We took the Crown Range Road from Queenstown to Wanaka, there’s a very nice lookout at the top of the road (Arrow Junction Lookout point), we stopped here and I snapped an eleven shot panorama with my FA43 (portrait mode). These panoramas always end up being ultra wide because I don’t take the second layer of pictures on top to get more resolution. Due to the massive resolution of my K-1, this picture is probably somewhere in the region of 180MP at full resolution, I didn’t process it at full resolution due to the ridiculous size I’d have to work with, and the fact that it will probably only be displayed here.
The drive up the road is fun, and the view is amazing, it’s probably even better when you get to the top of the road (Crown Range Summit), there’s a lookout point that seems a bit hairy to get to (just on the shoulder) but well worth it, actually looks like there’s a walking track there too. And with that, I think I’m done with posting my pictures from this visit of New Zealand (I’ll be adding to Flickr for a while still though), I was going to post another Throwback Thursday this week, but it’s probably a bad thing if the only content here is archived news, so I’ll save that for next week.
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We had no plans on our last day other than to visit one of the local markets in Queenstown. I also wanted to go to Kawarau Bridge to see (not do, too old for it these days) some bungy action, the other thing that I was thinking about doing was driving up to one of the nearby ski resorts to check out the view, whether it be Coronet Peak, or the Remarkables (lucky we didn’t, I just saw today that it was Treble Cone that has the really nice view), but wimped out due to cold.
The market was small as you’d expect, but Emmy managed to find some interesting things, Oscar and I went to look at the ducks swimming in the lake. After about half an hour we left and went looking for something else, I can’t remember the reason exactly but we drove up the road toward Arrowtown and ended up turning off the Shotover Jet (boat) site, Arthurs Point.
I should’ve taken some pictures of the boat but I was lazy, and it was also too bright to take pictures of the bridge over the gorge, so I ended up with nothing again (have to remember that something is better than nothing in future!). We then went back to Queenstown to grab some lunch from Ferg Baker which is also run by the Ferg Burger crew and right next door. The pies were okay, reasonable value at least at about 4.50$ a pop. Then we drove up to Glenorchy-Queenstown Road and stopped by the roadside to eat them. I managed to stall long enough to snap up some long multi-exposure shots too.
Worked out pretty well, didn’t quite get the mirror effect in the lake that I was after because of some boats (mainly TSS Earnslaw but also a couple of jet boats too) but the end result looks pretty good to me. I managed to convince Emmy that we should go watch the bungy at Kawarau Bridge since it is quite close to Queenstown.
Well, it isn’t quite as close as I thought but not too far, only about 25 minutes if I remember correctly. It was worth it in the end, we had some good fun watching the (mostly girls) jumpers. Most of them did pretty well and jumped quite quickly, there was only one girl that took a lot of coaxing and then eventually a little nudge to go over. Probably about half o a bit less than half of the jumpers sort of walked off the edge and bungied feet first which looks kind of awkward.
I also managed to capture some pretty sweet shots of the jumpers mid jump, I had the AFC mode on and tried to follow them down, from my perspective it seemed a bit random, but the camera looks to have captured them pretty well.
I didn’t think that I was able to keep the subject in focus as they were moving pretty quickly but the focus looks pretty spot on in these pictures.
I threw the DFA100 macro on and put the camera in AFC to see if I could get anything, and I was a bit surprised that the picture came out all right, so I kept trying and managed to get a few keepers. I think I ended up taking pictures of seven different jumpers and I got an in-focus shot of each, so I was pretty happy. Just having a look at the pictures, maybe something like 150mm-200mm would’ve been ideal but obviously I don’t have such a lens. The DFA 100 did pretty well for a pretty slow focusing lens, and the sharpness is definitely nothing to sneeze at.
We then drove back to Queenstown where Emmy did some more last minute shopping before we headed to the airport. On the way, we dropped off our car at the Go Rentals hire centre (very short ride to the airport). We hired a Toyota Corolla hatchback (just like last time) as we weren’t driving off road or anything crazy, the car was in pretty good condition and drove very smoothly, no complaints from me. It had the infant seat installed which didn’t need any adjustment on our part and while Oscar complained a lot, he does that in our car with the seat he’s been riding in for a couple years now.
It wasn’t the cheapest car, it certainly wasn’t the most expensive, but it was the best balance of reliable car and price, and insurance/excess conditions. The short shuttle ride from the airport to the car hire pickup location was a bit annoying because it was cold and rainy when we arrived, but I would use them again.
We stayed at the Heritage Queenstown, which is a four (?) star hotel at the southwestern end of Queenstown, it’s a little bit of a walk into town but we drove everywhere so no difference for us. We did not fork out for the lake view which we instantly regretted upon driving past the lake on the way to the hotel and then walking into our room. The beds were quite soft, and I wonder if requesting a firmer mattress would have achieved anything, maybe I will try that next time. Overall, the hotel was good but I wonder where you would park your car if the hotel car park was full. We were hoping to use the swimming pool but it is not heated and outdoors so we didn’t bother, even the spa is outdoors albeit completely under cover. We’d stay there again if the price was still a reasonable value, maybe in a lake view room though.
One last note, we had dinner at the airport because of the timing of our flight, and the Airspresso diner was actually quite reasonable for taste and value. I had a cheese burger with chips, and Emmy and Oscar shared a mac and cheese, probably better than most places outside without having a major airport tax.
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For our last full day in New Zealand, we went for a drive up to Wanaka via the Crown Range Road. To say that this is a fun drive would be an understatement, it winds its way up a hill to a nice lookout where you can see very far (I will post a panorama of this view in a later post). Then winds its way back down to the small town of Cardrona before making its way to Wanaka.
This is where I have to apologise because we arrived at lunch time and the sun was quite high and bright, and for some reason I decided not to take any pictures at all! So I have no pictures of the beautiful lake and the view to Mount Aspiring, honestly no idea what I was thinking (I think I was thinking we’d be back later in the evening with better light, or hopefully some clouds).
We didn’t end up doing much other than a short stroll along the lake side and lunch from a bakery. Oscar had some fun at the local playground but otherwise we didn’t really see anything locally. After lunch we went for a drive to see if there was something nice to look at, the sign at the entrance to town said Glendhu Bay, so we went in that direction hoping for something nice. We drove past Roys Peak which was really busy, looked like a good walk (and now that I googled it, looks like something to do in future for sure).
We got to Glendhu Bay but didn’t see much other than a lot of camper vans. There was a sign that went off road to Motatipu Gorge so we thought, let’s just drive up there and see what it is.
As soon as we turned off the main road it became gravel, and then dirt road, so the 6km drive ended up taking about 20 minutes to reach the end of the road. There’s a walking track there that follows the river, but we just went down and had a little look before leaving and driving back to Queenstown. It’s funny, this was a bit of a random venture and I realised once we got out of the car that I came to this same place ten years ago and probably came to the same conclusion then. At least this time I had a camera with more functions allowing me to take a picture that I could be happy with.
[Update]: Forgot to mention that there are some seriously nasty mosquitoes along this river/stream, my top was not covering my back near my waist, and I ended up with four or five bites on my back, plus two more on my wrist. They were really itchy bites too, damn, it wasn’t that warm, but they must be alpine mozzies or something.
So back to Queenstown but this time rather than going over the Crown Range Road again we went the other way via Cromwell. We stopped at Lake Dunstan which has a beautiful mirror effect (if the water is still enough) but it was a bit late by the time I was finished there so we carried on back to Queenstown from there. We also stopped at the Roaring Meg lookout which I might post a picture of in a later post (HDR). It was not the nicest drive back to Queenstown from there as the sun was setting and pretty much blinding us although driving through that canyon is quite cool.
So for our last proper meal in Queenstown we went with seafood, and Fishbone was our choice. It’s quite expensive if you’re just after fish and chips so probably not the place to go for that, but there was plenty of variety for seafood. Emmy was really after mussels so she ended up going for the fish stew, and I went with one of the recommended specials, lemon sole.
My fish was quite good, the lemon giving it a good little zest, the fish stew came with some nice crusty bread, and I’m sure it was quite good too. Oscar was getting to be a real pain at dinner times by this time of the trip so we pretty much ended up getting out as quickly as possible. I’d recommend this place for seafood if you get that craving in Queenstown. Our last day in Queenstown next, where we didn’t do a lot, but still managed to try out a few functions on my camera.
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We had some good weather to end our trip, and for the first of these nice days, we headed for Arrowtown, just a 20 minute drive from Queenstown. It’s an historic gold mining town and is known for its spectacular Autumn colours. There are also a lot of little shops to keep the ladies interested, as well as a museum where you can learn about the history of the area. There are a few walking trails out the back of the town where you can really enjoy the Autumn colours, and I guess it can be called a river, although it’s quite shallow (I wouldn’t cross it in sneakers though).
Before doing anything, we made our way to The Chop Shop for breakfast since Emmy didn’t have anything and us boyd only had some corn flakes earlier. It was okay, but nothing special, I had scrambled eggs, Emmy had the special corn fritters (spicy caramel was a bit sweet still), and Oscar had some kind of super ridiculously sweet babycino. I’d already had a bit for breakfast so I just went for something simple so as not to spoil my appetite for lunch.
The museum is really quite interesting (especially for me being of Chinese descent), I think it’s built into an original town building and you can see a lot of the historical tools that were used, as well as learn about the Chinese “invasion” that occurred during the gold rush. That was our morning, looking at some shops and then the museum.
We had lunch at the Arrowtown bakery (as a money saving move), turned out to be a good idea as the food was reasonably priced and tasty. I had the mince and cheese pie (pie, peas, potato deal) that comes with peas and mashed potatoes with gravy. It wasn’t my first choice but they seemed to be having a shortage at the time. After that, it was time to enjoy some Autumn colours, along the way we wandered through the historic Chinese settlement (restored) to see how these gold seekers lived, must’ve been hard that’s for sure.
We wandered back along the trail and along the river but turned out that we were on the wrong side of the stream, so we couldn’t get back to the car park without getting our feet wet. So we had to stroll back and around the stream before we could head off.
It was a bit too late to visit Cromwell as I had originally thought might be possible, so instead we stopped by Lake Hayes and then again at one of the stopping points along the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road to shoot the Remarkables at sunset. Lake Hayes was a bit random, but we were driving back to Queenstown and drove past this lake, and the sun was shining, and the clouds were whisping (?), so I decided that it might be worthwhile, turns out it was, the mountains around the lake make for some breathtaking views, and it’s only 15 minutes from Queenstown on the way back from Arrowtown.
We finished off the day by having dinner at Bombay Palace which is down the bottom of the main road (Shotover St) clustered with a few other Indian restaurants. It’s a chain (since we saw one in Wanaka too), and it was the only Indian restaurant in that section that didn’t have a tout out the front. Won us over already (also had more people eating than the other places), I had the lamb vindaloo, and Emmy had the chicken tikka masala (so that Oscar could have some if he felt like it).
I was happy with mine, ordered it hot (not Indian hot) and it was just the right spice level, flavour was good (comparable to Tandoori Den LOL) and the lamb was tender. The service was good and the restaurant comfortable, so two thumbs up from me.
Next up, we visit Wanaka.
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A dreary morning that we spent in town looking at art galleries was followed by a short drive up to Glenorchy, which turned out to be one of the real highlights of our trip. So having read the forecast correctly this time, we decided to stay in Queenstown and visit some of the local galleries and check out the local artwork in the morning. There are a quite a number of galleries with varying types of works, we mostly looked at paintings and photos, but there were some sculptures mixed in too. We had fish and chips at the local Erik’s Fish and Chips before driving up to Glenorchy in the afternoon.
Stopping several times along the windy Glenorchy-Queenstown Road to take in the beautiful views before arriving in Glenorchy about an hour later, it’s definitely one of the best drives you’ll find. I’d rate it above the Great Ocean Road based on scenery for sure. We visited Mrs. Woollys General Store to see what they had in stock, and fortunately for us (Oscar having discovered the fun of jumping in puddles earlier that day) we managed to find a pair of gumboots just the right size for him.
After that little bit of shopping we went down to the pier and the lagoon to take some more photos of the beautiful scenery around. What a picturesque little town, and we didn’t even visit the Glenorchy Animal Experience (which is a place to visit farm animals for the kids), I think we’d definitely visit again next time. The clouds were a bit too thick while we were there so I couldn’t take the exact pictures I wanted, but got some good stuff nonetheless. Before heading back to Queenstown we visited Mrs. Woollys General Store again for some hot chocolate, the spicy hot choc is two thumbs up!
After getting back, Emmy was feeling like steak (unbelievable I know) so we went to a reasonably priced steak house, Flame Grill, found on tripadvisor. The ribs were recommended so I went with that since Emmy was feeling like steak, she had the rib-eye. Both good choices, the steak was cooked medium rare just right, and the ribs were flavourful without being salty. We got a serve of grilled cheesy portobello mushrooms for Oscar which was quite a big serve. Definitely a recommend.
Next up, Arrowtown.
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We set the alarm for 6 with the hope of leaving by 7am, on the long drive to Milford Sound, we got out by 7.20am so that was a victory. And so we set off on the four hour drive to Milford Sound via Te Anau hoping that the good weather forecast for Queenstown would carry over to Milford Sound. Silly me, I really should’ve checked the forecast for Milford Sound as it turned out to be a miserable afternoon there while beautiful weather cloaked Queenstown and surrounds all day. I didn’t even manage to capture any of the beauty of the pink sunrise (the Remarkables were looking especially photogenic) due to not wanting to cost us any travel time.
We stopped in Te Anau to have a snack and also pick up some food for lunch, we went with a bakery at the end of the main street near the lake, but it was quite over priced and turned out to be not great. The sandwiches we go were really average and the sauce that was inside made everything soggy, it is called Miles Better Pies, the pies were okay if expensive, but stay away from the sandwiches.
On we drove, and while we stopped at a couple of the viewing spots, I didn’t deem them worthy of a photo, it was mainly due to the time, bright morning light is not my favourite. One stop, Mirror Lakes was good according to Emmy but there were so many tourist buses there it kind of defeated the purpose. At this point the weather was still reasonable, but just before we got to Homer Tunnel it started to rain, and didn’t stop until we were well on our way back to Queenstown.
Even so (for me anyway), Milford Sound is still worth the visit, the landscape and waterfalls are beautiful and flowing fast in this kind of weather, although we barely even caught a glimpse of Mitre Peak. We did see some silly fat seals lying on the rocks (one even splashing in the water a bit), but no penguins this time. We went with the cheapest cruise that we could find, Jucy Cruise, which was fine, they’re all pretty much the same although I think some others might go a bit closer to the cliffs and waterfalls.
It was a bit unfortunate that we spent eight hours driving for the day, and then two hours on the cruise sitting inside avoiding the rain mostly, but live and learn, check the forecast for Milford Sound properly next time! I’ve been lucky enough to see it in sunny and rainy conditions now but for Emmy it was not to be, maybe next time we will stay nearby to avoid the long drive. It was a bit late when we got back so we just had dinner at the Hotel. My pork belly (with kumara rosti) was okay but Emmy said her fish and potatoes was bland.
Next up, a visit to Glenorchy.
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Hello, I forgot to mention that I was taking the fam to New Zealand (Queenstown to be exact) last week, and that I’d be taking the newest addition to my family, my Pentax K-1 as well. I’ll probably post something on the K-1 after I’m done with the New Zealand stuff (as I’ll have had plenty more time to evaluate it (it’s been about a month so far). But anyway, we jumped on to a Jetstar sale and took a week off to try and catch some Autumn colours across the Tasman. Queenstown has to be one of my absolute favourite places to visit, there is just so much to do and see there, that my landscape eye never gets tired, except after driving for a few hours on not much sleep.
Our flight left Melbourne at 6.15am, which meant that we had to get out of the house at about 3am which wasn’t fun, and then to make matters a bit worse, the weather in Queenstown awaiting our arrival was unruly as well. Fierce winds meant that we had to circle the airport twice before the pilot decided it was safer to fly to Christchurch for the time being. After a short stopover it was decided that we’d have another go at flying to Queenstown, third time was a charm and despite some turbulence (it felt like) on the landing we landed okay about three hours late (3pm).
So with half the day gone and the timezone a couple hours faster, we ended up just skipping lunch and going straight to dinner. I took the kids to Winnies which is a pizza place, the highest rated in Queenstown, I went there ten years ago with Alf, and it is still good. We didn’t get garlic bread this time (:(), but a half and half (pescara/seafood and Luigi’s Italian), a kumara salad, and the soup of the day (mushroom and blue cheese).
The pizza was pretty good (both halves), the salad was hearty, and the soup (was for Oscar, but he decided that he was going to make sure he got the most out of his terrible two’s and not eat it) was creamy and rich. It was too much food, but I managed to finish off the pizza and salad at least.
The Monteith’s black that I tried wasn’t half bad either, in fact, it was very good. We decided to call it a day early so that we could rest up for the next day.
We decided to take a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw the next day, and with no plans for lunch we took the gourmet BBQ option, we managed to squeeze on to the 12pm option having only arrived at the booking office at 10am. The cruise is about fifty minutes one way, and about 3 and a half hours in total (including lunch) so you have about an hour for lunch, and then 30-40 minutes to wander around and also watch a sheep dog and sheep shearing demonstration. Lunch is a buffet and is of a very high quality, I tried all the meats, my favourite being the pulled pork, the lamb was second. The salads were good, and then for dessert, being full already I just had a serve of chocolate mousse and a serve of raspberry sorbet. There was also cake and chocolate brownies, etc, but unfortunately I ate too much before dessert. Had the Queenstown Brewers Wry Red which went very well with lunch.
The cruise itself was very smooth, the boat doesn’t rock at all, and you get some great views of the lake surrounds from the upper deck and can even see the crew hard at work in the (coal fired) engine room downstairs (nice and toasty down there).
With nice weather I decided that we should head up to Bob’s Peak to check out the view before dinner. Since it was a bit later than I first planned I decided that it was better just to take the gondola up and down rather than hiking up and gondoling down (especially with a toddler in tow). I wanted to ride the luge but nobody was with me, so I just went up to the viewing deck and staked out a few different angles (still ended up with the same picture I took ten years ago! not quite as wide though). There’s basically one really good spot up there where you won’t be blocked by any obstacles and you get the best angle, but two guys had already staked out that spot so I had to settle for roving around looking for some slightly different shots.
This very famous burger joint was our destination for dinner, and fortunately it was a Monday because the lines outside this place seem to get longer as the week gets goes, by Friday and Saturday, it’s just completely packed at night (even during the day too). There isn’t much seating space so we just got take away and ate back at the hotel. It’s a pretty good deal, we just got the basic burgers (Ferg) which are a decent size (and a kids burger for Oscar), it’s hard to find a similar value meal for the price in town (probably why it’s so popular).
With such clear weather I decided to try my hand at some night photography, specifically trying to catch the milky way. I’ve done long exposures to capture star trails before, but I wasn’t going to be taking enough time to get any interesting star trails, but with my new camera, getting the milky way would be something that I coiuld definitely attempt. My aim was to get the milky way hovering above the Remarkables or some kind of mountain for reference, I managed to capture something, and while it may not be great, I was certainly very pleased for a first try. I’ll be able to learn from this and hopefully produce something even better in future. Next day, Milford Sound, a lot of driving, how will we go?
93 total views, no views today
As I said before, we didn’t do too much in terms of touristic things in Tokyo, shopping and eating is sort of touristy but you can do that anywhere. We attended a tea ceremony lesson (thanks to Emmy’s friend), decided to have a quick look at the Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba Marine Park one night, and I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen our last afternoon in Japan to try and chill out before going home. And even that isn’t really that touristy since a stroll through the park is a normal thing anywhere.
The tea ceremony is an interesting thing, and the tea ceremony lesson is possibly even more interesting. We were invited (I think) to attend the lesson as guests so we didn’t have to do anything except drink tea and eat sweets, although we did have to stir our own tea one time. I was sitting there observing it all, and while it didn’t look like much, I am pretty sure pretty much everything the teacher was doing was following a very specific routine, e.g. which hand to use to place a hanky down, and which hand to lift a bowl, and when to move this or that.
It had to be very precise, I’m sure of it, I’m not making it more than it was, the Japanese are very OCD like that, it would seem to be very easy to mess up while learning, but after enough practice it would become a habit to follow all the steps precisely I would think. We got to eat some yummy sweets and learn how to stir the green tea (not in a round motion, but back and forth) before heading out for dinner (more on that in a later post).
One evening we were at home, I think it was the Tuesday, the weather was clear and we were just going to go shopping, but I thought it might be a good idea to visit Odaiba Marine Park and get a view of the Rainbow Bridge from across the bay. The train ride was an interesting one as it is on a newer train line that runs on different tracks (or something), and even goes over the Rainbow Bridge. Turns out that we were far too late as the nightly light show had already finished and it was pretty dark with nothing much to see. We walked along the path and headed toward one of the boardwalk piers, the bridge was still illuminated so there was at least that to look at. It did look nice, though it probably would have been worth spending a half day in Odaiba and finishing with the night view of the bridge.
Our final full day in Tokyo (and Japan) we did some shopping in the morning (yay for me! I got some stuff), and then after lunch Emmy carried on with that while I took Oscar to Shinjuku Gyoen for a good wander. It closes quite early 4.00pm (gates close 4.30pm) and having only arrived at around 3pm I didn’t have as much time as I ended needing, as I had to rush about before I even got to enjoy the Japanese Garden portion properly.
I think next time I’ll definitely try to arrive at around 1.30pm or so, then I can take my time and enjoy it more peacefully. Even so, we were able to follow the route and see several areas of the park, including a few ponds, bridges, and maple trees, and with the NTT Docomo Building poking its head in. There was a chrysanthemum flower festival or something as there were many displays with all different kinds of chrysanthemums, some growing at very peculiar angles, they were quite nice, although I’m sure Emmy would not approve. I was really impressed by the park and will definitely make it a higher priority next time I’m in Tokyo.
That’s pretty much it, the tour is finished, but, I will regale you with more details on some of the food we ate as well as the places we stayed in the next couple of posts. Kaiseki in Kyoto wasn’t the only delight we lavished on ourselves, in Japan, there is always something delectable around the corner, and the same can be said of dtraCorp :D.
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One more morning in Kawaguchi-ko, and the weather was amazingly clear so we decided to head back up the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway to get some good views of Mount Fuji before catching a bus to Tokyo. Too bad the bright daylight haze settled in by the time we got up to the lookout, it was super busy and the queue was over 20 minutes long when we joined (which wasn’t as early as I would have liked). Oh well, you have to make do with what you have, and I think we had a pretty successful morning nonetheless.
We hurried to pack all of our stuff so that we could check out and go up the ropeway as soon as possible, and even then we didn’t manage to leave until about 10.30am. Once we got to the Mount Kachi Kachi ropeway entrance we saw a line, not a good sign as at the end the wait was twenty minutes so we jumped in to reserve our spot. The line moved at a reasonable pace and eventually we got to ride up and it’s only a three minute trip.
We had a quick wander around before we went looking for our spot, which is a small clearing on the way to the Mount Tenjo shrine. There is a bench there and a good view of Mount Fuji, we aimed to recreate a romatntic pose that we did on our first trip to Japan but this time with an additional participant. After a few tries, and then a few more (thanks to the endless stream of other tourists walking past), we finally managed to get the shot we were after.
Afterward we continued along the trail toward the Mount Tenjo summit and shrine, it’s a great little stroll as the trees lining the trail are all coloured in brilliant Autumn colours (yellow at the time). The hike to Mount Mitsutoge is a further three hours (so six hours return), this will be my target the next time we are in the area as I’m not sure that I’ll ever summit Mount Fuji. I am pretty sure that there would be some excellent views of Mount Fuji along the trail as well as other nice things to look at, it was extremely busy being a Sunday with fine weather, so maybe next time we will try to visit the area on a weekday.
Finally it was time to go and head back to the station and get a bus to Tokyo, unfortunately, having not booked tickets beforehand, and this being a Sunday with very nice weather, there were a lot of people trying to get on to a set number of buses. We managed to get ourselves on to a bus headed for Tokyo station (as opposed to Shinjuku) that was supposed to take two hours. Well, it tooks four and half and little Oscar was getting pretty restless by the time we were nearing Tokyo, fortunately the super moon was coming (he loves the moon), so that was an interesting distraction for him for part of the ride.
So to conclude, never catch a bus on a Sunday (maybe Saturdays too) afternoon during peak season in Kawaguchi-ko headed for Tokyo, especially not when the weather is basically perfect (except for the lack of fluffy clouds). You’ll be stuck in traffic for hours. Next, we’re on the home stretch, Tokyo, which was mostly shopping and eating :D.
251 total views, 1 views today
On our final full day in Kawaguchi-ko, we joined the hostel day tour around the Mount Fuji area, which would take us to Fuji Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida, the fifth station at Mount Fuji, Aokigahara lava forest, Shiraito Falls, and Lake Motosu. So a busy day indeed and the tour starts at 9am. The first stop was the station to pick up some more tourists, but then on to Fujiyoshida and the Fuji Sengen Shrine (the actual name is even longer but I won’t go into that).
This shrine is where the cult of Mount Fuji was based and where a lot of trekkers might begin their trip to summit Fuji-san, that is the long way, that’s for sure as it is starting right from the bottom.
The trail begins at the back of the shrine and goes all the way up to the fifth station, where you continue to the peak of the mountain. We got a good explanation of the shrine, the very old trees, a few of them are older than 900 years old, the biggest ones, they’re pretty obvious. There are plenty of maple trees and other colourful trees as well so it’s also quite a photogenic shrine.
You can’t actually see Fuji-san from the shrine because there’s basically a forest surrounding it, but you can see a lovely place and also make a wish. The shrine was probably the highlight of the tour even though Fuji-san wasn’t even visible from there. It is a beautiful and peaceful place and we didn’t have as much time at the waterfall or Lake Motosu as I would have liked (fading light played a part, but also guided tours are like that), so that’s the qualifier.
The next stop was the fifth station, well one of the fifth stations, the Fuji-Yoshida fifth station which is the highest point that buses travel to, so this is where a lot of people start their treks from. There were a lot of people cycling up the roads which looked like a lot of fun too, but obviously I didn’t have my bike. It’s already at about 2300m altitude so it reduces the summit climb to a day trip or overnighter if you so wish. We actually stopped at a point just before the fifth station, this was a great idea by our tour guide, Masa san, as it was below the cloud line and we could get views of the southern Japanese alps as well as up Mount Fuji itself. The fifth station itself was pretty boring, not much to see, it was above the cloud line so just mist everywhere, I had a look at the trail (which was closed) but there wasn’t much to see there either. There are a lot of shops at the fifth station as there are on the summit (but only during Summer) but nothing special or different there that I’m aware of.
We returned to the hostel for lunch (which I grabbed from 7 Eleven) before heading to the next stop, the Aokigahara lava forest. This forest is interesting for a few reasons, first the roots of the trees can’t dig very far into the ground because of the lava below the top soil, and so the tree roots are above ground a lot, and because of this they don’t have very strong holds and don’t live too long (tens of years) before falling. Second, there are many caves in the area, created by the lava flow hundreds and thousands of years before, we visited one but didn’t go in as we didn’t have caving gear obviously. Finally, and most macabre of all, this forest is known as the suicide forest, because in parts of the forest are very remote and many people decide that they would wander in without the thought of returning. Not the section we visited though, I didn’t see any skeletons that’s for sure!
Just before sunset we arrived at Shiraito Falls, one of Japan’s 100 most beautiful, and one of the places I definitely wanted to visit while in Kawaguchi-ko. It was one of the main reasons we went on the tour as we wanted to see the falls but the difficulty (i.e. price and timing) in visiting the falls meant that it wouldn’t be particularly good value (time wise and on the pocket), they’re very pretty and with full Autumn colour would have been particularly spectacular. Unfortunately the tour didn’t also include Otodome Falls which is only a couple hundred metres away as I wanted to see that also but I was already the last one back from Shiraito, I didn’t want to cause my delays or trouble.
We were driving to our final destination, Lake Motosu (one of the five lakes in the area, and the one featured on the 1000¥ bill) and looking out the window you could see Mount Fuji but with a thick layer of cloud moving around it. There were many photographers parked on the sides of roads with their cameras and tripods out at the ready, and myself unfortunately stuck on a moving bus. We finally arrived at the lookout point for Lake Motosu and I grabbed my tripod and camera bag and quickly set up in a good spot (there were only about 10 people there when we arrived).
It was two nights before the super moon so we were able to witness a reasonable sized moon posing with Fuji-san, and by the time we left, the lookout point was packed with probably 20-30 people and their tripods standing shoulder to shoulder trying to snap pictures of the mountain in the dark. By that time though the cloud had pretty much completely enveloped Fuji-san and all that was left was the lake and the moon. I’m not sure if it was particularly windy or not but I wasn’t able to capture any reflection in the lake at all which was a minor disappointment. Amazingly, that first afternoon that we arrived was to be the best view (in terms of clarity, due to the time) we had of Mount Fuji for the whole time we were in Kawaguchi-ko, we got clear views of it our last two days but it was either too bright and hazy, or dark and cloudy.
Afterwards we went and had Hoto again at Hoto Kosaku this time (the same place we went to the first time we visited Kawaguchi-ko), but I’ll have more on that later, it was great though. Next stop, final half day in Kawaguchi-ko, what I want to do next time, and arriving in Tokyo.
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