adversity Christchurch Cook Strait Dolphins Maritime sunrise Wellington

April 30, 2013 … a porpoise close behind us, and it’s treading on my tail*

Heartbreak is an extremely dramatic word.

Yet here I am using it twice in two days. We left Rolleston in the dark, a little after six. It was very dark and once we hit Russley Rd which is seemingly becoming a four laned highway, everything got confused. Flashing lights, pink road cones and no external visual cues increased my stress levels. Added to that, the massive grilles of the huge “B-train” trucks front and rear scared me witless. Eventually I realised that we were indeed headed North when I got to signs pointing to Harewood.  From there the road turned to the North East (John’s Rd)  and straight into the rising sun.

This is where the heartbreak occurs. It was a blood-red sunrise with dramatic dark cloud above, and trees silhouetted in the golden light at the horizon. Magnificent picture opportunities presented themselves, and there was no possibility to stop without having a Fonterra tanker and trailer, or a big Hall’s refrigerated rig trampling all over me. The photographic disaster was complete as we swung Northwards again and crossed the bridge at Saltwater Creek near Sefton. This is one of those braided rivers so typical of Canterbury, and the water was reflecting that red dawn. I desperately wanted to stop right there, but alas survival instincts prevailed.

In the course of staying alive, I was mostly focussed on the road. All this was gained from impressions from the corner of my eyes. My gift to my fellow photographers in Canterbury is this: next time there is a similar partially overcast sunrise such as this, get to Sefton and onto Geisha Road. Get down onto the shingle and wait for the right moment. I am sure it will be a salon-buster.

Anyway, grumpy and disappointed I drove on until at last, somewhere in the Hurunui where the traffic was lighter, I was able to stop (Mary is very patient), and capture the last of the red morning before it washed out entirely.


Mary was driving the rest of the way, so I was able to enjoy the magnificent landscape through Waipawa, Cheviot and the Hunderlees to the East coast near Kaikoura. A little to the South of Kaikoura,  I was watching seaward ever hopeful of seeing a whale blowing, and there was a pod of dolphins frolicking. We pulled in and noticed that a number of others had seen them too.


Regrettably their best antics were at fairly extreme distances, so this first image is a fairly extreme crop.


They did get closer but behaved more sedately near the shore. After a good coffee and snack (I always choose the whale watch site in Kaikoura, it is bright, cheerful, immaculately clean, and does good coffee), we moved on to Picton.

There, the marshalling people performed their usual mysterious rites to ensure that those who arrive early (as we did) get shunted into the line that boards the ferry last and misses out on the best seats. I am sure there is some science in their apparently arbitrary system, but I have never figured it out.


The passage up the sound was beautiful and uneventful. I watched in hope for conspicuous dolphin or bird activity and saw none. A pretty little classic double ended motor launch called “Kiwi” puttered by in the other direction.


As we came abeam of the wind farm near Wellington, I had a sense of homecoming.

So now we are home with a busy week ahead.

* The Lobster Quadrille, by Lewis Carrol

adversity Architecture Christchurch Moeraki Oamaru

April 29, 2013 … rocks to steam punk

After getting lost in the tiny town of Moeraki the previous night, I enjoyed a good sleep there.

Better still, I awoke to a very pretty dawn, though it warned of worse weather to come.

Moeraki dawn
This harbour offers minimal shelter and the people who work from here are a hardy breed.

This scene of the fishing harbour was taken by me, in my pyjamas, from the balcony of the excellent motel unit at the Moeraki Holiday Park.Isn’t that a view to wake to?

Some people were obviously up earlier than I was, and you can see them sitting on that launch at the jetty.

Moeraki Boulders
U+You can only hope to offer a different view of these accretions.

Of course it would not be respectable to be in the area and not to look at the famed boulders. My problem with these things is that at least ten million photographers have been here before me … what is left unsaid?  Still, I gave it a try.

Oamaru stone is a joy to see
The Church of St Luke

From there we passed through Oamaru as the town was just waking up. To me the joy of Oamaru is its splendid architecture, and that lovely honey coloured stone. None of the dour greys of Dunedin.  A nice example is St Luke’s Anglican Church. I chose it because it was the only one I could find with no car parked in front of it.

Steam punk motorcycle
We came and left before this place opened.

If you want to know what “Steam Punk” is, then “Google is your friend”. Someone in Oamaru has decided to make a tourist attraction centred around this bizarre notion, and the exhibit I have captured here is based around two full-sized farm tractor wheels. This thing is huge.

Around behind the “Steam Punk Headquarters” is the locomotive shed where some fine restoration is being done. However, my eye was drawn to some remains that are beyond restoration, and which will be left as they are. It seems that in an attempt to control erosion around the harbour, the New Zealand Government Railway allowed some of its obsolete locomotives to be used as landfill. Unfortunately the sea was stronger than the hopes of the planners, and they were immersed from the 1930s until 2009 when they were retrieved and given to museums at Waitara and Oamaru.  This is probably the remains of Uc366, complete with embedded marine life.

Given and then reclaimed from the sea
Rust and barnacles

We passed through the Victorian precinct which was just coming to life for the day, and I enjoyed the guilty Southern pleasure of a cheese roll made with garlic butter. Mmmm.

We were staying the night with my old school friend and brother-in-law, and his wife in Rolleston, so we did a flying trip into the city. Christchurch is a heartbreak. I won’t do disaster tourism, but prefer to concentrate on the emergent new life. What we see here is the front wall of the new “temporary cathedral … the one with the shipping containers as a base wall, and cardboard tubes as major structural members. It turns out that the tubes needed to be reinforced with timber to meet local engineering specifications. However, this building is estimated to have a life of fifty years. I quite like it and in my view it is more respectable than spending $220 million to restore the old one as it was.  But then I am neither a member of the Anglican cathedral parish of Christchurch,  nor a Cantabrian, so I don’t get a vote.

The controversial "carboard cathedral"
My impressions are positive so far.

We enjoyed our afternoon in Christchurch, despite so many lost memories.


Birds Catlins Landscapes Light Moeraki

April 28, 2013 … a surfeit of riches

My apologies for a surfeit of imagery today.

This is not because I have delusions of grandeur about my photography, but rather that I saw so many wonderful things in so many different places that I am simply unable to choose.  So here we go.

We began, where we left off yesterday in Owaka. Our destination was Moeraki. So naturally we headed South. What? The problem was that on the previous day the weather deterred us from our intention to visit the Purakaunui falls 17 km to the South. On the way there I paused to catch the early light on the wetlands.

Cold wetland dawn
In the Catlins near Owaka


At the site of the falls we had the delight of having the entire place to ourselves. It was almost 8 am and no other car was in the park. The rain-washed bush was a delight to every sense. Visually it was magnificent, aurally there was a superb variety of bird song,  and it even smelled fresh.

The bush walk to the Purakaunui falls
This was fresh and green and a complete chorus of bird song

And then there were the falls themselves. This is not Niagara, but tucked away in this beautiful corner of the Catlins, they are a joy to see.

Purakaunui Falls
Magic in the bush

We moved on and drove back the way we came, through the remainder of the Catlins and into South Otago. A little North of Balclutha we took a side road heading towards Berwick and Outram and found the Sinclair Wetlands. This huge privately owned area is home to many birds, most of which were elsewhere at the time, but it was a pleasure to walk through, and there were plenty of small passerines flitting among the grasses which grew so prolifically in the swamp.

Little birds feasting on the seeds
Too many to identify but I saw finches and swallows

In Dunedin, we paused to visit the Royal Albatross colony at Taiaroa Heads. There were four chicks  patiently waiting the return of their parents who could be at sea for up to four days in search of food for these seven kilo dumplings.

Hungry youngster at the Royal Albatross colony
We were disappointed that the adults did not appear during our visit

And then we got to magnificent Moeraki where Mary’s cousin Rosalie is the custodian and warden at the penguin colony at Katiki Point.

The Hoiho is a comical figure on land
The clusters of birds following a dominant leader were especially fun to watch

The yellow-eyed penguin (Hoiho or Megadyptes antipodes) is a critically endangered bird that is quite delightful to see, and this is the most successful colony in New Zealand.

In the turbulent surf, they were masters of their environment
Very able swimmers

On the beach or in the water they are a delight to the eye, and even better looking at close quarters.

This bird walked with complete confidence no more than a metre or two from the visitors

We enjoyed a delightful meal and glass of wine with Rosalie and our nephew Daniel who was also visiting, and drove back to the motel at Moeraki, getting lost on the way. However we found ourselves on a lookout which offered a splendid view of the moonlit sea.

Pacific moon
We did find our way home eventually

That’s it for today … home on the ferry tomorrow.


adversity Invercargill Travel

April 27, 2013 … chilly traverse

Yesterday started badly.

It was blowing hard from the North West when we awoke in Invercargill, so we entertained little hopes of sightseeing on our trip through the Southern Catlins. Our trip Eastward from Invercargill seemed bleak and unrewarding, and I was developing a real respect for those hardy Southern men and women wrapped in multiple layers of clothing and battling a hostile climate and poor soil to make a hard-earned living. We had gone just thirty or so kilometres when we saw a sign that pointed to the Waituna Wetlands.

This is an extensive area of wetlands adjacent to a big tidal lagoon. It looked like an ideal area for bird photography. There were lots of birds out on the lagoon, black swans, ducks, oystercatchers, etc, but the 4.5 km walkway was less rewarding. The most interaction we had was with this red-head and he was a fun guy to be with!

Red pouch fungus
We didn’t learn his name but I think it is Leratiomyces erythrocephalus

The path is beautifully made, but it seems to spend much of its time taking you through a trench of solid manuka which varies from 2 to five metres in height. It doesn’t make for good viewing, nor does it provide for a lot of visible birdlife. There were plenty of fast movers such as Welcome Swallows, and finches which burst into flight and were gone in an instant, but not much else.


It might be thought that the main virtue of this park was the fact that it offered an hour’s exercise after the amount of time spent sitting on the journey. Though there is a grain of truth in that, at ground level there is much to see by way of ferns, mosses, liverworts, fungi, lichens and other colourful ground organisms.


Somewhere on the circuit, I found evidence of an earlier civilization, in the form of the cab of an old truck. I liked it.

Improbable find in the wetland
I think it’s an old (1950s) Austin

In similar fashion, I liked the deserted old house near the entrance to the wetlands. Its rust-red colour made it leap out of the weeds.

Deserted house at Waituna
The weeds are almost higher than the house … and the blue sky in the East is a momentary aberration which quickly disappeared.

On the way to Owaka, our destination for the night, we paused at Curio Bay to eat our lunch and view the petrified forest. The last time I was here, it was marrow-chillingly cold, and this time was no different. But at least the surf hurling itself against the cliffs provided some visual spectacle.

Surf at Curio Bay
This does not do justice to the chill in the air

We were glad to arrive in Owaka where the proprietor of the Owaka Lodge Motel (a good clean basic kiwi motel)  welcomed us with a jug of milk, a vase of fresh flowers and fresh muffins. Excellent.

Birds flowers Invercargill Landscapes Southland Weather

April 26, 2013 … wild winds blowing

Queenstown is now far behind us.

I didn’t need to worry about any further Autumnal excesses … the riotous colours stopped at the Southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and despite the odd tree here and there, very little has been seen in the subsequent journey.

On the other hand landscapes have been easy to find and my first one was captured somewhere just North of Garston.

Near Garston
Despite the superficial greenness, rivers were all low

The next green landscape was near the turn off to Te Anau at Five Rivers.

Five Rivers Area
Clouds might have been a warning of impending weather conditions

Sadly, the further South we went, the worse the weather became. It held off briefly as we had lunch with my brother and sister-in-law at the Lorneville Pub just out of Invercargill (The blue cod and chips meal there is absolutely brilliant).

In the afternoon, in Invercargill, strong wind and heavy rain made conditions outside very unpleasant. However, as we got close to sunset, the rained eased off though the wind remained. May and I put on our warm jackets and visited the Waihopai river estuary, and walked the loop around the lagoon.

Despite the vicious wind there were plenty of birds to be seen though mostly in some kind of protective huddle posture. I was lucky to see several kingfishers though it was a challenge to hold the lens steady on the monopod in the conditions.

Kingfisher at Invercargill
At least it is a different perch to my usual site

A little further on, I was intrigued by a juvenile spotted shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus) which kept a wary eye on me as I crept closer.

Spotted shag

As an indication of the wind I attempted to get a bit creative with images of toetoe seed heads bending before the onslaught.

Strong wind
Bend or break

And my last shot of the day is of golden grasses thrashing about.

Grasses in the wind
If you look closely you will see the movement

Tomorrow, we shall consider the Catlins.

Arrowtown Otago Plant life Queenstown Seasons Trees

April 25, 2013 … the cheapest attraction in the region

Unless we see something even more spectacular on other parts of the journey, this will be the last of my “Autumn colours” kick.

In the many valleys and back roads in the Queenstown and Arrowtown district, there are areas that would just break your heart to look at right now. In Wellington, as I have said elsewhere, some individual trees or even small copses put on an Autumn display, but nothing compares with the spectacular, almost garish exhibition staged by this region. A friend yesterday commented that some of the images looked “staged”. I am willing to believe that the cluster of trees opposite Puzzleworld in Wanaka was planted with the deliberate intention of creating a localised splash of amazing colour. As for the rest, the area is simply too vast to be a deliberate act of colour design.

Arrowtown hill in the morning ... with the mist still on the hills
No staging here

My images today were made in Arrowtown yesterday at various times of the day. The hill behind the town is just magnificent,  and it is small wonder that an art class was being conducted within the town.

Art class -Arrowtown
How do they capture such amazing colours?


What subject matter they have to work with, and what wonderful palettes to copy.

Simple colours can still be beautiful
Oak leaf carpet

Oddly, one of my favourite samples from yesterday was the russet carpet around the trunk of a very large oak tree.

But to celebrate the glory of the season and the region, here is one more  colour “test pattern”. There were tourists everywhere, with everything from iPads to Hasselblads. I am sure the local industry is trying to figure out a way to charge for this.

Magnicent colours
Possibly the last word …

It is bleak and grey in Invercargill.

Lakes Landscapes Light mountains Queenstown Trees

April 24, 2013 … magical colours

Somehow, I have never previously been to Central Otago in this magnificent season.

As a friend and mentor said “you have been seduced by the colour”. I fear he is right. Another friend asked in respect of one of my recent images whether we got the chocolates to go with it.

Of course there is the danger of recreating clichés, but since I have not experienced this vivid Autumn before, I need to get it out of my system.

View from the Queenstown gondola
The mist made things more dramatic

We began the day at the Skyline Centre where the youngsters had fun on the luge. With dramatic low cloud all around the scenery was intermittently splendid. Far down below, boats were moving on a seemingly still harbour, and casting their ephemeral prints on the water.

Leaving a  momentary trail
The Kawarau jet races across Lake Wakatipu

After  a good family lunch at the ever reliable “Halo” restaurant., we went to the playground at the beach to allow the youngsters to let off steam. Black smoke forewarned of the arrival of the venerable old Earnslaw. At some risk of ridicule, I got down low to the water’s edge and lay prone on the wet sand to get her from a low angle.

The Earnslaw arrives
This grand old lady is still going strong

On the way home we passed via Thurlby Domain behind Lake Hayes, where the Autumnal colours were at their most fantastic.

Autumn leaves

Coming from a place where individual trees might change colour, but never in such massive numbers I kept finding new angles, new colour charts.

Thurlby domain

Just, wow!

Cromwell Hawkes Ba mountains Reflections Rivers Seasons sunrise

April 23, 2013 … seasonal colours

From rain and ice to red and gold, it was a day of transition.

We left Franz Josef soon after sunrise yesterday when the mountains were still shrouded with mist and rain, and the glacier’s presence was made known only through the chill in the air.

First light at Franz Josef
Somewhere up there, a mighty glacier lurks

These misty conditions persisted throughout the drive from Franz Josef to Haast where we paused for morning coffee and refreshment.

At the confluence of the Haast and Landsborough rivers, I could tell this was not normal with very low water flow. This impression was reinforced at the “Gates of Haast” where on every other occasion, I have seen thundering cataracts of water hiding most of the massive boulders that line the river bed. On this occasion, the rocks themselves were showing off their beauty as the remaining white water stumbled down the steep course.

Abnormally low flow at the Gates of Haast
Despite the comparatively low flow, the river still put on a show

As we emerged into the Otago side of the divide, the weather improved. It was still overcast, but the rain stopped and there were occasional small blue patches.

Memories at Makarora
There are so many abandoned homesteads

At Makarora, I pulled over to capture yet another in the seemingly endless supply of picturesque abandoned houses. We drove beside Lake Wanaka, and over the saddle to Lake Hawea, and as we got closer to Hawea township, I marvelled at the increasing brilliance of the season’s colours. Red maples and golden beeches provided the bulk of the colour.

Luminous leaves at Lake Hawea
That red maple in the middle was just perfect

In Wanaka, there is a grove of trees that I suspect belong to the Acacia family and their colours were indescribably luminous.

Ornamental grove in Wanaka
Magnificent colour

From there we took the back road by Lake Dunstan heading to Cromwell and then through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown. At Lowburn, some reflections demanded to be photographed.

Reflecting on Lake Dunstan
Near Lowburn

At Cromwell, the many orchards and vineyards were reaching the climax of their autumn colours, and busloads of tourists were making the most of it. So was I.

Orchard near Cromwell
The fruit has gone, the leaves will follow

This is a glorious season to be here.

Birds Lakes Light mountains Okarito

April 22, 2013 … where the heart yearns

Keri Hulme wrote a book called “Homeplaces: Three coasts of the South Island”.

It is one of my most cherished books. One of the “homeplaces she lovingly described was Okarito. The book was magnificently and lavishly illustrated by the late Robin Morrison, a superb photographer. I have been fortunate to have been an occasional correspondent of Keri Hulme, and was even honoured to have enjoyed the hospitality of her home. I also shared in some small measure, her great love of Okarito, that tiny coastal village by the lagoon in between Whataroa and Franz Josef Glacier.

Most people now think “white herons” though they nest on the Waitangiroto River and not the lagoon. Anyway, we were in the area yesterday, and decided it would be timely to refresh our memory of the place where we have previously rented a cottage on two occasions.

A grey day on the coast
Perversely, the wet days are almost as beautiful as the dry ones

Sadly it was one of those grey misty West Coast days. Such days have a beauty and charm all of their own, but I really would have preferred one of our recent sunny days.

Never mind. We went there, saw the old school-house, and visited the gallery of my other great hero from that area, Andris Apse.  If you are unfamiliar with the name, or even if you are, do browse his online gallery. This man does not usually do opportunistic images. He sees a landscape, imagines how it would look in certain conditions, and then goes there to wait for those conditions to occur before he presses the shutter. He is a master craftsman in the field of landscape photography.  Be warned, if you choose to invest in on of his limited edition prints you will need deep pockets.

Jetty, Okarito
This decaying structure has been shot from every conceivable angle by a million different photographers

The township was mostly as I remember, with a few new houses, and a few small businesses.  The jetty and the lagoon are unchanged, and I swear the same sandflies were awaiting my return.

Mystery ship
What story lies behind this sad remnant?

I was intrigued by a zodiac style dinghy sitting tied to the wharf. It was perished, partially deflated, full of water, but with an outboard motor on its transom. I wonder what the story is.

We stayed last evening in a self-contained rental cottage just out of Franz Josef, and on the way paused at lovely Lake Mapourika. A shag which I have not specifically identified sat on a curiously shaped log.

Shag perching, Lake Mapourika
He seemed secure enough in the middle of the lake

Despite the continued drizzle, we enjoyed intermittent views of the glacier from the verandah of our cottage.

The Franz Josef Glacier is up there in  those clouded peaks
… as viewed from our front door

And then to Queenstown.


April 21, 2013 … Another day over and deeper in debt*

Scrambling desperately to stay ahead of a battery expiring.

Today’s images may be less carefully edited than usual. In the very dark hour before  dawn yesterday, we set off from Blenheim for Westport. If nothing else, the roads almost entirely empty, and I must have travelled with headlights on full for almost 100 km before meeting something coming the other way that required them to be dipped. The early morning departure was to get to the Denniston Plateau early enough to join the tour of the former Denniston Colliery at the top of the famous incline.


The wind was screaming like a banshee and it was hard to stand against it. Together with about ten others we were soon equipped with high visibility jackets and hard hats ready for our trip down the mine. I don’t like caves much, so I anticipated some anxiety down the mine, but for the most part, it was OK.


Seeing the actual conditions in which the miners earned their living is quite different to reading about it. These sturdy men and boys lived and worked in the bleakest of conditions. A hewer could earn three pence per ton of coal. If they were injured, they were cast out. If they were killed their widow got his pay to the end of the day, and had until the end of the week to move out. It was a different morality.


As the tour came to an end, we paused to look at the remains of that famous incline.


At the end of the day we went out to the end of the breakwaters and caught the light on the sea. The swells from the ocean were slow and majestic.

All in all, a satisfying day despite the screaming frustration of no charger.

*”Sixteen tons” by Merle Travis