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
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.
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
Work had been hectic for a couple of weeks and it was beginning to cause some internal conflict – who wants to sit at home in front of the computer when there are spectacular places to visit? Worse than that – spectacular places offering opportunities for great photos, and fast losing snow in the warming weather of spring!
I’d long eyed a spot on the northern slopes of Ruapehu as likely to provide great views north to Ngauruhoe, a young volcanic cone in the centre of the Tongariro National Park. I’d spied this spot first when exploring around the Tama Lakes, which lie in old explosion craters on the southern flanks of Ngauruhoe. Looking back to the south from above the Upper Tama Lake, I could see a point where the long, gently sloping ridges coming off Ruapehu converged before rising steeply up the mountain. Tucked in at the foot of these ridges were a series of bluffs and waterfalls that just might offer a good vantage point for some photos. I was keen to get there before the winter snow had completely gone, but with an El Nino spring running rampant, several weekends had been ruined by gale-force westerlies and rain. We wanted it fine and clear!
Benro filters, Canon TS-E 24 F/3.8L II, Dusky Sound, Fiordland, Forest, Hauroko Burn, Kintail River, Lake Hauroko, Lake Manapouri, Lake Rowe, Multi-day, New Zealand, River, Seaforth River, Sony A7R, Spey River, Tramping
We’re just recently back from doing one of New Zealand’s more challenging multi-day walks, the Dusky Track which runs between the northern end of Lake Hauroko and the West Arm of Lake Manapouri. It’s a relatively undeveloped route, notorious for its sandflies, mud, and rivers that rise rapidly after each of the intense rain storms that regularly sweep in from the Tasman Sea. We knew that it was going to push us to our limits, but the opportunity to do it with friends was too hard to resist, and on a soggy morning in late March we stood in the rain and watched the Namu depart back down Lake Hauroko after dropping us at the Lake Hauroko Hut.
A selection of photos from the stunning landscapes encountered on this trip can be found here.
Twice in the last six months I’ve had occasion to revisit Christchurch, a city that was badly torn apart by the major earthquakes that started in September 2010. Because of work commitments, I initially visited a great deal in the two years immediately following the major earthquakes. And sadly the smoothing out of buckled streets, the clearing away of endless mounds of rubble, and the repair and/or reconstruction of damaged buildings seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time. But on these last two visits, it seems that the rebuilding of the city is at last turning a corner – lots still to do, but much has been accomplished, and some of that redoubtable old Canterbury style is once again clearly in evidence. Continue reading