2017 in review

12:03am, 14 November 2016.  The exact time which defined my 2017.  Starting near Culverden, New Zealand, the ground started ripping apart, and then, travelling at 2 kilometres per second, it tore north-east towards the coastal town of Kaikōura.  Two minutes later, when the earth finally stopped shaking, people’s lives had been changed forever.

The magnitude 7.8 earthquake severely damaged and initially closed all road and rail connections into Kaikōura.  Seabed uplift in the harbour left many facilities high and dry.  Parts of the South Island moved 5 metres closer to the North Island.  Miraculously, only two people died.

Crazy to think back, but my family and I had been camping on the beach in Kaikōura just the night before.  Having lived through both the Darfield and Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, and being well prepared for such things, we had already run through our evacuation plans in our head.  So thankful we didn’t need to put those plans into practice on this occasion.

Rewind a further two weeks and after 12 years with my previous employer, I’d just started a new job with the grand plan of moving to 4-day working weeks so I could focus more on my photography business.   Then the earthquake happened and I was offered a career defining opportunity to get involved with what would become the biggest road and rail rebuild in New Zealand’s history.  And so any thought of 4-day working weeks quickly disappeared; in fact, 6 or 7 day working weeks quickly became the norm!

My role in the recovery has been to work in the North Canterbury Infrastructure Transport Recovery Alliance (NCTIR), leading the team obtaining all the environmental and legal authorisations required to reinstate State Highway 1, the Main North Line (rail) and Kaikōura Harbour.   It involves co-ordinating technical advice from a range of specialists including road and rail geometric designers, civil engineers, geotechnical experts, ecologists, landscape architects, and archaeologists to name a few, then working through a statutory process with regional and district councils and stakeholders to seek permission for work to proceed.  It’s been a unique, challenging and incredibly fast-paced job, and one which I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

One of the perks of being involved with the Kaikoura earthquake recovery is that I’ve got to spend a lot of time in one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand

So for much of 2017 photography has been on the side lines.  That said, when I reflect back on the year and flick back through my Lightroom catalogue, I realise I’ve squeezed in a bit more than I thought!

During the first three months of the year the pace at NCTIR was hectic, and coupled with my knee still recovering from surgery in late 2016, I barely got the camera out of its bag.  What little spare time I had was spent rebuilding my website from scratch (into the form you see here now) and for the first time set up an e-commerce platform to sell prints.  Soon after launching the website I also posted my A Brief Guide to the South Island for Landscape Photographers, and a couple of weeks after that, My Photography Philosophy.

There was one small exception to the no photos situation: an epic sunset in mid-January.  Although for this I only had to drive 5 minutes from home!

A storm coinciding with sunset is a recipe for epicness

I’ve attempted several edits of this image throughout the year and never felt like I’ve truly nailed it; the light and colour was so surreal that every version I’ve come up with looks completely ridiculous!

With the initial hard work out of the way at NCTIR, my first break came at Easter in mid-April.  I hit the road and spent a few days down south, mostly focused on the Fiordland and Queenstown areas.  Highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the two nights I spent in Doubtful Sound / Patea, one on a kayaking adventure and the other on a cruise.  After the trip I put together A Brief Guide to Milford and Doubtful Sounds.  (plenty more pics and a video at the link)

I spent a couple of days in Milford Sound / Piopiotahi and was stoked to get amazing sunrise and sunset conditions throughout

Cruising through the silent paradise of Doubtful Sound / Patea

Drowned trees on the shore of Lake Monowai

A long exposure of the Remarkables mountain range, taken on sunset just as a shaft of light broke the horizon

In May, and following a long period of throwing around the idea, Rach Stewart, Lee Cook and I got to work on our exciting plans to start a photography tour/workshop business, which soon came to be known as @purephotoadventures.nz.  Over the winter months each of us spent an untold number of hours behind the scenes and getting the paperwork in place.  When we advertised our first trip in July and it sold out in under 2 hours we knew we were on to something pretty special!  (our first tour was held in early December 2017…. more on that soon)

Also in May we had an amazing aurora event, the first I’ve seen with my naked eye here in Canterbury.

Mind blowng!

In mid-June I ducked away for a 3-day weekend to the Aoraki/Mt Cook area, with the primary goal of getting some more content to complete my new A Brief Guide to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. (again, a lot more pics at the link)

Any icy Sealy Tarns, moments before the fog rolled in and completely enveloped this scene

Taken on my first trip up to the Red Tarns; hope to get back here someday when the light is a little more dramatic

A stunning morning down on the Tasman River flats, with a view through to Aoraki / Mt Cook

Following a huge blizzard in early July, my family and I went on a little adventure back to Aoraki/Mt Cook and spent 3 fun-filled days playing in the snow.  I also caught up with Rach and Lee and we went out on a couple of walks and a doors-off helicopter trip with Mt Cook Ski Planes and Helis.  Dangling outside that heli with just a rope tethering me in place was quite possibly the coldest I’ve ever been – an air temp of -20 and wind chill on top of that!

A view downstream from the third swingbridge on the Hooker Valley Track. I’m not exactly sure how cold it was, but it was cold enough that my camera eventually gave up writing to SD cards!

I went up to the Hooker Lake hoping for a great sunset, which didn’t eventuate; but pretty happy to find a frozen, snow-covered lake

Once you go doors-off in a helicopter there’s no going back (even if it’s ridiculously cold)

A week later, and with a lot of snow still lying around the place, I spent an afternoon exploring one of Canterbury’s best kept secrets, the Ashburton Lakes.  I was only there for half-a-day but what a half-a-day it was!

A super clear and crisp afternoon on the shore of Lake Heron

The dusk sky at Lake Heron was crazy intense

Around that time I posted A Brief Guide to Lupins.

A couple of weeks later I was down to Tekapo for a brief work-related weekend escape.  Managed to squeeze in a few snaps while still enjoying the snow and -15 degree temperatures!

All in a row at Lake Tekapo

A chilly dawn on a back-country road near Tekapo

In the October school holidays I maintained the annual tradition of taking one of my children on a roadie for some quality one-on-one time.  This year it was George’s turn and we headed to the West Coast, concentrating on the Hokitika, Punakaiki, Karamea, and Nelson Lakes areas.  As yet I’ve barely had time to edit any photos from this trip.  But in the meantime enjoy a couple of highlights below, and head over to my A Brief Guide To Karamea to see some more piccies from that part of the trip.

You can’t beat a Hokitika sunset

You can’t beat a Punakaiki sunset either

I was stoked to get back to the Karamea after a gap of several years

A frosty start to the day at Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud

In mid-November we got away a brief overnighter to Akaroa.  24 hours in this place is definitely not enough, so am hoping to spend more time here in 2018.

A snap from a brief trip to Akaroa

Eight months after the dream began, in early December we ran our first @purephotoadventures.nz workshop.  It was a manic and crazy filled 4-days but we were super stoked with how it went.  Our next two workshops in Autumn 2018 are already nearly sold out and we have a heap of plans for the remainder of the year too.  Exciting times ahead!

Out there and doing it on the inaugural @purephotoadventures.nz tour

And so that’s nearly a wrap on 2017.

At the time of writing, we (NCTIR) are about to open the last section of State Highway 1, just 1 year, 1 month and 1 day after the devastating earthquake.  It’s a huge achievement and one I’m monumentally proud to be involved with.  Looking ahead to 2018 I still have quite a bit left to do with the recovery effort, including a series of improvements and resilience projects, but with much of the hard yards done I’m looking forward to spending a bit more time behind the camera in 2018.

At the end of my 2016 review I finished by saying I hoped to be different and courageous with my photography.  Not convinced I’ve had the time to fully achieve that this year, but let’s see what 2018 brings!

To all of you who continue to follow my photographic journey, a huge thanks.  Wishing you and yours an awesome festive season, wherever you are around the world.

p.s. all clickable images above will take you through to a page where you can buy the print!