Thursday, 28 November 2013

Motukiekie Rocks

"Night time photography... involving rock pillars in the ocean... but where?" This is what Milos Hroch, a semi-professional photographer from Czech Republic, asked me. Six minutes later I responded: "Motukiekie Rocks". Nine more minutes later, the trip was settled. And so it became that Milos and I were driving to the West Coast over the Arthurs Pass on a Friday afternoon, for our photography expedition.

The Motukiekie Rocks are one of the numerous rock formations along the West Coast. The pillars are gigantic, and would indeed suit sunset and night photography very well. One problem: it can only be accessed at low tide, and you have to be careful not to get shut off when tide is rising again!

We looked up the tide charts and sunrise/sunset times, to see which days and times would fit best for our target. At low tide, you can walk over the mussel beds and count the numerous starfish, like this one!

We indeed hit the best possible combination of sunset and low tide. We both chose (different) strategic spots along the beach while the sun was starting to sink. I had four lenses with me for my camera, and used them all at different positions and with various exposure times and other settings.

Every shot in this series shows (part of) the Motukiekie rocks, yet every photograph is different. Colors, reflections, composition, aperture, focus, exposure, weather: the possibilities are endless.

And the weekend had only just started yet. On Saturday we had even more great adventures, and also a few smaller trips on Sunday before we journeyed back home, over the Lewis Pass. Someday I will sort these pictures out and write a blog post as well, but I'm afraid the next trip will already have started before that!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Most Awesome Birthday Ever!

On November 15th, I turned 30 years old! A good reason for a birthday party, followed by a very eventful tramp! Ok, let's start from the beginning: here is the where my birthday party took place!

Friends from the tramping club, current and former housemates and colleagues from university found the way to the fragrance of the four cakes that I had baked in the afternoon. We drank mixed fruit bowl, beer and wine, had a laugh, made some good music and everyone liked it!

Aaaaaand, I got presents! Apparently I did something good last year. What did I got: Dutch food! Pepernoten, honingdrop, stroopwafels, speculaas, chocoladeletters and more. Mjummie! And also the New Zealand Trampers Handbook, it will come in handy!

At midnight, it was finally my birthday, and everyone was singing for me! Then it was time for fireworks! We ignited quite a lot of sparkling stuff, and no one was hurt. But my birthday has just begun...

Later in the morning, a small group of seven people headed off to the Paparoa Range, a mountain range in the West Coast. I drove my Renault Clio; the first stop would be Arthurs Pass, which is on the other side of the Waimakariri river. A single-lane bridge connected the two banks of the river. I had priority and looked down the bridge, and saw no other car. Then I entered the bridge. But now I saw an upcoming car approaching fast. Too fast. I had to go back to make room for it. So I changed into reverse gear, looked and moved back.

Then I saw the other car. It was not a normal car. A. Red. Ferrari. F1 360 Spider, to be exact. Top speed 290 km/h. Goes from 0 to 100 in 4.4 seconds. Sold for over $200,000. It had been following me closely for a few minutes. Too close. And now I am driving backwards? Oh, BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE!!!

Just in time, I thought. The upcoming car on the bridge drove away just along me. At least I had made enough room for it. I drove a little forward and stepped out. So did the Ferrari driver. We looked at the beauty and spotted a very tiny little scratch, barely a few centimeters long.

I had kissed a Ferrari on my birthday. Of all cars driving around in New Zealand, I managed to hit this beauty. The jackpot.

Then, a second Ferrari appeared, even more beautiful than the first one because this didn't have that tiny little scratch, and stopped next to the first one. I can't remember having seen a Ferrari in real before, and now two are exclusively greeting me for my 30th birthday. Amazing! And I shook hands with the driver, which appeared very gentle after all. A magnificient encounter, let's say.

Oh and yes, I have a good vehicle insurance, though I probably won't need it after all. The owner has its own workshop and might as well fix the microscopic mark himself. To have any use of the insurance, I would have hit the beast much harder. The expression on the face of the other half of the tramping group when we told about this, it was priceless! And the birthday tramp has not even started yet...

Croesus Track. Originally it was called Garden Gully, but when a lot gold was found, it was renamed to the Greek king Croesus who had been swimming in the gold. We shuffled cars (my car to the Moonlight Creek, and with Niko's back to the starting point Blackball Smoke Ho) and set off. The Croesus track is an easy track, ideal for people new to tramping. About halfway, Niko and me joined the rest of the group and together we headed to the Ces Clark Hut, where we stayed overnight.

We chopped some firewood for the fireplace. Yanni felled a whole dead tree, and Niko chopped it into smaller pieces. I also helped chopping it for a brief time. But after handling the heavy axe, a log of dead firewood is much lighter than expected and I swung this blindly with a little too much force uphill towards Niko, which didn't look either. So it was that the log crashed on Niko's head. Blood flowed over his face. What had I done?! Luckily, Niko quickly recovered from the wound, and already continued chopping the rest of the firewood a few minutes later.

Crashed into a Ferrari. Crushed a log of firewood on Niko's head. Three more hours before my birthday would be over. I was already looking forward to it...

Sun disappeared and Moon rose in the sky. On the edge of the night, we walked down to the forest, listening to the sounds and looking for animals. Especially Niko had a keen eye for interesting species. He could recognize many birds, and ticked off which he had seen in his book with New Zealand birds. One of the missing items was the Kiwi. And here, in the Paparoa Range, there are Kiwis.

We knew they would be hiding under tree roots, and after a while Yanni had found one Kiwi hole. We peered inside, and saw the long thin beak of the Kiwi hiding in it! We set up strategic positions and turned off our lights and waited half an hour, but it did not come outside. Never did we see more than the beak, tongue and one feather of the Kiwi. But it was something!

Next morning, clouds rolled in and it was all wet and foggy. But nevertheless we went ahead with our original plan: to follow the Moonlight track in the mountains. Actually it is a series of poles (placed very far apart), and we had to find a way through the shrubs and rocks ourselves. In general we had to follow the most important ridge, but in the thick mist we were often not sure about our direction. We looked at the maps, we checked the compass, we used the GPS on our mobiles, but we made only slow progress in the rough terrain. Eventually we decided to camp on a relatively flat surface, hoping for better weather on the following day.

So it was that on the day after my birthday, we were camping in tents on some mountain ridge in the middle of nowhere, lost in fog and wilderness, far away from home. We ate pumpkin soup, rice with vegetables and my grandmother recipe's tutti frutti, which warmed our bodies.

The next morning the clouds had cleared up a little, and we could see one pole guiding the Moonlight track again. Apparently we had camped just 75 metres from the pole. We now had two options: proceed with the Moonlight trail, or go the longer way back to the starting point of the Croesus track. A really adventurous group would have pushed on, but we did not want to take risks as more clouds were already rolling in. So it was decided to go back to the hut, where we warmed ourselves again at the fireplace.

Rain fell down in the forest. So, that's why it's called a rainforest?! But we were well equipped and nothing could remove the smiles on our faces!

Back down, we still had to fetch my car from the Moonlight Creek. But first Niko managed to stuffed all seven trampers plus backpacks in his car (just some average Nissan station wagon). Don't ask me how, but he also drove it down over the muddy 4wd track to (formerly) The Blackball Hilton, and everyone survived!

Sun was already in its golden hours when we finally left the West Coast. Arthur's Pass was all covered in thick fog, but mist lamps were very effective in the darkness of the night. We finally arrived back home around 23:00.

The Ferrari. Lost in the mist. Niko's head. My birthday party. Things I will never forget! And now sleep...

Photo gallery

Friday, 8 November 2013

Happy New Year!

New Zealand's clock is well ahead from Europe and the rest of the world, but December 31 arrives especially early here. Over the last couple of days, tons of fireworks was set off illuminating the sky with flashes and bright colors. The climax was Tuesday night at New Brighton Pier, where a huge fireworks show was displayed.

We sat at the beach close to the Pier, where we had a great view of the show!

Okay, this is not really New Year, but it is an event called Guy Fawkes day. It has nothing to do with the phoenix from Harry Potter, but the origin of the story goes back to England in the year 1605. There ruled the evil King James, which apparently needed to be assassinated. A conspiracy was set up, with the intention of blowing up the King plus the entire Parliamant House using gunpowder.

They started digging a tunnel towards the cellar of the Parliamant. Being almost there, they found out they could simply rent the cellar instead, which they did. The cellar was filled with 36 barrels of gunpowder and disclosed from sight with wood and coal. When the King was about to return home, they warned some people to stay out of the Parliamant, and unfortunately one of them betrayed the conspiracy. Guy Fawkes was found in the cellar with matches in the pocket, and also the gunpowder barrels were revealed. Poor Guy Fawkes was tortured, hanged and quartered; from then on, the King's escape has been celebrated every year on the fifth of November.

For more pictures, see here!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Avalanche Peak

It's 5:45 on Saturday morning when I was happily woken up by my alarm. Yes! Need to get up in time, for another mountain trip! This time target: Avalanche Peak.

In total nine people joined the adventure. We checked the weather conditions ('moderate avalanche risk in Arthur's Pass Regions') and studied route information (read yourself here).

As the name suggests, avalanches are not uncommon at Avalanche Peak. Among us we had one very experienced mountaineer (Glen) with advanced avalanche risk assessment skills. Well, had. The day before the tramp he tried to kick a ball over his head, but instead he dislocated his own head and/or a few other bones, and had to visit a doctor instead. Luckily we quickly found three replacement guys, although these were apparently selected by their awesomeness rather than snowcraft skills.

Yes there was snow. But the rocks stood tall and marked the way. With my legs very long and arms pretty strong, no rock in the way could hold me away. All of us took the courage to tackle the tricky rocks, and we made it to the summit!

Turned out that we were not the first... The mountain is full of Kea's, a large species of parrot only found in New Zealand. They are... smart. Were waiting for us and stole our food leftovers when we were looking the other side. One flew off with a banana peel and more. 'Do not feed the Kea!': I have read these signs hundreds of times, but for some people the Kea's are simply too smart.

Time go get back before dark then. Originally we planned to go back by the same route (Scotts Track), but there is also another path down: the Avalanche Creek Track. One disadvantage is that you have to travel a certain distance through a potential avalanche path, and yes, the snow was pretty thick there (one metre at least). Nevertheless we made a try for it, taking extreme care here, not to awaken the ferocious gods of the mountain.

Doh. Snow was all pretty okay over there. Back at the holiday home we had a very delicious meal and warmed ourselves around the fireplace.

The beds of the house were way too luxurious for us, so we didn't touch these. Instead we slept on the floor and couches next to the fireplace, just sufficient for simple trampers like us.

On the way back to Christchurch we enjoyed a lunch at Castle Hill. Of course, climbers as we were, we attempted to climb a few of those big limestones out there. It wasn't easy! But at least I have my length to compensate for the lack of skills!

As usual, you can view my whole gallery here!

Oh, and I have to say: I really love the country!