Final blog from New Zealand, ending on a most spectacular fashion, up around the foothills of Mt Cook or Aoraki (at 3,724m) – it was bathed in cloud the whole time, as was the adjacent Mt Tasman (at 3,497m), but after a steep climb up to the Tasman Lake, we came across a stunning view. The panoramic composition of 4 images can be seen in my first blog (December 2019), while this picture is a closer view of the glacier front itself at 35mm, ISO 64, f/11 and 1/160s. Most of the glacier is dark and covered in rock debris, with the clean white of the higher glacier back in the distance, on the right. The terminal lake has that distinctive grey/green colour caused by the glacial rock flour in the water. There were also a number of icebergs floating on the lake that had recently broken off the glacier front. The side moraine is very dramatic and clearly shows the previous extent of the ice.
This Tasman Lake (on the SE side of the two main peaks) feeds in to the Tasman River, which joins the Hooker River (from the Hooker Glacier), on the SW side of Mts Cook and Tasman, which then flows in to the stunningly blue Lake Pukaki. You drive alongside this aquamarine delight for miles as you approach or leave the Mt Cook village. This parting shot of the lake (4 composite images at 20mm, ISO 64, f/8 and 1/400s (as it was very windy)), with the peaks of Mts Cook and Tasman again hidden in the clouds, sums up the whole wonder of New Zealand. Stunningly beautiful (and almost deserted) scenery with snow-capped alpine mountains, glistening glaciers, roaring rivers, wonderous waterfalls and almost luminescent lakes all in one vista. In many areas, you are also not far from expansive white beaches, sub-tropical forests (with tree ferns galore) and steaming volcanoes. Incredible. What more can one say – we’ll be back there again next year! Although later this year, we’re off to Iceland too – can that match up, I wonder ?
After the wonders of the whole West Coast area, we drove cross country to the Pacific Coast and Dunedin. Locals were encouraging us to explore the city, but coming from London, with which not many cities can compete, we preferred to stick to the landscapes, and the wildlife! Unbeknownst to us on arrival in Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula on the edge of the city has a world-famous collection of beaches and cliffs, where sea lions and albatrosses rest/nest.
In one of my first blogs from New Zealand (see December 2019), I showed a yawning Sea Lion on the beach at Sandfly Bay. However, this young pup is from the adjacent Allans Beach, where there were also dozens of Sea Lions resting up for the day. You can almost walk on top of them accidentally, as they slightly bury themselves in the sand and then flick sand all over their bodies with their flippers. I did almost tread on one a one point, but then quickly moved back to a more respectable 20m, or so. Inevitably nowadays though, there was one clown who had to take a selfie video right up close, literally a metre away. This pup’s huge father came in from the sea a short time later and the young Sea Lion duly followed him back in to the water – the selfie-taker would have got the shock their lives, if they had been close that time! This was taken at 220mm on my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 lens, using ISO 900, f/8 and 1/800s.
Later in the day, we waited at Taiaroa Head for the albatrosses to come in – they fly in from about 5.30-6pm, we were told. This time of year, they were nesting and rearing their young, at the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. There were several large groups of tourists and bird-watchers from about 4.30pm onwards, but by 6pm nearly all of them had left – we stayed, and the albatrosses finally started flying in at about 6.15pm. Only about 6-8 of them, but staggeringly enormous – with their 3m wingspan, way, way bigger than any of the other birds around! Very thin wings though, like a glider. They were difficult to capture, as they hovered around only briefly – many of my shots were out of focus, as expected, but this first frame that I took was spot on, taken at 270mm, ISO 140, f/8 and 1/640s.
We drove to Milford Sound from Te Anau – the road gets closed quite a lot, due to the threat of avalanches and/or rock falls, but was certainly open this time. We knew that Milford Sound would be spectacular as it’s one of the many iconic sights that you see on information beforehand, but had no clue that the drive there would be equally stunning. For much of the way, you are in a fairly narrow, high-sided valley, surrounded by mountains, snow, lakes and rivers. As it was spring in New Zealand, the snow melt also created literally thousands of huge waterfalls, just cascading hundreds of metres off the mountain peaks. At any location, you could see dozens of mountain peaks, each with dozens of individual waterfalls, all of which repeated itself over every km that we drove – simply amazing!
To justify the surroundings again, both these images are panoramic compositions of three images taken at 19mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 100-160, f/11 and 1/160s. The one of Milford Sound is taken from the shore, where a number of rivers join in to the deep water of the fjord, which gets up to 500m in depth. Mitre Peak on the middle left is the tallest mountain, rising 1,695m above the sea water level. On the right is Bowen Falls, where the Bowen River plunges 160m over a cliff edge – at the time, after recent heavy rain, the water fell a short distance and then just spouted out horizontally, with lots a spray in the air, which you can see on the lower left of the falls. Quite a sight!
On the way back, we then stopped at dozens of locations – this second photo is at Monkey Creek in the Hollyford Valley, with waterfalls simply pouring down in every direction.
The drive from Fox Glacier, along the West Coast, through Haast and the Mount Aspiring NP, by Lakes Wanaka & Hawea and finally across the mountains to Queensland, has to be one of the best in the world – unbelievably staggering for every minute of the whole 5-6 hours. You could stop every five minutes and spend hours at each location, making this journey alone last over a week, or more!
We did go back to the two main lakes the following day, as the weather was stormy, sunny and windy, all at once. Lake Wanaka was brooding but colourfully lit by shafts of sunlight poking through the low cloud. There were yellow lupins everywhere too, with purple and pink ones at higher levels. They are not indigenous to the country having been imported in Victorian times, and are therefore strictly a pest and environmental nuisance. Lake Hawea was more like a fjord with steep slopes of mountain entering the aquamarine waters. The shades of blue and green changed every minute as the sun broke intermittently through the clouds. Back at Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu was bathed in early evening sun – very stormy, windy and moody. The Remarkables mountain and ski range (up to about 2,300m) can be seen on the left, just outside Queenstown itself.
All three of these images cannot be best captured by anything other than a wide panorama – each has a field of view of at least 180o, needing to stitch 3-4 frames together, as I have described my December 2019 blog about the Tasman Lake & Glacier. Each one used 3-4 images at about 20mm on my 16-35mm f/4 using ISO 64-100, f/11 and 1/160-1/200s. The end products are 11-13,000 by about 4,000 pixels, after cropping the merged photos from Photoshop (using the Cylindrical mode).
After the raging waters of the Tasman Sea, the peace and serenity of the glaciers and mountains. We skipped the more popular Franz Josef Glacier and went, instead, to the quieter Fox Glacier. It’s 13km long from the peaks down to the temperate rainforests at its base, which are only 300m above sea level. However, the Glacier Access Road had recently been washed away by the Fox River and so we had to walk along the Glacier View Road instead, which was also closed to traffic, but open to walkers. We could only get so far, as the river bed here, although dry, was still very unstable. My 200-500mm f/5.6 brought the whole view in to sharp relief though. I took a number of images at 400-500mm that I’ll stitch together vertically, like a panorama, but this first one was at 200mm to show the whole scene in one shot. I’m pretty sure that it is Mount Tasman in the background (at 3,497m). The view was very monochromatic, except for the very obvious blue ice within the glacier. It was taken at ISO 220, f/11 and 1/800s (for stability on such a long lens).
Back down near Lake Matheson, I then took this photograph of both Mount Tasman on the left and the larger Mount Cook on the right. Mount Cook or Aoraki is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3,724m. Both mountains were shrouded in two lovely domes of pure white cloud – again confirming the reasons behind the Maori name for New Zealand of Aotearoa, i.e. “land of the long white cloud”. The juxtaposition of temperate, almost sub-tropical, greenery in the foreground is odd – you just don’t expect to see snow and glaciers next to rainforests! It was taken at 70mm on my 24-70mm f/2.8 using ISO 64, f/11 and 1/250s. We visited the other side of Mount Cook a week later, at the end of our month here – on a gloriously sunny day among the peaks, glaciers and lakes, but with the two main mountains still covered in cloud!
I’ve now put all the “best of the best” photos in to my Landscapes – New Zealand portfolio. It’s still just a first trawl through as I’ll have to process them all more thoroughly, to get them successfully available for sale on my stock pages at Alamy.
And so, on to the magnificent South Island - more mountains, more glaciers, more lakes, just more dramatic (if that’s possible), although surprisingly, it got hotter, not colder!
We crossed from Wellington to Picton, coming in to the deep fjord-type waters of Marlborough Sounds, but sadly, it was very wet with poor visibility. We then went on to Nelson (where we bought three inscribed gold rings from Jens Hansen, the makers of “The One Ring”, i.e. from Lord of the Rings). Several days later we got to the West Coast, facing the Tasman Sea – it had been very calm on this coast for months, apparently, but there was a raging wind, swell and surf, which was staggeringly dramatic, over the whole coastline from Westport to Greymouth. These two images just show a glimpse – fur seals at Tauranga Bay and enormous waves in the evening sunlight at Punakaiki. Punakaiki is famed for its layered rocks and stacks, like piles of pancakes, and its huge blow holes at high tide. We arrived not only at high tide but at a very stormy high tide – the water sprays were incredible, but the swell of the surf was just unbeatable too.
The fur seal struggling to get out of the rolling waves was taken on my D500 with the 200-500mm f/5.6 telephoto lens, at 440mm, ISO 100, f/8 (for slightly better depth of field) and 1/500s. Close up, you can see the individual water droplets on the ends of his (her?) whiskers! The later shot of the pancake rocks bathed in orange light, being battered by the waves, was on my D810 with the 16-35mm f/4 wide-angle lens, at 32mm, ISO 160, f/11 and 1/200s.
I’m gradually adding more of these South Island images now to my overall New Zealand portfolio, which clearly needs its very own section!