Thursday 31 October 2019

Reflections & An Aurora in Cromwell


Cromwell has definitely become one of our favourite towns in Central Otago. And when we drive back in and see Lake Dunstan stretched out in front of us, looking spectacular in the winter sunshine, it feels a little like we're arriving home.

Other than a couple of vans visiting for one night, we once again had a NZMCA Park all to ourselves for the length of our stay.  A sure sign that summer is on its way is when the morning sun cleared the pines well before lunch time this visit, and there were a couple more hours of sunshine at the end of the day before it disappeared behind the plateau across the road.

The reflections on Lake Dunstan are amazing in the crisp, clear air of Central Otago. Here are a few more photos taken just through the trees from the park. Most days the lake was a millpond, the sun shone and the air was crisp, cold and still. This is looking down towards Cromwell town with the snow capped Carrick Range behind.

Northburn and the Dunstan Mountains across the lake-

And looking north up the lake towards Bendigo and Tarras-

It became apparent while we were in Ranfurly that my new laptop was even more power hungry than we'd anticipated and our 300watt inverter, which only ran our TV, was not coping very well with the extra work load. 

Fitted to the roof of our front locker, close to the batteries
So David ordered a 2000w inverter online and while we were in Cromwell we called in Ian from Hawk Services to fit it. Ian did an awesome job and we'd highly recommend his company should you need any electrical work done while in Central. It also was so much better that he does 'house calls' so we didn't even have to leave our site.

Ian came with his best buddy Alfred, a Golden Retriever/Standard Poodle cross, who enjoyed checking out all the rabbit holes. Once he tired of that he made himself right at home on our mat while he waited for Dad.

Ian also does Electrical Warrant of Fitnesses so with Alfred patiently waiting in the driving seat, I had a little play with Photoshop- can you see what I did?

Alfred is willing those rabbits to come close.

Late one evening, just after I had climbed into bed, I saw that I had an alert flashing on my phone. An alert to tell me that the Southern Lights were playing. Unfortunately I was late in seeing the message and Lady Aurora had already been dancing for a couple of hours. 

I was all tucked up, warm and snug in bed and thought to myself,  'No, I'll give it a miss tonight'. I lay there for a couple of minutes and then couldn't contain myself any longer. I was up, out of bed and at the door in flash checking outside to see if there was a clear sky. 

With no moon, the dark sky was a 360 degree mass of tiny sparkling stars with the Milky Way directly overhead; a perfect sky to view an aurora. Though I couldn't see any sign of it with my naked eye. Our door faced south so I grabbed my camera and took a couple of hand held shots from the top step, roughly in the direction I thought due south would be. 

Holy cow! I couldn't believe what I saw on the back of the camera, a brilliant green band above Cromwell town. All hell broke loose as I grabbed clothes left, right and centre, all the while trying to change my lens, grab my tripod, extra battery and head torch. I needed to get to the lake edge in front of the trees as fast as I could before the aurora died down.

Checking for the Aurora Australis (hand-held)
There are some benefits of staying in remote &/or deserted camps, it's very handy for night shots as there usually no light pollution from nearby suburbia (although Cromwell was right in the firing line this time) and it's just a matter of stepping outside the door to view a magic sight. Another big plus is that I don't need to worry about anyone seeing me in my weird get-up; fluffy white dressing gown, PJs plus trackies over the top tucked into thick socks pulled high, David's gumboots, fingerless gloves, woolly hat and a head torch! No wonder the rabbits scattered. 

Unfortunately I was in such a hurry to start shooting my first few shots were out of focus. There's a real art in getting your camera and settings fine tuned and focus sharp when it's pitch black. It doesn't help when you also need reading glasses to see the screen but not to see through the viewfinder. I've posted this out of focus shot because it's the one and only shot I have of the 'picket fence', the green single beams you can see above the green band. This was the last I saw of the fence, though the pink beams to the left danced back and forward for awhile longer.

Eventually I managed to get the focus and settings right. This also wasn't helped by the fact that it had been a couple of years since my last aurora photo shoot and it's easy to forget the finer setting details. But then again every aurora is different and so are the settings, it's trial and error for a little while. There are a few tips of shooting an aurora and a link to the Aurora Facebook page in this blog from my last big aurora- Absolutely Amazing Aurora

I entered this photo in the Naseby Night Sky competition a few weeks ago (for night skies over Central Otago) and I was thrilled to hear just the other day that I was placed second! That was a lovely surprise.

As the beams died down I spun my camera around on the tripod to capture a portrait shot of the Milky Way. I might have missed the main aurora show but I was pleased with the few shots I did take. Afterwards I turned everything off and just stood there embraced by the inky black stillness and in awe of the spectacular night sky above.

Once again it was time to move on to our next destination (fingers crossed that maybe one day, the Council's consent for the park will be increased from a maximum 6 night stay to 21 nights, the usual NZMCA Park allowance).

We headed north along Lake Dunstan towards Wanaka and as the upper Clutha Valley opened up, across the farmland my favourite snow covered Hawkdun Range was in clear view. Hard to believe we we were driving along it's base just a couple of weeks earlier.

Next stop- Glendhu Bay, Wanaka


  1. Wow, awesome shots, Shellie. I didnt realise I wouldn't necessarily see the Aurora with the naked eye. Is this all the time, or can you sometimes see it without a camera? Beautiful. I got a surprise one morning in Tasmania when I was hoping to photograph a sunrise and was a fixer. I took some photos anyway and everything was a pinky purple. I got such a shock! Thanks for sharing such beautiful photos

    1. Thanks Eidlewise, glad you enjoyed them. Oh yes, a lot of people are disappointed when they rush out to see an aurora and either see nothing or maybe very faint white beams. The camera sensor sees the intense colours which the naked eye doesn't. It is possible to see some colour and brighter beams if it's a strong solar storm but the colour is nothing like you see in photos. Here's one of my earlier blogs on an amazing aurora I saw a couple of years ago, there's a photo in there of what I saw by naked eye that night-


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