I lay awake cursing the Wekas that had kept me awake half the night and wondered what the fast approaching day would bring us.
As the night began to change into day the pitter patter of light drizzle tattooed on the tent roof.
The West coast of the South Island of New Zealand is famous for its rain, but wait, I’m quite sensitive to climatic conditions and something just didn’t feel right.
I unzipped the door of my tent and peered into the gathering light, bazillions of sand-flies were dive bombing my tent like flocks of demented miniature Gannets in a feeding frenzy, such was their desperation to suck my life juices from my flesh. I quickly zipped the tent up and applied a potentially toxic amount of insect repellent to my exposed flesh whilst beseeching the lord to protect me from the heathen hoards.
Eventually plucking up the courage I tentatively crawled out of the tent to greet the new day, a cloud of sand-flies stayed at arm’s length hissing insults at me but unwilling to penetrate through the thick fumes of my anti insect perfume.
It is Christmas Eve, there is not a cloud in the sky, from only meters away the sound of the surf fills my ears and fresh smell of the beach fills my nostrils, yet equally close in the opposite direction stands of beautiful native forest thrive, alive with abundant bird life, you just can’t beat the West coast of New Zealand on a good day.
The plan for Day2: Explore the Karamea area, focusing on the Oparara basin; also try to get photos of Wekas, an opportunistic, inquisitive, flightless, bird prone to having light fingers, well beaks then..
Steve had never been in this area of the West coast before and I hoped the area would really show it’s self-off for his benefit.
Most travellers start their South Island adventure arriving in either Christchurch by plane or the top of the South Island by ferry. By far the majority head for the main arterial route crossing from the east to the west coast via Arthurs Pass, which spills out onto the West coast over 2 hours south of the Westport/Karamea district and continue heading south coast towards major attractions like the Fox and Franz Glaciers. So Karamea is tucked away from the majority of tourists, this is a pity they miss out on this real gem.
Wekas (Gallirallus australis) zoomed around the campground looking for opportunities to steal food; I really wanted decent photos of these birds.
I couldn’t help but try and get real close, note the sand-flies on my back
Out in the open of the campground they were reasonably approachable but once they were in cover they became a different bird altogether, crafty and quick they were very hard to get interesting photos of.
We knew we wanted the sun to rise high overhead in order for the light to reach deep into the valleys of the Oparara basin so we spent the first part of the day exploring the coastal strip hoping to get shots of the wildlife and enjoy the sun and the beach.
It is very important that one reads the signs and obeys the instructions so I guess this surfie girl was making sure she left all the sand behind.
I knew there was something special about this place.
Nearly every paddock we passed held Hares out enjoying the the sun.
The teak coloured rivers can make some great images
Out at the mouth of the Little Wanganui we got some nice shots of Variable Oyster catchers.
We found a juvenile Oyster catcher hiding among the piles of driftwood, its camouflaged was so good that when I had to take my eyes off the bird to change my card in the camera I couldn’t find the blessed thing again.
After a leisurely lunch and a yak to the friendly locals we headed up to the Oparara Basin, the ride in was spectacular, the silver beech trees were in prime condition and shone an almost iridescent green, neither Steve nor I had experienced such colours before, it was the same for the length of the Coast.
The Oparara Basin
The Oparara Basin is part of the Kahurangi National Park and is located about 20ks north of the township of Karamea. The basin is limestone and consists of cave systems and impressive arches carved out by massive flows of water in times past and surrounded by native forest with teak coloured rivers and streams.
The whole place is fantastic with prolific bird life and the colour of the rivers in the bright light was like gold, which was just what I wanted, it set the whole place off. Once at the very fancy car park we headed off up the Oparara stream, sometimes you can see the native Blue duck on this part of the river but manly during the winter months as they breed in a more secluded spot during early summer.
From a photographer’s point of view the massive Oparara arch will test your photographic skills to the limit, the sheer size of the cave like structure makes a 14mil lens on a full frame camera seem like a zoom lens once you get inside the mouth of the cave, you just can’t get a wide enough view through the view finder.
From the darkness of the inside of the cave to the brilliant brightness outside is around 2 million stops of light and outside of visiting these structures on a rainy day or early evening or morning you have little chance of taming the light. We chose the heat of the day to visit as I have other images taken on a rainy day so although I didn’t tame the beast I was satisfied with my results over all. A bit of softness crept into some of my images due to a breeze at the mouth of one cave moving the vegetation during the long exposure that was necessary to gain some light inside the cave also my scale model (Steve) wouldn’t stand still long enough and came out blurry.
When dealing with certain subjects often Its a very good idea to get a human or an object of known size in the shot to give the idea of scale, a person in this case is ideal to show off just how massive the Oparara arch is but pick a more patient human subject than the one I was stuck with.
Steve bottom centerish just wouldn’t stay still long enough as he wanted shots in all directions.
Note the person on the water’s edge on the corner really shows how massive this cave really is
The Moria gare arch is just as difficult to capture as one is always tempted to shoot from the centre and try to make a panoramic image, this is my best attempt …so far.
Outside it’s a easy shot.
Hot and tired it was time to head back to the camping grounds and prepare for an evening shoot and perhaps a snooze. The problem with doing a summer trip is the very long daylight hours, they do eventually wear you down, its best to pace oneself if you don’t want to burn out and loose enthusiasm.
With the customary Sunset session in the can it was time to turn in, hopefully without the night chorus of Wekas to keep me awake this time, it was a strange feeling to realise that tomorrow would be Christmas day, for the last 20 years I had shared Christmas with my kids and extended family. In my mind I relived a few Christmases past before slumber over took my conciseness and replaced clear memories with garble mosaics of random events real or imagined all mixed up in a nonsensical mishmash.
With the customary Sunset session in the can it was time to turn in.