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Travels: South of North Island, New Zealand

Wellington (Ricoh GR Digital) I am in Wellington for a week long business trip, and a deadline for Sunday 17 August has been moved to later in the week, so suddenly I have almost the whole weekend with no plans. As Wellington is a small city, I will quickly run out of things to see. Who could argue that New Zealand has some of the best sceneries around, and who cares that most of it are farms and sheeps. Good enough excuse for a drive if you ask me. So on Friday night its time to have a look at Google Maps and write out the itinerary on a piece of paper. I've found that the most effective way to do it would be to write all the names of the important towns in graphical form and the name fo the highway. The closest writing material I found was a little post-it note, so it'll do. Helps that the Post-It will stick to the dashboard when I'm driving. So it is possible to drive and know where to go at the same time.

Fine weather into New Zealand (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Wellington Skyline (Ricoh GR Digital)

Construction Site (Ricoh GR Digital)

The original plan calls for a drive up to Taranaki and a loop around Mount Taranaki and New Plymouth. Mount Taranaki was visible on the flight to Wellington from Auckland, and it looks like another perfectly conical volcano like Mount Fuji in Japan, so it could be a nice place to go to. But after a check with a Kiwi, I realised it might take a lot longer than a day to do that trip. Probably up to 6 hours up to New Plymouth, and another 6 to get back. That means a whole day of straight driving. An alternative route that makes more sense would be a counter clockwise loop to Martinborough and up to Woodville, and cutting across Manawatu Gorge over to North Palmeston and back down to Wellington along the coast. Looks like a comfortable day long drive with plenty of opportunity for stops. So this shall be the route for today.

Wellington waterfront (Ricoh GR Digital)

Wellington Harbour

As usual, I bring quite a lot of gear with me when I'm on business trip. This trip I have my GPS with me (finally) although the battery seems to be rather flat since I have not recharged it since, who knows when. I have my Nikon D2H with 40mm and 105mm prime lenses and Ricoh GR with me as well. Just in case the rental car has it, I brought my iPod Touch, dreaming of a nice spanking new car with iPod connector built in. The difficulty here will be to type this blog while on the trip. Will be difficult to manage the Nokia E61 and drive at the same time, and I dont expect too long a stopover for rests. Ah well, then I will have to type in the skeleton on the phone, and expand it later on the PC.

Probably pigeons at the Harbour (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

The plan this time is to do a loop of the North Island through the Hutts, Martinborough, and up to North Palmeston and improvising along the way according to the scenery. It looks like, compared to the original crazier plan to loop Mt Taranaki, this one may be possible to do in a day without being knackered.

Private Property (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Only real issue is it seems to be raining quite a bit this winter in New Zealand. There were some spells of bright sunshine when its supposed to be raining. But on the Sunday of the trip, it was supposed to be cloudy with a little peep of sunshine. At least for Wellington. Looks like up North the weather is not that promising according to the Metrological Department here. Plus the road here does seem to be narrower, so it would be difficult to drive fast and cover plenty of ground.

825hrs Wellington City Centre, Ghuznee Street: Budget Car Rental opens at 8am, but I had to first go for a little pie and coffee for breakfast before making the long drive, and Ghuznee St is not that far away from my hotel, a good 15 mins walk away, so decided to rent the car first thing in the morning. Not such a bad day, not blue skies early in the morning, rather cloudy, but doesn't look like the kind of skies that will bring showers. At least not in Wellington. Satellite photos shows plenty of rain clouds up north around North Palmeston. Picked up an automatic tiptronic equipped Ford Focus from the shop, and with my post-it note driving instructions and Garmin eTrex GPS ready, its time to move out towards Lower Hutt.

Rental Ford Focus (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Brian's map (Ricoh GR Digital)

Only issue with all these fancy cars (if I could call a Ford Focus fancy) is most of them have metal coated windscreen that blocks heat from the sun. Why do I hate them? They bloody blocks GPS signals. Next trip I will need to bring a pen knife along so I can cut a little hole for the signals to penetrate the windscreen. Usually the side windows are comparatively better. So the best position in this car was to put the GPS on the side ledge, and lucky there's one on the Focus that would fit a hand held GPS very well. Luckily on time on the trip I winded the window down to take a photograph, the GPS did not disappear outside onto the bitumen at high speeds.

Reservoir at Te Marua lookout (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

914hrs Te Marua Lookout: The initial drive was relatively simple and straight forward. Came across Kaitoke Regional Park with the first scenic lookout of the trip. A scenic lookout seems to be anywhere with a parking spot and a little path that leads to a sweeping vista overlooking some landscape. Most of the time it is nothing very special to a landscape photographer. This one overlooks 2 reservoirs, apparently and most probably used for storing drinking water for the people downstream. Nothing special about the scenery in a nice sunny morning. With the D2H out equipped with 105mm f2.5 AIS lens, I started to look around and found that the reservoir circumference along with the lawn around the pond makes very good abstract photos, and with interesting curves. So I scout for interesting layouts and shot a couple of pictures to justify me having stopped here, all because it was labelled "scenic lookout". There is a signboard with some explanation of this area, but instead of reading it, I just took a photo of it with the Ricoh GR Digitial and decided to read it later, which I almost never do.

Mountain Road before Featherston (Ricoh GR Digital)

Old Truck on Mountain Highway (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

After a short break, it is time to move on towards Featherston. One thing I really miss are all those crazy vending machines in Japan that seems to be everywhere. I bet you if this was Japan, this stop would have at least 2-3 vending machines selling bottled tea. But this is not Japan, so there is no vending machine, and I will have to get my stuff in the next town.

1037hrs Martinborough: Featherston is a small small town, so came down the hill, passed the place without even realising it and soon I'm in Martinborough. According to the map and all the brochures I managed to nick while at the hotel this morning, this is where the wines come from, at least in the North Island. When entering Martinborough, true, first few stuff you see are wineries. Too bad they're all closed, I guess its winter time so they don't open. Can't tell, whatever it is, I decided not to pack any wine bottles back. Nice as it is, I think the wine I buy in Shanghai is not that bad to at the same price and it saves me the trouble of lugging around 2 bottles back to Shanghai.

Countryside outside of Martinborough (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Vineyard outside of Martinborough (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON

Lone Sheep outside Martinborough (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Maybe its time to do a little more leg stretch. Stopped in the downtown for a little walk around. And bought a takeaway pie, some carbonated water (by mistake) and a cup of takeaway coffee black. The next stop would be the coast after Lake Ferry, which I'm guessing is not so much a tourist spot so there will be no shops there selling anything. Since it could be about noon when I get there, I will probably have lunch there staring at the sea. Coming from city centre, a right turn should put me on the route towards the south coast.

Lake Ferry Fire Station (Ricoh GR Digital)

Rental Car at Lake Ferry (Ricoh GR Digital)

1136hrs Lake Ferry beachfront: The whole way to Lake Ferry coastline is full-on sunshine. The road is relatively empty, I'm by no means the only car on the road, but I could stop on the road side, take a few photos of vineyards and sheeps and get back to the car without seeing another car pass me. Sometimes they do, so I need to find a nice big area to place the car on the side without causing a jam. Wouldn't be a nice thing to do. Its a good 20mins drive from Martinborough to Lake Ferry. Its a small town without a shop in sight. Lucky I bought my lunch earlier. Nothing special at the lake, but the beach is quite interesting.

Fine weather at Lake Ferry beachfront (Ricoh GR Digital)

4 Wheeling at Lake Ferry (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

View of Hillside from Lake Ferry beachfront (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Drift wood (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Its full of pebbles like the ones you get in streams. Not that easy to walk as the pebbles and undelying sand is quite soft. I am a little worried about having to ditch the car. There is a car park at the beach front itself right on the pebbles, and people fishing from the beach itself. Wave breaks pretty violently here, and you could see that the outlet from Lake Ferry is causing some form of back wash and that is where the wave is the greatest. Unfortunately the water looks muddy so it doesn't look too appetizing. As if I was going to swim. Anyway, grass, pebbles, logs and nice blue skies... makes for a very very nice photo oppotunity, and I took quite a number with the Ricoh and Nikon D2H before resting for my lunch. That would be a chicken pie bought during my last stop.

Little Church (Ricoh GR Digital)

1254hrs Martinborough again. On the way back to Highway 2, and had to pass through Martinborough again, and looking for Princess street. Which is not that difficult to find. So it would be more farms again on the way to the little gorge after Woodville before hitting North Palmeston. The only issue here is I got to see my first drop of rain here, so I guess I must be passing through the rain clouds I saw on the satellite map. Nothing much to shoot. However, the low winter sun is casting nice deep green colour to the grass in the direction of the sun. I didn't get to stop the car to take pictures, Its starting to get late and I have only completed a third of the total drive.

Farmland around Martinborough (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Signboard in Martinborough (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

1336hrs: Masterton. Have been driving for almost an hour non stop. Part of it was sunny, and partly raining with full sunlight. Decided to stop here for some batteries and smoothies as the GPS is running out of battery and not sure if it will last all the way back to Wellington. Ridiculous battery prices, 2 AA for 7.99NZD! Should have charged my batteries for the GPS before getting here. I had no choice but to buy 2. Sulking all the way out of Masterton about it. Smoothie cost about half, so it was 10NZD for a smoothie and 2 AA batteries. Pretty steep. But petrol stations know that you need it so they will tie you up and beat you if you need those. I could have stopped by some discounter and picked them up, but I guess I'd rather spend the time driving to the next destination.

There are not too much scenery to look at anymore as the skies are starting to get darker. Rain is pouring down constantly by the time I start to drive out of Masterton. Surprisingly this is quite a big town.

Rainy day driving (Ricoh GR Digital)

1406hrs Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre (-40.721063,175.639619). Started to rain pretty heavily while I stopped at the tourist centre for a little break. Just had enough time to walk to the toilet and back and then it was just resting in the car twiddling my Nokia E61 to update this blog. Nothing special to report from here, but its driving again to Eketahuna in the rain.

Wind Turbines outside North Palmeston (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

1526hrs Outside Woodville (-40.335423,175.84219): Just passed through Woodville and on the way to North Palmeston which is just across the moutains through the Manawatu Gorge. There are plenty of wind turbines on both side of the road through the gorge, the first nice sight to see. I dont think they look ugly at all, but imposing. Too bad I had to drive but not time to take photos of it during the drive. There was a road (Saddle Road) that apparently goes up to the hill near the wind turbines, but I was stupid enough not to take the scenic route. So its through the gorge, with a slow driver a few cars in front of me, and the rain pissing down like crazy. I love gorges, and especially driving through them, but the issue with this is I cannot pull up on the side and take some pictures of the rapids below, but I Can seem them. When no one is looking I'll take out my Ricoh and steal a shot or two while zipping thru the bending highway. Too bad none of the shots turned out well. Next time I am here, I will take Saddle Road.

Patches of grass at Lake Ferry Beachfront (Nikon D2H + 105mm f2.5 AIS)

Just as I drove out of the gorge, managed to find a nice place to turn out of the highway around here (-40.303029,175.742712) and took some pictures of the wind turbines on the top of the hill. This is supposed to be the windiest area in New Zealand. Quite obvious because of the wind turbines you would think. So the 105mm lens on a D2H just does it nicely. I will stay here for 15 mins at least to wait for the nice sunglight to break from the rain clouds to get nice light play over the mountains with the windturbines in the background.

Otaki Beach, New Zealand

Sunset over Otaki Beach (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

1659: Otaki Beach for sunset (-40.738925,175.1147). It is quite difficult to get a nice shot of sunset on the beach with the rain clouds. Challenging but sometimes the sunlight peeks through all those dark clouds and makes an interesting photographing subject. Anyway, waiting here at the beach waiting for the sun to set, and looks like today may not be the right day for sunsets. The weather is starting to drop below 10C and I'm still with my single layered shirt only. Left the jacket in the car. There are some interesting beachfront vegetation to photograph, but will wait here for a while to see if there is anything interesting to shoot, when the sun is on the horizon.

Lone Flower at the Beach (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Its starting to get dark after the sun disappears over the horizon. For me I think the trip is finished, nothing to see in terms of scenery at night, and I'm about 1 hr away from Wellington and it is still raining occasionally. Back on highway 1 bound for Wellington, with some local radio station blaring from the tinny speakers in the Ford Focus.

1824: Arrived back in Wellington. After filling up the rental car with a full tank of petrol, I had some idea to drive up Mount Victoria to get a nice view of Wellington, but since it is still raining, figured out to leave that for next trip. Pumped 73.20 worth of petrol, which if you think about it, is quite crazy as the rent itself was a little less than that. The odometer reads 466.4km for today's drive. Decided instead to return the car by parkign it outside the shop and leaving the car keys in a little hole in the wall.

If that was not tiring enough, driving the whole day, I went into the hotel gym and did a 3km jog! What a crazy day. But got to see enough rain, sheeps, cows, and farm. What a way to spend Sunday...

Untitled, since I can't remember where it was taken! (Nikon D2H + 40mm f2 ULTRON)

Garmin Mapsource plots of the route I took

Same plots but transferred to Google Earth

*end of post*