Is there a place on the planet that’s always captured your imagination? That’s Australia for Morgan Maassen, Vuori Collaborator and Santa Barbara-based photographer. Known for his stunning imagery of the natural environment—both on land and underwater, Morgan knows a thing or two about how the natural world can awaken the imagination so we asked him to share the place that he keeps coming back to. Though he’s been traveling and photographing some of the world’s most exciting terrains for over a decade, Morgan says, “I am more excited and challenged by Australia than ever.” Read on for Morgan’s Australia, from epic views of the hinterlands to chasing kangaroos.
Across all of my travels, no place speaks to me more than Australia. The land is so vast, the sea is so brilliant. It's become increasingly harder to take a photograph anywhere around the world without having to remind myself that Australia is on a different level of beauty. And beyond the amazing wildlife, blinding white-sand beaches, and endless jungle, is a brilliant color palette, wavering between rich, earthy tones and electric blues and greens. I started photography at the age of 18 and by chance found myself visiting the continent a year later… and after more than a decade of chasing moments of awe, I am more excited and challenged by Australia than ever.
The sheer size of the country and distance from my home in California means that every visit warrants at least three weeks of time. While I wish I could have stayed longer, I was able to spend almost a month there during this recent visit, enjoying the breathtaking beauty of winter in the southern hemisphere. Every river and waterfall was overflowing, Humpback whales migrated up both coasts to breed, the jungle was as dense and vibrant as ever, radiating green from the ample rainfall. It was paradise; with some days feeling like summer as weather patterns relaxed and the heat took over, while other days featured blistering winds and frigid air, blasting up from the depths of Antarctica.
If I could define my trip by one moment, it was clamoring up a tiny rock headland in New South Wales to catch the last glimpses of the sunset. Whales breached all along the horizon. A pod of dolphins lazily rode waves along the shorebreak, massive sea eagles squacked overhead as silly bush turkeys pecked at my feet. Most importantly, the water sparkled blue, as crystal clear as you’d expect from the Bahamas, while the dense jungle just inset from the beach roared with bird and wildlife chatter. What a place Australia is, I thought to myself, as I began scheming how I could return as quickly as possible.
Sunrise over Mt. Warning. The mountain’s jagged peak looms over all of northern New South Wales, and is usually visible over the hinterland’s cloud-cover. It makes for the most incredible overnight hike to be the first to see the sunrise over all of Australia, but is not for the faint of heart.
Capturing the sunrise over Mt. Warning from a beach just down the coast. While winters don’t always equate to rain, they do mean wild temperature swings before and after the sun is overhead.
Australia has some of the most unique climate I’ve ever seen. What I often refer to as jungle is actually sub-tropical foliage, aka “the bush”, but it appears and functions just as intensely as parts of the Amazon. In many places, it spills out over the ocean, making for surreal coastlines.
Byron Bay is absolute paradise. The perfect combination of a surf village, epic coastline, and sprawling wilderness, I find it easy to arrive here, and hard to find a reason to leave.
This winter so far has seen epic amounts of rainfall, so all of the rivers and waterfalls were gushing. On the hotter days, I’d sneak up into the hinterland to cool off, and enjoy the chilly water.
The beauty of Australia extends to the people, who are so kind and open to adventure. I’m immensely proud of my friend group in this country, and while I often aspire to experience nature alone, its so easy to meet up with friends to discover new places and capture against the epic wilderness.
Maybe my favorite part about Australia is how, across its thousands of miles of coastline, you are hard-pressed to find anything but beautiful visibility. While sharks are always on the mind, this is my playground. I love nothing more than shooting underwater and capturing the silent realm.
On this trip, I was focusing on multiple video projects that saw me spending so much time in the water. The temperature swings with the weather were radical, but I was treated to a few scorching days that warranted nothing but my favorite pair of swim trunks and flippers.
The surf in Australia is flawless, which has helped clearly define it as my favorite place to capture my favorite sport.
The hinterland is a term for the endless rolling hills that line the coast, where pastures meet dense pockets of jungle. I love getting lost on roads up here, exploring them for their epic views and windows into a more rural lifestyle.
I’m also probably the worst person to travel with in Australia, as the car can’t move about 1 mile before I jump out, camera in hand. The roads oscillate between being so open, and so enshrouded in jungle; the latter of which often sees kangaroos lurking in the foliage and koalas climbing overhead.
While not the most original image, this is one of my favorite ever. A family of red kangaroos, over the Indian ocean. I think it encapsulates everything I dreamed of seeing and experiencing in Australia throughout my childhood, and while out trekking to a lost beach one day, it all clicked
Feeling inspired by Morgan's travels and ready to book that trip to Australia? Check out some suggestions on his favorite spots to stop, eat, surf, and play below.
Favorite Hikes & Views:
Favorite Beaches & Surf Spots:
Urban Destinations & Eats