Participants (L to R): Mawardi Bahar, Aidil Morzailan, Dr. Ng Qui Hin, Arief Khair, yours truly, Amir Bakhtiar, Fadhlur Rahman Badz, & (the late) Azman Al-Kurauwi.
Everybody arrived in Christchurch for the trip. Mawardi, Badz, Azman & me stayed at Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport, booked through Booking.com. Sudima Hotel is the closest hotel to the airport and offers free shuttle service to & from the airport. Mawardi & Badz arrived early and did some early shopping for the trip. Amir, Aidil, Doc Ng & Arief stayed at a holiday park a short drive away from the airport. Well rested for the night. It will be a long 12 days ahead!
Checking in at Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport.
28/8/2016 (Christchurch - Moeraki Boulders)
The Aotearoa Photography Adventure 2016 starts today. At 8:30am in the morning, everybody gathered at Sudima Hotel lobby and the designated drivers started to walk to the motorhome depot. To my surprise, the motorhome depot had moved to a different location since last August 2015. Should have checked the address first. So, we walked back to the hotel and called the motorhome rental provider to pick us up. The transport came to pick us up by 8:50am.
Arrived at the motorhome depot by 9:00am. Designated drivers for both motorhomes (Aragorn: Arief & Ismail and Legolas: Aidil & Amir) proceeded to register. Both motorhomes had been paid for from Malaysia, with the assistance of World Travel Ambassador Sdn Bhd (WTA).
We settled the registration by 10:30am. Took us a while. Didn't expect to be soo late. One of the motorhomes had to be repaired due to faulty automatic step mechanism. After picking up the motorhomes, we drove back to Sudima Hotel to pick up the rests.
Everybody started to unload their bags into their respective motorhomes. A good suggestion is to pack your clothes and toileteries using the IKEA Upptäcka Packing Bag, Set of 4, (Dark Blue/Pink). That way, you can quickly unload your stuffs into the motorhomes overhead cabinets. By 11:30am, we proceeded to drive to Pak 'n Save at Westfield Riccarton to stock up on fresh foods and groceries. Bought kebabs for lunch and packed briyani rice for dinner. Eight kebab rolls (for lunch) and four rice with kebab (for dinner) costs NZD140! Wow!
After doing the groceries, we proceeded to drive on State Highway 1 to a small town of Hamden, the location of the Moeraki Boulders. Along the way, we made two toilet pitstops, one in Timaru and another one at Waitaki River R&R site, some perform asar & zohur solat, some took photos & some just rest.
Short break at Timaru.
By 4:00pm we proceeded to Hamden. Due to short of time, we proceeded straight to the Moeraki Boulders site for sunset. We were at the boulders till 7:30pm. Went to the Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Holiday Park to spend the nite. Everybody reheat the packed dinner and rest for the night.
29/8/2016 (Moeraki Boulders - Kurow - Lake Tekapo)
Woke up at 5:00am and by 6:00am, we drove to the Moeraki Boulders for sunrise. Everybody had their wet boots on. We were at the boulders till 8:30am before we went back to the campsite to freshen up and have breakfast.
By 10:00 am, we proceed to drive to Katiki Point to view the yellow-eyed penguin, but luck wasn't on our side as the elusive penguins remained elusive. A note at the visitor's viewing hut mentioned that the best time to view the penguins is within 2 hours from sunset. Nonetheless, everybody had the opportunity to see some sea lions basking in the sun. The weather was great. Clear blue skies.
By 11:30 am, we proceeded to drive to Lake Tekapo (via Kurow Road). We made a stop at the Sailor's Cutting, by Lake Benmore. We've made a brief photo stop at Lake Pukaki Information Centre. Here, you can capture the majestic Mount Cook with Lake Pukaki on the foreground. There's also Mount Cook Alpine Salmon shop here, a bit pricey though.
We arrived at Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park at 4:30 pm. Proceeded to prepare dinner while others freshen up and solat. Thanks to chef Azman & chef Aidil. We arrived a bit late in Tekapo.
As soon as we're done having an early dinner, we proceeded to the sunset location at Church of the Good Shepherd. Alhamdulillah, we were greeted with clear skies where we can see the milkyway with our bare eyes. We stay there till about 9:00 pm. As usual, there were a lot of tourist passing by while we were shooting, especially those from PRC. Motor-home Aragorn went back to the campsite at 9:00 pm, while motor-home Legolas stick around till 10:00 pm. No forecast for the elusive Aurora Australis this time around. So, everybody retired for the night.
30/8/2016 (Lake Tekapo - Aoraki Mount Cook National Park)
We woke up early at 5:00 am. After subuh prayer, we proceeded to shoot sunrise at the Church of the Good Shepherd. We shoot sunrise till about 8:30 am before going back to the campsite to freshen up and getting ready to go to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Cleaned up and discharge the grey water and black water at the campsite's dump station. Opportunity to do laundry here.
Having breakfast outside at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park
After check out by 9:00 am, we drove up to Mount John Observatory to have a aerial view of the small town of Tekapo and it's surrounding lakes and snow-capped mountains. Nothing like a hot cappuccino at the Astro Cafe to warm the body.
We departed from Lake Tekapo around 10:00am for a scenic drive to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Stop by at Peter's look out for a brief photo stop, before we proceed to check in at Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook at 2:00pm.
Dr. Ng, Amir & I decided to hop on the Alpine Glacier Heli Ride. We opted for the cheapest ride which is the Alpine Vista (HLC5) for a 20 minute flight with snow landing on Mount Brown. Thanks to Dr. Ng for "distracting" the lady pilot, I think we ended up spending more than 20 minutes!
The cost is NZD215.00 per pax, after 10% discount for being Glentanner Holiday Park's customers. The 20-minute heli ride was very smooth indeed and the pilot flew the three of us up to Mount Brown for snow landing. It was my first experience and an unforgettable one. Opportunity to touch the fresh snow on top of the mountain and great photo opportunity to capture the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains. You are only allowed to bring your cameras (no tripods or selfie sticks), jacket & sunglasses.
Having fun on Mount Brown
The rests of the guys proceeded to Whitehorse Hill campsite to go to Kea Point. Trekkng time 60min return. It was quite a hike and the tracks are rocky.
Kea Point, one of the viewpoint for Mount Cook at Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
Back to Glentanner Park Centre for dinner. Gotong royong to cook dinner, led by chef Aidil & chef Azman. Menu was rice and ayam masak merah, frankfurters with potatoes & veggie soup. After dinner a few friends went out to shoot the milkyway till about midnight before retired for the night.
My setting for the milkyway shot is f/2.8, ISO 3200 or 6400, 15-30 seconds. Have a good wide aperture ultra wide angle lens if you are serious on shooting the milkyway.
31/8/2016 (Aoraki Mount Cook National Park)
We started out early at 5:00 am travelling 22km from the campsite to Peter's Lookout for sunrise. It's late winter and virtually no other vehicles on the road. We had to drive 4 times back & forth just to create the light trail for the friends to shoot. I made 2 rounds, with Arief & Amir made one round each. Here. you'll get a clear unobstructed view of Aoraki Mount Cook with the winding roads on th foreground. Recommended to use the kit-lens range (24-70mm or 70-200mm for fullframe, 18-55mm or 18-200mm for cropped bodies).
Later, we drove to Whitehorse Hill Campsite for breakfast. We started trekking to Hooker Lake via Hooker Valley Track at 10:00 am, with doa recital by Ustaz Azman.
Trekking along Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is an easy track covering 5.68km one-way to Hooker Lake. The elevation 760m to 880m. Everybody had bundled up for the cold temperature, but half way through, everybody started taking off their jackets since the temperature had risen to 15C.
We brought drinking water, but most of us finished them on the way to the lake. We trekked for 5.68km for 2hr 15min to reach the edge of Hooker Lake. We can see icebergs on the lake and everyone was quick to set up their cameras to capture the beautiful scenery, with Mount Cook on the background. Dr. Ng even took a short nap by the glacial lake.
We left Hooker Lake at 2:00pm for another 2hr 30min trekking back to Whitehorse Hill campsite. At that time, we were all too tired to walk. Kudos to Dr. Ng for making through the journey and most of the time ahead of us the younger participants. Along the way, we were greeted by a tarn, a small reflective pool up in the mountains. Everybody had the chance to capture view of Mount Cook and its reflection.
We arrived back at the Whitehorse Hill Campsite by 4:30 pm. Most stick to the time given, although one or two slight late comers.
Too tired from the trekking, everybody decided to shoot sunset from Glentanner Holiday Park, the campsite that we were staying at. At the same time, gotong royong to cook dinner...lead by chef Aidil. Dinner together at the dining area, two nights in a row. Blessed to be in the company of friends. Menu was nasi putih with ayam masak lemak cili api (Brahims) and broccoli soup. Heaven!
After dinner a few friends went out to shoot the milkyway till about midnight before they retire for the night. Another clear night for us.
1/9/2016 (Aoraki Mount Cook National Park - Queenstown - Glenorchy)
We just spent time at the campsite for sunrise. Alhamdulillah, today we were greeted by colourful lenticular clouds, after several days of clear weather. The sight is just spectacular!
We left Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook at 8:30 am, after a brief group photo. A short distance away is a small town of Twizel where we stopped to refuel and replenish the food at Twizel's Four Square supermarket. Replenish on mineral water, Tegel chicken cuts, veggies and tidbits. Dump the waste at the public dump station in Twizel.
Grocery shopping with Badz at Foursquare Twizel
Proceed to drive on along SH8 to Twizel High Country Salmon. Bought 8 pieces of salmon steaks. Dr Ng treated me to a cup of hot cappuccino. I must say the coffee here is just perfect & delicious. Stop by at Wairepo Arm in Twizel for brief photo stop.
Proceed on to Lindis Pass for another photo pit-stop. Then we proceeded to Queenstown via Tarras Road, along Lake Dunstan. One of the scenic stretches of the journey. The journey will take about 1hr 45min from Lindis Pass. Expected to arrive in Queenstown by 2:50 pm. Stopped by at Goldfield Mining Centre at Kawarau Gorge for a brief photo stop, about 55km from Queenstown. By 2:20 pm we proceeded onwards to Queenstown. Stop by at Queenstown to pack lunch and dinner. Again, bought 8 kebab rolls and 5 kebabs with rice for NZD160! Arrived at Queenstown late around 3:20pm. Tough luck to get parking for the motorhome. One motorhome ended up waiting by the Esplanade, while the other waited at the parking area near the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. So, I had to walk down to the town centre to get the lunch & dinner take aways. We're having Turkish Kebab. We proceeded to Glenorchy at 4:10pm and managed to arrive in the little quiet town of Glenorchy by 5:15pm. Along the way we made a brief photo stop at one of the scenic spots along the Queenstown - Glenorchy highway.
Strong winds at Glenorchy.
After 4.5 days of beautiful weather, to the dismay of everyone, it started to rain when we arrived at the jetty & Willows Row in Glenorchy. But that didn't dampen the spirits of everyone who braced the gusty 60km wind and freezing rain just to capture the iconic landmark of Glenorchy. Hope tomorrow will bring some sun to Glenorchy, although the forecast for a fine weather looks slim. We'll be staying at Glenorchy Motel for the night. Had to book the motel since the holiday park in Glenorchy is fully booked and it would not be a good idea to freedom camp, due to the chilly weather.
Waited till 7:30pm and the weather is still not on our side. We proceeded to check in at Glenorchy Motel (formerly Mt. Earnslaw Motel). The motel rooms were very nice & warm with comfortable beds. Checked in a bit late and the office had already closed. Luckily the landlord is still available to greet us. Since it's raining, everybody took the chance to save their images to the hard disks and sleep early. No milkyway shot for the night.
2/9/2016 (Glenorchy - Queenstown - Te Anau)
The motel was cozy, suitable for a family of 4. It has a mini kitchen, microwave and a fridge. But the best part is the nice warm shower to help loosen the muscles, the after effects of the 11km hiking the day before yesterday. Woke up at 3:00am to transfer files to the notebook. Went out and can see some stars. Alhamdulillah. Is this the making of a great sunrise? At 6:00am, we went to Glenorchy jetty for sunrise. It started out a bit cloudy, but the clouds soon dispersed, providing us with ample opportunities to shoot some time-lapse. We went back to the motel to freshen up and had a heavy breakfast, the rice with kebab bought the day before in Queenstown. So, we didn't have any food till in the evening.
Today is another long journey from Glenorchy, with a brief stop at the Remarkables Market to shop for some souvenirs. To our regrets, the market is closed for the day (it was a Friday). We proceeded on to drive to Te Anau. We had another brief photo stop at an abandoned train station in Fairlight.
We arrived at Te Anau and it was windy & raining. The clouds cleared after sunset. No sunset photo shoot today. Dinner is prepared by chef Azman. Menu for the dinner was rice and chicken with chili gravy, omelette and salad. Since it was raining outside, we had an early dinner at the campsite. Ample time for everyone to take their bath and do their laundry. Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park has very good facilities. Everything is centralized.
We were advised by the reception counter to check with traffic whether the roads along the Te Anau - Milford Sound are closed to traffic since it is still winter. So, we decided to start our journey to Milford Sound at 8:00am on the next morning.
Later that night, we went to the boating marina and later to the boating club to shoot some milkyway and spent time there till midnight. Went back to the campsite and retire for the night.
3/9/2016 (Te Anau - Milford Sound)
One of the motorhomes (Aragorn) proceeded to the boat marina for sunrise. We regrouped back at the campsite and proceed to drive onwards to Milford Sound. First pitstop was the jetty at Te Anau Downs. Next stop the Eglinton Valley where we had our group photo taken. Spent there for about 15min before proceeding onwards to the Mirror Lake.
We arrived at the Mirror Lake for a 30min photo stop and by 10:00am, we proceeded to drive on to Monkey Creek where we stopped for 1 hour. There is a parking space for motorhomes and tourists often flocked in this area en-route to Milford Sound. This is the last stop before we approach the Homer Tunnel. Nearby the Monkey Creek lies a stream of water that is so clear that we decided to replenish our drinking water there. The water taste good and refreshing. Almost everybody had their time-lapse on to capture the morning rolling clouds as well as the water flow at Monkey Creek.
By 11:30am, we proceeded on to drive and made another brief stop at the only rest & toilet area facility along the Te Anau - Milford Sound Highway. There, everybody had fun playing in the snow and took some photos and selfies there. We had our group photo taken there as well. Later we proceeded on to drive through Homer Tunnel and stopped by at Milford Sound Lodge to check in and book the motorhome location at the campsite....we wanted the sites that are closed to the main facilities.
By 2:30pm, Amir, Aidil & Badz went back to the cruise boat jetty to tale the Mitre Peak Cruises. We'll hear their stories when they shared with us. Parked the motorhome at the Mitre Peak viewing area and walk towards the jetty. Plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Piopiotahi, the name for Milford Sound in Maori is one of the World Heritage Sites.
We proceeded to the Mitre Peak viewing area by 5:00pm to prepare for sunset. Hoping for the great weather to continue. It is quite rare for Milford Sound to get some sun since it is the wettest place in all New Zealand, receiving 7068mm for rainfall a year. After a sunny afternoon, the clouds started to come in, but still, everybody was relieved that it didn't rain.
By 6:30pm, we all went back to the campsite. Milford Sound Lodge currently has the best toilet-kitchen-dining-lounge facility so far. Probably because it was just recently completed. Milford Sound Lodge had expanded the campsite by adding more chalets by the river and creating more motorhome sites tucked within the woods.
Dinner was prepared by chef Aidil and we had the salmon purchased at Twizel a few days ago. It was the freshest salmon we have ever tasted. By the way, the salmon steaks were only cut at the time of purchase, not pre-cut beforehand, to maintain freshness. We ate dinner together. Probably the best dinner atmosphere to date.
4/9/2016 (Milford Sound)
It's 4:30am and we can hear the rain outside our motorhomes. Avalanche warning was issued. Status of road opening will be updated at 7:30am. Everybody was waiting anxiously, while editing their images. No sunrise this morning.
We checked again the status of the road closure and to our dismay, the road is still closed to all traffic (from Holyford towards Te Anau). The status will be updated at 1:30pm. The Milford Road provides the only road access to one of New Zealand's favourite tourist attractions – Milford Sound. No other highway in New Zealand climbs to the same altitude as this one which at its highest point is 940 metres above sea level. That is why the area is avalanche prone.
When we checked at 1:30pm, the SH94 will be closed till 8:30am on Monday morning. We had rice, chicken and spinach for lunch, courtesy of chef Aidil. Everybody had a good rest, although some hard core landscape photographer braced the chilly wet weather to photograph the surroundings.
We had an early dinner tonight. Spaghetti with chicken gravy and stir fried cabbage, by chef Aidil & chef Azman. Ismail had to reschedule the accommodation bookings and reroute the trip back to Christchurch. It was decided to overnight in Queenstown on 5/9/2016, overnight in Wanaka on 6/9/2016, overnight again in Lake Tekapo before spending the last night in Christchurch. The original plan was to overnight in Queenstown on 4/9/2016, overnight in Wanaka on 5/9/2016, overnight in Fox Glacier on 6/9/2016, overnight in Greymouth on 7/9/2016 before spending the last night in Christchurch. Some of the participants continued to edit their photos while others decided to retire early for the night.
5/9/2016 (Milford Sound - Queenstown)
It's 1:00am and we can still hear the rain outside our motorhome. We hope and pray that SH94 will be reopened to traffic by 8:30am. Expect to have a stream of vehicles going out of Milford Sound today.
Alhamdulillah, we can see stars at 5:30am. It's going to be a good day after all. By 6:15am, we packed our gears and proceed to Mitre Peak viewing point for sunrise. Everybody had their wet boots on. We were also lucky that it was low tide during sunrise. We finished shooting by 8:30am and went back to the campsite to prepare a quick breakfast. SH94 was reopened to traffic by 8:30am. By 9:00am we started our journey back to civilization and internet connection. Yeay! I started to drive and later replaced by Arief at Knob's Flat. The weather is beautiful, and we hope it stays that way all day today.
Stopped by at Te Anau town centre for lunch and toilet break. Everybody had fish & chips. After lunch, we went to the jetty where we shot the milkyway the other night. One thing we learnt is the phrase "rumble centerline" which means textured centerline which gives a rumbling sound. By 3:00pm, we're almost reaching Queenstown. Next stop is the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park.
We must proceed back to Queenstown and arrive there by 3:20pm. Everybody agreed that no more stops from Milford Sound to the Hollyford turn off, just to be out of the avalanche prone area. Target to check-in at Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park by 3:30pm. Grab lunch at the nearby halal restaurants. Hope to have proper sit down meals rather than takeaway food. Need to restock fresh foods at Four Square Supermarket in Queenstown (walking distance from the campsite).
Walked to the cable car station by 4:00pm. The programme is to take the Queenstown Skyline Gondola for sunset by 4:30pm. By 7:00pm, everybody should come down and walk back to the campsite by 8:00pm. After keeping all our photography equipment, we walked to the city centre to grab some food for dinner.
6/9/2016 (Queenstown - Wanaka)
Sunrise at the Esplanade, along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. By 8:30am, we drove back to the campsite to freshen up and have breakfast.
Breakfast at the holiday park. Something about marmalade jam that I can't still figure out...
We will spend the rests of the morning at Queenstown town centre. By 2:00pm, we proceeded to Shotover Creek for a brief photostop. By 2:30pm, we proceeded onwards to Wanaka, via Caldrona & the Crown Range Pass.
We arrived at Wanaka by 4:30pm to check in at Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park. Then proceed onwards to Roy's Bay to photography the famous Wanaka Lonely Tree till sunset.
By 8:00 pm, proceed to drive back to the campsite to freshen up and have dinner. Since it was too cloudy, everyone retired early for the night. Amir Bakhtiar and Arief had a close encounter of a spooky kind when they were each alone at the dining hall and the men's toilet respectively.
7/9/2016 (Wanaka - Lake Tekapo)
SUNRISE (weather forecast - rain, 5C)
It cloudy that morning, so no sunrise moment for us at the Wanaka tree in Roy's Bay. However, by 10:00am, the clouds started to clear, we checked out from the Wanaka Top 10 Holiday Park and drove back to the Wanaka Tree for some photo shots. Once finished, we started to drive to the Blue Pools on SH6. Participants took 1hr 30min to shoot here, so, we were unable to drive on to Depot Creek Falls.
Proceed back to Wanaka for lunch. Continue to Lake Tekapo where we arrived at Lake Tekapo by 4:30pm and checked in at Lake Tekapo Motels & Holiday Park, again.
SUNSET (weather forecast - mostly cloudy)
Sunset at the iconic church of the Good Shepherd.
The night was cloudy, everyone stayed around at the holiday park. After dinner, we started packing our suitcases for the return trip to Christchurch on 8/9/2016 morning.
8/9/2016 (Lake Tekapo - Christchurch)
Last sunrise photo outing at the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was so cold that morning that we started to have flurries. Finish shooting by 8:30 am. Everybody to go back to the campsite to freshen up and final packing of the big luggage. Start cleaning up the motor-homes including clearing and discharging the grey and black water at the campsite. Too heavy to bring back, we left all our gum boots near the common facility area, for other to use on their trip.
This is the photography journey of Nur Ismail Photography where all the experiences from this year onwards will be shared with the audience. In collaboration with NiSi Malaysia, Leofoto, SONY Malaysia and Skylum Software. Thanks for viewing!