2015 South Island tour day six

I had imagined The last day of our tour would be a boring drive across the flats to Christchurch.
Instead I found the place I want to build my million dollar house one day.

First of all I woke up early to see that the morning was clear so I donned all my cold weather gear and went for a walk in the valley with the 12-24mm lens for a change. I would like to know what numbskull decided to put huge powerlines through such nice scenery???

This is about 3 minutes walk from our lodge.

Then the clouds rolled in again but that made for a better sunrise.

There were several stops along the way including an area of interest for cave explorers.

Back onto the road to Castle Hill

There isn't a castle there but maybe they anticipated the house I will build there one day?

This will be the view out of the lounge window.

Perhaps the barbeque between those rocks>

Those people coming up the driveway may as well enjoy the scenery before I build here.

My wife snapped a few photos out of the car window while driving through Christchurch to the airport. I have no interest in busy places full of people. Christchurch is still being rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake.

A 1 1/4 hour flight back to Auckland brought us back to reality and the stench of cigarette smoke as several people couldn't wait to get to the smoking areas to suck their anxiety out of a cigarette and resorted to ducking around the corner on the way there, while the wardens wandered over to tell them to put their cigarettes out. All I thought of when I saw the drifting smoke was the sunrise that morning from the motel at Arthur's pass.

Since my visit 10 years ago things have changed. Such as more competition in flights to the South Island, meaning that it now costs 1/4 what it did 10 years ago to visit, and when you take inflation into account is is more like 1/6th what it used to cost. Taking into account the fact that my wife was already planning our next trip after the first day in Queenstown the chances are we will be exploring the area a bit more in future :)

2015 South Island tour day five

Today we were heading for Bealey Hotel on Arthur's pass

Close to Hokitika we saw a sign to the Treetop walk , we didn't know it was there but had read about it before. 

Let's just say it was 'interesting' but not worth $36 a person to walk amongst the treetops, depending what your interests are.

I used the fisheye lens for all the photos on that walk.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had was that there wasn't really much else to see from up there when, perhaps if it had been built near some of the stunning scenery we had driven past, it may have made more sense.

Would I do it again? If I was in the area with someone visiting for the first time and it cost $10 then yes. Beyond that price I suppose it depends how much money the people have and how much they want to be high up amongst the trees - each to their own.

From there we headed for Arthur's pass - when I have a few billion to spare I will build my house there. Driving up the pass you head for alpine territory which is once again where the Kea live.
When you see a sign like this keep and eye on your car! You don't want the wipers pulled off or the window rubber removed by their sharp beaks. Someone also mentioned to me that the ladies would do well not to wear anything shiny in their hair.

This is someone else's video

You come up this road to reach the lookout.

The Kea are very intelligent creatures and know what distance to keep, though they like to have a close look at something like a shiny camera lens - I pulled away as his head came forward to grab the lens.

And we think they are funny creatures!

Once again the weather was a little overcast to enjoy the scenery but it did open up now and then.

Our lodgings were in the best place this time - the scenery was right outside our window. Internet was via satellite so we were given a 'generous' 50 meg each to check emails for the night.

Tomorrow the weather would open up a bit for our last day driving to Christchurch.

2015 South Island tour day four

After a good rest at Haast we headed off for Franz Josef Glacier . The weather had closed in a bit and it wasn't such a scenic drive perhaps because we couldn't really tell whether we were next to majestic mountains or not. Just busy going through the photos, I took random images of things I wanted to remember, like this shower head at our motel last night, with high pressure water it gave a really nice back massage :)

What we remember most from that day's drive is the colourful rocks with quartz and orange fungus.

Our stay for the night was going to be at the Franz Josef Montrose which is part backpackers, part motel. The "backpackers" in New Zealand are generally cheap overnight stays where you share a bunk in a room full of other people with a communal kitchen, lounge and toilets for about $20 a night. Not what we would like to do so we paid a very reasonable $55 for our own room with a small toilet/shower of our own, which was probably the bargain of the trip. Granted the walls were a little thin and sound travelled through them quite easily, and at one stage a herd of buffalo [or someone vacuuming upstairs?] went over our ceiling. Otherwise from about 9:00pm everything was quiet, the staff were really professional and passionate about their business and informed us that there was free soup for breakfast, which we declined. $55 for your own room, shower toilet [very clean] and free breakfast - you won't easily beat that.

About 15 minutes before Franz Josef is Fox Glacier . We decided to drive up that valley but there wasn't much happening there. 

According to the signs in the valley the glaciers have retreated from where the car park is back in 1935 and now involve a 1 hour walk to reach them. Being a cloudy day we couldn't enjoy much of the scenery from a distance either. We headed back to the lodge and caught up with emails and rest while watching the clouds slowly breaking up for some sunlight to come through. Then we decided it was time to drive up the Franz Josef valley and walk to the glacier lookout point and the clouds closed in and the rain returned.

There's a good reason why they don't want people feeding the wildlife. The kea are known to rip the windscreen rubber out of cars and like things that are shiny - so it always pays to keep an eye out for them and not encourage them to hang around too much.
The walk to the lookout of the glacier was interesting but it would have been really nice on a clear day - though bad weather also often means interesting images.

At the bottom of the valley we saw the clouds starting to open up but they closed up again as we got closer.

Pay close attention to the warnings in these valleys. The info centre had a picture showing a shallow river compared to rushing 'floodwaters' and it was exactly the same location 6 hours apart. Just because you can cross the river on your way up doesn't mean you will make it across on your way down.

Also to keep in mind, there is a sign banning drones from the valley - perhaps because of the helicopter tours to the glacier.

2015 South island tour - Tuesday

After spending two nights in Queenstown we were ready to start heading for our next stop in Haast.

After enjoying a complimentary breakfast at our motel because of having to change rooms due to a blocked drain[/smell] we headed for our next stop. I had seen Wanaka on my previous visit but I hadn't noticed "That Wanaka tree"! Since then having joined several photography forums and the New Zealand Photography group on facebook I came to realise that this was the Kim Kardashian of trees. It just keeps showing up everywhere and while pleasing to look at you eventually get sick of seeing it appear every time you check out the latest photos.
But I had a plan - my machete was packed in my main luggage and got through airport security. More on that later.
Our first stop was Arrowtown, we stopped to have a walk around the Chinese town where gold miners lived 'way back then'.

They were interesting little dwellings and I suppose would have even been considered 'luxury' compared to the way some people lived in those days, and sadly even some today.

Some even had a fireplace.

Interesting story from when I visited 10 years ago: I was chatting with someone in a nearby shop who said that a few years previously the roading company dumped a pile of sand outside his shop to pave the road with. He scooped a bucket full of it up and kept it aside to demonstrate gold panning to customers. The roading company came in and paved the road a few days later. A week after that he took his bucket of sand and showed a customer how to pan for gold. He pulled out a reasonable sized gold nugget. So the streets of Arrowtown are paved with gold!

We met a busload of tourists there, they were on a 21 day tour of Australia and New Zealand with the bus stopping at all the 'good spots'. Their journey sounded pretty intense and perhaps a little tiring for my liking - but still better than not doing it.
After Arrowtown we took the scenic route through the mountains towards Wanaka.

There is still a reasonable amount of snow around there considering summer starts in a month.

I had done my research and set my gps for the exact location of "That Wanaka tree" as we headed for our next stop. We hoped there weren't too many people there, my wife was nervous I might have another encounter with the armed-offenders squad [long story, they took an air rifle away from me when I was new in the country].
There it is! And already it messed with my brain, because of the way the tree leans I was subconsciously trying to counteract that lean, evident in the tilted horizon in every shot I took!

So I was thinking "What will south island photographers take pictures of when it is gone? They will have to start using their imaginations!"

Now, in preparation for the backlash I may get - I did not cut the tree down! This is a joke!

There were several people who understood the joke, many of them had stated "I'm going to take a chainsaw to that tree!" and I had offered to provide the petrol to complete the job. Once this picture was up it was shared several times with titles like "It has been done finally!".
Of course while I was there I had to take a few photos just in case someone does finally get rid of "Kim Wanaka Kardashian Tree".
How do you get a different perspective of the world's most photographed tree? [Tilted horizons have been corrected in the next two images]

Some ducks arrived to add some spice to the image.

And then as the photographers started arriving in their droves it was time to leave before the urge to practice my swimming and machete swinging kicked in.

This is a "must do" stop if you're in the area, plenty of photo opportunities.

I get motion sickness very easily, it took about 3 seconds for me to start feeling a little unwell after stepping into the tilted room.

Put the pool ball at one end of the table and it rolls into the pocket. The "level" surfaces in this room are all actually tilted 2 degrees downward as well but because there are no windows you have no reference point for your brain which makes you start feeling off balance pretty quickly.

Then there is the room of faces that follow you as you walk by. This is best seen in the video.

The room of perspective distortion takes a video of you and plays it back after two minutes so you can watch yourself changing size as you walk across from one side to the other. Apparently this technique is used in movies where Hobbits are involved.

It's a really cool place with something interesting around every corner.

At first I didn't believe this guy was made of silicone. I watched him out of the corner of my eye for a while waiting for him to move. Maybe I should have taken the machete in and run at him with it? Someone suggested doing the 'nose pinch test' to make sure whether he was real or not. Eventually after peeking around the corner a few times I realised it wasn't alive.

I want a place like this closer to home.

Those lines are all straight, unlike the Wanaka tree.

At the reception we were originally pointed in the direction of the main entrance to the attractions. Then she pointed to the toilets and said "The toilets are quite special". They were.

If you stand right in the middle with your back to the wall the perspective of the room fits the painting in the background. Of course the real toilets are doors to the left and right of this room.

From there it was the drive the rest of the way to Haast. Several stops along the way break up the journey.

It's not only sheep on the South island, there are cows as well.

And deer in the distance.

Ideally the trip could take 5X longer there are so many places to stop and go for walks.

We stayed at Aspiring court motel at Haast. $110 a night, parking right outside the door and 1 hour free [slow] internet each.
We had been advised to see Jackson Bay but it was 5:00pm by the time we got to Haast so after 'setting up camp' we took a half hour drive towards the bay and got a few late afternoon snaps.

Haast wasn't exactly a highlight of our journey, more of a halfway stop between places. 

2015 South Island tour - Monday

On Monday morning we set out for a drive to Glenorchy, and "paradise". It is a really nice drive with a constant view of the mountain range across the lake.

The great thing about New Zealand is that because tourism earns a lot of income for the country they make an effort to cater to tourists, many signs warn of upcoming scenic lookouts and parking spots specially for appreciating the scenery, along with walking tracks that add to the experience.

Once again I made use of the fisheye lens on various occasions, keeping in mind that not all the roads on this trip were as "advanced as this one" :)
[Kinloch road intersection]

Once again the 18-140mm lens was a very capable choice for the trip, I very seldom felt the need for more reach. This is the road to Glenorchy from Queenstown.

No, that's not Glenorchy itself but the town consists of only a few roads anyway.

There are many places to stop and take photos along the way, just be careful of dust on a fine day when the rain hasn't settled the dirt roads that you will encounter.

At some stage you go through forest scenery as well.

After going through Glenorchy and turning up the road to "Paradise" you see warnings of the road narrowing, signs depicting sheep and then you came to the point where you would have to cross the river Jordan - those with bible knowledge will understand better.

There was a sign a little further back that warned that there would be river crossings that might not be safe for smaller cars. Had it been my own vehicle I would have gone through but since it was a rental we decided to respect their property and not attempt it. It looks like we will have to wait a bit longer before entering paradise.

From there we turned back to Glenorchy and then headed for Kinloch.

There is a nice area to stop and got for a short walk across a swing bridge to end up in forest area.

The sign warns of a 5 person limit - as you're walking the bridge starts to sway and it's up to you to place your next step to cancel the movement rather than adding to it, known as ''constructive interference".

In the distance we saw what looked like mist in the river valley. Eventually when we crossed the river we realised it was actually dust.

If you were to live in this area where would you go on holiday? It would be difficult to find somewhere 'impressive' in comparison.

After getting back to the place we were staying and having  a bit of a rest, we decided to drive past our residence and look for Coronet peak, It turns out that it was less than a kilometer around the corner. On my first visit  to the area I went up this road to Skippers Canyon, because back then there was a list of companies that did not allow their vehicles on that road and the old clunker I had rented from someone who also rented out bicycles in town was not mentioned on the list. The scenery is well worth the drive but there are times when the road is only wide enough for one vehicle and then a bus towing a trailer comes around the corner - and one of you has to back up to find a ledge to "hang out" on while the other edges past.


Coronet peak is a nice winding uphill drive with a good view of the area.

On the first day we had full sunlight which is ok when it is behind you but otherwise is a bit harsh for photos. Monday was really nice weather with patchy high cloud meaning the light was more diffused with the occasional burst of sunlight meaning a 3D look to some of the images.

When I'm taking photos of a commonly photographed scene I always try to throw in something a little different, like a cluster of grass on the edge for example.

More 3D lighting...

And a few from the fisheye lens. When there are no straight lines on the edges the images don't need correction of any sort.

And then we went to the "World famous in Queenstown" Fergburger where you will often see lines of people waiting outside for a meal. This was "Big Al" which includes two large patties, two fried eggs and the beetroot that my Canadian wife finds so disgusting to have on a burger. She doesn't know what she's missing!

In her defence I will say that one of her photos is my favourite. Obviously she has some good taste, after all she married me!

If you're really bored flip through the video footage of the drive to Glenorchy and the sursounding area keeping in mind the fact that it was filmed on a $28 dashcam :)

2015 South Island tour - Sunday.

On Sunday  25 /10/2015 my wife and I flew down to Queenstown, New Zealand to do a 6 day tour of the area. There is a lot to see and do in the area and plenty of beautiful scenery.

 I had my new Nikon D7200 [as opposed to my new D70 10 years ago] with the 18-140mm kit lens which proved to be a very good lens for the task at hand. For the wide angle photos I debated whether I should use the 12-24mm lens or simply use the 10.5mm fisheye lens and crop/correct the images later. It turned out that for much of the really wide photos the 10.5mm lens was just fine without correction unless you have a tree next to you that will distort quite badly. Of course if you do a "selfie reflection" at the top of the gondola you will see a lot of distortion as well :)

Initially we had thought of doing one of the deals where you drive a camper-van from Queenstown to Auckland - because a lot of people do it the other way around so they offer cheaper prices to return a vehicle to Auckland. We went with  Discovery campervans   ...... unfortunately. They had a deal for $45 a day, "no hidden costs, no one-way fee". We paid for it and then received a message to book our ticket across the ferry. [No hidden costs, no one way fee?]. When we tried to book the ticket it was going to cost $500 extra! We contacted them and they refused to refund the full amount which cost us $200 "cancellation fee" just two days after booking it before we even started our trip - lesson learned.
Anyway prices for flights to Queenstown were 1/4 the price of what they were 10 years ago due to competition in the industry - finally.
Booking.com was very useful, we found a place called "Swiss Belresort" for the first two nights which had very helpful staff but a bad smell from the drainage by the second morning so they moved us to another room and gave us a free breakfast for our troubles. I would still stay there again if they guaranteed one of the less smelly rooms because apparently it is an ongoing problem but for $70 a night it was well worth the stay, that included free wi-fi. We rented a little Suzuki Swift from Jucy rentals  which was a great little car, only just big enough to take us and our luggage mind you, and very economical to drive giving us about 17km/l.
We drove up "The Remarkables" towards the ski field to get a better view of the town.

Sunlight has its advantages but if it's not behind you it makes for rather harsh landscape images. This was taken with the fisheye lens - there were times when I actually wished it was a little wider.

There was a reasonable amount of snow around though our first day was sunny, the second day had high cloud and we were told a few days after we left Queenstown that it was snowing back there. This photo was also taken from the top of the gondola ride in the later afternoon.

As mentioned there is a lot to do here, it's a really 'touristy' place and everyone's interests are well catered for.

The TSS Earnslaw boat takes people across the lake to an old homestead restaurant.

The town of Queenstown itself is very scenic and has pleasant walkways. Most shops have youngsters on "working visas" so don't expect to speak to many New Zealanders in town.

The Gondola will take you up to the lookout and restaurant, there are also steps that lead back up from the collection point of a bungy jump that sticks out of the side.

Commercial bungy jumping originated in New Zealand by the way.

On the top of "Deer heights" there is an old movie set  from 30 years ago left behind after a Disney movie was filmed there, something about some kids and a rescue from a North Korean prison. 10 years ago when I visited, Deer heights was open to public - you could drive up there after buying a $1 bag of food to give to give to the goats and other animals on the hill.  It provides a really nice 360 degree view of the area but unfortunately is no longer an option :( .

Of course in New Zealand there is always the chance of seeing something in the form of a Kiwi - something you will rarely see in the wild otherwise.

That ended a tiring day - waking up at 3:00am in Hamilton to get ready and be at Auckland by 6:00am to leave at 8:00am for the 1 hour 50 minute flight. 10:30am we picked up the rental car and started driving and obviously while setting up the GPS I wandered over the centre line [in a quiet area mind you] and that resulted in a phone call a few hours later from the rental company stating that the police had reported a call from a concerned member of the public about the vehicle we were in crossing the centre line and "circumstances would be more severe" if it happened again. Well I suppose the locals in Queenstown must get rather tired of all the tourists from other countries not knowing which side of the road to drive on :) .
The motel had an interesting way of ensuring you never locked your keys in the room - you had to insert the key to allow the lights to work :)

I have a photobucket album of images to browse for those interested.

2015/01/01 Climbing Ngauruhoe again.

5 years ago I climbed Ngaruhoe with my gopro. Since getting married 3 years ago I haven't been doing much adventure stuff and felt like I was getting a bit out of shape - was the A.G.E virus setting in? I started exercising a bit more and on 1/1/2015 we headed back to Tongariro, I wanted to see if I could still get up that mountain in an hour and 20 minutes.
This time our friends came along. Meet Kola and Bola :)
From the car park it is about an hour's walk to the base of the first climb which is a well made path climbing up to the base of Mount Ngauruhoe. Then it's another half an hour of constant uphill.
The hardest part about climbing this mountain is choosing the right path, There are valleys of slippery pumice which is light rock that you can sink knee deep into as you take two steps forward and slide one step backward. There is a ridge of fairly solid rock towards the left that you can head for if you follow the poles in the ground.
After an hour and ten minutes I was at the top - maybe it's not a matter of being fitter as much as being wiser and knowing which path to take.

It's a great view from the top.
There's Blue lake in the distance.

Going down is another story - a better one than going up actually. Now you head for the soft stuff because the hard stuff is dangerous if you fall while going down. In twenty minutes you can be at the bottom again, it's just a matter of digging your heels in side to side as the rocky conveyor belt carries you back down.
Our friends were ready for a group shot.
As with many aspects of photography it turned out that people liked the picture of the slime in the river at the bottom more than all the others :)

And here is the video which inlcludes the rocky conveyor belt.

2012/02/11 Tongariro intro

This was my wife's first introduction to the Tongariro crossing . We didn't do the whole walk [19km] but rather waked halfway [ emerald lakes] and back again. The first half of the walk is where most of the scenery is anyway though I do advise doing the entire walk at least once.
It was a good day - though be very wary because the weather can change quickly on Tongariro as it is an alpine environment. While we were resting at one spot I heard a young couple discussing whether perhaps they had 'overdone' their gear that they had brought with - because there were more than a few 'not so well prepared' on the walk. I went over to them and told them they had exactly the right amount of gear with them as people have died up there due to not being properly prepared - the weather can change very quickly !

I had my 10.5mm lens on my Nikon for this trip.

At the base of the first real climb , about an hour into the walk is where people line up to a little but very important building that is chained down to prevent being blown away by the occasional strong winds

What used to be known as "The devil's staircase" has been made quite a bit easier due to a new path that was built.

At the top of the first climb we had to put on warm gear and rain protection - the weather had changed quickly !

As a side trip you could climb Ngauruhoe , about 1 1/2 hours one way .

Some serious photographers do the trip as well , this one was doing a news report on it :)
This is the first crater you cross .

And the view at the other side ...

Looking back at the crater ...

Red crater

Looking down at the emerald lakes ....

Some more from the 10.5 lens ....

And some from the Panasonic compact .

The ground was actually steaming on the crater.

The Tongariro crossing - my favorite "playground" in New Zealand but please go prepared for the worst weather !

2012/08/29 East Cape Odyssey

On Sunday 26 August 2012 Lisa and I began our 5 day trip from Hamilton around the East Cape of New Zealand and back - 1200km in total.
We started off by staying at a friend's place in Rotorua , commonly known as 'Rotten-rua'' due to the smell of the thermal activity .

We spent most of the afternoon relaxing at the Waikite valley hot pools in water about 38 degrees C.
Lisa says I must remember to mention that I took a wrong turn while she knew I should have gone the other way - at least we saw some new scenery :)

There is a lot of thermal activity around Rotorua with steam coming out of the ground in the middle of the city as well . The rock formations in the waikite valley were interesting as well .

One thing I still need to get used to about being married , and having spare cameras lying around , is that the wife also likes to take pictures - and not only of the scenery :)

Basically day one was pretty uneventful in comparison to the rest of the trip but Rotorua was our 'launching pad' for the main holiday .

Day Two :

On the second day we headed for Whakatane , a town I have never visited before . It's very nice there with rock formations in the middle of town [ on the video ].

We drove over the hill to continue our journey and ended up refueling in a small town after stopping to take pictures and being greeted by the dog who wandered over to see what we were up to .

We also stopped at an old building for some pictures . Lisa took this one with the D40 and 18-105 lens.

It had a lot of "character" , it was a "home handyman's dream"

Day two was plagued by bad weather and we ended up at the Lottin point motel run by "Bruno and Duckie" . When we got there we were told that there was no hot water yet , the fire still had to be lit - so we waited a while before having a shower .
At first I thought there was no electricity either , until I realized 4 of 7 light bulbs were blown so I had to ask Bruno , busy lighting the fire , for some bulbs so I could fit them.
Lisa doesn't like insects much so when I saw a spider on the washbasin I quickly flushed it down the drain . Then at bedtime I looked over at the wall and saw a slug crawling down towards us and quickly flicked off the lights before Lisa could see it - or I wouldn't get any sleep .
After getting home I told Lisa about them - she says she had already wanted to go and sleep in the van rather but didn't want to hurt my feelings :)

Day three:

We woke to better weather on Tuesday morning .

From here we headed for Te Araroa and the worlds' most easterly lighthouse .
This cemetery looked quite out of place right next to the ocean .

Awatere river .

There we found the world's largest Pohutukawa tree .

a house with its own waterfall

Memories of the past

and when we got to the end of the road we climbed 600 steps to the lighthouse

I tried to 'invade'

We carried on toward Tokomaru bay and met  a horse with no ... rider

When we got to Tokomaru bay we were greeted by a rainbow

and some old buildings

From there we headed down to Tolaga bay .

We stayed in a little cabin for $65 .

And played scrabble all night while the spoiled cat turned its back on a piece of sausage roll .

Day 4 :
Down to Gisborne and then back up past Opotiki.

Gisborne is an interesting little town - fondly known as "Gizzy" by locals .

From there we ended up at Ohiwa bay camp ground with a nice view.

Someone had built a "fort" [?] with sticks . I put the gopro hellmet camera mounted on an eggtimer in the middle and did a timelapse

An interesting afternoon sky 

And an interesting evening sky

We slept in the van that night .

Day 5: 
Simply a return home through Rotorua and not much else .....

White island volcano smoking in the background.

Some other timelapse and interesting videos I did on the journey.

PhotovanII , "The Odyssey"

About a year ago I sold the photovan - my life has been rather busy lately .
I made contact online with a lady in Canada and we have much in common . I visited her in Canada for 2 weeks - we maintained contact and she visited me in New Zealand for a few weeks . We are now married and living in New Zealand still and I decided "we" needed two vehicles :) .
I bought another van , also a Toyota Hiace [reliable] with about 305000km on the clock . I've started doing it up as well and had to give it a name . My wife mentioned that the ship bringing her goods over was named "The Odyssey" - I looked that name up and found that it had something to do with someone's 10 year journey .... I've been alone in New Zealand for 10 years and my journey has led me to my marriage and a life together with someone who is now my traveling companion - so I now present the beginning of the travels of "The Odyssey" .......

The Odyssey

A few months ago I sold the photovan - I have been in withdrawl since and due to the fact that I recently married I decided it would only be fair to have two vehicles - so I just bought another van . It is a 2.4 litre van compared to the old 2 litre engine and hopefully will be more economical to run .
My wife , Lisa ,  is from Canada , she is shipping some of her belongings over on a ship called the "odyssey" . I looked that name up and apparently it is related to someone's 10 year journey - I have been in New Zealand for 10 years now so I think it would be a pertinent name for the next generation photovan :)

2011/04/22 The back-roads tour to the Waitakares .

The photovan has been sitting idle for too long so on the Friday of the long weekend I decided to do some exploring along the back-roads from Raglan to Port Waikato , via Waikaretu .
I used the trusty D40 and 18-200 lens for many of the shots .
 It's only about 100 km but much of the time you are only going about 40km/hr so it takes a while - I saw two other cars the entire trip .

There is a side trip 1.4km from the intersection to Port Waikato that goes to the Nikau caves and cafe , it was closed I think due to the religious holiday .

There is some reasonable scenery along the way with occasional glimpses of the sea .

I had the 10.5mm fisheye lens on the D50 which helped get in a lot of the scenery :)

There are many old buildings and vehicles rotting away on the farms .

And some who just don't care about anything .....

After getting back on the highway you have to drive through Awful Auckland , cars , people , buildings , more cars and people ..... but as you work your way to Huia you leave all of that behind and the scenery starts to get better .

The 10.5 was very useful for some of the pictures , including some taken from the drivers seat .

The road gets narrow and windy , the rain didn't help either .

At the end of the road is the Whatipu campsite - nothing fancy but a good location .

I just bought the Panasonic FT3 compact and it was used for the rest of these pictures - it turned out really handy .

There is a short walk along the beach to the caves and a campsite as well .

There is a camp site near the caves as well ....

And then I headed back past the camp ground again and toward the beach .

The beach is well worth exploring , lots of rock formations and interesting places to explore .

The Panasonic did a good job , even when it started raining I could carry  on taking pictures - I eventually made my way back to the campground .

In the evening I settled down with a cup of coffee and a movie ......

As it got dark I realized I had the tripod tucked away in the storage box - I mounted the D50 and fisheye lens on it and took some snaps of the stars , including a few trails of the planes landing at the nearby airport .

I headed back home the next morning , one day I will go back and spend more time on the beach and hopefully get better light :)

2011/01/03 Success ! Around Ruapehu in a day .

I'm told it's a 67km walk . It's rated as a 4-6 day walk but the first time I tried to do it in 3 days I failed . A 25 kg pack and not drinking enough water left me pulling out at the Turoa road with a sore knee . During that trip I met two people trying to do the "Round the mountain 24 hour challenge" and decided to try it myself . That attempt ended in disaster . That was 8 months ago and I've been preparing for "round two" ever since . Ruapehu has won too many times for my liking and I was determined to finish it this time . Sunday morning I was sitting thinking about it after two botched attempts a week ago and decided that I have to do it . I said to everyone I saw that morning " Tell me I can go around Ruapehu in 15 hours !" - after enough people had said it I knew I had to do it.

This time I decided that since both previous attempts had involved pulling out at the Turoa road I would go counter-clockwise for a change - this would serve several purposes :
1.) I would have that psychological obstacle out of my way early .
2.) I would be walking mostly downhill in much of the desert area and soft sand .
3.) Crossing that road early would mean I would have no escape route and would have to finish it .

Unfortunately my compact camera failed the day before and I had no camera with me so will have to dig out some of my older pictures.
The evening before I stayed in my car at the doc campground - there was a road pointing to Ruapehu and I walked up and down it several times and before heading off to sleep took one final look at Ruapehu and said " I'm back and this time I will not fail  " .

That night was unusually warm - the first time I haven't been able to fully cover myself with the sleeping bag due to heat , rather strange for Ruapehu . I set the alarm for 4:30 am but woke up at 4:00 am and couldn't go back to sleep so decided it was a good time to start . I drove up to Whakapapa , parked my car and started walking up the 4.5 km of road at 4:20 am . It was a clear starry sky and bright enough to walk without a torch . At 5:00 am I reached the beginning of the track . The sign stated " Mangaturuturu hut 6 1/2 hours " - that took me 3 hours 5 minutes and I was at the hut at 8:05 am . I ran out of water one hour before the hut - my hydration pack was supposedly 3 litres ? On the way there I was already feeling uncomfortably warm at 6:00 am though I was in the shade . I got talking to someone there and ended up having 18 minutes rest instead of my planned 15 minutes . This was the hut where my last attempt ended when I went the other way around the mountain . It was also the hut where there was no water in the tank and I ended up drinking bad river water and getting sick . Even though there was water in the tank this time I still added a water purification tablet "just in case" .
The sign mentioned "Mangaheuhu hut 5 1/2 hours" and I managed to reach it at 11:00 am but had to stop and splash water on myself at the rivers a few times because the heat was getting  a bit much - I had only been going 7 hours and was already tiring due to the heat - and I hadn't reached the desert yet.

From here it is a supposed 6 hour walk to Rangipo hut which I can usually do in 2 3/4 hours but it took me 3 hours this time . There is a large valley to cross and no vegetation because it is New Zealand's only desert area .
The sun was getting to me and I ended up dipping my shirt in a river and wrapping it around my head to try and cool myself down - down in the lower areas of the valleys there was no wind movement , sun right above me , and keeping my face down to avoid the sun meant feeling the heat coming up from the ground and rocks of the desert . 3 times I almost fainted due to the heat and adjusted my walking pace to prevent it - which is probably where I lost that 15 minutes .
I hadn't even reached the halfway mark and was already drained from the heat - it wasn't looking good at all . My watch has a thermometer that basically tells me the temperature of my wrist if I have it on . I checked that and at one stage my arm was at 40 degrees celsius .
At Rangipo hut I knew I had passed the halfway mark and just had to keep walking for another 7 hours to finish .
This is an older image - it was very bright sunlight when I got there .

After 15 minutes of rest again I headed for the Waihohonu hut [now a brand new hut that I've never seen before ] , rated at 5 1/2 hours it took me 3 hours - still 15 minutes worse than my previous time though there was the occasional warm breeze that almost made me feel better. In the desert area there are one or two large rivers but much lower down from the track and too much effort to reach . You do cross a few dry river beds and the occasional annoying rocky river bed where you can hear the ice cold snow-melt water gurgling away out of sight and reach .
I had decided that I would give an extra amount of concentration to where I step to avoid twisting my ankle like I did three times on the last attempt and fortunately there were only 2 or 3 close encounters but no actual injuries which is probably what got me through .

By this time my hands were swollen to 1 1/2 times their normal size for some reason , my face was badly burned [ I had some sun-block on but not on my forehead to prevent it getting in my eyes ] and my feet were starting to feel blisters underneath though I think in general I was in pretty good condition .
Since I was generally going down-hill there were a few places I managed to run to make up for lost time .
I must have reached the hut at around 5:10 pm and decided to give myself a longer rest for the final home stretch . I had given up trying to do it in 15 hours and just wanted to finish in less than 24 hours for once .
There was a little high cloud by now but I would be walking back directly into the sun.
There were quite a few people at the hut and all asked if I was ok so maybe I didn't look too good . I lay down for a while , walked around a bit , sat outside and started psyching myself up . It was a good thing there was no escape route and I knew that if I stayed there the night I would feel terrible in the morning . After half an hour my hands were tingling like crazy and the swelling had gone down .
I had spent the day eating energy bars , energy gels , and these strange energy bars that tasted like 3 day old camel poo mixed with custard powder - not exactly the same but very similar .
I was exhausted but determined to succeed this time - I kept dropping things and the people were trying to convince me to stay the night but I told them that Ruapehu has beaten me enough times , I've planned for it for 8 months and I will finish what I started finally.
I think the problem was that I rested for too long and gave my body time to go into shock . It is a very modern hut and the warden brought me some ice cubes to put into my hydration pack to cool the lukewarm water . Once I got my pack back on and convinced myself that I was going to finish I told them I was heading off . The warden told me "It's another 5 hours" and I told her "I'll do it in 3 " . Then one guy said to me "You're very brave " and I said to him " My mother always told me there's a difference between 'brave' and 'stupid' , I don't think she would call me brave " .
I suddenly felt energetic and started running back - that only lasted about 2 minutes though . It took me exactly 3 hours to get back and I was at my car at 20:45 pm - 16 hours and 25 minutes since starting.
I looked up at Ruapehu and said "See , I respect you but I don't fear you" . 

I still wasn't sure where I would be sleeping and decided to allow myself a little luxury - I drove to a lodge and booked in for the night - because I couldn't stand straight one of the staff members told me I was showing all the symptoms of  heat exhaustion - the swelling in my hands had gone down once again and they were tingling and shaking . They brought  me some food and water and suggested I drink some coke to help my sugar levels - somehow the food managed to stay down .
I never got much sleep that night , it felt like I had heartburn and it didn't feel like my food was going to stay down though fortunately it did .
It's got to rate as one of the best days of my life I suppose , almost as good as the day I smashed my work van into the side of a bus and had to be cut out by the fire department !

2011/01/01 - Waiting for the right conditions

I still intend to go around Ruapehu [ 72km ] in less than 24 hours . Based on my previous attempt I can do it with 14 hours of walking and 4 X 15 minute rest stops at the huts along the way . A total of 15 hours this time of the year means that I could leave at 5:00 am and be back by 8:00 pm while it is still light . Last Monday I was ready to go but the weather forecast mentioned rain and extreme gale force winds for the afternoon - not gonna happen . I headed back home  , loaded up my photovan and headed for Napier with a possible trip to Wellington . At Napier I checked the weather report and it mentioned 'fine weather' for the central North Island so I headed straight back to Ruapehu - all this in gale force winds which almost resulted in my van being blown in front of a truck - good fun.
Tuesday night I set my alarm for 4:30 am , got all my gear ready and felt my foot start throbbing inside from the cold . A 10 year old injury was woken up when I carried a 25 kg log for 3 hours on the beach last Saturday - not going to happen once again !
So today I drove out to Te Toto gorge near Raglan where I live and took in some scenery .

 After heading back into town I took a kayak for a paddle in the harbour - I usually avoid anything that could damage the camera but decided to compromise and use my Gopro helmet camera . It got a bit foggy inside but gives the general idea of what went on .
On the 'town' side of the harbour , I headed across to the other side and battled against an outgoing tide .

Te Akau bay 
Then I headed 'upstream' toward an interesting piece of land and did some exploring - I get motion sickness very easily and wasn't feeling too good from all the 'bobbing around '

From here I headed back across to the wharf - waves pounding from the side and  a stronger current coming in . It was tiring and after getting to the other side the water was moving too quickly to paddle back so I dragged the kayak up the beach and ran back to collect my van . Not much of a story but the best I can do for now - maybe next week my foot will be feeling better for "Round 2' of Ruapehu in a day :) .


Friday afternoon I headed for Ruapehu and got there at 5:30 pm and was aiming for the summit . The weather forecast suggested it should be a ' pleasant ' trip .
When I got there it was empty and the ski lifts weren't moving so I wasn't going to catch a lift to the upper slopes . I asked someone why it was so quiet and they said that it was because of the gale force winds . When I was driving toward the mountain everything was looking 'fine' .

When I got higher up the top of the mountain was getting angrier and the wind was heading in my direction .

Nguaruhoe was looking fairly calm though .

I ended up simply seeing how high I could get without leaving the safety of the surrounding lodges to decide whether I would stay up there for the night or not .

There were icicles everywhere .

While trying to decide if I would dig a snow cave while being "sandblasted" by ice particles I found this sign in a window which seemed to offer an opinion on my attempt

so I decided to head back down and try and get back to the car before dark .

Going back down at sunset was the best part actually , I wish I had been there a day later in good conditions with a tripod and a decent camera .

Looking back up the mountain showed how angry the weather had got .

Egmont was looking good in the distance .

And the snow ploughs were getting warmed up for a night's work fixing the slopes for the next day's skiers

The moon was also coming up so it would have been good if I had a tripod there .

Now for the good part of the story . I worked my way back to the car and drove down to the campsite and slept there for the night .
But I had found an expensive looking spanner  lying on one of the tracks that most likely belonged to one of the workers there so I went into the information centre to hand it in , rather than drive all the way back up to the ski fields .
There were two other hikers discussing the Tongariro track with one of the staff , asking him what the conditions were like regarding the snow . I told them that the snow had frozen on Ruapehu itself and was firm to walk on as I had " tried to climb it last night " .
The old codger at the counter said to me " In the conditions we had yesterday ?!" - his face did a red 'Mexican wave'  .
Now we all know what it's like when you're sitting watching your fishing rod and the end of the rod shows that you have a 'nibble' . You check your bait and put on something bigger to get a decent "bite" .
Well it's his fault that he jumped to the conclusion that I had gone beyond  the safety of the lodges without asking .
I said "Yes , it was a bit windy near the top so I came back down because I had to drop to a press-up position a few times to prevent being blown off my feet , and my face eventually got numb from the ice particles being blown in my face " [ which was all true actually ] .
Well his face got the red flush again which changed to a rich purple as he said " I just feel sorry for the search and rescue staff who have to put themselves in danger to save people like you ! "
I told him " They wouldn't have to rescue me , I was going to sleep on top in a snow cave - there are usually a few up there " .
He responded with a bellowing  " There would be no snow caves up there because there has been so much snow they would all be closed up ! ".
I told him " that would be ok , I've got a tarpaulin with me that I could sleep under for the night "
By this time his face had lost the purple tinge and was looking pale as he said loudly " IN THIS WIND !? " .
So I smiled and said " I've got a good sleeping bag " :) .
At that stage I knew I had hooked a Marlin because he swung around to the two guys he was originally talking to and said " Now , where were we !?! " .
That was the cue for me to drive back up the ski field and hand the spanner in to the lost and found department but it was difficult not to burst out laughing a few times on the way .
While I was up there again I decided to take a few fun shots .

 The guy who took the picture for me never got my feet in so I got a shot of my footwear .
Everyone lining up for the ski lifts was dressed in alpine gear .
 Then I decided to try one more quick snap ....

Well that's another round to Ruapehu , I chose the wrong day and should have gone up a day later but it was still good fun and I got some ok shots out of it .
Driving back through Taupo I had another go at the "Hole in one" .
I don't play golf but got close to it a few times 6 weeks ago when I had a try . This time I actually hit the platform once so I must be improving :)

- time to drive down to Raglan beach and catch the sunset :)


The beginning of the "photocar"

It's hard to believe that I bought the photovan almost three years ago now .
I've learned much from the modifications I've done to it and the use , or lack thereof , I've gotten out of those modifications .
I've also learned that when I am traveling around and staying one night at places , rather than for a few days in one spot , I spend very little time in the van itself ..... but I need the van because I can sleep in it and the car doesn't offer a comfortable option in this regard .
But the van uses exactly twice as much fuel as the car and really loves steep uphills because it stays on them for as long as possible .

Enter the "Photocar" , a fast economical sleepover option for those trips where I won't need the portable shelter aspect of the van as much .

And it's only done half the distance that the van has in its lifetime

I have plans for that inverter , it can move out for a smaller version wired up to some extra batteries in the engine compartment . I already have a mount for the gopro camera and a small compass on the dash .

The most important part of it is a comfortable nights sleep and I grabbed the folding bed from the van
and opened it up

It looks like it will do the job ! Time to start 'modifying':)


Ruapehu , sleeping in the snow

These trips in my photovan all start with the basics , check mileage and put goo in the engine to slow down oil burning . The day before my adventure started I was in Rotorua , I went into a tyre shop and told them the steering wheel was shaking while I drive and they checked the tyres . There was a big lump on the front left tyre and they told me it could be from hitting a pot-hole at high speed on a bad road . I just smiled and said " That is a very distinct possibility " :) .

The morning started with a stop at Taupo and breakfast at subway - the weather is apparent in the background 

I stopped to get some pictures of this forest with the fungus growing on the trees

When you're standing on the roof of a van a passing logging truck makes things rock around a bit 

Approaching Ruapehu and the weather report that suggested things were going to clear up didn't seem too trustworthy

I headed up the hill , slowly , and found an overnight parking place

part 1.) I didn't want to be too far from safety since the rated avalanche risk was 'considerable' so I headed up this valley around the corner from the ski fields

I decided to use this rock to block the wind and flattened out the area and put the tarp down

I thought the scenery was pretty good

At around 2pm it was still raining , the weather forecast had suggested I would have a clear afternoon but everything was getting wet and if I took my boots off it is such a hassle getting them back on again in these conditions that I decided I wasn't going to wait around for 6 hours till dark .

Part 2.) I had passed this old building earlier , broken windows , door jammed open , and decided it would be a good place to do my cooking .

I wondered about staying here for the night , snow and slush all over the floor - would it count ?

I still had some time to kill and wandered towards the ski fields , I could return to this hut if I needed to . 
Part 3.) There were quite a few of the ski lodges not being used - this one had a verandah that I could use as emergency shelter  if the weather got really nasty - there was a 'complex' weather system moving over the north island and there were possibilities of severe gale force winds , one reason I never climbed to the top .
I hung up all my wet gear to drip-dry and set up the bivy bag ready to move into position when it was 'time' - once it was dark I slid it down onto the bare snow next to the building , on top of the tarpaulin .

And got ready for some 'sleep'[?]

Many of my 'stories' involve a list of mistakes to begin with .
An adventure in the snow shouldn't have one of these . It's a good thing conditions weren't right for climbing all the way to the top because I brought the smaller tarpaulin with , not the same one I slept on top of in my last snow-cave adventure .
I thought I had enough insulation under me , with all the movement and effort involved getting into the sleeping bag and bivy bag I was hot and bothered and took my jacket off and used it as a pillow , wondering why I had it on in the first place .
My camera [Casio FH100] was in its case next to me to keep it warm , torch down one side , knife on the left and water bottle outside [ it proved useful in the middle of the night , I had been drinking more water than I thought , but I'll never drink from it again :redface:].

Then it started raining again and I wondered how long it would be before it started dribbling through the opening - the bivy bag has about 4 clips that close it up - it is made of gore-tex but I'm not sure how breathe-able it is if the opening is blocked with snow or something , and what if strong wind is blowing rain the wrong way ?.

The rain lasted about half an hour and I unclipped the opening and lay staring at the stars for an hour or so ....

Then the rain started again , I clipped the opening closed again and pulled the string on my -30 sleeping bag that closes the opening around my face and allows the two cheek-flaps to cover my face leaving only my nose sticking out . About an hour later I started feeling the cold - I never had enough insulation under me - I should have brought the bigger tarp and folded it a few times like the last time in the snow cave .
By now I was shivering and dug the fleece jacket out from under my head and did some amazing contortionist tricks to put it on in that small area .

I felt warm again - for half an hour , until the cold worked its way through again , besides the fact that my legs were feeling it now as well . It's all fine having a sleeping bag that can handle extreme cold but if you don't have proper insulation under you it's all useless .
So I tried turning sideways and it worked for long enough for me to start drifting off to sleep until I woke suddenly while dreaming that someone was suffocating me .
I had to turn on my back again so I could open the front enough to let some fresh air in so I could breathe properly again . That fixed the suffocation problem but as I breathed the cold air in and out I rapidly lost body heat .
By this time it was 1 am and my body started shaking ....
It was time to 'chicken out' , I wormed my way back onto the wooden deck and positioned the mattress under me , falling asleep was easy , I did it about 20 times  .

Lying flat on my back started to hurt , after an hour I wriggled across to my backpack and dragged it into position as a pillow .
That made things better for another half hour until I realized that I was better off sleeping on my side , this got me half an hour's sleep each time until it hurt enough to wake up and change sides .
The snow plows worked all night as well , they had reverse beepers fitted too ....

What a long night ! It was such a relief to see the sky getting brighter , when I sneaked the opening apart each time , and at about 6am it was bright enough to force myself to get up and get all my warm gear on .
The inside of the bivy bag was wet near the opening and the bottom of my sleeping had a layer of ice on it ...

My other water bottle was half frozen as well . My boots were wet the day before , this morning they were frozen solid and it took a while to get my feet in again . My laces made a crunching noise and didn't want to bend ... 

Once I had all my gear on I worked my way back down to the van .Nguaruhoe [ Mount Doom LOTR ] was looking rather gloomy , I haven't slept on top of that one yet !?

The rest of the area was under clouds - Ruapehu has its own weather . In the distance to the left is Mount Egmont/Taranaki , that one was an interesting climb but I wouldn't want to be up there in bad weather .

The photovan had ice on the windows , it started but needed some encouragement to keep running .
I drove back down with the window open , the hot air on the windscreen was too much for me and I needed to cool off .
By this time things were clearing up a bit .....

I had thought of the option of sleeping on the snow one night and building a snow cave the other [ tonight ] but I think this should be enough adventure for at least a week - I wanted a full nights sleep for a change ! 

Things to remember for next time :
1.) Take more insulation , two bedrolls , plus tarp .
2.) Build a snow trench , take an extra tarp for the roof .
3.) Wait till it is almost bedtime before heading out .