Gallery of New Zealand Photos, 2016

The best of the best.  A small selection of my New Zealand Photos!

Sorry, no time to describe all them all.  If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll reply!

Église du Béguinage, Church (Brussels, Belgium)

After seeing the exterior of the Église du Béguinage church from my hotel room window (see the original post HERE) I decided to go take a look.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d found something special.

The next day, I woke extremely early and headed out with my tripod and camera gear.  Feeling *extremely* uneasy about photographing the inside of a church, I kept my gear hidden (the wonders of a travel tripod.  It fits completely inside my backpack!)  I walked around and made some mental notes while trying to stay extremely quiet.  From my previous visit, I knew that here were several Afghan refugees living in the church and I didn’t want to wake them or disturb them in any way.  A lady entered the church and walked very near to me.  She seemed to ‘own’ the place.  I silently motioned to her that I’d like to take pictures.  She quickly and excitedly nodded YES, as if to say it was OK to do so.  That’s all I needed!  A few minutes later my camera was setup and I was snapping away.

Most of these pictures (if not all) are HDR compositions.  Only obtained by exposing several frames for the lightest and darkest parts of the photo and them combining them digitally to make one photo.

I hope you like them.





Yakushima Island, Japan

Yakushima island

60km off of the Southern coast of Japan, Yakushima island is the home of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve, a natural World Heritage Site since 1993.  In the Wilderness core area (12.19 square kilometres) of the World Heritage Site, no record of past tree cutting has been found.  The oldest Japanese cedar tree here is estimated to date to at least the Jomon period of Japanese history, over 2300 years ago.  The island is also the biggest nesting ground for endangered loggerhead sea turtles in the North Pacific.

We knew we had really found something special, when on our first hike into the forest we were approached by a wild ‘sika’ deer.  It showed no fear and did not seem to be looking for food as an animal accustomed to Humans might do.  This scene repeated itself over and over again.  We would see a deer on the side of the road, pull over to take a picture and instead of seeing just one there’d be a dozen moving slowly through the forest.  Although we did see wild monkeys, they were a lot less common.

The pictures in the gallery below do not begin to show the beauty of this place.  Everything is covered by a thick layer of moss that does not seem to be of this Earth.  The ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie series *should have* been shot here.  Walking around this forest seems like pure fantasy!

The island is still largely undeveloped and despite having a small airport, not many tourists make the trip, but ferries run every few hours from Kutamoto.  Once there, I’d have to recommend renting a car.  There’s only one major road and that runs a ring around the island.  Easy navigation!

There aren’t many places to stay on Yakushima island.  We booked a room in a large private home.  The owners were wonderful and taught us a lot about life on the island.  Breakfast was provided each morning and each day held a new surprise.  Each room also had a small ‘onsen’ (Japanese spa) with a large bathtub overflowing with super hot water.  A real treat after a day of hiking!!

I’d love to return to this island one day.  I could spend years photographing the forests.  They’re SO beautiful.

Enjoy the pictures!









Hiroshima Day Trip

My work in Nagoya concluded last week.  We’re off to Fukuoka for 8 weeks.  The easiest way to get there is by ‘bullet’ train.  A few weeks ago I looked at the route and realized that I’d be passing right through Hiroshima.  I’ve wanted to go there for a long time, so I thought it would be the perfect chance.  Take an early train out there, spend a few hours there and then continue on to Fukuoka.

Not really sure what to expect, I booked myself a “Green Car” ticket (wider seat and less crowded then the normal seats) since Cirque is paying for the normal cost of a ticket.  Instead of the normally crowded 3 x 3 seating arrangement, these seats are 2 x 2 and are rumoured to have a lot less people.  The extra $50 to be comfortable for a few hours sounded great to me.

Empty train carTrain moving at high speed through station

I lucked out.  As you can see in the photo, my car was nearly empty.  Lots of leg room and there’s even a drink service after every stop.  It’s an express train, so that’s really about once per hour.

The photo on the right was  tricky.  The trains accelerate so fast, that they’re nearly at top speed by the time they leave the station.  I was near the nose of this train when the alarms sounded, warning people to stay away while it moved past.  By the time the last of the 16 cars went by, the train was doing well over 100km/h and I lucky enough to get this shot on my camera phone.  You can see the motion blur.  I had to preset the shot and look over my shoulder to guess when the end of the train was coming.  I really didn’t expect it to work!

Arriving at Hiroshima Station, there are a number of options to get to the island where the museum and Atomic Dome (the correct name is Hiroshima Peace Memorial).  Bus, taxi, streetcar or by foot.  Taxis are of course the most expensive.  Busses may be direct, but the routes may not be easy to understand.  Most people take the streetcar.  The routes seem simple enough.  More confusing is the track layout at the terminus, which is the train station.  Multiple lines end here at the same platform.  You’ve got to be sure you’re on the right one.  I didn’t.  I was well off track, right from the start.  By the time I realized my mistake, I was 1/2 way across town headed in the wrong direction.

Jumping off the train, I decided that instead of getting annoyed by my current situation I’d use it to my advantage and see some sights the old fashioned way:  Exploring!  A quick look at a transit map told me I had pretty long walk ahead of me.  I noted the general direction and set off.

Less than 30 minutes later I was back on track.  Hiroshima is NOT a big town.  Walking from the main station would have seemed much more attractive an option if I’d known this at the start.  The maps are deceptive.

The island is home to a huge park, various memorials and a museum devoted to those that perished when the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated over the mostly civilian population of Hiroshima.

My words can’t really describe the sights of the museum, you’ve really got to go yourself.  I chose not to use my camera much inside of the museum.  While camera use without flash IS permitted, I thought it was a bit tasteless to go around clicking pictures.  I did take a few, but only when I was sure not to disturb other visitors.

I hope the World never again sees this level of horror.





Biking in Japan, Day 2 – Otsu to Takashima, Lake Biwa

Biking from Osaka to Nagoya, Day 2 

Waking up at my hotel in Otsu, I knew that I was just a couple of city blocks from Lake Biwa.  I was dying to see the lake for the first time and after my mentally and physically grinding on day 1, I really hoped it would be an easy day.

I arrived in the hotel’s lobby for the breakfast that was included in the room price.  I didn’t have high hopes as the traditional Japanese breakfast doesn’t have much that I care to eat.  I really just wanted some toast and maybe a cup of coffee.  Optimistically I’d add yogurt and a well done egg, but I really didn’t expect these.

At 07:00, I expected to have the place to myself.  A quiet snack before hitting the road.  To my surprise, the little cafe was completely packed.  Wall to wall with not a seat to be had.  I then looked at the “food”.  Not a single thing leaped up and said “I’m yummy.  Eat me!”  I turned around and headed back to my room.

My panniers were already packed.  In 5 minutes I was checked out of the hotel and biking downhill to the road that would take me all the way to Takashima.  Finding that road was easy enough.  It was the only large road.

Pre-trip research had told me that there were many bike paths or smaller streets between the main road and the water.  None of these looked longer than a few kilometers long, so I didn’t take much care into noting where there were.  I figured if they were easy to find and I didn’t mind the detour I’d take them.  If I was tired or needed to make up time, I’d stick to the busier road.

Near the edge of Otsu, I stopped for the first time.  Not because I needed a rest.  I just found a very nice spot to take photos.  I didn’t even notice the temple until I stopped to park my bike (also included in the photos, with all my bags still attached.)  I was focused on the beautiful lake!

As I was about to continue my ride, a group of cyclists passed me by.  About 10 guys all geared up for a fast ride.  None of them even looked in my direction.  As I pulled back out onto the road, I looked up and saw that they were all stopped at a red light just ahead.  I pulled behind the last rider and said “oh-hi-oo” (Good morning in Japanese.)  The last guy turned around and gave me a really annoyed look.  Like I was dirt on his shoe or something.

The light turned green and the riders took off.  I felt the need to show these boys that I could ride.  They were moving quick, but not at a race-pace.  I was able to keep up, at the back of the pack.  10 minutes later, another red light halted the pack.  I said again to the guys “oh-hi-oo”.  This time several heads turned and the guy that snarled at me the first time spoke with the other guys and must have told them that I was keeping up with their pace.  A few of them nodded and gave wide-eyed looks at me.

On the green, I again kept pace with the guys.  I could tell they were riding faster than before.  I guess their inner pride told them to push harder and lose the “gaijin” (foreigner).  They had no hope of losing me.  They weren’t pros, just a group of guys out for a ride.  And I would have let my heart jump out of my chest, if it had meant keeping up with them, for the sake of MY pride.  Too bad those guys didn’t have the 20kg I had in my bags.

Another 5 minutes goes by and I’m in still holding my own.  The lead rider signals a left turn.  I intend to continue straight as I have no real turns on this entire day (yippee!)  As we approach the turn, I yell out “si-yo-nar-aaa! (Goodbye!)  At least half the pack turned around and waved goodbye to me, with HUGE smiles on their faces.  Obviously I made a good impression and made some friends today.

With the pressure of team riding now gone, I slowed my pace to a speed more conducive to long distance riding.  At the next opportunity, I pulled over to a drink vending machine to get some refreshment.  My water bottles were full, but I had yet to have my morning coffee!  As you can see by the address of this website, coffee’s pretty darned important to me.

If you haven’t been to Japan, you might be surprised to learn that the average vending machine serves cold and HOT drinks.  The hot drinks tend to get rotated out for iced drinks in the summer (much to my dismay) but the prices are VERY cheap and the machines are everywhere.  I don’t think you can take 100 steps in downtown Tokyo without finding a machine.  I love it!!

Stuffing a couple of small coffee cans in my pocket, I head down the next small street I see in the direction of the water, lake Biwa.  There are a few small houses between the main road and the water.  On my left I see several large gardens with some really delicious looking vegetables.

Watching me closely, two locals appeared, a man and a woman.  Walking down the little road, they seemed quite surprised that a gaijin had found their little homes.   The man approached me and asked ‘what country?”  I told him that I was from Canada.  His mouth fell open.  He hadn’t guessed that one.  He smiled and waved as he walked away.  I guess they don’t get many visitors.

Lunch on the road didn’t present many options.  The only place I found to stop was something resembling an American truck stop.  Gritty, dirty and smokey.  I ordered a rice with curry.  It’s about the only thing I know how to order in Japanese.  I’m lucky they had some!

The afternoon held a few surprises, like the incredible bike path under the tracks for the bullet train.  Probably the best path I’d see on the whole trip.  Perfectly paved with separate crossings at each stop.  The cars stop for YOU, not the other way around.  Awesome!  Too bad the route they picked was more like a snake’s track than a proper path.  3 steps forward, 2 steps back sort of thing.  Not a direct route to anywhere.

One of the stranger things I’d find on the trip I happened upon by complete accident.  I saw something out of the corner of my eye and decided to investigate.  What I found was a bicycle graveyard of sorts.  I guess this is where the old ones go to die.  Their parts are stripped and sorted for recycling here.  I’m not sure why it’s only bikes, but it makes for quite a sight.  In the lower right side of the photo you may be able to see the driver of a truck sitting in his cab.  He refused to come out while I was using the camera.  As soon as I put it away, he jumped out and began unloading a fresh batch of old bikes.  I wonder if these are unclaimed street bicycles from a larger town.  Many of the parts looked new.  I can’t imagine why you’d scrap a new bike otherwise.

Large piles of bicycle parts


Lots of beautiful scenery on the rest of the ride.  A very easy day too as it was nearly flat.  Just following along the water.  Didn’t see a single tourist (non-Japanese anyway) the whole day.  I think I turned a few heads in the smaller villages too.  Lots of people did double-takes when they saw me.

About an hour before sunset I arrived at the Grand Park Hotel.  The hotel staff were a bit confused when I asked if I could take my bike into my room.


“Yes” I told them.  “I arrived by bicycle.”

“From where?”

“Osaka.” I said, not telling them that I done it in 2 days, not 1 as was implied.

They were now a flurry of whispers and hushed comments to each other.  The manager asked to see my bike.  I took her outside and showed her.  She not only let me take it into my room, but she held the elevator door so that I didn’t have to carry it up the stairs!  Awesome…  My worries about it being stolen dropped to almost zero.  I instantly started to relax.

After a nice hot bath, I headed off for ‘town’.  But I’ll leave that for the next blog post.


Or go back to the start of this adventure:

<–   Pre-Trip Planning

<–   Day 1, Osaka through Kyoto to Otsu


Old Town Warsaw, Photo Gallery (Part 2)

<–  Read part 1 of this post HERE

The restoration of Old Town Warsaw is nothing short of remarkable.  Completely destroyed during the war, nothing but the shells of buildings remained, mostly without roofs.

It’s now a UNESCO heritage site, it’s quite an amazing place!  If you’re in the area, you should visit.

For more information on the Katyn memorial, read this Wikipedia article:  Katyn Massacre


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