Every year, the world’s largest flying telescope visits New Zealand for a few weeks. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy ‘SOFIA’ is a joint project by NASA and Germany’s space agency DLR. When observation conditions in the northern hemisphere become unfavourable every June and July, the SOFIA team relocates to the facilities of the US Antarctic Program in Christchurch.
Snowshoes are fun, even when the experience is hard-earned. But in the end, the excruciating climb to get to altitudes with enough snow is always worth the effort. When I finally get to unstrap my snowshoes from my pack and put them on, I always feel like walking on sunshine. No more need to concentrate on my footing, worrying about tripping, slipping or sinking in to my knees. Snowshoes are the reclining chair of backcountry locomotion.
Unfortunately, New Zealand is blessed with few areas suitable for snowshoeing. Most valleys are too warm to sustain a layer of white goodness, while alpine areas with reliable snow are steep terrain that requires mountaineering skills. Luckily, there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is the region between Cardrona and Cromwell. Pisa Range offers that rare mixture of gently rolling terrain at alpine elevations that make it prime snowshoeing terrain.
A few years ago I did not get the fuss that some photographers made about tripods. At that point, all I wanted was a stable platform for my camera. I had a reasonably priced aluminium tripod that came up to eye-level. You could even attach a camera to it, so what more could I possibly have wanted?
A little later I found that tripods are like lenses: You are always one short of what you think you need. My affordable jack-of-all-trades tripod was soon replaced by a sturdier version for commercial work. Since it was a bit on the hefty side I decided to add a half-height tripod for camping trips in the mountains to my collection. Did I mention shooting in the ocean yet? Salt water does funny things to a tripod, so I added a waterproof one to my collection. You see where this is going …
Sometimes, you just point at the map and go for it. And when you do that, you risk ending up knee-deep in potholes, ducks and, well, turds.
It had been years since my last proper tramping trip into the badlands between Hanmer Springs and St Arnaud. To spare ourselves a long and bumpy drive along Rainbow Road in the morning, we spent the night at the campsite by Lake Tennyson. The barren landscape had been one of my first tramping destinations after moving to NZ. Back then it had just blown me away with its otherworldliness. Fast forward eight years and it is shocking how the novelty has worn off. The area around Lake Tennyson is beautiful, but it is a far stretch from the mystical lands of my memory. It made me a little sad to think how, despite my best efforts, some of the magic just fades away.
Some trips are too good to be true. When I first came across images of the Owen Plateau, I put it right at the top of my wish list. The terrain looked like something from a fairy tale. Take the rolling limestone rockscape of Castle Hill, put it into Fiordland’s Valley of the Trolls, then blow it up tenfold. The result would look something like Kahurangi National Park’s Mount Owen and the surrounding open tops of the Marino Mountains.
For years I had been shooting alongside photographers who use panoramic heads. For my style of photography I never really saw the need. I would shoot the odd single-row panorama, but I was totally fine doing so with a standard tripod head.
As more panoramas started creeping into my work, I encountered more issue with panoramas that would not stitch properly. Ridges in the distance would not align or my foregrounds had zig-zag patterns of misalignment running through them.
This is not a fully fledged review. If you are after a comprehensive analysis by someone who has spent weeks with the GFX you will be bitterly disappointed. What you will find here are honest first impressions by a not-so-very-technical guy who makes a living with photography. Chances are that I got some things wrong in the little time that I had with the camera. I will trust you take my musings with a grain of salt.
In the spirit of full disclosure you should also know that I am a Fujifilm X-Photographer. The Fujifilm NZ team was so kind to provide me with a sample GFX and assorted lenses for some personal testing. Why they trusted me with kit equivalent to the value of a mid-range car is beyond me, but hey, you know the one about gift horses!
How to combine an ergonomic day pack and a camera insert to create a pain-free alternative to classic photography backpacks.
I’m 38 years old, and I’m a bit of a wreck. A lifetime spent behind a desk combined with bad luck playing the genetic lottery will do that to you. I love tramping (aka hiking, if you are a non-Kiwi), but years ago I was not enjoying the experience any more. Back and neck pain had finally caught up with my sedentary lifestyle. It was time to find a new carrying system.
I fell in love with Aarn Packs, a New Zealand outdoor gear company that specialises in ergonomic backpacks (or bodypacks, as they call them), after exploring the market for a while. Considering that they completely reinvented backpacks, that’s a bit of an understatement. I started using one of their bigger overnight packs and my pain just went away.
When a tropical storm sneaks up on your tramping adventure, you better have a backup plan. It was just before Easter when cyclone Cook slowly bumbled along the east coast and right into our long anticipated trip. Instead of packing, our evenings were spent with weather forecasts. Plans were amended, and nails were bit. The forecasts all seemed to agree that things were not looking quite as dire in the north-west corner of the South Island. Simultaneously however, the talking heads in the news were saying the exact opposite. Thanks to the unpredictable nature of NZ weather, we took all of the above with a grain of salt.
In war as in tramping there is one rule: No man left behind! So how did we end up on top of our little pile of rubble with one person missing? Let’s start at the beginning.
My lovely Better Half (she asked me to capitalise due to her significance) and I enjoy open tops tramping. The biggest commitment to staying on tracks usually involves getting through a stretch of otherwise impenetrable New Zealand bush. Once above tree-line we tend to find our own way to a scenic location to spend the night. The extra effort of going uphill is rewarded with amazing views. Obviously we are both very appreciative of instant gratification!