Our final photographic stop before heading home to Australia was the seaside town of Kaikoura , 200km north of Christchurch. For a small town, it certainly was bustling with activity even outside of peak tourist season and the conclusion of school holidays. We approached Kaikoura from Blenheim . The drive was yet another in New Zealand where the much of the danger arises from tourists like me wanting to gawk at the scenery instead of concentrating on the road! At this time of year there were a few snow capped mountains , the valleys up north were covered with beautiful golden vines and the coast rugged as ever.
The scenery in Kaikoura is magnificent but its fame comes from its local fauna. Crayfish is a specialty from the area (hence the name of the town) and is served in many different ways from roadside sales to fine dining options. There are baby seals which wander up the Ohau Stream 30km north of Kaikoura. There , they frolic and play in a natural playpool at the base of a waterfall. There are tours to visit dolphins, seals, albatross , whales and possibly even orcas which all deserve their stellar reputations. Marianne thoroughly enjoyed herself on a dolphin encounter while I took Charlotte to see the seal pups at Ohau. Both activities invoke a sense of appreciation for nature and we hope to return in the future with older child(or children??) so they can remember the experience.
After an eventful three weeks, we packed up for our last drive of the trip back to Christchurch. We have a few days left to recover in Sydney before heading back to the routines of work, childcare and all too brief weekends. Once we get back and sort out the best images, watch out for more updates regarding specific photographic topics as we have tried to record a few ‘field’ tutorials.
The next destination in our New Zealand sojourn for 2013 was the town of St Arnaud. Its location is a prime position to base tramping in the area, particularly around Lake Rotoiti. Many photographers know the region for its iconic jetty images but the area as so much more to offer. The main emphasis of this article will be a write up of a few hiking possibilities in the area.
The town itself has a general store with necessities but little in the way of choice. There is also petrol and an ATM located in the same facility. We stayed at a lovely three bedroom rental house for what we thought was a more than reasonable price of 130 NZD nightly. From there, I went hiking to Lake Angelus while Marianne kindly took Charlotte for some of the shorter walks around the lake side. Lake Rotoiti is the more popular of the two locations but Lake Rotoroa 30km drive away is just as pristine and serene.
The following map is marked with a few pointers about doing a walk to Angelus hut.
- The starting point for most walkers is the Mount Robert car park. If you do not have transport arranged, there is mobile coverage there to ring a bus service in town. There are also many day hike options branching from there
- Robert Ridge: This is an incredible ridgeline walk which gives views over barren tarns and deep valleys. It is also highly exposed and it is very advisable to check the weather forecast immediately before taking this route. I managed to walk it in 4 hours in my haste to get out of the gale force winds which were giving a windchill of -23 degrees. The weather gets even worse up there!
- Angelus hut is located at the base of a cauldron of mountains with sharp drop off leading to endless cascades. An incredible location which is the base of many other walks branching out to surrounding saddles and peaks. By the time I arrived, there were westerly gales at zero degrees with horizontal torrential rain. Those of us who arrived were glad for the sturdiness of the hut. In the peak season from November to April, a booking is essential as the hut is very popular.
- Cascade Track: This is one of the other options to and from Lake Angelus. It is very steep and slippery but the scenery is something to savour. I could have stopped every few minutes to take photographs of the cascades as they tumble through rocky outcrops, open heath , beech forests and eventually pour into Lake Rotoiti’s outlet. I didn’t take the ‘Speargrass’ route option but would recommend this one. The only disadvantage is that it results in a longer walk back to St Arnaud.
- Coldwater hut. If the cascade track to Coldwater hut has tired you out, you can spend the night in this hut on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. Most of the striking scenery is behind you though and most of the remaining walk is flat and not as dramatic
- Whisky Falls. By the time I reached this location on my way out, I had gone through 3 sandwiches , 3 instant noodle packets, 1 250g block of chocolate and 6 muesli bars during my time there. It wasn’t enough, so I took a few shots and walked on out to the exit point 1 hour away. I never seem to learn – pack more than enough food, especially when the conditions are meant to be chilly. These falls are accessible as a day walk from a car park on the way to Mount Robert
- Kerr Bay is the home to two jetties. As a photographic tip, I think the jetty from the camp site (rather than the main driveway) offers a better view of the distant mountains. There are also numerous short walks in the area such the ‘Honeydew walk’.
Despite the conditions encountered, Angelus hut has well and truly been etched into my future plans for walking holidays. The mind boggles as to what it could look like in different conditions.
Today, we left St Arnaud’s to only the second blue sky day of our trip. We are currently in Kaikoura for our last stop in New Zealand for 2013. Perhaps we will be back next year in the North Island but for now, we will enjoy the last 2 days appreciating the scenery, wildlife and seafood that this town has to offer. Until the next update!
The next leg of our journey took us from Punakaiki to the Golden Bay in the far north of South Island. During this time, a complex low pressure system was hanging around all of New Zealand resulting in heavy rains. This meant that our 6 hour drive literally displayed allfour seasons. The drive itself was beautiful , especially the Buller Gorge section inland from Westport and the area around Murchison for its fall colours. Our final destination was Collingwood, the northernmost town of sorts before the tip of South Island. There are plenty of houses for accommodation and fortuitously, due to a mixup, we ended up in ‘Seabird Cottage’ which was perfect for our needs. Here are some tips for the areas we explored.
Wharariki Beach. This is a magnificent area to explore and I would recommend more than 1 trip to the area in order to do some of the walks. Our main focus was the Archway islands. Photographically these are some pointers. A low tide is very useful as the beach is extremely flat. This means the islands will look extremely distant if photographed from the high tide line. If you want to include the sun in compositions, it is useful to visit when the sunset is at its most northerly aspect , ie. in winter. If you want no sun, then it is useful to visit when the sunset is at its most southerly (summer). The timing of our visit was kind of in between which made things difficult and next to impossible in the middle of the day when then sun hovers almost directly above the islands.
Aorere Valley : This picturesque valley has numerous locations which are worth exploring. We didn’t get to the goldfields as the road became far too waterlogged for our wagon to traverse. At this road’s end is the start to the Heaphy Track, a track I would like to do at some point in the future.
Beaches in general: The tide makes an enormous difference to the appearance of the beaches and most are probably more photogenic at low tide when pools and rivulets form. At high tide, there is often no walking beach in most areas. Unfortunately high tide coincided with dawns and sunsets during our stay meaning that we couldn’t take advantage of this easily.
Other areas we visited included the beautiful Wainui Falls ; take care on the trail though as a few large slips have made some areas of the walk a little more ‘exciting’. The drive from Takaka to Wainui is littered with photographic opportunities, particularly at a low-ish tide. Ligar Beach looks among the best of them. Takaka itself is a town with large supermarkets, cafeterias and a place called ‘Dangerous Kitchen’ which serves a killer meat lovers pizza! Just north of Takaka are some beautiful hot springs with pristine waters and amazing blues and greens reminiscent of Jiuzhaigou in China.
We only have 2 more destinations left in New Zealand on this trip! Next update will be of our time around Nelson Lakes National Park. Until then!
The last two nights have been spent at a wonderful location on New Zealand’s west coast ; Punakaiki. It is located 40km north of Greymouth and is a prime location to explore Paparoa National Park. The first impressions we had as we approached were how ‘tropical’ the vegetation looked and how variable the coastline appeared depending on the tide. There are many inland tracks along the rivers but due to the poor weather, we spent much of our time entertaining Charlotte indoors. Here’s a few pointers we can offer from our short stay.
South of Punakaiki, there is still easy access to Motukiekie. Given that we missed our previous opportunities to photograph starfish, I made a solo trip without Charlotte in the heavy rain. In order to photograph the starfish colonies safely, you should wait for a very low tide. For instance, a low tide of ’1.1m’ was not something I considered safe in retrospect due to the belly high wading through surf at times (and the surf can get big on you).
The major tourist attraction in the area is the ‘Pancake Rocks’ and blowholes. In order to maximise your chance of seeing spouts of water through the blowholes, you should try to time your visits with high tide and a southwesterly swell. Unfortunately the high tides we observed were not associated with large swell hence we didn’t get to see any huge spouts of water, just a few splutters here and there. It is nonetheless a stunning geographic formation that is worth visiting. Most of the accommodation in the area is based in Punakaiki village which is located right on the doorstep of Pancake rocks. There are no grocery stores, no petrol facilities though, so come prepared if you are self catering!
The coastline is dotted with incredible seastacks and rugged rocks. Due to the heavy rain, a waterfall was flowing freely at the end of the Truman walk to the coastline. Like many other locations on the coast, make sure you don’t get caught at high tide or you may be wading up the staircase back to the track. Our shooting was aided by an unexpected and most welcome break in the weather right on sunset.
The inland tracks are plentiful as well and will probably be a reason for future visits. The Fox river caves route seems particularly intriguing! Our next stop is Golden Bay where we will be spending three nights. I hope this helps you plan your quick visit to Punakaiki!
Time is flying past and we’re halfway through our trip in New Zealand. So far, the biggest difference we have noticed is the pace at which we are doing things. Spending at least 2 if not 3 nights in one location has really meant that each spot feels like home and we can explore at our leisure rather than be ‘forced’ to see the sights. Our last three nights have been spent at the top 10 holiday park at Fox Glacier. These are some of the topics which we can shed some light on , though bear in mind that this is our singular experience rather than a collective experience which sites like trip advisor might give you!
Fox Glacier vs Franz Josef Glacier: From the limited experience we had around Franz Josef, I would say that its advantages are predominantly logistic. It has an actual supermarket rather than a grocery store, it has a medical centre (which we ended up needing to make use of due to Charlotte’s health) and it seems to have a greater choice of companies with whom you can book activities such as glacier walks (more on that later). Fox Glacier is literally a one street town with accommodation strewn out and seems less busy than its larger neighbour. In terms of the actual glaciers, both are receding however, the terminal face of Fox Glacier is far more accessible with a shorter walk and better views than Franz Josef Glacier. Glacier walks can occur from the public viewing point and as a result, when heli hikes are not possible at Franz Josef (bad weather), a lot of business comes down to Fox Glacier for glacier walks instead. These are some pictures of what you might expect :
Heli Hike vs Glacier walks: Marianne went on a hike on the middle section of Fox Glacier which was accessed via helicopter flight. The time spent on the ice was over 1 hour and the activities included cramming through ice caves. Its cost is 399 NZD. I went for a glacier walk on the lower glacier which was accessed via a path leading on from the public view point. The half day option gives you approximately 1 hour on the ice during which you may have an opportunity to wander into safe crevasses and small ice caves though most of it is spend atop the ice. You do get to walk some ice staircases which are chiseled daily by the hard working teams. Its cost is 115 NZD. In both cases, you can’t really stop to take your time taking images as the group needs to keep moving, so I don’t think a tripod is at all practical though perhaps you could make use of some GND’s . Over all, I think Marianne feels that the heli hike experience gave a better ‘ice’ experience but of course, this comes at a price.
Lake Matheson viewing points: When visiting the Fox Glacier region, Lake Matheson is one of ‘the’ spots to visit for your postcard rendition of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook with reflections. On all of our forays there, the water was still and reflections were as ‘advertised’. There is a choice of three platforms to view the mountains and each have advantages and disadvantages. ‘Reflection Island’ is the location from which nearly all most cards are taken from. It is a fantastic location but its disadvantage is a bank of trees on the left which limits composition to a focal length of approximately 40mm or longer unless you find creative ways to include the bushes which encroach the lake from the left. The ‘Jetty’ view point has no immediate foreground obstructions which means that you can take wide angled shots of reflections however (and it is a big however) only Mount Tasman is visible without obstruction. Mount Cook on the right is obstructed by a tall tree. I would have liked to have given an example of both locations, but Marianne’s CF card from reflection point were somehow corrupted so we will have to wait until we return home before seeing how these turned out.
There are many other locations which we didn’t get time to visit but on a last note, Gillespies Beach is well worth the visit 20km out from Fox Glacier township.
If you ever visit Glacier Country, I hope this quick guide has been helpful to you! Three nights was great photographically and great for a family trip too !
On a last note, we will not have internet access for the next 2-5 days so the next update might be a while off!