and before we knew it, 15 minutes had gone by. Wonderful people and great conversation.

Once brekky was over, it was time to hit the road. We had one stop before Paihia and that was Haruru Falls. Not the largest of falls but worth a visit as the surroundings are beautiful and calm. You can kayak your way up to the falls and have a picnic, if you wish. A lovely little spot and worth a stop over.

We had booked a small cruise/ferry to Motukokako Island from Paihia. We were going to see the famous Hole In The Rock and with a little chance go through it. The return trip takes about 3 hours so we had lunch before the 12:30 departure. On the way up to and back from Motukokako Island, the boat stopped off at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island. A gorgeous little bay with a restaurant. Plenty to do on this little island. As you arrive at The Hole In The Rock, on your left side you can see Cape Brett’s hut and lighthouse. Then you notice the huge rock formation, Motukokako Island. It’s a tight squeeze but once up close and personal to The Hole In The Rock, the skipper will direct the boat through it. Unfortunate, the waters were choppy that day and thus weren’t able to experience that. Unlucky us. The return to Paihia is the same trip in reverse. So we headed back to Otehei Bay and just before arriving in Paihia, we noticed four dolphins afar. Not sure if they were playing or fishing. Lucky us.

Back on land we headed straight for St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just across the road from the beach. I’m not a believer but the stone building is just amazing. I had to photograph it.

Anyway, it was late afternoon and we had about three hours before sunset. We were having problems with our camper-van thus decided to make our way back towards Auckland and stop somewhere halfway down. We were heading to The Coromandel the next day anyway so the extra couple hours would be used to stop at the Camper-van Hire to get some help. We pulled up for the night at the Sheep World Caravan & Camping Park. A wonderful, funny and straight-talking old man was there to welcome us. Very helpful too. I didn’t film anything once there because of the problems with the camper-van and we were just tired from the long day. I got the last photo from my friend Alain. The quaint, little common-lounge. You could even exchange books. What a wonderful idea.

Well that’s it for now and thank you for watching. The next video has animals and… what problems? Goodnight.

Oh before I go, I want to thank my friend Alain for letting me use a couple of his photos in this video. Thanks mate.

KERIKERI - BAY OF ISLANDS - NEW ZEALAND

THE CLOUD & THE TOWER, THE STORE & THE FALLS

I thought I’d share the photos that were in the video of my last post. I’ve wanted to share them for a while but wanted to get the video out first.

You might have noticed that the first two photos are not from Kerikeri but Auckland (New Zealand). This was on our first full day in New Zealand, I got up early, before my friends, to check out the Piers at the end of Queen Street, where we’d eaten at the night before.

Later that morning we were picking up our camper-van and heading up to Kerikeri. We lost three hours at the camper-van company because of a problem with their system, which made us arrived in Kerikeri mid afternoon instead midday.

We headed straight for The Stone Store and Kiroripo Pa. A beautiful area along the Kerikeri River. We spent a couple hours there then visited the Rainbow Falls (Waianiwaniwa) a little farther upstream.

Unfortunately that’s all we had the time to visit. The next day we were off to Paihia. Kerikeri is a large town with plenty to visit and do, and absolutely beautiful. Well worth a visit.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

FROM AUCKLAND TO KERIKERI

day 2

So for those who have seen my last video and are back, either it wasn’t that bad (I don’t believe that for a second) or you like to be tortured (naughty you). Well there could be a third option, that you’re interested in seeing how bad these videos can get (the option I would bet on). Nonetheless, welcome back to you and the newcomers!

Today we pickup our camper-van and make our way north to Kerikeri near the Bay Of Islands. I got up early to head down to Viaduct Basin near Downtown Pier 4 for some photos. It was an overcast morning with some breaks in the clouds on the horizon. I came away with two though. One of The Cloud convention centre and the other of the Sky Tower. Afterwards I went for a walk on Queen’s Wharf around The Cloud before heading back to the room. I was getting hungry and the others would be getting up soon.

Finding a place to eat at 7:30 in the morning on a Sunday was more difficult than we thought. Everything was either closed or opened around 8:30-9 o’clock. Except for The MLC Cafe & Bar, just down the road from us, who open there doors at 7 am. The coffee, food and service was great. I can highly recommend it.

After brekky it was time to pickup our camper-van. We thought it would take about a half hour to have keys in hand but it took a little longer… three hours! Yep, no joke. They apparently had a glitch with their system. We had planned to arrive in Kerikeri around 12:30-1 o’clock but we were just leaving Auckland. No matter, our trip around the North Island of New Zealand had begun. Destination Kerikeri, north of Auckland near the Bay of Islands, with a little stop-over in Kawakawa. A little town at the cross road where you can either head east to Paihia or north-west further up the island. I wanted to visit Kawakawa’s public toilets. Yes, you read me right. But not any toilets, the Hundertwasser public toilets. A beautiful work of art. I’m glad we stopped to check the toilets out because we would never seen the rest of the art works in this little town. Well worth a stop-over.

Moving onward, we’d planned to stop by a couple of wineries, a cheese factory, a chocolate factory and a honey boutique… but it was Sunday. Everything is closed on Sunday. So we kept going to our next stop, The Stone Store where we would also find the Honey House Cafe and the Pear Tree restaurant. All located along the Kerikeri River and all closed apart from the Pear Tree. But it didn’t matter because the area was just beautiful. We spent some time here exploring and taking photos.

It was nearing the end of the day and we wanted to visit the Rainbow Falls before sunset. And beautiful falls they are. I really like one that show the length of the falls. I took one photo from both lookouts and headed back to the camper-van. It was nearing dark and we hadn’t found a spot to stay the night yet. We’d decided to stay at a free campsite tonight and the closes one was in a town called Kaikohe. About a forty minutes drive west of Kerikeri. The campsite was just a parking area suited for long vehicles. 

Well, that’s it for day two. Hope to see you for day three. Goodnight.

NEW ZEALAND: NORTH ISLAND

A STROLL IN AUCKLAND

day 1

Before our New Zealand trip around the North Island, I thought I would start videoing my holidays. Maybe not the greatest idea after reviewing the footage but it’s too late now, I’m already back home. Sometimes I’d forget to record and other times I’d record things that were maybe not necessary. I quickly realised that filming on the go can be quite difficult. Nonetheless it was an experience that I will continue and try to improve upon. Well, I definitely have to improve. You’ll know what I mean if you decided to watch the video.

Now the video is very basic. There’s no narration or voice-over. That’s partly due to me not being comfortable in front of a camera and the other is, it would have taken me many takes before I would be happy with what I had to express. I’m hoping that will change as I try to improve my videos. The video starts at the backpackers place where we stayed our first night in Auckland. Yes, the video doesn’t start at the airport. I was so excited about the trip and getting to Auckland that I’d forgotten to even take out my phone out of my pocket. By the time we settle in our room it was nearing 6:30 pm. We decided to stroll down Queen Street to the waterfront. Along the way we stopped at Aotea Square for a quick photo of the beautiful arched sculpture. Mistake on my part, I used it for the thumbnail of this video but didn’t include it in the video. A reminder for next time. Then we walked through the night market where we stumbled upon a french patisserie. Once on the waterfront near Viaduct Basin, we settled for dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Frida Cocina Mexicana & Tequila Bar. A must if you’re ever there. We then strolled back up Queen Street to our room.

For those of you who are interested, everything was recorded with FiLMiC Pro on my iPhone and edited with LumaFusion on my iPad. They were the most recommended applications I found for filming and editing on mobile devices. Though I’m still in the learning curve, I really like the use of both of these apps. I didn’t have a gimble so the footage is quite (very) jumpy. Sorry about that.

If you haven’t been tortured enough, stay tune for my next video where we head up to Kerikeri.