Tag Archives: Waterfall

In Search of the Northern Lights

I’m a bit behind in terms of this blog post… but as the saying goes… better late than never! I spent an incredible week in Iceland on a photography trip at the end of February… it was wet, wild and out of this world! The weather was extreme and challenging and the days were long, but it was totally worth it… I got to see and photograph some of the most spectacular landscapes I’ve ever seen!

I was initially attracted to this trip because of my love of photography and also my excitement at the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights… something that’s been on my travel list for a long time. But I got so much more out of the trip than that… I came face to face with gorgeous horses roaming around in the snow, gushing waterfalls with rainbows emerging, gigantic glaciers with deep crevasses, beautiful blue lagoons, volcanic black sand beaches and much more.

Icelandic horse playing in the snow

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Skógafoss waterfall

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Seljalandsfoss waterfall

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Vik beach

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People are always asking me why I keep visiting cold places… Patagonia, Antarctica and now Iceland… what can I say… sometimes you have to brave the elements to discover some of Earth’s natural beauty… and boy was it beautiful! Iceland is truly a photographer’s paradise. Rather than trying to describe it to you though, I’ll let you look at some of the photos instead… even they don’t do it justice!

Ripples and reflections in the water at Stokksnes

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Stormy day at Svínafellsjökull glacier

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Svínafellsjökull glacier covered in fresh snowfall

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Jökulsárlón lagoon

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Fjallsjökull glacier

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I have a bit of a reputation for being accident-prone when I’m away on trips but this time I think I outdid myself! Despite being warned, I was toppled over by giant crashing waves on Vik beach and nearly lost my camera, lenses and tripod all on the first day! I also managed to fall over a few times on the ice (very graceful!) and even got stuck in the mud while desperately trying to photograph the Northern Lights and stop my camera from flying away at the same time! But I came back alive, with all my gear, beautiful memories and lots of photographs… so it was worth every moment!

One of my best and most memorable moments was getting to walk out on to the Beiõamerkerkurjökul glacier and into an ice cave…. it was incredible… definitely something crossed off from my bucket list! Being able to photograph inside the cave (although probably the coldest I’ve ever been in my life) was an extraordinary experience!

Inside the ice cave in Beiõamerkerkurjökul glacier

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We spent a lot of time on Breiðamerkursandur (the ice beach) where pieces of ice of all shapes and sizes from the icebergs in the  Jökulsárlón lagoon were washed up on to the black sand. It was great photographing at that location, looking at different pieces of ice in different lights and how they contrast against the black sand… the beach never looked the same on any two days. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long looking at (read stalking) a piece of ice… it was so beautiful I could have stayed there all week!

Waves crashing over ice on Breiðamerkursandur

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Ice on the black sand of Breiðamerkursandur

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Close-up of the surface of a piece of ice

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One of the things I really wanted to see on this trip was the Aurora Borealis (a.k.a the Northern Lights)… unfortunately my luck there wasn’t so great as most of Iceland was covered in cloud for the whole week. We managed to get a very brief sighting at around 1am on our last morning in the south of Iceland…. it wasn’t the most extraordinary Aurora sighting but I was over the moon just at getting the chance to see and photograph it! I’m definitely not done with the Northern Lights yet though… a lot more to see and many other beautiful destinations to visit where I might see them! I think I’ve used up my cold quota for a while now… so next stop… hopefully somewhere warmer!

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) at Hali

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The river runs through it

Leaving Thailand behind, I spent just over two weeks in beautiful Laos and Vietnam. It was an amazing two weeks of adventure, fun, new friends, new (and unusual) foods and trying lots of new things for the first time… kayaking in the Nam Som River, holding a python round my neck, swimming in a freezing cold waterfall, riding on a water buffalo at sunset, eating deep fried worm (yes, I said worm!) amongst many other things… some of these things I’d never imagined I would ever do!

Kuang Si waterfall south of Luang Prabang

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Riding a water buffalo in Hoi An

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After crossing the border from Thailand into Laos, we spent two days sailing along the mighty Mekong River. It was a beautiful ride with cold mornings, sunny afternoons and being surrounded by gorgeous hills and mountains all around. We passed various villages and fishing boats along the way and several cows and elephants too. We spent the night in a rustic lodge in the small village of Pak Beng located on the Mekong River… staying in wooden cabins with very little hot water and lots of geckos for friends, it made for an interesting night as the only sounds I could here were those of nature.

Views sailing along the Mekong River

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Buddha statues in the Pak Ou caves, a stop along the Mekong River boat trip

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Finally we arrived in the town of Luang Prabang… this is a beautiful town located along the Mekong River and one of my favourite stops on the trip. It’s a laidback and serene town even though there are a lot of tourists visiting. Some of the highlights for me (apart from historical or religious sights) were the bustling night markets (and the bargaining that comes with them), street food vendors selling mouth-watering dishes, strolling along dusty side streets, rising at dawn to watch the saffron-robed monks receiving alms, and the lively morning market with a variety of unusual eats! I saw a lot of interesting and strange foods in the morning market including deep fried mice/rats, frogs, snails, squirrels, budgies and cobra… I wasn’t brave enough to try any of them!

Mice, rats and snake found for sale in the Luang Prabang morning market

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Monks collecting alms in the early morning

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Sampling street food was definitely a highlight for me… from scrumptious spring rolls to delicious dumplings and, my personal favourite, banana and Nutella crepes that I bought along the sidewalk.

Luang Prabang Street Food

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Home-cooked Laotian meal including laap and deep fried aubergine

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Aside from this, I was also lucky enough to spend a morning with elephants… the highlight for me was ‘bathing’ them in the Mekong River… in actual fact they were just splashing about with us in the river rather than actually bathing but it was an incredible experience with these gentle giants… a dream come true for me because of my love of elephants!

‘Bathing’ elephants near Luang Prabang

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Leaving Luang Prabang behind, we continued on to Vang Vieng for a day. Here I got to try kayaking for the first time… I was quite nervous at first but it was an amazing experience kayaking along the Nam Som River with the hot sun beating down on my skin. Along the way my group decided to stop at one of the infamous river-side bars… they are pretty cool with loud music blaring, people dancing, drinks flowing, BBQs burning on the side and awesome hammocks hanging around for people to catch some rest and shade from the strong sun.

That evening I sat along the riverside with a BeerLao beer in hand and watched the world go by… boats sailing, flocks of birds soaring through the sky, locals having a BBQ around a fire on the sand and the golden red sun setting behind the grand mountains… it’s one of those serene and breathtaking moments I’ll never forget.

Vang Vieng sunset

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After leaving Laos, we headed to Vietnam where the first stop was Hanoi. This is one of the most bustling, vibrant and chaotic cities I’ve ever seen, especially in the old quarter. There were people and motorbikes everywhere, horns beeping, power lines dangling, street vendors galore, amazing sights, sounds and smells everywhere and dozens of streetside ‘bars’ selling the cheapest beer in the world, Bia Hoi (for the equivalent of 24 cents)! There seemed to be no concept of traffic rules or personal space in Hanoi… you couldn’t walk anywhere without being bumped into or beeped at or nearly run over by a motorcyclist! The thing I found the most strange however is how such a vibrant city completely shuts down at midnight… it’s like it turns into a pumpkin… the streets become empty and lonely, all the sounds disappear and there is just quiet all around.

Streets of Hanoi

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BBQ dog for sale in Hanoi

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One of my highlights in Vietnam was an overnight stay on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay. I had an absolutely incredible time there… apart from getting scared half to death by monkeys when visiting a local beach… but don’t worry, we came away unscathed (just about!). I had another of those ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments when watching a spectacular sunset on the top deck of our boat with a glass of merlot in one hand and my faithful camera in the other… and coming back after dinner to star gaze in the beautifully clear night sky! These are some moments I’ll never ever forget!

Ha Long Bay

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HaLongBay

Aside from Ha Long bay, I really enjoyed my time in the city of Hue. I was lucky to be able to take a slightly non-conventional city tour… I got to ride on the back of a motorbike for the day to see all the sights. It was an incredibly fun and insightful experience… riding through big highways, small back alleys, rice fields, cemeteries, past peoples homes, businesses and schools… it was a great way to see the city as I felt I got a much better insight into the real Hue and the way people live there.

Motorbike tour in Hue and meeting local people en route

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Leaving Hue, we stopped for a few nights in Hoi An with it’s charming streets, many stalls, restaurants, cafes and shops. Some of the highlights here were a noodle making class (it’s harder than it looks!), a cycle tour through vegetable gardens and rice fields (and getting a little lost) and the opportunity to ride a water buffalo.

The final stop for me was Ho Chi Minh City. Before getting ready to go home, I took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels formed an underground network used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnamese and American War. It was quite an emotional tour and very thought-provoking listening to our guide who was a real war veteran as he told stories of his days during the war and in the re-education camps.

Cu Chi tunnels

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Unfortunately all good things must come to and end… and so it was time for me to leave Southeast Asia and come back home.  However, not long until the next adventure… from thirty degrees heat straight into sub-zero freezing cold… Iceland here I come!

The journey south – Patagonia and the Lake District

I’ve spent the last three weeks on an overland tour through the Argentinian and Chilean Lake District and Patagonia, taking me from Santiago all the way south to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

It’s been one of the most breathtaking trips in South America in terms of natural beauty and landscape. Even after being surrounded by mountains for the last 3 months, I’m still not sick of them! The views became more and more spectacular the further south we went.

I had a great time for the most part of the trip with an inspiring, fun and really diverse group of people… we hiked, camped, rafted and spent long days on our truck (Rosita) together. It wasn’t all fun and games… camping was pretty tough mainly because of the harsh cold weather and biting Patagonian winds, especially during the night. I was really grateful to have a warm bed and shower after that was over!

Rosita (the overland truck) on the open road – Ruta 40

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We started our travel to Pucón and Bariloche in the Lake District of Chile and Argentina. Pucón was particularly fun because I managed to go white water rafting (in the freezing cold!) and also because of the majestic and still active volcano Villarrica in the background. I was lucky enough to be in both Chile and Argentina on my birthday and spent the evening in Bariloche, the Switzerland of Argentina.

Volcano Villarrica

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White water rafting on the Trancura river in Pucón

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As we went further south into Patagonia, we entered El Chaltén for some great hiking in Los Glaciares National park with amazing (and windy!) views, followed by El Calafate to see the spectacle that is the Perito Moreno glacier. It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe the sight of this huge body of ice and the sounds of icebergs calving off the glacier and splashing into Lake Argentino below… it was definitely one of my highlights!

Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park

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Piedras Blancas glacier – Los Glaciares National Park

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Mount Fitz Roy amongst the clouds – Los Glaciares National Park

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El Chaltén town

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Perito Moreno glacier and icebergs – Los Glaciares National Park

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Leaving behind El Calafate, we began our three days camping in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile… I thought I had already seen amazing sights but those were nothing compared to the views on the hikes/walks we saw there. To top that off I got to see the Grey Glacier with the spectacular blue/purple hues of the ice and with an elephant head emerging from one of the ice caves… … see if you can spot it in the pics!

Torres del Paine National Park

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Grey Glacier – Torres del Paine National Park

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Guanacos getting friendly

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The icing on the cake was being able to see Magellanic penguins after leaving the National Park and arriving at the Seno Otway penguin colony near Punta Arenas. Although I didn’t get up close to them, they are such adorable creatures, waddling around and flapping their wings. It was a lot of fun just watching them go about their every day business, in particular listening to the sound of them braying and watching them splash about in the water.

Magellanic Penguins at Seno Otway

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Shipwreck on route from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia

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The Lost City of the Incas

So far I’m loving life on the road… once you get used to cold showers, paper thin pillows and bread/butter (sometimes cheese!) for breakfast on an almost daily basis.

Over the past week I’ve seen so many breathtaking mountain vistas and Inca ruins across Peru. From Pachacamac (in Lima), to Pisaq (in the Sacred Valley) and the town of Ollantaytambo, the highlight for me was definitely Machu Picchu… sometimes referred to as the lost city of the Incas. The view of these mysterious Inca ruins and the Huayna Picchu mountain towering over them was truly spectacular and took my breath away… I don’t think any photos can really do it justice! Visiting Machu Picchu has always been a dream of mine (and on my bucket list!) so I’m glad I finally made it there… the short hike up to sun gate while the sun was rising, although challenging, definitely made it all that more special!

Machu Picchu an Huayna Picchu

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View of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu from Sun GateSunGateView

Pisaq Ruins

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Woman Dyeing Alpaca Wool at Planeterra Women’s Weaving Project

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It hasn’t been all history lessons, ruins and photography though… there has been a lot of fun and adventure too. Travelling with a group for the past week has been a blast and it’s been interesting meeting people from all around the world. Together we’ve had a lot of fun… from walking for hours along railway tracks and through dark tunnels in search of waterfalls, chilling out in thermal hot springs, quad biking along dirt roads surrounded by wild animals and snow capped mountain peaks, drinking pisco sours and sometimes simply playing cards over a cold Cusqueña beer. I’m just soaking it up and enjoying every moment of it!

Quad Biking

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Salineras (Salt Mines) de Maras

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Next stop… Puno and Lake Titicaca. Then it’s time to say adiós to Peru and hola to Bolivia.