New Zealand Escapade
This is a summary of my recent adventure to the South Island of New Zealand during February 2014. New Zealand is one of my favourite places to travel to and this recent trip has definitely been one of my all-time favourite.
The adventure all started in Queenstown with an early morning flight from Sydney airport to Queenstown airport. On arrival there was a slight drizzle but in turn there were thick rain clouds, which I love!
In the afternoon thirty minutes prior to the sunset, I decided I had to go shoot the sunset. So I jumped in the car and raced to the top of Coronets Peak, just in time for the beautiful light show below! It was a great start to the trip and it got me really excited for what was ahead.
Ben Lomond Track
The next day we caught the skyline Gondola to the top of Bob's Peak. From there it was a four hour walk in the hot sun to the top of Ben Lomond but the views were pretty stunning. For about twenty minutes the track went through beech forests but after that there was a view looking over Lake Wakatipu the whole time. It was a good warm up for the tramps that awaited us.
For the majority of the trip we had accommodation in Queenstown, so I had to try and find good places close by to shoot the sunset when I wasn't camping. Thanks to a fellow tog, I found the location of this stunning old jetty on Lake Wakatipu. When I arrived I was greeted by two young German photographers and a lot of sandflies! I managed to squeeze between them and get the central position I was hoping for. As I quickly realised, decent sunsets close to Glenorchy are a rare event, due to Fiordland (west) very frequently having cloudy skies.
We ventured up to the top of Roys Peak in the afternoon and luckily it was a bit stormy. As there was some nice light and clouds. But unfortunately once I got to the top of Roys Peak, mist started to roll in the sun wasn't beaming through any more. After eating dinner on the top of Roys peak, with merino sheep cautiously grazing around me, we trekked back down with the full moon illuminating the path.
Now the adventure really began! So initially the plan was to do an overnight tramp to Buchanan Peaks but we couldn't do the loop due to private property. Therefore Treble Cone was plan B. It was a long trek with 1,800m of elevation gain (300m - 2,100m) but the views up the top were incredible! To the South I could see Queenstown mountain ranges, to the west was Fiordland, north Mt Cook and out east was Wanaka. Shortly after setting up my tent sun rays started beaming through the clouds. So I quickly got my camera gear out and captured those photons. As usual the thick clouds above Fiordland blocked all the light at sunset, so I didn't get any colour. My tent was squished between two rocks on top of Treble Cone peak, which helped block the wind (image above).
Shortly after getting into my sleeping bag, I noticed a vibrant red glow in the eastern sky. It took me a bit to realise it was the moonrise creating the glow. So I got my camera out and setup the tripod inside my tent. A few minutes later the moon appeared over the horizon and I captured the image to the left. It was such a magnificent moment to experience perched on the top of a 2,100m mountain inside my tent looking out over Wanaka and the moon glowing in the distance! The moon actually was much larger than depicted in the image, as I shot it with a wide angle.
The next day I woke up at 6am to shoot the first light and it was so peaceful. By 8am I had eaten my oats, had a coffee, packed all my gear up and was ready to trek back down. It was so much quicker to descend down the mountain than it was to climb up.
It was a decent drive to get to the Routeburn Track, so we had to wake up around 6am. I slept the majority of the drive but as we got to Glenorchy I was awaken to peaks covered in snow. The amazing thing was the day before I was shooting the peaks and there was no snow on them at all. We arrived at the start of the Routeburn Track (Glenorchy side) at 8:30pm and begin the adventure. The track started off in the most stunning rainforest I have even been in. Full of red beech trees (Nothofagus fusca) and ground covered in moss.
As we arrived at Routeburn Flats around 11am (our campground for the night), it started to pour down with rain. But this only added to the fiordland mood and didn't phase me. I setup my tent after eating lunch and then left for Harris Saddle. It continued to rain till Routeburn Falls but after this point it turned into snow, which was great!
I left for Harris Saddle with my mum, while my dad and family friend returned to Routeburn Flats. The landscapes prior to getting to Harris Saddle was absolutely stunning! It's incredible how the landscapes are constantly changing throughout the track.
We arrived at Harris Saddle around 4pm. It is the highest elevation along the Routeburn Track and the halfway point. We cooked dinner to gives us some energy for the long hike back and then I took a couple of toyota selfies hehe.
We had to power back down to Routeburn Flats, as we didn't want to hike through the rainforest at night. I couldn't resist stopping for photos on the return journey but we made it back to the campsite just as the sunset at 9:30pm. It was a long day of trekking (13 hours, plus breaks) but we managed to see the best half of the Routeburn Track and did 75% of the Routeburn Track distance in one day. It is easily one of the best hikes I have done so far in my life.
Now this was an adventure I will remember! Firstly, even finding the track was a mission. Well I wouldn't call it a track, but path most traveled. The climb up was pretty steep (picture on left) but it was actually pretty fun. As I arrived at the top, I realised there was someone laying in the hut reading a magazine. It was actually a really down to earth man, who lives in the village and has climbed to the top of pretty much all the mountains surrounding us (inc. Mt Cook). But most importantly he was a passionate photographer! So we had a lot to talk about, especially as he was a mirrorless shooter too.
Sefton Bivouac hut was built in 1917 and is directly below the Footstool, which is a mountain on the main divide of the Southern Alps.
Having 360 views was spectacular and more so, being surrounded by four glaciers was remarkable! Tawaewae Glacier was about 50m from my tent, as well as Hooker and Mueller Glacier on my left and right. All night I could hear chunks of ice breaking off the glaciers (when the wind died down)
So after we shot the sunset I asked if he was going to stay up and shoot the milky way but he told me he hadn't done any night photography before and had no clue how to do it. So I gave him a night photography 101 lesson. After the astronomical sunset (10:30pm), we set up our tripods around the hut. It was awesome seeing his joy after he captured an image. Especially when we started to do some ghetto light painting with candles from the hut. As I don't like using LED torches due to the blue cast, so we set up a small candle inside the hut and varied the distance from the window for the ideal exposure. Then we had a candle to expose the outside of the hut. Once we found the ideal angle, distance and height, we exposed the hut for 10 seconds and then extinguished the candle and continued exposing for another 20 seconds (on the camera) for the stars. It was a pretty fun process and good to get it right in camera without need to do any burning/dodging or major WB correction in photoshop. I took two images and stitched them to get a vertical panorama. This was done by shifting 12mm downward and 12mm upward.
It was the most windless afternoon I’ve ever spent in the mountains but that changed very quickly at 12am. The forecast predicted 70km/h winds in the village below for the next day in the afternoon but I guess it shifted a day earlier. So I experienced some of the most extreme winds in the alps. It would have been around 100km/h and It was impossible to sleep due to my tent shaking like crazy. Around 4am I pulled apart my tripod and used it to support my tent , as my tent is designed to flex but it was so noisy! Above is a video I filmed inside my tent at 4am.
I got up at 6am for first light after getting about two hours sleep. I quickly rolled up my tent without getting blown off the cliff and put all my gear in the hut. It was very challenging to take photos with the extreme wind, as I could hardly walk against it! I kept on getting pushed into my tripod, as I tried to shield it from the wind. I had to wait for the very brief breaks in the wind gusts, to take my shot. It was such a stunning sunrise!
Luckily as we started trekking down the wind wasn't too bad. As the climb down is pretty dangerous and the wind wouldn't help. On the way back home we stopped at our Kiwi friend's home and had a cup of tea.
Time Lapse -
What adventure it was! I have so many fond memories from this trip and I cannot wait to go return.