Tag Archive | photography

The Lucky Ones

My husband was a Signalman in the Australian Army for 22 years. He served as a Peacekeeper with the United Nations in East Timor but thankfully he never came under direct fire. He was lucky. My mother tells the story of how her father was unhappy because he was too young to serve in the First World War and too old for the second. With the benefit of hindsight, we know now he was lucky. This morning I talked with an elderly gentleman who was called up for National Service when he was just a lad. After training in Sydney and at Puckapunyal, his unit was ready to go to Vietnam but at the last minute their call to service was cancelled. He was one of the lucky ones too.

Today, in towns and cities across Australia and New Zealand, at Gallipoli and in France, we remembered those who weren’t so lucky as we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in Turkey. The landing on 25 April, 1915 was the beginning of eight months of battle between the Allied Forces and Turkey. More than 44 000 allied soldiers and 80 000 Turks died. Those who attended the first ANZAC Day service in 1916 thought this was the Great War, the war to end all wars. Sadly, they were wrong and now, every ANZAC Day we remember not only those first brave Australian and New Zealand soldiers but all who have served to defend our country. Freedom is not free.

We will remember them.

Ready, Set, Go!

At first glance the pedestrian crossing outside Shibuya Station is just like any other. People stand quietly and wait for the crossing signal to light up. When the lights change to red, all the traffic halts and then the scramble crossing comes to life. It’s the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world and those who’ve been waiting patiently suddenly surge out across the road in all directions – up to 2500 at any one time.

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After negotiating your way to the other side of the road and experiencing the crush of the crowd first hand, the best way to watch the hectic comings and goings is from Starbucks in the Tsutaya building on the corner. The coffee shop fits in well here; it’s one of the busiest in the world. You don’t have to buy a coffee. Just go up to the second floor and look down from the full length windows. It’s great entertainment.

Ready… 

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Set…

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Go!

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At night brilliant neon signs and three enormous television screens illuminate the crossing, which seems just a little less busy.

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Perhaps a few people have gone home for dinner!

 

A Day Trip to Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji is an instantly recognisable icon of Japan so it was at the top of our list of places to go while in Tokyo. Our original plan was to take ourselves to the mountain and the national parks around it, but after researching we realised that an independent day trip was going to be difficult to achieve. The different vantage points and places of interest around the mountain are spread far and wide and without a car we would not be able to visit most of them. So we decided to go on a guided day trip to see this majestic mountain.

To meet the coach for our day tripping adventure we had to make our own way to Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal in the city centre. We were careful to follow the detailed directions in our reservation email and allowed for peak hour train travel, so we arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare. Our guide Yoshi began his commentary before the coach had even left the terminal and he continued to entertain and enlighten us throughout the day with interesting information and anecdotes about the mountain and its surrounds, including the disconcerting fact that the mountain, an active volcano, erupts around every 300 years and the last eruption was 306 years ago!

It didn’t take long before we left the centre of Tokyo and soon we were travelling through lush green farmland, dense forests and small towns as we headed into the mountains. Yoshi said: “The top of Fujisan is only visible on average two days every week. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to have a clear view from the Visitor Centre today.” With a cloudless blue sky the day was picture-perfect and so was our first view of Mt Fuji, framed by a touch of autumn colour.

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From the Visitor Centre we travelled into Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, halfway up the mountain at 2300 metres. The station is located just below the tree line and the steep slopes of volcanic rock. Instead of visiting the souvenir shops and hotels, where climbers stay in readiness for early morning departures, we followed the uphill path through the red torii gates to Komitake Shrine. From here we could see Lake Yamanaka nestled in between the deep blue mountains of the national park.

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Mt Fuji is surrounded by five lakes and it was to Lake Kawaguchiko we went for our lunch stop. Instead of upgrading to a Japanese lunch we decided to bring our own, purchased at our local 7/11 store in the morning. While everyone else on our tour spent 50 minutes inside a restaurant eating udon and miso soup, we sat on the shore of the lake watching tourists paddling their giant swan boats across the water.

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We even had time for some exploration along the lakefront where we met the local shopkeepers. “Your Japanese is very good,” said one after I thanked her for my purchase. Little did she know that “Arigatou gozaimasu” was one of the three Japanese phrases I know.

After leaving the sparkling waters of Lake Kawaguchiko we headed to another large lake for a leisurely cruise. Lake Ashi, a crater lake in Hakone National Park, is a popular holiday spot and we cruised past several resorts on the shore of the lake, surrounded by thick forests of Japanese cedar.

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Our destination was the Mt Komagatake Ropeway, a cable car which travels 1800 metres in seven minutes to the summit of Mt Komagatake. From 1357 metres there are spectacular views of Lake Ashi, Mt Fuji and the volcanic mountains of Hakone and even though by late afternoon, after a very humid day, it was quite hazy, we still had a sense of the majestic beauty of this area.

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After spending our day at one famous symbol of Japan we finished our tour on another national icon. We travelled from Hakone back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen. There’s a reason it’s called the Bullet Train. On the normal express train from Tokyo Central Station to Hakone the journey takes 85 minutes, but we hurtled through the darkening countryside at breakneck speed and were back in the city centre in half an hour.

As independent travellers, guided tours are not often included in our travel plans, but taking this day trip, on an air-conditioned coach with an English-speaking tour guide, to destinations we wouldn’t have been able to reach on our own was definitely a great choice. We just need to go back again and spend a few days. There’s much more to see around Mt Fuji.

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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.

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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!