Sublime Waters: A Journey Around New Zealand’s Dramatic South Island

 

Mark paddle boarding in New Zealand's Marlborough Sounds--so perfectly described as "sea-drowned valleys". Our paddle boarding experience here included gliding over large winged stingrays and thousands of jellyfish.
Mark paddle boarding in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds–so perfectly described as “sea-drowned valleys”. Our paddle boarding experience here included gliding over large winged stingrays and thousands of jellyfish.

 

From the first day of our adventure traveling up the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island along the stunning rocky coastline, through a few sparsely populated little towns and copious fields of sheep, I knew this journey would challenge my usual photographic instincts.  As a photojournalist whose work is generally centered on people and wildlife, photographing in such a sparsely populated place was at first a radical and sometimes uncomfortable departure for me.  After a few days, I stopped looking for humans and began seeing what South Island offered up on another more sublime plane.

From our first few days in the Marlborough Sounds—described as a network of “sea-drowned valleys”—where we spent a surreal morning paddle boarding over large winged stingrays and thousands of jellyfish—I felt like we’d entered a magical new realm best described in shades of blue. I noticed how the water constantly shifted hue and texture as the island’s weather patterns rearranged light and wind.

Everywhere we went, the intersection between weather and water seemed to play out in a complex dance. In the North, Abel Tasman National Park offered up golden beaches, azure lagoons and long tidal flats that appeared mirage-like with their ribbons of color and occasional horse riders.  In contrast, on the west coast, the waters were turbulent and unbridled, wearing the rocks into strange pancake formations and pounding the shoreline incessantly.

We spent an evening bicycling around the coastal town of Greymouth—once a bustling port for coal export that now seems a bit lost in time—stunned by the purplish evening hues and a whole new pigment we didn’t know water could acquire.

And then, further down the coast, there were the ice-blue glaciers rising up so unexpectedly after we emerged from rainforest. How can one make sense of a place so raw and elemental and seemingly connected to a geological past few of us understand?

And just when I thought the incarnations of water couldn’t get more dramatic, we spent an evening kayaking in pouring rain through Millford Sound’s interior bays surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise up 4,000 feet with thousands of waterfalls streaming down. Milford Sound—which is actually a fiord created by glacial erosion—was its own mythical country, full of rich Maori tales, dramatic tree avalanches and more rain than most of us can imagine standing.

Rounding the bend to South Island’s Catlins, we discover the rich marine life I’d been hoping to see and photograph. At Curio Bay—known to be a nursery for young dolphins—we watched these playful marine mammals surf waves and spring out of the water with seeming limitless enthusiasm.

At nearby Waipapa Point, a a harem of sea lions lay about in fat, happy arrangements, the large male occasionally rising to fend off a curious male challenger. Further up the coast, the ocean offered up the extremely rare and endangered yellow-eyed penguins. In the evenings, they’d be spat back onto shore after a day of fishing only to be accosted by their hungry chicks—mouth open, squawking, begging for food. Nearby, seal pups frolicked on the beach like energetic puppies while oyster catchers stabbed hungrily at shellfish.

Even heading inland to the interior lake region, I was struck by the unusual watery sightings like Lake Wanaka’s lonesome tree growing quite unexpectedly out of the water and the exquisite hue of Lake Tekapo, the turquoise blue of the Greek Isles. Apparently this remarkable color is the product of glacial sediment turned into fine dust particles suspended in water whose interaction with light creates the unusually bright blue hue.

And of course, beyond New Zealand’s sublime waters there is so much more—rainforests so green and moss-laden, the vast, raw Southern Alps, volcanoes, geysers and rollings greens pocked with sheep and cows. With the limitation of this blog post, I cannot begin to do justice to these beautiful places but in the meantime, here is my photographic experience of this rather unpeopled, transcendent place.

Riders walk their horses across one of Abel Tasman's beaches at low tide. The park is known for its spectacular tidal estuaries and azure lagoons.
Riders walk their horses across one of Abel Tasman’s beaches at low tide. The park is known for its spectacular tidal estuaries and azure lagoons.
Looking down on one of Abel Tasman National Park's exquisite lagoons from the parks' famous coastal hiking trail.
Looking down on one of Abel Tasman National Park’s exquisite lagoons from the park’s famous coastal hiking trail.
Early morning paddle boarders explore Tasman Bay--best described in shades of blue--in the sweet coastal town of Nelson.
Early morning paddle boarders explore Tasman Bay–best described in shades of blue–in the sweet coastal town of Nelson.
The west coast's waters, turbulent and unbridled, have worn limestone rocks into strange formations like a pile of pancakes, appropriately nicknamed "Pancake Rocks".
The west coast’s waters, turbulent and unbridled, have worn limestone rocks into strange formations like a pile of pancakes, appropriately nicknamed “Pancake Rocks”.
Looking out of a an ocean cave--accessible only at lowtide-- onto one of South Island's more protected west coast beaches.
Looking out of a an ocean cave–accessible only at lowtide– onto one of South Island’s more protected west coast beaches.
A brightly colored reef starfish hunts down its favorite prey--green mussels--on South Island's rocky west coast. The starfish plays an important role in reducing the expansion of invasive mussel species on the island.
A brightly colored reef starfish hunts down its favorite prey–mussels–on South Island’s rocky west coast. The starfish plays an important role in reducing the expansion of invasive mussel species on the island.
The stunning purplish hues of the Greymouth River at sundown.
The stunning purplish hues of the Greymouth River at sundown.
Dramatic clouds form above the Tasman Sea at sunset in Gryemouth.
Dramatic clouds form above the Tasman Sea at sunset in Greymouth.
Hikers approaching the face of Franz Josef Glacier are dwarfed by the cliffs of "schist" rock.
Hikers approaching the face of Franz Josef Glacier are dwarfed by the cliffs of “schist” rock.
Franz Josef's ice-blue glacial face rises up out of steel-grey rock--a scene so unexpectedly after one emerges from the nearby rainforest hike.
Franz Josef’s ice-blue glacial face rises up out of steel-grey rock–a scene so unexpected after one emerges from the nearby rainforest hike.
Just when I thought the incarnations of New Zealand's water couldn’t get more dramatic, we spent an evening kayaking in pouring rain through Millford Sound’s interior bays surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise up 4,000 feet with thousands of waterfalls streaming down.
Just when I thought the incarnations of New Zealand’s water couldn’t get more dramatic, we spent an evening kayaking in pouring rain through Millford Sound’s interior bays surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise up 4,000 feet with thousands of waterfalls streaming down.
At Curio Bay—known to be a nursery for young dolphins—we watched these playful marine mammals surf waves and spring out of the water with seeming limitless enthusiasm.
At Curio Bay—known to be a nursery for young dolphins—we watched these playful marine mammals surf waves and spring out of the water with seeming limitless enthusiasm.
One of my favorite moments in New Zealand was photographing yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguins in the world, in the wild. It was fascinating watching these penguin parents find a moment of reprieve from their penguin chick (on left) after it harassed them--mouth open, squawking, begging for food--as soon as they returned from their day of fishing. They did soon relent and feed it by regurgitating some fish.
One of my favorite moments in New Zealand was photographing yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguins in the world. It was fascinating watching these penguin parents find a moment of reprieve from their penguin chick (on left) after it harassed them–mouth open, squawking, begging for food–as soon as they returned from their day of fishing. They did soon relent and feed it by regurgitating some fish.
An expressive moment between two sea lions at Waipapa Point. The male sea lion on the left had earlier chased off a challenging male and had now come to confirm his prowess with one of his harem members.
An expressive moment between two sea lions at Waipapa Point. The male sea lion on the left had earlier chased off a challenging male and had now come to assert his prowess with one of his harem members.
A bleary-eyed fur seal poses on a cliffside at Katika Point on New Zealand's wildlife-rich east coast.
A bleary-eyed fur seal poses on a cliffside at Katika Point on New Zealand’s wildlife-rich east coast.
I was so struck by this unusual little lonesome tree growing quite unexpectedly out of Lake Wanaka.
I was so struck by this unusual little lonesome tree growing quite unexpectedly out of Lake Wanaka.
Awed by Lake Tekapo's remarkable color, I learned that it's a product of glacial sediment turned into fine dust particles which are suspended in water. When light and the blue of the sky reflect off these particles, it creates the unusually bright blue hue.
Awed by Lake Tekapo’s remarkable color, I learned that it’s a product of glacial sediment turned into fine dust particles which are suspended in water. When light and the blue of the sky reflect off these particles, it creates the unusually bright blue hue.
Light is filtered though the clouds at sunset over beautiful Tahanui beach in Nelson, New Zealand.
Light is filtered though the clouds at sunset over beautiful Tahanui beach in Nelson, New Zealand.
This blog strives to be an interesting place of discovery–a place to share beautiful or disturbing photos, discover new places and people and lose oneself in this extraordinary medium. If you or someone you know would like to receive new blog posts directly through your email, please sign up directly on my blog site–Apertures and Anecdotes (in the right hand column)–or email me at julia@juliacumesphoto.com. Thank you! ps. comments are closed due to an overabundance of spam but please feel free to respond to this blog post directly if you have any questions or comments.
This blog strives to be an interesting place of discovery–a place to share beautiful or disturbing photos, discover new places and people and lose oneself in this extraordinary medium. If you or someone you know would like to receive new blog posts directly through your email, please sign up directly on my blog site–Apertures and Anecdotes (in the right hand column)–or email me at julia@juliacumesphoto.com. Thank you!
ps. comments are closed due to an overabundance of spam but please feel free to respond to this blog post directly if you have any questions or comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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