New Zealand 2017 (Part Two)

This is part two of my blog posts about our trip to New Zealand.

You can find part one here.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

The Punakaiki pancakes are an unusual rock formation on the west coast of the south island. The rocks were formed millions of years ago when layers of limestone were sandwiched between softer layers of mud, and the course of time has slowly eroded away at the weaker rock to leave a quite bizarre set of stacks and blowholes on the coast.

Driving to Queenstown

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are some of the biggest and most accessible glaciers in New Zealand. The Glaciers have both suffered large retreats in recent years due to global warming, and the walk (which used to be a short hop from the car park) is now over 45 minutes in order to see the terminus at their closest range.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson - The Reflection Lake - is famed for it's ultra still waters, and habit of creating atmospheric morning views of Mt Cook and the southern alps. We first saw the image below when we visited Petr Hlavacek's gallery on the way in and I knew I wanted to find our way there if at all possible. It's really hard to tell how distant these sort of places are going to be, and how hard the walk is going to be when you get there.

In this case we got up at 6am in order to catch sunrise over the mountains, and the walk in was almost deserted. We stopped at a couple of vantage points along the way, but knew that the best view would be found further along the path. 

Driving to Arrowtown

The route down from Lake Matherson takes in some wonderful scenery, and once again, we were very lucky with the light. This was also my first chance to really try out some star photography with my new lens.

Arrowtown

Flight to Milford Sound

Aside from the flights from the UK, and the van rental, this was the single largest expense on our trip.  The drive to Milford sound is supposed to be incredibly scenic, but also takes 10 hours for a round trip. The flight on the other hand takes only around 30 minutes in, and the same on the way out; adding the incredible views to this and you have a simple choice!

Milford Sound

Milford sound was one of the only areas in NZ that I had been sure that I wanted to visit before leaving the UK. With an average rainfall of around 6.5m, it is also one of the wettest places in the country; naturally when we arrived, we were greeted with brilliant blue skies and t-shirt weather. Bueno!

I could say a lot about the scenery in Milford, but without being there it is hard to capture the scale of the place with just words. I hope that my pictures below cover some of the distance towards that goal. 

Flight Back to Queenstown

Moeraki Boulders

The Moeraki boulders are named after a sleepy little village perched on the side of a hill near the sea. The boulders themselves, despite being a fairly large tourist attraction, are altogether pretty boring. If you like spherical concretions, then these might be the top sight on your trip.

We visited the boulders both at night (around 11pm to catch low tide), and in the morning. 

My personal advice is to visit at night.

New Zealand 2017 (Part One)

New Zealand is unbelievably beautiful. There wasn't a day where I didn't find myself remarking on the crazy landscapes, or the gorgeous weather, or the lack of people, or any other selection of equally banal observations. As a result, when I returned to the UK, I also had a lot of pictures from the trip.

I've tried to condense these down, and provide only my favourites, along with a little surrounding information about my experiences on the road. Unfortunately, there were still too many days to cover in one post, so I'm going to split this into two sections...for your attention span, and for your bandwidth. I hope you enjoy what follows, and return for part two at some point in the future.

Aukland

We landed in Aukland at the start of the trip, and took a couple of days to travel around and see the sights. Many of the cities in New Zealand are close to the sea, and Auckland is no different. The city enjoys a wonderful coastal view, and the harbour-front is great for a walk in the sun - which is just what we needed to give us a gentle reminder of life outside of an aeroplane fuselage.

After wondering around for a little while, we popped over to Devenport (a suburb of Auckland positioned just across the bay) to take in the unusual architecture, and the superb views of Auckland. In the evening, we took a bus over to Mt Eden, and enjoyed the sunset from the top of a volcano on our first real day in NZ.

Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove

The next portion of our trip was a long drive around the Coromandel Peninsula. The peninsula sits to the east on Auckland, and is famed for its coastal beauty and range of natural sights. We only had a short period of time to visit, so we tried to fit in as many as possible - but I'm sure there were tonnes that we missed!

One of my favourite areas from the whole trip was our day at Cathedral Cove, where we walked for around 45 minutes over undulating terrain in order to find the path down to the beach closed off due to damage to the steps.
Fortunately we saw some people coming back up beyond the hazard tape, and chanced the final descent. When we negotiated the splinters of wood at the bottom (destroyed by the recent storm), we found a beach full of people chilling out on the golden sand...so much for paying attention to signs!

Hobbiton

I love the Lord of the Rings Films, and shortly before visiting New Zealand, I listened to the entirety of the books on my cycle rides to-and-from work. Indeed, while we were in the country, I subjected my long suffering Girlfriend to all 11.4 hours of the extended directors cuts of the films while we were parked up in campsites. Visiting Hobbiton was therefore a foregone conclusion. The whole site is faithfully maintained by a large team of gardeners, and the tour guides were full of interesting tidbits of information!

Rotorua

The North Island of New Zealand (Te Ika-a-Māui) is the most thermally active of the two islands that make up the country, as well as being the homeland of the Maori culture.

Rotorua - on the shores of the eponymous lake - is at the centre of this activity, and the unmistakable smell of sulphur fills the air as soon as you are within the city limit. Driving around the city, you can see frequent plumes of vapour rising through the air and if you stop to walk around the local parks then you'll find the sources (barely fenced off).

Tamaki Maori Village

One of the must do activities in in Rotorua is to take an evening out, and to experience some of the Maori culture. We asked around at the frequent i-sites and were advised that if we wanted a 'hands on' experience - then our best choice would be to visit the Tamaki Maori Village.

After being driven over on a tour bus (and being selected as tribal chief) I led my tour group around a wide array of activities - including Haka, Poi, Children's Games, Tattoo lessons.
Once we had seen all the sights, we moved inside to watch a wonderful show of Maori heritage - with traditional music, guitar playing, dancing, and a singer who wouldn't have been out of place in any opera house around the world. To wrap it all up, we were then offered a fantastic meal cooked in the traditional Maori 'Hangi' style.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19 kilometre section of one of the 'Great Walks' in New Zealand. It is definitely justified in it's claim as the premiere one day hike on the North Island. The walk itself, despite taking in around 800m of height gain, the walk is fairly gentle and well marked out. In fact, I was amazed by the number of people that were on the trail - the first image below shows the long line of people in front of us, there was a similar group in front of them, and again in front of that group. Indeed, the line went all the way to the top of the pass, and halfway down the other side - walking in on Kilometre 1 you really have to wonder what they were all there for.

All the questions are answered as you reach the top of the pass. The terrain opens up and you walk through craters, and take in the views of the blue and emerald lakes that the walk is famed for. We hung out there for a while taking pictures, and headed down the other side as the sun started to make its descent. The long walk down offered some stunning views across the plains towards Lake Rotoaira, and the golden light setting over the hills created some wonderful images of the mountainous horizon.

Highly Recommended!

Driving to Wellington

Our drive down to Wellington took in the majority of the Whanganui River road, and then continued down the coast via Palmerston North to the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Palliser.

Wellington

One of our plans in NZ was to try and get a feel for some of the major cities, and have an idea of where (if anywhere) we might like to come back and stay for a while. Despite being blessed once again by incredible weather, we unfortunately entered Wellington on Anzac Day (the national day of troop remembrance in Australia and New Zealand) and once again we were met with a town that was largely quiet and quite different from its usual self. Nevertheless, the atmosphere here largely reminded me of Bristol in the UK. Coffee shops, the dock area, the people, and a light feeling to the place seemed to create a general atmosphere of modernity, lightness, and progressivism which was very pleasant after so many hours of living in a van.

The Island Crossing and Arrival in Picton

We timed the Island Crossing from Wellington to Picton to vaguely coincide with the sunset - and boy were we lucky. After a fairly gentle crossing (which I understand can sometimes be fairly horrific) we weaved our way through the array of coves and inlets that make up the approach to the South Island and the Sun was literally perfect.

Abel Tasman National Park

The Abel Tasman National Park (along with almost everything we saw in NZ) was absolutely breathtaking. Unlike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing however - it was also practically empty. It does seem that if you take a short trip from the beaten track in New Zealand, then you very quickly leave the crowds behind, and can find yourself (in this case at least) with a private beach for an hour where you can mess about taking some pictures! We also came across the Silver Fern for the first time in our trip - which you can tell was very exciting.

Castle Hill Pt.1 (Pt.2 in an upcoming video)

Our first trip to Castle Hill - THE climbing location in NZ, and a spiritual centre of the universe (according to the Dalai lama) - was certainly a flying visit.  We walked around the rocks and did a little bit of climbing without pads in order to get some pictures - but the real climbing was done right at the end of our stay.

Stay tuned for more as they come - I've still got Glaciers, Jungle, Aerial, Cliche, and some Stunning Skyscapes to come.

Cheers for reading!

Tour De BIFF 2017 at The Depot Manchester

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to take some snaps at the 2nd Round of the Tour De Biff at The Depot Manchester. This competition is a little unlike most others, with competitors not being allowed use of their feet! You might think this would make for an impressive show - and you would be right - but it also makes it a little trickier to capture really engaging photos. 

Normally when shooting climbing, I try to capture either the emotions on people's faces, or the cool shapes that their bodies make with the wall...When people are campussing however, they don't look down at all!

Equally, capturing wild moves, or unlikely positions is also a great way of creating an intriguing photo. But when campussing, people tend to stay quite controlled, because the forces involved are put down solely through the arms and hands, instead of by the legs and feet. This means that it is way, waaay harder to hold these unlikely positions, and far harder to generate the sorts of forces that you let you get into them in the first place.

Nevertheless, I got my flash involved, and with a loaned 24-70 lens, I got stuck into the action and tried to get a good variety of shots to cover the different problems that were up around the centre. 

Full credit to the Routesetters for managing to split a pretty competitive field, and massive thanks to the Depot for sorting out such a quality competition once again!

Spanish Climbing

 

Winter sun cragging in Spain is definitely the best way to end your year. Just as the skies start turning grey and grim in the UK - its time to take a £50 flight to Alicante and enjoy the tasty tapas, sumptuous seafood, and superb array of 5* climbing.

We spent a week out in the Costa Blanca staying at Casa Lometa which is run by the wonderful Nat and Marcus - who met us on the first day, and sorted us out with all the insider crag information as well as wood for the fireplace in the evenings.

All the crags were reachable within 30 minutes or so - although we did drive further afield to visit some specific areas on a number of days. My favourite area by far was Pinos - which we only visited on our last day, after a late night of drinking some incredibly good £2.00 port from a local winery. No major sendage was had - but I can't wait to return asap!

 

Battle of Britain 2016 - The Climbing Depot Manchester

 

The Climbing Depot Manchester pulled out all the stops for the Battle of Britain 2016, with a huge lighting rig, specially imported holds, and Alex Megos to boot! 

I was on hand to shoot the day - check out some of the images below.