Category Archives: Photography

Honeymoon Trek in La Gomera, Canary Islands

A photo essay from the trek my wife and I took for our honeymoon, on the beautiful island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands. We did this trip in late 2014, and we’ve had two baby boys since then, so forgive my slow progress on this blog…! 😉

We travelled with Macs Adventure, a self-guided walking tour company, who did a brilliant job of organising our accommodation, transport and route logistics, as well as moving our overnight bags from rustic hotel to rustic hotel. This meant we could just enjoy the walking, the scenery and great food. It was our honeymoon after all 😉

Looking back to Tenerife from the ferry to La Gomera. It would be the last time we’d see high-rises, bars and tourists:

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Our first night was in San Sebastian, the capital of the island, with a population of around 8,500. It’s a tiny place, but of course, that’s the charm. Here’s San Sebastian seen from the mountains above, to give you an idea of the scale and setting:

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The Hiking

Day 1: El Cerdo –> Chipudé

Our first day of trekking dawned grey and drizzly, but it was perfect weather to be trekking through tropical forest and I believe it’s pretty typical for the central mountainous area of La Gomera.

Shortly after being dropped off at the village of El Cerdo to start the walk, we entered the island’s National Park:

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The hiking was other-wordly, on excellent paths through the misty trees:

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One of my favourite aspects of the hiking in La Gomera was the surprises one encounters around every bend. Buried deep in the middle of the National Park forest is this little gem, the church Ermita de Lourdes:

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We continued through the misty forests all morning, gradually gaining height as we climbed upwards through the mountains, towards the highest point of the island:

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Plaque near the summit of Alto de Garajonay, which, at 1407m, is the highest point on the island. It was pretty wet, windy and wild on top, so we didn’t get any views (or photos). A reason to return!

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We passed some stupendously scenic pine groves on the descent off the mountain:

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The day concluded with us hiking through terraced farmland, past herds of goats, into the tiny village of Chipudé, where we stayed the night in a cozy hotel.

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The church off the central square in Chipudé:

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Sunset from the hotel room in Chipudé:

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Day 2: Chipudé –> Vallehermoso

Again, the day began with wet weather so we set off in full waterproofs. It felt like a typical Scottish hike!

The hiking was along scenic terraced fields, past tiny villages:

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The island is like a time capsule, with original homes and features everywhere. This particular doorway was in the village of El Cercado, which also had a few craft shops selling local pottery that we checked out, before walking on:

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Beyond the village of El Cercado, we traversed across the head of a huge, steep valley, which had been ingeniously terraced. Our path weaved along the terraces:

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Excellent walking, despite the light rain:

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Beyond the terraces we plunged back into the misty, tropical forest:

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We began our descent down towards Vallehermoso, along a wild path descending through the mountains:

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Every so often, we’d see a building and some terraces far off, nestled deep in the mountains, amongst the palm trees and cacti:

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As we approached Vallehermoso, we dropped beneath the heavy blanket of clouds to see the brilliant blue sea in the distance. This photo doesn’t really do it justice but it was a beautiful view. That’s Vallehermoso in the valley floor:

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Approaching Vallehermoso, can you spot my wife in this photo (blue top)?

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Day 3: Circular walk from Vallehermoso

A superb circular hike up the mountains behind Vallehermoso and along their tops, where we enjoyed the wide open sea views:

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The small chapel of Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Coromoto is at the top:

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Stupendous views along the rugged coastline, with the beach, Playa de Vallehermoso and it’s outdoor pool, just visible bottom right:

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Day 4: Vallehermoso –> Hermigua

Bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight! This is more like the weather we expected. Our bags were collected from the hotel in Vallehermoso and we set off to hike to the next town of Hermigua.

We went straight up into the mountains and had wonderful views back across the valley to Vallehermoso:

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This section of the hike along the coastline was spectacular, being so open and expansive:

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Mountain reflection:

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The village of Agulo that we passed on the hike to Hermigua. The village was a maze of narrow little lanes, nestled into the mountainside:

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View of Hermigua from our hotel window. Fabulous, long day of walking! It was glorious to arrive and relax with a view like this. You can just see Tenerife and the peak of Mt. Teide poking up behind the ridgeline:

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The fish dinners in Hermigua were superb:

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Day 5: Circular walk from Hermigua

Another beautiful, sunny day, perfect for more coastal walking:

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Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves?

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Looking up the valley from Hermigua towards the mountains, in the direction we’d be heading the following morning:

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Day 6: Hermigua –> San Sebastian

Today was a shorter hike, but the views were some of the best.

We were back on the east coast of the island again, looking out towards Tenerife and El Teide:

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The hiking was so, so good:

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The view as we approached San Sebastian:

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Day 7: San Sebastian

Back in San Sebastian, we had one more day to relax and look around.

This is the old fort:

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A typical street at rush hour, as you can see San Sebastian is a pretty busy place:

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The main square and church of San Sebastian:

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All in all, one of the best holidays we’ve taken. My wife and I still talk about this trip often and we’ll return one day, of that I’m sure.

Wonderful memories 🙂

Logistics:

There are no direct flights into San Sebastian, so you’re required to fly into neighbouring Tenerife and catch one of the frequent ferries across to La Gomera (takes about 1 – 3 hours).

We travelled with Macs Adventure on this itinerary. They arranged all the logistics for us and transported our bags between hotels, so we could really relax and enjoy the walking.

Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco

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Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, viewed from the bleachers of the Aquatic Park.

My brother arrived from Melbourne last night. It’s been great to catch up again and talk and talk and talk. Tomorrow we pedal over the Golden Gate Bridge and northwards into Marin country where the adventure begins for real. I can’t wait!

In San Francisco

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I’m writing this from a hotel in the heart of Chinatown in San Francisco. The bike box and I arrived here last night after an uneventful flight from DC. My brother is currently in transit and due to arrive within a couple of hours. So far, so good. With some free time to explore San Francisco, I’ve been wandering around this hilly city on foot, gravitating towards the waterfront and that bridge, you know the one.

I’ve been dreaming of coming here for many, many years. SF has been on my shortlist of places (you know, we all have one) for such a long time so it’s a great feeling to finally make it here. The steep streets are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Lombard Street (“world’s crookedest”) was an interesting sight but thronged with tourists so I didn’t stay for long. It’s lovely to be near the ocean again, to smell that salt air, hear the breaking waves and squawking gulls, see vast the expanses of water and beyond, to distant hills. Today the bay was brimming with sailing boats, bent over in the stiff breeze.

The bridge stole the show of course. Even up close, I felt as if I was still looking at a picture. It’s vast, much bigger than I was expecting. Much taller. I took various photos from different vantage points as I got nearer. I suspect it will only feel “real” once I can lay a hand on the orange metal itself, when Pete and I cycle across it on Tuesday. Some further photos from today:

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Also had some good (albeit distant) views of Alcatraz today:

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New Zealand Part I – The Kepler Track

“Fiordland, a vast tract of mountainous terrain that occupies the south-west corner of South Island, New Zealand, is one of the most astounding pieces of land anywhere on God’s earth, and one’s first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause.” – Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

Kepler Track Day 1

Murchison Mountains, Lake Te Anau, Kepler Track Day 1

28 November 2013: We were a party of four (yours truly, my girlfriend Lexi, my brother Pete and his girlfriend Lisa) lacing up our boots and making last-minute adjustments to our backpacks at the start of The Kepler Track, a 60km tramp in Fiordland National Park, in the South Island of New Zealand. Ahead was four days of backpacking through alpine mountains and beech forests, from summits to sandy shores, where we would be bathed in sunshine, battered by wind, and dampened by rain.

Kepler Track Day 1

Alpine tarn, Kepler Track Day 1

Our walk began from the door of our hotel in Te Anau. What better way to start than straight from the breakfast buffet station, no driving, no more procrastinating. We picked up our hut passes at the Doc centre en route, a little way outside Te Anau. The weather forecast looked promising, which was all I was hoping for at this stage. Day Two of the walk was the “alpine” day, when we would spend all day above the treeline, crossing some of the ridges of the Jackson Peaks. As long as the weather permitted us access to the higher mountains, and our walk could proceed as planned, I would be happy. At this stage, all looked good.

The route followed the shore of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay, with the beautiful Murchison mountains as a backdrop (see the first photo), before beginning a long climb through beech forest, eventually emerging above the treeline and finishing at the Luxmore hut. The sun shone, we sweated our way uphill in shorts and t-shirts, reaching the hut around 5pm. The views that opened up as we emerged from the forest were spectacular, at once justifying the effort needed to reach that point.

Sunset from the Luxmore Hut looking out over Lake Te Anau

Sunset from the Luxmore Hut looking out over Lake Te Anau

The Luxmore hut was pleasant and comfortable (as were all the huts on this walk) when judged by the standards of some prior trips (when we’ve been known to sleep on the snow slopes of Mt Blanc in a blizzard sans tent for example). It’s been a while since my last hut trip (I think the Swiss Alps in 2011?) but, as often at mountain huts, it had a welcoming, convivial atmosphere (although, beware of the “socks-ygen”, as the hut warden Peter informed us, from 30 pairs of fruity hiking socks, that would also be present in the atmosphere if we didn’t open a few windows and ventilate the dormitory that night). I was dog tired at day’s end, but insanely happy to be in the outdoors again.

We woke to a slightly different forecast which, rather unsurprisingly for this region (one of the wettest on earth), predicted rain and stronger winds. No bother we thought! We had all the right gear and it certainly wasn’t too dangerous. We would be just fine, with a dollop or two of old-fashioned stoicism.

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Panorama from the Kepler Track over Lake Te Anau

“A bit breezy on top, maybe a bit damp too” were the words of the hut warden as we left. Typical understated Kiwi humour. It was indeed a bit breezy (reaching 100km/h we were informed at the next hut!), which made for a rough-and-tumble sort of day and a well-earned dinner. The thick cloud scudded across the sky, revealing, hiding and teasing us with dramatic views of the mountains and lakes all around us. My brother and I made the short detour to climb Mt Luxmore, which was a relatively quick scramble to the summit and tremendous views over Lake Te Anau. We caught up with the girls at the Forest Burn emergency shelter, where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain.

Summit of Mount Luxmore

Summit of Mount Luxmore, Day 2

Kepler Track Day 2

Kepler Track Day 2, can anyone spot Lexi in the photo?

Pete above the South Arm of Lake Te Anau

Pete above the South Arm of Lake Te Anau

The scenery more than made up for the weather. We felt ALIVE! The elements forced us into the present, the here and now, a coarser, more primitive existence for a day, no bad thing in our modern, tech-obsessed lives. I, for one, would not have traded places with anyone that day.

On the march

On the march – “a bit breezy on top”

Kepler Track Ridgeline

Fantastic views from the ridge line

A Kea

A Kea (the only alpine parrot species) outside the Hanging Valley Shelter – they are inquisitive, mischievous creatures

Descending off the ridge

Descending off the ridge

A series of stepped sections along the final, narrow ridge below the second shelter (the Hanging Valley shelter) felt slightly precarious in the wind, but we were at last safely below the treeline. What a day it had been. We still had several kilometres to go, down through the verdant Fiordland rainforest, where seemingly everything, except the odd twisted tree, was coated with moss.

Fiordland Forest

Twisted tree in Fiordland forest

Fiordland rainforest

Incredibly verdant Fiordland rainforest – moss was everywhere

Iris Burns Falls

Iris Burns Falls

The second half of the walk, from Iris Burns hut back to Te Anau, was of a different nature to what we had encountered so far. With the mountains behind us, we spent these final two days among the trees, where the landscape was measured in metres, not kilometres. The joy was in the detail, the vividness of the green mosses, the precise geometry of the fern fronds, the stark black of the tree trunks against the white misty backdrop.

Kepler Track Day 3

Misty rainforest, Kepler Track Day 3

Hiking through the rainforest

Hiking through the rainforest

Enjoying the silence and beauty of the forest

Enjoying the silence and beauty of the forest

Our third and final night on the track was passed at Moturau Hut, on the shores of Lake Manapouri. After a night in the mountains, a night in the forest next to a waterfall, it was fitting to finish with a night on the lakeshore with a sandy beach. After dinner we were treated to a sunset to remember. It began with some incredibly warm light breaking through under the cloud base, which had everyone scampering out of the hut and down to the beach with cameras:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 1

Lake Manapouri Sunset 1

The light kept improving as the sun’s rays filtered between the mountain tops, reflecting in the lake:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 2

Lake Manapouri Sunset 2

And the final act was the best of all, as the colours turned pink and illuminated a lone cloud over the mountains:

Lake Manapouri Sunset 3

Lake Manapouri Sunset 3

Our fourth and final day of tramping took us from the Moturau Hut all the way back to Te Anau. It was a straightforward day, with little up or down, through forests and along rivers. A mellow day of walking, giving us plenty of time to reflect and scheme up future adventures. The sun was shining and the team were in high spirits as we departed the hut:

The team at Moturau hut

The team at Moturau hut, start of day 4

Lexi headstand

Lexi couldn’t resist a quick headstand on the beach before we set off

Wire bridge

Wire bridge, day 4 of the Kepler Track

Amongst the ferns

Amongst the ferns

After four days, 60km of walking, three huts, two keas, two rare whios (blue ducks), more sunshine than we expected, amazing views and more ferns than you can shake a stick at, we were all too soon back in Te Anau. The walk had passed far too quickly, and I felt sad to be back in civilisation so soon! But we had more adventures planned for this trip (story of a future blog post) and this trek had been a wonderful four days with wonderful people, and for that I will always be grateful.

Kepler Finish

Kepler Finish – back at Te Anau, DOC office, and the end of the Kepler Track