Monday, 28 March 2011

My new favourite application

So I should probably be talking more about my New Zealand trip which was already a while ago, but instead I wanted to talk about the awesome-ness of Lightroom 3, a photo-editing application from Adobe.  We got off to a rocky start, Lightroom and I, when I discovered that I couldn't directly import my raw files from my camera, nor could I import raw files which were saved in iPhoto.

I still have to work out how to get around these flaws.

But since then I've been having a fun with it, I started off with just the standards, adjusting the white balance and exposure.  Then I discovered the vibrance and saturation levers and the highlighting.  I'm now going through a bit of an adjustment tool and vignetting phase.  Who knows what I'll discover next.

Just to give you some idea of the difference Lightroom makes, above is one of my favourite Lightroom edited photos so far, I think it feels like you're looking through a window at another world.  But below that one is what that shot looked like straight off the camera (so not even any white balance adjustments).  I'm not sure if it is such a big difference, and the shot is probably not that fantastic to start off with, but I think it looks a little better. 

Or the two below:

As you can see I have recently discovered vignetting (that's the black border around the photo, I literally only heard this word for the first time a few weeks ago).

In the below photo I've discovered the saturation and vibrance effects.  The cropping doesn't hurt either.

So what do you think, lightroom or no lightroom?  Or can you not tell the difference?

And I apologise if anyone accidentally found themselves here due to the very common blog title.  These are only very amateur shots which have been amateurly retouched.  For one thing I think the adjustment tool is meant to be used to touch up very small areas, for example the whites of your eye.  I instead use it on whole swathes of my shots. 

I think the next thing to investigate are layers.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Te Anau - Fiordland National Park

Lake Te Anau
I went on a week long holiday to Queenstown, Te Anau and the Fiordland National Park, on the South-West coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  By the end of the week I certainly felt like I had seen that part of New Zealand.

Kiwi sand flies are nasty
The Kiwis are fantastic too, so incredibly friendly, it sunk in the moment I landed at Queenstown international airport and went through customs.  They asked what I was going to get up to, had a chat about where I was off to and then told me to enjoy my stay.  Such a massive difference to the greeting tourists get at Sydney airport, where everyone is herded into loooong lines that snake through each other, before reaching an official who will yell at you if your English is not up to scratch.  So straight off the bat you are thinking, in New Zealand, this is going to be a good holiday.

Limestone cliffs on the Kepler Track

From Queenstown we drove to Te Anau, which is about a 2 hour drive.  New Zealand roads are a little different from Australian roads, the main difference is that there seem to be no overtaking lanes, at least on this highway anyway.  And all the bridges seem to be one-laners.  It seems to work for them though, I guess there are a lot fewer people here.  I do wonder what will happen if there is ever a population explosion around here though.

The main reason for visiting this part of the country was to walk the Kepler Track, it's a 60km walk which we did over 3 days.  As you can tell we had hardened up a lot after the Overland Track, which was about 60km in 5.5 days.  The walking was definitely hillier and obviously longer each day, but it actually felt a lot easier.  I think the outstanding quality of the track had something to do with that.

Murchison Range, home of the Takahe
Before heading out we spent a day in Te Anau, it's a tiny town on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Track basically starts and ends in this town so it was a good base for us.  It is also the closest town to the Milford Sound, which is probably the most famous tourist attraction around these parts.

Finally above the treeline, Luxmore Hut is close by
We had an evening to kill before starting the walk, so we went on probably the only tourist attraction in the town, a boat ride over the lake to glow-worm caves.  I don't think they did a great job of selling this tour, it did come across to some people as being incredibly lame.  But I highly recommend it.  The first photo is taken on the boat ride to the caves, it was over-cast, it's nearly always overcast around here.

Dave in front of Lake Te Anau and the Murchison Range
The caves were amazing, quite different from the Australian ones I've been too, which feel very old, which the stalactites and stalagmites.  This cave was only 12,000 years old or so, so no cave decorations (as they call them), but there was the constant sound of rushing water as you follow the underground river further into the earth.  Eventually all lights are off and you climb into a boat which drifts upstream of a waterfall in the pitch black, there the whole ceiling is covered in little green dots, the glow-worms trying to attract dinner.

Luxmore Hut
The only thing which was a little strange about the tour is that the tour operator was obviously torn between maximising profit and yet still attracting visitors.  They had a massive boat (60 people) to take you up to the cave, but then only groups of 12 could go in at a time.  Which meant the rest of you had to wait in a little shelter whilst they show you glow-worm videos and crack jokes.  But that aside the actual cave part was pretty spectacular.

It was waiting in the shelter where I had my first experience with New Zealand sand flies.  Now we have sand flies in Australia so when I was told they hung around the cave I wasn't too concerned, a little bit of itching which soon disappears is the worst I've ever had it.

I don't know what these sand flies are feeding on here but they were bad.  They were the only thing which gave me any pain throughout the walk, and only because everytime they bit me it would cause massive swelling and pain for about 3 days, and that's with anti-histamines.  The second photo is about an hour after one had bit me on the little finger.  The last three fingers on that hand continued to swell along with half my palm until it was almost unusable.  I quickly learnt to cover up and go overboard on the insect repellent.  The one bite I got on my face really didn't look attractive.

Luxmore Hut in the gathering clouds
The next day we started the walk.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Final Day : Windy Ridge to Narcissus Hut

 Today was the final day of the trek, a 10km stretch to the shores of Lake St Clair and the ferry terminal.

It was a busy day coming out of the trek, it seemed that something like 60 people were finishing today, so the ferry was full on all 3 trips, lucky we had made a booking.

I guess if you don't get on the ferry you have to walk the extra 16km around the shore of the Lake to the Visitor Centre and civilisation.  According to some sources you haven't really walked the Overland Track unless you finish this way, phft.  I really didn't want the extra 16km at that point.

We set off early in the morning and set a good pace and ended up at Narcissus Hut by about 11am or so.  Then it was just a wait by the river for our ferry to turn up.

By the Narcissus River
Overall the walk was awesome, particularly the first 3-4 days, they were incredible.  And there seemed to be no issues for us, in fact it was probably a little too easy, I definitely recommend it as a first multi-day trek.  There are so many people and helipads around that you feel even if things did go bad you would never be in too much trouble.  I'm sure that could be different in the middle of winter though.

I want to also give a shout out to two bits of gear in particular.  The first was our UV sterilisation pen, that was so quick and easy to use, and there was none of that horrible iodine taste left over. I really recommend that over the tablets.  Though I haven't tried the more involved water filters so I'm not sure how it compares to those.  All I know is that we used it (nearly) everytime we gathered water and it seems that giardia hasn't infested us.  One of the only times the UV pen wasn't used was also the last time we gathered water, straight from Lake St Clair.  I think the last 5 days had started to get to us by then, because after being fairly vigilant we basically drank straight from the lake.  I think our brains were a little tired.

The other awesome thing we had were our dehydrated meals.  If you are doing multi-day treks and want to take dehydrated meals I can't recommend the Chefsway brand highly enough.  The meals actually taste like food, hard to believe I know for something which is meant to feed you.  But I've had the Backcountry meals one and they taste like chemical compounds.  I don't even think there is all that much difference in the price.  Seriously check them out.

Jetty at Narcissus Hut
Enjoying the first fresh food in a while
Dave relaxing in Salamanca Square (Hobart)
It was a little odd being back in Hobart. I think my nose had long grown accustomed to my stench because I honestly couldn't smell anything coming from me.  Though I did notice that in Hobart that first afternoon/evening everytime someone walked past they smelt soooo good.  I was trying to huddle in on myself to try and restrict the smell radius.  Thank goodness there was one clothes shop still open so I could buy myself a different set of clothes.  The shop attendants must not have been happy though seeing me handle all their nice clean clothes.  Don't worry I didn't try any on.

Again the photo to the left has had some serious photo-shopping, too much do you think?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Day 5 : Kia Ora Hut to Windy Ridge Hut (8.6 kms)

Du Cane hut
Today was a day of waterfalls.  From this point on you leave the alpine views and grasslands behind and move into more classic Tasmanian forest.  It probably has a particular name, maybe subtropical rainforest, it certainly felt like it would be wet enough to classify as rainforest.

There were no more scrubby alpine plants to be seen here though, all massive trees and thunderous waterfalls.  So while the direct route was rather short in distance, it was certainly large in the number of waterfalls.

Du Cane meadow
 First up was Du Cane hut, this is an old trappers hut which sits in a really lovely meadow.  A family of trappers used to live here in the early 1900's, pretty remote.  The guy always used to wear a bowlers hat apparently.

First up was the D'Alton falls, which was quickly followed by the Fergusson Falls.
D'Alton Falls

Too much Photoshop?
 How do you like the fungi, I was playing around with the settings in Lightroom to try and get the red to stand out more.  Not too sure about it.  This was on the way to the Fergusson Falls.  And how do you like the Vignetting, that's my new favourite feature, though I think it would be very easy to go totally overboard with it.  I'll have to try and hold myself in check.

I think the D'Alton falls were really quite spectacular, more so than the Fergusson I think.

The final falls of the day were the Harnett Falls, these were more memorable for the wonderful mosses growing in the valley by the river.

That night we stayed at the Windy Ridge campsite.  This was apparently one of the newer huts along the track, but for some reason they decided to build it to sleep only 24 people, so also one of the smallest.  There also seemed to be hardly any places to camp, this was the only place where we ended up having to share our tent platform. 

Mosses and trees near Harnett falls

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Day 4 : Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut (8.2 km)

Pelion Hut
This was defininately a shorter day of the walk, but I think with some of the best views.  I think if the distance had been any longer I wouldn't have finished as I would have been taking too many photos.  There was about a 300m elevation gain during the day as we climbed up to Pelion Gap before dropping back down to the campsite on the banks of the Kia Ora Creek.

Lots of packs at Pelion Gap, Mt Pelion East in the background
Cathedral Mountain in the background
Mt Oss
On this day we started to see more of the tour groups.  It was a bit surreal to see these quite large groups of people walking with little day packs halfway along the track.  We noticed them stopping for lunch and they all pulled out tupperware containers and started eating sandwiches.  I don't know where they got the fresh bread four days into a trek.  I assume these people paid an awful lot of money and they would be staying in the private huts with beds and clean sheets.  Very luxurious.
Mt Oakleigh and Cradle Mt in the distance
Looking up to Pelion Gap on the right, with Mt Ossa and Mt Doris on the left
It seemed that a lot more people had joined the track at Pelion hut.  That hut is really at the junction of a number of other tracks, and is also where the Arm River track joins the Overland.

Cathedral Mt from the plains before Kia Ora hut
Cathedral Mt at dusk from our campsite
As I said before the numbers starting the Overland are quite heavily controlled, with only about 35 people allowed to start everyday.  This means that in the summer season it can be quite difficult to find an opening.  In fact we were hoping to do the walk around Christmas time, but when we had looked it was fully booked and we had to do it around Australia Day instead.  But what we found out at Pelion Hut is that you can do the Arm River track without needing to book anything.  Then once you hit the Overland Track you can go North or South or whatever you want.  The even better thing is that it is only a four hour walk from the start of the Arm River to Pelion Hut.  So that's certainly something to consider if you want to do the Overland, but can't find an opening.

I think it would be a shame to miss the first half of the track though as that was some really spectacular walking.

This day was another fantastic day.  The views from Mt Ossa and Pelion Gap were incredible.  We didn't go up Mt Ossa, we had been a bit scarred by the Cradle Mountain experience, but apparently Mt Ossa is easier.  Less rock climbing and more walking.  But the views from just the saddle between Ossa and Mt Doris were pretty spectacular.

The campsite was close to the Kia Ora creek, so for the first time in 4 days we were able to have a bit of a wash.  That felt so good.  We were also able to wash out our clothes a bit, and after 4 days of hot walking the fabric had certainly started to get a bit scratchy, so it was nice to try and get rid of some of that salt.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Day 3 : Lake Windermere to Pelion Hut (14.2 kms)

Mt Pelion West
This was probably the longest day of the trip with also quite a large descent and ascent.  Today was another day of spectacular mountain peaks in the alpine areas, before we dropped down to the lowest point of the entire walk.  Then climbing back up to camp at the base of Mt Oakleigh.

Looking back to Barn Bluff and Cradle Mountain
There were some really nice vegetation changes again today and really great views of the mountains.  I think I'm just going to let the photos speak for themselves.

At Pelion Hut that night we decided to stay in the hut, this is the biggest hut of the lot, sleeps 60, and we were able to get separate bunks.  Seeing as how it was starting to rain and there were a million mosquitoes around we thought it was the best bet.  It started out fine, I had my earplugs in and there was still a faint light in the sky.

Mt Pelion West
Where did these trees come from?
But then the sun went down completely and the place was absolutely pitch black.  You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face.  Combine the total lack of light with the ear plugs and we are talking some serious sensory deprivation.  Really unpleasant.  The problem was I couldn't really take the ear plugs out as quite late in the night a big group had turned up along with their chainsaws.

Mt Oakleigh in the evening
I managed to get some sleep though, and it was probably better than being out in the wet and the mosquitoes, but it certainly made me appreciate the tent.

Day 2 : Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere

Day 2 : Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere (7km)

Our campsite in the evening
Day two was definitely much easier than day one, in terms of both distance and elevation, basically we ended up walking downhill 100m, though there were definitely undulations. 

Day two was also the wettest day, we woke up to find the little stream outside our tent had grown to a flood and we were lucky to not be sleeping in a much deeper pool.  Luckily when we had packed up the night before we had put everything back inside the pack liners before going to sleep.  I think everything outside the tent was actually much drier than that in the tent. 

Our campsite the following morning
It was here that one item paid the ultimate price, it was the only thing which really got wrecked during the trip, a Dali Lama book.  Water flooded the tent at one point and this book bravely soaked it all up, sparing our sleeping bags.  We repaid it by carting it the remaining 50 kms, occasionally spreading it out at camping sites in a futile attempt to dry it.  It eventually was discarded in the hotel room in Hobart.

I can't say that I was too upset that it was rainy as it meant that Barn Bluff was completely clouded over, meaning the side trip we could have taken to the top wouldn't have really yielded any views.  At this point I was paying for the hard ascent of Cradle Mountain the day before so was thankful for an easier day to try and recover.
Looking up to the cloud covered Barn Bluff

This day was also the muddiest by far.  When coming up on the bus the driver was telling us about a group of guys he had picked up the week before.  This group had started in the middle of the rains which caused the flooding in Tasmania. 

That would have been a bad week to be walking in.  Driving up the route had to be altered as roads had been washed out.  But all these guys could talk about was how bad the mud was, and on this leg you could certainly see that it could be baaaad. I managed to fall in twice at the start.   
Mud after the falls

The hardest part was not knowing how deep the puddles were you were about to step into, most of them wouldn't have come up to the top of your boot, but ever now and then one would be almost up to your knee.  I imagine that a week's worth of rain would have turned this relatively easy leg into a bit of an ordeal.

Some of the muddy sections
I think this leg was also best in terms of the number of wildflowers which were out.  In some sections the place was full of reds, yellows and whites.  I couldn't take enough photos in some parts.  In this leg you could also saw the vegetation change dramatically as the day progressed.  We would go through sections with shrubs and trees, then through wind-swept alpine grass areas and then finish beside Lake Windermere with large gum trees. 

So many wildflowers
Along with the vegetation changing the views are also constantly changing.  Because this area is so open, mainly small shrubs or grasslands, that it was often that looking behind you could see Cradle Mountain (where we had started) and looking ahead you could see Mt Oakleigh (were the next day would finish).  It was really great being able to constantly chart your progress and see that the distances covered were not insignificant.

It was here that you start to notice some groups of people.  The way the Overland track is monitored in Tasmania is that only about 35 people are allowed to start every day.  So at this point there were a few families which had started the same day as us and so we would see them every night at the camp site.  The difference is that because we weren't staying in the huts we probably didn't have as close contact with people as others.

Looking back to Cradle Mountain, peeking over the ridge
The huts along the track are very much a first-come first-serve kind of basis, in that if you turned up early enough in the day to nab yourself a bunk bed then all well and good.  But if you were a slower walker then you might be out of luck.  We didn't really want to sleep in the huts, most don't have separate beds, so you all sleep next to each other on a long wooden platform and you bring your own sleeping mattresses, no thanks.  At least in the tent I'm not next to some stranger and am spared the incessant snoring.
Lake Windermere in the distance

It seemed though that some people were really reliant on the huts, so much so that they would send forward members of their party to ensure that sleeping spots were saved for them.  The groups which this really affected were the families.  There were some quite large groups (~9 people) with quite young children (~12).  So I think they really wanted the security of the hut.  You could imagine that there could be instances of hut rage, not that we saw any of that.
Lake Windermere and Mt Oakleigh on the left

There was one group which we thought may have been a family, but then turned out not too be, and they were always the last group into the campsite.  So every night you would see them arrive and try to find a spot where they could all pitch their tents together, and every time they had to split up and ended up with the worst campsites.  The ones miles from the hut and toilets.