At almost three weeks in I'm starting to realise that a day by day break down of our goings on is probably a bit overkill. I will forever be playing catch up to go through all that we do, add an image and so forth, and besides, I'm not taking the very best images every day. Some I like, yes, but it doesn't mean that they all need some air time. During this section of the trail I began to think more about my approach to photography, about my approach to writing, and how these things can impact my approach to my own mental attitude. For example, I spend a day taking pictures, but get nothing that I'm happy with, so I then beat myself up about the fact that I don't have anything worth shouting about. My mood shouldn't be dictated by my work, and nor should this blog.
Day 20 & 21 - Pataua North to Ruakaka.
After a rest day in Whangarei enjoying the delights of a city such as the cinema and a fried breakfast, we were soon back on the trail. We rejoined the TA at Pataua North and now being refreshed and rested we made fast progress towards Ocean Beach where we would pitch our tent for the night. Approaching the campsite along the beach I noticed that the coastal track we would take in the morning would offer amazing views, so I made the plan to get up, pack up, and head up early to take in the sunrise from the clifftops. I may have left Lydia behind a little on the climb, arriving at my desired spot sweaty, out of breath and still tired, but I'd made it in time for the fleeting moment of colour that would sweep across the sky. Satisfied with the first images of the day, we had a scenic breakfast before continuing upwards, climbing to just under 1500 feet, and then dropping back down again along a road, hopping onto a boat to cross a river, then plodding on to our rest stop for the night at Ruakaka.
Day 22 & 23 - Ruakaka to Mangawhai
This was a short day, and after our big elevation changes the day before I was a little glad. We'd been put in touch with a marine scientist who was happy to host us for the night and it couldn't have been better. We were welcomed with beer and great chat, offered the use of his car and pretty much anything in the house, like seeing an old friend. The hospitality of people in New Zealand continued to surprise me, it was brilliant. I'd dearly love to be a bit bolder with the camera when it came to taking peoples photographs, but shoving a camera in their face, especially in their own homes was a bit beyond my comfort zone at the moment.
After a night of chilling out and eating pizza, we had another big day ahead, pushing through to the town of Mangawhai. Walking long sections of forestry track which might sound preferable to wet and slippery mud tracks, but my god I hate walking on these gravelled roads. Stones just large enough to roll your foot over if you're not watching where you're going. On the upside we would sometimes pass locals who would stop for a chat, and as we moved on I would try and steal the chance to take a picture of them carrying on with their day.
Day 24 - Mangawhai to Pakiri Beach
A day that can be summed up as a flashback to 90 mile beach, we found ourselves plodding on across more sand, headed for the holiday park at the far end of it. I can only assume that due to the monotony of the days walk, accompanied by uninspiring weather and surroundings, that I found myself in my first mental dip of the trip. I hadn't taken the camera out of the bag on this day, not a big deal really, but it was playing on my mind. Why hadn't I? Why should I have more to the point? That night I read through some issues of Outdoor Photography Magazine and Paul Nicklen's "Photographing Wild" and felt a weight lifted as I read some of the articles that offered inspiration. I didn't need to be hitting the mark every day, I didn't need to be taking pictures that would be an overnight success. Firstly I had no way of sharing them really, and secondly this whole trip was a long term thing. We're not even a month in afterall...
Day 25 - Pakiri Beach to the Dome Valley
We started the day early as our plan involved covering 23 kilometres into high terrain on a day of low cloud, with some uncertainty as to where we would be camping that night in adverse weather. The Omaha Forest was transformed by overnight rains, and persistent low cloud, emphasising this beautiful rainforest environment. One of the techniques I'd brought onboard from "Photographing Wild" was that of taking a 20/60/20 approach. The first 20% being the safe shots, getting them in the bag, the next 60% being where you get your creative brain going, the last 20% where you try to push it just that little bit further. I'd got the safe 20% covered, so now it was time to get more creative. Low ambient light levels offered itself to long exposures so I slowed the shutter speed down. 0.5 seconds, 1 second, 4 seconds. I fired off shots hand held as we walked, and guess what? I loved it. The pictures broke down the jumble of vegetation and trees around me into their most basic components. Colour, light, shapes.
These new images got me thinking, because the pictures I'd taken this far were about our journey across New Zealand but I'd only taken images of specific locations up until this point really. "Here's a nice shot of this beach" "This is sunrise over this location", which OK, on their own they could hang on a wall, or they could look nice in a magazine. But now I had some images that represented something so much more. Not just a place, but the feeling you get when walking through that place. If I was stopped and asked to describe some of the forest we had walked through up to this point I could only really talk about how it was dense and lush green, I'd think back to certain sections where the trees stood out in my mind, or maybe when the sun was shining through to the forest floor. But I wouldn't be able to recall a specific location in the forest with any great detail because I wasn't really taking the details in as we walked. Now I had images that represented that aspect of our journey, and I was excited, not to share them and sit waiting for the likes to roll in, because they most likely wouldn't. I was excited because it was the start of something that could take years to complete, and I felt like I had some clarity as to a direction I wanted my photography to go in. For me, the journey along Te Araroa was becoming more of a photographic soul-search.
Day 26 - Dome Forest to Puhoi
After camping the night in the forest, and being rocked to sleep by wind, thunder and rain, we were fully prepared to start the day in a downpour. But no! It was clear as a bell which was a turn up for the books. Not only was I now full of photographic vigour with this new project in mind, but everything was dry which, when you're living out of a tent, is a big fat plus. That was until about kilometre 21, with 10km left to go, where we got surrounded by a storm. Cue torrential rain for 2 hours, walking wet through made Puhoi Pub less of a nice treat and more of a do-or-die. When we did arrive though, it was the best pint, the best dinner, the best nights rest we could have asked for. We cursed the rain, but it made everything that little bit sweeter.