Making sense of my photography hobby in retirement

South Island

The end is in sight!

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The last six weeks have been a trial.  In February we sold our home of the last 32 years.  We built it then to replace the home that my wife grew up in until we were married 44 years ago. Thirty two years of raising three sons and accumulating life’s possessions, plus those possessions that flowed out of the old house, have made the last few weeks difficult at times as decisions needed to be made on to what to keep and what to re-house elsewhere.  Yesterday we left the house with just three small cartons to top-up and close.  Our life is now housed in a storage facility awaiting rediscovery when we find a new home some time in the next year.  Finding a view of the end over the last two weeks has been difficult, but yesterday it emerged.

In two weeks we leave for a three month holiday that will take us to China, Europe, the USA and Canada.  Needless to say, we are really looking forward to the adventure. Just like the last few weeks, transmission over the next three months may be a bit patchy as we search for internet connections and time to update posts. Every attempt will be made to create a regular stream of posts and express views on what we discover.


Purakaunui Falls Revisited

Some time ago I posted an image of the Purakaunui Falls that I took on a trip to the Catlins in the Southland region of the South Island of New Zealand.  That image was taken on my second visit to the falls, the first visit being when in the early 1980s we took our (then) three young sons on a touring holiday of the South Island.  Both visits were prompted by a photograph we had seen of the falls that appeared in a calendar, I think, which was taken by the well known New Zealand landscape and nature photographer Craig Potton. The striking thing to me back then was how Craig had captured a silky looking waterfall in his image.  At that time I had no idea how he had made the image, but over the years I too learned how it is done.

Since that first post I have been wanting to revisit the image and render it differently, and maybe add another view of the falls as well.  So, here is take two.

Purakaunui Falls, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Purakaunui Falls, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013


No, it’s a dog!

Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

It’s interesting how we humans try to see shapes of things we know in the features that nature present to us.  Does that cloud look like a bird? Or, that mountain looks like Queen Victoria lying in state, you can tell by the nose. Here at Punakaiki the shape that nature presents to me is a dog, but you may see something else.

Punakaiki is on the road between Westport and Greymouth (or is that between Greymouth and Westport, because it is closer to the former?) and is a geological feature of stratified rock formations created more than 30 million years ago.  The feature is known as the Pancake Rocks.  That’s not unusual really.  There’s that shapes in nature thing again.

Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Punankaiki is actually the nearest village to the rock formation at Dolomite Point in the Paparoa National Park.  The pancakes are formed from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the seabed some 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify into hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed and mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes seen today.

Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

In wild weather, which is very common on the West Coast, the blowholes that form part of the Pancake Rocks are said to be spectacular.  Unfortunately in all the visits I have had to the area over the years I have never seen them in action in any serious way.

Punakaiki, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

The rocks rare are a very popular West Coast tourist attraction and on a good day the walking paths provided and maintained by the Department of Conservation are busy with people trying to get the best views.

I still think its a dog!


Boom Town

It is hard to envisage in 2013 that the Westland town of Hokitika was once one of the most important towns in New Zealand.  Today its economy relies on the surrounding dairy farms that feed the Westland Cooperative Dairy Factory, and tourism-based ventures. In 1866 however, Hokitika was the second biggest town in New Zealand after Auckland.  Gold had been discovered on the West Coast in 1864 and the town grew rapidly as people flooded into the area to seek their fortunes.  On one day in 1867 it was reported that 41 vessels were tied up at the Hokitika wharf, with more waiting off shore.  How times have changed.

Clock Tower, Hokitika, Westland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Ever since my first visit to the town way back in the 1960s I have been fascinated by the connection of the town with Andrew Carnegie.  How could this rich American philanthropist have become aware of and have an interest in this far-flung isolated town in a distant corner of the southern Pacific Ocean?  On a corner, one block away from the main street of Hokitika, is a grand building with “Free Public Library” emblazoned across the frieze above the columns at the entrance.  It’s in that sign that the connection is made.

Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in the iron and steel business.  While still a boy working in his father’s cotton milling business, he and other boys working in the mill were granted free access the library of a local businessman. Carnegie became an avid reader devoured most of the 400 books in the collection.  After he sold his steel milling business to banker J P Morgan in 1901 for $200 million, he set out on his philanthropic endeavors.  In recognition of the help received from free access to books in his youth, Carnegie established a grant system to assist towns and cities in the English-speaking world to build library buildings on condition that access to and lending of books was free.  Eighteen such libraries were built in New Zealand, including the one in Hokitika which was opened in 1908.

West Coast Memorial Museum, Hokitika, Westland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

The building ceased to be a library in April 1975. It was later restored and reopened in May 1998 as home to the West Coast Historical Museum. So that’s how Andrew Carnegie came to be connected to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

In researching for this post I discovered another interesting fact about Hokitika.  It has a digital 3D cinema, in a town with a  population of  just 3,078 (2006 census), plus another 828 people in the surrounding district.  The Art-Deco Regent Cinema was built in 1936 and has served the town ever since.  When in 1975 it was threatened with demolition due to its state of repair and lack of patronage, a group of concerned citizens lobbied for its retention and formed a trust for its preservation.  Funds were raised to refurbish the building back to its Art-Deco heritage style and it has been turned into a successfully functioning cinema again – a digital 3D cinema to boot.

Regent Theatre, Hokitika, Westland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

So there you have it, a boom town of the 19th century is booming again in the 21st century (albeit in a much different way).


Rugged Westland

Coastal Westland is a pretty rugged and sparsely populated place. Between Haast in the south and Hokitika in the north there are few towns and a thinly spread population.

“The District consists of a long thin strip of land between the crest of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea. The low-lying areas near the coast are a mixture of pastoral farmland and temperate rainforest. The eastern part of the District is steep and mountainous. Many small rivers flow down from the mountains.

The southern part of the District notably contains the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.

Westland is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the country, with an area of 11,880.19 square kilometres and a population of 8,403 people (2006 census). Approximately 45% of the population lives in Hokitika (popn.3500). The remaining 55% lives in small villages such as Ross, Franz Josef and Haast, or in rural areas”. Wikipedia

From Wanaka we travelled beside Lake Hawea and over the Haast Pass to reach the West Coast at the mouth of the  Haast River. Our destination for the night was Fox Glacier Village, from where we planned to visit the nearby Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers.

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Some 25 km north of Haast is the Arthur’s Point lookout from where views of the Tasman Sea and the coastline can be seen.

In the year I left high school I hitch-hiked around the South Island of New Zealand with a friend. It was almost a right of passage between high school and university.  We had travelled down the West Coast to Lake Mapourika, which at the time was almost the end of the road.  To join up with the road from Haast to Wanaka we had to walk the newly formed but far from finished section of the road from the lake to Arthur’s Point, a distance of about 10 km in wet sticky mud.  In the distance we could hear heavy road building machinery.  As the time ticked far too slowly towards “knock off time” of 5.00 pm we were afraid we would miss any chance of a ride to Haast and have to sleep the night in the bush.  At last gasp we reached the work party just as they were packing up to leave for the night.  Happily we flopped onto the back of a truck for the final leg of the day’s journey.

Heading north from Arthur’s Point the road travels inland for a distance before touching the coast again at Bruce Bay, a rugged pebbly beach strewn with driftwood. If you like rugged storm-lashed beaches, this is the place to be. It was fine on the occasion of our visit, but it is easy to imagine the chaos when a south-westerly storm is raging – cold, wind-blasted, with wild surf and horizontal rain!

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At the northern end of the bay the trees stand defensively against the weather, stripped of their lower branches and clinging to the eroding boundary between land and beach.

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You have to be hardy to live in these parts.  It’s little wonder that the coasters have that steely weather worn look  that comes from living everyday with the elements.

Click on any image for a larger view.


Rest Home

Rest Home, Cardrona Pub, Central Otago, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

On the high road between Queenstown and Wanaka over the Crown Range is the small settlement of Cardrona.  To reach Cardrona from Queenstown one has to drive through two sets of switchbacks to reach the summit before descending through the Cardrona Valley to the village. For first-time drivers on this section of road, it is quite an experience.  There are several lookout points along the road that give great views back towards Queenstown and Lake Whakatipu, and across the valley to the Remarkables (a jagged mountain range that is a feature of the evening view from Bob’s Peak in Queenstown).

Cardrona has a pub that is a mecca for skiers after a hard day at the nearby Cardrona Ski Resort. Established in 1863 and still bearing its original wooden facade, this character pub once featured in a TV commercial for a well-known Southland beer. While some gather in the bar to drink their apres ski beers, many migrate to the garden to sit at picnic tables or huddle around the outdoor open fireplace to recount their day and enjoy a gluhwein or two.

On the far side of the garden an old blue Model T Ford truck rests at home in a tumble-down shed.  It looks the part in these surroundings, which are rather laid-back. It all adds to the character of what a visit to the Cardrona Pub is all about.


Daisies at the Lower Reaches

Imagine for a moment the letter “S”. Now stretch it horizontally until the connection between the upper and lower arms of the S is almost vertical. and then rotate it 90 degrees to the left.  It now looks a bit like a fork of lightning. Are you still with me?  That is the distinctive shape of Lake Whakatipu in Central Otago’s “Lakes” region. Imagine then that the popular tourist town of Queenstown is near the corner of the zigzag before the vertical drop.

This image was taken near the southern end of that vertical drop.

Kingston Arm, Lake Whakatipu, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

The southern arm of Lake Whakatipu “below” Queenstown is known as the Kingston Arm, named after the small town that used to be the terminus for the railway line from Dunedin. Kingston is also the place where the famous lake steamer TSS Earnslaw was brought in parts, assembled and launched .  The Wikipedia account of this remarkable story is shown below:

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, New Zealand Railways awarded 21,000 pounds to John McGregor and Co shipbuilders of Dunedin to build a steamship for Lake Wakatipu. TheEarnslaw was named after Mount Earnslaw, a 2889 metre peak at the head of Lake Wakatipu. She was to be 48 metres long, the biggest boat on the lake. Transporting the Earnslaw was no easy task. When construction was finally completed she was dismantled. All the quarter inch steel hull plates were numbered for reconstruction much like a jig-saw puzzle. Then the parts were loaded on to a goods train and transported across the South Island from Dunedin to Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.

Six months later, after being rebuilt, on 24 February 1912, the TSS Earnslaw was launched and fired up for her maiden voyage to Queenstown, with the Minister of Marine as captain.”

She then became a valuable vessel for the New Zealand Railways (NZR) and was known as the “Lady of the Lake”.

But that’s another story.

It was late in the afternoon as we approached the lake from the southern end.  After stopping briefly at Kingston to look at the “Kingston Flyer” steam train (sadly mothballed at the time),  made famous in the 1980s in a TV chocolate advertisement, we recommenced our journey to Queenstown. Just as the lake came into view we were presented with this field of daisies between the brown seeding Dock weeds. It was the contrast between the white of the daisies and the green and brown of the pasture that first caught the eye.  The slopes of Mt Dick fall to the lake on the left of the image, and in the distance the Remarkables drop to the lake on the right.  Queenstown is around the corner to the left at the far end of the view.