lake-matheson-sunrise-new-zealand

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Lake Matheson on the South Island of New Zealand on March 24th, 2015

Normally I’m not one for hot beverages. Sure, I love a good cup of hot cocoa while camping but as a general rule hot drinks just don’t do it for me. I straight up don’t like coffee, and tea, well, it’s never quite been my cup of tea. Except, oddly, for when I’m in New Zealand. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m usually in New Zealand when it’s cold, whether it’s some subconscious nostalgic thing, or whether the tea is just plain better there. But for whatever reason, when I’m New Zealand I drink tea like an addict. Wake up? Make a cup of tea. Go for a hike in the rain? Come back in and warm up with a cup of tea. Have a cup of really good tea? Well heck let’s celebrate that cup of tea with a nice cup of tea!

The other thing I like about tea is that it helps me relax. I find it a pleasant way to wind down the day, and downshift my brain from active mode to sleepy mode. And if you are anything like me, a person whose brain never shuts up for a single second, having that help in falling asleep can be a lifesaver. So I’ll drink a cup of tea to start the process, and another 43 cups after that just to make sure. I mean, I’ll take all the help I can get, otherwise I know I’ll just lay in bed for hours with my mind blazing away with to-do lists, ideas for new projects, and images of dancing cats.

And as much as I enjoy dancing cats I often curse my overactive brain because I really like to sleep. Like, a lot. And here’s the thing: I’m not at my best when I’m tired. Far from it, in fact. When my energy levels are low I get cranky, stubborn, and downright curmudgeonly. “Photography?!” I’ll say, “Bah! Give me a warm blanket and a soft mattress instead.” And it was with this mindset that I consumed my 25 gallons of tea and then headed for bed in the small township of Fox Glacier on the night of March 23rd, 2015. You see: I was beat, exhausted from jet leg, car lag, and leg lag. I needed rest, otherwise I knew I’d start saying and doing things I’d regret later, like feeding keas and yelling at German backpackers. So when I closed my eyes for the night I had already decided to sleep in in the morning.

But as midnight came and went and the wee hours of day crept closer I felt an unmistakable tickle down in my guts. I tried to ignore it, tried to fool myself into thinking I could go back to sleep. But as I lay in bed, fruitlessly shifting position and willing myself to drift back off to dreamland, the tickle grew into an undeniable physical presence. Self-inflicted physiological Chinese water torture. All that tea had come back to bite me in the ever-expanding outward swell of my bladder. Grrrrr, I had to pee.

Stumbling out of bed and into the bathroom I checked my watch and saw that it was 7:00am, just about 45 minutes before sunrise. “Ah, what the heck,” I concluded, “I’m already awake now, might’s’well see what the conditions are looking like outside.” So having satisfied nature’s call I grabbed my jacket and camera and stepped out into the pre-dawn glow, looking up to see a sky full of patchy cloud and rich with possibility.

At that moment all the clinging vestiges of sleep were wrung from my body like a wet rag, and I found myself in the car flying out of town, and a few minutes later skidding to a stop in the Lake Matheson parking lot. With sunrise ticking toward me like a luminous bomb I half power-walked, half jogged (at least, as well as I could jog with 20 pounds of camera equipment bouncing on my back like some personal version of the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck) the mile and a half to Reflection Island, Matheson’s most famous viewpoint.

I had just enough time to slap my camera on my tripod before the sun broke free of some entangling clouds to the east and cast its early morning light on the iconic scene in front of me. Lake Matheson was as calm as liquid glass, and Mt Cook and Mt Tasman played peekaboo through the clouds. As the sun rose higher in the sky its rays shone through the Fox Glacier canyon and I snapped four vertical photos to combine into this high-res panorama of the moment, all the while thanking my bladder and its timely wake up call.

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