Te Araroa - Albatross, Hitchhiking, and a Flip-Flop

Our completion of the North Island meant that essentially all that was left was the big stuff. The highest passes, the most remote sections, the potential for some of the worst weather that we'd faced yet. Our month out in January meant we were creeping towards the winter months now, and as our hike continued the days would be getting shorter, and the nights colder. Our plan, therefore, was to do what's known as a “flip flop”, where after hiking the North Island heading southbound, you flip by headingso that you can walk northbound. The idea was that as our hike neared its end, and as we would slowly be hiking in colder conditions, we would actually be walking away from the coldest, and potentially worst of the weather. Plus, we'd grown to quite like the idea of finishing on the famous Queen Charlotte Track. Before all of that however, we had to get to Bluff first.

Our departure from Wellington was aboard the Interislander ferry for a grey and drizzly crossing on the Kaitaki. This in itself was made extra special by our friend who works aboard the ferry, who took us up to the bridge to enjoy a better view of....the grey and drizzle. I managed, at least, to capture this nice candid image of a couple enjoying the fresh air. Once in Picton we were headed to stay with friends for a few days while we sorted ourselves out, went through our bounce box, repacked bags, and began the mammoth task of hitchhiking from Blenheim in the north to Invercargill down in the Southland. All in all, it took us 3 days and 10 separate rides to cover roughly 870km. Our first leg was with Trevor and Lise who took us all the way from Blenheim to our first nights stay in Kaikoura. We could have covered more distance from here, but we were taking a day to treat ourselves to a trip out with Encounter Kaikoura on their Albatross Encounter boat trip. Despite a less than great forecast, I'd remained hopeful that at least a little sun would break through at first light so had booked us on the 6am boat departure for the following morning. Cue a 4am alarm, oppressively overcast conditions, and the most sickening swell I've experienced for a while. The sun was a no show, but at the very least I had come away with some images I was happy with, which was more than could be said for one of the customers who only managed to become intimately acquainted with a bucket.

Having the 35mm as my only option meant I was looking mainly for compositions that worked, and trying to capture bursts of action. I didn't succeed in every image owing to the motion of the boat and the poor light I had to work with, but from the images I shot I could choose the ones that had worked. In order to try and freeze some of this action in the low light however, meant boosting the ISO way up to give high enough shutter speeds. To give a half decent chance of freezing action, you should be aiming for a minimum shutter speed that is equal to double the lenses focal length. So with a 35mm, I wanted a shutter speed of 1/70sec; admittedly the first few images fired off were at 1/60sec, trying to squeeze just a bit more light out of what was available, some worked but most didn't. When the petrels burst into bouts of aggression, there was little I could do but fire away in the dim light of dawn. I knew that at the very least I could hope for some motion to become incorporated into the image when the fights happened, which certainly helps to give a sense of that burst of action as it was happening. In the below image, fortuitously there was a little empty space in the lower right corner which would work well with text overlayed in a magazine for example.

The lens is capable of opening up to an aperture of f/1.4 which lets in more light for quicker shutter speeds, but in doing so you give yourself less wiggle room in terms of getting the focus right and a little sacrifice in terms of image quality (lenses typically are sharpest around f/8, give or take). So despite it being hopelessly dull light I stopped down to f/5.6 for most images, and slapped the ISO up to around 2500. This allowed me to get the whole flock of seabirds in focus, whilst freezing any movement to capture as much detail as possible. While boosting the ISO can produce grainy/noisy images, modern DSLR camera's can cope with it well which gives more opportunity in low light. I've been impressed with my Canon 6D II and have often pushed the ISO limits beyond what I'm usually comfortable with, with pleasing results. 

In order to keep track of how I was exposing the image I was paying close attention to the histogram in the back of the camera, an important habit for any photographer to ensure you're retaining as much detail in the highlights and shadows as you can. Taking test shots every now and then as the light slowly (and very subtly) changed to make sure the settings were dialed in, ready to go when things kicked off. In the end, putting these methods into practice meant I came away with a number of images that I was happy with, especially given the conditions. Despite the sea state I managed to focus for just long enough to frame up these images, and as an extra Brucey bonus, I didn't vomit which is about all I could ask for at this point. Despite all that I still managed to stuff an eggs benny in my face, but I do argue it helps to settle a stomach....probably. With so much already having taken place before 10am, it was time for us to continue our hitchhiking south.

The rides from this point on were a real blur with people from all backgrounds, and I must admit I didn't point the camera in their face. It just wasn't something I felt comfortable with. It was enough for me that these people were happy to pick up a couple of smelly strangers at the road side, so you won't see any photos of them here. We made certain to introduce ourselves and exchange names at the time, but as time has gone by I'll admit I've forgotten many of their names. So I will take this as a chance to thank those strangers whose paths we've crossed and who helped us out.

First, as I've already mentioned, thanks to Trevor and Lise who took us from Blenheim to Kaikoura. Then we have the smoking (literally) older ladies whose car smelled like a weird nostalgic visit to relatives. Next comes the family in their ute who took us to Christchurch, whose daughter insisted on turning their car around to come back and pick us up, thanks to you especially. Then we were very thankful to VW man who gave us a short lift to a better hitch spot, then the speedy boys who clearly had just bought a new car and spent every penny they had on making it sound loud. After that we had a lady with her Fijian friend who saved us from the pouring rain before dropping us off in Omaru for our next nights stop. To the two Belgian girls in a camper, and to "Lime Cordiale girl" named as we only remember she liked that band, and who had never picked up hitchhikers before, I hope we settled any nerves you may have had. The family on a motorhome holiday who took us from Dunedin to a small town in the middle of nowhere, and finally to "fast Kevin" who only scared us a little as he gunned his black mercedes along the highways at speeds I shall not disclose here. Like all of the people we've met during our time in New Zealand you have reaffirmed the fact that kiwi's are one of the most hospitable and helpful of all, often going above and beyond to help a complete stranger.