Saturday, April 30, 2016


Milford Sound, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

How many memory cards do you have for your camera while traveling?


We went on the boat tour with some friends that were also traveling in New Zealand and happened to be directed to Milford Sound the same day as us (ok, it was not by chance, we exchanged a couple of text messages to make that happen). Despite being very cold, we decided to do the tour on the open deck of the boat, because the sun was so bright that it would have been a shame to stay inside. Besides, I came all the way to New Zealand to take pictures, right?

So we were, the four of us, on the bow of the vessel navigating the placid waters of the sound. The sound (which is quite deep) is protected by the strong currents of the Tasman sea by a shallower entrance, corresponding to the terminal moraine left by the glacier that 10,000 years ago created the fiord. The entrance to the sound is in fact so narrow that captain Cook missed it, when in 1769 he circumnavigated New Zealand during its first voyage. The scenery is so beautiful that I kept shooting non stop from the deck of the boat, and by the time we arrived at the entrance of the sound I had filled my memory card and was time to change it with a new one.

Tasmanian Sea
As I was kneeling to my backpack to get the new card, I half heard the captain saying to hold tight because we were about to enter the Tasman sea, famous for its currents. I guess at that point he advised everybody to get back inside because the sea was going to get rough. Well, as soon as he finished talking, while I was still with the old card in my mouth, the new one in one hand and the camera in the other, a gigantic wave hit the boat. I was launched towards the sky (fortunately I fell back in the boat) while the wave washed the deck through the hole of the anchor, drenching everybody still on the deck. As you can imagine I was a little startled, but seeing some photo opportunities (see photo on the left) I just put the card in the camera, deleted whatever old images were on it, and prepared to shoot again. Well... here is the problem. In the confusion I put back the card I had just filled with all the photos of Route 94 and Milford sound, and then deleted all of them. All 100 photos of the day: gone.

That’s why I asked how many cards do you bring along with you. I usually prefer more smaller cards, so that if anything happens to one of them, I still have the others. Still that can lead to accidents like this one if you are not very careful (or if you are distracted by almost getting thrown overboard). So, there I was, wet, without photos, kind of upset... tempted to launch the damn card overboard once for all... and I would have probably done that if Mayli hadn’t forced me to calm down and hand her over the card for safe-keeping.

When we went back to the Motel, we managed to get internet to see if anything could be done. After a quick search with Google, find out that Lexar (the manufacturer of my cards) sells a program, Image Rescue, capable to recover photos that have been accidentally deleted, as long as they are not overwritten by new ones. Apparently I am not the only bozo deleting photos by mistake. The program really worked well, and I was able to recover 95 of the 100 photos I thought were irrecoverably lost. Definitely $30 well spent. Now I keep a copy of the software on each of my memory cards (in the directory that is not cleared when the photos are deleted)... just in case...

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Milford Sound

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

We arrived at Milford Sound in time for one of the boat tours. Given the enormous number of tourists that in the high season visit the sound, there are several companies with equally enormous multiple-deck boats offering 1-2 hours tours. This has been criticized by environmental associations, for the impact that the motorized cruise traffic may have on the fragile ecosystem of the sound.

Waterfall in Milford Sound
In the February of 2004 a spill of 13,000 liters of diesel fuel was found in the water. The spill  was apparently intentional, caused by inserting a high pressure hose in the tank of a boat, and forcing the fuel to come out. While there was no appreciable damage to the wildlife, the spill interrupted the touristic activities for two days, while the waters were cleaned. The authorities claimed that this was an act of eco-terrorism to protest the excessive number of tourists in the sound. Given that, we chose for our own tour one of the smallest boats available (still large, but not huge). In the end it wasn’t a particular good choice because the captain of the boat was more interested in showing the “postcard like” views of the sound, than the wildlife (the sound has a resident population of seals, penguins and dolphins, and we saw none). Still better than some of the humongous boats. The sound (which is actually a fiord), is in any case really gorgeous, with the spectacular mountains emerging directly from the sea (among which the iconic Mitre Peak). These mountains fall very steep straight to the water, with a lot of exposed rock and little vegetation, so all rain ad snow water flow directly into the sea in a multitude of spectacular waterfalls, like the “rainbow fall” in the image on the left.

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Road to Milford Sound

Eglinton Valley, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

We woke up in the coldest morning since our arrival in New Zealand. As we moved South, and more into the winter, the temperature had been falling, but this was the first time we found the car completely covered by a thick layer of frost. We set up to leave as early as possible because the destination of the day was Milford Sound. Piopiotahi in Maori (after the now extinct piopio bird), it is probably the most famous touristic destination of New Zealand. So famous that, during Summer, its single access road is completely congested with the traffic of 500,000 tourists each year.

Along the Road to Milford Sound
Being Winter, it wasn’t that bad, and in fact we were often the only car on the road. Route 94, the “Te Anau - Milford Highway”, is actually a nice single lane road, that covers the 121 km between Te Anau and the Sound along the Eglinton and Hollyford Rivers to the East and the Cleddau to the West. The road was opened only in 1953, when the 1270 m long Homer Tunnel was completed. The tunnel crosses the highest point in the route, at almost 1000 m of elevation. Not too much in absolute terms, but the mountains on the side of the road are still quite impressive (see photo below). In winter the road is often closed due to avalanches. Before Route 94 was completed, Milford Sound was only accessible from the sea, or by a 4 day hike along the Milford Track. The track has been defined as “The Finest Walk in the World” by New Zealand poet Blanche Baughan, and the name stuck. Due to our lack of training and time, we could not walk along the track, which must be quite a spectacular experience.

Even the road, however, was spectacular, and more so in this cold winter morning, with few cars and a crystal clear sky. The large photo above, one of my favorite of the entire trip, shows the Eglinton Valley: fiery mountains covered with snow, mist slowly dissipating with the first rays of the sun, and the glossy frost covering the dry grass and the naked bushes.

View near the entrance to Homer Tunnel, New Zealand (Jun 3, 2008)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

From Wanaka to Te Anau

Lake Hawea, New Zealand (Jun 2, 2008)

The huge Lake Wanaka is separated from the slightly smaller Lake Hawea by less than 1 km of land. Both lakes fill glacial valleys left behind by glaciers that retired 10,000 years ago, and are now renowned touristic destinations. The photo above is of Lake Hawea.

Geomagnetic cows
I mentioned in the previous post the abundance of farm animals we encountered during our detour in the Treble Cone sky valley. Sheep, yes, but also cows resting leisurely in the early winter sun. If you look closely at the photo on the left, you will see that all cows appear to be aligned. The alignment seems to be the same of the shadow of the trees that, given that the photo was taken at about midday, was oriented roughly North-South. This seems to confirm a research, made by Dr. Sabine Begall and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen, that resting cows (and deer) appear to be preferentially aligned with the magnetic compass. The research was made using Google Earth images of cows in Britain, Ireland, India and the USA, but apparently the same phenomenon is true for the upside-down New Zealand cows. I wonder if it works for sheep too.

Mayli freezing
From Wanaka we went back on our way to Queenstown. Rather than taking the main road (the fast Route 6 following the Clutha River), we cut trough the scenic Cardrona Valley road, set in the Crown Range mountains. While Cardrona is now just a dot in the map, during the Central Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s was a booming town with a population of several thousand prospectors, with the fascinating history of frontier towns, including the now almost-forgotten contribution of thousands of Chinese workers. The road climbs the Crown Range up to a pass overlooking the valley of Queenstown. We stopped at the pass, and attempted to take some shots at the city in the distance, with little success given that it was freezing cold (see photo on the right), windy and briefly snowing. While we were at the pass, however, we saw a large airplane (a jet) flying very low in the valley. It was a pretty scary view, as we could see the airplane from above, and it was not very clear if there were any places suitable for it to land. Well, it turned out that the plane was directed to the airport of Queenstown, eerily hidden between the mountains on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. I am sure that landing in Queenstown must be quite an interesting experience (maybe like landing in Merida, Venezuela).

We didn’t stop in Queenstown, as it was getting late and the city looked too much a tourist trap for our tastes. We drove directly to Te Anau, where we arrived just in time to find a suitable Motel, and to get a tour of the glowworm cavesGlowworms [beautiful 4K time lapse here] are the larval stage of flies that lure their prey in the total darkness of their cave using bioluminescence. Their tail emits a bright blue light that is an irresistible attraction to other insets that end up imprisoned into the sticky filaments deployed by the larvae, and then devoured alive. The whole process, if seen in full light, is probably disgusting, but the caves are explored in darkness and what the visitors see is a firmament of luminous spots covering the cave walls, as if the stars had been imprisoned under the mountains.

Central Otago, New Zealand (Jun 2, 2008)