Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Photour - Episode Five - Port Craig
From Okaka Lodge, it's a ten minute helo flight down to Port Craig Lodge on the Hump Ridge Track. Ten minutes of soaring and banking over magnificent rainforest ridges and coastline. Yahoo.
Port Craig was the nerve centre of the forest logging business that operated here early last century. The remnants of ancient steam machinery can be found along the heritage trail that takes you from the lodge down to the beach.
That night another fantastic meal was laid on for us, the Pinot Noir started to flow and we started catching up on each other's images, to the sound of collective ooh's and aah's. The meal? Fresh salmon, sprinkled with brown sugar and smoked with Manuka sawdust, exactly how I smoke the trout I catch. As I stepped out to enjoy the remnant of a Cuban cigar I'd been carrying, all I could think was "Oh yeah". In due course, we each retired to our rooms. I had drawn the short straw, if you can call it that: a warm, clean, cosy eight-person bunk room all to myself. Grant got the stateroom, and everyone else had something in between.
Perhaps it was something to do with the Pinot Noir, but Heather found herself up wandering the boardwalk late at night and wouldn't you know it, encountered more wildlife - this time an inquisitive deer. Apparently this happens to guests all the time. I'm going to start recommending people take cameras to the toilet from now on. The journey there is obviously where all the wildlife action happens.
Morning, and the kind of sunrise we'd been hoping to catch dawned at last. So Neerav and I did it to death.
After a fantastic breakfast porridge, everyone prepared to catch the next chopper out while I strolled down to the beach to catch the rest of the morning light. It's a beautiful spot and the rusting relics of the logging days just add to the special atmosphere. Most days you can see dolphins out in the bay. Too bad I only had 10 minutes before the chopper came, or I'd have tried to capture some with my camera.
After this all-too-brief visit, it was time to head up for the departure lounge and get the chopper on to our next destination. I've hung around a lot of departure lounges - Hanoi, Zurich, Anchorage and the likes, travelling for overseas shoots but this one takes the cake for character.
Another day, another chopper ride. This time our destination was up the rugged coast to Waitutu Lodge. I actually saw a hind and fawn down on the beach, but by the time I came to my senses and pulled my camera up to my eye, we were long gone.
Before landing at the lodge, we stopped to visit one of the old logging viaducts that are part of the walk. That's Aussie hardwood, and it's lasted 90 years.
While we were there, I thought I'd have another go at Camilla-style impressionism and do a little zoom-pull on some of the ferns below.
Don't ask me where the time went, but we were met with a BBQ lunch and mulled wine. I was starting to think we were on a gastronomic tour instead of a photographic one.
Next we donned life jackets for the jet boat ride upriver. I think jet boats come in just after helicopters as my favourite means of transportation. Lodge host and boat pilot Johan was refreshingly casual about it all when we aksed if our gear was in for a soaking: "Nah. I'm not going to do 360 spins and get you all wet. This isn't Queenstown."
As much as this story sounds like it's all fast rides and breathtaking views, what really got me about this experience was the people. No monolithic corporate tourist entities and take-your-dollar, working-my-way-through-varsity-vacation service staff down here. Everyone in these parts is an owner-operator, locals passionate about their part of the world, working hard to preserve it and grateful to share it with us. Cue violins. No. Cut violins, cue jet boat sound fx and some rock music as we zoom up the river.
Okay, out of the boat, this is amazing. Johan pulls up by the riverbank and lets us all out to stand around in primeval rainforest. I was raised not far from here; bush like this was my childhood playground, so I'm soaking it all up, being five all over again, snapping pictures of the greenery. Green so rich it makes your eyes bleed. Meanwhile Johan is showing Jules one of his predator traps. Introduced rats and stoats are taking a toll on the native birds throughout the New Zealand bush, and people like Johan are waging war on them. This isn't greenwashing. This is your tourist dollar preserving nature.
The ride upriver to New Zealand's deepest lake Hauroko took about an hour. Even without the 360 degree spins, there had been a fair bit of water flying about, but I'm pleased to say the borrowed Canon 5DII and my 7D and the L-series lenses on them stood up to it nicely. Not that I'd want to give them a real splashing, but they handle a little spray enough to keep you working. The hard part is keeping the lens clear enough to get a useable shot.
At the lake, we were met by the team from Venture Southland with our vehicle. From there it was an hour's drive to Lake Te Anau and a chance to rest. Four days of intensive photography, filming and frenetic travel. We were all feeling like a damn good rest before the next mission. We checked into the Distinction Te Anau and before we could even get to our rooms, Grant and Craig had found themselves a dark corner and a professional quality massage. They'd earned it.
That night we ate at The Fat Duck. When I was a kid, there were two places to eat in Te Anau. One was the pub and the other was a dairy/burger joint we all called the Greasy Spoon. Things have changed. Now you can get top class food at several Te Anau restaurants, and The Fat Duck is one of the best. They also have Monteith's Beer and some great Pinot Noirs. They must have heard we were coming.
So okay, sunrise, historic machinery, chopper ride, rugged coastline, historic railway viaduct, barbecue lunch, jet boat ride up grade 3 rapids (did I mention the grade 3 part?), mountain lake, mountain lake, fine dining. Think that sounds like a good day? Check in again tomorrow. Heather was saving the best till last.