I was hesitant to take the weekend outside of Dunedin, but on the advice of a friend, decided to go for it. As it turns out, it’s therapeutic to spend the weekend on your own, largely away from civilisation, with nothing but two cameras, a book, and some music for company.
Leaving Dunedin at 7 AM on Saturday, I headed north-west to St. Bathans. After a turbulent respite in sleet, hail, rain and gale-force winds, I started my return leg at 5:30 AM. Taking in as many back-country roads and smaller settlements as I could (have Subaru, will have awe-inspiring adventure), I finally returned to Dunedin at 1:30 PM on Sunday, with a lit fuel warning light and dirt-plastered paintwork. On the way, I took in the last vestiges of spring and first wisps of summer as they caressed the rugged Otago landscape.
To mark my first (and hopefully, not last) solo undertaking of such magnitude, this will be a long post; 18 photos, or three times as many as I’d normally post. These will encompass spring’s last stand, summer (literally) breezing in, and summer settling in as if it had never left. This post also marks my last New Zealand-based photo post of 2013 (next week will largely be text). While there were many more photos I’d have liked to include, I’ve attempted (and hopefully succeeded) in selecting my absolute best from the past two days.
Without further ado, here come the photos (and more text).
Last day of spring
Spring was rather reluctant to part company this year. The day started with glorious weather: the sun peered over the hills, the breeze was gentle and warm. It’s as if spring was heralding summer with open arms. As if…
With the latest Arctic Monkeys album backing my westward charge, the heavens opened for a few minutes en route to Lee Stream to drench all that could be drenched. The sun emerged moments later, though only to deceive me. Throughout the day, I was pummelled by showers of rain, sleet and hail, interspersed with summery fine spells.
Eventually, I made it to St. Bathans Domain to set up base for the night. Horizontal swathes of precipitation imprisoned me in the car for the crime of wanting to boil the jug and have a cup of tea. After an hour of this, the weather relented long enough for me to have my cup of tea, and even a little dinner.
As the last sunset of spring wafted across the mountains and pastures, the clouds parted. Spring had made a valiant stand against summer, before waving the white flag. And what a flag it waved!
Spring surrenders, and summer breezes in
After spending the afternoon napping to the staccato rhythm of sleet and hail being blown onto the windows, I awoke to a clear sky, and an apologetic sun making its last sunset of the spring. While it had been warm all day, sunset marked the first time the sky stopped being ironic, and started acting warm. Of course, it started getting cold then, just to be ironic.
Besides the drop in temperature, it was starting to feel more like summer was inching its way into the country. The gales experienced throughout the day finally came good, lowering their ferocity. Clouds thinned and wafted apart, leaving only a few to catch the remaining vestiges of light as daytime faded into evening.
As it transpired, welcoming the first dawn of summer at the final sunset of spring was more precocious than it sounds. Staying up late, to try and capture some stars (I’m trying to get back into practice), the gentle breeze assumed a bitter, forceful persona. Even with as many layers of clothing as possible, the wind wouldn’t relent, forcing me to cut my stargazing time short and retreat to the relative comfort of my makeshift bed.
Once sleep began to take hold, I was rudely awaken by the furious pummelling of rain against the roof. After this crescendoed, several sharp cracks permeated the night. So, at 2:15 AM (apologies to my neighbouring campers), I shifted the car as far from the tree as fast as I could. Three uneasy hours of broken sleep followed, before I went to give the summer a less precocious welcome.
First day of summer
The dawn was cold to see, and cold to feel, as the winds of the night continued to introduce summer by force. Even in the face of wind gusts, an eerie stillness lingered on the land, probably related to the fact that I’d even managed to beat the farmers out of bed. As the wind ate at my face, and the minutes slipped away, the sunrise finally arrived.
I’ll be honest: I was disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the misery of a cold breakfast (that pesky wind interfering with the kettle again!), or the lack of colour, but there was a certain magic lacking. Disheartened, I crept out of town, and headed for home.
Not for the first time, I’d been too quick to make a decision. As I crested the hill and began the descent to pastureland, the first sunrise of summer cast every ounce of its sublimity across the land. The hills were alive with colour and shape, backdropping the livestock, and setting the meandering gravel road into relief.
Once I rejoined State Highway 85, the scenery became livelier with every passing mile. The sun rose behind a thicket of cloud, dappling the landscape with phenomenal rays which accentuated the distant hills and valleys. The situation was one of those which was best experienced, rather than photographed. A large part of this was finding a good vantage point with a safe stopping area on the shoulder of the road. Sadly, since these were few and far between, often occurring on hill crests and blind bends, I took away more memories than photos. But, that’s never a bad thing.
Not content with giving me an easy drive home, wind and rain scattered themselves recklessly across my drive home. While the showers of rain surrendered at Middlemarch, the wind kept me company right to my front door. Gusts of wind were somewhat stronger than they’d been at St. Bathans: tellingly, I was steering left to go around a right hand bend at one point, such was the force of the crosswind.
After a stop at the Sutton Salt Lake, I took State Highway 87, until turning off onto George King Memorial Drive. Due to the safe stopping issue (and a perilously low fuel level) I didn’t get any photos along there. That’s no misfortune though, as George King is a lucky man to have a road like that named in his memory. The narrow band of tarmac weaves across the Strath Taieri, before plunging into the Taieri Gorge, and ascending again via a series of tight curves, before making a final descent into Outram Glen. The views are staggering, the challenge intoxicating, and for that reason, it’s my favourite driving road in Otago, and one hell of a way to cap my weekend away.
Ultimately, the weekend away paid off: I’ve wound up with over 300 photos I would never have had otherwise, and find myself less stressed than I was this time last week.
Not having been to through that part of the country for several years, I was able to approach things with a relatively fresh pair of eyes. It’s entirely possible some photos are duplicated in the bowels of my archives, but given that places change and the weather varies (a lot, as it happens), it’s highly unlikely that any two photos will be the same.
Overall, the experience was a relaxing one. The only stressful element of the weekend was the wind, which was either fighting me for control of the car, refusing to let me eat and drink, or threatening to drop trees on me in my sleep. The wind, however, was a tiny sacrifice for a weekend that didn’t involve worrying anything other than enjoying my photography in a beautiful corner of the world.
That’s a wrap on my first large-scale solo photographic trip, and last New Zealand-based photo post of 2013. If you had the perseverance to make it this far, thank you. 🙂