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…
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.
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!
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.