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Wellington, my city, is filled with native trees, the large majority of which are evergreen. But I grew up in the South Island, where years of colonisation and farming have ensured that rivers are lined with willows, poplars are used as windbreaks, and autumn colours are everywhere. But it has been 35 years since I moved to Wellington, so I had forgotten how gorgeous autumn can be in the south. I’d even forgotten when autumn occurred there, and had expected to miss the autumn colours on our trip south last month. But I didn’t.

Whilst I love the poplars, the willows were my favourite. They now adorn the header of this blog, as you can see. I was just so happy every time I saw them.

Whilst our natural lakes and fjords are mostly lined with native trees (future tree posts), this isn’t always the case in more arid areas, or with artificial lakes, where willows are often planted on the shore’s edge. At least, I think they are willows. Who cares? They’re beautiful.

Another in the Thursday Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here.

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I continue to learn about photography. Lessons I learned over the last month:

  1. Phone or camera. Whatever you have at hand is probably the best. I got this on my phone, because it was raining and I didn’t want my camera to get wet.
  1. Take a tripod. I know I should use mine more, especially for landscape photography, but knowing it is in the car is a great relief, just in case I need it.
  2. Remember that selfie stick that my niece gave me. Pop it in your handbag or backpack. All too often one of us will say, “oh, I left it in the car!”
  3. New Zealand roads often have wide verges, making it safe to pull off the road and take scenic shots.
  1. Take photos through the car windscreen if there’s nowhere to stop. Some of the pictures aren’t usable – remember to clean the windows! – but some are surprisingly clear and perfect.
  1. When Google says a particular route will take 3 ½ hours, they are not factoring in stops for roadside shots (or loo stops, or stretch-your-leg stops, or food-and-drink stops). A sign-posted 20-minute walk into the bush from the road will inevitably be longer, not because I’m a slow walker, but because I like to snap away with my camera or phone. Allow plenty of time. It gives a photographer a real sense of freedom.
  2. Take a tolerant driver/partner. Mine is happy to stop for photos, if it is convenient and safe. Most of the time. Sometimes he’ll even turn around and go back for a shot, if the road isn’t busy. In New Zealand, especially with international borders closed, most tourist roads aren’t very busy!
  3. Be decisive. Wishy-washy statements like “oh, that could be a nice shot, maybe we should …” are just annoying!  As I have been told many times. “Stop!” is a much more acceptable instruction.
  4. Know when enough is enough. (We don’t want to test #7! I was getting close when I was snapping all the autumn colours.) But don’t be left with regrets.
  5. Do a bit of research about scenic spots. Google street view was helpful a couple of times to decide where to detour. I got this pic as a result:
  1. Move. It’s one of the pieces of advice for photographers that I am worst at following. But moving to get the right composition really helps me get some of my favourite shots. Getting down on my knees, or squatting, also helps get a better shot. Scrambling down to rivers, being prepared to get wet or dirty, etc would all give me much better shots, but I am still bad at this.
  2. If you want to post photos on the move, which I do, check the photos and give them a quick edit. I import camera photos onto my phone through a camera app and my camera’s wifi, and can then edit them either with my phone software or another app. I particularly like Snapseed. But any app will allow you to crop or straighten a photo to get the shot you intended.
  3. Last but not least, ensure you take the right battery charger. I had double checked, but still accidentally picked up the wrong charger. Fortunately I discovered this error near a shop that had a good, cheap replacement that I was able to pick up the next morning. (It helped that we had an easy day of driving scheduled that day). The husband misguidedly suggested I could travel to some of our country’s most scenic destinations with just a phone for photos. Ultimately, he was very glad I ignored that suggestion.

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New Zealand is a beautiful country. It’s a stereotype, but it is true. Of course, most countries are beautiful – nature astounds us, whether in a desert or a rainforest or a back garden – so it is probably an accurate statement to say about anywhere you might go. But – and here I will show my bias – New Zealand is stunning. The South Island, where I grew up, is the jewel in the crown, though the beauty in the north is also varied and breath-taking, and shouldn’t be ignored. The key thing you need to see New Zealand is time. Time to navigate the roads, to include options for bad weather, to enjoy in the scenery (whether on the side of the road, or in amongst it), or to enjoy the food and wine. We just spent three and a half weeks doing that, in the South Island. It was wonderful.

What did we do that was new? Well, we visited a seal colony we hadn’t been to before, stayed in a new town on the West Coast, drove a mountain pass between the two coasts that we haven’t driven for maybe 20 years, stayed in five different places I’d only ever visited on a day trip or passed through, photographed the Milky Way one cold dark night in a Dark Sky reserve, took a cruise in a fiord for the first time, walked amongst the Southern* Alps, and saw some camera shy Little Blue Penguins coming in from shore. Almost everything we did was free too! Well, except for the fabulous food and wine in Queenstown. And last but not least, we caught up with family. They’re a bit camera shy too. Though in retrospect, I wish I’d caught up with a couple more, who are no longer with us.

An adventurous baby seal
No stars today! A daylight view from Mt John Observatory
Walking the Hooker Valley Track
Milford Sound, Fiordland
A childhood memory

It was also the first time we’ve travelled south in May. (Well, except for when we lived there in the 1980s, or brief flights for me to visit my parents when they were alive.) I thought it might be cool, but instead, at first, we had shirtsleeve sitting-outside-eating-an-ice-cream weather. But then I didn’t expect to drive into snow either, although I was thrilled to see it, as we haven’t had snow in Wellington since 2011. I’d thought that the autumn colours might be gone, but they were in full force in many places, delighting me constantly. (Wellington is beautiful, but it is an evergreen city.) So I found a new autumn banner for this blog. (See above!)

Autumn in Central Otago
Snow in May!?!

* An unoriginal name for the mountain range that stretches up the South Island. Not quite as unoriginal as “the South Island” though, I’ll give you that! The official name is Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana. The Maori name means “Mirage of the Ocean” which I think is lovely. FYI, the South Island is also equally and officially known as Te Waipounamu.

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