I recently returned from photographing a short campaign for Tourism New Zealand, which involved exploring the west coast of the south island. This was my second time in this country and really solidified my belief that this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Just like every time I travel, I learnt something new, so here are a few things I wasn’t quite expecting to experience in NZ.
1. Kea Birds
So I knew there was such a thing as Kea birds but I had no idea how social and cheeky these little guys are! My main encounter with these quirky fellows was during my time spent high up in the Mt Aspiring national park. To shoot sunset, I made myself comfortable in a valley looking across to Mt Aspiring and the Rob Roy peak. After I set up my gear and sat down with my camera, I heard noises behind me. Turning around I was surprised to see a Kea bird standing within arms reach, looking as puzzled as I was. I greeted my new friend and made sure he didn’t mind me being on his turf before I continued to shoot the mountains. The light was getting good and there was no time for small talk. However, within less than 30 seconds I was disrupted by an entire entourage of noisy Kea’s who had decided to join me and my new mate. After some brief introductions I tried to get on with my work. I left my camera bag on the ground and walked around as I was shooting. For the first time ever I was glad my bag was heavy because, to my surprise, the Kea’s were now on top of my bag and trying to get inside. If it was any lighter they would have no doubt taken it as a souvenir. I couldn’t believe these guys! Considering how remote this location was, these birds were interacting with me like it was an every day affair! I was pretty impressed and stoked to have shared a shoot with them. Keep an eye out for them when you are driving through NZ.
2. Miserable isn’t always miserable
Is that a contradiction? Perhaps, but what I am getting at here is that NZ has a way of looking good no matter what. You know that friend you have who always seems to look good, even when they are sick or when it’s first thing in the morning before coffee? Well that is New Zealand. I am obviously a sucker for vibrant, dynamic light so at the first sight of rain and overcast skies, I get a little bummed. My entire first day was like that in NZ and I was beginning to get a little doubtful until we hit the road and everything that should have looked dull still looked epic. Mountains definitely look good in all types of weather, sometimes the moodier the better and rainforests, well they were just meant for days like this. We made our way to Arthur’s Pass, a place I had wanted to shoot for a while, we walked through the lush forest and made our way to the mammoth Devil’s Punchbowl Falls where we sat and absorb the spray and mist, totally oblivious to the fact that the skies were grey.
3. There is an epic 4WD track in Arrowtown
So just near Queenstown there is a quaint little gold mining town called Arrowtown. I stopped by here last year and was stoked to be returning although what I ended up experiencing this time was not anything I was really expecting. Arrowtown is commonly known for its cottages and the river that is surrounded by trees that seasonally paint the town in an array of fiery autumn colours. But little did I know there is an awesome 4WD drive track that runs up through the mountains, criss-crossing the river and down among tree lined valleys. I saw so many photographic opportunities here with the trees and mountains providing so many different textures and shades of colour.
4. Tarns make for good swimming pools
So a tarn is basically a mountain lake or pool. These are no doubt great to use in photographs, particularly for reflections or adding some foreground interest to a large scene. However, my friend and fellow photographer Mark Clinton, also showed me how they can be used as an early morning pick-me-up. One must simply embrace the fresh alpine weather by stripping down to the bare essentials and then proceed to run and dive into the knee deep pool of joy. I opted to shoot the event instead of participating but my respect for Mark increased by at least 2%. Although, this was short lived as the super woman and mountaineer guide Laetitia Campe surprised us all by going for a swim herself, completely unannounced after the rest of us had almost made our way back to the chalet. These mountain folk are a special breed.
5. The best accommodation in the world is the Whare Kea chalet
Ok, this is obviously just my opinion but of all the places I have had the pleasure of staying at, but for me, this one takes the cake. Perched up in the mountains on the north side of Dragonfly Peak, this environmentally conscious masterpiece is cozy, rugged and boasts jaw-dropping 360 degree views year round. I usually try to remain a pretty calm, level-headed bloke, but arriving here and having the opportunity to spend the night had me amped up like a 7 year old on red cordial. From the ethereal light beaming through the mountains during the afternoon, the rainbow, stars, waterfall, fireplace and epic 5 course meal prepared by our awesome Canadian chef Carole. This place won me over, ten times. If you are looking at treating yourself and a loved one to an unforgettable experience, here is your answer. I plan to someday return with my wife and children.
Over all this trip reminded me how important it is to live in the moment. Sometimes we can spend so much time looking ahead that we forget to actually enjoy what we have before us. Rain, hail or shine, in the mountains or by the sea, beauty certainly is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s go outside and embrace the now. WP