Aviation Birds Lakes Landscapes mountains Queenstown

July 31, 2013 … lofty mountain grandeur*

It’s not every day you can say you crossed the River Jordan and entered Paradise.

Yesterday I did exactly that, but we’ll get to that later. The family lent me their little car yesterday and turned me loose. After a careful ice removal process, I drove cautiously towards Queenstown (the family live near Lake Hayes). I was disappointed as I drove beside the lake that the wind had created a hammer-glaze surface of no great photographic value.

The town was full of bright young people walking hand in hand, and wearing the latest and brightest in designer-label snow field apparel. I am completely devoid of any fashion awareness so am unable to report further.

Through town, I took the road to Glenorchy and to my great joy, the water on the Glenorchy side of the lake was smooth, relatively untouched by the wind.  Far down the lake, to the right of the Humboldt Mountains, and behind the conical lump of Mt Alfred, the East and West peaks of Mt Earnslaw were peering through the cloud rolling in from the Tasman.

Lake Wakatipu, looking toward Glenorchy
Cloud over the Western peaks

A little further along the road, nearer to Glenorchy, Mt Earnslaw was even more imposing as it towered over the lower peaks of the Forbes Range.

Closer to the mountains
The Eastern peak of Mt Earnslaw breaks free of the cloud

As I came around a corner I glimpsed what I thought was a strange bird. It turned out to be a hang glider. What’s more, it was on an aerotow from a microlight.

Moyes Dragonfly C2 microlight doing aerotows from Glenorchy
The towing bridle and tow rope are clearly visible


That poor little 64 hp two-stroke engine was working its heart out to lift its own airframe and pilot plus overcome the drag of a two person hang glider. It soon became clear that this was a regular feature of operations from the Glenorchy airstrip and while I stood at the boundary gate and watched it did at least half a dozen such launches alternating between two different hang gliders.

The two-person hang glider heads back towards the airfield
How’s that for a backdrop?

What a spectacular landscape for such activity. And then I heard something more powerful. A New Zealand Aerospace Cresco equipped for skydiving was firing up. Soon it too was airborne and it seemed to circle endlessly to perhaps 14,000 feet (the aviation industry remains stubbornly un-metricated).

NZAS Cresco takes to the air with two tandem parachutes
If you look closely, you will see one of passengers grinning hugely as they leave the airfield

After what seemed a long silence, a black dot suddenly flowered and first one, then another canopy opened, and two happy parachutists enjoyed their tandem ride back to earth.

Tandem parachute returns home
All of these activities have built-in photographic capability with the camera on a stick so that the real parachutist can take “selfies”

After an excellent coffee in the township, I drove up the Rees Valley and decided that the though the scenery was wonderful the light had gone flat (those clouds rolling in from the Tasman, remember?), and this was an ill-maintained country road which was quite unfair on my daughter-in-law’s tiny little city commuter car. So I turned North towards Paradise, and forded the River Jordan to get there. Though I got there, I was defeated by the drab conditions. Back to Glenorchy for a fine pumpkin soup and a beer in the local alehouse. On the way this beautiful  bird made an appearance. I thought, indeed hoped I had caught a New Zealand falcon. Alas, expert advice tells me it is a female Australasian harrier.

Australasian harrier
You didn’t really expect a total absence of birds, did you?

On the last leg of the homeward journey, up Frankton Road beside the lake, I was delighted to see that the wind had gone and the Frankton Arm was now a perfectly reflecting mirror. The heavy roar of one of the many tourist jet boats promised a bit of spectacle.

Thunder on the lake
Nice reflections

I had a great day.

How great thou Art (English version words by Stuart K Hine)




Aviation Birds Children Family Lakes Landscapes Light Machinery mountains Queenstown

July 30, 2013 … in a land of enchantment

This place just can’t help itself.

Regardless of my occasionally curmudgeonly view of resort towns everywhere, Queenstown is magically situated. It can be bleak when the cloud is low and the wind blows. When the sun shines, it just can’t hide its party personality.

Yesterday, the day started slowly, with overcast and low temperatures. I accompanied my daughter-in-law Abbey and grandson Otis to the supermarket at Frankton for some shopping and a light lunch at a nearby coffee shop. Like many children in his two-year-old age group, Otis likes the Supermarket.

Otis goes shopping
The most precious cargo … but like most two-year olds, a handful.

After my siesta in the afternoon, I was delighted that the sun had rejoined us and the region was dressed in all its finery. I went back to Lake Hayes. Late afternoon sunlight in flat calm conditions leads me into all sorts of temptation. I know there are those who prefer gritty sombre images. For my part, when I see beauty, I want to make the best picture I can of it, regardless of the disapproval from certain quarters.

Australian Coot
I think the ripples were the real subject here.

It may be landscapes, or perhaps birds. This Australian Coot (Fulica atra), for example, chose some attractive ripples as a contrasting background.

Mallard drake
Handsome bird isn’t he?

And then an ordinary Mallard drake (Anas platyrhynchos) in breeding plumage insisted on showing off his finery as he swam among the willow roots near the shore.

Australasian Crested Grebes
Matching bookends

A pair of Australasian Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) swam round the corner to see what was going on. I find them to be fascinating birds, very elegant on the water, but a bit shy about being near people, hence the long distance view.

Oystercatchers in tight formation
He was unsuccessful in his pursuit at least while I was watching

There were New Zealand Scaups (Aythya novaeseelandiae) by the dozen, but I did them a day or two ago. Interesting though, were a pair of what I believe to be a pair of South Island Pied Oystercatchers (Haematopus finschi) flying in tight circles low above the Scaups. I suspect a case of unrequited lust. It gave the impression of an eager suitor chasing a reluctant maiden. The flight at least, was elegant.

Remote controlled helicopter camera platform
That’s a very heavy (and expensive) camera

And then, by way of something completely different, I encountered some people demonstrating the possibilities of remote-controlled helicopters as a camera platform to a group of Korean film makers here to shoot some commercials. Apparently the scenario is that the camera will circle the actor who will be standing on the edge of a precipice up in the mountains. A minion was detailed to stand still and take the part of the actor for the purposes of the demonstration and the two person crew circled the device alarming close to him … well he looked alarmed. One person flew the quadricopter while the other person independently controlled the behaviour of the camera platform on the machine.  By way of air to ground transmissions, she could see on her screen what the camera was capturing. This was a very serious payload. The camera was a Canon EOS 5DIII with a wide angle lens attached.  It was an impressive demonstration.

Landscape at Lake Hayes
A still lake is irresistible to me

But then, the landscape caught my eye. I don’t care who thinks these are “biscuit tin lids”. This is a photogenic landscape and it deserves to be photographed.  This is from the shore of Lake Hayes looking across the lake.

Song thrush
Thanks for the melody

Did I mention that there were lots of birds about? A song thrush serenaded my departure as I left to come home for dinner.

More from this region tomorrow.

Family Lakes Landscapes Light mountains Queenstown

July 29, 2013 … promise of better things to come

Yesterday, a gateway opened to another dimension.

Here in Queenstown, it was suddenly spring. With my son and his family, I was a guest at a friend’s barbecue at a house in Kelvin Heights, close to the golf course. This is the area that you can see on the other side of the lake from the Skyline if you are in Queenstown. The temperature was a very mild 16°C … warm enough that people were removing jackets and jerseys and were comfortable in tee shirts. In fact the kids went down to the lake edge and were paddling in the water of Lake Wakatipu which is chilly even in Summer.

Kids throwing rocks into the lake ... under supervision
Otis on the left, Drew on the right, son of a friend in the middle.

The house has a wonderful location, so the first thing I did was try for a panorama of the lake. Mindful of airline baggage restrictions, I left my tripod at home when I came down, so this is a stitch of about eight hand-held shots.

Panorama of the Frankton Arm from Kelvin Heights
Deer Park Heights on the right

A closer look at the landscape looks around the shoulder of Queenstown Hill to Ben Lomond (1,748 m).

Ben Lomond out to the West of Queenstown
I think the suburb on the hill is Wakatipu Heights

It is hard to go anywhere in Queenstown without finding some aspect of the landscape worth looking at. In the warmth of the afternoon, made more pleasant by excellent home-made venison sausages and a truly superb Schist Stone Pinot Noir (from Cromwell) I liked this last scene looking North along the lake shore.

Lakeside view
The lakeside willows are stirring with the approach of spring

Today, the weather has returned to a grey overcast, and I hear that the earthquakes have resumed in Wellington.

I shall find a way to enjoy myself nevertheless.


Birds Family Lakes Landscapes Queenstown

July 28, 2013 … Southern sanctuary

Queenstown is undeniably a beautiful part of the world.

Local businesses are a bit sad that there is, as yet, little snow, and as a consequence, the visitor numbers are lower than they would like. I just enjoy whatever comes. I began my visit to family by going to the movies with Andrew and his children, Billie and Otis. We saw “Monsters University” which was amusing. Not sure it’s the pinnacle of Dame Helen Mirren’s career.

Otis needed a haircut. How do you get a two-year old to sit still for a haircut? You sit him on his dad’s knee and give him a smartphone playing a “Special Agent Oso” video. It worked.

The haircut
The hairdresser was very patient as Otis is distracted by the video on the smartphone, and has the security of sitting on Drew’s knee.

Towards the end of the day I went across the road to Lake Hayes. When the water is still, as it was, it is a place of deep magic.  As I arrived at the lake shore, several New Zealand Scaup swam up to check if I came with food (I didn’t).

New Zealand Scaup
That water is just so still

As they swam away, disappointed, the quality of the water had something to say.

South end of a North-bound Scaup
Love the ripples

At the Northern end of the lake I encountered a phenomenon that I don’t pretend to understand … the Lord of the Rings tour fanatic … as I understand it, they have paid significant dollars for a tour of the LOTR locations. They are driven from one end of the country to the other, and provided with various replica artefacts to enable them to re-enact or simply be photographed memorable scenes. This particular tour operator provided her two clients with a selection of Weta workshop replica weapons.

Weapons cache found ... send for the GCSB
Props for a LOTR tour

You can see Gimli’s axe at the top.  Anduril, flame of the West,  is on the left. Bilbo’s Sting is gleaming in the centre, presumably detecting the presence of Orcs nearby. Various elven blades are at the right, and above them the swords of Theoden, and Eowyn. Then the sinister looking blade wielded by Arwen as she rode desperately across the river pursued by the dark riders. I think the one above that is the blade of Legolas,  and the dark little blade in the corner is the weapon of the Witch king of Angmar who stabbed Bilbo on Weathertop. As you might gather, I too like the Lord of the Rings, but the idea of paying for such a guided tour appalls me.

My last shot of the day was from the water’s edge looking back towards Lake Hayes Estate and  the Northern wall of the Remarkables. Cecil Peak is hiding in the cloud over Lake Wakatipu.

Isn't this a beautiful part of the world?
Lake Hayes

I wonder what the day might bring today. Knowing my middle son, good food will feature strongly.

That can’t be all bad.

Cook Strait Landscapes mountains Queenstown Wellington

July 27, 2013 … in transit to Queenstown

On the move yesterday, I left home far earlier than was really necessary.

Unfortunately, I then received a notification of a two-hour delay on my flight. Hmmm … what to do with the spare time. First, some coffee was required, and the Maranui on Lyall Bay seemed like a good choice. The coffee was good, as always, and the slice of apple and tamarillo tart was magnificent.  This place is always crowded which is, I suppose, a good sign.

It gave me a sense of the surf conditions on the bay, so after my coffee I went along to the Eastern end of the beach and watched the surfers at play.

Lyall Bay surf
Nice conditions

The waves were clean and sharp with the sun behind them. I enjoyed them almost as much as the surfers did.

This man is really enjoying himself
Nicely formed waves

When at last it was time to check in, I did so and then had lunch at Mojo’s in the airport. I fear my choice of a garlic and mozzarella pizza was socially irresponsible, but I enjoyed it.

Board came at the revised time, and soon the city was falling away below us. Looking down on the CBD, I was mindful of how lucky the city has been in the recent cluster earthquakes. Apparently there have been over 1,500 since last Friday, most of them very slight.  Some were downright scary.

Looking down on central Wellington
Shaken but not stirred

Somewhere over Timaru we turned inland towards Wanaka and crossed a range of mountains with an impressive snow cover. If anyone knows them, I would be interested in an identification.

Unidentified range of hills to the West of Timaru
Perhaps Hunters Hills?

Of course it was a great pleasure to be welcomed by my son and granddaughter and to breathe the cold sharp air of Central Otago.

More tomorrow

Birds harbour Landscapes Light Pauatahanui Wellington

July 26, 2013 … a golden day

Desperation says go back to where you are comfortable.

Pauatahanui rewarded me with an amazing variety of bird life. It began with the screeching of a flock of spur-winged plovers who never go anywhere quietly.

Spur winged plovers never go anywhere quiet
Very noisy

They led me to a corner of the inlet that was just jaw-dropping. On a sandbank there were pied stilts, plovers, mallard ducks and white-faced herons all in numbers I have never seen before.

A mixture of bird life at Pauatahanui
Plovers, ducks, herons, stilts

As always, the plovers were skittish, and though I tried very hard to sneak up on them they took off and left the herons wondering what was going on. Pure bird magic n my eyes.

White herons
What a line-up

Later in the day, I was in the Eastern bays where the tanker “World Navigator” was adding a splash of colour to the evening.

Tanker in the evening
World Navigator

As the light of the day faded, a flock of little black shags flew across my view into the sunset.

Little black shags fly to the setting sun
A nice end to the day

So ended another day.

Animals Landscapes Light Rivers Wellington

July 25, 2013 … disappointment is to be expected now and then

 Some days it would be better to remain silent.

Today might be such a day. As I often do, I left my run very late, and the light was flat to begin with.  Takapu road runs up a narrow valley near Tawa and heads North Eastward behind Porirua. In the right circumstances it can be quite pretty. Yesterday the circumstances were less than great.

In the gathering gloom, I attempted to capture the chilly creek that twisted down the valley.

The stream in the Takapu Valley
Cold and grey

A little further in, I found this little white pony that wanted to investigate the stranger at its fence. It came close, and accepted a pat on the nose and then wandered off disappointed. And that sums up my day. 

The pony was eager to meet me
Alas I had nothing to offer it.

One more day till Queenstown.

Animals Birds Cook Strait South Coast Turakirae Weather

July 24, 2013 … luck or planning

Despite dissenting views, I stand by my opinion.

Serendipity produces some good results now and then, indeed that’s almost the definition of serendipity – accidental happy outcomes. However, the photographers whose work I most admire, the ones who inspire me, work hard to achieve the photographs they want. They will stake out a site for days or even weeks, waiting for the lighting and other factors to match their visualization of the possibilities they saw for the picture. I don’t want to copy their images, but I do want to emulate their method for success.

Sadly, all of today’s images are casually snatched while wandering about looking for images.

Irresistible force and immovable objects
South coast swells

First, on the South coast on the Wainuiomata road, I watched heavy green swells rolling in to hurl themselves against the solid rocks. That grey lump of rock is about the size of a double-decker bus. The waves beyond are bigger still, and they arrive with a thump that you feel through the soles of your feet.

Wave bursts
Very impressive spray

Shattering spray is hurled high in the air, perhaps ten or twelve metres, and there seems to be no end to the succession of swells.

A brief check into  the Rimutaka Forest Park provided me with this encounter with a native pigeon in the same Tree Lucerne as the cluster of pigeons I found there  almost a month ago.

Native wood pigeon on the Tree Lucerne
Lovely plumage

Then on a farm near Wainuiomata, I noticed a herd of goats which had produced kids very early. They were gambolling about like spring lambs, but they moved across the paddock when I stopped the car.

A kid gallops ahead of its mother
I suppose lambs will soon be everywhere

Tomorrow will probably have its share of accidental images too, but after that, I am heading to Queenstown.

adversity Birds Kapiti Coast Kapiti Island Landscapes Light

July 23, 2013 … light in the gloom

Pffft! It was an uninspired day.

Or to remove any ambiguity, I failed to find inspiration. Famously narrow and difficult, the Akatarawa road delivered no great inspiration. A bridge well to the West of Staglands crossed a small fast flowing stream but the light was a bit leaden. A very slow exposure was the best way I could find to put some life into the image.

A rushing stream somewhere in the Akatarawas
Looking down from a road bridge

At the crest of the hill, overlooking the Tasman Sea, a pair of wood pigeons were relatively unconcerned by my presence though they did move rather ponderously into an adjacent tree.

New Zealand wood pigeons
Handsome but clumsy birds

With daylight fading and traffic increasing, I followed SH1 down to Paekakariki and then up the Paekakariki hill to the lookout at the summit. The sullen clouds added atmosphere to the shot looking up the coast to Paraparaumu and beyond. Kapiti Island sits dark and mysterious off the coast.

Kapiti and the South Taranaki Bight
Down below, the Paekakariki village

Looking Westward, I could see no trace of the south Island, but  the random spray of sunlight added interest.

Sombre clouds pierced by sunlight
Perhaps indicative of enlightenment to come

That’s it for now.

Camera club creativity Machinery Reflections Southwards Car Museum

July 22, 2013 … upon mature reflection

Deliberate photography produces different results.

Opportunistic subjects that are happened-upon in transit are less likely to be successful. I was discussing photography with a good friend and mentor yesterday, and concluded that camera clubs are a parallel universe. Different things are important in that world. I find them fun, but they are probably less important than the court of the photographer’s own opinion about what is pleasing.

Yesterday, I went out with the intent to make images to fit this month’s specified club topic which is entitled “Wet, chrome or reflective”. It suddenly occurred to me that the greatest collection of reflective chrome in the Wellington region is the superb Southwards Car Museum at Otaihanga, to the North of Paraparaumu.  First let me pay tribute to a museum that was entirely unfazed by my request to be allowed to use a tripod.

Classic cars are fun, but the cars themselves were almost incidental to my visit yesterday. What I wanted was reflections. Short of a shop selling mirrors, I can’t think of a better place to find interesting reflections.

Rolls-Royce headlight reflects another Rolls-Royce
This is a wonderful museum

A huge chromed headlight, in this case the one attached to a large Rolls-Royce chassis, acts as a distorting mirror for the enormous Rolls-Royce Phantom V next to it. I thought I had extracted myself from the image but there I am on the left. I was using my remote trigger, and should have got out of the line of sight.

The grand sweep of a Cadillac's fin
The white lines are reflections of the overhead fluorescent lights

Not all reflections were from chrome plated surfaces. The extravagant fins on a Cadillac convertible above were throwing up some interesting patterns in the glossy black paint.

Elegance captured
This would be banned under today’s regulations for the injury it could inflict on a pedestrian

This is a place to see vehicles that were once objects of desire for the very rich and famous. I think the automotive brand Hispano-Suiza disappeared after WWII, so the magnificent is a great example of the glory days of motoring.  The stylized stork which was the hood ornament for these cars is contrasted nicely against the  red Bugatti behind it. (All Italian cars are red, no matter what colour they are painted).

Spirit of Ecstasy
I confess to a little tweaking to emphasise the statuette and nameplate

Oddly, or perhaps not so, most of the glitter came from the grand names. Several Rolls-Royces were on display, each with its “Spirit of Ecstacy” flying proudly.  I have always thought the Spirit was a nicely understated piece of art, unlike some of the grotesquely mis-proportioned imitators.

The Bentley
Ettore Bugatti who was famous for light elegant cars called the Bentleys “the fastest trucks in the world”

The “blower Bentley” on display was also elegant in its simplicity (apart from the sheer expanse of chrome). I wonder how many of the modern fans know that this was the original car assigned to James Bond by his creator, Ian Fleming. Of course his one was gun-metal grey rather than the more popular “British Racing Green”.

Polished copper on steam fire appliance
I can imagine a lot of time was spent in the station house polishing this

My final shot for the day is not a car at all, nor does it involve chrome. It is part of a Merryweather steam fire engine. Its polished copper pressure vessel is undeniably reflective.

So am I.