When a Dream Comes True... Magic New Zealand 2015 - Part II - South Island

Many years ago, I was already dreaming of far-away places... and New Zealand was surely on top of my wish list.  That old dream came true when I flew to Australia for work last August...

See a slideshow of all the best images of South Island... 

Nine days on North Island was really too short, so I decided to fly straight to Christchurch to save a bit of time and get the most out of my time in the south. I had been warned about the colder weather of South Island by so many people that, after being picked up at the airport by Linda of Affordable Motorhomes,  I went straight to an army surplus store to buy some thermal long underwear, gloves and a beanie!

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My first point of interest was the amazing boulders of Moeraki.  I managed to reach the stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave-cut Otago Coast by late afternoon when the last rays of sun were still lighting up the boulders.  These boulders are grey-brown septarian concretions that have been exhumed from the mudstone enclosing them and concentrated on the beach by coastal erosion.  Some of them are covered with green and brown algae and their almost spherical shape makes them highly photogenic.  Surely not to be missed!

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Then something absolutely unbelievable happened.  As I was trying to photograph this surreal landscape with my Nikon D700 and Nikkor 17-35/2.8 lens, the camera died with no warning sign at all. This had never happened before and although it initially came back to life, I was even more shocked when the battery went from full to zero in less than a second, repeatedly with 3 fully charged EL3e batteries!! What is even more incredible is that when I swapped the D700 body for the D800, the exact same thing happened.  Three EL3e and two EN15 fully charged batteries went flat in no time on 2 different cameras!  Could it be the radiation of the boulders...?  For a few minutes, hot steam was coming out of my nose and my ears... however instead of throwing all of my equipment into the ocean, I quickly came back to the wiser decision to not lose the moment but to use my Samsung Note 4 and capture the beautiful light shining on the boulders.  In all honesty, I even appreciated the ease of composing my pictures on the huge 6-inch display of my smartphone.  I would love to have that same large 518 dpi bright, contrasted LED display on my Nikon camera!  And what is even more pleasant is that the images taken with my phone were actually quite impressive!

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So, what happened to my cameras? Nikon New Zealand advised me to "dry" the cameras as much as possible, even though the cameras were never directly exposed to rain, humidity or cold!  Anyway I opened the bodies from every possible entry and placed them in front of the heater of the camper.  It was only after a full day that both cameras were partially rescued... and even then only sometimes working fine and sometimes playing dead.  After mult considerations, on Saturday morning I decided to continue my trip without returning to Christchurch where Nikon could have looked at the cameras but only on the following Monday!  After all I still had my smartphone!

Enough of technicalities, although I though it was worthwhile to mention....

Several locals had told me about the market next to the famous train station of Dunedin where all the farmers of the surrounding area come to sell their fresh products... so there I went and treated myself with homemade bread, salami and blue cheese!

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The next few days were very rainy and cold.  I drove south to the Nugget Point Lighthouse where dozens of rocks emerge from the ocean like a bunch of sharks circling their prey.  

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New Zealand is amazing for tourists: every small town has an information office with very friendly and knowledgable staff who can advise you on where to go based on your interests.  In Owaka, I met an older lady who convinced me to make a little detour south and stop at a few waterfalls in the forest around Purakaunui.  Thanks to the old umbrella Leon gave me, I managed to take some decent shots of these beautiful waterfalls under rain.

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From there, and on my way to Fjordland National Park through gravel or even farm roads, I discovered some very nice bucolic landscapes with zillions of sheep... sometimes under rain, sometimes under fog, and sometimes under a ray of sunshine like these tufts of brown grass arranged by the wind.

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When I arrived at the little town of Manapouri the clouds even opened up to show the snowcapped peaks of the surrounding mountains.  As my Australian fellow photographer, Peter Eastway, had advised me, I booked my ticket for the full day boat trip with Real Journeys to Doubtful Sound Fjord.  

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Once again New Zealand is incredible when it comes to finding a place to camp.  I drove 30 km north of the little town of Anau along Lake Te Anau and found an incredible camping spot at the Henri Creek Campsite... for free.  The forest floor was covered with moss and lichens, while along the pebble shore of the lake, some severely wind-swept trees and their roots were inspiring me...

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Embarking at 9 am the next day, we first crossed Lake Manapouri and arrived at its underground hydroelectric power station.  The station is known for the major environmental protests it evoked due to the fact that it would raise the level of the lake by 30 m; this was one of the foundations of New Zealand's environmental movement.  In 1970 - well before social media - Lee and Olive Hutchins, founders of Real Journeys, managed to convince 10% of the Kiwi population to rally together to save Lake Manapouri.  I felt good that part of my expensive ticket was donated to the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation for vital research to preserve the fragile balance of the Doubtful Sound Fjord ecosystem, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I also learned that many deep-sea species are found less than 10 m from the surface of the fjord where the top layer of fresh water, which is stained from forest floor run-off from the surrounding mountains, does not mix with the bottom layer of sea water.  Next time I'll come for a few dives... but in summer!

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The forest and waterfalls in Fjordland National Park are spectacular, a place where it rains an average of 7 m per annum!  I will definitely come back for many hikes here.

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Time to hit the road again and drive north through amazing scenery of snowcapped mountains and wild lakes.

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Everybody told me that the landscape around Queenstown was extremely pretty and I was not disappointed, especially when the clouds opened up during my drive to the Remarkables Ski Resort at 1300 m above sea level.  Queenstown is kind of an up-market place but there was an interesting, young and healthy vibe with the skiers and snow boarders going there... If only I was 30 years younger! My mindset was a bit different now... a solitary old(er) man in search of the most beautiful, wild places of this amazing country...

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Still driving north between Lake Wanaka and Hawea towards Mount Aspiring National Park... My GPS was saying 217 m but the road was still covered with snow - it was definitely a winter's day in New Zealand!  

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The next morning, I enjoyed driving the winding road along the Haast River and stopping at every waterfall along the way with big, blue skies and a big moon slowly setting down...

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I reached the first beach of the wild West Coast at around 11 am and found quite a different scene than the east coastline.

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The weather can change rapidly on this side as the mountains literally line the coast.  So I rushed a bit in order to see the glacier against the blue sky... but the clouds arrived faster than me.  Anyway I would not say that Fox Glacier is particularly pretty with its ice tongue covered with schist rocks and debris from the slopes of the mountains, nor the young valley from which the glacier has drastically receded during the last 100 years.  Did you say global warming or global warning?  Now there are signs posted everywhere indicating that the only safe way to get to the glacier is by helicopter... and indeed there were at least 50 flying over while I walked the 6 km round trip from the parking.

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I was fascinated by the early colonisers growing on the recently exposed glacial and erosion debris in the valley: red lichen - Placopsis lateritioides - and green mosses.

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I did another longer walk to Franz Josef Glacier, which comes down from the north side of Mount Cook culminating at 3724 m. This glacier and valley were, IMO, a bit more pristine, even if at the end I had to run fast to protect my cameras from a sudden heavy rain.

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My last sightseeing on the West Coast was the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

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On the drive down, my eyes were attracted to a series of isolated trees growing in a coastal meadow, especially to a very special one that I call "The Lion".

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Another amazing freedom camp was waiting for me along Lake Brunner, so I slept there before crossing to the east side of the island via Arthur's Pass under heavy rain and snow the next day.  The weather was so bad that I decided to stay in my camper van and watch one of the inspiring movies released by Dr Wayne Dyer's publisher, Hay House.

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Wayne must have had a profound impact on my thoughts as I managed to change the weather for the next 2 days!  This radical shift in the forecast motivated my decision to drive an extra 300 km south to see the spectacular Mount Cook mountain range against a stunning blue sky... I surely did not regret this extra excursion before flying back to Australia.

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Once again I found an amazing place to park my camper van for the night and enjoyed both sunset and sunrise on the Lake Pukaki with the pristine backdrop of the mountain range covered in snow.

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I hiked all the short trails in Mount Cook National Park around Tasman and Mueller Lakes... what a magnificient way to spend my last full day in New Zealand.

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On the way back to Christchurch, I managed to capture an image that makes me think of a famous painter, but so far no one (not even me) has been able to come up with his name!  Maybe you will...

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See a slideshow of all the best images of South Island... 


Published Date: 05 Nov 2015
Tags : travel, New Zealand, kiwi, landscape, photo, photography, photo safari



Tim van Amerigen on 12 Nov 2015

Your photos are just beautiful, with every picture appearing to tell a story in perfect focus. Thank you for the visual feast :)

Paul Godard on 12 Nov 2015

Thank you @timvanamerigen.  Capturing natural beauty is my passion.

Elisabeth Teunissen on 07 Apr 2016

Unbelievably beautiful, what an amzing senery,s , people often talk about New Zealand is God,s Country and did you ever capture that. I loved wathing every picture, you sure photograph with your heart. Thanks for sharing

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