Friday, April 2, 2010

Photour - Day Two - A Photog's Feast

Larnach Castle by night

You know it's going to be a good day when you rock up to a place like this for breakfast. Larnach Castle could well be described as the Jewel in the Crown of Otago Peninsula. If you think the exterior is stunning, you should check out the inside. Semi-tragically for me, I had no time to shoot interiors, although our photourists did. I was there to pick them up for day two of our great southern photo safari, but the upside was that I got to have an omlette and some coffee there first. Nothing like first-rate accommodation and great grub to impress the visitors.

Monster gales had the gang more than a little trepidatious about our Monarch Wildlife Cruise that morning, but it takes some serious weather to make Otago harbour unsailable, and by the time we got down to the boat, the front had passed and the sky had cleared.

Jules and Camilla

The cruise is a great way to discover and photograph some of the peninsula wildlife, so Jules and Camilla lost no time in heading for the front of the boat (or more correctly, "the pointy end"). An informative commentary comes with the cruise, and everyone was pretty impressed that we ticked off the promised species within just a couple of hours cruising. For me, the highlights were definitely the Royal Albatross and Hectors dolphin, one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world.


Hectors Dolphins

Taiaroa Head

I have to confess, I find the geology of the peninsula as fascinating as the wildlife. Check out the beautiful layers in that headland. Our geology is a jumble of sedimentary rocks and basalt remnants of the ancient shield volcano that much of Dunedin and the harbour are formed from. Of course, the fur seals don't care. I nabbed this cute little guy with the Canon 5DMkII and the 400mm f/4 DO lens.

NZ fur seal pup

I love how the Peninsula just delivers the goods. It really is a great spot for photography, I'm so glad to have it on my back doorstep and proud to get to show people its great beauty.

But on this trip there was no time to gush. As soon as the Monarch had berthed we were dashing up the dock and into our rental vehicles, Invercargill bound, a flight to catch for Stewart Island. Despite our being a little later than scheduled, Heather's mates at Venture Southland were there to smooth the way, which included picking up some polarising filters and lens wipes. In these parts, you just have to be prepared for strong light or to wipe the occasional rain spot off your lens. No drama. We're here for great pictures, not a sun tan. Although with our four-seasons-in-one-day climate, you might get that too.

A fish and chip dinner had been arranged for us at the South Sea Hotel in Oban and what a dinner it was. Stewart Island's main activity is fishing. I don't exaggerate when I say we could not see the chips for the oysters, crayfish, fresh blue cod, squid rings, oysters, and more oysters. Big succulent Bluff Oysters. I think Jules actually took some pictures of the meal but I got none. I was way too busy for that. Here's a little safety tip: If you ever accompany me to such a meal on a similar photo safari, keep your hands and feet out of the vicinity of my mouth. My only regret was the unseemly haste in which we had to consume this banquet in time to make our helicopter flight to Masons Bay. Once again, the weather did not look promising.

Hoping for better flying weather

Not to worry, despite the cloud cover, the flight was smooth and we were offered incredible views of Stewart Island's pristine bush cover before sighting the dunes of Mason's Bay. Stewart Island's Maori name is Rakiura, "Glowing Skies". Even on a cloudy afternoon, the light is incredible.

Flying over the dunes

Dune and Blue


After waving goodbye to our pilot, we picked up our gear and headed off up the track to our accomodation for the night, Masons Bay historic homestead. Visitors aren't usually allowed to stay there. It's more usual for folks to stay at the Department of Conservation hut nearby but Furhana, our guide from Ruggedy Range Wilderness Experiences had gotten us special dispensation to stay. Our plan was to find and photograph Kiwi that night.

Heading up the track

And that's where I'm going to pause. Even before we arrived at the homestead, we were feeling that as days go, this one had already been a photog's feast.

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