Monday, February 27, 2012

Gold and Ghosts, Part 1

The artist at work
Towards the end of last week, I found myself sweating away in the kitchen. Destination Content Production Assistant Holly Russell and I were working on a video shoot for the True South Dining Room at the Rees Hotel in Queenstown. Footage in the can, I decided to spend some time in the back country before heading home.

My destination was Bullendale, site of the Phoenix mine, upstream from Skippers Canyon. Once I'd finished the Restaurant shoot and checked with the Department of Conservation about the state of the streams in the area - there'd been heavy rain in the days before and the trip involved many stream crossings - it was getting late in the day. By the time I'd driven to the end of the treacherous Skippers Canyon road at breakneck pace (the best way to keep from worrying about the narrow track and precipitous drops), it was already 5.30 and the hut was an estimated 2-3 hours away.

I packed light, just taking my Canon G12 point-and-shoot camera. Wanting to reach the hut before dark, I went for it, not stopping to take pictures. Boy was I glad I checked about the rainfall, because by the time I got to Bullendale, I'd lost count of the stream crossings after 22. I was also glad I'd made it in just two hours, despite some minor protests from my knees. I found the former mine site okay, but the hut was nowhere to be seen, and the light was starting to fade. I eventually spotted some cairns leading up above the river to the hut, a very welcome sight indeed.

Bullendale Hut

From the sign on the door, some kind of conubial activity obviously goes on in our back country huts, and the Minister of Conservation is not missing the opportunity to profit from it. Must be a National Government initiative.

Bullendale Hut Warning

Feeling much better after a quick meal, I took in the surroundings and got some interior shots before it got dark. The on-board flash on my Canon G12 doesn't make for stunning pictures. There's not a lot of control over it, but there was enough to let me balance interior with exterior light to get a record of the place. Of course, in line with tradtion in the New Zealand back country, the toilet had the best view - of the head of the valley and Mt Aurum.

Bullendale Hut Bullendale Hut Bullendale Hut Toilet

In the absence of fine control over the flash power, I tried folding a plastic bag over a few times in front of it to soak up some lumens, to balance with the fading light for a shot of the hut as it got darker outside. It was a start.

Bullendale hut in the evening

I don't mind being alone in the wilderness, but it's amazing what good company a fire and a couple of candles can be on a dark night. I imagined being visited by the ghosts of long-dead miners from the river below, but instead of trying to run away from that, I decided to use it and create a ghost portrait.

Bullendale Ghost

With time on my hands, I started to see some possibilities for more pictures, and some magic started to happen. More in the next post.

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