Konnichiwa, Tokyo!

Welcome to Tokyo, the world’s most populated metropolis. The inner city of Tokyo is home to more than 9 million people while the plainland over which the extended metropolitan area spreads has an estimated population of almost 35 million. The best way to gain a perspective on this massive expanse of humanity is to look from above and there are two amazing ways to get a bird’s eye view.

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Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree are both broadcasting towers, with the added bonus of having viewing floors where the public can enjoy beautiful views of the city. Tokyo Tower, opened in 1958, reaches a height of 333 metres, with observation floors at 150 metres and 250 metres. The much taller Tokyo Skytree, completed in 2011 at a height of 634 metres, has five viewing floors, from 340 metres to the highest viewing point at 451.2 metres, in the Tembo Galleria. It’s best to visit both towers – one during the day and the other at night, to see the city from two different viewpoints.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Skytree

In the daytime, the views of Tokyo seem to extend beyond the horizon. The city is a sprawling mass of structures, some tall and others surprisingly small, interspersed with gardens, parks and sports grounds, cemeteries, temples and amazing elevated roadways. From the Special Observatory of Tokyo Tower, at 250 metres, even the smallest details can be seen, including school children playing lunchtime games in the playground below.

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A night-time view of the city from Tokyo Skytree adds another dimension to an understanding of the city. While Tokyo’s intimate details are hidden in the dark, the streets are brightly illuminated and thousands of lights sparkle across the metropolis, as far as the eye can see.  A leisurely walk around the Tembo Galleria gives a 360° outlook on the entire city.

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And for yet another perspective on this amazing city, stand on the glass floor at each of the towers…and look down!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Twinkle

On Top of the Wave

Our holiday in Western Australia would not have been complete without travelling to the small town of Hyden, almost 300 km east of Perth. It wasn’t Hyden we went to see though, but the famous rock formation known as Wave Rock. It’s one of those iconic natural features of Western Australia that everybody knows about and, to our surprise, we found that there was much more to the rock than we’d heard.

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Wave Rock is one wall of the much larger Hyden Rock, a granite hill more than 2.60 billion years old. It was formed over millions of years through a process of weathering and erosion of the granite bedrock. Until the 1960s, this spectacular rock wall did not even have a name and was known only to the local residents. A photograph of the rock formation taken by James Hodges, a retired school principal and keen amateur photographer, was featured at New York’s World Fair in 1964 and then published in National Geographic Magazine. As a result, visitors began flocking to the area and Wave Rock was named.

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We were two of the 140,000 visitors who now come to see Wave Rock every year. The wave itself, which is 14 metres high and 110 metres long, is only one small part of Hyden Rock. Most of the granite wall is still buried under the earth’s surface and the wave is at the beginning of a remarkable walk over this massive rock formation. From the far end of the wave a walking trail ascends the steep slope to the top. There are signs at the start of the track warning visitors to take care – with our walking boots on we were well-prepared for the climb up the hill.

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Halfway up is a deep valley filled with rain water collected by a stone wall which runs along the edge of the rock. The cleverly designed wall, built in 1928, captures run-off from the surface of the rock and feeds it into the reservoir. This provides the local area with a much-needed reliable water supply.

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Continuing upwards we came to the top of the rock and it was then we could see how vast it really was.

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The rock covers an area of 65 hectares and the view of the expanse of red granite dotted with pockets of lush vegetation and beyond to the surrounding plains, the gypsum-blue of Lake Magic and the glaring white saltpans was spectacular.

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The hollows of greenery scattered across the surface of the rock are known as gnammas, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘rock hole’. Water gathers in these basins and where there is soil, plant and animal life flourish, creating shallow ponds and miniature forests, all full of life. We saw countless tadpoles, shrimps and water-living insects darting between these tiny plants.

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Further along the track we came to more massive rock formations. These rocks are tafoni, formed when the insides erode through salt crystallisation combined with wind and water. This process creates giant hollows and sculptured boulders, some split almost in two and others balancing precariously on the granite.

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One tafone was large enough to stand up inside – I was hoping it didn’t choose that moment to lose its balance and topple over!

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There are two ways to descend from the top of Hyden Rock. Instead of slipping and sliding straight down the almost vertical slope we chose to follow the stone wall back to the dam and returned to the ground via the steps.

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Once on the ground, we followed the walking track around the base of Hyden Rock to another massive tafone. The Hippo’s Yawn looks ready to swallow unwary visitors with one mighty gulp.

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We continued on the track, through a stand of she-oaks gently whispering to each other in the breeze, to the flat, arid plains that surround Hyden Rock. Once this was rich farming land but overuse of the land and the water supply caused salinity which in turn killed off the vegetation, creating a scene of total devastation. A restoration project is working to return parts of the area to their original state; a process which will take many years.

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The meandering track through this barren landscape eventually took us past the Royal Flying Doctor base and back to the visitor centre and car park where our day had begun.

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Little did we know when we had our first glimpse of Hyden Rock that we would see so much more than the spectacle that is Wave Rock.

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Converge

From Victoria Avenue, the view of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, more simply known as St Mary’s Cathedral, is similar to most other churches of its kind anywhere in the world. The imposing stone structure is complete with beautiful stained glass windows and a spired bell tower.

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Come around the corner into Perth’s Victoria Square and a different view reveals the cathedral’s true character. It was built in three phases over the last 150 years and instead of blending each new part in with the original, the designers have created a building which showcases the old side by side with the new.

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The first part of the cathedral was completed in 1865 in the Gothic style. Plans were made and funds raised to expand the cathedral in the Academic Gothic style in the 1920s but the Great Depression meant that the building program was never completed. After a bequest in 1999, the completion of the cathedral began and the new church was officially opened on 8 December, 2009.

Both inside and out St Mary’s Cathedral seamlessly blends the past and the present with its unique and distinctive style.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Converge

Road Train Ahead!

Road trips – those of us who live in Australia have all done at least one long journey over vast distances, sometimes with very little to see along the way, punctuated by the occasional small town in the middle of nowhere.

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The monotony of driving on long straight roads for hundreds of kilometres is broken up when a road train is spotted up ahead. How many trailers the truck is pulling and how fast it is going will determine whether it can safely be overtaken.

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When the coast is clear off we go.

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At first it seems as though we will never go fast enough to get past but gradually the road train is reeled in.

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Then, suddenly it’s behind us and the road ahead is clear again.

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Until we meet the next one!

Ringing the Bells

The cityscape of Perth is dominated by a structure which is as unusual as it is beautiful. The Bell Tower, constructed of glass and copper, is a striking combination of angles and curves and overlooks the Swan River from a height of 82.5 metres.

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The tower houses a fascinating collection of bells, both historic and cultural, including a Kenyan camel bell, Kul Kul from Bali and a 450 year old parish church bell from Upton Grey in Hampshire.

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The 18 working bells housed in the Bell Tower are operated by bellringers who practise their art several times a week. In the set are the 12 bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields which are known to have existed since the 14th century. There are also six bells specially cast for the tower including the newest which was added to commemorate the new millennium.

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Find a spot along the river around noon and sit for a while to hear the most ancient of sounds ring out from this unique, contemporary building.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Angular

Small Pieces, Big Picture

Every so often, on the footpaths of Albany, there’s a colourful mosaic tile set into the pavement. Crafted by local school children in a project for the millennium, the tiles are markers along the Amity Heritage Trail. They guide walkers on tour of the old city, past the replica Brig Amity, which brought the first settlers to the area, the old convict Gaol where the ghosts of past prisoners are said to wander, and churches and cottages built as the town began to flourish.

 

Not far from town, at the Albany Wind Farm on Frenchman’s Bay Road, there are more mosaics. The tiles along the Wind Farm Walk depict the seasonal calendar of the Noongar people, who first populated this land. Six annual seasons, based on the weather cycle, dictated the types of food which became available during the year.

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From the earliest inhabitants and the first settlers to the residents of today, these tiles tell the story of Albany – small pieces jigsawed together to create a big picture.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Achievement

On 26 September, 1983 the crew of the yacht Australia II won the elusive America’s Cup, a trophy held by the New York Yacht Club for 132 years. It was a day of celebration and jubilation at the Royal Perth Yacht Club and across the country.

Australia II, with her infamous winged keel, is now on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

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This photograph displayed at the museum shows Australia II in action in the waters off Newport.

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Achievement