South Island Photo Album - part I

In this newsletter:
*** Website progress report
*** Upcoming events
*** Current projects
*** South Island photo album
photo: Upper Rangitata valley photo: Catlins bush photo: Central Otago

I hope you have all had a good start into the new year – I certainly did. I've been using the quiet time over the holidays to put down some solid groundwork for my new web design business. It is actually really nice to be here in the city at this time of year, when everyone else is away. And then there are all those free concerts going on! I listened to The Woolshed Sessions featuring my collaborator Alistair Fraser the other day at the Botanical Gardens, it was fantastic - almost as good as being on stage myself! Well, no, actually - better. :D

I haven’t been stressing too much, either – to take it easy and see just how much (or how little… sigh) work I can get done in a day while still having a life, eating and sleeping properly and staying on top of the housework and garden, being able to pick up a book and read, or watch a movie sometimes, and seeing some people occasionally, is very much part of the project. I have a tendency to try to achieve at least twice as much as a person without superpowers can reasonably hope to achieve in a day, and hence I suffer from a continuous low level sense of frustration on account of running behind with my lofty plans for the future. Freelance syndrome, I guess - the kind of thing your doctor tells you isn’t good for you. But I don’t actually need a doctor to tell me that.

So I won’t even apologize for the fact that I still haven’t gotten round to putting up all those galleries on my website which I’ve been promising since September. I was rather hoping I could present the photos from my trip down South in a new, fancy, database driven, searchable, fully automated gallery by now –

But it takes time. I am currently working my way steadily through the 700 pages cram full of really useful information that is David Power’s "The Essential Guide to Dreamweaver CS3 with CSS, Ajax, and PHP", and when I’ll be done with that, I’ll know what I need to know to build some really smart and functional websites – not just good looking ones! And what I can’t find in the book I’ll find on the internet, bless the Open Source community and all those helpful geeks out there. Let’s just say, in the multimedia course I did last year we covered, approximately, chapters one, two and five… of twenty. We did learn a few other things as well, of course, but as far as web design goes, it was a bit basic.

What I *have* gotten round to doing is set up a (nifty, sleek, functional, user-friendly) feedback form for you, the readers of this newsletter. Part of a very necessary project to investigate who those strange people are who come in droves to my website, and what it actually is they hope to find. It would be a tremendous help to me if you would take five minutes of your time to fill in the form – I’ve tried to keep it short – and let me know what you think about this newsletter! If you take part in the poll before 1 March 2009, you’ll go in the draw to win a Travels in Middle Earth CD.

That’s how the real businesspeople do it, right? :D

photo: home office photo: at home photo: home office

Upcoming Events

Harp performance: 14 February 2009 *** several slots between 10 am and 4 pm *** Ye Olde Manakau Medieval Market *** Levin Showgrounds, Manawatu. Only live harp performance I have lined up this year so far! CDs and sheet music will be for sale.

Teaching: “Learn to Read and Write Music” *** 11 February to 18 March *** Wednesday nights 7.30 - 9.30 pm *** Wellington High School Adult Community Education Centre, 249 Taranaki St, Wellington *** Cost: $ 84 - Reduced fee for Community Servce Card holders *** bookings: or phone (04) 385 8919

Travel: I have just booked the tickets for my upcoming rip to Europe in the northern hemisphere spring. No harp performances this time though, I’m on a strict diet. I will be seeing family and friends, plan to do some videoing, hope very much to do some sketching, and would be very pleased to make some new contacts. So if you would like to meet, and haven't been in touch already, now is the time to contact me – I’ll be fixing my travel details pretty soon, and four weeks is not a terribly long time to cram all that in, but I will do my best to accommodate as many people as I can!

The dates and approximate itinerary are:

  • 23 March - arrive in Berlin. Sleep for a day.
  • 26 March - 1 April - trip to Estonia: (Riga) - Pärnu - Tallinn - Tartu - (Riga)
  • 2 - 9 April or thereabouts - visit Bremen and Switzerland (Basel, Neuchatel). Do some sightseeing on the way (Colmar, Strasbourg)
  • 10 -16 April or thereabouts - spend some time in Bavaria with the family.
  • 17 April - leave from Berlin.

Current projects

The pencil sketching on the South Island this time wasn't so great - somehow I didn't feel terrilby inspired - but here are a couple of sketches that turned out alright:

Pencil sketch: Central Otago pencil sketch: Hill, Wanaka pencil sketch: Skipper's Road pencil sketch: Central Otago

After coming back, and full of inspiration, I launched myself straight into a new painting: an illustration for Ursula Le Guin's "The Tombs of Atuan" from her "Earthsea" series, and the first in what I hope will wind up a lengthy series. Two more paintings are already in the works, and several others planned out. There seems to be a dearth of decent fan art and illustration for Ursula Le Guin's work - sad really, for her books are bursting with paintable imagery.

I've been happily reverting to the old oils for the "Earthsea" images, but I have been practising my digital art skills as well. Painting in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet is fun, but the real treat for me is doing vector art in Adobe Illustrator. I can't draw a clean line by hand to save my life, so it is an opportunity to do things that I would not normally do using traditional media.

The Tombs of Atuan - click for full view Vector Owl - click for full view

South Island Photo Album

Last newsletter, I promised I would tell you about my adventuresome trip to the South Island and show some brand new photos – so here is my account. To follow the itinerary, try typing the placenames into Google Earth!

Stage 1: Christchurch

To start off, I spend a couple of nights in Christchurch with my friend and fellow harper Helen Webby. Helen has recently bought her own house and garden, and it was really nice to visit her there and have a look at her ambitious gardening projects. I had a somewhat futile chat with the music advisor at Creative New Zealand (which left me wondering if their organization has access to the internet, and the information it can potentially provide about the past achievements of people such as myself), then spent a happy afternoon with another friend whom I hadn’t seen since I stayed at her house a few weeks after first arriving in New Zealand, and an evening discussing movie projects with a filmmaker friend of Helen’s. No photos though – although I should have, the Botanical gardens were in full rose blossom and absolutely gorgeous, and Christchurch seems a very pleasant place indeed, in early summer.

photo: Mt Sunday aka Edoras photo: Mt Sunday aka Edoras photo: swollen river

Stage 2: Back to the old Edoras location

No trip to Christchurch without a detour up the Rangitata valley, to Mt Potts station and Mt Sunday, where once the Edoras set was built. On the way out, in the middle of nowhere, at around 7 pm, I had a flat tyre… a calamity which in all my long years of driving, I had never had to deal with before. Good thing I’m smart and self-reliant, because if I had caved in to the temptation to wait for a helpful guy to come along and save me, I wouldn’t have gotten very far that night… it is not exactly a very frequented road, and as it turned out I was the last car on it heading out that evening.

As it was, I found a lovely sheltered spot by a little mountain river next to a sheep pasture, to set up camp, and spent a while playing my little harp (which for some reason I had felt compelled to drag along) to the stars, and made up a new song. The next morning I had a long breakfast, spent some time sketching, went for a walk but decided with some relief, that the river was too swollen to walk across and climb up Mt Sunday, took a number of photos, and was on the road again in time to get back to civilization – well, that is, Mt Somers - while the local mechanic was still up and about, so I could borrow an air pump for my spare tyre, so it would survive until I could find real civilization and a proper garage.

photo: Summer flowers photo: view from my campsite photo: tap water

Stage 3: Oamaru

I spent the night just outside Oamaru – having decided to skip a detour to Twizel and Mt Cook on account of more urgent matters – and the next day, got myself a pair of brand new tyres, and spent about half my travel budget. It was well worth the while stopping over in Oamaru though – home town of one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed writers, Janet Frame, it is indeed a lovely place, with an artsy flair to it . They even have a very impressive neo-classicist marble church, stuck away somewhere on a side road. I must have built up a craving for that sort of architecture, living in earthquakey Wellington, judging from the amount of photos I took.

photo: Oamaru harbour photo: whisky photo: Victorian Quarter, Oamaru
photo: Oamaru church photo: Oamaru church photo: Oamaru church photo: Oamaru church photo: Oamaru church

Stage 4: Poolburn reservoir

I didn’t let the fact that I did not get out of Oamaru until late afternoon deter me from making my way all the way Poolburn reservoir in Central Otago that evening. Spending time sightseeing, videoing, sketching or relaxing during the day, and getting some road under my wheels in the evenings turned out to be a good rhythm on this trip, since it kept me from having to drive during the worst heat of day. And Central Otago is a pretty hot and dry place at this time of year!

Poolburn and the rocky slopes around it served as “Rohan” in “The Two Towers”, although at this time of year, the area reminded me more of the desert island of Atuan, from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series. Since one of the explicit purposes of this trip was to get some video footage, photos and sketches from as many “Lord of the Rings” filming locations as I could manage, I took the detour up into the highlands via Alexandra, instead of continuing on the straight road along the coast to the Catlins, where I was headed next.

I got to Poolburn a good while before sunset, and could take advantage of the gorgeous evening light for my filming and photos, so it was well worth the drive even though it was late in the day. I was considering parking my car somewhere next to a rock and spending the night, but the slope is quite exposed, and a bit intimidating somehow, so I drove back to the nearest little town that had a campsite marked on the map. The campsite proved non-existent, so I spent the night on a village commons next to a little river among the willow trees, which was fine enough and certainly more sheltered than up on the hill. Next morning I drove back halfway up the slope and spent a few hours sketching – future reference for Atuan – and I have to admit that these are the only sketches from this trip that I am at all happy with. Somehow I didn’t have the pencil inspiration this time round! Perhaps sometimes it *is better to just focus on three things, not five. :D

photo: Driving up to Pooolburn reservoir photo: Poolburn reservoir photo: Central Otago road
photo: Rohan rocks photo: Rohan view photo: Rohan rocks

Stage 5: The Catlins

Even though I had a refreshing swim in a little blue lake just out of Alexandra in the afternoon, I was beginning to feel a great craving for a shower after a night spent sleeping in the rough – but when I got to Papatowai just before dark, the campsite I had been so looking forward to was closed. I had no inclination to either hurry on to the other side of the Catlins in a rush, or drive back, so I pitched my tent on the local picnic ground – at least there was a toilet and running water there, and several other people had already done the same. It was an exceedingly pretty spot for an emergency stopover – on a river estuary giving out to a wide sandy beach, with native bush growing all the way to the sand line.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. A weekend in the Catlins was supposed to be my official “holiday” bit on this trip – there are no “Lord of the Rings” locations there. I was entirely looking forward to sitting on that beautiful beach all day reading "Lilith" . But by the time I had finished my long leisurely breakfast it had clouded over, and then it began to drizzle, and the temperature dropped and the wind came up and a regular southerly swept in – nothing but empty ocean between the Catlins and Antarctica! There goes my day on the beach, I thought with a sigh. I put on some more clothes and sat in my car and spent the afternoon doing all the little bush and waterfall walks in the area – then I backtracked to the DOC campsite at Tawanui and set up camp. Another night without a shower… well, at least it wasn’t raining any more. At night I lay awake and listened to the strange harmonic birdsong (a falling major second followed by a falling major third), and the river and the silence, and didn’t mind the weather one bit.

photo: beach at Papatowai photo: Catlns river photo: seaside bush
photo: Catlins beach photo: waterfall photo: windblown shrubbery

On my second day in the Catlins, I drove across to Curio Bay – famous for its dolphins and its penguins and its petrified woods. On the way, I took a side trip to an estuary wetland area, where I was the only human present, and I saw a white heron land on the other side of the river and start to fish. It felt like a personal gift.

Curio bay, on the other hand, may be very stunning, and I did get to watch a dolphin family cavorting off the beach, and I was very happy to finally see a few wild life penguins, after spending nearly six years in this country without ever spotting one. But on the whole, the place was a disappointment. The road through the Catlins has only recently been sealed, which means that there has been an increase in international tourism which the place seems to be entirely unprepared to cope with – from silly irresponsible people disturbing the penguins all day long, to turds among the flax hedges on the overpriced, ill kept campsite, the place filled me with nausea, and I was very glad to be on my way.

photo: petrified forest photo: seaweed, Curio Bay photo: yellow-eyed penguins

Stage 6: Invercargill to Manapouri

I felt strangely unclean after that night in Curio Bay, despite finally finding a shower, and it was a relief to head out to the empty clean beaches facing south – I had a chat with a fellow expat from Romania, who had recently settled in Gore, and got my first ever view of Steward Island. Then I made my way to Invercargill for a civilization pit stop – checking email, getting photos burned on CD, and shopping for some hiking equipment – before I drove on to Manapouri, where I was planning to spend a day preparing to walk the Kepler track.

Manapouri ranks very high on my list of favourite places in New Zealand. I had been there only once before, just after first arriving in the country, but I did remember the fragile looking but tough old American lady who runs – and by that I mean, runs – the campground. I broke just about every unwritten rule, from staying up and letting the light burn in the kitchen until past 11 pm, to doing my laundry late in the evening, to sleeping in and not checking out until the afternoon – but I think we mutually recognized a kindred spirit anyhow. She was full of moral fury because some newer developments in Manapouri were successfully advertising themselves with pretty images on the internet despite being in a distinctly less favourable situation than her own lakeside establishment, and I gave her a free website consultation to make up for all my misbehaviour.

The next day, I started on the Kepler track. I had wanted to walk that track ever since I first came to Manapouri six years ago, but had been doubtful about the wisdom of undertaking such a hike alone by myself, given my lack of experience and proper training. Well, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the outdoor conditions in New Zealand for nearly six years now, and at this time of year there were going to be plenty of other people on the track, so I overcame my fears and hesitations, and booked myself into the huts. But that profound experience deserves its own newsletter - so for now I'll say: To Be Continued.

Arohanui, from Asni

photo: Lake Manapouri photo: young fern photo: Lake Manapouri

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