Hikoi – Aotearoa is not for sale

1 09 2012

Protestors on Willis Street central Wellington

Aotearoa is Not for Sale Hikoi on Willis Street caught in reflected light

Aotearoa is Not for Sale Hikoi

Aotearoa is Not for Sale Hikoi

Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival 2012

27 08 2012

Chicks ‘n’ Picks

I recently spent time  down in Queenstown at the first Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival. There were a total of 115 attendees at the annual festival – many from overseas. The festival combined instructional clinics with awards for hardest new climbs and hardest repeats. Climber Steve Fortune, one of the notable winners, was also awarded the Black Diamond New Zealand Alpinist of the year and won the Grand Traverse Challenge in a swift one hour twenty nine minutes.

Wye Creek ice

I was there taking photos at the Adventure Consultants‘ Chicks ‘n’ Picks women-only ice climbing clinic. Over August 17th and 18th we spent time overnighting at Wye Creek in the heart of the Remarkables. Eight women climbers were coached by mountain guides Jane Morris and Tim Steward over the two days learning a range of ice climbing techniques including efficient movement and ice axe placement.

Accommodation provided by Adventure Consultants

The clinic is modelled on the American Chicks With Picks clinic held during the annual Ouray Ice Park Ice Festival. The success of Chicks With Picks is due to its ethos of “women climbing with women for women“. That concept also worked well in New Zealand judging by the enthusiasm of the climbers.

Steep ice on the second day at Wye Creek

I’ve more pics online at Flickr: Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival

Thanks also to Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival event photographers:

Mark Watson

Troy Mattingley

Adventure Consultants’ Jane Morris climbing at Wye Creek

Denniston Plateau Bioblitz

28 02 2012

One hundred and fifty volunteers and scientists gathered on a wild West Coast night last Friday the 3rd of March at Waimangaroa for a  48 hour scientific survey of the Denniston Plateau. The plateau is the controversial proposed site for open-cast coal mining on New Zealand’s South Island West Coast.

Volunteers gathering on the first night of the bioblitz at Waimangaroa Hall on the West Coast

The goal of the survey was to identify as many different plants and animals as possible. The bioblitz was organised by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand who hope that the results will help the Denniston Plateau be declared a conservation reserve thus protecting it from mining.

Forest and Bird's Brent Barrett one of the bioblitz's team leaders with coal from an open seam on the Denniston Plateau

The Australian based mining corporation who have resource consent to mine the plateau are Bathurst Resources. Bathurst are investing $8 million dollars in the Buller Coal Project and hope to extract between 125 and 167 million tonnes of coal from the plateau. The West Cost has a 140 year history of mining and many locals welcome the jobs the mine would bring. For the project to go ahead Bathurst require consent for access from the Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson as Dennsiton Plateau is public land most of which is held by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Ecologists from Bathurst Resources at the bioblitz

Bathurst employs a number of it’s own ecologists who work to minimise the impact of mining. They took part in the bioblitz with the intention of helping to identify ecologically sensitive locations on the plateau.

Employees of the Department of Conservation and some scientists were however barred by their government employers from taking part in the bioblitz.

During the weekend I was assigned to the ‘bug team’ who worked on identifying as many invertebrates (insects, spiders, worms, moths) as possible. The 9 volunteers on the team were mainly Forest and Bird members.

Bioblitz volunteers on the Denniston Plateau

At an altitude of 600m the 5900ha plateau is a cold, exposed environment where tussock and low lying wind blasted vegetation predominate. There’s sandstone pavement and tors with dense bush clinging to river valleys in between. It’s not a very hospitable environment and many of the creatures collected as specimens had to be kept at deliberately low temperatures to ensure their survival.

Professor George Gibbs and one of the volunteers on the bioblitz

Ghosts of Gondwana author and Victoria University’s Associate Professor, George Gibbs was the science leader on the bug team. His extensive specialist knowledge was vital in identifying significant specimens. Finds on the first day included the rare New Zealand velvet worm peripatusground wetatree weta, shells from the giant carnivorous New Zealand land snail Powelliphanta Patrickensis and many species of spider, centipede, worm and millipede.

Peter Johns starting the work of identifying the specimens returned by the bioblitz volunteer teams

Unusual or significant finds were taken for further analysis at the field centre based on the plateau at the historic old Denniston High School building. Owned by the Friend’s of the Hill Society the high school is now a museum and information centre.

Geckos are one of many animals present on the plateau - this is one of the more common geckos found under a rock on top of sandstone pavement

The most exciting find of the weekend was of a forest gecko not normally found on mainland New Zealand. Many other samples were taken for further analysis at Victoria University of Wellington.


The bioblitz ran through the night

The work of the volunteers continued throughout the night across the plateau. Luckily the weather improved throughout the weekend and there was a significant amount of data gathered.

The Denniston Plateau is clearly an ecologically signifiant site. Forest and Bird hope that the results of the bioblitz will strengthen their case to have the area declared a conservation reserve. They claim that mining in the 21st Century is inappropriate for a country whose economy relies on tourism so heavily and bases its image on a ‘clean green environment’.

The West Coast has a long tradition of mining and the local economy is based on mining. The coal mined here is premium grade coking coal used in steel production – not as a fossil fuel – it contributes to CO2 emissions but is creating a recyclable resource. The plateau itself, however, is not a recylable resource. Bathurst have plans for preserving the environment and ecology by mining only areas of limited ecological impact and replacing the sandstone pavement, top soil and vegetation above coal deposits. They argue that it is possible to mine in a way which does not irreparably damage the environment.

This is a controversial chapter in the history of New Zealand’s environment. The Bioblitz is only the begining

For more information on Forest and Bird’s campaign:

For further information about Buthurst’s proposals:

And for the results of the Bioblitz:

Introduction to Creative Photography

25 01 2012

Last year I enrolled on James Gilberd’s Introduction to Creative Photography at Photospace – Wellington’s only dedicated photography gallery. I’d considered a number of online courses, but I was really interested in getting some critique and that’s best done face-to-face.

The introductory course covers a wide range of topics:

  • Landscape
  • Portraiture
  • Studio lighting
  • Low light photography
  • Documentary Photography
I think on reflection it’s a photographer’s photography course, rather than just a newbies course. James Gilberd and Dave Sanderson, who run it, don’t just have extensive experience; they’re incredibly passionate about taking photos.

Four Things


On the first night, Dave and James introduced the technical aspects of the course by saying there are only four things you need to know: shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance. The real technical stuff you learn by getting out and taking photos. Seeing and creativity are not technical skills. They come by training your eye and taking lots of photos.

The most important component of the course was the the workshoping where students gathered around a flat, black leather couch, spread out the photos they’ve be taken in the previous week and selected six or seven as ‘picks’. That was where you really got feedback and you can’t get that on an online course.

Each aspect of the course was challenging for different reasons.


Our first assignment was  a day out at Makara.  It was cloudy, flat and gray so there wasn’t even a sunset to pull on. My shots were drab and lacking in punch and focus. I took 200 shots in. As we sorted through them on the couch and James pulled out two in particular. One a misfire as a red billed gull moved out of frame too fast. All that was left was a fence, a house roof and out of focus beach. But James saw something I’d not in the horizontal banding and the emphasis on the hidden house. I’d not seen any of that and had deleted the photo hence I can’t show you it.

I think the first lesson was:  don’t delete anything as you may come back to it with fresh eyes.

Another Makara pick from James

Environmental Portraiture

One of my reasons for doing the course was to get more experience of photographing people.  I’ve a friend who works on the red tug boats in Wellington harbour who I spent a evening taking pics of. This was the pick from the couch:

Environmental portraiture

Taking pics of people I still find very intimidating. The studio aspect of the course was pretty intense in that regard.

Introduction to Portraiture and  Studio Lighting

Portraiture is about engagement. It’s about finding some essential part of the person you are photographing and revealing it in the image you take. I think that makes it one of the most challenging aspects of photography. Anyone can get up at six in the morning, walk to the right spot and get a reasonable landscape shot;  not everyone can take a good portrait.

James took a minimalist approach teaching lighting. He used one main light and a back light in the studio to explain the important concepts of lighting. He was interested in letting us play and discover for ourselves what works and what doesn’t in the studio. Again it’s something that takes practice.  James recommended Light, Science & Magic by Hunter & Fuqua to gain a deeper understanding of lighting. I’ve been reading it recently and it’s brilliant.

Studio lighting


Once again, I went back to the veggie market. I tried carrying the DSLR on my hip and using a wide angle lens to capture shots. There were needless to say lots of shots of people’s knees but this is one of the better shots:

Documentary: Willis Street veggie market

I’ve been reading lots about Street Photography recently and this was pretty useful  http://erickimphotography.com/blog/category/street-photography-tips/.


Bus station

On our last night James took a bunch of us out to the bus station in Wellington. James wandered between us watching what we were doing and occasionally offering advice. Towards the end of the evening he was talking to me when a skinny guy walked over and accosted James, ‘Have you asked those people if you can take their photo?’ he said.
James ignored him, so I said, ‘Well, no. They’re too far away to make out – see. . .’ and I tried showing him the pics of far off and very dim old ladies waiting on their bus home.
Needless to say the skinny chap wasn’t interested, and persisted with his rant.
‘I’m a skateboarder and I take photos of people, but I ALWAYS ask first. You shouldn’t take photos of people that don’t want their photo taken. I’d never fucking do that. I don’t want you taking my fucking photo.’
I think James raised an eyebrow at this. I continued to attempt to placate him at which point he called me a pervert. ‘You’re all fucking perverts,’ he spat, ‘taking photos of people you don’t fucking know. Fucking perverts!’
At this point James told me he wanted to get a shot of me on the other side of the road and to go ‘NOW’.

When I returned the skinny lad was gone. I’ve no idea what James said to him, but I think that’s one reason James is a pretty formidable photographer – because he’s not scared of taking photos; no matter what. Of all the things I learned on the course I think that was the most important.


I’m hoping to do Photo Course Two: Exploring Creative Photography with James in future. Photospace also runs  regular series of workshops and the  Peter Black workshop looks particularly interesting for aspirant street/documentary photographers.

Complacency – Climbing Alack Attack

4 01 2012

This is a follow up to the Complacency piece I had published in the New Zealand Alpine Journal. It’s just to put some more pics out and inspire people to go climbing.

Alack Attack (AI 4), which I based the article on, is just one of many ice climbs accessed from Pioneer Hut on Fox Glacier in New Zealand’s  Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Pioneer Hut’s one of my favourite climbing locations. There’s lots of accessible routes and stunning scenery and a cosy hut perched right under the mountains to stay in.

The best time to go there is at the end of winter around September/October as that’s when the snowpack will still be frozen; at that time of year you’re not wading through slop as you seem to be these days in November/December. The climbing seasons have changed drastically in the last few years as a results of climate change.

Mt Alack - Alack Attack (AI4) follows the right-most of the two parallel smears on the bottom left of the summit pyramid

Alack Attack is a cruisy warm up route if you plan to climb the nearby South Face of Mt Douglas or just a good climb in itself.

It’s seven pitches long and the climbing is just outstanding. You’ll need eight or more ice screws and some rock gear. It’s also objectively safe as the face stays in shade through most of the day and there’s no avalanche danger in normal conditions. It might pay to have a read of the Aoraki Mount Cook guidebook before climbing the route.

 The foreshortening in the photo above makes it look harder than it actually is. The pic below gives a much better impression. It’s really just a pretty solid Scottish Grade IV on the side of a mountain with no nasty bergshrund to get over.

Helen just under a the first of series of Alpine Ice 4 pitches that topped the route

Looking down the upper section of Alack Attack

You can descend the route by abseil using ablakovs and you probably don’t want to go all the way to the summit as it’s notoriously rotten rock.

If you’ve read the Complacency piece you’ll know Mt Tasman is rather special to me. Apparently in the last month the serac on the North Shoulder collapsed, and it now makes the route rather challenging as there’s an unstable vertical step to cross to access the upper mountain and the summit. One alternative is the Silberhorn Arete from Plateau Hut. I wonder what Paul Bird is up to this September?

This is the view of Haidinger, Lendenfeld and Mt Tasman

Karobusters on Matiu: Weeding in Wellington Harbour

29 12 2011

Karobuster Dave removing tree mallow (Lavatera arborea)

Weeding on Matiu/Somes Island is a little different from weeding on the mainland. The island is located in Wellington Harbour and although it  feels a long way from the city the weeds on the island require just as much attention as those in your garden.

I spent a weekend last November with a group of conservation volunteers who work with the Department of Conservation. The Karobusters know all about how damaging weeds can be on Matiu and to New Zealand’s natural environment.

Karobuster Anna-Marie with Wellington in the background


Originally formed by Matiu’s Chief Ranger, Jo Greenman, to clear the island of Karo (Pittosporum crassifolium) the Karobusters are group of volunteers that includes former Matiu Revegetation Ranger, Pete Russell. The vollies spend the weekend on the island using a combination of loppers, handsaws and weedkiller to rid the island of weeds.

One of the bonuses of becoming a volunteer is that you get to spend the night on Matiu once all the day-visitors have left. At night the Brother’s Island tuatara come out and the  kororā (Little Blue Penguins) come back from the sea. The sound of kororā calling is quite haunting as it echoes around the island and across Wellington harbour in the darkness.

Brothers Island Tuatara on Matiu/Somes Island. The island became home to Brothers Island Tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) in 1998. Only found in New Zealand these are a unique and ancient lineage of reptile known as Sphenodontia quite distinct from lizards

During the day we cleared karo from the bush. Karo is classified as a native weed and poses a threat to the island’s ecology. It has  leathery leaves with a grey ‘wooly’ underside and small dark red, almost purple, flowers – a little like the Kiwi Christmas tree pōhutukawa. It’s a coastal plant,  which is why, unfortunately, it thrives on Matiu.

Native Weeds

A native weed is a plant which grows naturally in New Zealand but has strayed from its original geographic location. Karo, for instance, is originally from the north of New Zealand and the Rangers on the island would prefer it had stayed there. If it were left uncontrolled it would dominate the shrubbery and threaten the natural food sources of Matiu’s animals and birds.

The problem with karo, and with many more exotic weeds, is that left uncontrolled they are a threat to New Zealand’s natural environment.

Karobusting across Matiu

Environmental Weeds

Not all weeds are bad, but those that left uncontrolled overwhelm native bush are a threat to the natural environment across New Zealand. Many environmental weeds are introduced exotic plants that have gone wild. The pics on this page are of the karobusters doing control of tree mallow (Lavatera arborea); it’s an introduced exotic.
There are an estimated 40 000 plant species in New Zealand  but only 2 400 are actually native. The rest have been introduced and most are found in domestic gardens in our cities. Unfortunately more then 2 000 exotic species have already spread into the wild where many are a threaten native bush and wildlife.
Controlling weeds is an increasingly important issue across New Zealand. That’s something that makes groups like Karobusters pretty important.
There’s more information on weeds at Landcare Research Weeds Information Resource. One thing it says is that weeds mainly come from one place: your garden. Being careful with what you plant and what you do with your garden rubbish is one step towards helping protect the environment.

Karobuster on the move

[For more info on Karobusters email DOC’s Wellington office: wellingtonvc [at] doc.govt.nz]

Tararua Mountain Race Photog

26 11 2011

Runners amongst the tussock of the Southern Crossing

The 35km Tararua Mountain Race isn’t your normal running event. It follows the Southern Crossing and traverses an isolated and very exposed area of the Tararua Forest Park. It’s 2500m of ascent in a wilderness environment where self-supported runners take between 5 and 10hrs to complete a course that normally takes trampers three days to complete.

This year Dan Clendon ran the course in 4h 55m 27s and  Fleur Pawsey in6h 21m 38s. Taking pictures of the event wasn’t like standing around at the Harbour City Half marathon pointing the camera at passing runners. Taking pics of the race presented a number of challenges.

Runners Run

Now it might seem obvious that runners move at speed, but how do you keep up with them if you are trying to take photos? The best plan I could come up with was to be somewhere I could guarantee getting shots of at least one or two on the tops. That meant I had to walk for 3hrs up to Field hut in the dark on the Friday night before the race to be in position for the 2hr walk over to Kime hut and the summit of Mt Hector. My shot list meant I wanted to get photos of people both on the tops and in the bush, and the only way to do that was by trying to keep up with them. That meant running to keep up and I had to figure out what gear to take and what to leave behind.

Paul Helm high above the Kapiti Coast and moving fast

To get good shots I needed a range of lenses (an ultrawide and a couple of telephotos), a tripod to support them and an off camera flash. I also had to carry gear, water and food. On the training weekend I’d lugged up a Gitzo tripod. Two and a half of kgs of Gitzo tripod. For the race proper I took a monopod. I also stashed gear at Field hut, so I didn’t have to carry a sleeping bag and stove as I jog/walked back along the tops trying to get shots of runners. The runners, luckily, weren’t moving at high speed as the ground is so rough. That mean pre-focusing and other tricks weren’t necessary.

The Conditions

I was up on the tops for the training run held two weeks before the event. The forecast said ‘Sun’, it turned out to be raining. I was lucky to bump into the runners on the top of Atkinson in thick mist. The biggest challenge in taking photos in the Tararuas is that most of the time it’s raining, cloudy and windy. It can be so windy that you can’t stand up.  And sometimes it snows. Even in summer. Try getting some establishing shots in that.

Misty on the training run

The weekend of the race started the same. Mist, but with a strong freezing, southerly. I walked up to Kime hut with the Wellington SAR team at about 7am and things weren’t looking good. The SAR guys were concerned about the possibility of dealing with hypothermic runners. About 10am something pretty amazing happened, as the cloud and mist lifted. This was only the second time in the 21 year history of the race that it’s been clear enough to see the Kapiti Coast, Wellington, the Wairarapa and the top of the South Island. I can’t tell you how lucky I was. Serendipity I think they call it.

Ice and blue skies - surely not the Tararuas

The conditions for the runners were incredibly muddy throughout the course. Getting down low in the mud was on my shot list too. I spent a fair bit of time trying to get runners running in mud and finally took a good dousing as Mike Ball went past.

AJ Millward braving the mud but not muddy enough

Mike Ball at one with the mud


By the time the runners reached the tops the high midday sun was casting harsh, dark shadows on peoples faces. A reflector would have been blown away by the strong southerly, but a diffused off-camera flash helped brighten things up. I still don’t know what I’m really doing with flash. I’m using a cord and a diffuser and I still don’t really know if it’s too bright or too dark. It’s a bit of a learning process.

Bright sun at Mt Hector

When I first started talking about taking pics of the race I talked with friends in Wellington. “You really want bad weather. Something that really shows how bad it can be up on the tops,” they said. I suppose this means I’ll have to go back when the race is next held in 2013 and hope for mist and rain.


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