2021 in review

A year (well, seven months at least) packed full of new adventures

After all the ups and downs of 2020, and the reduced opportunities it brought for photography, I decided 2021 wasn’t going to be a year to muck around.  And so on the second day of January, my first adventure began.

After saying goodbyes to my family in Wanaka, where we’d spent the last few days taking a relaxing end-of-year break, I travelled over to Queenstown and caught up with my good mate, Lee Cook. We’d been long planning a 5-day trip into Mount Aspiring National Park, however, unfortunately the weather had some plans of its own. We quickly came up with a Plan B which would take only 3 days and hopefully avoid the worst of the impending rain.  And what a Plan B it turned out to be!

Carved by glaciers, the Earnslaw Burn is a rather overwhelming (in a good way!) place to visit
Early morning reflections in the Earnslaw Burn
Highlights from 3 days spent in the Earnslaw Burn

A full description of the trip, including a heap more photos, can be found in my A Brief Guide to Earnslaw Burn.

Having not achieved our original goal for the 5-day tramp, Lee and I set a week aside in March to have another crack. Before those autumnal days rolled around I managed to squeeze in a couple more summer trips.

The first was a bash up the Craigieburn Range to visit a tarn I’d spied on a topomap long ago.  George (my 14-year old) and I arrived at our start point and discovered the mountains and our intended camp site were cloaked in thick cloud. We walked about an hour in, but with the cloud still not lifting, made the call to bail out and head home.

Returning the following weekend, the conditions were clear but the wind was blowing a gale. With the forecast suggesting it might calm down that evening, we made a start. Between the steep untracked terrain and unrelenting head wind the climb was arduous. Reaching the campsite around 3 hours later, the wind then did everything in its power to prevent us from setting up the tent, and once we eventually did, spent much of the night trying to blow us off the mountain.  So much for an easing weather forecast.

But then, sometime just before dawn, the world went silent.  I’d set my alarm plenty early enough, but a faint red glow through the tent walls suggested I should probably go outside and take a look. What then followed was one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.

Sunrise at an unnamed tarn (approx. 1,600m elevation) in the Waterfall Creek catchment, Craigieburn Range.  Can you spot our tent?

A week later I travelled up to Nelson Lakes National Park for a hike into untracked territory in the St Arnaud Range with Jack Burden. With around 25 kg each on our backs, and the midday sun bearing down overhead, the 1 km vertical climb was a slow and exhausting one.  But when we reached the ridgeline and saw the spectacular views in all directions, our energy levels quickly returned. A couple of splendid days and nights of exploring and photography were to follow.

Jack and I camped down beside the large tarn and scrambled up to the ridgeline (approx. 1,700m elevation) for sunset and sunrise photography
Golden layers captured at sunset from the St Arnaud Range

March soon arrived and I made the trip back down to Queenstown to have another attempt at our multi-day tramp. Lee and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. What lay ahead was the finest weather window we could’ve possibly dreamed of; pretty much unheard of in a part of the world where it rains over 200 days per year. The next five days were some of the best I’ve experienced in the backcountry.

View across the Humboldt Range towards Park Pass Glacier, taken from around 1,600m elevation near our Day 2 campsite at Lake Nerine
Park Pass Glacier and terminal lake, taken beside our Day 3 campsite at around 1,500m elevation
Part I highlights from our incredible 5-day walk in Mt Aspiring National Park
Part II highlights from our incredible 5-day walk in Mt Aspiring National Park

A tonne more photos are over in A Brief Guide to Lake Nerine and Park Pass Glacier.

Although we could barely walk at the end of the Nerine trip, we somehow made enough of a recovery to set off just a day later to spend the night up Mt Luxmore.  Although involving a vertical climb of around 1,000m, the high standard of the trail (it forms part of the Kepler Track circuit) made for a reasonably straight forward excursion.

Sunrise over Lake Te Anau from around the 1,100m contour on the flanks of Mt Luxmore

In late April we ran our first @purephotoadventures.nz workshop for the year. After the disappointment of last years’ autumn tour being cancelled following the onset of COVID-19, it was great to once again be showing off the Queenstown and Fiordland areas. The workshop delivered both challenging conditions and epic moments in equal measure. One of the photos I nabbed on our sunrise flight with Glenorchy Air went on to be a finalist in the New Zealand Geographic Photography of the Year, making the cut from over 6,000 entries. For someone who has only plucked up the courage to enter competitions I think twice, this was a huge highlight of the year for me.

The image that made the finals for NZGeo Photographer of the Year: an aerial view of Stargazer and Skyscraper, Mt Aspiring National Park
Last light in Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, taken on our @purephotoadventures.nz autumn workshop

The autumn workshop wrapped up at 1pm on a Tuesday; just two hours later I was walking the Routeburn Track with my family. The next five days were absolutely incredible; it was so awesome for Penny and I to be taking our kids on a walk we’d last completed several years before they were born.  All the details, including more photos, are in my A Brief Guide to the Routeburn Track.

The Routeburn Track, shown here in the mossy forest near Lake Mackenzie
Highlights from 5 days on the Routeburn Track with my family

In June our winter workshop for @purephotoadventures.nz got underway. Just like the the autumn trip we had to cancel the equivalent workshop in 2020, so it was awesome to be out and about again taking in the sights of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin. At times we battled persistent fog but were also fortunate to encounter some surreal and sublime conditions.

The Clay Cliffs (near Omarama) shrouded in fog
After something like 30 visits to Hooker Lake I finally managed to score a nice sky and reflection at sunset!

June also means the beginning of the ski season and I spent the first of eight days up at my local, Mt Hutt. Plans for a sunrise photography mission at the summit never quite worked out, but it’s definitely on my list again for next year.

In July I was incredibly honoured to be selected as an official @NikonNZ Z Creator.  With it came the start of my transition to mirrorless, adding a Z7II, Z 14-24mm f2.8, Z 24-70mm f2.8, Z 70-200mm f2.8, and Z Teleconverter 2.0x to my kit.  Soon after I said a very sad goodbye to my trusty D810 and Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8.  For the timebeing I’ve retained my D850 and a couple of F-mount lenses as my backup kit.  At some point I’ll get around to updating my gear list!

In early August I hit the road with Artie Johnson (our campervan) and had an amazing 7 days around the South Island testing out the new gear.  The conditions didn’t always play ball but I came away with a handful of images I was really pleased with.

A dark and very cold pre-dawn walk to Key Summit was eventually rewarded with this early morning light on fresh snow
An aerial view towards Sutherland Sound
A spectacular sunrise at the Nugget Point lighthouse
Purakaunui Falls, one of the many beautiful waterfalls in Catlins Forest Park
A burner of a sunrise off the Otago coastline

And with that my photography year pretty much came to an abrupt halt.

Soon after I got back from the August trip the Delta variant of COVID-19 arrived on our shores. Up until that point New Zealand had done extremely well defending our borders, but Delta changed the game. The rest of the year seemed like a period of ever increasing uncertainty, although Auckland aside (which went into a lengthy and brutal lockdown) freedom of movement was not as restricted as the first phase of the pandemic.  About that time, my day job went from busy to incredibly busy and I found myself in Wellington on an almost weekly basis.  All this added up to very little photography being done.

I did get away briefly in a couple of weekends, including a couple of nights up Kaikoura way with Jack (involving an overnight hike up Mt Fyffe).  In October I purchased a new tent and sleeping bag, but as yet still haven’t used them as crappy weather has aligned itself with every weekend I had plans.

As I write this I’ve just concluded 19 days straight in my day job, successfully hitting a pre-Christmas delivery deadline for a major project. I’m now very much looking forward to spending a couple of weeks off to rest, recuperate, and rejuvenate.  Much like this year, Lee and I plan to start the new year off right and head to an epic spot in Fiordland National Park (fingers crossed for the weather).  There’s plenty of other schemes in the works… I remain ever hopeful of finding the time to implement them!

Once again it’s a big thank to you all for your ongoing support.  Have an amazing festive season and here’s hoping 2022 brings you plenty of good times and adventures!

Read my previous years in review: