Adventure Architecture Birds Clive Family harbour Hawkes Bay Kelburn Landscapes Light Lower Hutt Napier night Pekapeka Tararuas Trees Wellington

January 10, 2018 … Happy New Year

Thank you for staying with me. Some of you have been Internet friends since about 1994, and I value your continued company on this ever-changing journey. My presence on the Internet, and then on the Web, has evolved over the years, from its initial purpose of providing home news to disconnected kiwis. It has been through several stages since then and is now a vehicle for the photographic expression of my love for this region, this country, and wherever else I find myself.

If you have been with me for a while, you will know that I am somewhat insecure when it comes to the evaluation of my own skills.  This is not false modesty. I know that I make some really nice shots now and then, but I also produce a regrettable number of mediocrities. My journey is about changing the proportions of each. I want more really nice shots.

My challenge each day, is to be a better photographer than I was yesterday. For the sake of clarity, I regard photography as the making of images using whatever tools help me to illustrate the possibility I saw when I picked up the camera. I am an unashamed user of Lightroom and Photoshop to bring my vision to life in print or on the screen. So, 2018, bring it on. Here are some of my first efforts for the year.

When you see that descending line of trees you know you are almost at Featherston

When our family came to Wellington in 1980, the trip across the hill to the Wairarapa was much more challenging than it is now. The old “greasy spoon” cafe and the awful rest-rooms at the summit are long one. The road is now well sealed, and there are safety barriers on all the nasty corners. Only the landscape is unchanged. On the last sharp corner before the road crosses the bridge to head into Featherston, there is an iconic stand of trees that I have long wanted to photograph. However, there is no safe place to stand, and you would need to be on the outside of the Armco barrier at risk of falling into the valley below. On this occasion, Mary was driving, so I would the camera strap around my wrist, adjusted the swivelling rear screen and held the camera out of the window firing as we drove.  It’s not the image I envisaged or aspire to, but it’s a start.

It’s 2018 already but the Christmas decorations are still up. The inner harbour from Kelburn

A few days later I was wandering the quiet city and found myself in Kelburn where the university campus was closed and quiet. I drove to where I used to park when I was a staff member there, and looked out over the moody city. As you can see the pohutukawa was making its seasonal presence felt.

Gun emplacement.
1942 Gun emplacement on Brooklyn hill intended to defend the city from Japanese air attacks which never eventuated.

From there I drove up to the wind turbine at Brooklyn and thence down the hill again, pausing at the Polhill Reserve to have a look at the old anti-aircraft gun emplacements. The 109 men who were stationed there at any one time in all weathers from 1942 until the end of the war would probably not comprehend the desire to be there at all, and even less the desire to waste so much paint on the pointless graffiti. And yes, the despite reserving the right to process my images, the sea to the South  really was that blue on the day.

Kingfisher having a bad hair day at Pauatahanui

On some of the grey days, cabin fever was prevented by some wandering in the direction of the Pauatahanui wildlife reserve. I was in the Forest and Bird hide with not much happening when I realised that the large rock a few metres away had changed shape. It has been a long while since I was this close to a kingfisher, even one as scruffy as this. Nice to see you again, little fellow.

Water lilies
A glimpse of a secret garden with water lilies at Pauatahanui

I crossed the road from there to see what was happening in the fresh water ponds. The answer was that there was nothing, not even water there. Where the ponds are normally, found there were  moon-craters, cracked and dry. And, in the words of Farley Mowat, “no birds sang”. Trudging back to the car, I caught a glimpse  between the slats of the boundary fence of somebody’s “secret garden” (Wow – two literary allusions in one paragraph).
And then it rained.

Didn’t it rain, children?
Talk ’bout rain, oh, my Lord
Didn’t it, didn’t it, didn’t it, oh, my Lord?
Didn’t it rain?*

Though I didn’t go back to the dry ponds, they would surely have been filled, at least temporarily.

From our front door towards Seaview in heavy rain at night

Though not exactly forty days and forty nights, it rained quite heavily, and I decided to see if I could catch the experience in a night shot from our front door looking down towards the Seaview oil terminal

This is a small section of the competitors at the Clive river. Apart from the rattle of the seats sliding and the oars splashing, it was an eerily silent armada

In the weekend just ended, Mary and I went up to Clive, just South of Napier. Some of Mary’s family were having a get together at Te Awanga. It was a joyous occasion with much laughter, good food and great company.  Before we went out exploring on the Sunday morning, I strolled the 100 metres or so from our rented accommodation to the banks of the Clive River where there was a rowing regatta under way. The river was still, though somewhat clogged with weed. Down at the river mouth, heavy swells after the recent storm could be seen crashing on the bar, but I loved the steady procession of rowers moving steadily down the river to the start line. Though the racing shells would be wildly impractical in that situation, their purposeful passage looked like a latter-day Dunkirk.

Tern and gull
The local bully waiting to steal the little kid’s school lunch

My brother-in-law, Gerard later took us to a place along the beach where the was a  significant nesting site of shore-birds. There were white-fronted terns, pied stilts, banded dotterels and New Zealand dotterels. The dotterels are very hard to see on the rocky shore but the terns and stilts were more visible. A recent storm had disrupted the season and many eggs were washed away, according to a birder I met. There were juveniles aplenty, squawking loudly and demanding ever more fish. I felt for the term parents who would dash in at high speed from the sea with a fresh fish and attempt to get the youngster to swallow it before the marauding red-billed gulls could snatch it mid-transfer.

Old house
I have done this before but the rate of decay is accelerating

Homeward bound the next day, I had to pause just South of Hastings to record the latest stage of the slow and inevitable decay of an old house. I have shot this house many times and perhaps even shown it in this blog. Last time I was there, there was a blackberry thicket at the rear. It has been cleared, and perhaps that has allowed the house to lean gently inwards towards the earth.

Wellington Harbour in brooding weather

Yesterday was a moody sort of day in the Capital and I went up the hill to the entrance to the Horokiwi quarry and from there caught the wide view of the Eastern side of the harbour, The island to the left is Matiu/Somes and the hill to the right is the Miramar peninsula.

road and rail
Tenuous link

From the same spot, looking ninety degrees to the right, the winding path that carries road and rail between Wellington and the Hutt Valley shows just how vulnerable that vital link would be in the event of an earthquake like the Kaikoura one last year.

  • “Didn’t it rain” is a Negro Spiritual, according to Wikipedia, that long predates Mahalia Jackson’s version


Animals Architecture Hawkes Bay Lakes Landscapes mountains Napier Napier

August 17, 2013 … spring is coming, resistance is futile

While Wellington was having all its seismic excitement yesterday, I was in Napier.

We took the scenic route (SH 50 and paused on the way to look at the pretty little village of Onga Onga .  Like many restored villages, it is a little contrived, but in the bright sunshine and with the snow-capped Ruahine ranges in the background it was all very nice.

The general store at Onga Onga
Note the snow on the mountains to the right

As you might notice from the signs on this building, our farming pioneers were versatile folk.

Jack of all trades
This is versatility

We drove on through the lovely pastoral landscape, past Tikokino and emerged eventually in the famous Gimblett gravels wine growing area at the back of Napier.

While Mary was busy with other things in the afternoon, I drove a little way along the Fernhill-Taihape road  and turned around near Pukehamoamoa and saw some delightful rolling farmland.

Rolling farmland
Everywhere are signs of spring

In case any of my Northern hemisphere friends are still clinging to the remnants of their summer, give up now! Resistance is futile. Spring is here, and we have the lambs to prove it.

prolific lambing
I think two of these lambs belonged to that particular ewe

By now the light was fading and I have just one more shot … a small lake on a farm somewhere to the South of the Taihape Rd.

Near the end of the day
Out in the back country

More tomorrow.

Architecture Birds Hawkes Bay Landscapes Napier Petone

April 5, 2013 … betwixt and between

Yesterday was one of those transition days.

It was time for us to leave Napier to drive home. On transition days, getting any images at all tends to be a matter of luck. Steady rain was falling as we left Clive, and it got quite heavy for a while. Far too little and too late to save many of the withered grain crops, I fear.

Near Te Hauke (which is near Te Aute) there is a well known derelict farm-house which I had intended to photograph for my old friend John Titchener. What the heck. I decided to take it anyway … maybe the rain would add some atmosphere. I got out in the rain  and leaned on the fence post to shoot the image. I think it would have been better at a different time of day with more dramatic lighting, but it does capture the house to some extent. I was also surprised to see that there is a car buried in the tangled undergrowth to the left at the rear of the house.

Derelict farm house near Te Hauke
For my friend, John

Moving on, I was amusing myself in the passenger seat, and wedged the camera against the glass to see if I could convey the sense of motion as we travelled South.

In motion
I really had to slow the shutter speed a long way to get that blur.

The closer we got to home, the better the weather became.  By the time we reached Upper Hutt, the sun was shining.  In an attempt to offset the opportunistic nature of the day’s photographic haul, I went to the estuary where I saw this particularly narcissistic white-faced heron. (Actually it was hunting for food) . ‘

White-faced heron hunting
Love that plumage

A new bright day has dawned.

Hawkes Bay Landscapes Napier

April 4, 2013 … wild and rugged landscapes

This is a part of the country I have never previously travelled.

The “Gentle Annie” had a fearsome reputation in days gone by. There was a time when any accident on this road was specifically excluded from all motor vehicle insurance. As I recall, this road and Skippers Canyon in Central Otago were explicitly defined no-go areas in the contracts for rental cars. Skippers is still pretty wild and woolly, but the Gentle Annie road from Napier to Taihape is now sealed from end to end.

Coming out of Napier, the road climbs steadily towards the Kaweka ranges and as it does so, passes through wide open rolling farms that have wonderful views back towards the bay. There was very little traffic on the road, but nevertheless I stopped in safe places with the intention of making this day about landscapes.

Rolling farmland on the Napier-Taihape road
Not much green in this normally lush landscape

There are still some very steep grades, tight corners and some wild country that the 140 km road passes through, but it is almost tamed.

On the other hand, much of it is beyond any cellphone coverage, and I wonder just how the department of conservation imagines anyone is going to follow their advice to call 111 in the event of an emergency. This thought crossed my mind belatedly as I was halfway into an hour-long round trip walk to Lake Kuripapango in the Kaweka State forest park. If I had some kind of mishap, it might be days before anyone else walked this trail, and foolishly, I had not advised anyone of my intention to do the walk from a deserted car park seven km from a lonely road. Happily I completed the walk without incident, but it is an error I shall not repeat.

Rolling farmland on the Napier-Taihape road
Note the low water level

After emerging from the forest park, I passed the Kuripapango camping ground which seemed totally deserted. Signs warned of a total fire ban, and I was awe-struck by the ruggedness of the terrain.

Rugged ranges ... the Kawekas
Passing through … the campsite was deserted

Climbing up “Gentle Annie”,  the protracted grade for which the road is named, I came to the open tussock country with its long views across the volcanic plateau towards the mountains. The tussock has a beauty of its own even in these drought conditions and it moved under the wind like waves at sea.

Rolling tussock bending with the wind
This needs to be a video to properly convey the waves passing through

Everything in this area is a dusty honey gold, the tussock, the earth and the sheep. Even my car, normally royal blue,  became mostly beige in the dust picked up on the forest roads.  

Sheep waiting their fate
They just stood there.

Sheep in a holding pen were likewise dusty beige. I guess a truck will arrive soon to cart them off to met their fate.

I had no special reason to go all the way to Taihape, so I turned around and looked with East-bound eyes for new landscape opportunities. I made plenty of landscape images but liked this rugged stretch somewhere on the way. I don’t like heights so I stay well away from the edges in such places.

Wild country
That’s a river far below in the gully

Back in Taradale, things have regained an equilibrium, so today it’s back to Wellington and home.

Art Birds Clive Hawkes Bay Napier Seasons

April 3, 2013 … on a wide variety of experiences

You may have felt the Earth slip on its axis yesterday.

That was me, getting up in the dark to wander down to the Wetlands of the Clive Estuary. It was barely light when I got to the water, and almost the first bird I saw was a white heron. They are common in the rest of the world, but comparatively rare in New Zealand, and they are beautiful anyway, so it is always a little thrill to find them here.  Challenging light conditions required a little bit of an arm wrestle on the computer, but I loved the colours of the plant life and the reflections.

White heron in the wetlands
This bird was very wary, so I moved very slowly until I was close enough to get this

These wetlands are prolific, and there are plenty of Black swans, mallards, shoveller ducks, pukeko, coots, white-faced heron, stilts, oystercatchers  and Welcome swallows, and probably much more besides. An Australasian harrier hawk cruised menacingly overhead looking for any weak victim to start his day’s diet. A flock of black swans flew in splendid formation towards me and splashed down on one of the ponds.

Black swans alighting on a pond
It is amazing that they are not only in formation, but their wing beats are synchronized

Along the wonderful walkway (which goes all the way from Napier to Te Mata peak at Havelock North, I noticed a flock of sheep. Leaving aside the two black sheep, it is rare in these times of drought to see sheep which are a different colour to the grass they are eating. And no, I have seen no green sheep.

Dusty sheep in dry paddocks
These are “town sheep” … out in the country, conditions are even drier

Also from the walkway, looking across the wetlands to the crest of the beach, this wonderful fort was visible. There must be a story behind it, and clearly a lot of work has been put into it. Obviously there is plentiful raw material on the beach, but even so, it is a work of art.

Driftwood fort
You can only imagine what desperate invaders have been repelled from this stout structure

In Napier, where I had to do some shopping, the art deco enthusiasts were out in numbers, probably because the Holland-America cruise liner Oosterdam was in port with her 1,800 passengers and 800 crew. Vintage cars are part of that re-enactment of the city’s golden age, and this delightful little Austin Seven convertible caught my eye. Its driver was in period costume too.

Baby Austin with period costumed driver
This little convertible is absolutely immaculate.

Later in the day, I climbed “Sugar Loaf Hill” at the back of Taradale.  Situated in an affluent and still growing area of the city this hill offers magnificent panoramas in all directions, and was well worth the savagely steep climb up its Eastern slopes.

Panorama from Sugar Loaf Hill, Taradale
The lump on the horizon (centre) is Bluff Hill overlooking the port of Napier

My last shot for today was in taken in the port area. Since it is of a boat, this should come as no surprise. I just loved that “golden hour” light.

Safe harbour
Bright colours in nice light are wonderful

Today I am heading for the back country with landscapes in mind. Gentle Annie, here I come.

adversity Animals Architecture Lower Hutt Napier sunrise Weather

April 2, 2013 … bridges and houses, hedges and ditches*

Unscheduled travel, especially when there is some urgency, does not lend itself to photography.

Napier is a pleasant destination, but yesterday’s trip was marred by a heavy and persistent overcast, as well as the circumstances that made it necessary. For much of the way I was driving, so with one exception, my images today were taken from the car at speed.

A grey dawn and a red sky promised no great miracles for the weather. And so it proved to be.

Heavy dawn in the Hutt Valley
Red sky in the morning …

We swapped driving at Pahiatua, so I had my camera in my hand as we passed that New Zealand icon, the Tui brewery at Mangatainoka. No glamorous or scantily clad workers were to be seen as we drove past, and this shot was taken through the front windscreen.

Tui Brewery
Perhaps it was the long Easter weekend, but the glamorous women of the TV ads seem to have had the day off.

Farm buildings are a source of fascination to me. This one was somewhere to the south of Dannevirke. In days gone by, it may have been a milking shed. I doubt it would meet the required hygiene standards of today, but it remains as a testament to the make-do organic style of architecture seen on so many of the long-established farms.

Home-built farm buildings
Organic architecture

Another aspect of driving through the country is that you get to see a lot of quirky places. This extraordinarily cluttered back yard is somewhere near Te Aute, South of Hastings.

Cluttered yard
Throw nothing out … it might be useful one day

We made good time, and things were not as bleak as we first feared.

* “… and charging along like troops in a battle, all through the meadows, the horses and cattle” From a Railway Carriage, by Robert Louis Stephenson

adversity Birds Landscapes Maritime Napier

March 18, 2013 … the quality of mercy*

Today’s rain  is soft, but steady.

I woke to swirling greyness outside my window. As far as I can tell, it has rained all night. This is exactly the kind of rain that the farmers always hope for after a drought. Slow and steady, not the heavy downpour that sweeps the dry topsoil away faster than the ground can absorb the rain. Sadly for the farmers, it is not expected to last long enough to really break the drought, and sunshine is predicted to return by Wednesday.

A few days ago, I characterized this as an economic drought that had an impact on the profitability of farming. While this is not a humanitarian catastrophe of the kinds experienced in sub-Saharan Africa, our trip to Napier has suggested to me that I underestimated the seriousness of the lack of rain.

Drastically lowered water levels in the Pekapeka wetlands
This was a distressing visit to a normally beautiful spot.

In at least two prior blogs, I have mentioned the Pekapeka wetlands just South of Hastings. I was genuinely shocked at the changes there. It was never deep water to begin with, but when the level drops a metre, there is not much habitat left for waterfowl. Cracked mud and dying vegetation is much less attractive than the bounteous wetlands of just a few months ago.  The image above shows a black swan standing in the few centimetres of water remnant, and a dusky moorhen behind it in the tangle of driftwood. And the hilly farmland across the road in the background offers very little nutrient to that herd of cattle.

While Mary spent time with her mother, I rambled around Napier. From the top of the Bluff Hill lookout I got various views that made me wonder why I had never been up there before.

Port of Napier
This is a “stitch” of about eight images to include a wide sweep of the seascape … the Pacific Dawn is to the right.

Immediately below me to the North, the Port of Napier was home for the day to the cruise liner “Pacific Dawn” (70,285 Tonnes, 1,900 passengers). That explained the sudden appearance of vintage cars and “Art Deco” guides down in the city.  On a nearby wharf, thousands of logs await shipment to China aboard the Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier, “Azzura” (29,407 Tonnes, 0 passengers).  Even in this direction the sky testifies to the changing weather conditions.

Looking West from the Bluff Hill lookout, Napier
That golden colour in those hills is the colour of drought

To the West, beyond the suburbs of Ahuriri  and Westshore, across the airport, the parched landscape merges with the ranges behind … this must be about where the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges meet.

Cape Kidnappers from Bluff Hill Lookout
The gannet colonies are well worth a visit … walk or bus, find a way to get there.

And then to the South under an increasingly heavy cover of cloud, the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers, home to the famous gannet colonies, gleam in the distance. Those houses on the bluff in the foreground have a view I could live with.

From there we came home through rain which got steadier as we got closer to Wellington.

*“it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

Aviation Birds Napier Seasons sunrise Wellington

March 17, 2013 … low flying and warm weather

Summer has shown signs of coming to an end.

Dark mornings are one such sign, though I rarely see such things. Yesterday, however we were heading to Napier for a family visit, so we had to be up at some unseemly hour. It had its compensations though with a very colourful sunrise.

red-eyed sunrise
Those ominous clouds came to nothing

Despite those ominous clouds in the morning, our trip to the North was in bright sunshine all the way. Just a little North of Dannevirke, we came under aerial attack.

Full frontal attack on SH2
It’s a very New Zealand thing, when driving on country roads that you might get dusted by a low-flying cropduster

A Pacific Aerospace Cresco (the turbine powered grandson of the old Fletcher topdressing plane) whistled very low overhead, and then came by very close, dropping a load of fertilizer. It was quite spectacular.

Cresco doing what it does best
The original Fletcher could drop 3/4 Tonne load. The Cresco can carry 2.5 Tonnes and drop it all very quickly.

After a very pleasant lunch in the sunny little township of Clive with my brother-in-law and family, we went to visit my mother-in-law On the way, I noted a string of bulk rail wagons near the fertilizer works and paused to make the shot.

Fertilizer works and bulk wagons at Awatoto
The nearly monochrome scene was disrupted by the vivid graffiti on the wagons

In the early evening (another sign of summer’s ending), Mary and I went for a stroll around the Ahuriri reserve

Kingfisher at high speed and low altitude
Every time it launched from its log lookout, it came back with a crab

We saw an astonishing number of kingfishers, and quite a number of bar tailed godwits  (Limosa lapponica) as well as the usual suspects such as stilts, gulls, black swans and the odd duck.

Bar tailed godwits
These birds migrate annually to Siberia and back

It was a beautiful warm evening, one that scarcely required bed coverings.

I am getting nervous about the imminent demise of this wonderful summer.