Kinabalu, a massive granite peak in Sabah, Borneo, has a summit elevation of 4095 metres, making it the highest point in Malaysia. It has always had an interest for me, mostly because of the international renown in which it is held for its biodiversity; it supports between 5000 and 6000 plant species, making it an important centre for plant biodiversity in Southeast Asia. However, I had never seriously considered the idea of climbing Kinabalu – it was not only out of reach geographically, but also because of its height – some 1300 m higher than I’d climbed before.
In my last post, I described the first part of a tramp around the Five Passes route, an epic off-track route in New Zealand’s Mount Aspiring Park; while the first three days had delivered patchy weather, we had spent the fourth day hunkered down in a small bivvy under a house-sized boulder while the rain hammered down and previously dry water-courses on the nearby mountain slopes thundered with water. Fortunately, as the fourth night progressed the sounds of water dripping around the edges of our little shelter gradually diminished, and when I poked my head out at 6.30 in the morning, the first signs of clearing weather could be seen blowing in from the south. Impatiently I roused the others out of their sleeping bags and we began to ready ourselves for the day. Breakfasts were downed, damp gear was sorted and bundled into packs, and the route was sorted for the day – along the Olivine Ledge, over Fiery Col with its dramatic ultramafic rocks, around the boggy wetlands of Cow Saddle, and down into the head of Hidden Falls Creek where we would find our next campsite.
The Five Passes route in Mount Aspiring National Park is one of New Zealand’s classic wilderness tramping routes – around 67 km of rugged and demanding terrain, with no huts or facilities, and much of the route unmarked. For a number of reasons we’d never quite regarded it as being within our reach, well, not until some friends invited us to join them in walking it. Somewhat daunted, we set dates in the beginning of February, invited another family member, and began to train in earnest.
All went well until January, when an email arrived telling us that our friends would be forced to pull out after one of them had seriously injured his shoulder in a mountain biking accident. Should we go ahead with just the three of us? We were too invested in the idea by this stage, so we decided to go, confident in our gear, fitness and the backup that comes from carrying a personal locator beacon.
The other wild card was the weather; by February, New Zealand summers generally settle into a steady procession of anticyclones that bring long periods of stable, dry weather. But this had been an atrocious summer, and the western South Island in particular had been battered by a seemingly endless procession of deep lows and gnarly fronts, producing torrential downpours and winds to gale-force or beyond. With the rainfall at Milford Sound, a few tens of kilometres to the west, totaling a massive 1377 mm in January, we began to scan the topo maps for other options in the drier country to the east. However, the long-term climate projections for our week at last predicted some more settled weather – we decided to chance it. Continue reading
While I’m not a hard-core astro-photographer, I have to confess that for me there are few experiences that come close to standing out in a landscape far from city lights, observing and photographing the night sky. There’s something primeval by way of the connection that it provides with the universe – and with those generations from the past who, without means to easily light their rooms, must have been keen observers of the night skies and their periodic changes in the arrangement of moon, planets and stars.
Over recent months, I’d begun to pursue photography of the night skies over New Zealand with a little more commitment, exploring the astrophotography websites to hone my skills both in image capture and processing. And that began to pay off with some results that begin to capture for me something of the mysteries of what I see above me in our National Parks on a clear, moonless night. That is until I come across the words ‘star-eater algorithm! – and discovered the veritable can of worms that has been opened up by Sony’s latest firmware (3.3) for its Sony A7RII and A7SII cameras.
While I’ve used autofocus lenses on several previous cameras, I’ve mostly been happy using my Sony A7RII mirrorless camera with a carefully selected set of prime lenses, all of which are manual focus. They work fine for the great majority of my photography projects, but there are times, particularly when photographing at family events or taking other moving subjects, when I have to concede that having access to auto focus would be a great advantage.
When I saw Techart Pro’s first advertisements for their Leica M to Sony E mount auto-focusing adapter I was immediately interested, particularly given that they also advertised the availability of adapters allowing it to be used with a range of other lens mounts. Initial reports with the first firmware indicated less than ideal performance, with not particularly rapid focus and occasional camera lockups. But then reports on a forum at fredmiranda.com of dramatically improved performance with the newly arrived v. 3 firmware suggested that Techart Pro were beginning to iron out the worst of their teething problems. I decided to put my money down!
In my teens, New Zealand’s mountains were a frequent focus of the day-dreams that I sometimes used to escape the hum-drum of suburban life. This interest was fostered by tramping trips with school friends in the nearby Rimutaka and Tararua Ranges near Wellington where I grew up. Later I was to do several training weekends with the NZ Alpine Club, leading to high-country adventures in the mountains of Nelson and Canterbury, where we climbed a number of the less challenging peaks, particularly in the Travers Valley. While many of those trips were memorable, I ended up following a career that not only shifted me to the central North Island but also involved extended periods of field-work. This, coupled with a developing family, pushed high country adventures progressively out of reach and they largely disappeared out of my life for the next 30+ years. Only in the last decade have I revived my interest in exploring New Zealand’s back-country solely for the pleasure of being out there. Continue reading
While its well outside my usual interest in New Zealand’s wild places and things, we recently spent a weekend in Ohakune with a photography friend, and he suggested that we pay a visit to Horopito Motors – more usually known as ‘Smash Palace’. This latter name comes from its association with the iconic 1980’s Kiwi film of the same name that featured Bruno Lawrence as a former race car driver who runs a car-wrecking yard in the central North Island. Well the car yard was not just a set constructed for the film – its a real life vintage car wrecking business located at Horopito (between Ohakune and National Park) with literally acres and acres of old cars of every make, description, and stage of decay.
We spent an interesting couple of hours there, the main challenge being what not to photograph – the choice was endless. I took over a hundred images, but have selected out just a few of these below. I used a small set of primes on my Sony A7R II – a Canon tilt-shift 24 mm, which was perfect for some shots requiring large depth of field, a Loxia 35 mm, and my diminutive Elmarit-M 90mm – a perfect small telephoto to pair with the Sony.
For any other punters keen to visit this yard, admission will cost you the princely sum of just five dollars – and it will certainly sharpen your appreciation of the impermanence of human creations.
We had a big night on Thursday night, opening an exhibition of ten prints at The Greenspace, a beautiful meeting venue in Te Aroha Street, Hamilton (NZ) that is operated by Annie Perkins of Groundwork Associates. A year ago I sat next to Annie at a dinner to celebrate a mutual friend’s graduation, and somehow the conversation turned to photography. One thing led to another, and Annie very generously invited me to exhibit some prints at The Greenspace. Although I was very keen to take up her offer, somehow pressures from my own consultancy work got in the way of me assembling the set of prints I wanted to put up.
Every year we try to head to New Zealand’s South Island for an extended hiking trip, both to enjoy the magnificent wilderness country of the Southern Alps, and to explore new opportunities for landscape photography. This year we decided on a circuit through the Ailsa Mountains west of Queenstown, travelling up the Caples Valley and then onto the Routeburn Track. We chose mid-March as a generally reliable time for dry weather. We prepared well, upping the training walks, dehydrating meals, and getting all our gear sorted into tip-top order. But as Robbie Burns famously said, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – and this was one of those trips! All caused by a cold front laden with rain from the sub-tropics, and trapped over our intended route between two stationary high pressure systems.
aperture stacking, bed bugs, Canon FD 35, landscape photography, Leica elmarit-m 90mm, Mount Ruapehu, Sky HDR app, Smooth reflections app, Sony A7RII, Sony apps, Tongariro National Park, Voigtlander Ultron 21mm, Whakapapaiti Hut, Whakapapaiti Stream
With the Auckland Anniversary weekend giving me a Monday off, the invitation from a couple of friends to join them for a photographic foray at Tongariro National Park was very tempting. They would not have the Monday off, but we could explore a tempting looking valley on the west side of Ruapehu on the Saturday and Sunday, and I would stay on for the Sunday night and return on the Monday.
This would provide me with an opportunity to test out the new and curiously named “Sky HDR” and “Smooth reflection” apps that I had downloaded onto my Sony A7RII from the Sony store. I also wanted to try a promising new idea I’d come across on the internet – aperture stacking – combining images shot on a tripod using different apertures. With an improving weather forecast, I quickly pulled together my gear and after a leisurely start to the day, headed off on the 3 hour drive to National Park. This had the prospect of being a great trip – although, subsequent events meant that it didn’t quite turn out that way! Continue reading