Ask any New Zealander what their ultimate travel destination is and you'd be lucky to find a single person whose answer would be Chernobyl; home of the most disastrous nuclear power plant accident in world history.
However, Kiwi travel photographer Ben Kepka, who grew up in Greenmeadows, has just returned to Hawke's Bay after visiting the site of the catastrophic nuclear disaster in his most "extreme" travel venture to date.
"It was the exact opposite of New Zealand. It was freezing cold, radioactive, desolate and there was nothing there ... It couldn't be further from Hawke's Bay," he said.
Equipped with a government-sanctioned guide, a mandatory step Chernobyl visitors must take, Mr Kepka explored the abandoned ruins with three other New Zealanders on December 28 in what was a "once in a lifetime opportunity".
"I've always enjoyed urban exploration where you explore abandoned places and Chernobyl is the holy grail of this," he said.
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 in the No 4 light water graphite moderated reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, northern Ukraine.
Mr Kepka said that the completion of a recent cover for a nuclear reactor on the site and hours of personal research meant both meant he felt safe to visit the site; although these safety measures didn't protect him from seeing disturbing things.
"We visited a kindergarten and there were small child bunk beds strewn everywhere with fluff and one-eyed dolls ... To see that was just shocking," he said.
Mr Kepka said following the nuclear disaster much of the area had been cleared up, with several centimetres of dirt being lifted from the ground and replaced by fresh dirt and much of the radioactive dust trapped under snow during the winter.
Along with a sanctioned guide, the Chernobyl visitors underwent numerous checkpoints, passport checks, visitation hour restrictions, and radiation checks.
Mr Kepka said his experiences at Chernobyl made him thankful for New Zealand's strong anti-nuclear stance and policies.
"You can see that when something like this happens, it's impossible to go back. I feel much, much safer but every country has issues, just like we have earthquakes," he said.
Mr Kepka has a day job as a facade engineer in London but spends the rest of his time photographing, filming and writing about his travels.
When asked what he would say to anyone wishing to travel, he said he would encourage them to take every chance they get.
"Take every opportunity that you can because you don't want to look back and say 'I wish I did that'," he said.
The landscapes of Iceland, Austria, Morocco, Switzerland, Poland, California, Southern France and the United Kingdom are just some of his recent shoot locations.
Those who wish to see more photos or video of Mr Kepka's visit to Chernobyl can visit www.culturedkiwi.com.