Well after enduring the drenching of rain over Sydney for the last two weeks, the skies finally cleared up just as the weekend was starting. Natures timing could not have been better!
Taking advantage of some recently acquired wet weather gear I was able to go out and scout for some new nightscape locations a few weeks ago (see my previous post).
Saturday afternoon I packed my gear into the car, grabbed a bite to eat and headed into the mountains. From Sydney it is approximately a 2 hour drive give or take some traffic.
Expected temperatures in the mountains were 1 deg Celsius, when I arrived at my first location the temperature gauge in the car read 7 deg Celsius, as opposed to 15 when I left Sydney.
I stepped out of the car, the sun had just set behind the mountains and all I could see were silhouettes of tall leafy gum trees and a blanket of sparkling stars stretching from north to south, east to west. Within moments I had my backpack on and found myself walking down a familiar trail that I had just taken a few weeks back.
I was in The Valley Of The Waters, the first thing you notice is that it is dark very dark, the second thing you notice and this stood out the most is the sound of water falling crashing against rocks, similar to the rustle of leaves on a windy day but heavier.
Once I reached the first lookout point it was game on, setup the tripod, mount the camera, plug in the cable shutter release, lens cap off and find a bright star to set the focus. Once these steps were completed then all I needed to do was frame my shot, shoot and check the LCD screen on the back of my camera, study the results and tweak any settings.
My first shot was going to be a panorama of the Valley below, cliffs on either side and a multitude of stars. 42 frames later this is what I got.
Now it was time to head to location number two, Jamison Valley lookout about a 20 minute drive further up the mountain, but not before having to climb back up the dark trail which surprisingly was much easier this time than the first a few weeks back, I must be getting fitter.
Jamison Valley lookout is not too hard to find, it is a 40 minute walk down some tricky steps then across the Gordon waterfall up a few more tricky steps up the side of the mountain and voila you’ve reached your destination. This lookout is perched right on the edge of the Valley, what you notice here first is the wind, boy it’s windy! I just hope that my tripod and camera are steady enough not to shake while taking the long exposures. I remember checking the temperature gauge in the car before I got out, it read 5 deg Celsius, not too bad but up here on the ledge standing in the wind it felt more like -5!
Similarly I set my gear up and took a couple of test shots before committing to the next panorama. 23 frames later this is what I got.
I finished with the last frame then stood on the edge of the lookout to take one last look down and across the valley before making my way back to the car. Once I was back on the trail the protection of the thick bush and trees blocked most if not all of that chilly wind. Not before long I was already breaking into a sweat.
The next stop was the Jenolan Caves, about a 40 minute drive across the mountains and deep into the valleys below. The speed limit along this sealed road varies from 70km/h to 100km/h but my advice is that if you don’t want to end up with a big gaping hole in your grill you take it slow, enjoy the drive and watch out for the local wildlife. I must have come across dozens of Wombats just as many Kangaroos or more, also their smaller cousins the Wallaby and a couple of Owls. None of these guys obey the road rules and you will find them walking or hopping across the road minding their own business. Kangaroos spook a little easier but the Wombat does as it pleases. I had to come to a complete stop at least 6 times while I waited for the Wombat to decide that it was probably best to get out-of-the-way and let that big metal thing with bright lights pass.
I tried to get to the caves in time to catch the Milky Way (as I had before) streaming across one of its open arches, unfortunately my timing was out by the earlier distractions but nevertheless I still managed to get a few nice shots of the surrounds and still plan to come back for more.
This following photo is a single frame from the top of the caves of the valley below and the stars above, the lights are from a beautiful hotel and guest houses which are located right next to the caves are a frequented by many tourists all year-long.
By now it was already getting late or some might say early and the Sun was just moments away from rising, being nocturnal myself and wanting to avoid the Sunday traffic I walked back to the car to head home and get some well deserved sleep. The weather had played nice for most of the night it did not get too cold the clouds had stayed away and it was only now that some clouds were beginning to roll in.
The drive back home was pretty uneventful, most of Australia’s wildlife are nocturnal and appear to have retired for the night, by the time I reached the foot of the Blue Mountains I could see the red glow of the sun lighting up the eastern horizon. But then all of a sudden between bushy trees I caught a glimpse of the moon WOW! It looked amazing, I just had to pull over for one more shot or two. I did not bother putting on my jacket or gloves, there was no time for that, the colours on the horizon and the position of the moon were not going to wait for me, I had to act quickly if I wanted to capture this! Within seconds I had my tripod ready and I was stumbling around for my long focal length zoom lens, it was only then that I realised just how cold it was, the side of the road was covered in ice, I was trying to tighten my lens onto the mount and my fingers were numb! Thought about the gloves but I didn’t want to waste any more time. By the time I started snapping away more clouds had rolled in and the moon had moved further up the horizon. This is what I got.
Now my night was complete but before I go let me tell you, when I hopped back in the car the temperature gauge read 0 deg Celsius, this was the coldest it had been all night – my word it was.