Droning over Hong Kong’s Wetlands

I have to admit, I developed a phobia for drone-flying after the last unpleasant incident in New Zealand. I used to have so much faith in drone-technology that I flew a drone out of Marina Bay Sand hotel room and back! Looking back, I consider myself extremely blessed and lucky that none of those previous flights I flew in Taiwan and Singapore ended up badly.

DJI’s new firmwares in June were full of bugs. That was the reason my drones were giving me problems. There were too many bugs in the system and I didn’t want to risk losing another drone. I have since grounded my drone for the past 2 months. I am too afraid to fly in the city and over water.

I have received my new replacement drone but kept it grounded until DJI released the new firmwares 4 weeks ago. I have been bugging Chowpo to find me a big open space to test the new firmwares. Yesterday was a one-time off bonus public holiday (to mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in the second world war) and we had a free day to fly! Chowpo offered to drive me (and Tracy) to the most remote corner of Hong Kong to test my drone. I love traveling and aerial photography so it is very important for me to gain back my flight-confidence.

At the northern part of Hong Kong lies a huge plot of wetlands. I was very surprised to know there are such rural areas in concrete Hong Kong city. There was hardly anyone, tall buildings and vehicles there. Despite the gloomy and windy weather, I felt extremely safe to practice my flight. I was still a little bit rusty but I managed to gain good control of the drone.

We spent over 3 hours at 3 different sites. I exhausted all the 7 batteries. Finally, I am getting a good sense of control of the drone. With more practice-opportunities ahead, I am sure I will be able to soar and capture more amazing footages for my next trip! Yes, Pilot Wahbiang is back! Enjoy the video below!

Back to Panda City

August – it was an extraordinary hectic but rewarding month. We made 3 trips to Chengdu for a “dream project” with some very talented and legendary masters! At the end of the project, I had developed such a strong attachment with the place and the people. It is a truly enjoyable experience and I am very thankful to accomplish the “almost-impossible” with my dream team. I will miss all these for sure!

To reward the ladies for their hard work, I brought both Chowpo and Tracy to Chengdu’s most popular attraction – the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地). Covering a large area of 92 acres (about 90 football fields), the site houses over 100 giant and baby pandas. This place is huge and the best time to visit the park would be in the morning when the pandas will be out to roam and feed. We were there at the wrong time when all the pandas were sleeping inside the enclosures. No wonder there weren’t many tourists queuing at the enclosures. It was the wrong season (too hot and humid) and time to visit the pandas.

We didn’t spend much time at the attraction. The 2 girls were complaining and whining. I couldn’t blame them, there was nothing but pandas and more pandas. Of course, every panda looks the same. At every enclosure, we saw fat lazy pandas sleeping and rolling on the floor. The only time when we got excited was when we saw the panda babies. The discovery we made? Baby pandas do have long tails and they are irresistible adorable!

Another checkbox ticked. Enough of Sichuan hotpot and cute pandas, time to head back to Hong Kong!

The final moment of my lost drone – Found!

Finally, a comforting closure for me. While updating the new DJI app, I managed to recover the final flight footage of my Inspire 1’s mysterious flyaway incident from the cache of my iPad (Read: Missing Drone Blog). The footage captured what happened that fateful morning before my drone vanished for good (into those woods). In the video, you could spot Felicia, Elkan and me by the roadside. Despite a great weather and getting all “green signal” to take off, my drone (which I have flew many times in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) flew off mysteriously on its own will. Luckily I was flying beside a farm. I can’t imagine if this incident happens in a congested cityscape like Hong Kong or Singapore.

I reported my flyaway incident to DJI back in June and their customer service offered me 50% refund a few days later. Despite the monetary settlement with DJI a couple of weeks later, their engineers are still unable to identity the actual issue. The most possible reason they guessed was an error in the drone’s calibration.

While re-viewing the footage on HD, I spotted something strange. There was a halo following my drone before I lost connection. Maybe it was the dark forces from above that took my “precious” away.

The Land of Abundance, Chengdu (天府之国在成都)

Work took us to another wonderful Chinese capital city where giant pandas and the world’s largest stone Buddha reside. Located at southwest China and famed for its enchanting mountainous sceneries, lakes, ancient temples, spicy cuisine, face-change opera and Chinese white spirits, Chengdu (成都), the capital city of Sichuan province, is also known as the “Land of Abundance”.

There are just so much to explore and we had only one free day. My last Chengdu business trip was simply touch-and-go. I did not even have an extra day to explore around the city. This time, the meetings ended on a weekend so I managed to squeeze a few hours to tour around. Accompanied with my previous “Guilin Tour Group” (coincidently Chowpo, Celia and Tracy), we took a 2-hour slow drive down south to visit one of the the world’s oldest and most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the famous Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛).

Standing at 71m tall, this is the world’s largest stone Buddha. Craved out of a cliff face over a period of 90 years (AD713-AD803) during the Tang Dynasty, this is also the world’s tallest pre-modern statue. However, beyond its sheer size, there is another wonder and secret hidden deep within the status. Lies beneath its stony body is a complex drainage system that allows the status to discharge mountain waters so it is able to stand firmly over the past 1,200 years, withstanding natural erosions and earthquakes! What an ingenious engineering feat!

It takes about 2 slow hours just to hike close to this majestic site. (Check out those ant-hive-looking-tunnels on the cliff!) As the temperature was a soaring 38-degree high, we decided to skip the hike and took a boat ride to see this ancient wonder instead. It was a humbling experience, standing at the foot of the Buddha’s feet to witness its greatness.

I flew my drone (DJI Phantom 3P) around the site but due to a buggy firmware upgrade, I was forced to make an emergency landing when the drone was just halfway across the river. It was such a great day to fly! What a big disappointment for me (and the many curious Chinese onlookers too) !

We ended our day at Jinli Ancient Street (锦里古街)
where there were tons of tourists, panda-themed souvenirs, Chinese handicrafts and Sichuan delicacies. Each of us got our own personalised Chinese handicraft. Dinner was at a popular Sichuan restaurant where Tracy and Celia tortured themselves with some really spicy hotpots. Thanks to Celia’s wit, we managed to get a big private room all to ourselves.

One day is never enough at Chengdu. Definitely, we will be back soon for more exciting great works and joy!

Meet the legendary Lunar Camera – Nikon CoolPix P900

The Nikon CoolPix P900 camera is an amazing superzoom camera. The 16.1-megapixel camera comes with an astonishing 83x optical zoom (that is equivalent to 2000mm in 35mm format) and 166x Dynamic Fine Zoom (that is 4000mm equivalent in 35mm format). The Chinese media even nicknamed it as the “Divine Lunar Camera”(摄月神器).

One of the most remarkable features is its lightweight body. Weighing at only 899 grams, the Nikon P900 is 40% lighter than my Canon EF100-400 telephoto zoom lens. The light weight offers ease of mobility. There are also other great features about this camera, it comes equipped with 3-inch vari-angle LCD monitor, an auto-sensor electronic viewfinder, WIFI/NFC photo transfers, GPS and a pretty decent battery life.

To test the camera, I went up to the Victoria Peak this afternoon. Overlooking the Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong skyscrapers, I took severals wide and extreme close-up shots. Despite the gloomy foggy weather, the results were pretty impressive. Details did came up in all the shots. Shooting at 83X / 2000mm wasn’t easy, I regretted not bringing a tripod along. Thus, most of the shots were compromised with higher noise settings. Colour was fairly accurate and it worked pretty well in low lightings too. However, there is just one thing that bothers me during today’s test. The zoom is digital, therefore, I cannot adjust the speed of the zoom manually. At times, the zooms were shaky and the focus weren’t smooth. Another problem is its macro-feature, it wasn’t as sharp as I expected. Check out my photos and video test below.

Overall, this is a good bargain for those who need a powerful telephoto-zoom-camera. At under HKD5,000, this is the furthest and lightest you can get from a consumer’s point-and-shoot camera. No idea what to shoot with such powerful camera, go check out the “famous moon footage” that has been threading for the past 2 months on Youtube. Watch video below.

Road to Middle Earth Part II – Hobbiton, Mount Doom and A Missing Drone! (Updated)

We left the City of Sails and began our journey deeper into Middle Earth. This marked the beginning of our 10-day adventure. I prepared a simple map (see below) to help us navigate our journey. I am not a hardcore fan of the Lord of the Rings series but since we were in Middle Earth, we made special stops at two of the most significant LOTR shooting locations (Hobbiton and Mount Doom!).

In total, we travelled 1200km over 10 days, making 5 pitstops at Auckland City Center, Hamilton, Taupo Lake, Rotorua and Magere. Since Gandalf didn’t prepare any magical “Eagles of Manwë” for us, we relied on Felicia and our most trustworthy GPS device. I played “vehicle commander” to help Felicia to read maps and watch out for nasty obstacles on the road. On the contrary, I was the disruptive one. Many times, I interrupted the journey whenever there was a spectacular view or an interesting road sign. Thankfully, the roads were mostly empty and Felicia was a very calm and steady driver. In the end, we went to places that we didn’t even planned. That’s the spirit of an adventure. Keep exploring and you never know what gems you will find at the end of the road.

On 15th June, I had an eventful and unforgettable “Big 40” celebration at Hamilton. That was the day when I lost my “precious” (drone) to Middle Earth. On our way to Mount Doom (yes, the infamous mountain where Frodo discarded the ring – aka Mount Ngauruhoe at Tongariro National Park), dark forces stole my beloved drone. I was making my first Middle Earth flight over a beautiful valley (see picture below) when my drone suddenly took off in another direction. For some strange and unknown reasons, I was unable to gain any control of my drone. It flew beyond the valleys and forests and within seconds, the drone vanished! I tried frantically to recall it back but nothing happened. I even climbed over the fences and trespassed the privately owned valleys and forests to search for it. The drone simply vanished without a trace. (At this moment, I have submitted the flight log files and awaiting DJI to investigate into this matter.)

Many good friends sent me sympathy messages about the unfortunate loss of my precious drone. Amazingly, there wasn’t a single tint of sadness in me. In fact, I was more worried about my runaway drone hurting someone. I was relatively in good spirits and enjoyed the rest of the trip happily with my family. After all, a drone is replaceable anytime but precious moments with Felicia and Elkan are rare and priceless.

Our journey was glittered with countless rainbows, starry nights and sunny blue skies. I love the colours of nature and the pace of life here. It was a good soul-searching trip for me. I realised one simple truth – Extravagance can never refill the emptiness of city dwellers. It is not what we carry that define us, it is what’s inside that matters. Simple truth but how many people really adopt such state of mind. Here, people live and enjoy life simply in their own meaningful way. There aren’t many big branded boutiques, gadgets or posh vehicles to pollute the minds of the people. Here boasts an abundance of big natural, quiet spaces and ample time for one to pause, reflect and rethink about their own lives. Environment does play such a huge influence of our body, mind and soul.

Enough of my rattling, here are the top highlights of our 2nd to 5th Pitstops! Enjoy the photos!

We stayed at Hamilton Ibis Hotel. It is located just beside the scenic Waikato River and a short 5-min stroll to the town’s main shopping center and food street. Hotel offers valet parking for NZD20/night. 

– This should be one of the most visited man-made attractions around Hamilton since the mega success and popularity of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Hidden in the heart of a privately owned farm estate, the Hobbiton was completely recreated during the filming of the Hobbit Trilogies as a long term tourist attraction. We had a fascinating two-hour guided tour into The Shire. The guide gave us such an insightful story about how Peter Jackson found this place and the great details he took to create The Shire. If you have watched the LOTR movies, you will be able to identify some of the sites. Photo-taking can be a challenge as there will be many tourists around. Still, I managed to capture a couple of isolated shots of this magical village. (Official Website: http://www.hobbitontours.com/). For visitors, you can park your car at the ticket office and take the tour bus into the estate. No private vehicle can enter The Shire. 

 – Located a short hour drive away from Hamilton city is this spectacular 55m-tall waterfall. Unlike other waterfalls that require a long hiking distance, the Bridal Veil Falls is only a 10-min walk away from the carpark. There are 3 spots you can see the waterfall (up-close, far-side and bottom opposite). Address: Bridal Veil Falls, Kawhia Road, Makomako 3895, New Zealand


We stayed at a double-storey 2-bedroom motel, Le Chalet Suisse, owned by a Malaysian couple, Karen and Kenny who just moved here less than 2 years ago. It is located opposite Lake Taupo and right beside the key shopping streets and food outlets. The motel was newly refurbished. It is very spacious, clean and comfortable. It comes with a kitchen with full set of cooking utensils. There are 2 supermarkets 5-min drive away. We bought fresh food and cooked our meals inside the motel. For booking, email Karen or Kenny at: stay@lechaletsuisse.co.nz or visit their website at http://www.lechaletsuisse.co.nz

– First discovered 500 years ago, the Ruakuri Cave is a very well preserved cave that spiral down 60m deep underground with narrowing tunnels, underground rivers and glowworms! At 90 minutes, it is New Zealand’s longest guided underground cave tour and certainly much bigger than those of Western Australia. The operator limits no more than 18 people per tour so there are lots of space for you to enjoy the cave quietly at your own pace! The cave is located 75-min drive from Taupo Lake. Address: 585 Waitomo Caves Rd. Website: http://www.waitomo.com/ruakuri-cave/Pages/default.aspx

– Located just 2km beside the Ruakuri Cave, this is possible the world’s best place to see the glowworms! It boasts an underground river system where we saw millions of glittering glowworms in pure darkness. It is a must visit if you are around town. To protect the glowworms and also the tour experience, no photography is allowed at all. Address: 39 Waitomo Caves Rd. Website: http://www.waitomo.com/Waitomo-Glowworm-Caves/Pages/default.aspx

3.3) TONGARIRO ALPINE CROSSING, “MOUNT DOOM” (7-HOUR HIKE) – This is New Zealand’s oldest national site with dual World Heritage Site titles. Located 60min-drive away from Taupo City Center, we arrived at an infamous volcano of this century – Mount Doom. The Tongariro National Park houses 2 active volcanoes where Mount Doom of LOTR was shot. The sign at the entrance said the full 19km-hike takes over 6-7 hours. Based on my experience, it can easily take an novice hiker over 10 hours to compete the trail. The hike takes place over many active volcanic areas. There are many warning signs about falling rocks and slippery unstable tracks. From the base (1,120m) to mid levels (at 1,350m) to the crater (at 1,886m), temperature changes drastically so it is important to come well-prepared and fully equipped. It is strongly advised to come in 2 cars where you start from one carpark at Mangatepopo Carpark and ends at the other at Ketetahi Carpark (so there is no need for you to track back to the starting point). We could not finish the hike as the tracks were very slippery due to the icy condition.

– Located only 10-min drive away from Taupo town center, this is New Zealand’s most convenient and visited natural attraction. It takes less than 5 minutes to walk from the carpark to the falls. Every second, up to 220,000 litres of water gushes through the 20m-gorge and as it crosses a narrow 15m volcanic channel, it forms a spectacular visual feast of powerful falls and rapids.


After hiking and traveling for so many days, I decided to pick a motel with private spa pool. After all, we are in Sulphur City where it is surrounded by numerous active geothermal spots. I managed to find a highly-rated motel by the name of Sport of the Kings. Its owners were extremely friendly and helpful. The rooms are clean and spacious. Most importantly, we have our own private hot spa pool to relax our tired bodies after a long day of walking.

Located 10km away from Taupo Lake and 50-min drive away from Rotorua, this is one of the smallest (and more affordable) geothermal attractions around this region. It houses lots of small steaming active craters, blowholes (fumaroles) and a small boiling mud-pool. If you have visited other major geothermal parks like the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, you can simply skip this. Website: http://www.cratersofthemoon.co.nz/

The Lonely Planet cited this as “arguably the best thermal area left in New Zealand”, the Orakei Korako Geothermal Attraction houses one of the two geothermal caves in the world and the largest geyser-fields in New Zealand. Do take precaution whenever you are visiting one of these thermal areas as the zones can be highly unpredictable and dangerous. Always stay on the boardwalks and away from the boiling steam. The Orakei Korako Geothermal Attraction is located just 40-min drive away from Rotorua. It is certainly worth a visit if you are driving through the area. Website: http://www.orakeikorako.co.nz/

– Having visited 4 geothermal attractions, in my opinion, the Wai-O-Tapu is the most colourful and spectacular geothermal site. Located 20-min drive away from Rotorua, it houses big deep craters, mudpools and luminous thermal lakes. The entrance tickets cost a little more than the rest but it is a must-visit destination for those who come to New Zealand!  Website: http://www.waiotapu.co.nz/

– The Lonely Planet rated this as one of the world’s top 5 geysers and it is the world’s most reliable and predictable geyser. Shooting up to 30m high, the Pohutu Geyser is nature’s most spectacular fountain! Best of all, it is located within 5min-drive from Rotorua city center! A 100% must visit destination! Be prepared for lots of steam! When we were here, the geyser was shooting non-stop for over 30 minutes! It was amazing! There is a guided tour every hour or you can simply take a self-guided walk. Website: http://www.tepuia.com/new-zealand/

4.5) A-MAZE-ME (15MIN – 60MIN) 
– There are a lot of activities for kids and family along Paradise Valley Road, Rotorua (which is only 15min drive away from the town center). This is Elkan’s first giant maze experience! Three of us ran into the maze and guess who won! Elkan arrived at the center of the maze first! He took only 15 minutes to crack the maze. Poor Felicia and me took much much longer! Website: http://www.amazeme.co.nz/

Our 10-day Middle Earth adventure ended here. We parked ourselves at Holiday Inn Auckland Airport Hotel a day before our flight so we avoided taking a 3-hour long morning drive from Rotorua back to Auckland. We needed a good rest before the long 11-hour flight back to Hong Kong. Our hotel was only 5-min drive away from the airport.

5.1) KIWI 360 (45MIN VISIT)
– On our way from Rotorua to Auckland, we made a short detour at a Kiwi Fruit Plantation (located 51km from Rotorua). It was an enjoyable visit where we learnt so many new things about this amazing fruit! For the first time in our life, we learnt that Kiwi Fruit isn’t a native fruit of New Zealand. It is in fact a native fruit from China! Yes, China! It was only introduced to New Zealand in the early 1900s and it was originally named “Chinese Gooseberry”. However, that didn’t sound very convincing and the New Zealanders had a difficult time to export “grow-in-New-Zealand-Chinese-Gooseberry” overseas. A remarkable marketing rebranding by a California-based importer changed its fate. As the brown furry fruit resembled the native bird Kiwi, the California important renamed the fruit from “Chinese Gooseberry” to “Kiwi Fruit”. Soon, its fame grew and by 1980s, New Zealand was known as the Kiwi Fruit Capital. We learnt so much more about the fruit at the farm. The tour guide was extremely insightful and friendly. We got to see 16 other fruit trees including the Mānuka flowers and the Macadamia Nut trees (that looks like a lime trees). Elkan even got a rare opportunity to pluck a couple of kiwi fruits to bring home! Do also grab other exclusive Kiwi products at the gift shop! The Kiwi Whisky is just so smooth and sweet! Website: http://www.kiwi360.com/

It has been a wonderful, fulfilling holiday with Felicia and Elkan. For some strange reasons, it felt like a month vacation when we only spent 10 nights in New Zealand. My only regret is I should have planned a 18-day vacation instead of 10. An additional 8 days would be enough for us to fly south to visit more scenic sites. The Kiwis have been extraordinary kind to us. New Zealand left us with so many priceless moments and memories. What I left behind was my missing drone. Hopefully, it finds itself a good master so it can soar once again, over this incredible beautiful land.

We will certainly be back for the southern Middle Earth tour – with more drivers and buddies! And yes, I will bring in my new drone to defeat the dark lords! Haere rā, Middle Earth! Hope you enjoy this blog.

And it so good to be back home with a birthday surprise for me – Thanks Tracy for the cake and gift!

Road to Middle Earth Part I – City of Sails

This June holiday, we travelled forward in time to visit a new world down south. This is the world’s last landmass ever discovered and populated.The earliest immigrants named it Aotearoa. And some refer it as the Middle Earth. After an amazing long 11-hour redeye flight (smoothest flight ever with no turbulance at all) from Hong Kong, Felicia, Elkan and I touched down at the world’s largest Polynesian city. The city too, comes in many different names – Tamaki Makaurau, City of Sails or simply Auckland.

This is our 2nd vacation without the great company of Auntie Baybay and Uncle Harshad. And it was our 2nd overseas vacation trip during the June holiday. Usually, we would explore new places during the Nov-Dec Christmas season. Last Dec was an unfortunate exception as the entire family was infected by Chicken pox. Considering this as a “holiday compensation”, I gave them a surprise trip down at Middle Earth.

Like all times, I wanted to keep this as a surprise until they arrived in Hong Kong. However, there were a couple of things that I would need Felicia to prepare – their winter clothing and driving classes. Yes, driving classes. You see, I cannot drive (Thanks God how many lives I spared by not having a driving licence) so we may have a problem in New Zealand. Therefore, I told Felicia about this surprise trip and got her to take up driving-refresher’s course. It was almost 16 years ago when Felicia and I last travelled on wheels alone (and that was in Western Australia in 1999). Felicia was nervous at first when I broke the news to her. She took 3 driving classes and regained her confidence. Anyway, I have plotted a very driver-friendly route. We kept it to maximum 2-hour of driving per day. This is a 10-day tour with 5 stop overs.  Due to this careful planning, I have decided to shelf the Southern Island trip to our next vacation. And hopefully, I can rally more driver-buddies to come with us.

Elkan was extremely excited the moment we touched down at Auckland Airport. He always wanted to see his mum driving. This must be an unforgettable moment for him. I saw the sparks in his eyes the moment Felicia started the engine. Felicia did a test-drive around the carpark and off we went! GPS was working superbly and in no time, we arrived at our hotel.

This is the first time we travel together on wheels. There is no need to catch a taxi or a train. We can go and stop wherever and whenever we want. It is such a fantastic feeling, just like the old times we had when we were in Australia.

Auckland is a very small city with little attractions. The highlight of Auckland is seeing Felicia on wheels. We explored Auckland’s key shopping district Queen’s Street on our first day. We are impressed by the city’s cleanliness and its warm people. We love the suburbs and the beautiful big houses. There were a lot of Asians residents (Chinese, Hong Kongers, Japanese, Koreans and Indians) on the streets. Most shops close at 5pm and the city wind down. It reminded me of a mini Sydney.

The next morning, we took a 30min-ferry out to Waiheke Island for a half-day tour. A big island with many expensive beach-facing villas, vineyards, farms, novelty shops, beach cafes, seafood restaurants and powdery white bays. It is a lovely island with very friendly islanders. Unluckily for us, the weather was very unpredictable today. One minute, it was clear blue sky and the next, grey clouds with drizzle. This crazy cycle of sunshine and rain repeated itself numerously throughout the day. It was frustrating for me as I was handling the photographic gears. I wanted to fly the drone but the weather was just too windy and unpredictable.

We ended our short 2-day city stay on the summit of Auckland’s tallest dormant volcano, Mount Eden. Standing at 196m tall, on the rim of its green leafy volcanic crater, the sunset view of the city was spectacularly stunning.

Next stop, Hamilton. Yes, we are going to visit the most-popular-touristic village of Middle Earth – The Hobbiton Village.


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