It was in November, last year. I was on the way south, to embark on the Spirit of Enderby in Bluff, for an expedition to the subantarctic islands. I had just spent a day in Dunedin to discuss volunteering possibilities with the Department of Conservation (DOC) there. I veered off State Highway One and started my trip through the Catlins.
The first stop in this famous region, when coming from Dunedin, is Nugget Point, a peninsula that ends in a pointy cape, with stacks of rocks jutting out of the water.
There’s a also a small colony of Yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) that one can watch from a hide, without disturbing the birds… I got to see one of them come out of the water, the first one I could see properly! Given the location of the hide, there was no possibility for pictures, so when I felt cold, I went back to the tip of the peninsula. There I waited for sunset, tripod and filters out, ready to capture the last light of day.
All iconic views of the place include the lighthouse and the stacks… but I would have had to trespass on forbidden ground to get to that viewpoint. I wonder whether these pictures are made in the rogue way, or if the photographers ask DOC for permission… or maybe tour operators use and reuse pictures from another time, when the place was still open, even though that vantage point is not accessible anymore.
With that in mind, I worked with what I had, and loved every minute of it. Sunset was gorgeous.
After dinner, I returned to the tip with some star photography in mind. A few days before, in Kaikoura, I had met a photographer from Australia who did quite a bit of that, and it had given me ideas. I wanted to catch the Milky Way.
I don’t really have the right equipment, a full-frame camera would be much more appropriate, but I tried. I set the tripod up, and fired a few long-exposure shots… they looked green. Wait, what? Green? Southern lights?
Out of the blue, alone at the end of the world, I witnessed an impromptu show of lights dancing in the sky, far to the south, over the horizon. I had not seen them at first! Forgotten, my dreams of the Milky Way! I focused on the Lights.
The aurora pulsed, low in the sky, folding and unfolding in tall ribbons. I felt so lucky and so happy. Oh it was not as impressive as the multiples shows I had witnessed with my friend in March in Lapland, but it was quite something. Now I could say I had seen both Northern and Southern lights.
I went to bed late, and found it difficult to get up for sunrise. To be fair, compared to the aurora show, that dawn looked almost dull. No cloud to catch some colours, only the fiery sun rising from the depths of the Southern Ocean. Boring? Almost.
Afterwards, I continued on through the Catlins. I had high expectations, and I was highly disappointed. I thought I would find a wild region, yet all I could see were pastures and cows and sheep. I walked in a forest, and didn’t see nor hear a single bird. Oh there were some patches of native bush left; in that sense, it was a land of contrast, as you can see in the pictures below. Nonetheless, the overall feeling was that this region looked very much like the rest of New Zealand: profoundly altered by human activities.
Definitely not what I expected.
To be continued…
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