The aurora borealis is the colorful phenomenon created when electrically charged particles within the earth’s magnetosphere collide with particles in the solar wind. The Northern Lights, as they’re also known, are best seen in late August through April from countries near the North and South poles. These neon ribbons of light are not always visible, and the colors present depend on altitude and which elements are in the air. The most common color is green, while red is more rare. Glows of yellow, pink, blue, and ultraviolet are also possible.

Weather, lunar cycle, and proximity to the sea make some cities and regions better than others for viewing. But if catching a spectacular display is on your bucket list, here are Hipmunk’s top destinations for seeing these natural wonders!

1. Fairbanks, Alaska

  United States

Located within the auroral oval — a ring-shaped region around the North Pole — Fairbanks lends itself to a steady frequency of Northern Light activity and clear climates. But travelers will have to travel a bit outside of the city limits to see nature’s fluorescent curtains. Stay at the Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge or the Springhill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks, both short drives from the city’s other attractions should the lights not cooperate. (We’re fans of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Alaska House Art Gallery, and the Fairbanks Community Museum.) Alaska Tours will pick up stargazers from their stated hotel and transfer them to the outskirts of the city. Dress warmly to experience the rippling auroras outdoors, or sip a complimentary warm beverage to stay cozy inside the vehicle. Make sure to monitor the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to get a better idea of when there is auroral activity.

2. Whitehorse City

  Canada

Canada’s Yukon Territory makes for great viewing of the undulating light curtains. Head to Whitehorse City and stay at the Skky Hotel, only 0.4 miles from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. View the aurora from a custom-built location by theArctic Range northern lights tour company. Or, drive 18 miles north of downtown Whitehorse and view them from the Takhini Hot Springs for a memorable evening. The pools, which have been in operation for more than 100 years, are between 36 degrees and 42 degrees Celsius, offering a soothing experience. Check out the pool rental rates, which are based on number of guests.

3. Saariselka

  Finland

The Northern Lights are best viewed away from city lights, making national reserves like Urho Kekkonen National Park a good option. Stay at the Holiday Club in the town of Saariselka for easy access to the park, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing. For those with a higher budget, have a distinctive experience at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort while hunting for the elusive lights. The resort, located a nine-minute drive south from Saariselka and also near Urho Kekkonen Park, offers its signature glass igloo for two or four people, a log cabin or a hybrid accommodation, which is a log cabin that also has a glass igloo. There are various other options, including staying with in the home of Mr. and Ms. Claus, which Kakslauttanen calls Santa’s Home. For extra fees, Kakslauttanen offers husky and reindeer safaris, sleigh rides and ice fishing, among other activities.

4. Karasjok

  Norway

Northern Norway is an ideal location to catch both the Northern Lights and star constellations. The town often has clear skies due to its inland location, and little light pollution. Even if the capricious lights don’t show, visitors will be impressed by the clearly visible star constellations. Stay at the Scandic Karasjok, which has two restaurants and a sauna to get a complete Norwegian experience. The DenHvite Rein Motell offers cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing to stay active.

5. Abisko

  Sweden

The typically clear climate of Abisko makes this small town an optimal place to catch the Aurora Borealis. Stay at the Abisko Guest house or the Abisko Mountain Lodge, both offering easy access to the Aurora Sky Station within Abisko National Park. Abisko.net offers three distinct northern light tours to choose from. Snowshoe to the top of a small hill overlooking lake Tornetrask, as well as wild animal trails. Rest near the fire while drinking warm drinks as onlookers stare at the sky. Or, learn how to best photograph nature’s dancing lights. Visitors have to provide their own SD memory cards, but Absiko.net provides the high-quality camera and lens, as well as detailed instructions from a professional.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 8th.

Published in Travel Photography

Commercially available drones are opening up a new world of travel pictures and videos on social media. Spectacular views that would otherwise require a plane or helicopter ride can be achieved by travelers with just a few pieces of gear. Drone users should be sure to check local regulations before unleashing their cameras, though. The travel possibilities for great footage are endless, so we’ve narrowed down five of the best aerial views in the world. They’re definitely better with a drone camera, but there are plenty of options for lower-tech viewing as well.

Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan

  Myanmar

On the banks of the Irrawaddy River and in the shadow of the Rakhine Yoma mountain range, 2,230 Buddhist temples rise out of the mist. This is Bagan, one of the most magically beautiful sites in the world. Built in the 11th through 13th centuries, only half of the original temples have survived the combination of earthquakes, erosion, and the Mongol invasion. The stunning temples feature frescoes and carvings, but only a few dozen are actively maintained. The natural setting and sheer number of temples mean that the site is best viewed from the air. The classic Balloons over Bagan runs hot air balloon flights at dawn, starting at $320 per person. Plan ahead, though, because trips book up months in advance.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls)

  Zambia/Zimbabwe

The Zambezi River defines border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and creates one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls. The river is 1.25 miles wide when it goes over the falls, and it drops 354 feet, almost twice the height of Niagara Falls. The rising mist can be seen from 12 miles away, and inspired the local Kololo name Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” (Scottish explorer David Livingston named the falls for Queen Victoria when he discovered them in 1855). The mist can obscure the view during the summer rainy season, so wait until November when the falls are dryer to plan a trip. Get drone’s eye view of the river and the falls yourself with a helicopter tour from Zambezi Helicopters.

Bungle Bungle Range, Australia

Bungle Bungle Range

  Australia

Located in Purnululu National Park in the western Australia, the Bungle Bungle Range is made of up of huge sandstone mounds that rise up to 820 feet out of the desert. Layers of silica, algae, and other sediments produce a multi-colored striped effect on the beehive-shaped structures, and the colors can vary with the seasons or the weather. The climate and geology make the 350 million year old range completely unique in size, shape, and appearance. The aerial view is fantastic, but make sure to research drone regulations before flying. For those of us without the equipment, helicopter flights leave from nearby cities and start at $269 from HeliSpirit.

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt

  Austria

Hallstatt is often called the “Pearl of Austria,” and it truly deserves the name. It sits nestled between the snow-capped eastern Alps and the glassy and mirror-like Hallstätter See, contrasting the striking natural setting with quaint local architecture. Located in the Salzkammergut region, this tiny city of less than 1,000 people has been producing salt since the 2nd millennium BC and is home to some of the world’s oldest salt mines. To add to the old world charm, cars are not allowed in the city during daylight hours between May and October. In the absence of a drone camera, taking the ferry across the lake provides the best view of the scene.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ha Long Bay

  Vietnam

Ha Long Bay sits east of Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is famous for the towering limestone islands that dot the coastline. The archipelago contains over 1,600 islands, carved by the constant erosion of the sea into caves, arches, and towers. Most of the islands uninhabited, and the mist and fog that rise from the bay contribute to its mysterious quality. The name, which means descending dragon, comes from a local legend that holds that the islands were created when Mother Dragon sent her children to protect Vietnam from invasion. The pearls that dropped from their mouths became the islands, and prevented the invaders from entering. Boat cruises are a popular way to see the islands, but the relatively new seaplane flights can provide a drone-worthy view, and start at $275 per person.

See More Halong Bay Photos     Halong Bay Photo Gallery

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 29th.

Published in Travel Technology

Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is a superb piece of architecture. This city was built in perfect Nine Squares and wide roads were designed to intersect each segment. The segments were also linked internally by small roads. The city is a perfect example of how well the architectural concept was developed at that time. The old city, which is sometimes refered to as the Walled City, is uniformly painted in pink color and thus earned its nickname.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The city attracts a lots of tourists as it has many historic monuments that have architectural value, such as Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Matar, City Palace, the Water Palace, and many more.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The Amber Fort in Jaipur, India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Amber Fort from a distance

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

The Water Palace in Jaipur, India
The Water Palace

Jaipur is also famous for its arts and crafts, specially the blue pottery, Bandhej work, and Sanganeri print linen. All in all Jaipur is a must see place.   October to March is the best suitable time for visiting this lovely city.

Published in India

Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most beautiful states in India thanks to its scenic, untouched landscapes and breathtaking mountains. Though the state suffered during the years when terrorism was in its most intense and destructive phase, it has slowly limped back to normalcy.

Over the past couple of years Kashmir is quickly becoming one of the most visited states in India. The amazingly beautiful landscape of the land has enthralled emperors and kings for countless generations, and mesmerized visitors for centuries.

If you are planning a trip to Kashmir, it is important that you decide on the places you want to visit beforehand. There are so many picturesque locations that it can be a bit overwhelming. Let’s have a look at some of the places that are must-see for any tourist.

Pahalgam, in Anantnag, part of Jammu and Kashmir, the most beautiful state in India

Anantnag

Anantnag is also known as the rice bowl of Kashmir valley. Kokernag, Verinag, Achabal and Daksum are places noted for their beauty. These scenic towns are also home to many renowned health resorts and spas. Located at 2438m (8,000 ft) above sea level, Daksum is lush, green and rich in exotic flora and fauna. The dense forests are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and offer endless trekking options to enthusiasts. You can also go fishing in the trout-rich streams of Daksum.

Pahalgam is a famous hill station in Anantnag located at an altitude 2740m (8,990 ft) above sea level. Vast meadows and pastures, pine forests and snow clad mountains justify why Kashmir is often referred to as the Switzerland of India. It has featured in several Bollywood romances and still is one of the most favored honeymoon spots for Indian newlyweds.

Lidder River is any angler’s dream come true with bountiful brown trout fishing beats. The beautiful trekking routes through pine and cedar forests, a 9-hole golf course, lovely camping sites and skiing opportunities make Pahalgam an adventure seeker’s paradise. The picturesque Kolahoi glacier is another must-see.

Gulmarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Gulmarg

Gulmarg is famous for its vast expanse of flower-clad meadows set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This exceptionally beautiful mountain resort boasts of the highest green golf course in the world located at a height of 2650m (8,694 ft) above the sea level. The first ski resort in India was established in Gulmarg in 1927 and continues to be the premier skiing destination in the country.

The Gulmarg Gondola is Asia’s highest and longest -- and the world’s second highest -- cable car project. The views are breathtaking and you get to see the Meadow of Flowers, as Gulmarg is popularly known, in all its glory.< If long treks to ski spots are not your thing, you can also opt for a pony ride. Some pony owners may try to overcharge foreign tourists though, so be careful and be sure to haggle.

If you are a skiing enthusiast then head to Apparwath Peak and Shark Fin for what are arguably the best skiing trails in the country.

Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Srinagar

Srinagar is the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and does not in any way fall short where natural beauty is concerned. Lush gardens, historical monuments, ancient shrines and serene lakes make it one of the most sought after and visited tourist destinations in the country.

Shikharas are beautiful decorated wooden boats that are found on the Dal and Nagin lakes in Srinagar. No tourist to Kashmir can afford to miss a ride on the delicate Shikhara. You also get to see quaint floating vegetable and flower markets on the lakes.

There are houseboat hotels where you can book in advance for a luxury stay on the lake. You also can indulge in watersports like kayaking, water surfing, angling and canoeing.

The lakes are the star attractions but, you must also find time to visit other places of interest like Jama Masjid, Hazratbal Mosque, Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden and Shankaracharya Temple. The Mughal Gardens and Dachigam Wildlife Sanctuary are other places that you should visit during your stay in Srinagar.

Sonamarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Sonamarg

Sonamarg means ‘Meadow of Gold’ and is noted for its pristine natural beauty. Sonamarg is blessed with lovely alpine forests and is nestled in the towering snow-clad Himalayan Mountains.

The valley is located at an altitude of 2800 meters, and the journey to Sonamarg is in itself as satisfying and beautiful as the destination. As you meander through the valley you get to see the imposing Harmukh range that dominates the horizon all along the way. If you are a selfie lover, there are plenty of photogenic spots along the route where you can stop to click some good pictures.

Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg, Jammu and Kashmir state, India
Thajiwas Glacier

Sonamarg is located on the banks of Sindh River where you can enjoy fishing for the plentiful trout and mahseer. If you are visiting in summer you can plan a trip to the Thajiwas glacier. It is a major tourist attraction and you can choose to trek up the scenic trail or hire a pony ride.

  Sonamarg experiences heavy snowfall and avalanches during winter months, so always check with authorities before you plan a trek into the mountains.

Pangong Lake, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake is a 5-hour drive from Leh and the extreme landscape will give you an experience you will never forget.

The azure-blue lake is a 45km stretch on the Indian side and is fed by inland streams and rivers. The salty water does not allow fish and other flora and fauna to flourish, but small crustaceans can be found in the waters. The marshy surroundings are also home to ducks, gulls, and migratory birds. So you can see this also a great place for bird watching.

Pangong Lake first got noticed when it featured in the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots and has since attracted tourists in thousands. But it’s not Pangong Lake alone that Ladakh has on offer. Located at a distance of 45km from Leh is the quaint town of Hemis. Leh and Ladakh are perfect places to sample India’s incredible diversity, so ensure they are on your itinerary.

Hemis is home to the renowned Hemis National Park which provides shelter to many rare forms of wildlife including the snow leopards and bharals. You can also pay a visit to the Buddhist monastery in Hemis which is the largest in Ladakh and attracts tourists from all over the world.

  Schedule your visit during the Hemis festival to enjoy the true culture of Hemis.

Conclusion   Kashmir is one of the most breathtaking and picturesque places in the world, where you get to enjoy a unique blend of cultural warmth and hospitality. The next time you are in India, make sure to plan a visit to the northernmost tip of India.

See More Incredible India: 24 Off The Beaten Path Destinations

  flickr   //   vinamra   ankurp   shahbasharat   mckaysavage   kashmir-pictures   parthasahana   _pavan_

Published in India

For some reason people tend to overlook Raleigh, North Carolina as a vacation destination but they really shouldn't. From music to nature, nightlife to history, there is something for everyone here!

Raleigh, North Carolina skyline
Raleigh skyline, as seen from South Saunders   (source)

Raleigh, North Carolina is a bicycle-friendly city
Raleigh is a very bicycle-friendly city   (source)

Charles Frazier House in Raleigh, North Carolina
Charles Frazier House, built in 1925 and on the National Register of Historic Places   (source)

Sun down, fun up in Raleigh, North Carolina
Sun down, fun up   (source)

Great live music in Raleigh, North Carolina
Lots of live music can be found in Raleigh   (source)

Old cottage on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina
There is history in Raleigh too   (source)

Old cottage on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina
Plenty of beautiful nature in Raleigh as well   (source)

Lake Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh Lake   (source)

Lake Johnson Park in Raleigh, North Carolina
Lake Johnson Park   (source)

But the very best part about Raleigh...

Old cottage on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina
There is even a trolley pub!   (source)

So what are you waiting for? Get your trip started!

Published in United States

Of everything I've wanted to do in New Zealand, walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) has been at the top. Considered one of the best day walks in the country - if not the world - the hike is a steady climb between the peaks of one of New Zealand's most spectacular, unique environments: the volcanic slopes and craters of Mount Tongariro, and it's young, infantile and more volatile vent, Ngaurahoe (pronounced nara-ho-ee).

Mount Tongariro's head lost in the clouds on the left, while Ngaurahoe stands proud to the right
Mount Tongariro's head lost in the clouds on the left, while Ngaurahoe stands proud to the right

The recent weeks have been blighted with heavy rain and overcast skies, atypical of the summers this country is used to, so when my day off correlated with Amy's, and the promise of clear and fine conditions, we had little hesitation in deciding what we were going to do with ourselves.

Everyone I'd spoken to about the TAC recommended starting as early as possible, so we booked our campsite and shuttle, and made the three hour drive down to Tongariro National Park the evening before, past rolling fairytale hills and the vast blue waters of Lake Taupo. We spent the night at the Discovery Lodge, a site with an uninterrupted view of the massif, and further south to the grand peaks and ski fields of Mount Ruapehu.

Ngaurahoe's ethereal silhouette looming from the mist as the sun rises
Ngaurahoe's ethereal silhouette looming from the mist as the sun rises

Discovery lodge offered the earliest shuttle service available at 5:45am, though we decided the 6:15am start sounded a little less painful. The staff at the lodge made sure everyone was heading up with the necessary kit, gave helpful advice on pacing ourselves, before dropping us off at the beginning of the track for 6:30am in the morning mist. Within a few kilometres, the landscape began to change from the familiar heath and bracken moorland of the lower slopes, to strange, flat expanses of dark rock - old lava flows that had oozed during Mount Ngaurahoe's creation. Approaching the Mangateopopo Hut at the base of the ascent of the Devil's Staircase, the sun began to illuminate and clear the mist around us, and the imposing grand silhouette of Ngaurahoe began to emerge from the haze.

Mount Taranaki's summit on the horizon, a undred miles away
Mount Taranaki's summit on the horizon, a undred miles away

Before long, the sun had burned through the mist, giving us a completely clear conditions to start the ascent to the crossing itself. The climb up the Devil's Staircase itself was relatively easy, with steps built into the face of the scree, and we made it to the Mangateopopo Saddle before 9am. The Saddle sits between the rugged ridges and craters of Mount Tongariro and the perfectly conical textbook volcano of Ngaurahoe. A small sign advised walkers that the most recent major eruption of Ngaurahoe was just forty years ago, and what to do in the hopeless case of an eruption - run, basically, in the opposite direction to flying rocks. Far off in the distance, the snow-capped peak of Taranaki (Mount Egmont) poked out from above the clouds almost a hundred miles away, crystal clear against the blue of the sky.

The magnificent landscape from the summit of Tongariro: Ngaurahoe in the foreground, with Ruapehu behind.
The magnificent landscape from the summit of Tongariro: Ngaurahoe in the foreground, with Ruapehu behind.

As we'd made such good time, we decided to make the traverse to the craggy summit of Mount Tongariro. The temptation to ascend Ngaurahoe was definitely there, but the scree climb to the summit is infamously loose and dangerous during summer, so it is something I decided I would leave for next time and a winter ascent! The poled route over to the summit of Mount Tongariro was quite easy going and we managed to make it well short of the advised time, despite a biting wind picking up along the ridge of South Crater. The additional climb proved well worth the effort though, as Ruapehu became visible in the south, providing an unforgettable, majestic vista across the North Island's volcanic heart.

As we made our way back to the TAC track, the encouragement for an early start became justified: the pathway along the South Crater looked like a column of ants marching across the moonscape. Moving fast to beat the throngs of tourists, we clambered back down to the edge of the Red Crater, an ominous, somehow fearsome feature of deep red rock and dust, with fumeroles steaming from its surface. The landscape looked martian as we made our way around its edge, and down the scree to the equally surreal Emerald Lakes.

Amy making her way around the Emerald Lakes
Amy making her way around the Emerald Lakes

If the Red Crater is the dark, formidable side of this volcano, then the Emerald lakes are at the other end of the spectrum. The three pools of mineral-rich water glow with incandescent colours creating a beautiful other-worldly effect. The rock around them steams with geothermal activity, a reminder that this volcano is very much alive, breathing sulphurous breath from lungs deep within the rock.

By 11:30, we had begun the descent; a long, winding path of countless steps through fragile alpine scrub with beautiful views across to lake Rotoaira and the mighty Lake Taupo. The sacred Maori site of Ketetahi hot springs blasted clouds of steam to our left as we worked our way down to the valley floor, and after a few long hours of trudging through scrub and bush, we made it back to the car park and our shuttle bus tired and happy, completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a respectable 7 and a quarter hours!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing panoramic

The day was a truly incredible one, and Tongariro is a very special place. Be warned though, we saw it in the best conditions possible but they can soon turn. We saw far too many people up there in trainers, shorts and t-shirt, some without even food or water with them. At almost 2000m high, the crossing is definitely alpine and should not be taken lightly, as weather conditions can change at a moment's notice. Make sure you're prepared for anything!

We ended the day with a well-earned meal beside Lake Taupo: an amazing rack of lamb complemented by the stunning view of our day's conquests at the far shore.

Perfect.

Published in New Zealand

Instagram is a handy tool for travelers wishing to document their journey. Long gone are the days of buying disposable cameras or dropping off film at the developer. However the ease of this app can often be taken for granted. After all let's be honest: We've all seen some crappy IG photos.

Don't be that guy.

When you do decide to share something on Instagram, make sure it is truly worthy of being shared. This infographic from dealchecker.co.uk demonstrates how you can capture the peripheral wonders of the cultures you are engrossed within to make the perfect holiday photo album, and churn your followers’ complexions green with envy. Taking the constant accessibility and features Instagram has to offer into consideration, these tips have been compiled into a foolproof list to make the most of the instrument in your pocket.

A dealchecker graphic – How to take amazing travel photos

Graphic produced by dealchecker.co.uk

Don't Forget To Follow The HoliDaze!

Published in Travel Photography

02/12/2012

 

WITNESSING the 'big five' on an African safari, watching humpback whales gleefully leaping out of the ocean, photographing an endangered bird in its natural habitat.

All the above are great, but if catching a glimpse of a Tijuana zebra-donkey isn't on that 'things to do before you die' list then it might as well be void.

Is it a zebra? Is it a donkey? Is it actually a horse with a seriously bad case of mistaken identity?!

Who knows... but the mystical creatures live on the streets of downtown TJ like four-legged gods walking among mere men.

In all seriousness if you're a tourist, no trip to downtown TJ would actually be complete without a picture of one of the hapless sun-baked animals.

And on visiting Avenida Revolucion you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid seeing one – not least being pushed onto one by its owners desperate to grab your cash for a photograph.

I'd heard about them before from Jacks but I didn't actually realise how famous they are. Their existence in the city is woven into the fabric of Tijuana's identity.

The zebra-donkey has become something of a cultural icon here over the decades and people actually travel from far and wide just to see one - even internationally.

Two or three of the animals are paraded around certain spots on a daily basis in front of a cart containing enough colourful sombreros, throws and rugs, to make your eyes water.

 

Stranger than fiction - behold the zebra donkey

 

Okay, kids if you don't want to know the truth look away now... the 'zebra donkey' is basically a white donkey which has black stripes painted on it. It's as simple as that.

And people love it so much they have even daubed huge neon pictures of them on shop fronts.

 

The 'zonkey' expertly presented by Jacks

 

When I first heard about the animal I thought it was linked to some bizarre legend Tijuana, or indeed Baja California.

But it seems there is no legend.

The truth is in fact stranger than fiction.

A quick scan of the internet states that the bizarre idea to actually paint the stripes on the animals came about in the age of black and white photography so that the animals stood out in the tourists' pictures.

Despite the invention of cameras which could take colour photographs, the animal graffiti stayed.

 

Personally I question whether back in the day the donkeys got on to their agents demanding more recognition for their role in the tourist trap?

They must be the laughing stock of the farm when they return home after a hard day's work!

What made me laugh even more was the discovery of some websites which are actually claiming that these animals are in fact a "unique breed" - much like the people who try to force you into having your photograph taken with them.

 

So is it too early to say 'Happy Christmas?!' Well, there you have it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Published in Mexico

Queenstown oh yeah baby! Every tourist that goes to New Zealand, also goes to Queenstown. You would think it's really big, but it isn't. It's just an little town where the most tourist come to party and the locals to enjoy the amazing ski area called "The Remarkables"

The town was actually named after a queen Victoria because of it's beauty. A town fit for a Queen. I don't know if Queen Victoria was beautiful, but Queenstown was definitely amazing. Ok, it was overcrowded with tourists but that was exactly nice for a change. For the last couple of weeks I felt sometimes like the only tourist in New Zealand. Crazy right?

Got to make the most of it!

Amazing view of Queenstown, New Zealand
View from Skyline Queenstown

The first day I went for a walk to the skyline. Sure, could have also take the gondola but I decided to walk. Much cheaper and more time to make beautiful pictures. It took me 2 hours to get the top. I was totally exhausted when I finally reached the summit, but it was totally worth it. It was one of the most amazing views I've ever seen. The sky was blue so you could see as far as the eye could see. I took like a million pictures while I tried to catch my breath. Look at that amazing view...

On the top you have some tacky tourist shops and overpriced coffee, so I didn't stay too long. And took a different route down. It took me along an old waterpipe. One of the first in this area. It was a beautiful way down and in the afternoon I walked along Lake Wakatipu with the amazing mountains in the background. I now knew why everyone stayed here, it's such a magical place. Truly a one of a kind place...

img src="/images/countries/new-zealand/queenstown-lake.jpg" alt="Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand, with snowcapped mountains looming in the background.....gorgeous!" class="rt-image">

Published in New Zealand

I recently joined a professional photographer for a customised one-to-one photography workshop in the Scottish HIghlands and Isle of Skye. In just five days I learnt so much about Scotland, about photography and about myself.

1. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”

This quote from Marcel Proust has always been one of my favourites. I once met another traveller in Africa who was exploring the country without a camera as she found that looking through a lens detracted from the experience of being in the country. This may be true if you are just using your camera to capture memories. How many times do you see a busload of tourists arrive at destination and rush out to start snapping shots before they’ve actually looked around? But when you are using your camera to create an image rather than a memory, photography can actually enhance the experience.

Looking at the world through a lens helps me discovery different layers of the scene in front of me.

One of my most inspirational moments in Scotland was observing this quote in action when Glen and I arrived at one of his favourite Scottish Hills, Assynt’s Suilven (the ‘sugar loaf’). Capturing a great image of Suilven had eluded him despite a number of visits to the location, but the light on this particular day had created a new view of the static mountain and an excitement in him that was contagious. I started to understand what light stalking was all about as he raced ahead of me through muddy ground, already composing the image in his head as he looked for the best place to set up his tripod before the light changed the scene in front of him.

Watching a professional photographer who has been capturing images for decades and had visited this location a number of times get so excited about a potential image, reminded me that you don’t have to visit new locations to see something different.

2. My dad was right!

Remember being old enough that it wasn’t ‘cool’ spending a Sunday afternoon with your parents, but being young enough that you didn’t have a choice? I recall many Sunday afternoon drives in Australia where my father’s regular phrase of ‘what a magnificent view’ was met with rolled eyes and a sarcastic comment.

I’ve become my father!

Not only do I enjoy landscapes, I now chase them. I feel most alive when I am away from the office and away from the city. I feel most energised when I am breathing in the fresh air, surrounded by wild and dramatic landscapes, enjoying the feeling of isolation such an environment creates. There is something magical about the great outdoors, it has the strength and power that reminds me we are just a smaller part of a bigger picture and it’s all about enjoying the moment.

The diversity of the Scottish Highlands makes it a landscape photographer’s dream destination. The rugged, wild and unspoilt environment exemplifies the raw power and beauty of nature. From the coastline, waterfalls and lochs that present great long exposure opportunities, to the imposing mountains and sweeping glens, I found myself constantly borrowing the long-suffering phrase from my father, “what a magnificent view”!

Practicing my photography in the Scottish Highlands
via fw42

3. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Scotland’s reputation for being cold, windy and rainy was often unfounded as we experienced many dry and light moments. But a waterproof jacket, shoes and trousers and the warmth of gloves and a hat were necessary. Without these items of clothing, the willingness to walk in the rain and wanting to be outdoors despite imposing grey clouds, I would have missed out on a walk in the waterfront village of Ullapool, a hike to the Old Man of Storr, experimenting with long exposures by Loch Ness, capturing the striking autumn colours near Kylesku Bridge and shooting the sweeping landscape of Quirang at Trotternish – just to name a few.

4. Some of the most memorable moments happen when things don’t go according to plan.

The diversity of the Scottish Highland’s landscape is matched with the diversity of the weather. This sometimes required us to be flexible with our itinerary but sometimes the most memorable moments happen when things don’t go according to plan.

A forecast of low cloud in the Assynt and Inverpolly area saw us delay our visit there by a day and instead head the other direction to Findhorn. This unplanned location ended with an energetic walk through what felt like quick sand, covering our trousers and shoes in mud, as we raced against the returning tide to share sunset with the grey seals who were sunning themselves at the water’s edge. As the sky changed colour to shades of pastel pink, yellow, orange and blue, the seals lifted their heads at the sound of our approach before ignoring or at least tolerating our presence. It was a truly magical sunset.

5. You can replenish your bank account but you can’t reclaim time.

I had been desperate for a holiday, but within moments of arriving in Scotland I had forgotten why, such was the impact of my surroundings. It reminded me that our most valuable asset in life is time, and yet it’s the asset we waste more than any other. It’s so important to not only discover what we love doing in life, but to make the time to actually do it.

Practicing my photography in the Scottish Highlands
via conner395

6. You can’t beat learning from a pro.

In the digital era we live in it seems that everyone is a photographer and everyone has a camera, including the people who stand in front of a stunning sunset holding an iPad in the air (by the way, you look ridiculous!)

Just as online medical websites are no substitute for seeing a real doctor, online photography advice is no substitute for learning from a professional photographer.

In addition to technical advice on my camera settings, exposure and shooting in manual modes, the practical workshop helped me improve composition and understand how to adapt weather and light conditions to the photography subject and location.

The opportunity to shoot alongside a professional landscape photography taught me more than I thought possible in just a few days. From lens choices and protecting my equipment to assessing a location for creative potential, the lessons were endless.

7. It’s not possible to stay for “one drink” at the Old Inn.

Our reward at the end of each day was a pint and a meal and it did seem that our sunset locations were conveniently located within a few minutes of a pub (a fact that I was not complaining about). The Dores Inn at Loch Ness, the Kimberly Inn at Findhorn, and Kylesku Hotel near the Kylesku Bridge all provided great food, character and views but none came close to the Old Inn on the Isle of Skye.

The first warning that I was not staying for just one pint should have been the sign outside that was inviting musicians to bring their instruments for an ‘open mike’ night. The second should have been enjoying a pint and whiskey chaser as a group of locals played traditional celtic music with a fiddle, ukulele, bongos and guitar. The next should have been the cry of “upgrade him, give him a chair with a back” when one of the locals crashed to the floor after one too many. The last was the multiple ‘one for the road’ pints I sipped after hearing some of the regulars were not there because they didn’t want a big night and know it’s not possible to ‘just stay for one’.

I also learned:

  • A tripod can be multi-purpose and is a great accessory to have when trekking through muddy ground
  • The best cure for a hangover is a hike to the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye
  • Manic Street Preachers provide great road trip music
  • Rainbows are just as common as rain in Scotland
  • If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes
  • A man walking his dog who asks if you think he should move closer to seals at Findhorn Beach is just making conversation. When you say no, he is going to do it anyway.
  • It’s not about how high you trek, but how fast (or slow you go)
  • My North Face trainers are not waterproof
  • Photography really is all about the light

  You can read more about my Scottish adventure here

Published in Scotland
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