Travelling around New Zealand
Whoever said it was a long way to Tipperary, had clearly never travelled to New Zealand! Boy, what a journey.
Going to New Zealand I kind of expected the landscapes to be amazing and the shots to pretty much fall into the camera. As I quickly found out, although the landscapes are a feast for the eyes, the camera needs a little more to make them sing.
We appeared to have arrived the one year New Zealand is having a particularly bad Summer - for the three weeks we were there, the sun shone for just over a week, which was nice, but we had hoped for more. Having said that, I was there and needed to create whatever I could. After all, it was too far to go and come back with nothing.
Don't forget this wasn't a photography holiday it was a; relaxing, exploring, see the sites, chilling kind of holiday, with the added advantage of being able to create some photographs along the way. Tereza was great and drove around the South Island, looking for places to explore and locations to shoot. By almost constantly travelling we managed to see much of the landscape and attractions New Zealand has to offer. Not that hard considering the mileage and steps we put in - on top of driving anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours each day we also clocked up 220K steps each!
My intent for this trip was to travel light. For that reason, my Canon gear stayed at home and instead my bag was full of Fuji gear; Fuji X-T1 & 14mm, 23mm, 50-140mm lenses. My tripod of choice was the 3 Legged Thing (I still have a few issues with this tripod, but it did the job). My bag for all my gear is the wonderful Lowepro ProTactic 350. Of course, I also needed my Lee Big Stopper and Polariser filters. Something that I didn't anticipate is the polariser actually reflects the numbers on the front of the lenses - click image on right to see what I am referring to. I also took a GoPro, but hardly used it tbh.
Two things that disappointed about New Zealand were the weather and the food. Travelling to remote locations that promised breath-taking mirror-lake views, only to get there and find it raining and the mountains covered in cloud, #Frustrating. As far as the weather is concerned we were just unlucky, we did manage to avoid an earthquake and a raging fire which had destroyed part of the country while we were there. As for the food, not only was it expensive but rather mediocre, with the odd exception. Weirdly, most places stopped serving food by 8 or 9pm, being the height of the season this amazed and confused me.
What I found exceptional were the landscapes, the sheer vastness of the place and difference from one area to another. As I have said before, I see the landscapes in front of me, but rarely do I capture the beauty I see, hopefully this time I have managed to capture at least some of that beauty.
Arriving in Christchurch we made our way to our apartment, had a power nap and orientated ourselves. Christchurch had recently suffered a devastating earthquake, when I say recently, it was seven years ago, but the place looks like it had occurred much more recent. So many buildings still left derelict and unoccupied. Perhaps the earthquake or the rain made the city feel like it had less to offer, but after walking around in the rain we were happy to move on. Travelling around New Zealand you can't help being aware of the very American feel to the place, which is particularly reflected in the single-story buildings. Conversely New Zealand's own culture seemed conspicuously absent.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is a photographic mecca. So obviously, I headed over to the church for a quick recce. I grabbed a few shots and checked the PhotoPills app to see where the Milky Way would be, and when. Armed with that knowledge I knew when I would need to return to get 'that' shot. Upon returning to the church, several people had already pitched up and had some good spots, so I quickly worked on a composition from my chosen location. I was pleased I turned up early as the very small space gets very crowded. As the night went on more and more people turned up, lots of them ignorant to where other photographers were positioned, actually standing right in front of others?! I got the shot I was after (sort of) and left. Another hour or so would have given a better arch to the Milky Way over the church, but my patience wouldn't have lasted.
Being an official dark sky location this is the perfect region to photograph night skies and the Milky Way.
There is another lake worth checking out, Lake Pukaki. With it's wonderfully aqua-blue water it offers a splendid view of Mount Cook across the length of the water.
Wanaka is very much geared up for the tourists and the prices reflect that. It is a beautiful area, with places of equal beauty and empty beaches just a stones throw (or short drive) away. If you feel up to it, by taking a short trek you can get a splendid view over the whole area, and also get to see a few additional beauty spots along the way, such as Diamond Lake. Another one of those 'must do' shots is the Wanaka Tree. A lone tree growing part-way into the lake, with the right conditions you can make a very nice shot of this tree. I opted to do a long exposure to smooth out the water, and get something slightly different.
With views of Mount Aspiring in the distance, makes this another key location for photographers. There are plenty of mountain ranges in NZ and when they have snow covered peaks they are postcard perfect.
Lake Hawea - is the lake next to Lake Wanaka and as I mentioned, has just as spectacular views and beaches to offer, so worth a little trip there too.
Should you want a giggle, pop along to Puzzling World, this world of illusion will leave you questioning which way is up.
Rob Roy Glacier
Not knowing what an unsealed road was we niavely set off - an unsealed road has no tarmac on it and is more like a hard gravel road, not comfortable in a car. The end of the road up to the Glacier was 40km along an unsealed road. The car, rattling and shaking uncontrollably, made its way along the route. It was almost like a cartoon, at any point we thought the door were going to fall off, then the wheels and we be left sat in a shell of the former vehicle. After risking it through several fords, that where luckily only half full of water we eventually arrived at the base of the mountain. Thinking that was the hard part was our first mistake.
The trek to the glacier was a proper mission, and almost had me giving up, as the mountainous trek just seemed to go on and on through the dense woodland. However, on occasion you would catch glimpses of what awaited you through the trees, and that was enough to spur us on. After the tiring hour-long trek we reached the summit of the glacier and marvelled at the sight before us as numerous waterfalls cascaded down the rock face in several places. The walk back was certainly easier.
This resort town is surrounded by the Remarkables, a mountain range that lives up to it's namesake. Queenstown is a bustling metropolis, pretty much the action capitial of NZ as it's focus is on adventure sports. While in the area we drove over to Arrowtown. This historic Olde Worlde town that is very much American in design; think Wild West, Panning for gold style mining town and you get the picture. The street looks great to the eye, but the modern cars parked along the road ruin the illusion somewhat. But don't let that put you off, it's still worth the trip.
Dunedin, the second largest city, has a wonderful train station and also boasts the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, of course, I had to walk up it! Along the way we also stopped off at the Cathedral Caves, with its ceiling reaching 30 metres it really is something. By the way, the caves are only accessible two hours either side of low tide. I photographed the cave with silhouettes of people in the opening to give the cave scale. We also stopped off at Nugget Point, where a lighthouse stands proudly on the tip of the land.
Situated on the Eastern shoreline, Te Anau has the largest lake in the South Island. It is the perfect jump off point for nearby attractions such as Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. With such a beautiful lake and a picturesque pier it was an obvious photo-op, I just needed to wait for sunset and break out the Big Stopper to create the image I wanted.
You really can't come to New Zealand and not visit Milford Sound, it is a prime location - it reportedly gets up to 1 million visitors a year. Milford Sound has two permanent waterfalls all year round, but when it rains, plenty more appear along the length of the fiord.
I was slightly disenchanted that it not only rained but poured down on our boat ride along the Sound. That was a double-edged sword, as on the one hand it made the waterfalls gush, but on the other made it hard for the camera gear and light. Regardless, I mustered on refusing to give in to the rain. Experiencing Milford Sound on a sunny day must feel totally different. We did manage to see some of the local wildlife basking on the rocks. My GoPro footage got ditched as the lens kept getting covered in rain drops.
On route to Fox Glacier we stopped of at several beauty spots, Blue Pools being one. The glacier produces an amazing colour of water as it flows in to the river below.
Fox Glacier looks better from a distance rather than being at the bottom of it. I photographed it through some trees that offered a nice framing element with the mountain off in the distance. Still, a mighty impressive spectacle.
Franz Josef is an amazing Glacier, and, you can get quite close to the base of the glacier as it looms above you. To get even closer you now need to book a trip which includes a helicopter ride to drop you on to the glacier itself. It is (currently) 12km long. They say that since 2008 the glacier is receding at an accelerated speed and at it's current rate it will be 5km shorter and 38% smaller by 2100, so go see it now while you still can.
With one more quick stop off and an hours hike, we reached Coal Creek Falls, where I managed to create the B&W image you see below. I had to fight off the biting sandflies as I took the minute-long exposure but it was worth it.
Back on the road we continued up on the West coast, to our final destination - Pancake Rocks. An eroded limestone collection of rocks, with blowhole spots that shoot water high in to the air during high tides. While there we also delicious pancakes in the cafe opposite, as you do!
That about wraps up our trip, please don't think for a moment that I didn't enjoy this trip. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be - EPIC! The people were friendly and the country is fantastic and quite breath-taking. If anything the trip was too short. To really appreciate this country you need time, and lots of it. We never even managed to get up to the North Island, maybe next time ;)
For UK citizens NZ is the perfect location to visit. They have views to die for, the food is familiar, they speak English, they drive on the same side of the road. Many times we looked at the landscape and could have sworn we were on the Moors. Navigating your way around the island is simple. The country has a very laid back feel to it, so relaxing is easy and their beaches are clean and sandy. Make sure you stop off at the tourist information points (in each town/city) to grab a free map of the area, these prove invaluable.
Driving is the best way to see and appreciate this country, just get off the beaten track occasionally and make your own adventure. Around every turn there seemed to be another landscape to photograph and we definitely stopped way too often.
Tereza got to laze by the pool, relax on the beach, meet the wildlife and eat guilt-free ice cream. I got to take pictures of pretty landscapes, off-road, shoot guns and entertain her along the way with car karaoke - win/win.
As I am still working on my landscapes any positive comments are welcome. Kia Ora Y'all ;)