Author Archives: Jeff C

Mt. Cook, New Zealand

2013 was my Year of Mountains!  I hiked and/or biked them on four continents in Patagonia, Europe, Colorado, and here.  Next year?  Beach!!

Pennies aren’t lucky in New Zealand.  In fact, so ill-fated is the New Zealand one cent piece that it’s been extinct for over 20 years.  So, too, is the New Zeland nickel a numismatic dinosaur.  The smallest coin is a dime (worth about 8 U.S. cents).  How refreshing it is not to fill one’s pockets with coins that buy nothing.   And to see prices (except gas)* almost always rounded to the nearest dime or dollar.  How many collective seconds, minutes and hours do American waste shuffling copper coins, making change, and accounting ‘down to the penny’?  We could learn some things from the Kiwi.

And sales tax (actually a “goods and services tax”) is built in to the retail prices — not calculated anew on each transaction and awkwardly added on after the fact like we do in the States.  So if something is priced $1.00, that’s actually what you pay.  Coincidentally — but further contributing to Kiwi transactional simplicity  — ‘tipping’ is not part of the traditional custom or culture here.  Of course in tourist areas it’s not unheard of, but it’s not an expectation and your credit card slip won’t even have a place to add the tip.  No pennies, no tax, and no tip unless you want to.  Thus when the cafe menu at Mt. Cook Village said my fish and chips would be $18, that’s what they meant:  $18.  I got a $2 coin back from my $20 bill.

The nearby mountain — the tallest in the country — is over 12,000 feet, which means Mt. Cook rises about 10,000 feet above the surrounding terrain.  I did a 3+ hour hike to get sort of close and to see the 7-mile-long Hooker Glacier dumping icebergs into muddy Hooker Lake, but the clouds never really parted enough to see the whole of Mt. Cook all at once.  That picture at the top of the post — showing at least most of the mountain without cloud cover — was taken from the highway about 20 miles from the mountain as I drove away in the late afternoon.  I took this in the first 30 seconds after hopping out of the car, then stood around nearly an hour waiting for the clouds to part again and give me another chance once I got into a better spot.  That didn’t happen.


The picture (below) with the crazy-blue lake and the mountain (still covered mostly by clouds) in the distance is from Lake Pukaki — about 40 miles south of Mt. Cook.  It gets the turquoise color from the silt that comes out of the glaciers.  The glowing blue of the lake even made the clouds above it look a strange bright blue.

*Gas is around $2.30.  Per LITER.  So over $9 a gallon.

Milford Sound: Fjordlands, New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s top destinations is a town with a population of just about 150.  There’s one cafe and one ‘lodge’ with mostly dorm-style rooms and a few bathroomless ‘cabins’.  But there’s a whole fleet of boats and ships ready to take you through the valley and out to the Tasman Sea.

Milford Sound is a “fjord” – a large bay-like inlet, initially carved by a glacier thousands of years ago.  This means it’s U-shaped at the bottom, not V-shaped like canyons that are carved by rivers.  In the rainy spring season, there are waterfalls everywhere – several of which run off cliffs and then disappear into the wind before the water ever hits the ground.


The Sound is part of southwest New Zealand’s Fjordlands National Park, and part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site.  If you’re not already familiar with UNESCO’s list and if you ever get anywhere near the bottom of your personal bucket list, check out the UNESCO sites (1,000 or so natural and cultural wonders around the globe) and you’ll have lots more destination ideas.  Apparently there’s a lot to see in the World.


That pointy peak you see in several pictures is Mitre Peak – named after a bishop’s hat, which has roughly the same shape.  The dark blobs on that rock (with a boat in the background) are sleeping seals.  The humans you see in a couple of shots are American photographers who were my hitchhiker/travel buddies for a few days (Mark Hubbard and Josh Whiton).  The shots below are from the long out-and-back road that leads out to Milford Sound.



New Zealand’s Moeraki Boulders


Here’s something strange.   On a small stretch of Koekohe Beach — about halfway up the Pacific Coast of New Zealand’s South Island — there’s a group of a few dozen spherical rocks.  The biggest are about six feet in diameter.  Stranger still:  a few are broken open, revealing that the inside is hollow, and lined with crystals.  It’s Land of the Lost meets Mork from Ork.

The Moeraki Boulders are a New Zealand landmark.  They’re similar to the softball-sized geodes that are common in North America,  except they’re so big you can crawl inside the hollow middle of a broken one.  There are lots of legends about where they come from, but the most plausible one is pretty boring (something about geological “concretion” of calcite sediment) and doesn’t involve aliens or sleestaks (or even crop circles).


Kiwi Springtime: Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealanders refer to themselves as “Kiwis.”  And of course most Americans are aware of the brown, furry fruit of the same name.  But if you’re tracing the original source of the term “kiwi,” be aware that the chicken-sized bird came before that egg-sized fruit.

A Polynesian tribe known as the Maori are considered the aboriginal people of New Zealand.  Apparently, they arrived by seagoing canoes (from Tahiti, perhaps) around the year 1300 — about 350 years before Dutchman Abel Tasman first arrived on New Zealand shores.  “Kiwi” is the Maori name for a brown, round, furry-looking chicken-sized flightless bird that’s native to the islands and which has become the national symbol and namesake.   The fruit originally known as a Chinese Gooseberry first became a popular agricultural crop in New Zealand in the early 20th century, and was renamed “kiwi fruit” about 50 years ago.

The first leg of my Kiwi adventure has centered around Queenstown — a smallish town on New Zealand’s larger, southern island.  The nearby mountains  (the ones beneath those pink sunrises) are aptly named The Remarkables; my late spring (October/November) arrival is too late for skiing.

I know all too well that photographers can use Photoshop or similar tools to make some fairly ordinary scenes look spectacularly wacky.  That’s not what’s happened here — and not really my ‘thing’:  the light and the colors really do look this way.  I use some of the same tools to try to get a realistic image that does justice to this spectacular scenery.

Queenstown was my first stop in a country roughly the size of Colorado (if you stretched Colorado out and pulled it into two parts).  Onward.



Most of these shots are around Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu — almost all in the early morning or late evening.  The ones that look like a golf course are a golf course called The Hills — apparently a famous one and one that’s covered with modern-ish art sculptures.  The two long skinny horizontal pictures with water in the foreground and the tree-in-water and sailboat pictures are at at Lake Wanaka — about an hour northeast of Queenstown.



Photographers:  3 or 4 of these pictures are “HDR” shots that use 3-4 different images (same scene, different exposures) and crunch that down so you can see both the deep shadows and the bright skies and sun.  Hopefully you can’t tell which ones.   Mostly I get the same results with the D800 + Lightroom.  I tried to force myself to use a tripod, especially on scenes where I’m ‘bracketing’ multiple images for HDR.  But I hate it — it slows me down and cramps my (literal) style.  It’s amazing how well the software can align handheld shots.  I’m putting that damn tripod back in the suitcases.

















Sydney: World Upside Down

Australian sundials are numbered backward.  If you want to navigate your way around Sydney, it might help if you understand why.




Since America is well up in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun’s daily path for us is mostly an arc through the southern skies.  As we face south and watch the sun move east to west, it moves from our left to our right.  If we’re looking at the sun, it’s moving left to right.  If the sun is in your face and it’s roughly the middle of the day, you’re looking south; left is east; right is west.  Unless you were literally bent over backward, every time you’ve ever looked at the sun in the northern hemisphere, it was moving left to right .  This is burned into my subconscious.  Left to right.

When I got to Australia, I was ready for cars driving on the wrong side of the road.  With a 20-hour trip crossing eight time zones, I was ready for jet lag.  I’ve been to the Southern Hemisphere before, so I was ready to hang precariously by my feet from the bottom of the globe and to see spring flowers in late October.  I can deal with hurricanes and toilet drains that swirl backward (though that last one is mostly a myth).  But what I cannot mentally process is that the sun moves from right to left.  It arcs across the northern sky.  It’s clearly moving right to left, so I’d swear it’s rising in the west and setting in the east.  (It’s not.)

I’m not the only one who’s noticed, of course.  On a northern hemisphere sundial, the numbers that indicate the time count up clockwise.  Southern hemisphere sundials reflect the left/right reversal of the sun’s apparent path, with the numbers ascending as you go counter-clockwise.  Your trusty northern sundial is no good down under.

For millenia, we humans have plotted our courses through the day and across the earth by keeping track of the relationship between the sun’s location in the sky and the actual time of day.  A great book called Longitude, by Dava Sobel, teaches this lesson in the context of 18th Century nautical navigation.

I’m usually a pretty good intuitive navigator, but it’s a cruel triple-whammy to jet-lag my body’s internal clock, capsize my brain’s intuitive internal sundial, and drop me in terra incognita.  So I guess I was a little dazed and confused during my two day layover in Sydney.  Fortunately, I was almost always in sight of at least one of the city’s two main iconic landmarks – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  So while I was sometimes confused about where the sun would be coming from in my photographs, I never actually got lost.

* * *




The Sydney Opera House was celebrating its 40th Anniversary the weekend I was there.  I wasn’t invited to the party, but I did get to overhear some of the big celebration concert (ironically held outdoors) and grab a couple of quick pictures of the unexpected 15-second fireworks display.  The shots that look like aerial photographs were taken from atop one of the granite “pylons” of the bridge.

Those weird swirls up above the bridge are birds (gulls) and bats (“flying foxes”).  They’re up there eating the moths that are attracted by the bright lights.  Because the  shutter speed on the camera is so slow at night, the bird/bat travels several feet while the shutter is open, leaving a trail of its path in the image.

Photo friends:  Most of the night shots (except the fireworks) of the bridge and the opera house are on a solid tripod, using ISOs close to 100-400, playing with different shutter speeds (up to 30 seconds, triggered by the self-timer to avoid moving the camera) to get the different looks for the moving boats and waves.   The shot with mostly skyscrapers at night is handheld, with ISO 6400, f4, 1/6 sec.