Pristine white powdery sand between your toes, blue skies, a world-class surf break off shore, miles of national park with not a house in sight and more cheese than you could ever eat. Sound like heaven? Well, despite what you might be thinking from the above shot, we’re not in the Whitsundays (surf should have been a dead giveaway…).
Our latest project took us soaring high into the sky, as Kirkhope Aviation’s Piper Chieftain expertly piloted by Tony took us on a short panoramic loop above Melbourne’s spectacular CBD, followed by the scenic route across Port Philip Bay past the Great Ocean Road towards Tasmania. After an overcast morning, the clouds parted in multiple layers as streams of golden sunshine spilled on the ocean below and our destination came into sight. Nestled between the Great Australian Bight and the Bass Strait, approximately half way to the Tasmanian mainland is King Island, handily not named after a king, but someone with the surname King, who was actually a Colonial Governor of New South Wales. Go Aussie naming.
As we approached the tiny airport, our group started chatting animatedly about the landscape aerial view, the rugged coastline and near emptiness of lush green grasslands. Due to the plane’s size (7 passengers plus pilot), everyone got a window seat, and with more legroom than you can do a can-can in, the 45-minute flight passed like lightning. King Island is known to be windy, slap bang in the middle of the Roaring Fourties southern global wind tunnel, but it was certainly favouring us today as blue skies greeted us along with Ian and his all-terrain vehicle at the airport. After unloading our kit and the drone out of Piper’s nose (a flying machine in the nose of a bigger flying machine!), Ian bundled our group into the ride for the day, to take us for our ride of the day. Heading straight north to Whistler Point and Quarantine Bay, we soon spotted our first shipwreck, the American full rigged ship ‘Whistler’ (what a coincidence!), that sank in 1855 and is now nearly completely buried by sand. Eerie to think of this whole structure underground. If you’re a fan, you can find out more eerie stuff about King Island’s shipwrecks here.
We quickly saw the benefits of our all-wheel drive, as Ian scaled dunes and navigated rocky outcrops in between sprints on the beach. King Island is famous for its birdlife, some of which, such as the Ruddy Turnstone (we’re not making this up), migrate from Japan every year. An avid bird photographer on board asked a few times if we could stop for photos, which was great for us to have time for landscape shots including the group. As we headed inland for morning tea, kangaroos jumping next to us down the dirt track and cows peeking curiously out from the grassland, Ian explained that King Island was until recently covered in temperate rainforest, which was replaced by industrious types with grasslands to raise cattle. King Island has near perfect conditions for cattle and dairy farming, and one handful of little millet seeds washed ashore from Scottish shipwreck mattresses in the last century or two started a whole new floral colonisation of their own, spreading far and wide across the island. The cows, we’re told, love the stuff.
After lunch at Cape Wickham Golf Course (one of the best in Australia, if not the world) which gave us a good opportunity to fit in some drone photography without holding up the group, we headed to the nearby Cape Wickham Lighthouse, Australia’s tallest and only surpassed by a couple in Argentina for the prize of tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. There was said to have been some dispute during the build, as it seemed to cause more shipwrecks than it prevented. Again, if you’re a shipwreck aficionado, you know what to read next. Bright eyed, bushy tailed and full of lasagne and cappuccino, our group headed to Penny’s Lagoon, but not before saying hello to some rather intrigued but confused looking cows. What might look like a rather picturesque mirror-surface, but otherwise pretty ordinary lake, is in fact a natural phenomenon. The freshwater part of Penny’s Lagoon is suspended above the water level within a huge bowl made out of sand and decomposed organic matter, whereas saltwater flows below it from the sea. In a way, the freshwater hovers above the saltwater without mixing due to a layer of earth in between. We thought it was pretty neat.
Over the next hill though lay something that will definitely impress anyone – the most pristine white sand beach imaginable. Kelly Slater himself gets a private jet down when the conditions are right to surf the Martha Lavinia break just offshore (named after… you guessed it, an 1852 shipwreck) and we certainly enjoyed our walk in the sunshine pretending we were part of a secret world pro surf elite club. We were certainly part of a world-famous cheese-eating club half an hour later as we scoffed down tasty morsels at King Island’s famous cheese factory. Say what you like about cheese, but you could certainly taste happy cows through it, and see them all around munching away on green grass doing their free-range organic hippy cow thing in the landscape all around us.
Apart from cheese, lobsters and other seafood have made the island famous, freshness confirmed by a quick chat to a fisherman at the dock. Organic seaweed is also harvested on an industrial scale (and grows back on an industrial scale so is super-sustainable) and used as a thickening agent, for food and fertiliser. The island’s pollution-free environment has also led to one clever lad bottling rainwater and selling it overseas as ‘Premium Cloud Juice’. Again, not making this up. A final stop off in Currie for refreshments and a walk on Memorial Rock beach where we met the world’s friendliest horses topped off our King Island shoot perfectly. The plane was buzzing with conversation on our way back, how lucky we had been with the weather, how much fun everyone had had in the all terrain vehicle (despite or maybe because of some impromptu donuts) and we couldn’t get enough of shooting all the locations we had captured throughout the day, this time thanks to Piper’s big windows, from the sky. Accessing mostly inaccessible locations needs specialist transport and a lot of organising, but this shoot ran so seamlessly, it was a joy to complete.
If you’ve ever ventured a short drive from Surfer’s Paradise’s bright lights and city high-rises, you’ll find yourself on what feels like another planet. Think of switching Miami beaches to Jurassic Park jungle in a matter of an hour. On our recent trip to the Queensland/ New South Whales border coastline, shooting a summer camper film for THL, a local tip lead us inland, away from the well-known backpacker trail.
What we encountered exceeded all expectations. Queensland’s second highest waterfall, Purling Brook Falls, thunders over the edge of a 100m vertical cliff into ancient rainforest below, creating a huge rainbow in the process. Antarctic Beech trees have been growing on this land since before the ancient supercontinent Gondwana broke up into Antarctica, South America, Madagascar, Africa and Australia, making some individuals over 10000 years old. Yep, that’s a ridiculously old living tree you can go and get a selfie in front of.
Purling Brook Falls is only one of many waterfalls that are accessible by relatively easy (but sometimes deceptively lengthy) bush walks. Twin Falls and the Canyons lookout are a quick 15 minute walk, the Natural Bridge is even easier to get to and is home to glowworms who light up the beautiful cave structure at night, and you can see all the way to Stradbroke and Moreton Islands on a clear day from the Goomoolahra Falls viewing platform on a good day.
The aptly named “Best of All Lookout” though allows an awesome view over the entire 23 million year old, 100km wide crater, that also happens to be the largest in the Southern hemisphere. You can clearly make out the edges, all the way to Mount Burell on the other side of the crater. Beyond, views down the coast to Byron Bay let you see the lighthouse compete with the Gold Coast’s skyscrapers to the north. And in the middle loom the jagged edges of Mount Warning, the central volcano vent.
Lieutenant James Cook seemed to be a fan of drama when he named Mount Warning and Point Danger as landmarks for future sailors in 1770. You can actually climb the ancient volcanic plug, which will take you about 5 hours for 8.8km. Our shooting schedule didn’t allow us to do so this time, but the estimated 60000 people who climb each year say it’s pretty good. No wonder the area is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Bring a fleece though as the temperate in the cool, humid, temperate rainforest get significantly colder at night than the beachy coastline. By chance, whilst finding a place to camp legally (important in a frequently patrolled national park!), we stumbled upon the somewhat hidden daytime parking area for Purling Brook Falls, which was not only accessible by vehicle, but also open and flat enough to film sunset. As we wrapped up for the day in the van and darkness fell around us, two locals pulled up beside us and started unpacking a huge, motorized telescope. It turned out that not only had we parked on the edge of a 100km wide volcano, but also in one of the best locations to see the stars, the Milky Way and distant constellations.
For the next two hours, thanks to clear skies and the lack of light pollution, we marvelled at spectacular nebulae, constellations and Saturn’s rings. As the clearly visible Milky Way slowly rotated right above our van, we felt so lucky that we’d decided to go explore off the usual tourist route, to find something so special and utterly unexpected.
You’ve just parked up, the sun sparkling through the gently waving palm leaves above. You’re so excited of what lies ahead that you nearly forget your towel. Swing it over your shoulder as you manoeuvre around the pandanus trees, over a small dune and into the flat, bright space ahead. The sand beneath your feet is warm, and you have a little competition with your mates to see who can make it squeak louder as you walk down the beach to set up your spot for the day.
It’s finally here, the start of the glorious Australian summer. Sunnies, check. Hat & sunscreen, check. Some good mates, tunes, sandy toes, mangoes, cherries, a sweet wave down at the point, and there’s even a dude playing beach cricket with his three overenthusiastic kids. Think this couldn’t get more stereotypical? Well, do you know what? This is actually happening.
There’s something about a road trip that brings you so close to the essence of summer, and on out latest project for THL, we set out to capture exactly that. We packed all your favourite looking props, summery lighting kit, stocked our fridge with colourful, camera friendly treats and even dusted off our dragon’s old red & yellow ding-magnet of a surfboard. We drove from Brisbane to Byron and everywhere in between, in search of that perfect spot for our summer mood. We found our party squad on the Gold Coast and the next day shot on one of the Tweed Coast’s many untouched beaches, giving the viewer the feeling of being the only person on the planet. Apart from a couple of curlews, some whales, a water dragon, our camper Sunny and our newest team member Ben the helicopter engineer and drone pilot supreme, we had the whole beach to ourselves.
To add something totally unexpected, we checked out the huge shield volcano and its cliffs, waterfalls and ancient rainforest in the Hinterland. Who would have thought all these things are just a short drive from each other? The beauty of a summer road trip is to have it all at your fingertips. In the middle of Springbrook national park, we folded down the double bed and got the best view of the stars we’ve ever seen. So good in fact that hardly had we set up our time-lapse in an empty field, that a car rocked up beside us, and two locals started unpacking a huge telescope to check out distant galaxies.
If that doesn’t sound like nostalgia, then remember the simple days when you were a kid & little rocks were just as beautiful as that expensive toy someone got you for Christmas. Lensflare galore met the little things that make summer summer. Like forgetting how hot the asphalt gets in the sun and burning your bare feet when you first get out of the car.
There’s something about the golden sunshine that makes the colours around you pop. A warm breeze tickles your toes and you relax reading a good book with the back of your van open, feel the rush of cool air as you get drinks out of the fridge, see the tiny salt crystals shine on your skin and cool down in the blue ocean. Roam around or stay in one spot forever, for this is your summer, and it is glorious.
Imagine yourself surrounded by shimmering blue. Hovering in space, holding onto a rope made out of what looks like red velvet. You see a silver flash out of the corner of your eye, but by the time you’ve spun your head around, whatever it was has vanished into the background. You’re not alone, but feel like you’re in some sort of parallel universe, where your movements and intentions mean nothing. Then your companion looks at you with eyes framed in thick black rubber and motions you to move. The way you’re heading, despite the energy trying to pull you sideways off course, is down into the blackness below.
Just five minutes before, you were getting ready in the tropical Queensland sunshine, on a little speedboat filled with smiling, excited people and one trademark sarcastic captain. You checked your gear that was going to allow you to enter and survive in the alien environment below. Everyone’s chatting about the beauty of the day, the luck with the weather and footie scores last night. Again, you’re told you cannot possibly support Collingwood. You jump right in, water fills your suit, you duck your head under, give the OK and start your slow descent along the buoy line. How quickly the world changes, like you’ve stepped through some sort of Stargate to the other side of the universe. As you climb in reverse, one hand at a time, along the algae-covered rope, no one will hear you if you scream, you see only one colour and you hear only a faint hum over the sound your own breathing. But suddenly, you spot something. At first you think your eyes are trying to trick you, as you strain to make sense of the blue around you. But one handhold further and a shape starts to appear. It gets bigger and darker and you suddenly realise that what you’ve been staring at with your measly little human eyes is a real, living, pulsating structure hidden deep under the ocean surface high above. What you’re looking at is a gigantic shipwreck, a home to thousands upon thousands of ocean dwelling creatures, from the tiniest seahorse to the largest bull shark. And out of the blue, you feel incredibly small.
Our recent expedition to Far North Queensland brought us face to face with racehorses, cattle station owners, curious kangaroos and a croc or two. After spending 5 days in the dusty outback, we were ready to dive one of the world’s best wreck dives, the SS Yongala. The passenger ship was originally built in Newcastle, UK before starting service in April 1903 in Adelaide. It carried passengers and cargo around Australia and was the first ship to sail the 5000km direct route between Fremantle and Brisbane. Despite being inspected and ‘in excellent trim’ on its 99th voyage and Captain William Knight’s reputation as one of the company’s most capable men with 14 years of service without incident, the Yongala sank en route to Cairns in March 1911. All 122 aboard were killed, but the only body ever found was that of racehorse Moonshine, which washed up on a nearby beach. Due to there being no surviving witnesses, the cause of the tragedy was never fully determined, but it was likely that the ship either sank in a cyclone that other ships nearby managed to circumvent or hit a submerged rock.
Eerily, the wreck lay undiscovered for nearly 50 years. Shortly after its disappearance, stories of a ghost ship started circulating locally. Not being deterred (and maybe even encouraged by the possibility of loot), local fisherman Bill Kirkpatrick started investigating the obstacle he had encountered whilst fishing for shells in 1958. After several failed attempts involving one of his mates with a hard-hat diving suit, a professional diver was engaged in a salvage operation. Needing to formally identify the wreck before being able to claim salvage rights, the team brought up a safe, which contained only grey sludge, but the serial number of which was finally identified as belonging to the Yongala in 1961, finally sealing the fate of the doomed ship.
The ship was originally named Yongala in South Australia, after an aboriginal Nadjuri name of a small town, which translates as “good water”. Due to having sunk on a relatively shallow sandy ocean floor, with good access to sunlight and its lying undiscovered for decades, the Yongala has stayed true to its name by becoming a haven for ocean life. The top of the wreck lies at 16m below the surface and is grounded at 30m on the seabed. With a length of 109 meters and as one of the world’s largest, most intact historical shipwrecks, it has become a hugely diverse ecosystem, and thus a world class dive site within the protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
From enormous stingrays to guitar sharks, Giant Trevally, sea snakes, batfish, morays, huge turtles, barracuda, car-sized Queensland groper (see the image above of our rat next to one) and if you’re lucky bull sharks to manta rays, the marine life that calls the Yongala home is simply breathtaking. As the wreck is a marine grave (bones and all) and strict conservation practices are in place, this incredible dive site is being preserved carefully for future divers and its marine inhabitants. If you worry it’s spooky, the wreck is, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring. 10,000 divers each year pop their heads above the ocean’s surface after exploring the Yongala and re-enter the universe that we know with a new sense of wonder. So the question is, when will you take the leap?