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Wooramel Station Riverside Retreat

Wooramel Station Riverside Retreat

If you’re looking for a stop off point between Perth and the Coral Coast, Wooramel Station comes with our stamp of approval.  I’m not a huge fan of traditional caravan parks as a general rule, and station stays are a great alternative at a good price.

It offers unpowered camp sites for $13 per person per night.  You can choose from shady or sunny spots on the banks of the ‘upside down’ river, or select a spot on the grass. Dogs on lead are allowed at the far end of the retreat. There are also four glamping on site tents equipped with queen sized beds for those that don’t want to BYO.

Fire pits are set up at each camp spot, and wood can be grazed around the sites. The toilets and showers are cute, crafted from water tanks, clean and functional.

The artesian baths are a big plus.  Filled with naturally warmed waters you can sink in the thirty degree water and enjoy a nice soak while sharing tips and tricks with fellow campers from around Australia or the world. It feels very decadent after some time roughing it.

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Pilbara 2017

Pilbara 2017

I’ve lived in Western Australia practically all my life, but in this big old state of ours there are still so many firsts for me. We’ve just returned from a trip ‘up north’ to Karajini National Park in our new-to-us Hyundai iMax van (henceforth known as Coops*).

You may recall we had a fabulous camping holiday last year courtesy of Tears of Joy. Our holiday plans for this year originally involved setting off in a teardrop camper of our very own, but things haven’t panned out that way. Necessity being the mother of invention K spent the week before this trip decking Coops out to accommodate gear, and add a backup sleeping module in case our borrowed tent didn’t work out, (or the more likely scenario that one of us started snoring too loud – him not me BTW).

Loaded up with a significant amount of borrowed gear including a partially deflating blow-up mattress, a Waeco fridge, solar array and deep cycle battery, the afore mentioned tent, and a range of different tent pegs, we decided to go up by road – about a 16 hour drive. There weren’t a huge number of things we wanted to see on the way up, it was June and the wildflowers aren’t quite out yet, so we did it in two eight hour driving days.

You may want to grab a cuppa - this is going to be a long one. Don't complain later - you have been warned

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Copyright and Copywrong

Copyright and Copywrong

When visiting my niece  a while ago she was working on a school assignment. I noticed that she was using Google Images to locate and copy pictures into her document. Being the nosy parker that I am,  I asked if the teacher had talked to the class about copyright and  the need to include image information in their referencing.  She explained to me all about what they had been told about plagiarism, but looked at me blankly when I explained that copyright applies to images as well as text.

It wasn’t a suprise to me, a quick glance at Social Media highlights that most people don’t know that Copyright applies to images as well as to written works.

The Fair Use provision in the Australian Copyright Act allows for the use of copyright works for educational purposes. That doesn’t override the moral right of an image creator to be credited for their work. Copyright is a pretty dry subject, but here is what I’ve learned as it applies to photography.

For the more official word, check out these great documents by the Copyright Council of Australia;


Moral Rights

These days, everyone is a photographer. Many people are creating images on a daily basis. Lots of those are going to be uploaded onto social media by the photographer themselves, or by someone the photographer has shared the image with.

For those of you who have wasted a year and a half of your lives reading the T&C for each of the social media platforms you use, you’ll already know that by uploading images onto facebook, or Instagram or whatever flavour you are consumed by, that you’re agreeing that you have the right to upload the image and you are granting that platform the right to do an outrageous number of things with it.

However the photographer retains moral rights to their images. Just like you would reference a quote or a book in an essay, you should be referencing the creator of an image that you use.

Moral rights include ;

  • the right to be attributed as the creator of an image
  • The right to take action if someone else pretends they took the photo
  • the right to take action if someone has mucked around with an image in a way that is going to cause the photographer grief (see the technical wording stuff in the act – caused me grief won’t stand up in court and I’m not a lawyer)

If you’re sharing an image and you’re not the photographer,  ask permission first and make sure you include a photo credit for the photographer. Better yet, include a link back to their page or web site. If an image has a watermark, don’t remove it by cropping or cloning. That’s just not cool.

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Putting it out there and the 3 elements of a good creative project

Putting it out there and the 3 elements of a good creative project

I have been inspired by a friend to ‘put it out there’ and get make myself a facebook page.

Why?  Because I have come to think that the best thing you can do to improve your skills is to give yourself a project.  Having someone else give it to you works too. The most powerful projects have three critical elements.

  1. A deadline, or at least a target date.
  2. An audience.
  3. Feedback

These things are just as important for writing as they are for photography. The old adage “You can’t edit a blank page” credited to Jodi Picoult is every bit as true for a picture as for a poem or piece of prose.

A deadline is important because it means you win the battle against the inner perfectionist. That doesn’t mean you don’t strive to do the very best you can, but that’s driven by point 2 quite adequately, but it does mean you produce something and that you show it. Only by doing that will you be able to step back and get some perspective on what it is you’ve done well, and what you need to learn more about to improve on.

The audience you choose, or the audience that chooses you may or may not be within your control. There may be people you want to review or even critique your work that may not care to. There may also be people whose opinions you don’t care for who will.  In the internet age its trickier than ever to balance those two things.

The most important thing to remember is that Feedback is a Gift. My dearest friend Jane told me that once, and I have carried that sage advice close to my heart ever since. Negative and critical feedback can be of even greater value than praise, and for some people can be even harder for them to give you, so treasure it when you get it.

Praise is always nice too of course, and can help you pick up the camera, pen or keyboard again when you’re having a heavy day.

A while ago I joined up with The River Guardians as a Dolphin Watcher. It’s a citizen science project that helps ordinary people like you and I report on the behaviour of our community of swan river dolphins. Now I have to admit that I have been very slack about doing my online reporting of late because I haven’t seen dolphins lately. I do know that negative data is as important to them as sightings, but we all have moments of laziness, and I guess I haven’t been in the negative gift giving mood. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped putting the camera in my bag every day, and yesterday I snagged a couple of shots.


The Dolphin Watch people have been great in proving me with comments (feedback) on my past photography, and that inspires me to want to share my new pictures (audience) so I’m going to guilt myself into sitting down this morning and sending through all of those days over the last week and a half when I didn’t see anything (deadline).

It’s a great little loop to keep going, and like with any habit it’s easier to keep going than to break.  But when you do take  a break, it can be hard to get going again.

So, long story that has failed to be short, I’m putting it out there in the hope that doing so will give the loop more momentum and make it easier for me to keep pressing the shutter button, and sharing the results.

So consider this an invitation to provide feedback – constructive comments in particular gratefully received.

Tears of Joy

Tears of Joy

Our family did a bit of camping when I was young, but it has been a while since I went bush. We fancied a little mini break and K had the bright idea of trying out a teardrop camper.

And a fine idea that was.

Glamping is all the rage at the moment and the Gidget fits into that category nicely. We hired from Tears of Joy camper rentals in Kenwick.

We don’t currently have a tow ball on the back of the Mazda, so borrowed by Brother in Law’s Prado to do the towing.  K reports that towing the teardrop is much more like towing a trailer than a caravan. Having said that, this was the first time he’d towed anything so I’m not certain how much weight that carries no pun intended).

I can say that as a passenger it didn’t feel any different. The neat size allows you to get into places a traditional caravan wouldn’t go, and the design means that setting up camp is much, much easier than slinging up tents. The cover over the kitchen area in particular makes it an all weather solution. You can pull over at the side of the road, turn on the gas bottle at the side, pop the kettle on the pull out burner and have a cuppa wherever it suited you. We were only two hours from home, so didn’t do that in this case. But you could!


The design is very clever, as well as being quite retro and stylish. You’d be forgiven for thinking it might be form over function, but everything in this little box has a purpose, and was beautifully finished. Well, not everything. The locks took a bit of getting used to. But apart from that.

The Gidget comes fully equipped with everything from a kettle to a TV. Yep. A TV. There are solar panels on the roof to help with power so there are little reading lights in the cabin as well. It has water and waste water tanks, two gas ring burners, a place for an esky, or a fridge.  If we hadn’t been going down south in the middle of winter we might have borrowed the fridge too, but as it was a bag of ice in the cooler did nicely.



The Gidget has a pull out section that preserves all the storage space in the kitchen, while allowing a queen size bed in the back. I am led to believe that in traditional teardrops the bed extends under the kitchen area, still queen size though. The Gidget also has a skylight. We were woken from a cheeky afternoon nap by a flock or ringneck parrots staring in at us from above.  Apparently they were quite taken with the design as well.

The bed can also be configured to a seating area, and there is a little pull out table top for the laptop for all that blogging you do when you’re on holidays. Or searching for a campsite with a hot shower for a longer trip perhaps.

There is a neat little hatch between the kitchen and cabin, which rotates to allow the service of coffee to the lucky person who didn’t have to get out of bed to make it (Thanks K). In case of rain, and we did have a little bit of that, there is a shade tent under the bed, and chairs as well.

Camp site

Our destination for our mini getaway was Darnanup / Fergsuon Valley. We were traveling the week after July School holidays so the roads were quiet, as was the newly opened Potters Gorge campsite. In planning the trip K had befriended the lovely Diane of the Wellington Dam kiosk and got the low down on where to stay. There are two main campsite in the area, the newly refurbished Potters Gorge, and the picturesque Honeymoon Pool. We might have been able to get the teardrop into one or two of the spots at Honeymoon Pool, but as you can’t reserve places at either spot we decided on the safe bet at the larger Potters Gorge.

On arrival there was another caravan there. A couple of guys with a tent turned up around dusk. And that was it. There are 50+ campsites so we were all nicely spaced out.  All the facilities are new, so the school holidays hadn’t taken away the new jarrah smell around the toilets and camp kitchens. There are plenty of beautiful trees, and the red tailed cockatoos were our chatty neighbours. Such beautiful birds.

All of the birdlife was pretty friendly. Along with the cockies we had a family of magpies, the flock of ringnecks I mentioned earlier and some red winged fairy wrens at the other end of the park.

Juvenille magpie

Apart form just chilling out there wasn’t much to do at camp.  In summer you might take a canoe out on the dam, but it was a little chilly for that, and we didn’t bring a canoe. We did a nice trip out to look at the dam from all angles.  Amazing that it was built in 1933. The quarry next to it was a lovely spot too. I thought it would be a nice place for a picnic.  I think K had some kind of music event in mind. They also do abseiling down the quarry wall. Clearly not for me and my issue with heights.

Wellington Dam Quarry

We visited the Honeymoon Pools campsite, and it really was lovely.  All along that way there is running water, granite outcrops and loads of beautiful bush. With some reluctance I was also talked into visiting Gnomesville. I had in my head that it would be some kind of commercial enterprise.  I couldn’t be further from the truth. It started up when a new roundabout was installed so the kiddies could get on and off the school bus more safely. One resident then thought the roundabout would make a good gnome home, and soon word spread far and wide until all the Gnomads made this little bushy corner their new home.






It is surreal. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you turn a new corner and there are more gnomes. They come is all shaped and sixes, often with little signs showing from whence they came.  Many are international gnomes, others local. Some come as groups from sporting, social or charitable groups. Others are clearly memorials for lost loved ones.


There was a pile of former gnomes in pieces.  Apparently when the river water gets up there can be some gnome fatalities as they get swept away. The red capped robins flitting abut fitted right in with the red capped gnomes.

It was one of those places where you ‘just have to be there’. If you’re passing by make sure to stop in.

If you happen to be in the Ferguson valley on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday it is one of the only things open.

We did manage to get into a busy St Aiden’s for lunch, and visited Willow Bridge for some wine tasting, but most other places, including my favourite Ferguson Falls, were closed. Which, of course, is just a good reason to head back there again soon, this time on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.



Day 17 – South Shetland Islands on board MV Ushuaia

Day 17 – South Shetland Islands on board MV Ushuaia

Monkia, our expedition leader woke us up with her cheery “Good Morning, Good Morning Expeditioners” and an announcement that we would have a briefing on plans in the bar after breakfast.

The weather continued to be foggy, but there was hope that the afternoon would present a weather  window that would allow the medical evacuation to go ahead. There were not facilities on King George Island that would make it possible to offload the injured passenger and her husband to wait for the plane without us, understandably so the delay would cause further impacts to our planned itinerary. As a result we would do some of the things in the South Shetlands that were scheduled for the end of the trip at the beginning instead.

The up side of that was that if we got to do a landing the thumb lady’s husband might get to do a landing before they were scooted off the ship.

The downside was that some passengers were starting to get a bit grumbly. My own view on the subject was that if were me or one of my loved ones that needed to be getting off the ship I would want the crew to be doing exactly what they were doing, and anyway we were in the far south and everything that happened here would be at the whim of the weather. No point getting upset about it when everyone was doing everything they possibly could to make the best out of it.

We had our first landing of the trip at Yankee Harbour, Greenwich Island. That meant our first trip out in the zodiacs. Everyone struggled into their numbered live preservers to be counted off the ship by the good doctor.  As a group we were all a bit unruly as we seemed to be unable to form a single file for this purpose.  We did improve for the subsequent landings though.

I was a little apprehensive about the zodiac trip to shore.  I had my camera in a dry bag inside my backpack and a rain cover on the backpack. The process for getting onto the zodiacs was clearly explained to us and the guides set off ahead to make sure everything was ok on land before we arrived.

The Ushuaia is one of the smaller boats to come down to Antarctica, and even so it took 11 trips to get everyone ashore. It made sense that if you travel on the bigger ships you may only get on land once or twice in a cruise, and maybe not at all. I was very happy with our choice.

The sea lions (with ears) that live there now are no longer bothered by sealers, but a few of our fellow travelers failed to head the instructions of our guides and strayed too close for their comfort. The guides swung into action to distract the fast approaching and massive beasts and we avoided adding anyone else to the evacuation list.

We visited our first penguin colony, this one Gentoo penguins.  The Gentoo are the third largest penguin species, following after the emperor and the king penguins.  Gentoo also seem to be the most adaptable species, spreading themselves over much wider areas than others. They are less selective about diet so will eat krill, fish and squid based on availability.

There were a couple of confused Chinstrap penguins in the group too. The different species don’t seem at all troubled by the intermingling.

The Antarctic Skua needs a good PR company. Being birds of prey in the antarctic means either you eat fish or you eat penguins. Putting a positive spin on eating cute little balls of fluff is tricky. . During our trip we saw a number of cute fluffy Skua chicks too, and we know that those chicks need to be fed but… Kelly took this harder than most.  Knowing that everyone needs to eat doesn’t make it any easier to watch Skuas attempting to make off with a cute, fluffy, engaging little penguin baby.

At this colony there were two penguins whose pebbly nests were a little further down slope than most. Enter two skuas keen on tag teaming penguin parents and their chicks. At one stage a penguin from the top of the slope came hustling down to help out one of the besieged parents.
We don’t know what the outcome was, but we do now that some penguin parents will lose their chicks to predators, be they skua or leopard seals.  It’s a harsh environment I suppose, and I guess we didn’t spend anytime lamenting the baby squid that the penguins kill to feed their chicks.  Just as well squid and krill aren’t cute and fluffy.

The whether hadn’t improved by the afternoon so our next activity was a boat tour of the stunning Deception Island. I will have to take the stunning part under advisement as we saw very little other than fog. It was interesting to be cruising around inside a volcano though. The last time it went up two research stations were lost.

This is what Deception Island looked like to us.

I wasn’t at all bothered by that. We’d seen penguins being adorably cute and that made my day. Although they look awkward, they navigate the most rocky terrain without hands and mostly without falling over, and can swim like Thorpey. I could not be more impressed.  We also learned that although they look like they have short legs, most of their legs is hidden under their feathery bodies, sort of like reverse leg warmers.

A grand day out regardless of a bit of rain and wind.

Day 16 – Antarctic convergence and beyond aboard MV Ushuaia

Day 16 – Antarctic convergence and beyond aboard MV Ushuaia

A day of firsts. Today we saw our first penguins swimming in the ocean. We were all very excited, which must amuse the crew no end.  They swim like dolphins, porpoising in and out of the water to maintain their speed.  I don’t know why I was surprised to see them out so far away from land.

We spent some time out on deck trying to get photos, but they are quick and quite little so I certainly didn’t get much.

We also saw our first seals swimming about, out first icebergs and our first whales. We entered Antarctic waters and saw the South Shetland Islands shrouded in fog. It was hoped that the evacuation would happen off King George Island today, but although a plane got very close it was turned back from the island because of poor visibility. The seas are much calmer now we are out of the Drake which was a relief for those suffering from sea sickness. The sea sickness patches came off.

It was a day of lessons and we were given the run down on behaviour in Antarctica including giving penguins the right of way, how to get in and out of zodiacs and boot cleaning to ensure we didn’t introduce pests or disease anywhere.

The lecture of the day was about seals and sea lions. I had no idea  they were closely related to bears and otters, although looking closely at sea lions it seems quite obvious to me now with their little sticky outy ears. True seals are better suited to the water, while sea lions are able to walk much like dogs using all four limbs on land. And they can put on some speed when properly motivated, as we were to see in the days to come. Both are deserving of respect and distance on land where they can get quite cranky if you get too close. Duly noted.

The winds were strong (40 knots) so there was no opportunity to make a shore landing safely. That did not mean we lacked for entertainment as Dave and Di put on a show for us in their penguin onsies. Fabian was delighted, and I think he may be stalking Dave and his onsie for the rest of the trip.

The dining room on the Ushuaia is divided into a series of rooms. The
rearmost has tables that seat ten people.  The chairs are attached to
the floor (although there is a secret trick that can be used to
temporarily remove and replace the)  and swivel. There is not a lot of
room between the chairs, and for people like Kingsley who is all legs
getting in an out is like a three dimensional game of Tetris. In the end
he seems to have settled on a technique that has him entering the chair
over the seat back. Not very dignified, but it gets him there.

movement of the ship means you become quite intimate with your fellow
dinners as you are often literally rubbing elbows, thighs, shoulders

We also had our first photography tour session with Alex.  She talked about the use of exposure compensation and birds in flight photography, and distributed out photo challenges for the trip.

Alex also presented us with pictures of our beautiful fur babies and seeing the gorgeous photo of Smudge made me a little* emotional. This is the longest we’ve been away from Smudge and Sausage and being out of contact is very hard. In retrospect it was just as well we were out of contact as this was the day of the storm and Sausage’s first great escape and being able to do absoluelt nothing would have been unbearable.

When attempting to review my photos and makes some notes on the day I discovered that I was finding it difficult to make out some of the settings on my camera.  It unfolded that both Kingsley and  I had run into one of the side effects of the patches, affecting near vision. I’d like to blame that for my sub-par penguin swimming photo, but I don’t think I’d get away with it.

Day 15–Drake Passage aboard MV Ushuaia

Day 15–Drake Passage aboard MV Ushuaia

Overnight we have been piloted through the Beagle Channel and have started our way over the Drake Passage. The roll of the ship took a little getting used to in our cosy bunks but so far I have been pleasantly surprised and think we are doing very well in terms of a calm journey.

According to Wikipedia the passage is 800 kms wide and covers the area between Livingstone Island and Cape Horn. The volume of water running through it is approx 600 times that of the Amazon river. having never seen the Amazon that probably doesn’t give me any context, but from looking at at the seemingly endless ocean I can tell you there is a lot of water out there.  I don not have that number in Olympic sized swimming pools or Sydney harbours so don’t ask.

Crossing of the Drake can be very rough, youtube shows some amazing footage which you should check out if you have the time and inclination. This is my favourite (not our video, not our trip but this is the ship we were on).


There are others on board who would disagree with my assessment of a nice gentle crossing and many people have been knocked about with serious sea sickness. That would normally keep the ship’s doctor, the petite Colombian Dr Grace, busy enough, but we learnt this morning that one poor lady met with misadventure overnight, and to prevent a slip in the shower grabbed a door jam just as the heavy door swung closed. Partial thumb amputation by ships door is not a ideal start to an Antarctic voyage. We will be changing our plans a bit and steaming towards the nearest airstrip, on the South Shetland Islands, to allow her to be flown back to civilisation for further medical treatment. So far she is doped on on pain meds and members of our tour have medicated her husband with contraband chocolate.

As mentioned previously, In our min group most travelers opted to go with the Scopoderm sea sickness patches. I’ve never been sea sick before, but there are times when there is no point taking chances so we ordered our patches on the internet from New Zealand.  They aren’t available in Australia. Some others are using anti-nausea wafers and other pills and poultices.  Poor Brigitte seems to be copping the worst of the sea sickness in our group, and Kirsty has brought a nasty cold with her form Disney World and is tucked up in her cabin with the small pharmacy of drugs Todd has stashed away.

While we are on the open ocean there isn’t terribly much to do aboard ship apart form get used to the movement and bird watching on the upper decks. Fortunately this is am amazing experience for me. We have a range of sea birds, albatross, petrels, shearwaters and the much maligned skuas who, for whatever reason, love to glide about the stern of the ship. And they get unbelievably close. So close in some cases that my 70-200 lens couldn’t focus, and it has a minimum focus distance of 95 cms…
This is an uncropped portrait of a skua hovering just above my head and clearly trying to figure out what I was up to.


In addition to my friendly Skua+ we spotted Black-browed Albatross, White Chinned Petrel, Cape Petrel, Giant Petrel and Wandering Albatross, Our daily lecture delivered by Pablo, one of the three biologists on-board, talked a bit about these pelagic birds. It was very interesting to learn that only some birds have a well developed sense of smell; vultures, kiwi and pelagic seabirds like the albatross, shearwaters and petrels.

+This skua photo was actually taken closer to the Shetland islands, but I hadn’t reset my camera dates to the new time zone. Stay tuned for a lessons learned post later this week.

We started on the first full day of the breakfast, lunch and dinner regime. Breakfast consists of toast, fruit croissants, cereal, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, ham etc buffet style. The coffee is pretty ordinary, but it is served to you by some of the funniest, friendly people alive so that is forgiven.

Note: Seeing as I am finishing off these posts after the fact I am going to cheat a little bit and include some information I didn’t know at the time where it makes sense to do so..

The serving staff in the dining room are, in no particular order were;

Fabian, who advised us to  walk-like-a-penguin to avoid losing your balance aboard ship. He also demonstrated the technique to us and Kingsley spent the day practicing. Fabian and Lorri and having a competition to see who is the smiliest person in the universe.  Fabian has the edge only because Lorri is a little green around the gills.

Alvaro, who reminded me of the genius Alexei Sayle, is a man of a thousand and one facial expressions. Working with people who all have different languages means that being able to express yourself using your body language and facial expressions is a great skill, and this man is the master.
Carlos, who came around the dining room every meal to see who was opting for the vegetarian option each day (believe it or not this varied more than you might think). For some reason he would look at me every day as if expecting me to choose the vegetarian option. I didn’t, and can’t help feeling that I disappointed him.  Something about me must look vego for some reason. Carlos has eyebrows that speak volumes.

Over the course of the trip the vegetarian dishes went from the basic to the out and out weird. The corn and white sauce lasagne was perhaps the one that stood out most in my mind.  I wish I’d had the forethought to take pictures of each dish for reference.

Maria Jose played the straight man) to Curly, Larry and Mo. I don’t think she has been on the Ushuaia as long as the others, but she is equally lovely and helpful.

Lunch and dinner are three course affairs, aimed at giving people something to do as much as a attempt to provide a balanced and nutritious diet I think. Edible but not a gastronomes delight would be my summary.. The best thing about the food  were the lovely soups, all served with mountains of fresh bread. Sadly after the last two weeks I have had both bread and cheese up to the eye teeth. Still, no chance of going hungry as there is plenty of food on offer.

Being a captive market I expected the bar prices to be high, but we have been pleasantly surprised.  A very generously poured glass of the house red or white is $5 USD, a bottle of wine ranges between $20 and $40 USD and a cocktail $10 USD. Soft drinks come in at about $3 USD and the tap water is drinking standard, though may start to taste a bit sub standard once the ship has to start processing its own.

Our bar tender for the trip was Alejandra. We quickly discovered that the trick to having drinks with dinner was to purchase them in the bar beforehand and then take them with you to the dining room. Otherwise poor Alejandra was running backwards and forwards from the bar at one end of the ship to the dining room at the other for 88 passengers, all the while keeping one hand for the ship and one for the beverages and glasses. While I’m sure that kept her fit it was also time consuming and you could get to dessert before getting something to wet your whistle..

The bar runs on a chit system, where you bill is accrued during the journey and you pay in cash (USD) at the end or by part payment by credit card two days before return to Ushuaia. This system worked fine, but you need to keep an eye out on the dodgy Australians who try to put your cabin number down instead of their own. 

Day 14–Ushuaia to MV Ushuaia

Day 14–Ushuaia to MV Ushuaia

We had a late breakfast at the hotel before checking out of the hotel, preparing to board our boat, the MV Ushuaia at about 4pm.

Alex had kindly arranged transport down the hill to the port for all our gear so we were relatively unburdened for our walk about town.

The first view of the day was out little boat being dwarfed by some of the big cruise ships in town. Ours is the little blue one on the left being dwarfed by the massive cruise ship behind. From their private balconies we could just see the passengers peering down at us.


The MV Ushuaia was formerly a research vessel, and at some stage in its life a spy vessel for the US government. It’s relatively small size will allow us much greater access once we’re down in the Antarctic peninsular. Some of the big boats aren’t even allowed into those waters, and some of the medium sized ships only offer on or two landings during their 10 day cruises. We’re very happy with our choice, and that was not diminished by looking up at the men and women in their robes sitting on their private balconies.

After being quite smug about our vessel we walked up the hill to the ‘just about everything museum’. It is housed in the former prison. One wing has been left largely as was, small cells which were roughly the size of our cabin aboard.  They did not share a bathroom between two cabins however. At the end of the hall there was a large shower room that looked to be inspired by concentration camps, and toilets, no door of any kind.

The wing was fairly cold, even on a balmy summers day in Ushuaia (17 degrees C). The form of heating used while it was operational appeared to be two wood burning stoves in the corridor that runs between the cells, I imagine winters would not have been all that comfortable.

Ushuaia also used to have an art and craft workshop to help rehabilitate child inmates who arrived here. The first convicts to be sent to Ushuaia were hand picked because of the skills they could bring to develop the town. During the wars political prisoners were also housed here.

The museum wing has a guided tour, but only in Spanish.  It appeared to involve a lot of standing around and being spoken at so I don’t think we missed out. There are audio guides for hire at 50 pesos.  We didn’t both with that either, and most exhibits had both Spanish and English signs.

A significant part of the museum had photos of comparative prisons around the world. There were a number of Australian mentions, including Port Aurther and Fremantle.

The maritime section has number of model ships and a plethora of dioramas. We learnt that the first tourist ship to visit Antarctica went in 1958, called Liberato, and from the picture it looks like it was larger than the one we are on now.

For 200 pesos each ($20) it was interesting enough, and good to be supporting the community. Kingsley thought the unused wing would make a great backpackers and has it in his head we should find a disused prison somewhere to convert.

After being served paella by a very tall man in a touristy sort of restaurant that seems to cater for the big cruise ships coming into town, we had two objectives. The first was to find a spare lens cloth just in case, and the second to find coffee and cake. Despite there being three camera shops and two optometrists in town none had a cloth for me.  And we wandered through town looking for an open coffee shop and failed to find what we were after.

Also notable is that most shops close down for the period between 1 and 3:30. Another oddity for a tourist town.  They also make it hard for you to spend money here. If you want to use a credit card you’ll need to swipe / insert your card, use your pin, sign and provide ID(drivers license or passport). Using an ATM to get cash is even harder. There is a limit of wither 1000 or 2000 peso for each bank, And 4 out of 5 ATMs I tried to use keep telling me I had entered an invalid amount, even though I selected from the menu. We do have USD with us and most places will accept those, after some checking with supervisor.

3 o’clock came around and we met up with the rest of the group at the port. We were warmly welcomed aboard the boat by the crew and they have been the nicest, smiliest people we have encountered in Argentina so far. Frederico and Valentine being the exceptions to prove the rule of course.

The MV Ushuaia was formerly a research vessel, and at some stage in its life a spy vessel for the US government. It’s relatively small size will allow us much greater access once we’re down in the Antarctic peninsular. Some of the big boats aren’t even allowed into those waters, and some of the medium sized ships only offer on or two landings during their 10 day cruises. We’re very happy with our choice, and that was not diminished by looking up at the men and women in their robes sitting on their private balconies.

Having been warned of the dangers of sea sickness over DrakesPassage, most of the group opted to use patches.Some experienced a bit of spaceyness and dry mouth.  So far Kingsley and I have possibly been a little vaguer than usual but that’s it.

Once aboard we needed to listen to a safety induction by our expedition leader, Monika, with a focus on heavy doors and keeping you fingers out of door jams, and a life boat drill.  All very organised. There are three biologists aboard who will be giving lectures and coming along on landings.
The food is not very adventurous, but I guess a lot of people they may not be eating much over the next few days.

Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Breakfast at the hotel is a bit sparse, but seeing as we managed to turn down the heat in our room I’m happy. Internet speed is still woeful. First world problems. I know. The air fresher that attacks in the hallways is also a mild irritant.
Happily we were out and about today on a tour of Tierra del Fuego with Canal Fun tours, organised by co-traveler, animal rescuer and fellow bird lover, Fiona.

Our guide, Valentine, and canoe specialist Frederico, were very entertaining, informative, funny and accommodating. Couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Patagonia. Some of what I report here may be false however as Valentine tried to convince us that horse poo came from the Antarctic Mosquito (or something to that effect). Blame him for anything here that isn’t completely factual.

I can say with certainty that today was the perfect weather for a canoe / raft ride and a hike through the serene national park. It was about 17 degrees, with a breeze and a few sprinkles of rain. With layers that went on and off like a strobe light we were very comfortable.

While others were using the ‘organised toilet’, Kingsley, Nicole and I were lucky enough to see a Condor circling overhead. I have a few photos which are really just black specs so verifying them as a condor might be tricky, but Valentine said it was (see disclaimer above).

Other wildlife spotted included two types of falcon, the ash headed and the Upland ducks (both with chicks), an endemic red fox, miscellaneous small song/bush birds and black necked swans (sort of a like a top deck style swan). Dave saw a beaver, but our boat was too busy paddling around in 360 degree circles to see that one. We all looked rather special in our waterproof pants though.

We learnt a little bit about the history of Ushuaia, which I hope to consolidate with a trip to the maritime museum tomorrow. You all know how I love a good maritime museum. Like many parts of Australia, Ushuaia has some of its relatively recent roots as a prison colony.  Keeping prisoners geographically separate to the general population always helps to hide all the atrocities you might like to inflict on them after all (seems to work for equally well where people have committed no crimes and it is merely convenient to shut them away for no good reason but I’ll resist the urge to get too political here and now). Islands are especially popular for this.

The Europeans also manged to wipe out the local indigenous, Yamana,  population by introducing diseases. Again, a sadly familiar story to back home.

We did learn that Patagonia stems from the term big foot, related to the indigenous population who were not only tall, with big feet, but who wrapped them in skins as shoes, making their footprints seem even larger. And that aia translates to bay from the Yamana language to English.

The first part of our tour involved a paddle in an inflatable boat.  Call it a raft or canoe as it suits you best. The very best of the ‘’rapids’ we went over meant that we didn’t have to paddle to move, so no risk of toppling over as long as no one stood up. No one did. We could have benefited form a bit more paddling and steering practice but we got where we needed to be in the time allotted, without falling in, and allowing appropriate time for photographs along the way so well done us I say.

We have a  number of vegetarians on our trip, and this was specified when the tour was booked. One way or another that message didn’t get through to catering so there was a bit of rearrangement at lunch.  I think that the staff ended up eating the chicken dinner while our vege travelers ate their lunch.  I can’t be certain.

We got to see some of the damage I had read about  by beavers introduced to south america form north america. In the wisdom that has been repeated worldwide some enterprising soul thought that setting up a fur trade (yes, not a good plan even if it had worked out) in south america was a good idea. So they brought 25 mating pairs of beaver from Canada and deposited them in South America.
The chronicles of Narnia and a trip to Canada as a child leaves me predisposed to like beavers, but everything has its place, and the beaver does not belong here.

Beaver gnawed tree
devastation caused by cute little beavers

Not only is the climate so different to where they come from that the fur they produced was worthless, but there are no natural predators so the beavers set to work terraforming the environment, cutting down some trees and drowning others with their dams. Clever critters, in totally the wrong place. There is a now a program in place to eradicate them. Sucks to be a beaver in the wrong place, but that applies equally to rabbits, cane toads and the long, long list of our other F&*^ ups.

And less that 20 years ago, when people really should have known better, salmon were introduced to the rivers and now have to be eliminated as they out compete everything here.  For a very clever species we are dumb as rocks.

On our hike we saw a couple of different orchids.  I know Jon would have stopped there and we would have had to send Pepe out looking for him. The vegetation is a mixture of forest and meadow land. The tree line finishes at roughly 700m (that’s from memory so don’t go basing a thesis on it). We were well, well under that, but looking up at mountains on both the Chile and Argentinian side. Because of the climate everything takes much longer to break down.

It was lovely to get to know some of the people were will be traveling with over the next 11 days or so. There is the off chance some of them will be reading this, but I can genuinely say they are a great bunch of folk and I’ll looking forward to getting to know them better. Given my normal aversion to people that’s saying a lot.

I’m not much of a landscape photographer.  Landscape really is about planning to be at the right spot, at the right time of day, at the right time of year, while scratching your right ear with a four leaf lover, well you get the idea. My challenge today was remembering to switch back from landscape setting when I saw something interesting (ie birds). There were a few occasions that were a massive fail, but at least I learnt that today and hopefully will manage not to repeat this when I’m on the next continent.

And tomorrow is the day we set off. That means no more posts will be published until we’re back here. I will endeavor to write them up every day though.

Other fun facts.

Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city.

Argentina legalised same sex marriage in 2010 (come on Australia, get out of the dark ages already) and that the first Latin American marriage was conducted here in Ushuaia.

Tierre del Fuego National Park is approx 68,000 hectares in size and home to roughly 50 horses as well as a range of endemic wildlife and introduced pests.

The average temperature year round in 5 degrees C. It has an average winter temperature of 0 degrees, moderated by the proximity to the ocean.