Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu: New Zealand Photography Adventure, Day 01

Mountains above Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand

The plane hasn’t even taken off yet and I’m already overstimulated. There are enough movies and tv shows provided by the on-board entertainment system to fill a dozen trans-pacific flights. Will I even sleep on this overnighter, or will I just stuff myself with this glut of media? It’s a bit of a silly question: I’d much rather get some sleep than watch epidsode after episode of How I Met Your Mother. So after a late pasta dinner (what, no lamb, Air NZ?) I contort myself into some semblance of a reclining position and get some shut eye. Some 6 hours of sleep, a few nature documentaries, and a movie later the plane bumps down on the tarmac at Auckland International Airport under the barely-there cyan of a new dawn. Customs and immigration are as easy as could be. I breeze through, step outside, and take a deep breath. Ahhhh, I’m here.

The air in New Zealand smells different. Wetter, cleaner, and richer than it does back in California. Even the jet fuel smells better here. More sheepy, I think, and I wonder what exactly they put in their fuel additives.

I’ve got a four hour layover till my flight to Queenstown and I meander through the airport trying to kill as much time as I can. I hop on one foot, I take two steps forward then one step back. But this is a small airport and despite my dawdling I find myself at the domestic security check point in a matter of minutes. At least security will eat up some time. Or it would if this was a flight in the US. Here the Kiwis seem bent on being as friendly as possible rather than pointing out any security issues. Do I need to take my belt off? Nope, you’re good, mate. What about my shoes? Nah, mate, those are sweet. How about this 18″ machete? Sure thing, as long as it doesn’t set off the detector.

Oddly enough the only thing that raises an eyebrow is that my carry-on seems to be too heavy. Even though I’m allowed two checked bags of 23 kilos each, my carry on is limited to a paltry 7 kg. 7 kg? C’mon, I’ve got 7 kg just worth of photo filters, not to mention all my cameras, lenses, laptop, adapters, and other photo doodads I’ve stuffed into this camera bag. But the gate staff assure me that I can check my bag as a “fragile” item and everything should be hunky dory. So with great reservation I hand my most vital and irreplaceable pieces of equipment to the baggage handlers, people who are best known for chucking luggage around like so many moldy tangerines.

There’s no point in worrying on an empty stomach so I head off to get some grub. Part of the fun of traveling is trying exotic, cultural foods so I find my way to a little NZ restaurant known as McDonalds. I’m hoping for a Kiwi burger with marmite, or maybe some deep-fried weka wings, but they seem to be running low on these New Zealand classics because all I see on the menu are Big Macs and Egg McMuffins. But like the air, the McDonalds is better here too so I scarf some down and kill the rest of my layover shooting time lapse footage on my GoPro HERO2.

The flight to Queenstown is uneventful and gorgeous. As we cruise down past the Southern Alps I can see all the big guys out my window: Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, Mt. Not Appearing In This Story. And I’m getting excited. It’s time to see these mountains up close and personal. But first I need to pick up my rental car: a Nissan Sunny, which pretty accurately describes my mood once I pull out of the rental car lot and realize I have 25 days of photography adventures ahead of me.

Although perhaps there’s an even better word to describe how I’m feeling at this point. As 24 hours of straight travel, a case of jet lag, and a five-hour time zone jump begin to catch up with me, I’m not feeling anything so much as I am sleepy. I’m sitting here on the shores of Lake Wakatipu writing this and taking photos, thinking of all the amazing things I’m going to see and do in the next 25 days and yet what I’m looking forward to most at this moment is simple: a nap.


(If this sounds fun to you, be sure to check out my New Zealand Photography Tour. This epic workshop starts and ends in Queenstown and visits some of the most spectacular sights on the South Island. Check it out here.)

Windburned and Victorious

Hole in the Wall Beach sunset, Santa Cruz, California

My face is six inches from a tide pool and all I can see through flecks of wind-driven foam is algae and anemonies. Which is a shame because somewhere down there in that watery world are my favorite photo filters, pulled out of my pocket by a gust of wind and sent skittering into the deep.

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Some Views Are Worth the Itch

Picture Peak and stream, Sabrina Basin, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains

“The mosquitoes will eat you alive.”

2011 had been an extremely snowy year in the Sierra and the massive snowpack was keeping the meadows marshy and bugs buggy a full month later than usual. As I chugged my way up the Blue Lake trail into the Eastern Sierras’ Sabrina Basin that refrain kept ringing in my ears and I debated turning back because of the dire warnings.

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My Favorite Photos of 2011

For me January represents a time not only of looking forward to the excitement and challenges of the New Year, but also a time to look back upon the great memories, photos, and growth of the past 12 months.  2011 was my best year yet as a photographer, both in terms of business success as well as creating strong images.  I find I often forget to reflect on my existing shots in my never-ending quest for the next great image, so in this post I’d like to take the time to review my 10 strongest and favorite images from 2011.

Starting with #10…

Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park

Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park

In May I took a two-week road trip through Utah…  Read more

The Storm Beckons

photo of storm clouds and ocean waves at hole in the wall beach santa cruz california

Click the image for a larger version to see all the neat detail in the clouds and water

Boy, I must be a glutton for punishment for tonight I shot at Hole in the Wall Beach at high tide. The last time I did that, I had a serious accident. So how the heck did I find myself there again under similar conditions? Well . . .

A passing storm brought the promise of drama to our sunny shores here in Santa Cruz for the first time in about a week. The clear skies, along with the fact the my car has been in the shop, kept me from shooting for the longest time in a while: going on 9 days. NINE!! Yikes!

Anyway, got my car back from the shop and saw a whole world of intriguing clouds out over the ocean; nothing was going to keep me inside tonight. I checked the tide levels and saw that they were fairly high, which more or less ruled out Hole in the Wall Beach, aka my favorite place in the whole area. But somehow I still found myself pulling into the parking lot if only to “check it out.”

I tromped on down to the beach and saw that there was quite a lot of sand piled up since my last visit, which made the arch much easier to pass through. It was still a race against the waves back up around the side of the cliffs but a fair bit of sprinting, hooting, and hollering kept me ahead of the salt water.

I wasn’t sure where the best conditions for sunset would be so I clambered up onto the rocks at the south end of the beach where there are a million and one things to shoot. And boy did I have a frikkin’ field day out there.

The lighting conditions were constantly changing and I shot composition after composition. I almost filled up my memory card, which is something I never do any more. Towards the end of the evening I was shooting a massive storm cell ruddily illuminated by the sun’s last rays when a sneaker wave ricocheted off of a rock 40 feet in front of me and somehow flew backwards through the air to land entirely on my chest.

Ahh, sigh. It isn’t a night at Hole in the Wall if you don’t come home soaking wet.

Should be lots of sweet shots to share here over the next few days. Thanks for looking!


And seal it with a kiss

Elephant seals are funny animals.  And I mean funny in a haha kind of way.

A happy little weaner

Had a fantastic opportunity on Saturday to go out with some researchers who were putting satellite transmitters on young elephant seals, or “weaners.”

These guys are some of the noisiest critters I’ve ever been around and it was a fairly hilarious afternoon listening to them honk, spit, hiss, burp, gurgle, yelp, squeak, and fart continuously for the entire five hours we spent with them.

Soon these 90-100 kg “little babies” will be headed out to sea to make their way in a scary world filled with hungry white sharks. Sadly only about 40% of them will survive to adulthood, but the ones who do make it will be big bad monsters who you don’t want to mess with.

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Playing Footsie with the Devil

Spent the afternoon as usual: peering out the window to check on conditions down out the coast. Since I had missed the fantastic sunset on Friday, I was especially antsy to get some shooting in, so when I saw some clouds building on the horizon, I hopped in the car and zoomed away down to the beach!

After some close calls at Four Mile and Laguna Creek where I almost stopped to shoot, I ended up at my old standby: Panther / Hole in the Wall Beach

Down at the shore I was immediately impressed by the massive waves, which were bigger than I’d ever seen them at this beach. (And if that doesn’t foreshadow the events to come this evening, I don’t know what would.)

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Four Miles of Fog

Did something today I almost never do at home: woke up early to shoot the sunrise.  Not sure what got into me exactly other than I have a somewhat obsessive personality and when I get into something, I really get into it.  The ‘it’ in this case is Four Mile Beach in Santa Cruz.  I went there yesterday evening for sunset and while there ended up being no color, I had a great time anyway because I was captivated by Four Mile’s beauty.  I don’t what the difference is exactly between Four Mile and the other nearby beaches I’ve been shooting lately, but this place really struck me as being just that much more wonderful.

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Southwest Road Trip: Soft Light and Shifting Sands

On the last leg of my recent southwest road trip, I had the choice of either heading north out of Zion National Park to head for Great Basin National Park, or heading south into Death Valley.  A brief weather check on the morning of my departure let me know that it was extremely cold in Great Basin, and since I’d been slogging through snow, ice, and freezing water for the previous week, I opted for the more temperature climes of DV.  This turned out to be a great decision: no crowds, beautiful weather, and some choice photography  opportunities ensued.  Full details and video after the jump.

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Southwest Road Trip: Curving Toward the Light

I arrived in Page, Arizona in a late January evening just as the clouds were beginning to roll in. I had little idea of what to do in town so I just found a cheap motel in which to spend the night. While checking in I perused the ubiquitous motel-bookstand-full-of-fliers-of-what-to-do-around-here and discovered to my delight that Antelope Canyon was right in town on the Navajo Reservation. “Well holy jeez,” I thought to myself, “I shall have to pay a visit.”
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