Taranaki, in the southwest of the North Island of New Zealand, has been relatively isolated from the rest of the country, a knob that juts out into the Tasman Sea. In the centre of the knob, rises the majestic volcano of Taranaki Maunga. I think of the area as a more benign, version, both in terms of climate and soil fertility, of the South Island’s West Coast.

Taranaki Maunga

The high rainfall characteristic of both areas promotes lush natural forest, while its clearance has made way for a profitable dairying industry. A large, circular area around Taranaki Maunga stretching some ten kilometers from the peak in every direction, was preserved by the Forest Service in the last years of the nineteenth century. The abrupt transition to dairy pasture is visible from the air as an almost perfect circle.

Looking out across the forest below the mountain peak.

Although when I first visited Taranaki it was relatively unknown, the area now receives a smattering of tourists, most of whom zero in on the mountain itself. In spite of dire warnings from the Department of Conservation deterring would be hikers with insufficient experience and equipment from attempting the climb, it is extremely popular. Social media posts on successful climbs in perfect weather attract hoards of aspirant climbers. In addition to the summit routes, there are many walks through the forest along tracks that make their way tortuously across the deep indentations running down the flanks of the volcano.

Lower Wilkies Pool

In addition to agriculture, Taranaki hosts a number of specialist nurseries growing exotic plants for gardens throughout New Zealand. There are also some beautiful gardens, such as Pukeiti at the base of the mountain where many rare and interesting plants can be found. It is famous for its collection of rhododendrons, many of them grown old and seeding naturally into the lightly managed forest of natives and exotics. My visit was too late in the season to see many flowers. However, in sheltered areas near the main building, a collection of vireyas flowers all year round. Hydrangeas were still flowering too, providing another subject for my camera.

Vireya rhododendron

Mountain Goats

I was fascinated by mountain goats when I saw them first in Glacier National Park in Montana some years ago. Against the dark mountainside they looked so white and bright; they appeared as small, white dots in the most improbable places. Wide, cloven hooves equipped with rough pads, the equivalent of climbing shoes, give them outstanding grip on to steep rock faces. Mountain goats are powerful, but nimble too. They can jump more than three metres in a single bound. On Logan Pass, there were so many tourists that the goats were quite tame, and easy to photograph. Back then, though, I was using slide film.

These animals are not true goats, but closely related, somewhat like antelopes. They inhabit mountains of the northwestern United States and Canada and are well adapted to high altitude conditions and steep country. Their scientific name is Oreamnos americanus, the genus derived from Ancient Greek meaning ‘mountain lamb’. There are no other species in this genus, making the mountain goat unique. They are ancient, too, dating back to at least the Pleistocene.

Mountain goat yearling on Mount Evans in Colorado licking rock for mineral content

I photographed these individuals high up on Mount Evans in Colorado, where they are also easily seen and not difficult to approach. Mountain goats were first introduced to Mount Evans from Montana in 1947. There are fossil records of an extinct species of mountain goat from South Park, in Colorado, but the extant species is not native to the area. While hunters and wildlife photographers welcome this extension of the mountain goats’ range, biologists have argued that its introduction may disrupt the fragile ecology of high altitude areas of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and threaten native plant species growing there.

Demonstrating the goat’s ability to grip steep surfaces

The black tipped horns can be seen clearly in this image. They continue to grow during the animal’s life, producing annual growth rings. Male and female mountain goats are not easy to tell apart, as although males tend to be larger than females of the same age, their horns are much the same length. There are subtle differences in the horns, however, as females tend to have horns that curve more sharply towards the tips while horns of males are evenly curved throughout their length. In addition, mature males tend to be larger than mature females and more heavily built through the shoulders.

Group of goats on Mt Evans, probably a male, female and yearling

In winter, mountain goats grow and extra layer of wool, which has longer, hollow fibres that provide a lightweight but very warm coat. In spring, as the temperature rises, they shed this outer layer.

Note the beard and spreading hoof
On top of the world

From atop Mount Evans, a fourteen thousand foot peak, the views go on for ever, provided the distant mountains are not obscured by smoke from fires. These photographs were taken in August 2019.

Tolkien Tree

I love trees and have attributed personality to this specimen in beech forest at Arthur’s Pass National Park. Playing with iPhone apps that produce a variety of creative effects allows me to experiment with camera movement. Many of the results are unexpected, but with practise, sometimes I manage to create the effects that I’m after.

Pining for the White Mountains

Of the places I visit when I am in California, the bristlecone pine groves high in the White Mountains call me back most often. Usually I spend several months during the New Zealand winter camping and hiking in the mountains and deserts of the western United States. Last year, Covid put paid to that. Probably this year, too.

These trees survive in a hostile environment, a high altitude desert, growing ever so slowly. They die slowly, too. Standing trees may be thousands of years old and fallen timbers thousands more.

Dead bristlecone in the Schulman Grove, White Mountains, CA

I made a photo book of these trees last year, a tribute to my heroes of the plant world, using images I have made over a number of years. I love the gnarled and twisted branches that reflect the hardships endured by trees growing at such high altitudes and subject to extremes of weather.

A few animals survive here too. The golden mantled ground squirrel can be found scavenging for cones in summer. In winter these small mammals hibernate to escape the cold. Clark’s nutcracker also feeds on seeds from these trees.

Young golden mantled ground squirrels
Clark’s nutcracker

As bristlecone trees age, their protective outer bark becomes eroded so that eventually the cambium layer beneath can no longer function to transport water and nutrients through the tree. Many very old trees have just a narrow strip of bark connecting their roots to the canopy above, a lifeline that ensures their survival for maybe many years more.

Eroded trunk of bristlecone pine tree
Snow is late to leave the bristlecones at this altitude of close to 12 000 feet (3500 metres)

Apart from the harsh climatic conditions endured by these trees, they grow on thin, limestone soils, which are very low in nutrients. These factors combine to make bristlecones in the White Mountains grow very slowly indeed so that they are the oldest trees in the world, some over 5000 years old.

Bristlecone pine tree in the Schulman Grove growing out of rock

Snow Farm, Wanaka, New Zealand

While I was staying in Wanaka, I visited the Snow Farm to go for a walk. The ski field was closed because there was insufficient snow for skiing so we saw very few other people. Several groups had brought bicycles to cycle along the tracks, which were above the cloud layer shrouding the valleys below. I was surprised how much development there had been since my last visit, which admittedly was probably a couple of decades ago.Snow Farm is a centre for cross country skiing unlike the other ski areas in the area, and boasts stunning views of the Pisa Range. The ski field operates back country huts which are very popular, making it possible to do multi day hikes on skis.

Adjacent to the ski field is a vehicle testing area known as the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds. Here, winter testing facilities are provided for automotive companies from all over the world. These facilities are behind a big fence and the associated structures have grown substantially more than buildings on the ski field since my last visit. It appears to be a highly successful operation. However, snow and ice being in short supply, it is likely to be a few weeks before the facility is operating. Normally it is open from June to September each year.

West Coast, South Island of New Zealand

I have just been over to the West Coast for a couple of weekend trips. It is appealing to those of us living in Christchurch to experience the contrast between the two coasts. While Canterbury is dry, the West Coast is usually very wet. The sea is calm on our side, with plenty of swimming beaches. On the Coast, it is rough, often a boiling cauldron that deters anyone from approaching, let alone entering the surf. Even under deceptively calm conditions there are strong undertows, swirling currents and rogue waves that have caught many unawares.

The Surge Pool at Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks
Mt Cook and Mt Tasman from Revell Street, Hokitika

My two weekends were contrasting, too. Hokitika was so clear and sunny that New Zealand’s highest peaks, Mts Cook and Tasman, stood out from afar. The sky was overcast while were staying in Punakaiki, with the odd light shower of rain. It was pleasant enough to be outside photographing most of the time, though; nothing like the ferocious storm that battered the East Coast, wrecked bridges and roads, inundating farmland and urban areas alike while we were blissfully unaware of the devastation happening on the opposite coast. Christchurch generally receives 650 mm rain each year; this figure is 3000 mm on the West Coast. During the storm, touted as a one in a hundred year event, Christchurch received 150 mm in just 3 days, while in the hill country behind the city rainfall was more than 500 mm during the same period. The rain has now stopped, but rivers continue to run high and cleaning up and repair work has barely begun. I am still waiting to find out whether the roads will be open for my next trip out of town.

Recently a friend introduced me to a slow motion app for my phone, which I played while I was away, trying to discover what works and what doesn’t. This is still a work in progress, but here are two examples, the first from Hokitika, the second from Punakaiki.

Hokitika sunset
Punakaiki surf


I have discovered that I like the effect of using infrared to photograph in cemeteries. Somehow, the technique seems to suit the mood of these places. This image is from Naseby.

The light coloured path through the centre of the image seems an appropriate route to be taken by the resident ghosts. Misty conditions accentuated the ‘other worldly’ feel to this image. The trees are less substantial when their foliage is reproduced in lighter tones. Turning slightly to the left at the end of the path, the space between the trees indicates to me a route into the unknown.

Aoraki – Mount Cook

Recently I have been using monochrome much more to interpret landscapes. Although colour is assumed to add life and vibrancy to an image, black and white is simpler and in some ways easier to work with. I think this preference for black and white was enhanced as I began to dabble in infrared photography. There needs to be adequate contrast for monochrome to be effective, but textures become more expressive. I use Nik Silver Efex Pro to transform my colour images. Dust spots are a scourge; they show up so much more in these images. I hope that I have removed them all here.

I made this image of Mt Cook, or Aoraki, (the highest point in New Zealand) during a clearing storm. The green foliage in the foreground was distracting in the colour image and the sky is more dramatic after the Nik transformation.

Welcome to my New Place

2021. From 2018 my life changed inexorably. Death, reality check, adjustment, Covid, travel restrictions, breast cancer, more reality check, more adjustment.

This blog has languished for years as I reinvented myself. A work-in-progress. Isn’t life always that anyway? Now I am keen to return. My early posts are still here as a benchmark. They are boring. Too long winded. An attempt at completeness, perfection; now my aim is more a commentary on my perceptions of life. Changing through time. More frequent posts. One photo at a time. I thought to change the title. Nature is still my primary interest so I left it the way it is. You won’t see too many humans here so the title mostly serves.

I made this image in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens when I was feeling hemmed in by too many people on a Sunday afternoon. Not the time of day I’d choose to go. I was there with a friend and my infrared-converted Nikon D750. Looking up at the sky for a means of escape, these two trees asked me to express their relationship. I called it Canopy Dance.




The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a large, flightless bird, in the ratite group, second in size only to the ostrich (found in Africa). Native to Australia, the emu’s closest relative is the much more rare, and colorful cassowary. New Zealand’s kiwi is another, slightly more distant, relative.


A few emus are farmed in New Zealand, but we also have an opportunity to see them in captivity at our local wildlife park. The ones that I have photographed are at Orana Park, in Christchurch. The emu is not endangered, so there is no rearing program for them here, nor are they likely to be the subject of a research project. They are kept at the park so that people can observe them behaving naturally in an outdoor, semi-wild environment.

The birds often pace up and down along the fence line emitting a booming sound. It is mostly the females that produce this noise, while males make a grunting sound. An inflatable throat pouch creates the booming, which if emitted at high intensity, may be heard up to 2 kilometres away.


On hot days the staff turn on a hose to create a temporary pool in their enclosure, which the emus use for bathing. They sit in the pool, immersing their feathers, then stand up and shake off the water. Although they can’t fly, emus can run very fast. They have powerful beaks, so visitors need to be wary of getting too close to the wire. In the wild, they should not be approached, as powerful legs and feet can inflict a damaging kick.


Emus’ soft feathers are very attractive, so it can be tempting to stroke them. However, this is probably not an impulse to give in to!