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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.

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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.

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Adventure adversity Architecture Birds Boggy Pond Family Hokio Beach Lower Hutt Otaki Plant life Rivers Waikanae Wairarapa Weather Wellington

December 28, 2021 … what lies ahead?

Another year reaches a conclusion, and what a year it has been for the world, and for our country, for my family and for me. Despite the fact that I try to live with hope in my heart, I look forward to 2022 with trepidation. On the personal front, I seem to crumbling at the edges. As well as the cataract, I have now been fitted with hearing aids, and hope to become accustomed to them. Then, following some sort of event that resulted in double vision, vertigo and nausea (unconnected with the cataract procedure), I ended up in hospital for a couple of nights undergoing a CT scan and MRI. No clear causes identified, but nothing sinister found. And thank heavens for free public health care which was superb for me. Nevertheless, with the vertigo and visual disturbances, my doctors say I am not permitted to drive for four weeks. Grrr.

Christmas has passed and family is scattered in Melbourne, Brisbane, Queenstown and Gisborne. Happily youngest son Anthony,, his wife Sarah and our lovely grandkids Maggie and Jack are at home nearby, so we spent some of our Christmas with them. OK, enough with the babble, what images did I get this round?

Black fronted dotterel

Fine days have been rare in recent times, so when one occurs, I select from one of my preferred locations. On this occasion , it was Hokio Beach (again). Since the whitebait season is ended, it was peaceful with no whitebaiters to deter the bird life. In fact, we had the beach entirely to ourselves. Mary went for a walk along the beach to the South while I lay back on the water’s edge and waited. In just a few minutes, I was blessed with a visit from one of my favourite birds, the black-fronted dotterel. These tiny creatures move very quickly and their legs are almost invisible in motion. They appear to hover across the sand and water. Just beautiful.

Also present at Hokio were the bar-tailed godwits, champions of long distance flight. They fly to tidal estuaries in New Zealand from Western Alaska in epic non-stop flights lasting 8 to 9 days. Barring the great albatrosses, they are the olympic athletes of the bird world. And they are handsome birds, aren’t they?

Feed me mama!

It was a great trip. Dotterels, godwits and even dabchicks. In this visit, the chicks have grown too big to be carried around on the parent’s back any longer. In fact they seem even bigger than the parents now, Nevertheless, they are still dependent on the parents for food. As always, the water in the Wetlands at Queen Elizabeth Park is reasonably sheltered and echoes the deep green of the surrounding bush.

Californian Quail

On another damp but windless day, Mary drove me up to the regional waterworks at Kaitoke. I was delighted to spot a small cluster of female Californian quails browsing in the lawns there beside the road. The males are more spectacular, I suppose, but the females as seen here are beautiful in their own way.

Stick insect

Stick insects are always problematic for me. They are interesting but very hard to make an attractive image with. They seem to need a context, so in this case it was moving slowly among the flax and lavender at the back door. It’s the first time I have seen a stick insect with a face.

Gold

It drives me nuts that, every year, the mainstream media are surprised to discover the existence of Metrosideros excelsa aurea. Breathless headlines about “rare yellow pohutukawa” appear without regard that they used the same story last year and the one before that. To be fair, I probably make the same complaint about them each year too. The yellow variety is definitely less common than the more familia crimson variety, but I think they are far from rare. There are plenty of very fine yellow specimens in the Wellington region.

Coat of many colours

This little Hebe moth is, like many others quite spectacular when up close. Mary drew it to my attention on our stairwell, so I switched to my trusty macro lens and got really close. Do click on the image to see it in the larger version. It reminds me of some of the more spectacular weaving that I have seen, though I think it would be a talented weaver indeed who could produce work as beautiful as this.

Rata in the rain at Kaitoke

Like the pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) , the rata (Metrosideros robusta) is a member of the myrtle family and of the genus metrosideros. The flowers are, to my eye, indistinguishable from those of the pohutukawa. If you get close, the leaves of the pohutukawa are larger and a darker green, and have small hairs on the underside. Rata leaves are smaller, glossy on both sides and have a notch on the tip. A good friend alerted me to the spectacular colours of the rata trees in bloom in the rain up at Kaitoke. He was right.

Waterloo railway Station, Lower Hutt

Most people think of somewhere else when Waterloo Station is mentioned. Our local version would probably fit in the cafeteria of the other one. Nevertheless, it is a locally important interchange between the Upper Hutt/Wairarapa railway line and the Hutt Valley bus services. The wind-shelters in the station are an interesting and necessary feature. As I said before, I am not permitted to drive until early January so I decided to use public transport and roam around the region by train and bus for the day.

Wellington commuter traffic

On arrival at Wellington railway station, I made this image. It occurred to me that not much has changed since the first time I passed through here in February 1954. Well, there are no steam locomotives, and the electric units have advanced through two generations. And then there are the face masks, and the cell phones. And the women wear trousers and the men don’t wear hats. No-one is smoking. Apart from that, nothing much is different

Top deck

Part of my day wandering the region by public transport was to take a trip from the railway station to Island Bay by double-decker bus. Like the schoolboy I sometimes am, I grabbed the front row seat on the top deck, and enjoyed the different perspective from up there. A feature of the city at this time of year is the proliferation of pohutukawa trees in magnificent bloom. This specimen is about midway along Kent Terrace.

Back to the station

On my return from the Southern suburbs, I decided to take the train out to Upper Hutt and thence back to Petone Station from where I would catch a bus back up the hill to home. This was all for the pleasure of riding the rails and seeing our city from different points of view. I paused for a pizza lunch in the station before heading North. Since I wasn’t driving, a glass of Pinhead Supercharger IPA helped that go down.

Once was a high school

Through the train windowI was intrigued by the extent of the “Bob Scott Retirement Village”. This was built on the site which was once Hutt Valley Memorial College and before that Petone Technical College. In its latter days as it was rotting, graffitied and increasingly vandalised, it suffered an arson attack and was totally destroyed. It has taken several years but the retirement village that stands in its place is now complete. Despite its somewhat forbidding appearance, I know many people who enjoy living there, and liken it to living on a cruise liner. I am happy for them, but the lifestyle does not appeal to me.

A favourite corner

I am very blessed that Mary works so hard to compensate for my driving prohibition and she made a picnic lunch and drove us over the hill to Lake Wairarapa. We also visited Boggy Pond and had our lunch on the shores of Lake Onoke at Lake Ferry.

Time was when the trip over the hill was a long and arduous journey, especially with kids in the car. Now you wonder why it was such a big deal back then. Heck there was even a greasy spoon cafe at the summit to break the journey. Obviously the places have not got closer together, but modern cars are more powerful, more comfortable and more reliable. The journey from Te Marua to Featherston is a mere 25 minutes. My favourite spot is a corner just to the North of bridge number 6 where there is a bank of trees down a steep ridge. There is no footpath and no safe space to stop to get my desired view. This shot is not what I desired. I should have waited until we got to where that next car ahead is, but it will do as a grab shot. As a passenger I can stick the camera out the window and point it in the right direction.

That is my last blog post for the year. I hope the festive season treated you kindly and you all had a great time. For any who are locked down or constrained by Covid, my sympathies. I look forward to your company in 2022. I enjoyed a cartoon I saw (but can’t find) which depicts the occupiers of 2021 cowering behind a corner in a dark corridor, reaching out tentatively with a very long pole to nudge open the door to 2022. I would like to hope for a much better year than this has been for the world, and I wish all the very best for the new year to all those who share my journey in this blog. Thank you for being with me and for the kind words from so many of you.

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Adventure Arachnids Birds Butterflies insects Lakes Landscapes Light Moon night Plant life

November 29, 2021 … with new eyes

That’s a fairly heavy handed reference to my cataract operation scheduled for later today, for which I have high hopes. So, for now, let’s see whether my metaphorical new eyes are making progress:

Improve each thing hour … (Isaac Watts)

Wellington’s Botanic Garden is always worth a visit in my opinion. Some seasons are more spectacular than others, but there is always something to see. I was too late for the tulips, but a few prolific Rock Rose shrubs were displaying nicely. and were attracting the Honey bees.

Primulaceae

There are seasons of the year when certain flowers have dominance. I love it when there are tulips or poppies for example. At other times, there are random displays of less spectacular species such as a cluster of primulas just above the duckpond. This particular bed of flowers contained a lovely variety of colours arranged in small geometric clusters.

Upstream

Just a little upstream from the duckpond, the creek runs between some stepping stones and the creates little rippling ladder of water which, to paraphrase the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, sparkles out among the fern and bickers down a valley.

Love’s Labours Lost

Beside the steps to our front door, there is a collection of shrubs most dominant of which is the kowhai much loved by the kereru. As I get older, I find my gaze is directed downwards more. This is a self-defence mechanism to avoid trip hazards. It has the advantage that I spot treasures that, in the arrogance of my youth, I would have passed by. I have no clue which bird lost this egg, nor whether its loss was by accident or enemy action. However it came about this is as I found it under the kowhai shrub.

I’m called Little Buttercup

The weather has prevented lawn mowing for a week or two and consequently our lawn is rich with a splendid crop of buttercups and daisies. I am so glad that the American notion of the Home Owners’ Association (HOA) has never been a thing here. Buttercups have always presented a photographic challenge to me. I suspect this might be overcome by the use of a polarising filter to tame the reflections in the flowers. On this occasion I managed to get the surface of the petals reasonably exposed without the aid of the filters. I was a bit surprised after all these years on the planet, to learn that they are poisonous to humans and many animals.

Your best guess?

Many people wondered why I made pictures of new potatoes. If it helps, these little objects are about 1mm x 1.5mm x 2mm and in this case are firmly stuck to the painted surface at the top of a bedroom door. With no idea of what I was looking at, I posted this image to the FaceBook group, “NZ Bug Identification – Spiders, Insects etc”. Within minutes someone said those are the eggs of a Gum Emperor Moth. We have no gum trees nearby so I was baffled. We reasoned that if a gum emperor had laid them, it would be still in the room somewhere, so we started a more thorough search. Mary found it on a window sill

Gum Emperor Moth (female)

The Gum Emperor is among the most spectacular of the New Zealand Moths. This was a moderate example with a span of about 120 mm (about 4.75″). She was absolutely flawless, Like many moths she emerges with neither mouth parts nor waste disposal. Her sole function is to mate, lay eggs and then die. Sadly she found no male so the eggs duly withered and died and a few days later, so did she.

The source

We wondered where our Gum Emperor moth had come from , and the penny finally dropped. Mary had found a fallen eucalyptus branch which had a cocoon on it, and she thought I might wish to photograph it. I had forgotten about it, and in the meantime, the moth had emerged, laid eggs and died. Nature is so extravagant.

Treasure Flower

The wind was howling across the valley and I was waiting outside the War Memorial Library in Lower Hutt for Mary to collect a reserved book. This flower caught my eye and when I found an example that was in a relatively sheltered spot, set up to make the picture. I had no idea what it was, but should not have been surprised that it is yet another South African immigrant. It is Gizania riggers, or more commonly, Treasure flower.

Australian Shoveler

I need scarcely tell you that a favourite place is the wetlands at Queen Elizabeth Park near Paekakariki. I had been looking for the dabchick carrying its young on its back. I was unsuccessful on this particular day, but did catch this handsome Australian shoveler drake. Look at the length of that extraordinary bill.

Welcome Swallow

This image has a comic back story. Again I went to the bird hide at the Queen Elizabeth park wetlands. Although the door is normally closed with heavy magnetic catch, I couldn’t get in. I administered a hefty kick which should have opened it. It didn’t. Then a voice from inside asked me to wait a moment. There were sounds of hasty rearrangements followed by the bench being dragged away from the door. A few moments later an embarrassed young couple emerged red-faced and made themselves scarce. I felt guilty that I had interrupted them, but it gave me access to this view of the Welcome swallow which is beautifully coloured.

Ripples

The longest arm of the wetlands is surrounded by dense bush and when the water is relatively still, it reflects the green of the bush beautifully. This black shag cruised rapidly across and completed the picture for me. The closely spaced ripples made a beautiful background of black and green.

Parental duty

Then came the sight I hoped to see. The dabchick or weweia is a member of the grebe family. It is apparently rarely found in the South Island. Despite the glossy brown colours of the adult, the chicks are born with dark stripes on a white background. They are carried about in the plumage on the adult’s back until they get too big

Manuka

A visit to the home of daughter Lena and son-in-law Vasely let me see a beautiful manuka specimen. The intensity of the colour attracted me to make the image

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A small pine in the pot next to the manuka had what appeared to be prolific flowers. Closer inspection identified them as tin seed cones.

Before the eclipse

Last week there was the partial eclipse. We got lucky with relatively clear skies over the Hutt Valley. Early in the evening, the red moon rose in the North East and I made this image. Perhaps because I don’t have the very high quality optics and thus rarely do one of those amazing moon shots, I always like to capture some foreground. In this case we can see both sides of Stokes Valley and in the background, the foothills of the Tararuas. Later in the evening when the eclipse proper occurred, the moon was higher in the sky and was obscured by clouds at our place.

That’s all for now. Might see you again in a few weeks.

Categories
adversity fungi Lower Hutt Machinery Maritime Plant life Weather Wellington

September 14, 2021 … diary of my interaction with the world

Alaster Benn is a softly spoken Scot who is a passionate musician as well as a superb landscape photographer. He makes his living at least in part by teaching photography. I purchased and downloaded a course from him with the improbable title of “Dodging and Burning Masterclass”. I crudely summarise this course as about reacting to the landscape, and about steering your audience towards sharing your experience.

You can find him on YouTube where, as well as his many tutorials, he has produced an excellent series of interviews with other great landscape photographers. The interview series is called “Vision and Light”. There are at least 32 episodes in this series. If you have a hankering to make landscape images, I recommend you seek out his work on YouTube. He has helped me greatly.

I should add that because of the recent Covid lockdown, the images I am offering in this edition are mostly not landscapes. Any shortcomings in these pictures are mine and mine alone and should not reflect badly on Alaster or any others from whom I have taken guidance. Besides, I have so far watched just six of the twenty six chapters in this particular course.

Daffodils, heralds of Spring

Spring has arrived in Wellington according to the calendar and as shown by nature. Daffodils give me pleasure, in the elegance of their trumpets, and in their spectacular choice of colours. I seem to make similar shots at this time most years. Having done this before, should I refrain from doing it again? Or do I try to capture anew, the pleasure I take in this year’s encounter with an old friend?

Turkey tail fungus

I almost passed this by. It was Mary who saw it and drew it to my attention. The turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) was hiding in plain sight. They seemed at first sight to be brown. I came back the next day with the intent to see what I might achieve with the shapes of the fungus. And then through the viewfinder, I saw the colours. How had I not seen this the first time round? Pointing the camera at things that excite you is a rewarding exercise, and it paid off this time.

Rhododendron

The fungus in the previous image was found in the Rhododendron Dell in the Belmont Recreation Reserve. Though not yet at the peak of their season, the rhododendrons in the dell are quite spectacular, and are accompanied by a happy display of daffodils.

Too few to make a parliament

Certain kinds of weather discourage landscape photography. The light is flat and uninteresting, and the conditions are unpleasant outside. If the the light was interesting, I might brave the chill and damp. It wasn’t so I played with some of Mary’s collection of ornaments. It’s not a great image, but I like it, and had fun creating it, and that’s why I pick up the camera in the first place.

Light in the eyes

As the unpleasant conditions continued, I stretched even further in my search for photographic opportunity. This is a pottery candlestick holder, with a lit candle providing the somewhat sinister light through holes around the eyes and the beak. So the question I need to ask is, do I like the image, and additionally, why do I like or dislike it? That might boil down to “should I have made it?” Well I had fun making it. It’s not an image I would hang, but I quite like it. And that opens my eyes to the idea that photographic value is not a binary condition. Images can give some pleasure without having to be a masterpiece.

Euphorbia

There was a time when Lower Hutt took enormous pride in its public gardens and every berm and traffic island in the CBD was covered with superbly laid out gardens. As each batch of flowers reached the peak of its display, the city gardeners would be planting the next species for a completely different and equally brilliant display. And then the city administrators placed a higher value on the cost than on the enormous pleasure and pride that the gardens brought. Suddenly our city looked bleak and brutal. In recent times, there has been a loosening of the grip and I am seeing some interesting planting around the CBD and especially near the civic buildings. This splash of lurid green attracted my attention, though I didn’t know what it was. It turns out to be Euphorbia. Colour and form make it appealing to me.

The tree

Riddiford garden has been a feature of the civic area near the town hall of Lower Hutt since 1923, so for almost a century. There was a half-way reasonable day so I decided to meander through it looking for any eye-catching views. There were many individual plants that I liked , but this tree on the Eastern side of the garden had real character.

Heirloom

Another rough day and I was not inspired to venture outside. Still life is often an excuse for lack of willingness to face discomfort. Anyway, we have this little brass bell that belonged to my mother. She used it to summon help in her last days at home. I polished it up and placed it on a silver tray.

Give us a lift

In downtown Wellington, on the site of a former petrol station, a new headquarters building is being erected for BNZ. It will replace the other brand new headquarters building that was irreparably damaged by the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016. The predecessor was demolished in the last year after sitting unusable for some years. Anyway, as I walked down Featherston Street, I stopped to watch frames for the new building being lifted from the deck of the truck on which they came. My eye was caught by the cab of the tower crane doing the big lifts. That’s not a clumsy vignette on my part. There is a streak of cloud aligned with the crane’s boom.

Strait Feronia

Bluebridge operate two ferries between Wellington and Picton in competition with the Interislander line which currently runs three. I was coming back to my car on Customhouse Quay and saw the Strait Feronia arriving from Picton. By the time I got in position, she was moving backwards at a smart clip ready to lower her stern ramp. I was intrigued at the almost total absence of any visible turbulence from the propeller.

Oriental Bay

I looked down on the city from the parking lot in front of the Cotton Building at Victoria University of Wellington. The Carter Fountain in Oriental Bay added some brightness to an otherwise chill Spring morning

Oil Terminal at Seaview

In the North East Corner of the harbour is the Seaview Oil Terminal where various tankers call to offload petrochemicals and other more scary chemicals to be piped into the tanks at the various terminals around Seaview. I like the curve of the deck and the blue sky is OK too.

So endeth another edition. I really must make progress with the course.

Categories
Birds Day's Bay Family flowers Landscapes Maritime Plant life Reflections Weather Wellington

11 Aug 2021 … when you find the thing you weren’t looking for*

It has never been my intention to have ponderous photographic aspirations. Instead, I want to understand what moves me and why, and photograph it well. Like most people who want to be creatives, I get pleasure when my family and friends, or others who I respect express approval of my efforts. On the other hand, before I share my work with you, it needs to meet my own expectations first.

I have been casting an eye on what images I have chosen to share with you recently. To nobody’s great surprise they have been mostly landscapes in the Wellington Region, ships, the sea when it is either flat calm or wild storm, birds or flowers. It’s a very rare occasion that I shoot people. I never do glamour, and very rarely do abstracts. I often have lively curiosity about the subjects I shoot, and like Alister Benn’s idea of pointing the camera at things that excite me.

Why those topics, you might ask. The only answer I can give, is that that’s who I am. Those genres appeal to me. If I get better at making those kinds of image, I’m happy. So let’s see how I did in this edition.

Ken Jyo waiting for a berth

Mid July and the weather has been up and down. We had a wonderful string of calm days and some really rough ones. On this morning, things had calmed down and the freighter Ken Jyo was anchored in the harbour waiting for a place at the berth where they load logs. I loved the glittering sea in contrast to the solid bulk of the ship.

Birthday Bouquet

An unexpected visit from our middle son Drew came with a nice bouquet to mark Mary’s birthday. To my eye, it was a very attractive arrangement, though, as always, the greatest joy was having our son home, however briefly.

Adam and Eve

The Tui is a native honeyeater from New Zealand. At first sight it looks black apart from the white ruff which caused the colonists to name it “the parson bird”. But it is not black. Its plumage is a glorious irridescent mixture of brown, blue and green with flecks of white.There was a time when they were relatively rare. I think a careful management programme has resulted in a significant boom in their numbers.I love to see them as they have a beautiful song of their own as well as being capable of mimicking cell-phones or reversing trucks.

Daphne

The Daphne is a pretty shrub, popular with gardeners around the world, including in New Zealand. Unfortunately, I struggle to make appealing images of it, even when its flowers are in good condition. I decided to try using it in conjunction with a sheet of florist’s tissue. It helped, after a fashion, but not one of my better shots

On the Waiwhetu Stream

The Waiwhetu Stream winds its way down pleasant suburban landscapes on the Eastern side of the the Hutt Valley from the slopes above Naenae until it reaches the light industrial area at Gracefield. Once it passes under Seaview Road it is contained within concrete embankments and the charm evaporates. Except for a hundred metres on the Southern side adjacent to the Owhiti Urupa (cemetery). The black swan added to the appeal of this view of that stretch. I was astonished to learn that after being almost eliminated from New Zealand, they were deliberately reintroduced from Melbourne in the 1860s, presumably as game birds. There are now about 50,000 of them in New Zealand.

The Wellington Harbour Tug Tiaki heading back to Wellington

After assisting the coastal tanker Matuku to its berth at the oil terminal, the two local Damen 2411 tugs Tapuhi (nurse) and Tiaki (carer) then set out on the return journey to their home berth in the city. Tiaki is seen here hurrying along the coast of Matiu/Somes Island . My friend and well know photographer Simon Woolf expresses the view that a significant patch of red in an image is usually a positive influence on the opinion of a photographic judge. Having stepped down as an accredited judge myself, I am less interested than I used to be in the opinions of judges, but I think he is right.

Stillness at Ivey Bay

This one is hands down my favourite shot in this edition, I don’t know if it is the best shot, but it is the one I like the most. And that, my friends is what I believe counts the most. So why? Firstly, the camera is pointed at a subject that is of interest to me. Secondly, the scene is still and the image is sharp. Thirdly the image is simple and unambiguous. We can all see what the subject of the image is. Yes, I like it.

Camborne Boat Sheds

Across the inlet from Ivey Bay are the boat sheds on the Camborne walkway. The poet, Sam Hunt lived in one of those at some time. The walkway behind them goes from the beach at Camborne around the shoreline to Grays Road on the Northern shore of the inlet. It is a favourite walk for dog owners though the rules about leads are often flouted. On days such as this one I find the scenery to be magical, and it’s not often I look at it from the other direction.

Weather

During a brief stay in Dammam, Saudi Arabia some thirty years ago, I encountered the story of a British expatriate who came close to being strangled by his compatriots because he greeted them at the bus stop every morning with “well, I see it’s turned out nice again!”. In case you are unaware, almost every day in Saudi Arabia “turns out nice again”. Nevertheless, I understand the obsession with the weather because the weather governs the light, and light governs photography. So, we had some weather recently. Strong Southerly winds and even snow in the Remutakas made for interesting conditions. Heavy swells breaking across the road in Lowry Bay make commuting interesting.

Fantail in Hiding

The New Zealand fantail is a favourite, perhaps because it flits so close to people walking. I believe this is because they chase the insects that are stirred up by the passing of humans. They are pretty little songbirds. This one seemed to be hiding behind the dead stalk of a nearby flax bush.

Semper Fi

A feature of the Queen Elizabeth II Park at Mackays Crossing is the memorial to the members of the United States Marines who were based there in transit to the war in the Pacific. These little profiles represent the hundreds of huts that stood on this ground almost eighty years ago.

That will suffice for this edition. I might see you next time.

Categories
Adventure Animals Architecture Birds Cook Strait Forest Landscapes Machinery Maritime Masterton mountains Rivers Wairarapa Waves Weather Wellington

August 8, 2020 … strange weather, but I’ll take it

For almost two weeks now, we have had consecutive days of calm fine weather. In that period, I count some still grey days in which the harbours were still. Wellington has a reputation for its mean winters. According to the calendar, this one has plenty yet to come, but so far it has been a delight.

Centre of bureaucracy
Down to the centre

High in the suburb of Northland is the Te Ahumairangi Hill lookout which affords a view over the bureaucratic centre of New Zealand. The tower block with the green top is the Business School of Victoria University of Wellington. The flat building in front is the high court and then the grey roof of parliament and the “beehive” which houses parliamentary offices. To the right of the beehive is the law school in the old wooden building and behind that the IRD. On the extreme right is Bowen House which contains the overflow for all our pariamentarian’s offices. Oh, and the brick building behind the business school is Wellington railway station.

rapids
Tumbling down the gorge

The Ngaio Gorge carries the Kaiwharawhara stream through lovely Trelissick Park from Ngaio at the top of the hill down to the harbour. It’s a modest stream but I liked the little rapids seen here.

Kayak
Sustained stillness.

A lovely morning at Pauatahanui Inlet and I decided to follow the Camborne walkway around its North West corner. The water was glassy and a bright red kayak entered the frame. As I lined up for my shot, the kayaker put his paddle across the cockpit and became a photographer himself.

Demolition

A long delayed casualty of the Kaikoura Earthquake (14 November 2016), the almost new BNZ building on Centreport’s land near the railway station is finally being demolished. Unlike most demolition work in the city, they recovered as much of the building materials as possible. Now it is down to the sadly compromised concrete skeleton, and the big crane is nibbling away at the remnants.

Kereru

We’ve been here before. The kereru is perched in the small kowhai shrub on our front lawn and was nibbling new shoots as efficiently as a motor trimmer. Somehow the shrub always recovers

Seaview Marina

Seaview Marina is a favourite place when the water is still. I was down at water level with the camera hanging inverted on the tripod centre-post just above the water to get this view. I heard my name called and there was Mary taking her lunch break between volunteer roles. We enjoyed our lunch together on a lovely mid-winter day.

Tapuae-o-Uenuku

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you will have seen Tapuae-o-Uenuku many times before. I always love to see it clear and proud across the strait. It’s weird to know that distant Kaikoura is just near the foot of Manakau, the mountain on the left. In case you were unaware, Manakau is the highest peak in the Seaward Kaikoura range while Tapuae-o-Uenuku is the highest in the Inland Kaikoura range. Despite the apparent calm, waves were slapping against the rocks with some force.

Waingawa River

Mary and I went over the hill into the Wairarapa and up the road to Holdsworth lodge. A lot of people had the same idea and the beautifully formed tracks in the lower parts were quite busy. The Waingawa river was tumbling down the hill to join the Ruamahanga river and thence via Lake Onoke to the sea.

Pied shag

Zealandia wildlife reserve gives the visitor access to a great variety of birdlife as well as providing opportunities for close encounters with Tuatara and various other lizards. This pied shag is enjoying the calm of the nest but keeping a wary eye on the tourists

North Island robin

Also in Zealandia is this lovely little North Island robin. They enjoy the insects stirred up as people walk by, and come very close, even to the extent of perching on the toe of your shoes to get the best harvest. They seem quite unafraid.

Lowry Bay

It has been an extraordinary run of weather, with two weeks in mid-winter with almost no wind, and mostly sunny days. In Lowry Bay, the usual fleet of moored yachts is down to just one at present.

Little black shag

Inside the breakwater of the Seaview Marina there are a few rocks that serve as a resting place for shags. This Little Black shag is airing its laundry .

Seaview Marina (2)

And still, day after day the eerie calm continues. Overcast weather I can live with but I do prefer conditions such as these that give reflections.

Jetski

As I write this edition, the weather has broken with rain and wind. It would be churlish to complain after so long. This image was made a few days earlier as a jet-ski rider was heading out to make noise and spray in the open water of the harbour.

That will do for now. See you next time.

Categories
adversity Art Bees Family flowers Food insects Landscapes Light Plant life sunrise Weather

May 5, 2020 … so much to be grateful for

A full five weeks of Level 4 lockdown is behind us. It seems to have been the right course of action. Yesterday, in New Zealand, there were no new cases of Covid-19 reported. In terms of our personal well being, Mary has performed daily domestic miracles, so from my perspective, lockdown has been no great hardship. We were warm, well fed, and only mildly inconvenienced. I have much to be grateful for. It did, however, constrain my photography. First world problem.

As I indicated two weeks ago, the main impact of lockdown on making images was that most of them have had to be made at short distances. I couldn’t drive to places that gave me the long view required for landscapes. Let’s see how I did.

Down the hole

In one of the neighbourhood walks into which Mary cajoled me, I looked over the railing at the edge of the footpath and down into the crown of a beautiful Silver Fern, (Alsophila dealbata or ponga). I liked the swirling impression it gave, rather like a whirlpool.

Spruce cone

Items of possible interest from her own much longer walks were delivered almost daily by Mary. As far as I can tell, this is the cone is from one of the 35 or so varieties of spruce. I was intrigued by the general lightness of the cone, and the delicacy of each seed wing. Even the simplest things in nature come with their own beauty.

More neighbourly craft

The last time I posted, I mentioned our neighbour painting rocks. Her rate of production seems to have escalated and she has been gifting them to friends and neighbours and even leaving them in various places near the front of the driveway for strangers to find and treasure. It brings a smile to my face to see such a generous instinct.

Cicada

I associate the cicada with February. To my mind it is the sound of late hot summer weather. The sometimes deafening buzz-click of a million insects in unison is what summer sounds like. It was a surprise, therefore, to get one in late April.This specimen is not the common chorus cicada, but rather, I think it is the native April Green cicada, Kikihia ochrina. I have never encountered one before. I just love the delicacy of its wing structure.

Seizing the moment

Though many things are suspended during lockdown, our hedge keeps growing. So I had to uncoil the power cord, oil the hedge trimmer blades and begin the trimming. The hedge was in copious bloom, and the bees were doing their thing. As the clippers reduced the number of available flowers, the bees became a bit disgruntled and buzzed threateningly. I paused in my domestic duties to get out a camera with a long (400 mm) lens so as to catch the bumble bee visiting the last of the uncut flowers. Sorry bees, I bow to a higher authority and she asked for a tidy hedge.

Glass ware

I participate in making pictures to a daily theme with a group of photographers, most of whom are in or near Grand Bend, Ontario. One day recently, the theme was glassware so I produced this. The glass angel (in reality, a small flower vase) was placed inside a larger glass bowl that contains some of Mary’s found rocks. I had to reshoot this because glass that may appear clean to the naked eye is often not so. Any smooth surface seems to need a good wipe before a clean image can be made.

Lost marbles

Continuing the glass theme, I placed this handful of glass marbles inside a fruit bowl. I considered swirling the marbles and getting some motion blur, but with so many marbles, they stopped orbiting as soon as I put the bowl down.

Familiar scene, different light

ANZAC Day was unique this year. For the first time ever, there were no formal public observances. Instead, at the suggestion of our Prime Minister, citizens were invited to stand at their own front gate by the letterbox at 6am to collectively honour the dead of all our wars. And so it was. Many people stood in the pre-dawn darkness, to honour our fallen. The social-distancing rules were observed as we listened to the basic broadcast rituals of ANZAC day. A neighbour played a lament on his bagpipes, and as we dispersed silently back to our homes the day began. A beautiful red sky in the North East warned of murky weather to come.

Katydid

As you will realise, when the public mantra is “stay at home, save lives”, there are few opportunities to use long lenses, so I am always looking for something interesting at close range. Happily, Mary has a good eye, and is not scared of much so she brought this katydid home from one of her walks. The branch recently vacated by the cicada served as a posing platform. Unfortunately the insect kept waving her feelers about, and the relatively slow exposure meant that they were not as sharp as the rest of her.

Spinster

Another close-up is of a small pewter souvenir I bought for my late mother-in-law while I was in Amsterdam in 1982. The girl at the spinning wheel is described in Dutch as a “spinster”, so I was a little nervous about having an invoice for a spinster on my credit card. As with all my images, if you click on it, you will get a larger view and see the details better. As with most of my photography, this is made using natural light from a West facing window.

For medicinal purposes

Also made for the Ontario group, this time with the them with the theme of “bird’s eye view”, is this jar of marshmallows which I keep because someone told me that they are good for the relief of an irritating cough. I was prepared to take that as gospel with out doing any research to check it out. I suppose I want it to be true, and if it’s not, please don’t tell me.

Longhorn

My lovely assistant turned up with yet another interesting specimen. This one took a lot of Google time to track down, and even then, a friend found the identification before I did. It is a variegated longhorn beetle (Coptomma variegatum) … it is usually a forest dweller, the larvae of which burrow into live twigs. I thought it was a handsome beast, although it was very active. I had to resort to an old photographer’s trick of storing it in the fridge for a while until it slowed down with the cold. I got about ten minutes of relative stillness before it began to recover, and then it was turned loose unharmed.

Yucca flowers

Apparently, yucca plants are a significant cause of domestic injury in New Zealand. Their leaves certainly come to a viciously sharp point, and people manage to stab themselves with them. No matter, the flowers are a delight to the eye. The fine specimen in my neighbour’s garden seems to flower every other year and makes a spectacular show when it does.

Not George, but he’s not far away/

Our old friend George, the white heron is back in town. I hoped to see him in the usual place, but alas, he was elsewhere when we visited. His old and smaller friend, the white-faced heron was there keeping watch on his usual resting place inside the derelict boat.

That is all this time. I am guessing that we shall have at least another week or more in semi-lockdown, but perhaps some of the time ahead may allow travel to places with a longer view. Stay well, stay safe, observe the distance guidelines. See you next time.

Categories
Academic Birds Cook Strait Family flowers fungi Landscapes Light Maritime Plant life Rivers Tararuas Waves Weather Wellington

April 4, 2010 … everything is changed … a locked down but nevertheless golden celebration

This week marks a special occasion which you can read about under the final image.

When I last wrote, everything was more or less normal here in New Zealand. I no longer know what “normal” means. Back then, there was little indication of the changes to come. Now we are in lockdown, and since Mary and I are both in the over 70 age group, society is taking special care of us. We are not even supposed to go to the supermarket because we are apparently especially vulnerable to catching the infection.

When I first heard the lockdown regulations, I formed some preconceptions as to how this would play out and where I would still be able to go for photography. Reality is a little different and rather more restrictive. The basic rules are:

  1. Stay at home
  2. Wash and dry your hands frequently.
  3. Stay within your own domestic “bubble”
  4. Stay at least two metres from anyone from outside of your bubble
  5. You can leave home for essential purposes such as visits to supermarket, or a doctor unless you are over 70 in which case you need to get someone else to shop for you because you are more vulnerable
  6. Go back to rule 1 … rinse and repeat

Despite rule 1, it is permitted to exercise in your own neighbourhood by walking, running, cycling etc, as long as you remain close to home and don’t come closer than two metres to anyone else. More adventurous exercises such as hiking, surfing etc are not permitted because if you need assistance you endanger others.

So, with all that in mind let us explore the images I have made since last time, in chronological order.

Spoonbills in the river
Browsing the mud in the Pauatahanui inlet

A pleasant morning and the likelihood of some bird shots resulted in Mary packing a lunch and the two of us setting out in the direction of Waikanae. Remember, this was when things were still “normal”. On Gray’s Rd around the Northern edge of the Pauatahanui Inlet, we saw the spoonbills. I thought that the cluster of them dredging for crabs in the soft mud of a serpentine creek might make a picture. I like the wandering path made by the creek, but the spoonbills were less prominent than I hoped for in my mind’s eye. I think, if you click to get the enlarged image, you will see the grey teal in between the two nearest spoonbills.

Juvenile dabchick
Still dependent on its parents

In Queen Elizabeth II Park at Paekakariki, I checked out the US Marines memorial Wetlands and was delighted to find that the dabchick families were still in residence. This one still wears the black and white facial markings of a juvenile bird, and indeed it was still being fed by its parents. I have to say I always enjoy the deep green colour of the QEII wetlands as they reflect the surrounding bush.

Yachts in the marina at Oriental Bay
In Oriental Bay

It needs to be acknowledged that Wellington is a small city, and there are relatively few parts of it that I have not yet been to in search of picture opportunities. The obvious consequence is that there are some places that I have used over and over and over again. My excuse is that they are attractive or interesting spots to begin with, and different days present different conditions, and thus different pictures.

This image was made from inside the breakwater on the Eastern side of the Clyde Quay Wharf (formerly known as the Overseas Passenger Terminal). As you can see, the conditions were calm.

Northward view across Oriental Bay Marina
The other direction

On the same day as the preceding image I crossed in front of the boat sheds, to catch the stillness of the day. Many leading photographers tell us that clear blue skies are boring, I still make blue sky images if the scene appeals, but I do enjoy grey skies if the clouds have textures. On this occasion, I liked the patterns and their reflections in the remarkably still water. So far, life is still normal.

Purple water lily
Water Lily

If I had known that my photographic activity in the near future would be almost exclusively based on still life, I might have gone elsewhere. However, the Begonia House in Wellington’s Botanic Garden offers some visual pleasure, even in normal times. There were some nice shots of orchids, and begonias to be had, but the vivid purple of the water lilies made this an image of power for me.

Pauatahanui looking moody but still
Pauatahanui Inlet

Another place I visit often in normal times is the Pauatahanui Inlet. I have over 3,000 images in my catalogue from there. So many different moods, but always my favourites are when the water is still and offering reflections.

The Hutt Valley was misty so I had hoped there might be similar conditions at Pauatahanui. Sadly that rarely happens, and I am guessing that the exposure to the sea air on the Western side of Haywards Hill prevents the mist forming. Anyway. I regret that E.L.James seems to have captured the phrase “shades of grey”as I love these conditions (the meteorological ones).

Swells on Wellington South coast
South coast

There are days when, even though conditions are calm, the South Coast still gets heavy swells. The sheer majesty of a big slow moving wave and the weight of water thudding into the rocks never fails to move me. I could watch those green walls coming in for hours.

View across Cook Strait from Makara
The day before it all changed

And now the change begins. The New Zealand Government implemented a series of conditions numbered 1 through 4 each with increasing levels of control measures to manage the spread of Covid-19. It opened at level 2, and then on March 24 went to level 3 with the warning that it would be at level 4 for at least four weeks from the following day.

Careful to minimise contact with others, Mary and I made the last of our final day of freedom for a while and drove first to Makara and then on to Plimmerton for a picnic lunch. On the way, we visited the West Wind wind farm. There standing beside one of the big turbines, we enjoyed this view across the Cook Strait to Arapawa Island and parts of the Kaikoura ranges.

I wholeheartedly endorse the government’s management of this crisis even though it means that for at least the next four weeks, we are required to stay home except as required to obtain the necessities of life. All businesses except those providing essential goods and services are firmly closed. People over 70 (you may be surprised to learn that that includes us) are instructed fairly firmly to stay at home and rely on others to shop for them. So here we go.

Sea Urchin shell
Sea Urchin shell

Day one of the lockdown. While taking that last walk on the beach at Plimmerton the previous day, Mary found this lovely little sea urchin shell. It’s rare to find an intact one and this is a very small one … about 50 mm (2″) in diameter … I was unaware of its beautiful colours until after I made the picture.

Fly Agaric toadstool
Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric

Mary is a walker. There are few days indeed when she doesn’t walk briskly around the hills or along the riverbank for 90 minutes or more. I on the other hand, am a couch potato. Mary knows that a four week lockdown is going to be hard for me as an obsessive photographer. Bless her heart, on the first day of lockdown, she gathered a bunch of objects that she knows will make interesting still life images. The common fly agaric toadstool is quite toxic, but also presents a striking appearance. My darkbox is going to get used often, I suspect. Focus stacking may also be used for this kind of image.

Collected sea shells
Memories of beaches past

Not only is she good at gathering things while walking, but Mary also has a large collection of small mementoes gathered on various trips over many years. And so, I was allowed access to her box of small sea shells. The background in this picture is a glass drinks coaster with etched concentric circles.

Kiwi feathers
Genuine honest to goodness kiwi feathers

Back in 2014, our local hospice was involved with the Department of Conservation in a fundraising exercise involving the naming and release of a young kiwi. Mary and granddaughter Maggie got to handle the young bird, and even walked with the DoC rangers to release it in the hills behind Wainuiomata. The bird left some of its feathers behind and they found their way into Mary’s souvenir tin.

Beach souvenirs
Indoor beach

On day five of the lockdown, I was given access to some of the larger beach memories. I borrowed the sand from my long forgotten mini Zen garden and spread it in the floor of my lightbox. A couple of starfish, some sponges and some interesting shells were arranged over the sand and thus we have instant beach though no water was involved. While attempting to return the sand to its proper space, I managed to spill some on the carpet. Vacuum cleaner duty!

Dandelion and reflection
On reflection

Another of Mary’s finds (isn’t she a gem?) was this dandelion. I decided against the straightforward ‘head and shoulders” portrait since I have done it so many times before. A paper plate was filled with water to a depth of one or two millimetres. The dandelion was then drooped until I had a clear reflection.

Early morning view up the Hutt Valley
A landscape day and I am trapped at home

Landscape images are very much harder to arrange now that we can not go anywhere in the car. The best I can manage is shots of the valley from the front yard. Happily, different day, different light, different weather means a different picture. On this day, river mist coming down from the upper valley made a difference.

Starling in the bird bath
The Spin Cycle

We have a bird bath on the front lawn, and it is well used. Sometimes five or six sparrows splash about in it, sometimes a huge kereru fills it to overflowing. On this occasion a starling was taking heed of the instruction to wash frequently and thoroughly. This was taken through the glass window of our dining room, but I enjoyed the scene.

More fly agaric specimens
More found treasures

A bunch of fly agaric toadstools were in Mary’s latest collection so I arranged them in some compost from one of our pot plants. I know they are toxic, but as far as I know that refers to ingestion, and anyway, the hand washing regime should take care of everything else.

A personal celebration

Mary and I on the day before our golden wedding anniversary
Fifty Wonderful Years Together

On April 4, 1970, Mary and I got married in St Patrick’s Church in Patea. We had a Nuptial Mass celebrated by the late Father Brian Sherry from New Plymouth. Being so long ago, some details of the day are hazy in my memory. However, one thing is clear, this was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Together we have five amazing children of whom we are extraordinarily proud. They in turn brought their spouses into the family and gave us six wonderful grandchildren who light up our lives, even though, in the present circumstances visitation is not possible.

Mary does not like to be the centre of attention, and I shall probably catch it for what follows, but something has to be said on such an occasion, so here goes …

She is a woman of deep faith who believes her purpose in life, her calling, is to serve others, especially those in most need. I have never met anyone who better understands the true meaning of the word “vocation”. I and my kids have benefitted enormously from this. Mary was a registered nurse for fifty years and in the last decade or so of her employment was a social worker helping patients and their families in Te Omanga Hospice.

She also volunteered for various good causes. Since her retirement in 2017 she has become busier than ever, volunteering for an organisation that offers care and assistance to young mothers, and another that supports the partners of people who have dementia. She is the most selfless person I know. It is a matter of some grief to her that, being over 70, the lockdown rules prohibit her from carrying on those tasks until it is over.

Mary has been there for me and for all our family throughout our fifty years of marriage. We have shared many joys and a few tough times. I particularly admired the way she supported me when I lost the plot and undertook to do a PhD late in life. Even more, she allowed me to leave a well paid management role in industry for a job as a university lecturer on literally half the salary.

Mary is a wise and loving woman who I am privileged to have as my wife. She is nevertheless real, and each of us occasionally does things that drive the other nuts. (I really should exercise more and eat less) But she is also a forgiving woman so here we are together still, and if my luck holds, we will continue to be so until the end of our days. Our planned celebration with the family is of course cancelled, and alas, not even the florists are open.

Thank you Mary for all that you have done, and for all that you are. You are a beautiful person and the light of my life.


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18 March, 2020 … interesting times

Interesting times are upon us. As far as I know, I and all my loved ones are well. I hope the same goes for you and all who you hold dear.

Today I offer fifteen random images with no apparent connection between them except that they were all made in the last few weeks. Mindful of all the world’s current woes, I am feeling grateful for living in a peaceful and politically stable country with so much beauty on offer. .

Remutaka Forest Park – Catchpool Valley

New Zealand’s bush typically seems much more dense, twisted and tangled than the ancient forests of the Northern hemisphere. Most of it lacks the grandeur of tall parallel tree trunks. So be it. I still love being in the bush, enjoying the shelter it gives from the wind and the pleasure I take in so many shades of green. This short track in the entrance to the Catchpool valley surprised me for the amount of dead leaves on the ground amongst what I thought were predominantly evergreen trees.

Mana Island on a beautiful day in Plimmerton

This picture of Mana Island was made by getting down low, or at least by getting the camera low, hanging inverted off the tripod centre post. Because the water was almost flat calm, it was almost touching the surface.

If you click to enlarge, and look at the gap between the furthest incoming wave and the island, you will see the neck and beak of a shag which popped up as I pressed the shutter. It’s as if it knew I was here, and was checking to see whether I was a threat.

We have had a string of beautiful calm Autumn days. They go some small way towards compensating for the miserable wet windy summer we had in Wellington this year.

Another lovely day in Plimmerton

The local yacht club was racing at Plimmerton despite the apparent lack of wind. As you can see in the picture, some of the yachts are heeling despite the light breeze. They certainly progressed around the course at a reasonable pace, and I liked the metallic effect given by the translucent sailcloth.

Ferry berth

Anyone who understands the term “depth of field” instantly knows that this picture could not have been made with just one exposure. Loosely, depth of field is the distance between the nearest “in focus” point, and the furthest. Most lenses have a relatively shallow depth of field so either the ship or the flower would be sharp, but not both. Many photographers delight in a usually expensive lens with a shallow depth of field and the artistic effects it produces. Others, like me, seek more extreme depth and achieve this by “focus stacking”. In its simplest form, and in this example, that means taking a photo in which the flower is sharp and another in which the ship is sharp. Then the two images are merged and the sharp bits from each are retained. This was possible back in the days of the darkroom, but is much easier now that we have PhotoShop.

If you think this is somehow “cheating”, then avert your eyes now because I don’t care.

I have consistently said that the art is in the final image, no matter how it was achieved.

Sacred Kingfisher

If you have been a WYSIWYG reader for any length of time, you will know that birds are among my favourite subjects. Nevertheless, I lack the patience and skill to stalk and capture the fastest and sneakiest of birds. Some of my friends make superb images, bordering on the impossible. I lack the patience and the willingness to get down in the mud and make the images they do. Now and then, I get lucky. Kingfishers typically fly at about 45 km/h.

From home

I have often presented this viewpoint, from my bedroom window and I justify it on this occasion for the special early morning light. I am grateful every day for the splendour of this view.

From the control bar

Mary and I went to Whitireia Park in Porirua where we intended to have a picnic lunch. While I looked for images, Mary walked the Onepoto Loop Track. As I wandered, a man in a wet suit was setting up to go kite-surfing. He got the kite airborne while he was still on the beach and I cheekily got down near his feet and caught his view of the canvas.

A stranger in a strange land

On one of my many trips through Evans Bay and around into Oriental Bay, I was astonished to encounter this old Seagrave fire appliance. As per the signage, it once belonged to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Made in 1960, it was retired in 1990 and gifted by the City of Los Angeles to the City of Auckland in recognition of their sister-city relationship. Since then it has been on display at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT). This is an articulated 100 foot ladder machine that has a driver in the front, and another at the rear steering the trailer wheels. As you can see it is designed for the Los Angeles climate. The well wrapped crew drove this down from Auckland to Wellington in cool Autumn weather and were on their way to Invercargill for a charity fundraising event. They are going to have to raise quite some funds as it goes through $500 to $600 of fuel a day plus the ferry fares in each direction.

Sisters

Another of those days when, despite the overcast, the glittering sea was relatively still. East-West ferries have two catamarans with which they operate a commuter service that runs from downtown Wellington across the harbour to Days Bay, with stops at Matiu / Somes Island and occasionally at Seatoun. It is marginally quicker than the trip around the harbour by bus, but infinitely more pleasant. They even have a bar on board. Anyway, there I Was as Cobar Cat came in from the right after refuelling at Chaffers Marina, and City Cat approached from across the harbour.

Lavender blue

Simple things sometimes need complex treatment. This little cluster of lavender, growing in a pot at our back door, is captured with another focus stack. You can see that the background trees are well beyond focus as I intended them to be. However there are four different images of the lavender stalks. This only works in windless conditions because if the plants are in different positions as they wave, they can’t be merged.

Abstraction

I was having a coffee with my youngest son, Anthony (Ants) at the Seaview Marina. It was a beautiful morning with the sun smiling on the yachts and lovely reflections in the water. Then a ripple from elsewhere in the marina did interesting things with the reflected masts and rigging.

We had a guest speaker in the camera club about a week ago, and she explained very well how she went about making a wide variety of abstract images. I grasped the “how” well enough, but remain mystified by the “why?” Anyway, here I am offering an abstraction. This is a single shot, as seen by the camera

A rare selfie

I almost never take selfies. Usually I would prefer to make an image of the place or thing that I saw, rather than a picture of myself in the place or with the thing I saw. This image is an unintentional selfie. I saw a trailer which was a bitumen tanker. It had an engine chugging away underneath, presumably powering the burner that keeps the bitumen in its liquid state while the tractor was elsewhere. What caught my eye was the polished stainless steel cladding and I liked the grassy reflections therein. Regrettably I could find no way to exclude myself from the reflection. Though I am substantially built, I am nowhere near the proportions in that distorted reflection.

My favourite kind of day

Among my favourite places in the region are various spots around the shores of Lake Wairarapa, especially on those days when the lake is glassy calm. Whenever I come over the hill to Featherston, I usually start at the Lake Domain Reserve and see whether there is a new image to be had. The rusty steel piles of the yacht club’s old jetty make a nice feature.

Wairio Wetlands

Some thirty km to the South on the Eastern side of the lake, are two sets of wetlands beloved of many of my photographic for their prolific bird life and for the intrinsic beauty of the places. I chose the Wairio Wetlands rather than Boggy Pond on this occasion. Whereas Wellington has had a wet summer, the Wairarapa is officially in drought. This wetland still has water, but the level is lower than I have ever seen it before. There were plenty of birds there, though they were cautiously placed some distance from the walking tracks. If you click on this image to enlarge, and have a close look at the most distant of the birds, at about one third in from the right, there is a white heron (kotuku).

Low and fast over the road

As I came back up the Western side of the lake, I heard a whistle and a roar and saw a top-dressing plane shoot over the road and into the hills to the West. I was ready for it as it came round a second time and was pleased that it was a venerable Fletcher FU-24 950. The basic FU-24 design has served New Zealand agriculture since 1954. No fewer than 297 of them were built and in the later years many were fitted with powerful turbine engines. Sadly many bold Fletcher pilots didn’t get to be old Fletcher pilots because they over-estimated their skill at avoiding high-speed contact with the ground.

That is sufficient for this edition.

I am going to borrow my farewell from Radio New Zealand’s Suzie Fergusson who said at the end of a session the other day, “Wash your hands, keep calm and carry on. Ka kite anō au i a koutou (see you all again).