A dose of ordinariness is probably a good thing now and then.
Sadly, “ordinary” at present seems to be grey, wet and cold. Such a day yesterday led me to the upper end of Whiteman’s valley where it merges with the Mangaroa Valley. The Mangaroa river snakes its way across the valley floor and in so doing creates some places that are very pleasant to be in, though probably better in summer.
In this area there are a lot of old trees, and some that may be dead. Or perhaps it is just that they are deciduous and it is winter.
The further up the valley I went the murkier the weather became. I have a weakness for those receding shades of grey but the cloud on the hills was a bit too abrupt and cut things off quite sharply.
Rejoining the main Highway at the Plateau road, I parked and followed the trail down to the shingle river bed where the Mangaroa and the Hutt Rivers came together. There are more spectacular confluences but this is the one I had.
It started well, with no wind and bright sun and a little river mist.
The scene when I pulled the curtains was a very pleasant way to start the day, and was an incentive to get breakfast over with and head out to the inlet (0f course) .
As on the day before, the ponds near the bird-hide were mirror calm and the pied stilts made for picture-postcard images.
There were kingfishers too, at Motukaraka, so I got down low, and waited. A friend is much better at this than me, not just because he has a big beautiful prime lens, but because he has studied the birds and their habits, and has seemingly infinite patience. Anyway, I was pleased with this shot of an emergent bird.
Even as I watched, the sky darkened. That didn’t deter this clique of kingfishers (apparently that is a legitimate collective noun for kingfishers) from their ceaseless search for more food.
In the afternoon, I made a largely fruitless trip down the Wainuiomata Coast road and all I got was this somewhat moody view over the harbour from the crest of the Wainuiomata hill road.
The images I managed yesterday are not as pleasing to me as those from the day before. I spent some time on the South Coast not seeing anything that inspired me. I used to counsel my students that the best way to overcome writers’ block was to put your fingers on the keyboard and type something. Perhaps it has an application in photography. In that spirit, my first image is one of the propellers of HMNZS Wellington, F69, which was scuttled as a dive reef off the coast near here. The propeller itself is a marvel of mathematical precision capable of pushing that 2,500 Tonne vessel at 50 km/h.
Having mounted the wide angle lens for the previous image, I stayed with it nd had a look back towards Island Bay. Taputeranga Island is in the centre and the hills near Baring Head in the background.
Closer to Lyall Bay, I saw these sinister black rocks and liked the contrast.
My last shot was taken from up the Horokiwi road near the quarry, looking across the harbour.
Flat calm, warm sun, some picturesque clouds, perfect conditions. Where else would I go on such a day but the inlet? On a day such as this there is beauty to be found there, with or without birds. The rushes reflected in still water created a wonderful pattern.
There were birds of course, and it’s hard for me to go past the classic black and white pied stilts reflecting perfectly in the surface of the ponds. Nevertheless I have chosen a shot of one of the group taking an early morning nap in a secluded part of reserve.
At Motukaraka point there were already other photographers there, and two of them were fellow club members. The others were also well known to me as passionate bird photographers. My friend Toya (whose own blog is well worth reading) draped herself and her long lens with camouflage net and waited patiently. She got some wonderful shots.
For my part, I was happy with several sequences of kingfishers diving and retrieving.
The diving is remarkably clean and quiet with a very modest splash.
Most times they emerge triumphant with a crab clutched firmly in the beak.
They usually fly back to the branch from which they launched as in this shot, but if the photographer is too close they go elsewhere.
Normally, I would say that’s sufficient for the day but it really was a lovely day and I have a strict policy of presenting only the photographs from the previous day, so the opportunity would be lost if I didn’t share the wonderful tranquility of the inlet yesterday.
And then there was the noise. About thirty large V8s, mostly Fords, mostly Fairlanes and Thunderbirds came in convoy around the point and then proceeded in thunderous procession along Grays Road towards Plimmerton. The cars were immaculate, and the noise was amazing.
Driving around hoping to find something to photograph is a high-risk strategy.
As yesterday getting near sunset, I found myself in Porirua city. I had never photographed that area so I thought to see what I could capture. My first real acquaintance with Porirua was as a former employee of Kodak, back in 1968 when the main photoprocessing laboratory for New Zealand was at Elsdon just a little to the West of the present day CBD. The city centre has grown since then, and Kodak is long gone.
Porirua City is apparently the third most prosperous city in the country on an income per head basis. On the other hand it has a very high proportion of people on the minimum wage or less, and there is a certain grittiness to the city’s main shopping centre. It suggests to me that the people in the affluent suburbs do their shopping elsewhere. Immediately adjacent to a street full of restaurants is the district court and police station. I have appeared in that court (as a witness) and have to say that there is a bleak utilitarianism to the complex.
Across the road, on the far side of Cobham Court, is the North entrance to the North City mall, with its distinctive “sails”. The sculpted canvas forms keep the rain off but they seem to channel the wind so that everyone shares equally in the chill of winter. I don’t visit often enough to know if the emptiness I saw is typical of how business goes in this part of the Wellington region.
Inside the mall there was at least warmth, but still not many people. This shot of the main atrium suggests that times are tough. There are simply insufficient warm bodies walking past those shops. I mean no offense to anyone, but I found the whole precinct was not enticing. On the other hand there are one or two shops in the area that provide goods and service unavailable elsewhere in the region. And unlike the idiot policies in Lower Hutt and Wellington city, parking is free. I believe Porirua has a mighty heart, but many problems to solve.
Sunshine, as I have observed previously lifts the spirit and fills the soul with hope. Various possibilities on the Kapiti Coast came to mind, so I set out mid-morning, and, as usual, passed through Motukaraka Point at Pauatahanui. There were kingfishers, and the water was still, though the tide was further away that I might have liked. Nevertheless still water is more forgiving to photographers than a choppy surface, and this kingfisher flying back to its branch was better than I hoped for.
As I passed through Paekakariki, I spotted a plume of smoke at the north end of the locomotive shed. I noticed that Ab608 (Passchendaele) was out of the shed. I stopped and discovered that the smoke was not from the locomotive but rather from a heater in the shed. There was a lot of dust around Ab608 and I heard shovelling and the sound of ashes falling to the track underneath the locomotive. Some poor soul was inside the firebox scraping out the clinker. Anyway I think she is a thing of beauty.
I peered inside the shed, and lurking behind the Da diesel locomotive currently under restoration, was the sad shell of the once mighty Ka945, waiting its turn at the front of the queue. I know that Steam Inc work mightily and often literally, on the smell of the proverbial oily rag (I used the world “literally” quite deliberately. You are unlikely to find more oily rags anywhere than in a locomotive shed). I hope the funding and the volunteers are found.
On a completely different topic, I visited a good friend in Waikanae who grows, among other things, the Nepenthes plant. Also known as the pitcher plant, it is one of the carnivorous plants that entices insects into its large cup and once they enter, there is no going back.
The heated shed in which they are grown is a very crowded space and it was something of a struggle to manoeuvre the camera on its tripod into the right place to get the most useful angles, and to avoid the background clutter. I had to ask for a stool to get high enough to look down on this plant which had managed to acquire four or perhaps five ants. Fascinating though they may be, I have mixed feelings about them.
Our winters are very benign by some standards. Snow is rare, and in most of Wellington, five or six degrees of frost is as cold as it gets, and even that is unusual. Rain and wind are the sources of our winter misery, and they can get quite severe. Yesterday was at the tail end of a few ugly days and the Hutt River seemed to be very full. It was not in full flood, but very high and very fast. I believe its normal flow rate at Taita at this time of year is around 23 cumecs (cubic metres per second) and yesterday it was running at over 100 cumecs … that’s four times more water than usual. The water has been running so fast that it has scoured out the access ramp to the riverbed downstream, and I couldn’t get to the place from which I have previously shot images of the weir. It was underwater anyway.
Perhaps from a little upstream I might have a different view while still catching a bit of the drama of fast water. I made shots that were “straight” and also did a few long (30 second) exposures with the aid of the neutral density filters. I preferred the low shots. All the while, it was necessary to hold an umbrella over the camera to protect it from the steady drizzle. Few high-end DSLRs are truly weather-proof, and too much moisture can result in catastrophic damage. My insurers paid NZD$1,300 to repair the camera that suffered from an excess of airborne mist at Niagara Falls in 2012.
At home later, having given up on getting other images, night was approaching and I was closing the upstairs curtains to keep the house warm against the increasing chill. I saw a brilliant rainbow fragment on the Hutt River. To heck with the cold, I flung open the window and leaned out to try to capture the moment.
The scene was changing rapidly as clouds moved and light-shafts opened and closes. Suddenly it was no long a fragment but a full rainbow. I leaned out as far as I dared with no strap on the camera, and zoomed out to 24mm and couldn’t fit the whole thing in. My wide angle lens was downstairs and I knew with certainty that if I ran downstairs to get it, the rainbow would be gone by the time I was ready to shoot. I grabbed the shot and the rainbow disappeared.
I was determined that it would not be a still life day.
In Petone, there is an artesian well which is the only source of untreated water in the region. Neither chlorine nor fluoride are added and those for whom that is important come from far and wide to collect water in plastic bottles from the faucets provided. Some of the water is diverted to help form a water feature based around a large ceramic installation.
In the evening, I was invited to the opening of an exhibition at the Hutt Art Society. On of the featured artists, Vicky, is the wife of a fellow photographer, and I hold her work in high regard, so I was happy to attend with Mary, prior to going on to a camera club evening.
As usual at such affairs there was wine and finger food and a lot of meeting and greeting. Overall, I thought it was a very good exhibition at which paintings were on display along with some very talented woodworkers.
I had a bias towards two particular works by Vicky which were based on some bird photographs, both of which have appeared in earlier editions of this blog. Vicky has chosen the unusual technique of painting the birds alone, on polished wood. In my opinion, she has done a superb job of capturing the wood pigeon and the white heron, and I regard it as an honour to have provided the photographs.
Still life images are a sign that I am (creatively) in trouble.
At best, a still life says I am still alive. A combination of ugly weather, administrative tasks for the camera club and a significant dollop of laziness kept me indoors yesterday. I mentioned the previous day that Mary had walked from Breaker Bay to Lyall Bay. I forgot to mention that she likes to gather things from the beach, A handful of shells, some odd rocks and some sea-wrack all came home with us, and willing posed to have their picture taken.
They were not particularly talkative and I have little to say about them, but they gave me a chance to practise close-up shots.
I shall try for some real life today, despite the weather.
It was not extreme weather, but ugly, cold uncomfortable stuff. A solid Southerly blast that drove big swells onto the rocks at Palmer Head and brought a hint of ice with the spiteful rain it carried. Mary wanted to walk yesterday, despite all that, and agreed to coordinate with my daily photography jaunt. I dropped her at the Pass of Branda and we agreed to meet at the Spruce Goose restaurant in Lyall Bay. That’s about a 45 minute walk at her pace so I drove on to the point and set up my camera in its storm jacket and tried to capture the essence of the solid green waves clawing at the rocks. The rocks were unmoved.
Further round the coast, in the rock pools near Moa Point, this juvenile black-backed gull was learning a tough lesson. It thought it had a quick meal if it could open the mussel shell. Unfortunately, the clump of kelp had firmly attached its holdfast to the shell, so when the gull tried to lift the shell in readiness to drop it on the rocks, it was unable to lift it clear. It was too cold to linger so I have no idea if the bird ever found a way to release the shell.
I got to Lyall Bay and saw kite surfers racing back and forth, but also saw the Surf life Saving Club’s rescue boat crew getting in some practice in the surf. Or perhaps they were just having fun.
Racing head on to the incoming waves launched them skywards and I suspect that the jolt when they hit the water again must have been considerable. Mary arrived at the restaurant and despite the short wait for a table, we enjoyed the warmth, the service and the good coffee at Spruce Goose.
Snow is a rare visitor to Wellington, but there may be some tonight.