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“North Island 2018: A journey through dreams and delirium”

 

Before embarking on a family and photographic holiday, I tend to dream big. I dream of all the locations we could visit both as a family and individually at the ends of the day to capture the rugged landscapes with favourable light. I had done my usual route planning through a mixture of using google maps, image searches and asking locals as to what was possible in the area. I had high hopes of shooting scenes that were perhaps slightly out of the box from what was normally shot in the general areas we were staying. Perhaps next trip, I’ll lower those expectations somewhat as several health-related issues threw huge spanners into the machinations of our plans A-Y. Plan Z needed to suffice.

Original plans in red. Adjusted plans in blue.

I won’t go into the details of the health issues except to say that the most minor of the issues was that my rear tooth crown fell off on the first night at dinner. The major issue was that I was suffering from bacteraemia (bacteria growing in the bloodstream) for the first 3 days of the trip due to a worsening case of appendicitis that ended in a small self-contained rupture of that pesky, unnecessary organ. Three days into the trip, I found myself undergoing emergency surgery and thereafter needing some strong pain medication and a prolonged course of antibiotics. In effect, the first 10 days of the trip felt like I was floating painfully through a delirium caused initially by sepsis, then drugs. Marianne had to literally do everything including child minding 24/7, all the lifting of luggage and all of the driving that I would normally do on our trips. It’s amazing that she stayed as sane as she did!

My health issues put into context the types of images I would return with. Instead of long hikes to grand vistas of wilderness, there were short 5 minute walks to roadside locations. Instead of scampering around to find multiple compositions from a scene, I could only stick with one. Instead of carrying a variety of lenses and two cameras to allow simultaneous time-lapse and stills shooting at various focal lengths, I could only carry one body and one extra lens as I was not allowed heavy lifting in the recovery period. Astro photography was the one genre that needed to be wiped out entirely as I needed all the rest I could get. Overall, it was such a disappointment to have to deal with these limitations, but it did make me focus on maximising what I could make of any given scene which was a positive.

Tauranga

Mount Manganui is an easily accessed mountain that juts above the landscape north west of Tauranga. After a 20 -30 minute walk , a precarious view point allows great images of the rising sun over the township of Mount Manganui and Tauranga beyond. I intended to take images of night followed by twilight to blend in the city lights, but the changing light and subsequent white balance made this somewhat tricky. In retrospect, I wondered why I was shivering up on the summit while every one else was in shorts. On the way down, right sided abdominal pain with each step was a sure sign  that something was going wrong in the belly! No further images were possible from the area which was a shame as we really wanted to visit the Rotorua Redwoods at night as a family.

Mount Manganui as a ‘time stacked’ image. Lights from before dawn and lights in the sky from after dawn

Hawke’s Bay

I had so many plans for this area including a walk beyond Cape Kidnappers and visiting a few of the local waterfalls. Because I was stuck in Tauranga hospital, we had to forfeit one night’s stay here which meant our trip here was just an overnighter en-route to Castlepoint. By this stage, I could walk one pace at a time while dopey on tramadol and I could not wear by usual filter pouch on my waist. As such, those long walks transformed into a 100m morning stroll to the beach where I shot some images with intentional camera motion to represent my delirium.

It was a real struggle to walk the 50m out to the shore from our apartment but I just wanted some fresh air!

Castlepoint:

Things were starting to improve by this point in the trip. I was able to walk short distances, but I was now troubled with antibiotic side effects! I had planned to walk up Castle Rock for a different vantage point of the coast and I had planned to walk beneath the lighthouse at low tide. Both options were simply not possible, so I carried as light a pack as possible to photograph the lighthouse. On our last morning, I even felt game enough to use a ladder to get to a different vantage point.

It took all my energy to get here while my original plan was to climb the hill in the background!

Turangi:

Our three nights here was the turning point in the trip. I was nearly a week post op now which meant that I could drive! I had also changed my own antibiotic dosing to cover the infection and to minimise my side effects. Narcotic analgaesia also went out the window here thankfully! As such I was able to find a few compositions here which I think are relatively unique including various images of the ‘Taupo Tree’, somewhat of a poor cousin to her famous Wanaka counterpart. During our drive from Castlepoint to Turangi I had noted some remarkable roadside spots along the desert road which I returned to at dawn. We were blessed with some great light displays during our time here and my mind wonders as to what I would have seen from the summits of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing given the amazing roadside light that I experienced.

This image of Ngauruhoe was remarkable only a short distance from the highway!

The ‘Taupo’ tree was an easy option as I could drive the 5 minutes there while not on strong painkillers. As it turns out,it was a pretty cool location!

Waitomo:

Our main objective here was to give the kids a great experience staying on a farm-based BNB where they could interact with the animals. We also wanted them to experience the glow worms where now at least Charlotte will be able to remember the experience more clearly. Along the way, there were some great streams and waterfalls to shoot in the area including the mighty Marokopa falls and the beautiful natural arches and tunnels. I would say that I did not have to modify my original plans much in this area at all. The biggest challenge was the muddy descent to the base of Marokopa Falls which was as slippery and mucky as I remembered from our 2014 trip. My ulterior motive here was to try for a requested postcard shot of Marokopa falls. It was also serendipitous that our evening glow worm tour had no other occupants and that our host Kyle was very interested in photography. As such, I was given the time to attempt some glow worm photography with moderate exposures. To do a proper job, I would need a private tour to allow 30minutes to an hour for a single composition instead of the 5 minutes that I had given the kids were with us as well.

The amazing glow worm staircase of Footwhistle’s cave.

Marokopa Falls was roaring but the trip down to the base was very messy ! Be warned!

Urenui:

Our final landscape location was the idyllic seaside holiday spot of Urenui, 30km north of New Plymouth. Due to my improving health, I again did not feel that my shooting was hampered other than not being able to carry enough gear for simultaneous time-lapse shooting with a second body.  The conditions here were very good though by playing it safe with the tides, the opportunities for very dynamic (and potentially risky) shots were taken away. The coast here can be very wild, but our experience was that of placid seas and comfortable kid friendly environments. I would want to challenge myself at a later date to visit with a higher tide at some stage in the future. The three sisters (now two due to erosion the of the third sister) were the main feature along the south side of the Tongaporutu river. Despite how amazing the North Side appears, I found it extremely difficult to find engaging compositions here. I have a short video of access to the North side for those interested in exploration. The seascape opportunities around Urenui itself were also good! At the western end of the beach, there are a series of arches that can be accessed at low tide but unfortunately, the largest collapsed recently resulting in an isolated seastack and surrounding debris. Our final dawn here was the onset of wilder weather to come for our departure which included a farewell gift of a rainbow.

Post sunset hues of the remaining two sisters (of three) with Taranaki blazing red in the distance on the horizon

Our last morning of shooting was punctuated by a rainbow – a sign of hope for the future!!!

In summary, the last 7-8 days of our trip felt like it was approximating our usual travelling style. By the time we returned to Auckland, we were all in the mood to do ‘homely’ weekend things including normal shopping and eating asian food (of which Auckland has plenty of choices , including probably the best Roti Canai I have had in memory at a food court in Manukau). Unfortunately, the toll of the first 10 days of my illness and the subsequent stresses placed on Marianne and the kids meant that things never really felt the same afterward. By the end of the trip I was able to give Marianne much more ‘me’ time by taking the kids off her hands, something which I would be doing throughout the trip. I was so sad to hear Charlotte say (with a smile though) that she would like the first 10 days of our trip back because I wasn’t there ☹ I don’t know  how many of you have experienced bad luck like this on your holidays but as a cliché to conclude upon : finding ways to view the experience in a positive light and finding ways to stick together go a long way toward normalising such a traumatic and disruptive event. Photographically, the key for me was to not focus on ‘what could have been’ but how I could best adapt to my changing health status.

Walking back from the three sisters after a great sunset shoot and nature play for the girls. Things were approaching normality finally by this stage.

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USA Canada Diaries: Can do at Canmore

Friday continued: 

Along the way, the road conditions were fantastically smooth and not at all tricky like they were on the way north . Our travel time was therefore far shorter which allowed us a few stops at Lake Louise (to return the cards from Pyramid lodge which we accidentally hung on to) and then at Morant’s Curve before arriving in Canmore at 4pm with the girls having slept in the car. They were again very good during the travel time during the day and are fast becoming seasoned travelers in all modes of transport.

A freight train zooms past at Morant's Curve (well, crawled past, but the long exposure makes it seem otherwise!)

A freight train zooms past at Morant’s Curve (well, crawled past, but the long exposure makes it seem otherwise!)

That evening, Marianne went out to Policeman’s creek where despite some nice cloud, no light occurred  . The evening light gig certainly seems like mission impossible around here with the Rockies to the west. She met Stacy , the guy behind ‘sentinel photography’ and we’ve made another contact through this shoot.

Moonrise (separate moon shot) taken at Policeman's Creek

Moonrise (separate moon shot) taken at Policeman’s Creek

Dinner was late at the ‘famous Chinese restaurant’ . Canmore is quite easy to navigate with north south avenues and east west streets. Or maybe the other way round. It was reasonable Chinese food which we always crave while we’re travelling. After a good fill, it was home for the last night of late dawns with the change back to non daylight saving time to happen in 24 hours.

Saturday November 5

Dawn at Policeman’s creek. Curiosity got the better of me as I got to the location in the still of night and wandered around looking for alternative spots but the spot people shoot from does indeed seem to be the best. That morning, I met a woman from Red Deer house sitting in Canmore, a mountaineering guy from Canmore and Stacy was again there so we all exchanged pleasantries while witnessing an absolutely amazing dawn unfold! Two in a row! What were the chances of that given our trip?? It was good to be back home not too late either given that this location was literally  1km from our accommodation.

Panorama of the Three Sisters, Grassi Mountain and Hai Ling Peak.

Panorama of the Three Sisters, Grassi Mountain and Hai Ling Peak.

Lodges of Canmore is very well set up and the 3BR apartment we have is the best we’ve had all trip. The price is a little higher than we would like but far better than what we have paid for similar setups elsewhere.  That morning, we did as much exploring of the town streets as the girls could tolerate. They absolutely loved Café Books which is a great store on the main street (8th ave).

It was a pretty chill and relaxing day  as we finished off with another attempted sunset shoot at Spray Lakes. The wind was  blowing a gale and predictably, nice late afternoon light faded into nothing. A home dinner and bed time before readjusting clocks to the new time.

Sunday November 6

I had a couple of choices this morning – I could have hiked up to Grassi Knob and photographed the 3 sisters again, or I could explore Kananaskis county. I figured that the workout part of me wanted to go up the  mountain, but I made up for that later in the afternoon by doing a 6.5 k run on a treadmill. Instead with rain and wind forecast, I headed down to Wedge Pond.

In the dark, it was clear that this would not be a great spot. The water was all rippled up from the wind and without any foreground matter of interest, it wasn’t that great a spot. I went briefly searching for the reflecting pools of Mount Kidd but didn’t look too hard after Dani told me that they had been washed away by floods. Instead, I just took a walk down the Galatea Lakes trail and made a random turn off the footbridge as I thought a bend in the river might give me great views of Mount Kidd. Fortunately, that hunch was proven correct even if compositions were limited. Light didn’t really happen at dawn but there was passing light over the mountain well after dawn. The sony seemed to perform very well in these green foresty conditions.

Standing before Mount Kidd

Standing before Mount Kidd

Later that morning , Marianne took a walk down the main street again while I entertained the kids at the train playground in the lovely set Three sisters village south of Canmore. As usual, it was time for Jaime’s sleep and I decided to have one as well. The lack of a sleep in was really starting to catch up on me.

Our last evening was spend attempting for sunset light again at Spray Lakes with some success as at least it fizzled out only after starting to go pink. We killed some time filling up petrol and using a car wash before heading to dinner again at the famous Chinese restaurant. Early sunsets were now at an Adelaide sunset time! That evening, we had a bit of resorting to do for the drive back out to Calgary . I offered Marianne one last chance to go out shooting at dawn to at least experience the light out in the field but she chose not to again.

Spray Lakes at Sunset and Moonrise

Spray Lakes at Sunset and Moonrise

Monday November 7

What a boom dawn! Even from 1 hour out you could start to see something happening and that’s the beauty of being out early. It allows for some degree of indecision before settling somewhere. I chose Two Jack Lake since the other easy access locations had already yielded some results such as Vermillion lakes and back at Policeman’s creek at Canmore. The problem with Two Jack is the distant mountain range and the relative lack of any foreground matter of interest particularly when there are no reflections to work with. For that  reason, I think I was the only one out there until some late comers from Calgary arrived on the scene way after the peak light had finished.

Wondrous light at Two Jack Lake

Wondrous light at Two Jack Lake

After a quick packup routine (probably our record!) we headed out from Canmore since none of the shops were open until 11am. We ended up driving to Signal Hill in Calgary where there was an enormous Indigo bookstore. You could literally get anything book related there and we spent a good hour there exploring before having lunch at a random hillside. The girls were getting good at adapting play to whatever was around.

Thereafter, it was a final night in the downtown Best Western followed by an uneventful flight out from Calgary. There was an amusing moment going through US customs where Jaime had an adorably avoidant photo taken at the customs checkpoint but we weren’t allowed to keep it ! This was basically the end of our trip photographically and the rest of the time would be spent in California mostly attending a medical conference.