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I’m trying to keep typing to the minimum at the moment, as I get treatment on a very sore arm. So I thought maybe today would be a good day for a picture post with a few recent photos taken at home:

Tui are ever present in the trees immediately outside our kitchen/dining room glass doors. But they rarely stay still long enough to snap a photo, which is why I’m pleased with these:

We’ve had some interesting sunsets recently:

And these cheese scones, despite being tasty, looked good too:

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The doorbell rang and there was a knock on the door about 8 am this morning. I confess I was still in bed, though I was awake and checking on the morning news. It’s true! It was a photobook I recently completed and ordered. It’s the first book I’ve ever done with photos of New Zealand, as all my others have been around overseas trips. But over the last five years, we have taken longer trips around the South Island, especially last year’s pandemic trip that was taken instead of travelling internationally. Last year in particular, we decided to take a trip as if we were overseas, and we organised it accordingly. And so I decided it might be time to document our travels, and use the photographs that are just as stunning as anything we’ve taken overseas.

It looks beautiful, as beautiful as any coffee table book from a professional photographer, which is what I was aiming at. Okay, I might be biased, but (I think) you can check it out here.

In recent years, since I really started to enjoy my photography, I look closely at my environment, at the things around us, and at the light. I often wish I had my camera with me, and take snaps in my head. I realised this morning that I used to do this before, but in the early years of my blogs, I would try to describe what I had seen, and what I had heard and smelled and felt. I’m not sure when I stopped doing that as much. I suspect it might have been when I was in Italy. As some of you know, I wrote a trip blog at the time. My intention was to describe the little things I saw, and the feelings and sights and sounds. But no sooner than I had put up a few posts than I was inundated with requests for visuals. I caved, and I wish I hadn’t. It put so much pressure on me to take photographs, and then to find and edit the perfect photos for each post, that I lost the joy in the writing. The photos too, often excused me from describing where I was in any detail. Yet I love the photography, and I love the photos of my travels, as much as I love writing a post without a picture that explains where I am and what it feels like to be there.

On Friday, I went to an exhibition of entries in a Portraiture Award. The artwork was brilliant – such different styles, from photorealistic closeups of a child or the artist in the mirror, to a series of self-portraits painted on axe-heads, each one exquisitely rendered in tiny detail, to a huge black and white painting with only a few brushstrokes, that still made me feel something about the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as I took in each portrait, even if I didn’t agree with the judges’ choices – but what do I know about art? To get there I wandered along the waterfront. I snapped a few shots of the perfectly calm harbour, the water reflecting some of the wharf buildings, the sky blue, and the air crisp and cool, a lovely winter’s day. I then picked up some lunch, and drove around the bay to eat it. I sat on a park bench, dedicated and donated to a man who had lived most of his life in the bay, and took in the view as I sipped my coffee. The fountain was beautiful in the sunlight, the water glistening as its spray was caught in the sunlight, reflected in the water right up to the sandy beach. Seagulls lined up along the sand, taking a break out of the water, or occasionally swooping around the fountain in search of food. Walkers were out in force, enjoying their lunchtime exercise, groups of young women walking in their exercise gear, a few friends on scooters, and several people walking their little dogs. There were even a couple of daring swimmers, though well covered in wet suits to protect them from the cold June water. If I hadn’t had the coffee, I’d have considered a gelato to finish my lunch; it was the kind of day that feels like summer, except for the temperature. There’s a special joy in days like that in the middle of winter in Wellington, when we relish the lack of wind, marvel at the clear, sparkling light, bask in the sun’s warmth, and appreciate the beauty of our harbour and city. Without the wind and rain (that is coming again this week), these perfect days would never be so deliciously sweet.

I posted some photos on social media. It was quick and easy. But I think I like my words here better. There’s obviously a happy medium between words and images. I need to find that.

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On the east coast of the South Island, as a child I could stand out in the machinery yard, look towards the Southern Alps, and on a clear day, see the snow-covered peak of Aoraki Mt Cook, all the way on the west coast of the island. There was a little hole in the foothills that allowed this view – our farm was at exactly the right angle to be able to see it. So I always felt an affinity to Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Since the 1990s, the mountain is formally known as Aoraki/Mt Cook, as part of a settlement reached between the local Maori iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu, and the government. I like that addition. I like the fact that NZ has recognised the original names, and has used the name of the local tribe’s dialect, with the hard “K,” when it was previously often mistakenly called “Aorangi.” I was less enthusiastic about change when the top of the mountain collapsed, losing about 30 metres, and changing its distinctive shape. For me, the mountain of my youth was lost.

Mt Cook was more than five hours round trip from the farm, so whilst trips to other lakes were common once a year or so, only once did we actually take the extra two-three hours round trip to see the mountain. Up until last year, I had only been twice, both on day trips, both times very lucky to see the mountain clearly. So this time last year, when we decided to explore parts of the South Island we thought we knew well but didn’t, Aoraki Mt Cook was high on my list.

The national park is a popular base for climbers, of course. Established in 1953, the park has 19 peaks over 3,000 metres high, including Aoraki/Mount Cook, and glaciers cover 40% of the park. Sir Edmund Hillary climbed many of the park’s peaks, including Aoraki/Mt Cook, before successfully tackling the Himalayas and Everest. There is now a statue of him in the Mt Cook Village, along with an eponymous alpine centre that pays tribute to him and showcases the region.

We however, are not quite so adventurous as Sir Ed or the climbers who attempt to emulate his achievements. Fortunately, there are several very popular shorter walks for visitors to Mt Cook Village. We had chosen two of them, knowing that the weather and our schedule would mean we would have to miss a third. Still, that at least gives us an excuse to return.

The Tasman Glacier and Blue Lakes Track is only about 45 minutes return, and so we set off to do this shortly after checking in to our hotel. We drove the 7 kms to the start of the track, then began the climb up 300 steps. I found that stopping to admire or capture the magnificent views back down the valley provided a good opportunity to catch my breath too.

Tasman Valley

The Tasman Glacier lake was, in early May before winter weather had set in, still largely empty of icebergs calved off from the glacier. The glacier itself – like the other glaciers in New Zealand – is receding fast, and I wished we had been here 30 years ago. But the view was still amazing, the weather was calm, and the lake reflected the surrounding mountains.

Tasman Glacier Lake

That evening, we enjoyed the Hermitage Hotel. Usually populated by international tour groups, in 2021 our borders were closed, and the hotel was now filled with Kiwi visitors, making the most of seeing their country when New Zealand was still blissfully covid free. There was a relaxed, happy atmosphere of New Zealanders “doing something new” that I suspect is not there when the bus tours take over the hotel. The Hermitage itself is perfectly positioned to get magnificent views of the mountains, and Aoraki Mt Cook in particular. This is what we saw from our room.

View of Aoraki/Mount Cook from our room

I made myself comfortable in the armchair, and drank in the view, until it was time for cocktails around the open fire, and a nice dinner.

The next day we set off on the Hooker Valley Track. It’s supposed to be an easy 10 km walk, so I was looking forward to it. The car park at the start of the track was almost full, which meant two things: a) this was indeed a popular walk, and b) as usual, we were starting late.

Yet the walk didn’t feel busy. Sure, there were a few groups walking around us, but rarely was anyone closer than about 100 metres, and often there no other people in sight. We could enjoy the grandeur of the mountains, and the beauty of the surrounding landscapes and rivers, in blissful peace and solitude. Even the three swing bridges, which are not my favourite things, weren’t too scary to cross! This is definitely a good walk for the timid and adventurous alike. There is even a loo with a view, about half-way there.

Hooker Valley Track and Lake Mueller

The trail was clear and well-maintained, and at one stage a boardwalk crosses a delicate, tussock-filled plateau.

We walked alongside a river for much of the walk, and as we changed direction, Aoraki Mt Cook would pop in and out of view. Along with the panoramas, we found small tarns, rushing glacial streams, scree-covered slopes, and small pockets of hardy plants, often within the same shot.

The vistas were grand, and needed to be captured as vistas. So I barely got my camera out, relying instead on the wide angle of my phone. Phone photography excels in such environments, don’t you think?

Sadly, we knew the weather was due to pack up that afternoon. That extra hour in bed seemed like an unnecessary indulgence by the time we got to the Hooker Lake, as the wind whipped down from the snowy peaks, and rain began to fall. We therefore only stayed there for a short time, snapped a couple of pics, before turning round to head back.

A loo with a view and a rainbow

Retracing our steps south was just as beautiful as the way north, with different perspectives. We were about a kilometre or so from the car park when my heel started complaining. My walking shoes hadn’t been used for a while, and decided to rub my right foot. I’d forgotten to bring any plasters. I limped the last few hundred metres. But it was worth it.

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