Austin, with whom I hiked in Tongariro, had been adamant: while near Wellington, I had to go to Cape Palliser.
Seals, a picturesque lighthouse and an isolated peninsula: sounds like my thing!
Before jumping over to the South Island, I took a few days to explore this part of the country, just east of the capital. I didn’t really have plans, except taking pictures, but I had one thing for sure: time.
The weather was not very welcoming when I arrived. Light rain quickly turned into not-so-light rain, but after climbing to the lighthouse for the view, I geared up for humid weather and went to the beach to meet the fur seals (Australasian fur seal, Arctocephalus forsteri).
They have a colony there, where life seems to be quite relaxed. They sleep, they quarrel a bit, they sleep, they play, they swim, and they sleep a bit more. What I learnt later is that they can stay several days at sea to fish; therefore, it makes sense for them to rest when they come back to land.
I tried to approach them without scaring them away. The good thing is that they are rather big, compared to my usual targets, so I could get nice close up shots without even cropping my original images.
Males are bigger than female, with this characteristic bubble of fat around the neck and shoulder; they can weigh up to 160 kilograms. Imagine moving that on ground, when you don’t have legs anymore! Fortunately, their flippers are still more functional than those of earless seals, and they can still walk and climb, though awkwardly.
When darkness came, I drove back to Ngawi and slept there inside my van. At 5 in the morning, the sky was clear, and I drove back to the cape.
When the sun emerged, it bathed the whole scenery in a delightful warm light, making it look completely different from the day before. I spent some more time with the seals, trying to work the light in creative manners. When I was done, I drove north for the short hike to the Putangira pinnacles.
This place got famous when it featured for a short scene in the last Lord of the Rings movie. The pinnacles (in French we would say fairy chimneys) were formed by erosion: while part of the soil was taken away by water, rocks and agglomerated gravel formed protective structures that hid what was beneath, forming these vertical towers of rock and sand that withstood the ravages of time.
There are two tracks: I started by going to the viewpoint, before climbing up the riverbed to stand at the base of the pinnacles, and walk among them. In the black and white photos below, I tried to emphasize the shapes, in both rock and light.
I relaxed for most of the afternoon, and then went back to Cape Palliser. On the way, I stopped in Ngawi to take pictures of the bulldozers lined up on the beach, which are used to take fishing boats in and out of the sea.
Sunrise on the morrow was not super exciting, but I enjoyed climbing above the lighthouse to take pictures with a higher viewpoint. I used my brand new Neutral Density (ND) filters to create some long exposure shots.
Then I drove back to the Wairarapa plain. To be continued…
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