Nov 19

I love Brisbane!

Whenever I travel I think about whether I would like living in a city that I’m visiting.  When I was in Brisbane, the answer was a resounding yes! While I liked Sydney and Melbourne, there was something special about Brisbane.

For those of you who don’t know much about Brisbane, it’s located between the Sunshine and Gold Coasts of Australia and from an outsider seems like the northern most “metropolitan” type of city in Australia.  Granted, I only went as far north as Cairns, but it’s my impression, wrong or right.
As my guide (who grew up in Brisbane) explained, Brisbane had pretty much been a small town until the 1982 Commonwealth Games and 1988 World Exposition, since then it has grown into a one of the bigger cities in Australia.

I spent 2 and a half days there, including a walking tour and some advance tips on things to do and places to go.

The feeling I got of the city was that it is was both a city and also a small town, it very much had a community atmosphere that is rare for a city.

Streets Beach, located along the Brisbane River, is on the surface just a manmade beach, but it felt like much more. It felt more like a community pool you would visit in the suburbs, but way cooler since it’s designed like a beach.

There are several shopping districts in Brisbane, and they seemed to cater to both the locals and tourists, perhaps because it’s a smaller a city, but it really seems to work.  It gives both types of shops a more authentic feel. Neither over run by busy locals or relaxed tourists.  I think the pace of this more low key city allows both types to blend together nicely.

Some of the logistics of the city make it a good location too.  Did I mention it’s between the gold and sunshine coasts? There is an international airport (it was actually my gateway to Australia), trains in all directions to a variety of destinations. I took the train from the Gold Coast up to Brisbane on a Sunday and it was an easy trip.

The weather seams ideal to a New Yorker who is sick of cold and snow! In reality the humidity would probably get to me, but the climate is pretty temperate.  I visited in late November, which is late Spring and although it could get hot there, it didn’t seem oppressively hot while I was there.  The winter temperatures also don’t get too cold and there doesn’t seem to be a threat of snow there either.  Checks all my boxes!

Last but not least, it does offer many of the things you want from a city – opportunities for theatrical performances, museums, businesses and industry.  But without the intense pace that sometimes overtakes a city.

So, if anyone wants to offer me a job in Brisbane, I’ll start packing my bags.

Nov 12

Crazy Power Points in South Africa

Whenever I travel internationally I like to check the plug adapters, which was what I did before I went to South Africa.  And they conveniently looked a lot like the European plug.  I also saw that UK plugs are sometimes used. I’ve got both of them, I was set.

But then something told me to double check and it turns out that a few months prior South Africa designated a new official plug, that is not like the European or the UK’s plugs. UGH! I probably should have done this checking more than a day before the trip, but I was able to find the South Africa plug adapter in the airport.

But I did take the UK (had a stopover in London anyway) and European plugs just in case. It was a great move! Turns out many hotels have a variety of outlets available, this meant I was able to plug more things in! I still wonder about the decision of South Africa to get their own unique plug, instead of using an existing plug type.  But, at least it worked out for me.

Nov 05

Taking a Walk on the Gold Coast

Picture it, you’re in Broad Beach on the Gold Coast of Australia and feel like taking a walk on the beach, you head north.  The next thing you know, Surfer’s Paradise is all of a sudden not far in the distance.  It’s only about 2 miles anyway.

Looking at Surfers Paradise

Of course that dismisses the idea of walking around Surfer’s Paradise or what happens when it rains…

All was well on the walk up to Surfer’s Paradise, and Surfer’s Paradise wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.  Maybe all the young people were still nursing hang overs or getting ready for a night out.

But then I noticed dark clouds to the south, where my hotel was. I did look a little harder in the gift shops so that I would have a plastic bag to put my phone in, incase of rain.  Then I hightailed it out of there!

The sky getting dark

Speed walking on the beach sounds great, until you’re doing it and chasing a dark cloud with lightening in it.  Eventually I got off the beach, figuring I didn’t want to be close to the water when I got closer to the lightening clouds and I might be able to walk faster on a sidewalk.

I’m happy to report I made it to the mall around the corner from my hotel just in time!  Then of course I was trapped in the mall and it was too early for dinner.  I did do some shopping to kill time, but apparently spring storms last longer on the Gold Coast than they do in Florida.

The lesson, find out how much a cab costs and suck up the cost! Or have an adventure, either works.  I do wish I had a bit more time in Surfers Paradise though.

Oct 29

Camera Equipment on Safari

Being an amateur photographer on a photography tour I gave a lot of thought, and spoke to a lot of people about what to bring on my South Africa tour.  I also looked at several websites that recommended taking a lens as short as 300mm to a 500mm fixed lens. I will break this post up into 2 parts – the casual photographer and the amateur photographer. If you’re a professional photographer, comment with your own suggestions.

Other Camera Gear:
Tripods are not really necessary on Safari, but if you have one I suggest bringing it.  A tripod with only one leg extended can operate as a monopod, which I do suggest bringing.
Monopod – essentially a one legged tripod, these are great for sports photography and wildlife as they allow you to hold your camera steadier.  They move more quickly and easily than a tripod and pan better too.  If you need to adjust heights, they are easier than a tripod since there is only one leg.  The only downside to a monopod is that they rarely have functionality for portrait orientation photos.

Beanbag – I heard this suggested and almost bought one myself.  A beanbag is used to steady your camera for a shot and can lay on safari seats, doors and windows. In the safari vehicles we were in the walls were so low that this wasn’t a great option. One guy had one and I never saw him use it.  Cheaper alternatives to this would be to use anything with a rice or small beading material in it – a neck pillow, heated neck thingies – they can all accomplish the task.

Casual Photographer:
Your iPhone/Android/Google Phone will not do the trick. Once in a while the animals will be close enough to get a decent photo with your phone, in those cases, bring out your phone and get a selfie to impress your friends at home. Otherwise, you’ll need more power than that.

Point and shoots – better than using your phone, but if there is only a 3x or 4x zoom, you’re only doing a little better than your phone, though every little bit helps.  I do not suggest using the digital zoom, this only does the same thing as cropping into a picture, it’s not actually zooming the physical lens.  Unless you need to do it to see what is in the picture, stick with the camera’s zoom and crop the picture when you get home.

If you can get your hands on a point and shoot in the 10X zoom range you’ll do well.

Borrow a friend’s DSLR, or rent one for the trip.  The 18-55 lens wont help you much, but many owners of DSLR’s have the 55-200/250 lens – this lens will be adequate for the casual photographer. If you’re renting a DSLR and want to keep costs down, the 18-200 lens is a great option for your entire trip. I’ll outline more lens options in the amateur photographer section.

Amateur Photographer:
This section assumes you have a DSLR or similar type of camera.
-I brought a 28-300mm lens, several other people had 105-500 lenses and one girl had a 70-200 lens.  Unless you’re bringing two camera bodies or can quickly change lenses I would lean towards the 28-300 lens with the 105-500 mm lens a close second (and cheaper option).
-The 70-200 lens is a good option that some amateur photographers own, they usually do well in low light, assuming you have an f2.7), but even with short days of sunlight, I didn’t find light to be too much of an issue – either you can see the animals or you can’t.  200mm is often not quite enough so if you’re bringing this lens I would recommend looking into a teleconverter.
-28-300 lens – I suck at switching lenses and have a paranoia about it since I got dust on the sensor of a brand new camera on the second day of a trip and it had to be professionally cleaned after I got home.  This lens was the perfection option for me.  300 mm was enough local length for 95% of my shots, and I never had an issue of the animal being to close to me, like the people with the 105-500 lens did.
-105-500 lens – Like I said in reference to the 28-300 lens, this lenses shortcoming is that you may find yourself too close to an animal.  In fairness, that won’t happen often, but you should be prepared with another option if that is the case. A point and shoot, phone camera, or old DSLR body with a short lens like an 18-55mm will do the trick. Or you could just watch the animal!  Otherwise, everyone who had this lens loved it.  It’s much cheaper than the 28-300, and you can really get in close with the animals.

Fixed Lenses – Unless you will be carrying more than one camera body I wouldn’t recommend a fixed lens. They do take better quality images, but they severely limit your range and animals don’t care about you taking picture and you will miss a lot of great shots.

What lens have you taken on a Safari and how did you like it?