After our exciting trip through the Nevis valley with the sun beating down on us the day before, it was quite a shock to wake to a very cold and bleak day the next morning.
Today we had plans to hunt for a pair of famous kārearea or the New Zealand bush falcons that frequent the Poolburn area. The first and only time I had been up there previously the road had been closed because of snow, so was unable to reach the top, but I saw 3 kārearea from the wagon that day lower down.
This time, my second attempt to get to the dam up the top there was no snow, so up the wagon climbed to the top of the hills we went, looking for bush falcons except there was no bush and no Falcons.
These birds live completely out in the open in central Otago region which was very novel for us as our North Island birds never seem to stray far from the bush. As we climbed higher up the road the temperature plummeted.
We scanned the large rock formations each side of the road searching for the classic and distinctive telltale silhouette of the kārearea against the steel grey sky.
We reached the dam having seen nothing but Rabbits, tons and tons of Rabbits.
I have to admit I never expected the scene that confronted me when we topped the last rise, to see a dam the size of a small lake with a variety of small tin cottages sprinkled around the place, it certainly made an impact on me.
We made our way around the dam looking for any kārearea, but they were not cooperating at all so we decided to have a smoko break and then head off towards our final destination for the day Omarama, via Danseys Pass.
Feeling somewhat deflated by not seeing and photographing the Falcons in this spectacular setting we headed off back down the hill. Then for the second time this on this trip, right at the last possible moment, Steve’s eagle eyes spotted the very birds we were after. How he saw that lone Falcon, a tiny silhouette 300 meters away is beyond me, but yes it was confirmed through the binoculars, it was a kārearea.
I wondered how confiding this bird would be as we made our way past huge rocks towards the lone bird.
25 meters out and closing, the bird was filling a third of the viewfinder and I now had some images that I could print.
Calmly we slipped closer and closer making no sudden or jerky movements, the bird was still relaxed.
Then out of the blue, a female flew in over our heads from behind and landed on the ground right in front of us and started fossicking around in the tussock.
This is why I love bird photography, one minute I was in despair and the next experiencing something truly wonderful. The bird hunted hopped and strode along the ground in front of us lifting up sheep droppings, it appeared to be looking for lizards.
What a blessing it was just being there with the birds so close, doing their own thing.
There were rabbits everywhere but the Falcons ignored them, focusing on smaller prey and slowly they worked the area with us trialling along behind them.
All too soon it was time to move on so we floated back to the wagon talking about coming back when the snow would make for some truly spectacular images.
That is on the to-do list now.
Having our fill of the Poolburn kārearea, Danseys Pass began to beckon us and with the clouds darkening the sky we scooted across the Central Otago landscape, adrenaline still coursing through our veins.
Danseys Pass was a red line on the map for me, that means it was my first visit, a place I had never been before. Having spent the last 12 years roaming the South Island with a camera there are not a lot of large areas left that I have not poked my nose into.
Danseys Pass joins Central Otago with South Canterbury.
Being highland tussock, the views can be spectacular and warm in fine weather, or bleak, cold and lonely. The latter proved to be the case.
Once through the pass, the open basin of South Canterbury awaited us and my most favourite Valley the Ahuriri. The Sun was breaking through, the afternoon was wearing on and the magic hour was coming. Yes, sir things were looking good for a great night in my happy place.