Lofoten

Words and photographs by Lise Ulrich

Driving around the archipelago of Lofoten in the Norwegian county of Nordland on a midsummer’s day is at once as wondrous and soul soothing an experience as it is near exhausting for the shutter-happy landscape photographer.

Jam-packed with jagged mountaintops, majestic fiords, quaint fishing villages and coloured wooden houses, Lofoten deserves every bit of the hype it’s generating as one of Norway’s most spectacular points of interest – and in a country known for its overall natural splendour, that is saying quite a lot.

In June, Lofoten bursts with every nuance of green, patches of yellow, white and blue flowers sprinkled in the fields. But watch out for those low-hanging clouds; volatile weather changes are common on the archipelago and a mild summer breeze can turn into a menacing gale in minutes, dramatically transforming the waters and colours of the fiords to the sounds of eagle cries above.

Despite being located a whopping 1,364 kilometres north of capital Oslo and well above the Arctic Circle (most visitors fly in from the city of Bodø), Lofoten’s largest town Svolvær, with a population of about 4,200, is bustling, with many young families and creatives moving to the area. Once you have experienced the archipelago for yourself, you will seriously consider joining them.

Taking to the waters of Trollfjorden is a must on Lofoten. Surrounded by steep mountainsides and rocky cliffs, the fiord is an ideal place for spotting eagles as well as absorbing some local history: A vicious battle was fought here in 1890 when the first industrial, steam-driven fishing ships and teams of traditional open-boat fishermen rowed over access to the fiord. One guess as to who came out victorious.

Although a tiny fishing village with only 500 residents, Henningsvær boasts an internationally renowned modern art museum, Kaviar Factory, as well as a surprisingly hip bohemian vibe thanks to a steady influx of rock climbers and surfers alike.

Explore Lofoten like the old settlers did: On horseback. Back in the day, seafaring Vikings actually imported the sturdy Icelandic horses from Lofoten to Iceland. Hovhestegard.no

In the village of Vikten, visitors can sample local glassware at Glasshytta Vikten.

The minute village of Nusfjord, population 37, is one of the oldest fishing villages in Norway, with houses dating back to the early 1800s.

Paradise Found

When the winds stir up and clouds descend, it is an island that offers sanctuary – among other deep-sea and earthy delights.

Words & Photographs by Lucy Howard-Taylor

702 kilometres northeast of Sydney, at the intersection of five ocean currents and a submerged continental rib, thrusts forth the remains of an ancient shield volcano. Eroded over seven million years to one fortieth of its original size, Lord Howe Island rises like a wind-shorn jewel from the waters of the Tasman Sea; eleven kilometres long by as little as three hundred metres wide, a vibrant blue-green, its twin peaks capped in cloud. From the sky, the island almost looks like the mossed jawbone of some long-extinct creature given up by the sea.

It may be less than a two hour flight from the crush of Sydney, but the moment you step from the Dash-8 onto the tarmac of Lord Howe’s only airstrip, there is a palpable sense of remoteness. There is no mobile reception on the island and no traffic lights (with next to no cars, bicycles silently reign supreme), but the lack of modern conveniences one might mistake for essential cannot wholly account for the subtle separation felt upon arriving in this UNESCO World Heritage listed property. It is disarmingly beautiful, in an unruly, enveloping way that robs you of words. But there is a strangeness to this wilderness too, with its opalescent lagoon fringed with coral, its deep green canopies of kentia palms, cowrie-studded beaches and panoply of birds.

Travelling in the middle of winter to a subtropical island and the world’s southernmost coral reef may seem perverse, but Lord Howe wore its wild weather hat well. On the tarmac I was left breathless by a brisk wind that tasted of salt and wet leaves. In bed that first night, with large fronds bashing each other outside my window, the roar of the trade winds was almost animal. During the day rain rolled in with no warning and cleared just as suddenly, leaving everything glistening. A wind cheater was essential, and should you go out at night, a torch: there are no streetlights here and the inky completeness of the darkness, broken by a milky wash of stars, took this city dweller by surprise. First things first, hire a bike, even if like me you cannot ride one. With only 360 permanent residents, a maximum of 400 tourists at any one time and 13 kilometres of undulating scenic road, there is ample opportunity for a novice to practice unobserved. Pack a picnic and ride to the preternaturally still and secluded Old Settlement Beach, where three men, three women and two boys came to live in 1833, trading with passing vessels. Or pop over to Ned’s Beach where you can snorkel among fantastically coloured coral gardens (there is an honesty box for hiring gear), or wade closer to shore and hand-feed swarms of tropical fish with names like Silver Drummer and Spangled Emperor. At dusk, throngs of muttonbirds return to their burrows in the low-lying palm forests nearby. As sunset arrives, their distinctive, searching cries can approach an almost human wailing.

These pristine waters host some of the best diving in the world, with an unearthly sunken landscape of volcanic drop-offs, trenches and caves lined with black coral trees, branching gorgonians and over 90 varieties of luxuriant subtropical coral. For those for whom the prospect of coming face to face with the blue teeth of a Harlequin Tuskfish in an underwater canyon sounds vaguely terrifying, you can charter a glass-bottomed boat instead and enjoy the spectacle dry and unmolested from the crystalline surface of the lagoon.

At the southernmost end of Lagoon Road is the start of the Little Island Track, which follows the shoreline to the black basalt cliffs of Mount Lidgbird. Lord Howe is a walker’s delight and this marked and level track meanders its way past picturesque Lovers Bay and through thickly crowded valleys of soughing kentia palms (keep your eyes peeled and you might see a native woodhen grunting happily in the shadows), to the base of the mountain and its stony shores of calcarenite and dark sea-sculpted rocks. Here, especially between March and October, you will see wheeling clouds of one of the world’s rarest seabirds, Providence petrels, diving over the cliffs as they chatter and return to breed. For the more energetically inclined walker, a climb to the scrubby top of Malabar Hill leads to one of the best views of the island and a dramatic scraggy drop to the sea. Alternatively, sign up for the famous day hike to the summit of Mount Gower, where you will find yourself among the twisted trees and inveterate mist of what the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage actually designates as Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, which sounds more enchanted than ecological.

Enchantment is a recurring theme here. As the days pass, I discover that there is something about this island that is both calming and unexpectedly foreign, a wandering otherness that finds its way in on the throats of seabirds and endows plants with a luminous variety of green. The natural landscape is not only astonishingly lush – isolation, topographic peculiarity and igneous soils have spawned a paradise of ferns, palms, orchids and microhabitats – but feels unusually ancient, almost untouchable. Nowhere is this impression more powerful than in the broody Valley of the Shadows, where 20 metre high trees mottle the light. To stand alone amid this silent grove of banyans, their aerial roots muscling to the ground like the suspended legs of giants, is to realise the difference that is Lord Howe Island. It is to approach the primeval and be at home amongst the extraordinary.

From Lodestars Anthology Issue 3, Australia

Bolivia the Beautiful

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley.

Frozen fingers. Lonely flamingoes. Tufty scrubland. A dome of blue sky. Pastel lakes. Slow trains with white tablecloths and real china. Cheap beer. Hand-knitted alpaca wool socks. Salty pentagonals. And a light case of high altitude pulmonary oedema. These are just a handful of memories of Bolivia in late May.

I crossed the border on foot – from La Quiaca (Argentina) to Villazon (Bolivia) – and jumped on a leisurely train to Tupiza. From there, along with a guide called Elvis and an evangelical traveller preaching a new religion, we drove into the mountains.

For four days we travelled across stark plains and Martian desert scapes. We climbed high and gazed at geysers and braved the biting wind to paddle in geothermal pools. At night, while the the King of Rock practiced walking on his hands, my travelling companion did his best to convince me that God exists simply because so many people believe in her. In bed, with the temperatures plummeting to -10ºC, I tried (and failed) to keep warm under a pile of slippery sleeping bags.

In spite of their beauty and vast horizons, Bolivia’s Andean Highlands are sparsely populated – by humans and animals alike. A few small towns exist here and there – the locals who brave the weather are mostly employed to serve tourists or to farm. Infrastructure is minimal: hot showers are synonymous with luxury, WiFi is practically non-existent, and it’s lights out at 10pm. But what need did I have for these extraneous things in an environment where every twist and turn brought some new marvel to keep my curiosity, and cravings for my creature comforts, at bay?

The annual flamingo migration was coming to an end, so it was only a lazy few that we saw wading ankle deep through the many lakes we passed, scooping up algae with their hooked beaks while pondering where their hundreds of thousands of friends had gone. The only other animals we saw were the ubiquitous alpacas, replete with ear streamers and expressions of complete indifference.

After three nights spent at air-gulping altitudes, we got got up before sunset and dropped down onto the vast plateau of the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat. In all honesty, I thought this would be somewhat of an anti-climax, but as the sun rose and the crackly pentagonals began to appear, my wonder grew. Stark white in all directions, our colourful clothes, even my pale skin, in full contrast. If you ever want to feel both small and inconsequential, but so utterly connected to our earth, this is the place to visit.

Kate joined the basic four-day Tupiza-Uyuni tour with La Torre Tours.

The Blue Mountains

Words & Photographs by Angela Terrell

There are certain holiday memories that stay firmly cemented in our psyches. Being the youngest child in our family, many of mine involve sitting in the back seat of the car on inordinately long road-trips, windows wound down to keep cool and usually being firmly wedged between my brother and sister, catching only fleeting glimpses of the changing landscape as it rushed past. Of course it never rushed too fast as these were the days when highways only had one lane and the family Holden Monaro definitely wasn’t turbo! It was a time when holiday money was treasured and spent wisely and motel breakfasts were a highlight, the individual cartons of cereal almost as exciting as the novelty of watching morning TV sitting on brown chenille bedspreads surrounded by orange flowered wallpaper. Yes, I was a child of the 70s.

Move on a couple of decades and decor has changed, kids watch TV on their phones and cereal is more often than not paleo, but some things have stayed the same; not only confirming the timelessness of certain holiday memories and destinations, but also the comfort that we feel in unvarying continuity. A holiday in the Blue Mountains today is reassuringly the same as it was when I was young. The endless sense of space and possibility of my childhood is still there, the bush walks remain strenuous yet exciting, picnic huts built of sandstone stand in the same parks they have for years and open fires on cool nights remain the perfect place to sip hot chocolate, to chat or to merely ponder. Here there is a sense of permanence in an ever-changing world. 

Less than a two hour drive from Sydney (and easily accessible now by a two lane highway…some things fortuitously do change), the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area encompasses over one million hectares of National Park and wilderness. Here is an area of breathtaking views, chiselled tablelands, spectacular escarpments and valley floors carpeted in dense and endless green eucalyptus forest. Plant life in these valleys and inaccessible gorges is rich, evolving over the millennia untouched by the ever-widening tendrils of modern development, even managing to hide one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees, the Wollemi Pine, until its discovery in 1994.

There is steadfastness in this ancient landscape. Despite the hints of cataclysmic change such as cracks in cliff-faces and massive boulders strewn along their bases, the gentle folds of the valley floor, the whispers of the wind through the trees, the cascading waterfalls and the gentle hues of the landscape, consistently exude a feeling of calm and timeless beauty.

Hike along any of the numerous walking trails in the region and you can’t help but be absorbed by this beauty. Bellbirds echo in the valley and creeks are lost from view in the dense vegetation, the sound of water gurgling over rocks and torrenting down distant waterfalls at times the only evidence of their existence. Sometimes covered by a sheath-like mist and  sometimes sweltering under a blazing sun, this magical area is always spectacular. And on those days when the sun has shone all day and you have the opportunity to watch it slowly set to the west, the sight of the precipitous escarpments turning orange, the vegetation pink and the sky indigo is truly magical.

Of course the slow march of progress can still be felt even here with popular lookouts a haven for tourist buses and the scenic cableway an alternative to descending a thousand hand carved sandstone steps to the valley floor, yet somehow the charm endures. Villages in the Blue Mountain are undeveloped with bakeries and local shops still meeting most needs yet offering numerous accommodation options from timber cottages to luxury hotels (where the orange of the 70s appears to have been replaced by beige and grey). Restaurants are uniformly good, delis offer delectable delights and local artisan stores remain the perfect place to spend a little of that treasured holiday money.

So my advice, don the walking shoes, find that fleecy jumper you haven’t worn for years, jump in the car and go and rediscover this wonderful part of Australia. May it always be that special place to inspire and enjoy.

If you’re looking for more Australiana why not pick up a copy of our Australia issue.

Cuba

Words & Photographs by Hannah Fitzpatrick

No matter what you hear about Cuba, nothing can quite prepare you for the island’s infectious sounds, sights and smells. Waking on our first morning, with the heady lift of sweet tobacco, the sensual heat and compelling music even at 7 a.m., Havana instantaneously captured my heart. 

The capital of the largest of Caribbean islands is breathtakingly beautiful in its own idiosyncratic way, any photographer’s paradise. Once you look closely, through the noise, the crumbling colonial facades evoke a sadness. Years of neglect have damaged this city’s splendour and you have to look closely to notice and appreciate corners of beauty and find peaceful moments off the main thoroughfare. The streets are loud, with locals busying themselves with the day’s tasks and chores, and it takes a few moments to get to grips with the flow of this crumbling city – from the bright flashes of pastel-coloured Chevrolets darting around street corners, to other-worldly Banyan trees, there are numerous different personalities to the city you can capture.

This series of images captures the Cuba I wanted to share. One image was taken just off a side street in a deserted saloon which we stumbled across. I was captivated by how the light fell through the window from the bustling street metres away, yet inside the stench of stale tobacco and roasted coffee hung in the eerie emptiness.

Our next stop was Vinales, which was a welcome release from the headiness of Havana. The air felt easier to breath out here amidst the shadows of colossal, limestone structures which are common to in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba. 

This small town, surrounded by dusty red farmland, consists of one main bustling high street where all the action takes place. The side-streets are lined with low bungalows, washed in bright primary colours whose gardens overflow with lush banana and guava trees, and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming – particularly after the welcome mojito at our casa particulars.

Cuba has an immense amount to offer and is a stark but irresistible look at a country who’s twentieth century history is quite unique. Ignore those who encourage you to go ‘before it all changes’ – the country will only benefit from some much-needed investment.

Sakura Postcards

Photographs by Kate Bitner & Kumiko Saotome

The sakura define Japan, a fleeting wave of pastel pink and white that sweeps across the country every spring. They are a natural phenomenon celebrated with family and friends, offering those who view them the chance to embrace the transient beauty and power of nature. They’re also an occurrence that inspired the Japan issue of Lodestars Anthology, if this extract from Liz’s Editor’s letter to go by …

It was only when Maria Vazquez shared her images of the sakura that I began to question my hesitation. It wasn’t the blossoms’ pastel hues or transient symbolism that got to me – it was the sense of tranquility the photographs invoked. How could the country I believed to be the busiest on earth make me feel this calm? Was everybody actually on to something? I gave in, curiosity combating my foolishness. Japan would get an issue.

To celebrate the arrival of the 2017 sakuras we have shared the photos of two of the amazing Tokyo-based photographers (and writers) who contributed to the new issue – which you can purchase here. Embrace spring and wanderlust! 

 

Lodestars Anthology Japan

Introducing the latest addition to the Lodestars Anthology travelling family … Japan!

You can order your copy by clicking here.

For now, here is a sneak peak of the gems that lie within.

Journey to Japan and discover a land of tea and tropics, wabi-sabi and wonder. A place where symbolism abounds and nothing is without purpose. For here you’ll find an ancient and powerful landscape that has shaped history yet still dictates the rhythms of modern life. There are illuminated capitals and pockets of untouched wilderness, both marked by a deep sense of spirituality. Art flourishes, design inspires and others come first. May the light never dim on the Land of the Rising Sun.

None is travelling

Here along this way but I

This autumn evening

Matsuo Bashō