Cook Strait Landscapes Maritime mountains South Coast Weather

June 30, 2012 … slow and mighty

Mighty waves stir my soul.

Something about their deceptive, slow, ponderous majesty just moves me.

The energy in a big ocean roller is beyond my comprehension.  I love the way the deep green water heaves itself up, and up, and up … and passes, leaving a long foaming slope behind it.  And the noise, oh what a majestic concert it plays. 

Of course this depends a bit on where it terminates. An unimpeded beach can be spectacular, but my favourite place is on rocky outcrops such as those on Wellington’s South Coast. This must be the nearest I will ever come to the old conundrum about unstoppable forces and immovable objects. The visceral thump as a rolling mountain of water meets up with rocks that have remained unmoved for millennia is just magnificent. The visual display as hundreds of tonnes of white water rocket skywards from the impact is equally enthralling.

In the pauses between successive waves, the ferry Aratere is making its way steadily across the heaving horizon towards Picton. Her bow rises and falls in ponderous adaptation to the rhythm of the sea. She appears to be travelling quite slowly, but as with the waves, her size makes her speed deceptive.

Once clear of the harbour on one side, or the sounds on the other, Aratere is capable of 19.5 knots (36km/h), and with a six voyage a day timetable, she seems to make little concession to the sea state. I feel slightly queasy just watching her rise and fall before the next big roller hides her from view again.

It’s just a week or two since my last big wave shots, only this time, the wind is from the South and the waves look and feel different. And the sun is shining, and the sky is sharp and clear. When the waves permit, the Kaikoura range is sharply visible from down on the beach. 

Here in the Antipodes, a Southerly is the very cold wind, and I had come out without my heavy jacket, so my teeth were chattering as I set up the camera and tripod in the lee of some solid rocks. Not only did the rocks protect me from the waves, they also removed the worst of the wind and allowed the camera to remain steady. So here is my favourite shot from yesterday. Waves at Owhiro Bay, WellingtonI just love that incoming wall of water.

Oh yes, that’s our old friend, Tapuae-o-Uenuku in the background.  

And that’s the first six months of this blog. I think somewhat wryly, that 182 posts with a typical 450 words a day comes to about 82,000 words … if only I had been able to write my doctoral thesis so glibly.

The next six months starts tomorrow.

Landscapes Light Lower Hutt Petone Wellington

June 29, 2012 … distant perspective

Some photographers scorn the zoom-lens.

Some cooks scorn microwave ovens. Some drivers won’t have automatic transmission. For my part, I am a technophile, and I love what my technology can empower me to achieve. On the other hand I am driven nuts by the problems that arise from extreme complexity. My laptop won’t boot if there is anything plugged into its USB 3.0 port, for example.

Some photographers insist on using a prime (non-zoom) lens only, and some take it to the extreme and use just one lens, usually the “standard” lens (50mm equivalent). I respect their right to take that position as long as they stand clear when I choose other options.

Yesterday, as I was returning home from the city, I  was driving over Normandale Bridge and glanced to the left and saw that there was a bright haze in the South which altered the appearance of the landscape. I pulled into the car park at the foot of the hill an walked back onto the bridge with my camera and looked through the viewfinder.

Normally, my naked eye cannot resolve detail of the Wellington cityscape from here, even in clear conditions, but with the lens zoomed right out to 400mm I was a bit startled by the things I could now see.

The first thing that surprised me was that most of the landmarks that appeared in my viewfinder were not in the places where my navigational instincts expected them to be. The other was the extent to which such landmarks clustered together in the foreshortened view offered by this lens.

Perhaps even more surprising to me was the different idea of the Hutt Valley conveyed at this magnification. If I were asked to describe the Hutt Valley to a stranger, I would speak of houses and trees.  What I saw was concrete ramps, tower blocks, gantries, signs and lighting poles. Not at all the benign dormitory I normally visualize.South from Normandale Bridge

For orientation, the tiled roof and sloping veranda in the left foreground is the Western Hutt (formerly Lower Hutt) railway Station.  The dark grey gantries carry the catenary wire for the trains.

The trees on the right, are at the foot of the Western hills below Maungaraki. The road curving round to the right in the shadows at low level is SH2 bound for Wellington. The concrete ramp and elevated road is the new Dowse Drive interchange that carries traffic down from the Western Hills across SH2 and the rail line into the Hutt CBD or to Petone.

In the distance, behind the two tower blocks on the right, if you look at the enlarged image, you will see the black tower block on the corner of Willis and Lambton Quay.  Then, behind the two light towers in the gap between the Petone high-rise buildings,  is the tower block at the top of Plimmer Steps, and peeking above the left most of the local towers, is the Majestic Centre on the corner of Willis and Boulcott St.

And of course, we can see that uncharacteristic haze.  It is atmospheric rather than industrial – an artifact of sunshine and low temperature and humidity, I would guess.

Anyway, back to the zoom, any tool that gives me additional ways to see is a good.

Birds Light Petone Seaview

June 28, 2012 … the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Some days,persistence pays off.

I was getting a bit desperate, wandering around my usual  haunts near the Hutt River estuary.

First, on the Eastern side,  there was a small colony of pied shags sitting on the tree trunk I have mentioned before. The light was right, and they were variously preening and drying their wings as shags are wont to do.  I don’t know if they saw me (I had been very careful to sneak up behind one of the pohutukawas that line the bank), but two of them took sudden flight. Not far mind you. Just a few metres to the river.

Shags in formation on the Hutt RiverI was intrigued by this pair swimming in formation, and also by the fact that one has blue eyes and the other  has yellow. You may have to enlarge it to verify this.

Then a a little while later, on the other side of the river, I was catching some interesting shots of the black-backed gulls flying close above me when I noticed that, despite a chill breeze, patches of the river were now mirror calm. This was in contrast to the rippled surface in the shag shot a few minutes earlier.

In the smooth patches, the industrial area on the other side was reflected beautifully.  Port Road is often used as a rest area for the line-haul truckers, so a large slab-sided “B-train” (a red tractor and two yellow trailer units) contributed the yellow to the palette, and near it, a bright red building lent vigour to the scene, and contrast to the underlying green of the river. Since I can’t walk on water, my zoom lens and some judicious cropping took me closer to the reflection.Afternoon reflections on the Hutt River

I still don’t think it’s photographic impressionism, but as some unclassified kind of abstract, I like it.

It seems the more I point my camera at things, the more things I get to see.

creativity Eastbourne Landscapes Light Maritime Petone

June 27, 2012 … from the viewpoint of a duck

Change the point of view.

That’s a recipe that sometimes works when I find myself in a place that doesn’t offer an obvious picture.  It doesn’t always work. I have tried looking to left and right, behind, up and down. I also try from a higher, or as in today’s case, lower point of view.

I am always nervous putting my precious camera near hazards which in this case were sand from the beach, and the waters of the Korokoro stream.  However, the wind though steady, was at my back and the water was undisturbed.  Only the camera strap between it and the sand.

Mouth of the Korokoro stream, Petone

The disturbance on the water is merely the ripples over the stones as the stream joins the harbour. As you can see, this end of the beach is already in the shadow of the Western Hills, but across the Harbour, pretty Eastbourne basks in the late light of the afternoon. I won’t suggest it was actually warm over there, because my hands were chilled, and I estimate the temperature to have been around 9 or 10 deg C.

Perhaps something different tomorrow.


Architecture Landscapes Light Mangaroa Valley Trees

June 26, 2012 … another country, just next door

Ambivalent is the best word for it.

On the other side of the Eastern hills at the Northern end of the Hutt Valley, are some smaller, less densely populated valleys. Whitemans Valley and the Mangaroa valley used to be the real thing. And my attitude to them is ambivalent.

They were farmed, long ago, by pioneers who produced timber, wool, meat, milk, cheese or grain. They carted it on wagons over the steep and winding tracks to the markets over the hill.  To this day those valleys still offer the appearance of farming communities, though the architecture of the houses, and the economic realities of the land are evolving rapidly.

It may be that there are still some genuine working farms, ones whose output is the main livelihood of those who live there.  But to an ever greater extent, these lovely landscapes are being divided into what the real estate agents refer to as “lifestyle blocks” (Those of us who live in the cities should apparently not aspire to anything as exotic as a “lifestyle”).

I suppose they might be called “hobby farms”.  Typically they are four hectares (ten acres) and at present prices, cost around the NZD$1 million mark. The median house price in Wellington is in the neighborhood of NZD$430,000.

There was a time when the costs of running such smallholdings could be used to offset tax. As I understand it, this no longer works under New Zealand tax law. Unless the land is farmed with the demonstrable intention to make a profit, you are classed as a hobby farmer, and the costs are your problem.

Happily, the architectural style, though “upmarket”, tends to lean towards “discreet”, so that they nestle within the landscape rather than impose themselves upon it.

I run the risk of “inverse snobbery” when I observe that there are a lot of BMW, Range Rover and Lexus vehicles over there. Oh, and a lot of horse trailers. Lots of horse trailers.  However, when I describe it thus, it is not with the intention to be critical, but merely to paint a picture of that community as the outsider encounters it.

It is still a lovely landscape to drive, ride or walk through. The roads are narrow and tend to be lined with trees and hedges. There are rivers and fields, cows and sheep, and of course, horses. Lots of horses. Since it runs roughly North to South, morning and evening shadows are beautiful.

Some of the old farm buildings are gently returning to the earth. This old shed in the Mangaroa Valley has a way to go yet, but has certainly chosen a spectacular landscape against which to do it. I loved the combination of rich red rust, dark cloud, green trees and warm afternoon light.decaying shed in the Mangaroa Valley

From there I drove further North, eventually rejoining the rest of civilization at Maymorn just North of Upper Hutt.

I am starting to get excited about our forthcoming trip to the US. Ten sleeps to go.

creativity Light Maritime night Seaview Weather

June 25, 2012 … we must do this again sometime

Repetition is a mixed blessing.

Should I regard the recurrence of photographic themes as necessary practice for the purpose of improvement. Or am I in a rut? Do I lack the creativity to which I aspire? I have no certain answer to these questions, and I suspect that no answer will come until I have repeated various things many more times.

It would be vanity to say “I have achieved mastery of some particular genre, I have made the ultimate image, and need not come back to it”. On the other hand, it would be cowardly to remain locked into the things I am comfortable with.

My response will be to strive for a balance between the familiar and the new, the safe and the dangerous.

Yesterday started with cool and slightly blustery weather, the remnant of the gales from the previous day. During the afternoon it became fine, calm, and almost spring-like (well, we are on the uphill side of the winter solstice).  But as the evening approached, clouds came back, and a breeze was beginning. It was after 4pm and I had still no image that I could use. Light was fading very fast, so I returned to the scene of much previous work.

It’s not just that I like the sea and the ships that sail thereon. It’s also the case that the Seaview Marina is tucked into the North Eastern corner of the harbour, and is almost the last place touched by the sun before the shadow of night climbs the hill and ends the day. That means, if I’m running late, that is last possible place for a natural light image.

For some reason, though a nearby industrial wind turbine was spinning briskly in the rising Northerly, the waters within the marina were, as yet, unruffled. Evening light and still water seem to be a happy combination for me, and so we have yet another reflection on and rigging at Seaview

Masts and rigging can be visually confusing, or even unsightly, but when seen en masse like this, they provide a texture akin to the warps on a loom. The rest of the image could be likened to the weaving in which the colour starts from the bottom of the loom and makes its way thread by thread to the top. Or is that too fanciful?

From there we drove up Port Road and I paused to capture some lovely ripples on the river, almost monochrome in the very low angled last light.

Must do that again so I can do it better next time.

Cook Strait harbour Landscapes Light Maritime Seaview Weather Wellington

June 24, 2012 … home from sea*

It’s hard to get the best bits of seafood from your bowl, if the soup keeps throwing itself in your face.

That’s the impression I got from the solitary but grumpy looking Royal Spoonbill in Hikoikoi reserve. Extreme weather warnings yesterday predicted gusts to 130 km/h, and though it probably didn’t get quite that high, it was hard for me to stand still, and even harder to hold the long lens steady enough to capture that bird’s frustration as the water kept slapping it in the face.

I think the bird was a juvenile because it didn’t have the vivid bit slightly comical yellow eyebrows that I normally associate with the mature spoonbill. In addition, they usually seem to browse in social groups, so perhaps this one was some kind of rebel or outcast.

Further around the Eastern bays, my attention was caught by the whole stormy light and shade patterns in the sky, and on the sea. Dark blue-grey clouds, deep green sea, and wave tops shattered into patches of whiteness by the screaming wind. Perversely, patches of sunlight slipped though to illuminate large areas of the wet green bush-clad hills.

For a while, against this background, I watched another loner … an Australasian gannet, soaring with no apparent effort into the wind. Every so often it would see a tasty morsel and just fold its wings and plunge into the turbulence below. I have no idea whether it was catching anything, but each time it would quickly lift off again and resume its endless search for food.

Far out in the harbour mouth the ferry Kaitaki  had just changed course to enter the harbour. I imagine this must have been a huge relief to the passengers after a queasy hour or so in the unprotected waters of the Cook Strait with a strong beam wind. Like many ships of her type, Kaitaki  has a vast flat frontage to act as a sail area, and it must have taken rather more horsepower than usual for the ship to power its way up into the harbour.Kaitaki enters Wellington Harbour in a severe gale

As usual, the image works better enlarged.

To the right of the picture, you would normally be able to see the Miramar peninsula and Seatoun.  In this image, nothing!

In places it seemed as if huge sheets of water were being lifted from the surface  of the harbour and hurled downwind to smash against the houses nestled around Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay.  Nothing stays the same for long, and sure enough the weather got worse.

Heavy rain was added to the mix later in the evening.

Today, on the other hand is still, though still wet and grey.

 * Robert Louis Stevenson, Requiem

hobbies Landscapes Light Lower Hutt Retirement

June 23, 2012 … changing gears

Daily blogging tends to assume a kind of uniformity to the day being described.

“This is the day on which such and such happened” … in reality, the quality of each day varies hour by hour. Some hours are serious, contemplative, others may be hilarious slapstick. And some activity, including photography, is just self-indulgent.

I take it as it comes, but that often presents a challenge as to which aspect of the day to write about. Mostly, some experience stands out as the most memorable and noteworthy of the day. At other times I find myself struggling to choose.

Let me start yesterday’s story at the beginning with valley mist, again.

The best kinds of mist, for me, are those which can be seen form the outside. The kind where tendrils drift up, over, and around the various forms that make up our landscape. Less useful are those mists which you find yourself in. Happily for me, most mist in the valley tends to occur in the morning, and to take the Eastern route. This allows me to look across the valley at the picturesque flow of light cloud through the dark landscape.Mist in the Hutt Valley

This patch of mist is up the Eastern hills behind Summit Rd.

And then, shifting to an entirely different gear, I had occasion to visit a fellow camera club committee member. He is an enthusiastic model railway fan with an extensive and well made layout and many hundreds of wagons and locomotives.  He kindly allowed me to set up my tripod and camera.

My friend’s layout is a work in progress, but as a sometime model maker myself, I just admire the quality of his craftsmanship. Model railway layout

One day I may return to model making myself, though my preference will be aircraft and sailing ships.

creativity Food Weather Wellington

June 22, 2012 … she was beside herself

Experimenting in photography costs far less than it once did.

As  young man, I would consider myself extravagant if I used two 36 exposure rolls of Kodachrome in  a weekend.

Now I can blast through a couple of hundred images in an hour, and incur no cost. Actually, that’s not quite true.  The typical lifespan of a DSLR body is 150,000 exposures.  So  pressing the button 50 times costs a dollar on a high-end camera. But leaving that aside,  cost is, in real terms, much smaller than it was. And that is just as well.

Rarely am I to be found without at least one camera at hand, and so it was yesterday as I wandered the streets of Wellington prior to lunch with another good friend. We took up the “Pie and a Pint” discount voucher offer at a local pub, though we swapped a glass of the house red for the beer. And the pie was pretty good, though it bore no resemblance to the promised “shepherd’s pie”,, or at least not to any version that I have ever seen before.

But, I digress. I was still exploring this notion of impressionism, and saw a number of opportunities to use reflections to achieve that end.  So here is one of many attempts from yesterday: upon reflection

I many not have purged this thing from my system entirely, and even think it is worth pursuing a little further.

But that’s my contribution for today

adversity Lower Hutt Rescue Trees

June 21, 2012 … blessed are they who expect little …

Expectation management is an important science.

For example, recently I had a minor collision in my car (my fault, no injury to either person). I took it to the car repair place. In the past, given the minor scale of the damage, I might have expected the repair to be effected the same day or at worst, overnight. Alas it took four days, and even then the fog light that got broken has to be sourced offshore (black mark Toyota NZ!). If someone had said to me on Monday, it will be ready on Thursday, I would not have had any problem. As it was, expecting its return more or less hourly, my blood pressure elevated with each passing day.

Expectations also came into play when my policeman son invited me to photograph another search and rescue exercise, in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt.  I have been to Percy reserve on many occasions, and my experience has always been of manicured lawns and well-tended paths. But no! We had barely entered the park gates than we left the well made tracks and started following the rocky stream that runs down towards the waterfall.

Let me not over-dramatize this. At no stage were we more than about 700 metres from the nearest house … at least laterally. On the other hand, the vertical separation may have been a different story. I had sturdy boots, but due to the mismatch of expectations, I felt unsafe most of the time. With much recent rain, the stream was high, and everything was slippery. Of course, my advancing years and solid build  may be part of the problem, but when I am near steep banks and am unsure of my footing, I tend to get skittish.

That said, I made it cautiously to an area opposite the bottom of the waterfall where, according to the training scenario, a boy had slipped over the edge and was stranded on a ledge half-way down. Having reconnoitred the area, the rescue squad went racing back up the treacherously slippery track to get the appropriate equipment and to rappel down the steep mossy rock face to the scene of the incident.

For my part, wisdom decreed that I should stay where I was with my cameras and a sturdy monopod which doubled nicely as a  walking stick. Being well away from the recognised public tracks, on a soft grey day, not quite raining, I was undisturbed for the better part of an hour, sitting looking at the waterfall, watching for birds (saw none) and contemplating the meaning of life. Waterfall in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt

I am not sure that I gained any great insights while I waited, but being in my own company in the bush was not unpleasant.

A falling rock eventually heralded the arrival of the rescue team at the top of the slope. It was quite a big rock. By the crashing and thumping, and the effortless manner of its bouncing passage through the bush, it would have posed a real threat to the safety of a real person to waiting to be rescued.

Soon I saw a bright yellow rope come snaking down through the bush, and before long, an overall clad, safety-helmeted police officer, dangling on a rope with a dummy dangling below him came down the slippery slope.Police Search and rescue team training

These men and women seem immune to fear. There is almost no place they won’t go. I am glad they are on my side. It was a privilege to watch them in action, and a source of some pride.

After a couple of hours. I left them to it, and scrambled the last few metres  down to the stream bed, and then up the other side to where life’s normal service resumed.  As you can see, the main walkways of the park are quite civilised.  This was what I had in mind when I accepted the invitation. It’s a pretty riverside walk.Walking track in Percy Reserve, Lower Hutt

Expectation is everything.

* … for they shall not be disappointed.