Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Lady Behind The Lens


I know many of you are NZMCA members and will have already read the following article but for those that aren't members, here's the write-up that appeared in the latest Motor Caravanner magazine.

At first I was a little reluctant to come out from behind my camera when Katrina (a friend and fellow 5th-wheeler) asked if I'd mind if she wrote a item about me and our lifestyle. It didn't take too long for her and David to convince me that people would be interested in reading a 'behind the scenes' article. Katrina sent me 101 questions to answer and I was away typing- you know me, I can't stop my fingers once I start typing (and she didn't really send 101 questions, just sufficient to glean enough relevant information).

It was a lovely surprise to find out that Chris (editor) had also chosen one of my photos for the cover of the latest magazine- Autumn in Bannockburn, Central Otago. This is my 6th cover and because I've now run out of room on our lounge's tiny wall space, I'm now having to hang the older framed covers in the toilet! Framing them is not something I'd normally do but it just seems to fit in with our nomadic lifestyle (and cover some crappy wallpaper).

And here's the article- the first two pages were a double spread of the sunrise photo from Hinahina in the Catlins. I've increased the size of the other pages so you'll be able to read the article a little better, remember to click on the photo to enlarge. But if you're still struggling to read it, there's a link to a PDF at the bottom of the page.

Enjoy! And a big thankyou to Katrina, who did an awesome job in gathering it altogether and asking the right questions.

The Lady Behind The Lens- PDF

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Remote Ahuriri Valley- Part 2

Continued on from Part 1

Several times during the night I opened the door to check on the magical scene outside. In the crisp clear atmosphere of the high country, millions of twinkling stars greeted me, sparkling their way in a great swathe across the sky to form the Milky Way. I was also greeted by two Paradise Ducks gently honking at me in alarm, as they rested on the gravel beside the river. 

The temperature outside dropped sharply through the night, ice forming on the handrail, the steps and along the sides of the van. There was going to be a beauty frost in the morning. Thankfully the diesel heater kept us toasty warm until we went to bed, and then we left it running at about 12c overnight, just enough to keep the chill from the interior.  

We always turn our water pump off overnight and tonight we'll also drain the water from the pipes, there's likely to be no water in the morning due to it freezing somewhere in the workings. Most of our pipes are towards the centre of the van and protected with corflute covering underneath, it's only in heavy frosts that we've had it frozen. So far we've had no damage *touch wood*.

A winter wonderland greets me when I look outside at daybreak, the river is a cool green, the side streams and pools are frozen, stones and rocks have a thick layer of ice over them. The ducks are still honking at me and are now keeping warm by swimming in a large pool on the next bend.

The tussock grass is white and laden down with ice crystals. I check the temperature gauge and it reads -8c. Not the coldest we've experienced, we had -12c in the Maniototo a couple of times but still very cold especially with no sun to warm us up.

The few matagouri bushes growing on the side of the river bank are covered in ice crystals too.

Finally, I have myself a mini hoar frost.

It's just as well there's no one about, I'm stomping about taking photos with my trackies tucked into David's oversized gumboots, wearing my fluffy white dressing gown (blending in very well), fingerless gloves (good for photographers), and a thick black wooly beanie. 

The beauty of the valley is breathtaking...literally! (click the photo to enlarge. You can also open any photo to view more detail, just remember to use your back arrow to return to the blog or click the x in the top right to close the photo)

Even the Crack Willows across the river are coated in white.

The sun starts to creep down the range in front of us around 8:30am...

...but it'll be another two hours before the valley is filled with sunlight. Here are a few more photos to enjoy while we wait.

I think that is Mt Enderby at the head of the valley.

It's coming! So close, yet so cold!

Finally the sun pokes a point above the mountain, I spot it from inside the van and quickly grab by camera and race along the river bank, fiddling with settings as I stumble through the icy tussock in my oversized gumboots. I'm trying to keep just a tiny spark of sun on the edge of the ridge so I can capture a sunburst before the whole sun appears over the top. It rises pretty quickly when you don't want it to! 

For sunbursts, the trick is to have a very narrow aperture (large f/ number); the blades on the aperture inside the lens close down to form the sunburst and also a narrow aperture doesn't let the extremely bright light of the sun long as you keep most of the sun hidden. You can do this during the day too by hiding most of the sun behind a tree trunk or branch. For those that would like to know, the settings for this photo were  f/22, ISO200, 1/50 sec- handheld too. I tend to do most of my shots handheld, I'm in too much of a rush to worry with a tripod most of the time. 

With the sun comes the big wet, as many of the ice crystals on the tussock start to melt.

Here are a few more photos now the valley has filled with sunlight

The photo below made it onto the TV weather....I actually sent it by mistake, it was meant to be the one above.

And as predicted there was no water flow in the van come morning. Even our water bottles inside the ute had frozen solid. It pays to have a spare container of water available inside for ablutions (boil some hot water) and flushing the loo. Hot drinks aren't a problem for us as we have a separate drinking water container but if you use your tank water for drinking make sure you have spare available if you're camping in extreme conditions over winter. There's nothing worse than not being able to warm up with a hot drink! 

We eventually pulled out around lunch time. Most of the tussock is now weighted down with water droplets. If the sun doesn't get too warm before it disappears over the mountains and the weather stay cold and clear, these droplets will form into ice crystals again overnight and moisture in the atmosphere will also settle and freeze on them too, and so grows the ice that turns the landscape into one long hoar frost.

It was a surprise to see that one of the streams we crossed on the way out, had frozen edges even though it was quite fast flowing.

Further down the valley we spotted a helicopter, and as we got closer, could see these guys sorting through their deer kill. One guy was wielding a large knife in one hand and holding a hind quarter in the other. Using my photos I counted roughly 30 deer. 

We're back at the bottom of the valley, ahead of us is the plateau we camped on the first night...

We stop so I can check out the abandoned musterers or fishing hut we could see from our first camp site. 

There's access from the road down to the river beside the hut.

We head back to civilization, and as soon as we turn onto the main road, we have a steady stream of trucks, hire campers and cars passing in both directions. The spell is broken. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Remote Ahuriri Valley- Part 1

Real-time- it's been a few days since the last blog and I always feel a little guilty about the delay. Some weeks blog posts just flow and other weeks they tend to be start, stop, get distracted, start, stop get distracted affairs. I've just had a one of those weeks!

We left Lowburn heading north up the eastern side of Lake Dunstan and over the Lindis Pass for one last time, we're not sure when we'll be back down this way again, it's time to explore further north. Just before we reached the Summit (where I took this photo), snow flurries began splattering the windscreen. I thought it might have been the start of a heavy fall but sadly it had petered out by the time we pulled up.

At the bottom of the Lindis and 20kms from Omarama we turned hard left into Birchwood Road and headed up the Ahuriri Valley. This 24km gravel road follows the Ahuriri River all the way up the valley into the Ahuriri Conservation Park. From there, there's a 8km 4WD track to the end of the road. The last time I stopped to look down this road, the mountains were covered in snow and it was piled up half a metre deep on either side of tyre tracks through the middle, it was the time of  'the big snow' when I drove up from Winton to check it out.

With the outside temperatures being so chilly now we're into winter (8-10c is a good day), we like to be set up with the diesel heater pumping well before the sun disappears over the mountains. 

About 8kms down the road we decided to pull in and camp on a small level plateau overlooking the river, we'd carry on up the valley in the morning.

I gave David a bit of a ribbing after we'd set up. Of all the places and wide open spaces we could have chosen and we park right beside a bloody power pole! In defence it was the only area where we could look over the river.

We woke to a light frost in the morning and the sun hiding behind the mountain across the river from us. When it did finally reach into the valley we had an amazing view up the braided Ahuriri River valley. This is the river that passes the Omarama Clay Cliffs and runs alongside the DOC camp we stay at near Omarama. The river is also smothered in lupins in spring, although luckily not all the way up here. Yet.

As we headed on up the valley, the cloud had settled along the mountain ridge but there are still a few glimpses of snow along the tops. We pass one of several access points into the conservation park, it's hard to believe that over the range from here is the top arm of Lake Hawea, very near the entrance to Haast Pass, which by road is a very long way away. This part of the track is also part of the Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand's walking trail from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. We've crossed it on numerous occasions while out exploring.

We know that there are some large high country stations down the road, Ben Avon, Longslip and Birchwood (no longer operating), but are still surprised to see a lovely large new home tucked in under the range, this is a pretty remote area with a hostile winter environment. I later find out that it's a hunting lodge and clients (mainly from overseas) pay thousands of dollars to stay, hunt & fish in the Ahuriri Valley. And to think that we can just drive in, set up camp and do exactly the same should we wish to- though not the hunting bit of course! And I'm not so sure we can arrange the helicopter rides either! 

The Lodge overlooks the beautiful Ben Avon Wetlands, which are just starting to freeze over. Any waterfowl settled on the pond has been forced into a deep corner. They start milling about and stressing out so we leave them to it and carry on along the road.

We finally reach the park boundary where we find a place to park right beside the river. There's not another person in sight and we have the whole valley to ourselves. 

What an absolutely magical place. If only it was the fishing season, once again there are a dozen or so trout swimming through the crystal clear waters right below us. The Ahuriri is an internationally renowned fly-fishing river.

After we'd set up, we headed off to explore further up the valley. The gravel road ends near the old Birchwood Station homestead, stock yards and a 1930s farm cottage. Birchwood was purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund in 2004 to protect the natural landscape and secure public access up the valley, it had been farmed since 1873 and was once described as being more suitable for keas (our cheeky mountain parrot) than sheep.

We're now on the 4WD track although it's not too bad, just some lumpy parts, a few mudholes and a couple of big shingle slides to cross, the rest is slick dry mud. We come across another familiar sight, the 1861 'Spade Line'.  This is the remains of a controversial boundary fence and spade line between the provinces of Canterbury & Otago. The spade line was actually dug out at the time and the indentation is still noticeable in places. The boundary line was drawn using a ruler, it didn’t allow for natural features or the rights of established run holders. We last crossed it when we explored along the edge of Lake Ohau, near Twizel.

We stop to take in this fabulous view across the valley, the emerald green waterway snakes it way across the tussock plain towards bare willows and the river on the far side of the valley. Aside from the stunning green colour which grabs your attention, look at the colour and texture on that mountain too.

Stands of remnant beech forest and large gravel slides line the valley walls. I suggested to David that it would be great fun to toboggan down that trough in the gravel. It's hard to get perspective here but that is a large mountain with very steep sides, those are very tall trees and I'd probably get swallowed up in the gravel coming down at a breakneck speed! It's fun thinking about it though.

We stop to check out DOC's Ahuriri Base Hut, there's a car parked nearby but no sign of occupants. They're probably walking one of the many tramping tracks in the area. 

There are several huts in the mountains above this hut and several more further up the valley. Tramping, mountain biking and horse riding are all encouraged in the park; there's a horse holding yard near the hut. 

Though motorbikes and 4WDriving is not encouraged and there is a barrier across the end of the road. This is as far as we'll be going today.

We turn around and head for home, stopping here and there to check for birds and views.

It takes a few seconds to spot 'Out There' in this vast river plain, we blend in very well against the tussock (click to enlarge)

Zoomed in....

The valley and surrounding mountains turn a stunning colour as night falls and the temperature drops sharply as day turns to night. Both heaters are cranked up, keeping us snug and warm inside; they are certainly going to earn their keep come morning...

To be continued...