Mt Adams

A trip up Mt Adams, a notably geographically prominent peak west of the Main Divide on New Zealand’s South Island. I’ve been wanting to get up there for a long time, including one abandoned winter ascent. November 2015 I got my chance. It was a fantastic trip – climbing up into the mist with almost zero visibility we set up camp at 1767m on the snow. After a feast of a dinner the clouds parted at about 7pm to revel breathtaking views up and down the Coast and out over the Tasman Sea. The next morning dawned clear and calm, and an overnight freeze made for exquisite cramponing conditions for our trip to the summit. On to the next objective…

The Old Ghost Road

 (Jason Blair)
In the hills between the mouth of the Mokihinui River and the site of Lyell, a gold rush ghost town in the Upper Buller Gorge, there is something quite remarkable happening. A track is being hewn from wilderness itself, traversing incredible terrain, to create a unique backcountry experience for those of the two-wheeled, pedal-powered, knobbly tyre persuasion. It’s a feat of laborious toil – begun by miners of yore with a dream of connecting distant goldfields, and approaching completion by a modern band of merry volunteers. The old timers surely didn’t foresee the high-technology steeds of the 21st century glinting and spinning their way over the same hills they dug in with pick and shovel. Much less would they have imagined that their work would be completed with the assistance of helicopters, motorbikes, explosives, and such. Plenty of hand-blistering manual labour still required, mind you. Imagine you brought one of the prospectors of the gold-rush to visit 2015 and showed them Ghost Lake Hut, perched atop a bluff in the Lyell Range. They’d probably scoff at the extravagance, but happily enjoy the comfort and admire the gumption of those who had the vision, and the wherewithal to see it become reality.

 (Jason Blair)

I’ve had the pleasure of flying in to Ghost Lake twice now, and ridden the great majority of the track so-far in existence (albeit with a heavy load of camera-gear for most of it). I have to say that any misgivings I harboured about the concept have proven thoroughly misplaced. This is a world-class trail, and it exists due to the dogged determination and hard work of the trust and their volunteers. Have a look through this slideshow of images from the track to whet your appetite for back-country adventure riding. Then get on your bike and ride it for yourself.

More info on The Old Ghost Road.

Tiger Country

Back in March I finally headed off on a trip into the central Paparoa that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. With my good friend and regular adventure accomplice Jack, and his brother Tom, we traversed Mt Uriah from the Buller Gorge, via the Ohikanui, and out to Maimai in the Grey Valley, via Mt Stevenson. You can read the details in the September 2014 issue of Wilderness Magazine.

Trampers look at Mt. Uriah.

Two trampers looking at the north ridge of Mt. Uriah, in the central Paparoa Ranges.

The Paparoa Range and it’s Wilderness Area are incredibly special, and right in my back yard. They aren’t high, and occupy a compact area, but they are rugged and challenging. The terrain and the coastal position make for difficult travel and conditions. The objective of the trip was to attempt a new rock climbing route up the granite buttresses of the south aspect of Uriah. We weren’t able to make that attempt because it took us a lot longer than we anticipated to get to the base of the climb. We are planning to return this March for another crack.

Greymouth 150th Celebrations

This month Greymouth celebrates 150 years since Reuben Waite, a Collingwood storekeeper, arrived to set up the first store here where the town now stands. There are a whole load of events going on, as well as pop-up art installations around town. It’s great to see the town vibrant and bubbling with community activities. Things kicked off with a fireworks display, launched from just across the river from town. It was a lovely evening for the occasion and a huge crowd lined the floodwall to get a good view. I decided to head up the King Park walkway behind town to get an overview of Greymouth, the river, and the fireworks. I thought for sure that others would have the same idea, but when I got there ahead of the scheduled start time I found only one chap sitting enjoying the evening from the vantage I had chosen. He was a French tourist, and had no idea that there was a show planned for which he had an outstanding seat! I think, were it not for my friend and I arriving, he would have wandered back to town after sunset and before the show. As it happened he decided to stay and enjoy the display with us, and what a show it was! Very impressive indeed. I managed to capture the image I had in mind, which is always a bonus!

Fireworks

GPNZ Ruapehu Trip #savethearctic

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of heading up to Ruapehu to shoot images and video for Greenpeace New Zealand’s #savethearctic launch action. The goal was to kick off an international social media campaign – Rooftops to Mountains. We travelled to the mountain with the objective of climbing to the summit with a modified snowboard and a banner. It was to be a symbolic act, to take the message to a mountain top and gain attention for the plight of the Arctic region in the face of climate change. We spent several days waiting for a weather window and shooting material to tell the story of the action.
Kurt on location carrying the sticker'd snowboard on the lower slopes of Ruapehu.
We flew a couple of drone shots for the video, and planned our strategy for the big climb. The weather was pretty challenging, but we did get a chance at the summit. Heading up the slopes toward the crater rim, snow conditions were great but visibility dropped to nearly nothing. We pushed on, approximating our line based on what we saw before the white-out. Arriving at a flat shoulder on the ridge, we stopped for lunch and to wait in the hope of a break in the cloud. As we were about to head back down, that break arrived and we had a clear view around us. Now that we could see, we realised we were sitting on the crater rim just below the summit we’d been aiming for. To one side the crater lake steamed and clouds swirled, and to the other the slopes dropped away to the ski-field below. We shot a lot of stills and some video.
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The only thing we still wanted was an action shot, but the sticker you see on Kurt’s board was stripped off as soon as he started riding. So that night we cut the lettering out of the board, and filled it with clear P-tex, revealing the board’s wooden core. It took hours and we were up into the wee hours tediously cutting, chiseling and filling. A local ski shop gave it a base-grind and wax in the morning and it was good to go.
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We headed back up the hill to find a suitable feature for Kurt to throw down on. He spotted this cliff from the chairlift and I got in position. Kurt hucked it twice, to a pretty flat landing, and we got this shot.
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You can see the (fairly dramatic) video clip put together by GPNZ here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152701649680775&set=vb.11870725774&type=2&theater
And the GP International campaign video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJaO9zIyoJI&feature=youtu.be

The Remus

This is a series of images I captured a few nights ago. It has generated quite a lot of interest on Facebook so I thought it would be good to post it here with a fuller version of events.

Fishing boat Remus hit by a large wave.

The fishing boat Remus takes a blow as it lines up a run across the Grey River bar.

There was drama in the sky on the evening of Wednesday the 6th of August. Billowing clouds crowded the sky, and the sun broke though the gaps in triumphant rays. I had been chatting with my fellow photographer and good friend Stewart Nimmo about the potential for a good sunset in the afternoon, and we thought it better to be out in case than miss it and curse ourselves. So even as it looked 50/50 with cloud banking on the horizon, we shot down to the Blaketown Breakwater to see what was happening.

The sun put on a bit of a show, but things fizzled pretty quickly as the heavy cloud to the west stifled the light and the evening went dull. While we shot a few frames of the large swells crashing into the rocks we noticed a fishing boat steaming back and forth a few hundred metres out. There were a number of people gathering on each breakwater, apparently to watch the bar crossing. A fairly morbid past-time, indeed, but apparently a tradition. I’ve happened down to the river mouth on several occasions when a sizeable crowd has been there to witness a rough crossing. Conditions, to my inexperienced eye, looked unpleasant at best. With high tide occurring just after sunset, and worse weather in the forecast, the pressure was obviously on the skipper to give it a go. As the boat chugged about and waited for a chance more people arrived and much speculation ensued. Some suggested it wasn’t as bad as they’d seen, others were stony faced and silent, but generally many unqualified opinions were advanced and tossed about.

Soon enough, with the light fading quickly, the skipper started creeping in and testing the conditions. At one point the boat snuck in quite close between sets, and appeared to second guess the timing. They hovered, and another set sprang up behind them. My gut lurched at the first swell of the set reared up and broke right behind the boat. I clicked off a series of frames, as the stern was lifted and pushed to port, the boat swung broadside to the wave, and collected the force of the blow to the middle of their starboard side. As the vessel pitched and then listed violently I thought we were witnessing calamity. Fortunately the skipper, or perhaps luck, kept the vessel from broaching completely and they got away with a thorough rinse (and I’m sure a moment of terror on board!). Luckily there wasn’t much more in the set, and they managed to get clear of the breakers without another incident.

It was crunch time, by this point, as darkness fell and the tide approached its peak. Go or no go. They decided to make their run on the back of a set, and caught one more good wave on the stern while finding the right position. Then, between sets, the Remus steamed across the bar quite calmly and smoothly, much to my relief and I’m sure that of my fellow observers.

The Grey River bar has seen more than its share of mishaps over the years. Seeing these events unfold gave me a lot to think about. Fishing crews risking their lives under a combination of pressures: fuel limitations, fish on board, commercial pressure, bad weather with worse to come, personal commitments, and much more. If the Remus had come to grief that night it would have been a dangerous rescue in rough conditions and poor light. Finding a person in the water would have been extremely difficult, let alone pulling them to safety.

I’ve since been in touch with the skipper and sold him a couple of prints – not that he’ll need any help remembering that crossing in a hurry! And I had to give him a special price. After all, he did the hard part!

Tasman

The Tasman Sea is a huge part of the West Coast. Beyond simply delineating the land’s edge, it has a pervasive influence on life here. I suppose that is true for all coastal communities and their briny neighbours, but it feels extra strong here. Perhaps it’s the fact that there is only a tiny sliver of habitable land, squished between the Tasman and the Southern Alps. Perhaps it’s the wild, inconstant nature of our particular puddle that impresses itself so heavily on our lives. I’m no meteorologist, but I gather the Tasman plays a pretty significant role in our local weather. It certainly plays a significant role in my heart. I really love this place, and gazing out over this body of water, whether tempestuous or tranquil, makes something inside me feel so at home. For all that, I don’t think I’ve paid a great deal of photographic attention on the Tasman as a subject. More often I am preoccupied with the grandeur, the spectacle and drama of the landscape, the bigger picture. One morning recently I headed up the Coast early with my good friend and fellow shooter Stewart Nimmo hoping for some magic morning light. It was looking a bit dreary and we nearly turned back without shooting a frame. But once you’ve dragged yourself out of bed before dawn you may as well get out and get some fresh air at least, right? So we did, and I ran up and down between the waves to catch some moody, minimal portraits of that dynamic zone where the sea meets the land and they play out the battle of eons called erosion. I’m glad I did.

As with any images I post here, these are available for purchase as fine-art prints. Get in touch to discuss options and prices. I’d love to hear from you.

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Haystacks

Photographing the same subject over and over, in many different lighting conditions, weather, seasons, and moods is a wonderfully illuminating exercise. I’ve been photographing Sewell Peak, a hill near Dobson, where I live, for a year and a half now. Since moving out here, I’ve been pretty fascinated by it’s changing demeanour in various conditions. I’m not sure if it’s the radio and other equipment installed on the summit, giving it a little hint of other-worldly, sci-fi, feeling, or the way it silhouettes against the changing skies, or just the fact that I see it every day out the window, as I drive up the valley, from the garden, and many more times besides. It quietly dominates the skyline. Add to this the fact that I love to scurry all over it – there is a track to the summit which I walk, run, and mountain bike on a fairly regular basis. I get a kick out of looking up at the peak from my house, and a few hours (or less) later, looking down on my house from the top. It’s a geographic feature with a rich history of mining. There was once an aerial rope-way to bring coal down from a mine part way up the hill. There are relics of miners past scattered along the track, and it begins from Greymouth’s most significant historic site – the beautifully preserved and interpreted Brunner Mine Site. I think mostly, though, it doesn’t actually matter much what the subject is in this type of project. It needs to be easy enough to access so that you can shoot it regularly, but beyond that almost anything is worthy of long term observation. It helps to hone your attention to the light, gives you a reason to keep your eyes open and aware, a reason to carry your camera at all times, and an appreciation for how a small change in angle, or conditions, or lens, or any number of other factors can make a very different image. Here are a selection of images I’ve made of my dear friend, Sewell Peak.

Oh, and the title of this post is a reference. 10 points to anyone who can tell me to what it refers.

Dramatic cloud silhouettes are a favourite, in case you couldn't tell...

Dramatic cloud silhouettes are a favourite, in case you couldn’t tell…

Some foreground for once! I'm not sure why but I tent to prefer the 80/20 or even 90/10 split, and in this case the sky usually becomes the dominant feature. Who can resist a mirror calm river, though?

Some foreground for once! I’m not sure why but I tent to prefer the 80/20 or even 90/10 split, and in this case the sky usually becomes the dominant feature. Who can resist a mirror calm river, though?

Moonlight, meaning a long exposure, plus high moving cloud, creates an eerie backdrop.

Moonlight, meaning a long exposure, plus high moving cloud, creates an eerie backdrop.

Sunrise paints the high cirrus beautiful colours, and tinges the valley fog with warmth that belies the frigid wind pushing it down-valley.

Sunrise paints the high cirrus beautiful colours, and tinges the valley fog with warmth that belies the frigid wind pushing it down-valley.

Late evening afterglow - it's always worth waiting for a while after sunset.

Late evening afterglow – it’s always worth waiting for a while after sunset.

Billowing cloud against blue sky, and strong light, add drama.

Billowing cloud against blue sky, and strong light, add drama.

Star trails, and wisps of cloud lit with moonlight.

Star trails, and wisps of cloud lit with moonlight.

High cloud lends a moody feeling.

High cloud lends a moody feeling.