October 13, 2017 … around the region and further afield

Sometimes I have to work hard to find an image in otherwise drab circumstances, However, sometimes the effort pays off.

Harbour and CBD

A moody evening in Wellington

We have had a lot of grey weather recently, but even in such circumstances I love our city.

Waiwhetu

In the heart of Lower Hutt on the Waiwhetu Stream

Even in dull weather, as long as the wind is absent, I can usually find something worth a look. This is the Waiwhetu Stream on Riverside Drive, near Gracefield. Just out of view above the trees is the Wainuiomata hill with its busy traffic.

Exhibition

Hutt Camera club’s annual exhibition

Every year at about this time, the Hutt Camera club (of which I am president) holds its annual exhibition, and as I have done before, I made a panorama that includes all sixty images. Three of them are mine.

Drizzle

Early morning drizzle in the Hutt Valley

And on the subject of weather, or indeed any other obstacle to my photographic endeavours, sometimes it is an idea to photograph the obstacle itself.  This view from our house looks along High Street through morning drizzle to the Hutt Hospital.

Camborne

Towards the setting sun from the water tower at Camborne

Then the obstacle disappears, and we get what with tongue in cheek, we call “a typical Wellington day at last”. This image was a panoramic stitch made from a small hill in Camborne, looking out towards Mana Island.

Dotterel

Banded dotterel just below the swirling wind and sand

Then the wind returned and outside shooting was just plain uncomfortable. When I say wind, I mean a North Westerly blast in which standing up was actually difficult. I chose to follow the coast road from Wainuiomata to the South coast which was, in many ways a stupid idea. Wind of that strength picks up a significant portion of the sand on the beach and attempts to inject it into any opening, eyes, ears, nostrils, lenses. Nevertheless I struggled down the beach and then lay flat on my back in the lee of a small sand dune. I could hear the wind shrieking and feel the sand bouncing off the back of the hood on my jacket. I lay still and pointed the camera downwind and was lucky to catch this banded dotterel. It seemed unperturbed by the wind and may in fact have been small enough to be in a relatively calm boundary layer.

Otaki Forks

High water levels in the fast flowing Waiotauru River

A day or so later, Mary and I went to Otaki forks. It was a grey day with intermittent rain, but we arrived at Boielle flat in a period of little wind and no rain. Mary explored the beginnings of the Southern Crossing which, for the fit and well-prepared is a three-day hike across the Tararua range to Featherston in the Wairarapa. While she did that I fiddled with my camera to catch this view of the Waiotauru River.

Yachts

Good sailing days are not lost just because it rains

Later in the week we had one of those soft days. In fact it as the day on which I was  to lead the Wellington occurrence of Scott Kelby’s 10th annual Worldwide Photowalk through Newtown. In fact the day was more than soft, it was downright wet. But, since this is Wellington, local sailors were undeterred.

Mist

Though it’s time to go, I shall really miss this view

My last picture for this edition is from a viewpoint that must be familiar to long-term readers. We have lived here since October 1980 … our  five kids grew up here. There have been moments of celebration, of joy and of sadness as you would expect in any house you occupy for such a length of time. We have weathered various storms and remained shaken but not stirred through many earthquakes in the last 37 years, but now, recognising our changing circumstances, it is time to move on, and today we signed a contract with an agency to put our house on the market. We know exactly where we want to purchase, and  it is exactly in the middle of that river mist down in the flat part of the valley.

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa’s famous “round barn” in July 2012 …. looking Westward in the late evening. The flat grey roof below the ridge was the Fountaingrove Inn. Both are now destroyed along with devastation to housing and lives lost. Ironically the red sky in this image was attributed to wildfires near Clearlake, CA.

Well, it was going to be the last image, but I can’t let this issue end without expressing my sympathy and grief for the people of beautiful Santa Rosa and other parts of  Northern California. In my past life, I spent many months on several occasions working with the New Zealand Dairy Board whose North American headquarters were in Santa Rosa. I spent a lot of time in the Fountaingrove Inn just below the historic round barn on the hill. A large part of this lovely town in the heart of the wine country is destroyed. Lives and homes have been lost and even from this great distance, I grieve with you.

 

 

 

August 11, 2012 … swing low, sweet chariot

(This is the third of four written on the iPad while in various stages of being in transit, and only now being published with images. This one was written at San Francisco Airport on 9th August. Note the date discrepancy. Due to the international date line, we never had a 10th of August this year)

Though I am delighted to be home, I am always a little wistful when I leave the beautiful “City by the Bay”.

We awoke there yesterday morning (Thursday 9th, by our time), to the sound of jet engines, but outside our window, the vast silky harbour was quiet, with the very barest of ripples lapping at the sea wall by our room.
Golden morning at San Francisco Airport

The San Bruno Mountain State Park, the towers of San Francisco, and the Oakland Hills across the bay were all shrouded in localized sea mist.

Along the shoreline in Burlingame, sandpipers and plovers poked and prodded in the mud, seeking breakfast.

American Plover Sandpiper

What a great idea! Despite its modest facilities, our hotel offered a complimentary hot breakfast. As with some other foodstuffs explored on this trip, the notion of a turkey sausage eludes me. However, we found sufficient “safe” food to sustain the beginning of our last day.

Breakfasted and refreshed, we set out to fill in time before our departure, by going for a long walk (OK, a stroll with picture-taking opportunities) along the shoreline to the South. Birdlife was plentiful, though not hugely varied.

We went past the neatly trimmed lawns and decorative gardens of the big name hotels such as Hilton, Doubletree, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, until the path reached some sort of untidy  conclusion at a man-made tidal basin. There, an old and rather sad vessel called the Sherman was condemned to serve out its remaining days as a permanently moored restaurant.

Just as I was about to make disparaging comment about the condition of this former ferry, with its empty davits and trailing sun-bleached ropes, Mary grabbed my arm and pointed into the basin near the ship’s bow.Great Blue Heron

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) was perched on a pontoon, and nearby on the handlebars of a moored Seadoo, was a snowy egret (Egretta thula) – just like our own “odd couple” at Petone, the kotuku and the white-faced heron.  Unlike our herons, the egret hunches its neck and you wouldn’t know until it walks or flies, that it has a long neck like others in the heron family.Snowy egretWe sat very still, and I kept taking pictures until a family drove up, with youngsters. Their noise and energy caused the two waders to flap languidly away in search of a more peaceful place.

We walked back to the hotel after a round trip of about two hours. Just as we reached the hotel, the heavy rumble of a 747 on finals made me look up. The big white koru on the blue tail stirred emotions, and we knew that this was the very aircraft on which we would travel later in the evening.ZK-SUH

With no car, and a 1pm limit to our arranged late checkout, we went for a leisurely lunch in the restaurant next door. Then it was the shuttle bus to the airport, where we spent most of the afternoon on the wrong side of security. I wish Air New Zealand would open their check in counters much earlier than 6:15pm as a courtesy to their customers.

There is no affordable place to leave bags prior to passing through security. Lockers are a thing of the past (what will thriller writers do now?) All left luggage goes through a security x-ray process and each suitcase costs USD$20. It’s no fun being held hostage by your own baggage.

While we waited, we were intrigued to see “mounted” officers of the SFPD patrolling the enormous extent of all the three terminals. I spoke to one of the officers and he was very willing to praise the merits of his mount. “You may run at 15 mph,” he said, “but you can’t keep it up for 10 hours like this can.”"mounted" police

Through security one last time with shoes and belts off, and all my worldly possessions in a plastic tray, and then another long wait in the glossy but not particularly comfortable International terminal. One last 12 hour flight to Auckland, one last hop to Wellington, and so this episode is posted from home.

Normal service should resume tomorrow.

August 9, 2012 – a stranger in a strange land

(This is the second of four written on the iPad while in various stages of being in transit, and only now being published with images. This one was written on 9th August)

Transitions are good when they are finally over.

Yesterday was a transition day. We checked out of our excellent accommodation in West Seneca (Buffalo), the Staybridge Suites hotel was the best hotel of our journey by far.

We braved the morning rush on I-90 and then highway 33 to get to the fine modern airport at Buffalo. Return of the rental car was quick and uneventful. I couldn’t help noticing, in contrast to the rapacious policies of NZ airports that the first two hours oif parking were free.

Our flight back to San Francisco was a two-hop journey via Cleveland Ohio. The first leg was on a Dash 8, but that was only 50 minutes or so.  It was amusing to me, that United think the Dash 8 is too small to allow actual carry on bags. They let you check in with them and then take them off you on the ramp. They do give them back when you get off.  The journey from Buffalo to Cleveland was low enough to give a good view of the freeways and interchanges that characterise travel across this vast land. You have to wonder at the strange diversions and kinks that occur on otherwise flat terrain. Southbound freeway kinks somewhere between Buffalo and Cleveland

Our only experience of Cleveland was United’s departure lounge.

The next leg was on a B737-800. Why do people choose window seats if they want the blind shut all the way? Grrr. He opened it at my (polite) request on the final approach over the San Mateo bridge.

San Francisco was brilliantly clear, but a modest 65 deg F or so. Just a beautiful day! An early walk along the waterfront produced some interesting plant life including this cheerful specimen . yes a pohutukawa, Metrosideros excelsa in full bloom. I know there are more than 50 varieties of Metrosideros, but there is a lot of evidence for genuine pohutukawa being introduced around San Francisco.Pohutukawa in Burlingame, CA

Our hotel was at the harbour’s edge in Burlingame, close enough to the airport that we could see the markings and registration on every incoming aircraft. Of course, that means we were close enough to hear them too. But for an aerophile like me, this was magic. Emirates B777-31H

In the haze just ahead of Emirates’ beautiful B777 is Candlestick Park. The needle atop the second skyscraper from the left is the tip of the TransAmerica Pyramid. Just amazing to me, was the seemingly endless stream of aircraft arriving and departing. Four concurrently active runways makes for some interesting juxtapositions.  The long lens got a good workout. Delta B737-800 and British Airways B747-400

We needed some shopping, so set out to walk to the Safeway on El Camino Real, but found what we needed in Burlingame’s Broadway, about 40 minutes away. The return walk was along a pretty path beside the harbour with good views of both shore birds and air traffic.

And thus ended the last day of our most enjoyable trip. Today we are on our way home.

The vagaries of air travel and the international date line mean that, for us, there will be no Friday the 10th of August.

See you on Saturday.

July 13, 2012 … some days are like that

Logistically, yesterday was a nightmare.

Our journey was to Sacramento, the state capital. On the way, I had sneakily planned a visit to the superb Jimmy Doolittle Museum at Travis AFB, just out of Fairfield. What I hadn’t realised was just how complex it now is to do anything that involves entering a military base. The instructions are on their website, but in my opinion, any tourist attraction that requires you to “bring a valid drivers license, vehicle registration, current proof of insurance for each vehicle, and submit to a criminal background check. Be advised this is required for all vehicles regardless of type.” is doomed to a slow and lingering death.  After taking a number and waiting with about 20 others for 40 minutes in the visitor centre to be processed by one of two very bored and unhurried clerks, and then to be told a criminal check would take a further 25 minutes, we left, disappointed.

Sacramento was another hour to the North across shimmering flat land. The shimmering should have warned us. By the time we got there, the outside temperature was 104 deg F. We had lunch in yet another air-conditioned pseudo-Irish pub, walked through the local Westfield Mall where a security guard got huffy when I took a picture. We enjoyed a stroll in the air-conditioned coolness of the California State Rail Museum (recommended) and by then our parking had run out. The car’s thermometer now read 114 deg F (45.5  deg C). Tired and irritable we set out on the journey back to Santa Rosa.

Happily the temperature, and the social climate returned to normal on the way, and we enjoyed a cool drink in a Mexican restaurant in Sonoma, and then had a walk around the town square where a magnificent gelato (white chocolate and raspberry) just leapt up out of nowhere and tempted me. What could I do?

On the last leg of the journey home, on Highway 12 through the Valley of the Moon, we passed this magnificent mansion set behind some imposing gates. I swear despite the name on the gates, Bruce Wayne lives there with Robin Grayson, and a butler called Alfred.

The last straw on tough day was to arrive back at Santa Rosa to an email from United reminding us of our changed departure time for Denver. Just as well. For some reason we both had the impression that we were staying one more day.

Panic! Pack! I can tell you I am writing this from Boulder, Colorado.

July 12, 2012 … last day in the foggy city by the bay

Well I gave her another chance and she let me down … again.

The weather was fine and clear, warm even, until we got to Sausalito and saw the tendrils of fog creeping in around Mt Tamalpais and through the Golden Gate. Aaaaagh!  Oh well, off to Golden Gate park.

We walked around Lake Stow until we reached the beautiful Japanese Garden. What a wonderful place. Japanese Garden in Golden Gate parkWe enjoyed tea and some light food there before moving on to the arboretum. Hummingbirds are magical little creatures but always moved on before I could get my camera anywhere near them. Ah well, it was a pleasure just to see them.

We paused to look at the truly stunning Catholic Cathedral on Geary Street. The vast interior space is balanced on four interior pillars, and the geometry of the roof defies description. Inside the light is lovely and the organ is a work of art without a note needing to be played.

The magnificent suspended roof in St Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

The organ in St Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

On downtown to a different kind of temple. Lefty O’Douls Irish pub where we grabbed lunch and a glass of wine. That was the best Reuben sandwich I have ever had. Lefty O’Doul was an American born baseball player, and though the pub has a vague Irish look and feel, and sells stout by the pint, most of its food is pure California, and language you are most likely to hear from the staff is Spanish.  I recommend it anyway.

The less said about the turkeys who ran the bus tours to the Golden Gate bridge, the better. Despite their shortcomings, Mary and I enjoyed our walk across the bridge in the fog. I was stunned to see that from the road side of the towers they were almost invisible even while standing at their base. On the Eastern side, downwind, they were clear and bright, and you could see the fog divided by the structure.

Fog-bound Golden GateFog divided by the bridge

I also liked the booming of the fog horns, and looked over the side just in time to see a kite surfer dicing with death. 

We were very late back to Santa Rosa, and we move to Colorado tomorrow. I am glad to hear that the fire in Waldo canyon is contained.

You will note that this has (for the time being) become more of a travelogue than a photographic journal. Normal service will resume eventually.

July 11, 2012 … smoke and mirrors

Some days are longer than others.

Our journey yesterday was to the lake area to the North.  As a matter of pure coincidence, our journey took us past the Pacific Coast Air Museum, where I prevailed on Mary to be patient with my while I captured as many images of these magnificent warbirds as I could. She was very tolerant and I got a reasonable record of our brief visit. A representative image from that part of the day is of the F-15 Eagle. Somehow, this tiny museum in rural California has got its hands on the first responder from the aircraft launched on 9/11. It is in good condition and is displayed with justified  pride by the volunteers who staff the museum and maintain its exhibits.First responder ... F-15 Eagle at Pacific Coast Air Museum

From there we went North through Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale and stopped for coffee in the tiny town of Hopland, CA. I have to say that the diner was the stereotype of every TV sitcom I ever saw, and the kind and helpful ladies there spoke with the broadest and most rural accents I have heard in California. It was just a wonderful experience. From there, we went North to Ukiah, and then East to Lucerne on the North shore of Lake Clearlake.

The closer we got the less clear things became. At first we thought heat-haze, but it soon became apparent that the real cause was forest fires.  So Clearlake was anything but.  Nevertheless, the smoke added something to the scene and hence you get a cluster of shots today.

A pair of grebes at Clearlake

Swallow at Clearlake

Clockwise from the top, the smoke shrouded view to the East from Lucerne, CA, and some reeds in a milky looking environment. I loved the Grebes on the lake though I have yet to identify them precisely, and just like ours at home, the swallows here are impossible to catch.

My last image for the day is the view across the landscape near Middletown on the way back South to Calistoga and Santa Rosa. The temperature outside as I took this was 103 deg F (40 deg C). Hot and dry!Smoke haze near Middletown, CA

And so to bed.

July 9, 2012 … the council of elders

Splendour and majesty don’t begin to cover it.

The mighty coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is in a class of its own. Note, these are not the huge giant redwoods – Sequoiadendron giganteum – which have a diameter up to  23 feet in diameter, but top out at around 280 feet. There are examples of the giant redwood through which a road has been made.

Of the small remnants of the once plentiful coastal variety, most are in the far North of California, and we simply did not have the time to travel that far.   However just 32 km from our motel in Santa Rosa is the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. I have no language adequate for this experience. Within minutes of leaving the car park and the ranger station, the temperature has dropped by about ten degrees, and the dappled green light has removed the stresses of the world. It is a cathedral. There is an absolute stillness to the place (except when there is a noisy group near you on the trail, and we were usually moving more quickly than they were so we left them behind).

But the creatures we came to see, the tallest living things on the planet are awe-inspiring. The very tallest of them, named “Parson Jones” is 310 feet tall and 13.8 feet in diameter. It is estimated to be 1,300 years old. And it just goes straight up, seemingly forever. I have no idea how to capture that as an image, though I tried.Parson Jones, the tallest tree in the Armstrong Redwood SNR

Parson Jones is not the oldest. That honour goes to the Armstrong Tree which is two feet shorter, a foot wider, and a hundred years older. Another notable exhibit in the park is a cross-section salvaged from a vandalised tree. Various growth rings are tagged with the noteworthy events in human history which occurred when that particular ring was laid down. Eric the Red, William the conqueror, the black plague, the great fire of London, the arrival of Columbus.m the civil war, and the San Francisco earthquake are all marked.

"Fairy ring"When old trees eventually die, seedlings tend to propagate around the site of their fallen parent and create a “fairy ring”. The name seems trivial, but it was labelled thus on the adjacent sign board. Leaving the path and treading on the sorrel that surrounds the trees is simply wrong, so using my wide-angle lens, I set the timer on my camera, and reached as far into the circle as possible without leaving the path and then let it go.

And then I found the council of elders, which is my last image of the day."Council of Elders"

From there, we went down to the coast at Jenner, and turned South along the normal spectacular highway 1. I say normally, because yesterday it was wreathed in fog and being a winding road near sea cliffs caused more stress than pleasure. Even beautiful Bodega Bay (site of the Hitchcock movie “The Birds”) seemed lacklustre yesterday. I attempted some bird shots and saw a variety of unfamiliar (to me) gulls, a flight of brown pelicans, a lot of crows and numerous soaring buzzards.

The frustrating thing was that 10 minutes from the coast the sky was clear and the day warm.

But the forest made up for it all.

July 8, 2012 … in the wine country

Windscreen wipers were used just four times yesterday.

Not because there was any rain, but simply because my first instinct is to expect the turn indicators to be on the right hand side of the steering column. Here, it is not so. I hope to use them less today.

The first time I came to Santa Rosa was in 1992, Scarily, that’s twenty years ago. Then, as now, I felt it would be a good thing to visit the wine country. Not to buy or drink wine, but just because it is a stunningly beautiful part of America. Then, as now, it was a shining clear day on which temperatures soared to around 100 degrees F (around 38 deg  C). This time, at least, we had a modern car with functioning air conditioning. Back then, we had the office hack, an ancient Oldsmobile Cutlass wagon with broken air conditioning.

We took highway 12 to Sonoma, and then 121 to Napa. I was pleased at how familiar the route and the landscape was, and how beautiful it all still is. What did come as a surprise was the poor state of these admittedly minor roads as if no maintenance has occurred since my last visit. Though they are minor roads, the traffic was moderately heavy as if everyone had the urge to visit the wine country. And why should they not?

Sadly, the necessity to focus on the ever-changing speed limits and the proximity of other traffic meant photographs were possible in a limited set of circumstances.  One such was during a pause at a roadside stall to buy some sweet cherries. A very tuneful bird  was making a lot of noise at the very top of an adjacent tree. I got out the big lens and pointed it at him and immediately he flitted off the tree and performed a flittering loop and came back to the tree still singing. I subsequently identified him as a Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos).Northern mockingbird

However, we eventually got to Napa where we had lunch under a tree in a grassy park by the river. I had a brief siesta to be refreshed before the return leg of the journey. Then we went for a walk around the town, and then discovered we had no keys to the car. Aaaaghh!

Back to the park. No keys. I began inquiries in the nearby restaurant, in case some Samaritan had handed them in. Fortunately, it occurred to Mary to check the rubbish bin we had used to dispose of our bags. Sure enough, we had thrown out the keys in a bag with the banana peel. Whew! There were two keys and the warning on the tag said replacement cost was $225 per key.

Onward through Yountville and St Helena to Calistoga, and then back over a winding road though some steep wooded hills to Santa Rosa.

After dinner, since we had done little walking we went up a fairly stiff local hill in Santa Rosa, and round some of the industrial back roads, . There I saw this run-down old building, probably from farm times, with a massive tree branch leaning heavily on its roof. The house seems to be saying “it’s OK, lean on me”. lean on me

More about trees tomorrow

July 7, 2012 … forever in transit

What a gloriously chaotic extended day!

We started sorting final things out in the house at around 7 am. Then around  mid-day, I got a call from Air New Zealand to say that as a consequence of the fog in Auckland, our flight from Wellington to Auckland was one of the casualties. Cancelled! Would I like a refund or would I care to rebook? I pointed out that this was the first leg in a ticket they had arranged to get me to San Francisco. Oh yes!  Well, in that case,  we can get you on to another flight that leaves Wellington half an hour earlier.

That was more or less the worst moment of the day. All went well from there, until we got into the line for security at San Francisco and all the computer terminals being used by the agents seized up. Hundreds of people in the zig-zag lanes, infants crying, tired people, no one going anywhere. After about 10 minutes, that came right, so newly fingerprinted and photographed, we were turned loose.

We got the (driverless) BART train that goes to the Rental car hub, and got our first clear look at an unimpeded cloudless Californian sky.  The image is one of the few taken on the first day of our journey so it will have to suffice for this post. It was taken from the BART train, hence the reflections. You can see our lovely big blue and white koru at the right hand side of the picture. Nice for once not to cringe at the 737 amid all the jumbos on our shorter trips.San Francisco Airport from the BART train

We had a deal with the rental company Alamo, and it was a painless process. Even more surprising was the mode of allocating cars. We had ordered a “mid-size” car (expecting a Corolla).  We were told turn left and go to the mid-size block and choose any car that you like. We did. We got a beautifully presented near-new Corolla (we are both familiar with them) and off we went.

I was reasonably pleased with my recall of the route from SFO to Santa Rosa, except that I took the main highway 101 through Mission and all of the downtown hell of San Francisco traffic (should have done the bypass through the Presidio). Traffic was really heavy all the way through the city and across the Golden Gate with incoming fog. North of Sausalito, it was bright and clear, and the lovely North Bay landscape unfolded. My main hazard was the fact that the controls were all on the wrong side, and each time I wanted to change lanes, I let others know by turning the wipers on. And there was no cloud in the sky.  The temperature was climbing towards 33 deg C so we were glad of the air-conditioning in the car.

But we got there safely.  There was a brief period of chaos when the hotel ushered us into a room which had not been cleaned. The previous occupants were clearly not house-trained since the room smelled bad. They left the coffee pot and the TV running, and dirty clothes were strewn about. Ugh. The hastily arranged substitute was on the other hand clean and fresh, so once we had done some shopping we were set to begin our American adventure.

By now apart from dozing on the plane, we had been going for 28 hours so we had earned our first night’s rest.