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November 11, 2022 … slowing down

Indifference is destructive. Occasionally, I need to kick myself in the butt to re-activate my creative enthusiasm. All too often recently, unkind weather has quashed the urge to venture out in search of photographs. No remorse was felt. I do not need this to become a burden rather than a pleasure.

Evans Bay sailing lessons

People who freely give their time to coach youngsters in their chosen sport or hobby deserve the utmost admiration. Here on Evans Bay, the local yacht club is working with a group of juniors helping them to learn the basics of controlling their yachts.

Garden snail

For some reason, I see snails less frequently than I used to. Perhaps it’s that I no longer have any vegetable crops for them to attack.

Tiny spider

Not sure who this little guy is, but I loved the translucence of its legs.

Ants

We came to Normandale from Auckland in 1980. We were astonished that there were no ants. This year, we have started to see small signs of ants in the garden. Not the common black ant, but rather these glossy brown guys. Still trying to identify their species.

Wisteria

Wisteria in Riddiford gardens behind the Hutt City offices

Rangiora

Rangiora is a tree as well as a South Island town. It flowers in profusion.

Wellington Hospital

Wellington Hospital as seen from the ridge to the West. The new children’s hospital is the green building at the left. “Benefactors Mark Dunajtschik and Dorothy Spotswood contributed $53 million to the new facility. The Government contributed another $53 million and a further $10 million was raised by the Wellington Hospitals Foundation” (One News)

The old Dominion Museum

Way back in time, this was the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum. It was replaced in these roles when Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) opened in 1998. It is currently leased to Massey University as part of its Wellington Campus.

The Man with the Donkey by Paul Walshe

In front of the old Dominion Museum building is the National War Memorial (currently closed until its seismic weaknesses are resolved). In from of that is this rather nice sculpture by Paul Walshe of Private Richard Henderson of the New Zealand Medical Corps who, along with the Englishman John Simpson Kilpatrick serving in the Australian Army Medical Corps, won fame for their courageous rescues of many wounded soldiers at Gallipoli.

The Tomb of an Unknown New Zealand Warrior

The tomb of New Zealand’s unknown warrior. It is a place of honour and respect, though it is not accorded the same quasi-religious reverence accorded to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington

Fountain

Part of the Pukeahu NationalWar Memorial Park is some classical statuary. This pool and the lion fountain caught my eye.

Whakaruruhau

Among the newer statuary at Pukeahu is this gift from the British people to honour the joint sacrifices of the two nations over many years. It is about 5 metres tall and represents a merger of the British Oak and New Zealand’s pohutukawa. It was designed and installed by Weta Workshop for the British High Commission in 2017. It was unveiled by Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson. Its name is Whakaruruhau … as I understand it, this translates to protection, shield and shelter.

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You probably already know that I rarely resist the temptation of a still morning at the Oriental Bay Marina. I am having to be more cautious these days. The concrete pad in front of the boat sheds is usually covered in slippery green algae and is a known hazard. My ability to lose my balance and do a full height face-plant is increasing with age, and I have managed it twice in the last month. The humiliation, physical injury and damage to cameras and glasses means I take less pleasure in such places than before. As they say, ageing is not for sissies.

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In one of the gardens at the foot of Pt Jerningham, this spectacular two-metre tall flower spike caught my eye. With the aid of the excellent Pl@ntNet app, I was able to identify it as the Chilean Puya.

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October 15, 2022 … Lightly seasoned

It’s strange that we are already past the vernal equinox, and yet we have had very little of the warm weather that the meteorologists have been promising. Mary and I have taken several opportunities in recent weeks to drive into the Horowhenua or the Manawatu whenever the weather has been even halfway decent.

This first image is of flowering cherry blossoms in the Featherston area. When this image was made, the nearby memorial garden was reluctant to burst into bloom, so I asked a friend who is resident in Greytown to report on progress over the next week or two.

Cherry blossoms – Featherston

On this day, we we drove up through the Wairarapa, seeing more and more signs of spring. A little block a bit North of Masterton was just a delight. As well as the profusion of daffodils and kowhai, there was a rabbit lurking in this picture. You might need to click to see it in the big picture.

Horowhenua Springtime

Since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge, the Pahiatua Track is one of only two roads that cross from the Wairarapa to the Manawatu. It’s an interesting road that traverses the Tararuas in among the huge wind turbines. On this first trip, I somehow missed the entrance to North Range Rd which allows the public a view of some of the many turbines along the Northern end of the range. Never mind. We ended up in Palmerston North where we enjoyed our picnic lunch beside Hokowhitu lagoon. From there we headed South on SH57 towards Levin. However, we got stopped by the glimpse of flowers in the grounds of Massey University. The flowering cherries were in glorious display.

The magnificent cherry blossoms on the Massey Campus

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the spectacle. There were lots of tui gathering the nectar and singing their hearts out. Such a shame that the Sakura season is so very short.

Tui enjoying the nectar

Spring is diverse nevertheless, and the next week, after prolonged rain, I wandered the Eastern side of Lower Hutt where I encountered mother duck guiding her brood across the road. It was quite funny watching the ducklings each taking their turn to breast up to the kerb and take several attempts to do a standing jump up onto the berm.

Motherly guidance

When the bad weather persists I turn to the late Sir Charles Norwood. He was founder of Dominion Motors, founder of the Wellington Free Ambulance, and the donor of the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens among other things. The Lady Norwood gardens include the rose gardens and the hothouses at the botanic gardens. Among the many varieties of begonias and orchids on display, there are some lovely water lilies.

Water lily

The orchids in the hothouses are each lovely in their own right, though they are often difficult to frame as an image with any artistic merit. I am reluctant to do any significant manipulation with Photoshop or similar, so am quite happy with this shot.

Orchids

A damp drizzly day in Breaker Bay and I was rewarded with this lovely blue shrub, Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans). The jewellery added by the soft rain lifts the picture substantially.

Pride of Madeira

Ika Rere (flying fish) is claimed as the first all electric ferry in the Southern hemisphere. I hate that statistic. It usually means they checked Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, Sydney Melbourne and perhaps Perth. We take it for granted that there is nothing worth checking in Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Montevideo or Sāo Paulo. Anyway, it is a pioneering vessel, and has entered the Days Bay ferry service. Unfortunately, it suffered an embarrassment when it ran out of power in the middle of the harbour, and had to be rescued by the police launch.

Ika Rere in service from Days Bay to Wellington

Tulips are a favourite for me, so I was delighted to encounter a wonderful crop of them at Mangaroa Farms in Whiteman’s valley. My first encounter was on a misty day with clouds of rain drifting across in the background.

Tulips in the rain

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Tulips in sunshine

A week later the weather dried out, so with permission from the farm owner, Mary and I revisited the farm and got a bit closer. I really liked being close to the flowers without the crowds of people you encounter in Wellington’s Botanic Garden.

Dark tulips

I love the dark varieties when it comes to Tulips. Sadly they were few in number.

My collection of annual photographic books

I have been getting up to date with my photo annuals. Each book is about 100 pages. and each page is fully covered with images. When you take into account the various image formats, that means about 120 images per book. I have books from 2011 to 2021. The company that produces them does a good job, though not cheap. One copy is typically NZ$60. Subsequent copies are inexplicably twice the price, So each of my books is the only copy.

Hutt Valley sunshine

Heading North on SH2 out of the Hutt Valley, I am always impressed by the view of the South wall of the Tararuas. Unfortunately, like many of the best views in the region, there is no place where you can legally park. Fortunately, Mary was driving.

Memorial garden to the Japanese prisoners of war in Featherston

Back in the memorial garden in Featherston, this time, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Various people were making images there, including a long time friend from the days of the now defunct Hutt Camera Club.

Cherry blossoms

Honey bees provided the sound track , though I caught none of them in this image. Nevertheless. I thought the blossoms made a nice image.

Wind farm on the Tararuas above Pahiatua

We went up over the Pahiatua Track again, and this time, I remembered to follow North Range Rd along the ridge. There are a number of different wind farms clustered along the Range. Some are quite old, perhaps charcterized by two-bladed turbines, while others are bigger, brighter, newer and have three bladed turbines. I think they are amazing devices.

That’s it till next time.

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Adventure adversity Art Birds Evans Bay Landscapes Light Maritime Normandale Reflections Wellington

September 27, 2022 … changing times

Queen Elizabeth II was a remarkable women who became queen in my 9th year. Despite my distaste for the notion of monarchy in general, Queen Elizabeth has served all her peoples with grace, dignity and unswerving commitment over seventy years. I do not intend to enter into debate with anyone on these matters, but it seems appropriate to acknowledge such a span of service.

Meanwhile, life continues at the coal face. Sometimes I find the routines of life a little uninspiring, and even depressing. Still, I love the process of making images. On the other hand, if I am not seeing or finding the images that bring me joy, the mood barometer swings downward again.

Hutt Valley rainbow

Mary and I had driven up to Palmerston North in the hope of finding birds or signs of spring. While I enjoyed travelling with Mary, the day was photographically, a bust. Then, as she was serving our evening meal back at home, Mary said “look out of the front window!” I begged a slight delay in the meal and grabbed my camera and a wide angle lens and went out onto the front lawn. Ever the sign of hope, the rainbow made up for much that we had missed earlier.

Cloudscape over Pt Halswell

It’s slightly weird when I am lamenting a down mood, that I can take pleasure in heavy clouds and grim outlooks. From Balaena Bay across Evans Bay to Point Halswell and the Miramar peninsula, I was attracted to the imposing cloudscape.

Rosemary in the rain

At the back door, Mary grows various flowers and herbs. They are just so ever-present that I often fail to see them. Now and then, they catch my eye. In this case, the rosemary’s blue flowers took some time on an otherwise damp and dismal day.

Evans Bay ripples

Evans Bay is a frequently visited site that occasionally yields a nice image. The still patch of water near the shore was disrupted by a row of incoming waves. Why do these waves differ from the chop on the water further out?

Interesting art in the back alleys

As I often do, I arrived too early for an excellent yum char lunch with friends and former colleagues in Courtenay Place. I filled the time by exploring nearby laneways. This image was made in Forresters Lane and is the front of a cocktail bar called “Love Bite”. Foreign territory to me.

Old familiar territory

Although I have done it many times before, I can’t resist still water in Oriental Bay marina.

Australasian shoveller

Despite the number of trips I make to Queen Elizabeth Park wetlands, I have not been rewarded with the hoped for birdlife in recent months. The only capture on this trip was this Australasian shoveller.

Tumbling water

Wellington’s Botanic Gardens are full of little surprises. This little waterfall is perhaps only a metre high, but adds to the music of the garden.

Tulip display

It’s tulip time again. Sadly it’s all too brief , but the gardeners always manage to arrange a good display of tulips for a few weeks. I got there the week prior to the annual tulip festival, so was limited as to the available colours.

Single bloom

I find it hard not to love tulips, singly or en masse.

Kaiarahi returns to service

Here is Kaiarahi (formerly Stena Alegra) just back in Wellington after many months sitting in Picton with a broken gearbox. The required parts were finally installed and here she is ready to resume service.

Urban forest

A splash of colour at the head Evans Bay. Urban forest’ (2008) by Leon van den Eijkel and Allan Brown is a stack of cubes designed to spin in the wind, of which there is plenty at the site. Sadly it fails often and just sits. Nevertheless, it is interesting and nine metres high.

See you next time, I hope.

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24 August, 2022 … mostly birds and botanicals

I can’t recall a more miserable winter than this one. Not in the sense of a Northern hemisphere snowy winter. Rather, it has been a season of persistent rain and sustained strong wind. Not a season to encourage much in the way of landscape photography in my opinion. And so it has been that I have made fewer images, and that the images were constrained by the subjects available, and by the often unkindly light of bleak wet winter’s days.

Apart from that, I somehow let time slip by, so I have accumulated a few more images than usual.

Little black shags getting ready for a hunting foray

The little black shag intrigues me. As far as I know, it is is the only shag that hunts in packs. All of the others are solitary hunters.

The flock in pursuit of a shoal of fish

It fascinates me to watch the flock herding a shoal of fish into the shallows where they can feast on the fish which have no escape route.

Winter weather in Island Bay

I mentioned the winter weather. One aspect of it that I rather like is the Southerly swells. Big slow moving waves with long intervals between each crest are so impressive. This is at the Western end of Island Bay.

Weight of water

Huge swells (by local standards) seem to glide almost silently towards the coast. Of course, the wind is shrieking but that seems separate from the water.

Welcome swallow

We’ve met this guy or one of his relatives before. For whatever reason, the wetlands at Queen Elizabeth Park have not had the usual variety of bird life. No coots or dabchicks have been seen in my recent visits. It’s a really tough day when there are no Welcome swallows. The flax branch just outside the bird hide is a favourite resting spot for them, and if I am lucky, it is open to the occasional shaft of light.

Tui in the rain

The tui was named Parson bird by early colonists because the white throat tufts have the look of a clerical collar. It is a member of the honeyeater family. Many people tend to think that its plumage is dark, almost black. If you catch it in the light, however, you find that its coat is an iridescent blend of blues and greens, brown and white. It seems to be increasing in numbers over recent years and that brings me joy, despite its bullying behaviour towards the smaller passerines.

Hard to keep the lens dry in such squalls

Somedays it sucks and then it blows. Though it’s warmer than the Southerlies, the Northerly wind can produce miserable conditions. Here we are in Evans Bay as the strong Northerly squalls rip the top off waves on Wellington Harbour.

Tui tries exotic foodMana

Another tui shot, with the clerical collar in full view. As I said above, it is a honey eater, and likes any source of nectar. I was surprised to see this one slurping on a banana that Mary had placed there for the waxes.

Mana marina

One of my struggles is to find different ways of looking at the broad scenes in front of me. In this case, I was at the Mana Marina. Normally I would choose a wider angle that reveals more of the boats, but on this occasion I liked the pattern or texture of all the boat bows nosed into the marina gangway.

Flowering cherry appeals to the tui

I promise this is the last tui in this edition. Spring is with us next week, but some of the flowers are ahead of the officially approved timetable. As I said, this is a nectar feeder so the sudden outbreak of new flowers is a delight to it.

The answer is always on the web

I think I have done this before. The bird hide at Queen Elizabeth park is not always productive, and I fill in time by making images of the spider webs around the view ports. I suppose the existence of the webs suggests that not much photography has happed here in recent days.

Pride of Madeira

There are some cliffs near the Seaview Marina, and as I was driving past, I spotted a beautiful splash of deep blue. Later investigation identified it as a member of the borage family called Pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) . Anyway, I snaffled a single bloom and photographed it in my dark box and quite liked it.

Sea shells from the sea shore

Wet windy weather persisted. Mary had braved the weather to walk Petone beach and she found some shells. OK, still life is good practice. I have no idea which particular mollusc this is but I liked the translucence.

Nuts

More still life – guess what the weather was doing. These walnuts have sat in the bowl for several months now.

Graffiti colours

I despise most forms of graffiti, especially the ones that are the equivalent of a dog marking its territory. Now and then, the colour choices catch my eye, as in this case in Lyall Bay.

Beautifully flat landing

I was eating my lunch in my car on the corner of Lyall Bay near the airport when this Pilatus PC12 approached the South end of the runway. It’s not a great shot of this fine little 9 seat aircraft, but I paid attention because it was making the perfect three-point landing without the usual nose-high flare more commonly seen. OK, so I’m a nerd.

More graffiti … I wonder how much this paint cost

More graffiti. This example is on one of the water reservoirs at the top of the Haywards Hill. If I had my way, the manufacturers and distributors of spray cans would be taxed annually based on the estimated square footage of external private property that is covered in their product. That includes every rail wagon and every wall defaced.

Elizabeth St, Mt Victoria

I don’t often look at Wellington from the East. This is from Elizabeth Street on the lower slopes of Mt Victoria. Those who know the city will recognise the Hunter building at Victoria University across the valley.


Pou Whenua

Further up Mt Victoria, near the summit lookout, is this fine pou whenua. I suppose a pou whenua is roughly equivalent to a totem pole. It is a statement of heritage by the tangata whenua (the people of the land).

Central city

Somehow, I find panoramic images are rarely satisfying, yet I keep attempting to make them. This one is a stitch of eight or nine images. I knew something was different in this one and struggled to identify it. It was only as I was checking that the stitching between images had worked that I realised there was no scaffolding on the Post Office headquarters building (extreme right). Scaffolding has surrounded this building since before I retired in 2011. Apparently apart from many other issues, this has involved asbestos remediation.

And so ends another edition. Sorry for the long gap this time. The weeks slip by ever faster. If you want your copy emailed, please subscribe below

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Architecture Birds Butterflies Cook Strait flowers Landscapes Light Maritime mountains Paremata Porirua Rivers Sunset

July 17, 2022 …

One of my favourite mentors, Alastair Benn this week asked his subscribers what makes a good photograph/photographer. Any of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that this is a sure way to trigger all my anxieties and self doubt. He also asked whether we thought it was feasible to judge your own work.

Solely in relation to my own work, I regard a good photograph as one that I like, that I am pleased to have made and one to which my first reaction is not how much better it could have been “if only I had done something else.” In my view, although I love to get affirming opinions from others, the vital component is that I like it myself. I take it for granted that the image is made competently. After that it is a matter of what I saw and how I extracted that seeing from all that was in front of me.

So here follows the usual collection of images made since the last edition of this blog. I like some of them. Others not so much.

Cape Halswell Light in the mist

Winter mist on the harbour and all is blank beyond Pt Halswell. The Hutt Valley is probably still out there, though there is no evidence of it.

Little Black Shag hanging the laundry out to dry

I like the little black shags. Their plumage is beautifully patterned but not coloured. This one was hanging the wings out to dry in whatever thin substitute for sunshine was available.

Misty on the Wainuiomata Coast Road

Misty conditions appeal to me, though the resulting images rarely match the vision I had when I made them. This was on the road South to the Wainuiomata coast. Silhouettes against the mist always appeal to me.

A constrained view from Wright’s Hill

Now and then I get the urge to go up Wright’s Hill at the Western end of Karori. The problem with geographic lookouts such as Wrights Hill, is that they are constraining. Every time I go up there, I end up in the same place looking at the same view. Only the light, time of day and the weather change. I need to get more inventive.

Evans Bay looking inland

Unlike Wright’s Hill, Evans Bay offers myriad different vantage points. Some face East, some West. Some look into bays, others look out. I liked this view because it is an angle not often seen.

White cabbage butterfly

As far as I can tell, this caterpillar is going from left to right. I will further venture that this is probably a white cabbage butterfly seen here hanging under a parsley plant. Two aspects caught my eye. A droplet of water on the caterpillar’s back was interesting because I have no idea where it came from. The other thing that drew my attention was its pointy little feet.

Sunset over the Hutt Valley

A seemingly perfect day seemed to promise a spectacular sunset. Sadly, it didn’t happen. Instead, a wall cloud developed to the West and we had a fairly ordinary sunset. The only consolation were the glittering reflections in the Hutt River and the Waiwhetu Stream.

On Ivey Bay (again)

Ivey Bay is a frequent haunt of mine. Among other things, I like it because of the character of the boats moored there. As I have observed before, these are not plastic “gin palaces”, but rather, honest working boats, probably built by the original owner.

Tapuae-o-Uenuku

Looking from the top of the Wainuiomata Hill across the Cook Strait, there is usually a splendid view of the Kaikoura mountains. Tapuae-o-Uenuku is always magnificent, especially considering that summit is 130 km away.

Tākina – the Convention centre

Here is the new kid on the block. This is Tākina. It is the almost finished Wellington Convention Centre. I quite like it, though birders are not pleased with so much glass that could injure the birds.

Aquilla coming home

Aquilla is one of the local fishing trawlers seen here returning from the Cook Strait with a swarm of sea birds hovering hopefully in her wake.

Porirua Harbour

Porirua Harbour has its moments. I especially like it when there is no wind, and that is much more often than you might think. This is a multi-image panoramic stitch made between two trees near the Whitireia Polytchnic.

Tulips

Mary had a birthday recently and the family turned up and provided morning tea at a local cafe. Jack (15) arrived with a bunch of tulips for the occasion. Flowers for the win!

And that’s another edition in the can, though I had a repeat of that sudden loss of editing. I might have to see if there is something more reliable than WordPress.

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adversity Architecture Birds Cook Strait flowers Industrial Landscapes Light Machinery Maritime mountains Seasons Vehicles Waves Weather

July 3, 2022 … winter is upon us

Winter solstice was in the week just ended. Spring seems so far away. And yet there are signs already. We have had a few bright winter days but for the most part, strong winds, cloud and rain. I try to convince myself that there is beauty to be found even in bad weather, but some days do not encourage me to venture out with the camera.

Nevertheless, I do get out in rough weather now and then, especially if there is the hope of large swells on the South or West coast. If, however the water is merely ruffled, and the weather is grey and bleak, I stay home. I seem to have got out reasonably often since my last posting.

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Pukerua Bay normally offers a view across the water to Kapiti Island. On this day a howling Nor’Wester was driving swells in excess of 4 metres directly towards the beach. I chose to make my images from inside the car, using the passenger window as my portal to the storm, and the width of the car to protect my lens from the spray. I got some reasonable wave shots, but my favourite of the day was this image taken after I rolled the window back up. And that’s when I found that the passenger seat was absolutely soaked!

Seed spreaders

Aaaghhh! I had finished typing this edition when WordPress suddenly decided to stop saving and to go back four days and lost everything from here forward. Everything from here on is a rewrite.

Another dull day and my attention turned to the birds in the tree just outside our dining room window, Common house sparrows were doing battle over access to the birdseed bell that Mary had hung out there. They are messy eaters so if there any viable seeds on that thing, there is a strong likelihood of something exotic growing from fallen seeds around the tree. Last season, it was sunflowers. Who knows what next.

Steam excursion

The observant among you may notice the red light on the right hand end of the locomotive’s buffer beam. Yes, this is the back of the train. Steam Inc were running out and back trips between Paraparaumu and Manakau. If you look closely or click to enlarge, you will see a vintage diesel locomotive down the other end. The diesel hauls the train in the Southbound trips, and the steam locomotive leads the way back North. It burned 5 tonnes of coal in the two days on which the excursions were running.

Under tow

In contrast this ship, La Richardais was burning no fuel except by the generators. She had lost power a few hundred km off the coast of New Plymouth and had been under tow ever since. The large tug is MMA Vision which normally spends her time as a tender to the Taranaki oil fields, and was released to tow La Richardais first to New Plymouth and then to Wellington. They are seen here arriving in Wellington assisted by the two local tugs, Tiaki and Tapuhi. They spent a week in Wellington. I suspect that no local firm was equipped to achieve a repair so the tow resumed. MMA Vision will take her to New Caledonia and another tug will take her onwards to Singapore and presumably a repair.

Weight of water

Long long ago, when I almost understood such things, I did an applied mathematics course at the University of Auckland. I bandied around terms like amplitude, frequency and period and knew a few formulae on how to find one of those if I had the other two. I have a lingering sense of the importance of those characteristics of a wave. The ones that impress me the most are the amplitude (Height from trough to crest) and period (the time between successive crests). I know I am in for a visual spectacle if the amplitude is greater than 4 metres and the period is greater than 10 seconds. This image was made at Pukerua Bay.

Kaitaki bound for Picton

In a different set of circumstances, I was at Owhiro Bay when the view across the strait was crisp and clear. Mighty Tapuae-o-Uenuku was soaring skyward up into the clouds hovering around its peak. The Interisland ferry Kaitaki which seems sorely in need of a paint job passed at speed across the face of the mountain., heading towards Tory Channel and Picton.

Straitsman bound for Wellington

Even as Kaitaki was heading West, the competing ferry Straitsman emerged from Tory Channel. She has recently had a major overhaul, and her crisp clean paint job was quite a contrast.

Throw no stones

From Oriental Bay, the high-rise blocks of Wellington’s CBD are eye-catching. The Deloitte building is especially so. Recent seismic losses were undoubtedly in the minds of the architects when they used such a thoroughly triangulated structure. I imagine that those angled tubular columns are a nuisance in the building’s interior, but offer some reassurance whenever the earth moves, as it often does in Wellington.

Spotlight

I have no idea which site is served by this crane, but the way it was picked out of the late afternoon gloom by that shaft of sunlight made it an image worth taking.

Ash clearance

As I mentioned earlier, the weekend of running up and down between Paraparaumu and Manakau consumed 5 Tonnes of coal. This produces a lot of ash, much of which remains in the firebox and the rest is carried through the boiler tubes and falls to the base of the smokebox. There are access hatches in the sides of the locomotives, but that is the only concession to convenience. After that, it is shovelled by hand from the collection area into a wheelbarrow, and then wheeled to a tipping area behind the locomotive shed. It is a tedious task, but these members of the crew laboured away until the job was done

Steel grey

Crepuscular rays are a magnet for most landscape photographers. This view from Oriental Bay looking North conceals the usual view of the Tararuas. It’s a full colour image that could easily pass as monochrome. The steel grey colour of the harbour is probably a good indicator of just how cold the day was.

Dandelion

I am sure there is someone who could dispute the botanical identity of this seed head. I don’t care. It walks like a dandelion and quacks like a dandelion, so … I struggle to choose an exposure that does justice to the outer sphere, and to the spectacle of the inner parts where each seed attaches to the plant.

Kelburn Park

Kelburn Park fountain is perhaps outclassed by the Carter Fountain in Oriental Bay, despite its spectacular coloured lighting at night. Nevertheless, it is worth a look. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw that I had caught a gaggle of sightseers the lookout platform atop Mt Victoria 2,240 metres away.


Pineapples and Bananas

The Kakariki is less than a year old, and her paint reflects that. The only significant marks are those left by the black rubber buffers on the nose of numerous tugs assisting her into her berth.

That will do for this edition. I hope to see you again soon.

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June 12, 2022 … back to normal

With the road trip behind me, my challenge now is to keep the photographic flame alive. That can be hard while living an everyday life in suburbia. Many times before, I have referred to seeing familiar things in a different way. Some of my photographic friends have the gift of “finding a different place” to stand when making pictures of things that I see every day. What I need to do in my search for something worth photographing is to pause, and to not make the picture until I have considered other ways of looking at it. This might be to go round the other side. It might be to include (or exclude) another element. Perhaps it is looking at the subject through a different lens. The wide angle offers a different picture to that made by the telephoto. Anyway, for now at least, we are at home on the Western Hills of Lower Hutt and Winter has officially begun.

Before I totally forget the road trip, many thanks to all the nice readers who sent kind words and affirmation. Your messages were greatly appreciated.

Fizz

A crranberry flavoured tablet made a spectacular fizz. I tried to catch it in my lightbox. That went OK, but I wondered whether a dark box might give a better image. The illusion of a reflection is createrd by the simple trick of standing the glass on the base of an identical glass inverted.

Receding planes

One trick for seeing a view differently is to make a part of the scene substitute for the whole. Looking from Oriental Parade up the harbour, Wellingtonians are familiar with the view of the hills to the North. I have tried to present that view differently. The dark mass in the foreground is Matiu/Somes Island. Behind that are three folds in the Eastern hills of the Hutt Valley and I suspect the highest visible hill through the haze is Mt Climie behind Upper Hutt. A popular track with runners runs 6km from Tunnel gully to the summit. Masochism at its finest.

Depth charge?

Big swells on the South coast tend to attract the surfing community to Lyall Bay. It also attracts photographers. I am not sure why. Though the surfers may be different, it’s essentially the same picture each time. The only thing that rescues such an image from being the same as last time is the extent to which the light conditions or the waves are different. In this case I think the explosive burst of a big swell on the breakwater at the end of the airport runway makes a difference.

Royal spoonbills

Recently a flock of Royal spoonbills has taken to spending time on the Pauatahanui wetlands. It is often the case that, even when the rest of the inlet has a bit of a chop on the surface, the wetlands are perfectly still. These birds are still not quite the equal of the white heron, but they run a close second.

Morning glory

On Ivey Bay, there is often a variety of shore birds. In this case, a pied shag is proclaiming dominance over the bay. Across the inlet, the hills to the North of Grays Rd tower above the foreshore. I mainly liked the light.

Ivey Bay anchorage

That same morning, the water was perfect and one of the classic older wooden boats in the bay served as a focal point for my image making. I have no idea which boat it was, but as with previous captures, I have a preference for the simple old-fashioned working boats.

Swells in Owhiro Bay

We have been blessed with a relatively mild winter thus far. No deep cold, no sign yet of snow on the Tararuas. The only real symptom of winter has been a few heavy swells from the South. I like to try to catch these big waves, and hope to convey the weight of water behind each one. I am fascinated by their slow ponderous advance. I know conditions will be interesting when the gap between each wave is about ten seconds.

Lodden Lily

In the grounds of St James Church, Lower Hutt, shared by the public library except on Sundays, there is a lot of history and a great deal of horticulture, mostly carried out at the expense of the Lower Hutt City Council. I spotted these little beauties and thought they were some kind of spring flower that got confused. These Loddon lilies, however, are a winter flower so they were perfectly on schedule and it was only me that was confused.

Abandoned

Unilever has been part of Petone’s scenery scenery since 1919. The big factory building with its constantly steaming exhaust stacks came much later, sometime mid-century. At its peak, about 600 people worked there. Automation in the latter years apparently reduced the on-site numbers to about 30. The distinctive glass office block was built in the 1980s. In 2014, pursuant to global restructuring, Unilever transferred its New Zealand operations to Australia and the Petone factory fell silent. Some of the lesser buildings at the Eastern end of the 5 hectare property seem to have been leased or sold to small businesses. The office block remains dark and reflects the equally still factory block.

Wet feet

A long-proposed cross-harbour pipeline will improve resilience of Wellington’s water supply. The present sole pipeline runs alongside the main highway and crosses known seismic fault lines in several places. Construction began on the new line this year and is expected to be complete in 2025. A barge with some heavy machinery has been in Lowry Bay for several months now and has established some piles. I saw these two intrepid workers being lowered on a work platform to inspect one of the piles. I got the impression that they were controlling the crane themselves. If so, they were not afraid to get their feet wet.

So many still days lately

I shouldn’t tempt fate with a caption like that. We have endured some vile weather in recent days. No surprise then, that when conditions are good, I seize the day. This image is from the walkway beside the marina below Pt Howard. You can see traces of the morning mist dissipating over the Western Hills.

May I urge you to click on any image that appeals to you to see a larger version.

I don’t know why I didn’t discover it earlier, but WordPress has a feature that allows its readers to sign up to receive each new edition of a blog by email. Simply enter your email address once in the space below. Once only and not if you are already getting it by email.

Categories
Adventure Cars Family Forest Lakes Landscapes Mangakino Rotorua Travel Weather Whanganui

May 29, 2022 … Waikato road trip (part III) … homebound

This is the third and final in a three part series describing our road trip to the Waikato and back.
Part I covered the trip from Wellington to Mangakino
Part II covered our trip from Mangakino to Wingspan and now we cover the journey from Mangakino to Horopito, to Whanganui and home.

In one sense, our spontaneous adventure away from home was a trip to nowhere. With all due respect to its 1,200 inhabitants, Mangakino is scarcely a tourist destination. On the other hand, having spent six years as a single man in nearby Tokoroa back in the late 1960s, I was familiar with the region. I knew and loved the rhythms of life in the area at this time of year. Sharp frosts, river mists, clear days and dark brittle starlit nights characterised the early yeas of my working life. The smell of logs burning in open fireplaces so familiar back then was still familiar now, though no longer acceptable in most other places.

Our last two days in Mangakino after our memorable trip to Wingspan were characterised by soft but steady rain. That was OK by me. I had lots if image processing to do and Mary seemed happy reading or knitting when she wasn’t managing the fire or organising excellent meals for us.

There was a break in the weather on Sunday, our last day in the region, so I made one last expedition back upriver to Atiamuri and thence to Lake Ohakuri. This was new territory to me. I don’t know how I had never been to Lake Ohakuri before, but like the other lakes on the river, it seems to enjoy a sheltered situation and its surface was glassy calm. No one else was visible. I had this vast beauty all to myself. However, we were due to leave for Whanganui the next morning and there was packing to be done, so it was back to Mangakino to enjoy one last log fire.

We left Mangakino in drizzle conditions and headed Westward on SH30 towards Benneydale and Taumarunui. My love of the South Waikato landscape has been expressed several time in recent blogs. Even in these soggy conditions I find it attractive. Pouakani is not a place I have previously heard of. Nor, as we pass through it, is it a place I am likely to remember. However, according to Google Maps, the picture above was made there.

Maniaiti/Benneydale is a town in the Waitomo district that is home to about 180 people. When I lived and worked in Tokoroa in the mid 1960s, we thought of it as a frontier town on the Western edge of forestry country. It was in fact a coal mining town between the years of 1931 and the early 1990s. That has now ended. Until 2018 Benneydale was the only town in the King Country that did not have a Maori name. Local iwi applied to the Geographic Board to remedy that and it is now Maniati/Benneydale despite considerable local opposition. I photographed this same derelict house last time I came this way in 2016. Back then the green tree was just beginning to appear through the roof.

The King Country is an interesting area. While you can draw it on a map, it has no existence as a governance entity. For that, it falls partly within Waikato, and partly within Manawatu/Whanganui region. All of this is merely of passing interest, as we headed down a backroad from Benneydale to join SH4 at Ongarue. The region is heavily forested and very hilly. The only clue I have about where I made the image above through the windscreen is that it is somewhere North of Taumarunui.

We made a rest stop and had an excellent morning tea in Taumarunui. Then it was Southwards through Raurimu and National Park, heading purposefully for Horopito, home to Horopito Motors. This place is known globally as “Smash Palace” and was the setting for the 1981 Roger Donaldson film of the same name.

The last time I was there was in 2013. Back then in return for a gold coin donation, they allowed photographers and tourists to enter the 5 or so hectares and wander at will among the thousands of rusting cars.

On that occasion, we arrived early in the morning and there was no one in the office. The gate was open so I made the expected donation and began wandering about and making pictures. Mary sat in the car and knitted while I was in photography heaven. After I was done, I started to thread my way out of the maze only to be confronted by a man with a rifle and a bunch of distinctly unfriendly dogs. Awkward. He had been hunting and was a bit late back and was startled to find a wandering photographer on the premises. We resolved our differences peaceably.

This time things were done properly, and I paid the now required $10 admission fee at the office and spent a blissful hour looking at rusty textures and the shapes of cars as they used to be in my youth. There may be a pattern or system to the way in which cars are placed when they come in, but if so I could not work it out. It definitely is not brand, year, nor even the era from which the car was made. I am told that if you need a part for your old car, the staff can nevertheless tell you whether they that or a similar model.

At first I was a bit disconcerted that, near the front gate, there were many cars of recent manufacture that still had visible full-coloured paint and chrome work. I presume they were recent crashes or simple mechanical failures. They were not what I had come for, so I avoided them as much as possible.

There are estimated to be about 5,000 cars on site. As I wandered about I saw many that I have not laid eyes on for years. Mostly these would be British cars that are rarely on our roads any more. There were a few continental models , but by far, most were from Dagenham, Cowley, Solihull or the like.

“Austin of England” was the brand emblazoned on the boot of cars with that grill. There are very few bearers of that brand still running in New Zealand. And yet they remind of of a sunny childhood and I retain a certain affection for them. We once even owned a lovely three litre A110 Austin Westminster.

It was fun testing my ability to identify some of these old wrecks Across the back, a Ford Zephyr, a Ford Prefect sitting on a Standard Vanguard, a Hillman or Singer wagon. In the front row, I suspect the one on the left might be a Renault, and then a Fiat Bambina in front of who knows what.

I said there was no apparent organisation to the placement of cars. This pile seems to be an exception as there are at least three Morris Minors here. I struggle to imagine that there are many useful parts in these cars, or what economic model makes them worth keeping. I imagine that these were once someone’s pride and joy, and were probably washed and polished weekly. Now there are few if any body panels that would be of any use.

If you have seen enough rust by now, I would not hold it against you should you choose to skip this and the following two images and go straight to Whanganui. For my part, I see interest in the different patterns and textures in each image. And I wonder at the story behind each vehicle. A quote from Casablanca comes to mind: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine”. There is no way that all these vehicles belonged to families or businesses in the nearby towns. So how did each car come to be here, so far from any significant centres of population?

Not only the individual vehicles, but the way in which they are scattered around the vast property is fascinating. Occasionally you can see that an attempt has been made to group like vehicles together. It never seems to have lasted though. Three or four Morris Minors together might be the start of something and then a Ford Consul Classic 315, a Trekka, a Wolseley 6/110, a Vauxhall Velox, a few Holdens, a Bradford and an Alfa Romeo throws the pattern into confusion.

Always, the harsh climate, rain, snow and sun are breaking down the once polished paint, and red rust becomes the dominant colour. The odd car puts up a longer resistance. Or perhaps it came into that part of the plot at a different time to its neighbours. Why is that Ford Prefect in the shot above still blue? Why is the paint on the back corner of that car the only bit that hung on?

The land on which the cars are stored is uneven and though there are many flat areas, there are gulleys and small hills. Cars are strewn close together over almost all of it. The tracks left clear for access form a maze of sorts, and often you come to a dead end. Though you can see the home buildings on the other side of the stack, there is no way to get there without risking an avalanche of sharp rusting steel. And so you retrace your steps, dodging the deep puddles in the soggy ground.

Every path you take reveals a different view and models you hadn’t noticed when you came the other way. A person of my vintage keeps seeing models familiar in my younger days but not seen on the roads for many a year. The Armstrong Siddley Star Sapphire, the Vauxhall Cresta, The Ford Pilot, the Morris Oxford, the Triumph Mayflower, the Rover 3500, the Lanchester. It’s not the cars themselves that arouse the emotion, but rather the way they trigger recollection of happy times, youth, friends and family members long gone.

Enough wallowing in maudlin sentimentality. To my photographic eye, the place is a delight in any weather. Regardless of the memories, the stacks of rusting remains provide fascinating set of opportunities to capture shapes and colours, though rust is dominant. After an hour of photography, I decided that though the cars in front of me were different, I was making the same image over and over again, just with different cars. Time to resume our Southward journey.

We had an excellent picnic lunch beside the Makotuku River in Raetihi during a break in the drizzle. Then it was down the winding 95km of the Parapara. In case you didn’t know it, SH4 runs parallel to the Whanganui River from Raetihi to Whanganui and is known as the Parapara. It is notorious for its treacherous greywacke landscape. It is magnificent to look at but prone to crumbling landslips and washouts, potholes and floods. When the Parapara is closed as it is at least a few times in most winters, then it is a very long detour down SH1 to Bulls, or even around Egmont and through New Plymouth. I think I dozed off on this part of the trip.

Fortunately I wasn’t driving, and soon enough we were crossing the Dublin St bridge in Whanganui on our way to our Airbnb in Castlecliff.

The owner of our Airbnb advertised it as “quirky”. I must remember to avoid any described as such in future. Fortunately we were there for just two nights. Whanganui, along with most of the North Island was fairly wet during our brief stay. Peat Park was looking more like Park Lake. We drove up to Waverley to visit my brother and sister-in-law and that trip was even wetter. And then it was time for the journey home.

Wetness persisted all the way to Wellington. We broke the 190 km trip home with morning coffee and a magnificent cheese scone at the excellent Riverstone Cafe at the South end of Otaki. Then the final leg home is much quicker than it ever was in the past. The expressway starts at Pekapeka just North of Waikanae and from there it’s motorway all the way home. I asked Mary to drive the last bit because I wanted to snatch an image of the bush near the summit of Transmission Gully.

Just before the Southbound summit on Transmission Gully there is a forested valley on the left side. Each time I have crossed that road, I have wanted to catch it. Most of the surrounding hills are covered in pines, but here is a remnant of the native bush landscape as it once was. Not possible to photograph if you are driving, of course.

And here at last we are at the foot of the Haywards Hill, emerging into the sunshine of the Hutt Valley and Wellington and home. The distant hills are the Miramar peninsula and the prominent tower block is the former TV studios at Avalon.

I hope you have enjoyed my rambling and the images related to our trip. Now it is done. I continue to post photo-blogs on this site on random topics every two or three weeks. I advertise infrequently so if you care to, you could check back every few weeks to check for the latest. Or you can subscribe to have it emailed to you. Thanks for keeping me company, and special thanks to all who sent kind comments which warmed my soul.

Categories
Adventure Animals Birds Mangakino Rivers Rotorua Waikato

25 May, 2022 … Waikato road trip (part II) … Wingspan

This is the part 2 of our three part road trip story. Part one ended after visiting the magnificent reserve and wildlife sanctuary at Maungatautiri. With my diminishing fitness and agility, I didn’t do Maungatautiri justice. It is a wonderful wildlife reserve well worth the visit for anyone of average mobility.

Mangakino continued to be a total delight. Morning mist on the river and bright blue afternoons and cool nights with log fires were just magic.

Having damaged my lightweight Olympus camera, I was slowly re-learning how to use the big Canon cameras after having left them idle for a year or two. Meanwhile, Mary was enjoying walking on the Waikato River trails while I enjoyed not walking the same trails. You can see how I did so poorly at Maungatautiri.

I have previously quoted Scott Kelby’s rule for making good landscape images: “first go somewhere where there is a good landscape”. There is no excuse for not finding good landscapes in the beautiful South Waikato.

This second part of our road trip is mostly about our adventure from Mangakino across to the truly wonderful Wingspan Bird of Prey Centre in Rotorua. If you are in the region, do not miss it (Monday to Sunday). If you are not in the region, go there. This is the best hour or 90 minutes a birder can spend.

Mangakino mist

We had learned that Wingspan had a school visit on the Thursday , so we deferred our booking until Friday. Kids should of course be encouraged to visit, but we preferred not to have to compete with them for access to the front seats. So it was that on Thursday Mary set out on the three hour walking trail from Mangakino to Whakamaru while I drove around looking for the magic of the mist. This tree appeared at just the right distance from the road.

Waikato river at Dunham’s Point

Then I went the 16 km back to Dunham Reserve where, sadly, there was no mist whatsoever. As I said last week, if you don’t capture the scene when you first see it, it is unlikely you will see the same conditions or light again. So, back to the Whakamaru Dam where I met Mary and we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the sun beside a small pond near the dam.

Arohaki in flight

Then came the day of our visit to Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre. (Check that link) They specialise in conservation, education and research for birds of prey. They also put on a superb hour long public display at 11:30 am every Thursday through Sunday. Seats are limited so book before you go.

We drove across the fondly remembered countryside from Mangakino to Atiamuri and then across SH30 to Rotorua. From there we went North on SH5 to Wingspan’s big new display area on Paradise Valley Rd in Ngongotaha. It was a beautiful morning and with our promised front row seats, we watched the show with perhaps twelve others.

The MC was Shannon, a young lady from Lower Hutt. She did an excellent job, and filled in all the gaps when the unpredictability of the birds disrupted the programme. The first bird to appear was Arohaki, a male NZ Falcon with his trainer, Heidi who is also from the Hutt Valley. Arohaki has obviously been doing this performance for quite a while, and settled himself on the wooden post set up in the field for that purpose.

Arohaki

Arohaki sits with a haughty demeanour and the certainty that, despite weighing a mere 300g, he can take on almost any bird in the neighbourhood. After chasing and catching a number of lures, he was brought closer to the audience and saw no problem in flying to perch on the head of the visitor at the end of the front row. Those are sharp claws so I advise visitors to wear a hat.

Ribbon dealing with a bait

The falcons are unapologetically and exclusively carnivores. Like me they have not developed a taste for broccoli or kale. They make short work of any chicken or duck on offer. They are not delicate eaters and quickly shred the morsels that the trainers offer for tasks achieved.

The second avian star of the show was “Ribbon”, a female who was displayed by the amazing Noel Hyde MNZM. Noel received that honour for services to wildlife conservation and research taxidermy. Ribbon weighs in at about 500 gm, almost half as much again as Arohaki. Foolishly, I went along to the end of the row for a different photographic perspective and next thing I knew was that Ribbon was sitting on my hat. It’s a lightweight fabric hat so I can testify that her claws are very sharp. Not only that, but with a long lens, its impossible to photograph a bird on your own head.

The staff brought the falcons along the row of audience seats and allowed people the opportunity to get really close. Another member of the audience caught the moment with Ribbon on my sitting on my hat as I had done for him with Arohaki on his hat, so we swapped images. I had not intended to include these two, but what the heck, it was all part of the delight in the day.

Mary gets to handle Ribbon (I think)
Ribbon sitting on my head – photo courtesy of Denis Came-Friar
Robo-magpie

The staff at Wingspan take great care for all aspects of each bird’s welfare and ensure that they get appropriate and sufficient exercise. One way they contribute to this is by the use of the “Robocrow” which was invented by the internationally renowned expert in falconry, Dr Nick Fox. Of course we don’t have crows in New Zealand so the wingspan version is dressed as a magpie. Basically it is a simple polystyrene radio controlled model aircraft, powered by an electric ducted fan, or as trainer Heidi says, a “hair dryer”. Here we see Heidi launching the Robo-magpie for Ribbon to chase.

Ribbon defeats the noisy enemy

As soon as Ribbon saw the robo-magpie, she was off. There ensued a vigorous pursuit around the skies above us, with Ribbon getting ever closer, and Heidi trying to evade capture. Ribbon won and Heidi throttled back, whereupon Ribbon took her capture up the hill into the scrub to eat the bait that was strapped to the robot’s back. Heidi and Noel had to trudge quite a way up the hill to retrieve both.

Jarli

Forgive me if I get a bit excited now. Wingspan has acquired an Australian Barn Owl whose name is Jarli. Yes, it is an Australian, but Barn Owls have been breeding here since 2008, and according to the experts at Wingspan, have thereby become our newest “native owl”. The Morepork and the Little Owl are the only other owl species in NZ and even they are not often seen. Isn’t she beautiful?

What did you say?

One of the many things that fascinate me about owls is the flexibility of their necks. If I heard correctly they can rotate through 270º so it should be hard to sneak up on them.

Totally silent flight

Surprisingly (to me), owls are receptive to training in similar fashion to the falcons. Jarli put on quite a show under the guidance of Heidi. In this image, she is launching off the pole that is at the centre of the displays, and on her way to receive a reward for a job well done.

If you are squeamish, I recommend you skip the next two shots. There were a few squeals of horror from other audience members on the day, but dinner was already dead and felt no pain.

We all enjoyed this except the mouse

Apparently Jarli can swallow three or four mice a day, and it was a somewhat gruesome spectacle, even though the mouse was already dead. Well at least it was not struggling. I saw these birds described as hyper-carnivores. Their food in the wild is exclusively of other small birds and animals that they catch and occasionally carrion.

Mmmm… bliss!

I framed this image way too tightly, but couldn’t resist showing it. The expression on the bird’s face is of sublime satisfaction … a bit like me after a dozen Bluff oysters. I am sure that I am guilty of anthropomorphism, and perhaps I just caught her as she blinked. I still think she looks satisfied.

Star

Our final performance was by “Star” under the guidance of the remarkable Debbie Stewart, NZM. Debbie is the Director of Wingspan and a major force in its founding. She received her MNZM “for services to birds of prey and raptor conservation.” Jarli was theoretically the last official performer of the day, but Debbie wanted to give star, a recently acquired bird, some training time, so we got a free extra display.

Star in pursuit mode

No complaints from me. I could watch them all day. Here is Star launching from that same pole in pursuit of a lure being towed across the paddock attached to a winch. I had hoped to see Noel’s Harrier Hawk, Fran fly. Alas, Noel noted that her plumage was not in good condition on the day.

As on my previous two visits, the display was an absolute joy. I can not recommend a visit highly enough.

Pohaturoa

After a pleasant lunch on the shores of Lake Rotorua in perfect weather, we headed back towards Mangakino. I was still buzzing from Wingspan, so no lakeside images.

Like many thousands of motorists every day, we drove past Pohaturoa near Atiamuri. Did you know, as you drove unthinkingly past, that this rock is up to 500,000 years old? Or that there is a long history of fierce inter-tribal battles on the hill from about the year 1400 onwards. Its one of those landmarks that tells an old Tokoroa boy that you are near what once was home.

Pohaturoa again

As we drove beside the river towards Whakamaru, I noticed a different view of Pohaturoa in the mirror, so we paused for the last photograph of the day. And that will do for part II.

The next and final part in this three part series will take us through Benneydale and National Park to Horopito and Raetihi and thence to Whanganui and Home. Perhaps I’ll see you then.

Categories
Adventure adversity Birds Forest Lakes Landscapes Light Mangakino Maungatautari Military mountains Rotorua Seasons Travel Vehicles Volcanic Plateau Waikato

23 May, 2022 … Waikato road trip (part 1)

Travelling to foreign lands is but a distant memory. Even our closest neighbour presents some interesting bureaucratic hurdles these days, and I am hearing people say that going is relatively easy, but coming back can be tricky. Travel insurance is ridiculously expensive now too. The risk being trapped by the bureaucracy of a sudden lock-down due to the pandemic are, for now at least, deterring us from leaving New Zealand.

So, we decided to do a road trip. As long as there are places to walk, Mary tends to defer to my photographic obsession so asked me to choose a location. My somewhat random choice was dictated by the memory of a photograph that I should have taken in 2016 but didn’t.

Any photographer who sees something worth photographing should do it now! Those of us who say “I’ll catch it on the way back”, or “I’ll come back another time” will rarely see the same scene. Do it NOW! At this time of year, it is quite common that mornings on the Waikato river are characterised by no wind and drifting mist. In the hope of finding such conditions, we booked a week in the nearest Airbnb house to that area. And so we begin with the first part of the journey:

Hunterville in Autumn

Monday was wet in Wellington. It was wet all the way up SH1 through Levin, Bulls and Hunterville. Happily, Autumn colours were all the more vivid for being freshly washed. This image is on SH1 as it leaves Hunterville to the North. Mary was driving at this stage, and I was not at all sure that I would get a clear shot through the windscreen between the strokes of the wipers. I think I got lucky.

Following the Army through Taihape

Soon enough, we were at Taihape which claims the title of Gumboot capital of the world. It was once a significant railway town, though trains seem to pass straight through these days. It is a significant business centre for the local farming community, and has a couple of popular cafes used by both locals and long distance travellers. It is not at all uncommon to find yourself behind a convoy of trucks heading through the town towards the Army training base at Waiouru.

Ruapehu dons its cloak

Waiouru is a place of both misery and beauty. Those who have trained in the army base, especially in the winter will understand the misery aspect. The landscape provides all the beauty you could ask for, whatever the weather. Mighty Ruapehu is an active volcano that stands 2,797 metres (9,177 feet) above sea level on the volcanic plateau in the centre of the North Island. As we approached Waiouru, I could see that the mountain was wrapping itself in cloud and would soon disappear from view. A shot from the roadside in a biting breeze caught that cloud rolling over the summit.

Along the Desert Road

The “Desert Road” is the stuff of legends in New Zealand. It runs 63 km from Waiouru in the South, to Turangi in the North. It passes to the East of the mountain, through the Rangipo desert, and to the West of the Kaimanawa Forest through a wild and barren landscape. There are neither sand nor camels in this desert but its very barrenness justifies the description. Regardless of the weather, there is always something to see and appreciate. Even after the clouds blocked off the view of the mountain, I found drama in the march of the power pylons beside the road. Signs warn of army exercises with live ammunition on either side, so stay in your car or risk staring down the barrel of a 25mm cannon on an armoured fighting vehicle. The other feature of the Rangipo desert is its herd of wild horses. Those I have yet to see.

Tragedy on the Desert Road

Though it has some long straight stretches, the Desert Road has some tight and nasty bends that can bring drivers to grief in the wet and icy conditions that are common at this elevation. If you look a little to the right of the second black and yellow sign, you will see the wreck of a car that has departed from the road at speed and embedded itself in the bank. I have no information as to the fate of its occupants.

Maraetail Mist

Mangakino as it is today has its origins in the mid-late 40s as a dormitory town for the workers who were engaged in the construction of the hydro dams on the Waikato. The houses are modest but sufficient, and the one we rented for the week was very well equipped. Mary loved lighting the fire each day and using the copious supply of firewood included in the rental.

Mangakino is on the shore of the Waikato River where it becomes Lake Maraetai which provides the energy for the two power stations at the nearby Maraetai dam. When I booked the accommodation, I jokingly asked our host to arrange a week of no wind and some river mist. Well goodness gracious, she pulled it off!

Regrettably I suffered a calamity here when I dropped my Olympus camera and wrecked the mounting plate of my favourite lens. As if my insurers did not already hate me.

Dunham Reserve on Lake Whakamaru

Almost as if I anticipated the disaster, I had packed my two venerable Canon cameras (the 5DII and the 7D) so all images for the remainder of the trip were made on these huge, heavy, but still optically excellent cameras.

Anyway, back to the trip. If you are unfamiliar with the geography of the Waikato River, there are a series of hydro dams each of which creates a lake on the river. Coming downstream from Lake Taupo, they are in turn, Aratiatia, Ohakuri, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Maraetai I and II (both on the same dam), Waipapa, Arapuni and Karapiro.

About halfway between Atiamuri and Whakamaru, there is a beautiful spot on the river called Dunham’s Reserve. This was the place that I failed to shoot back in 2016. Regrettably, on this trip, I didn’t find anything like the beautiful conditions of that earlier opportunity. Nevertheless, the river produced a scene worthy of photographing in its own right. I believe the lily pads are regarded as a pest to the hydro dams and were due to be sprayed with weed killer from the air.

Autumn tones at Dunham Reserve

As already observed, the colours of Autumn were still lingering and this clearing on the Dunham Reserve was a delight to me.

Stillness and River mist at Mangakino

The next day offered those lovely misty conditions on the river, so I went down to the Mangakino Lakefront Reserve where I took pleasure in the stillness of the water on the lake, and mystery provided by the mist. Bear in mind that this apparently still body of water is part of a river system with a mean flow rate of 340 Cumecs (12,000 cubic ft/sec)

River scene

The same morning, from a little further round the reserve edge, I found another view looking downstream towards the Maraetai dams. These are the conditions I came for.

Pastoral scene in the South Waikato

Later the same day, we drove North along the river to the stunning Maungatautiri Mountain Reserve. The South Waikato region offers some delightful scenery that ranges from heavy pine forests to soft rolling pastoral land. The reserve itself is a 3,400 hectare wildlife sanctuary on the Maungatautiri Mountain with a 47 km pest-proof perimeter fence. Within are a wonderland of native bush laced with many delightful walking tracks from which to observe the magnificent bush and the variety of birdlife.

Friendly visitor

I am less agile than I used to be and set out on the so-called Rata-trail with a view to going part of the way and then returning to the entry. The canopy is quite dark, and I struggled to catch the fast moving bird-life flitting about. Fortunately, the little North Island Robin (Toutouwai, or Petroica longipes) is not shy, and will fly around your feet chasing the insects you disturb as you walk. Many a photographer has been trapped with the bird sitting on his or her boots while having a telephoto lens that just won’t focus that close. Foolishly, I went further round the trail than I intended, and soon it seemed better to complete the loop walk than to turn back.

So that’s the end of the first part of this three-part road-trip narrative. If you like what I do, please come back soon for a trip to the amazing, the stunning, the magnificent Wingspan Bird of Prey Centre.