Monthly Archives: September 2014

Paul Powell’s Mountain Tree

Mt Aspiring at Dawn

Tititea at Dawn from the Albert Burn Saddle.

In an earlier post I paid homage to Paul Powell and his role in the naming of Mt Dragonfly and mentioned his wonderful mountain writing – especially his book “Men Aspiring”. His preface in the book was his own poem titled The Mountain Tree – which is about a very distinctive silver beech tree with heaps of character at Junction flat (the junction between the Kitchener stream & the East Matukituki), which is directly below the chalet and the Albert Burn saddle.
Here is the first verse of the poem which he wrote in 1960. Though his first visit to Junction Flat and his initial connection with the tree was in 1943.

When I was young and burned to roam
On thrusting spire and corniced dome,
All hill bewitched I swagged the scree
And heedless passed the mountain tree.
The mountain tree, the mountain tree,
I heedless passed the mountain tree.

When I too was young and a staunch member of the Massey University Alpine Club, The Mountain Tree was something of an anthem for us and was regularly repeated verbatim and in loud unison as we trudged our way up various riverbeds in the southern alps (along with other excerpts from alpine writers such as F.S. Smythe et al. . On each of the several occasions that I have tramped up into the East Matukituki & Junction Flat, I have saluted the mountain tree and paid my respects to Paul Powell.

HERE is a link to the entire poem.

Today I discovered that Peter Wilson, another keen Dunedin climber and mountain man extraordinaire, has written a wonderful review of Men Aspiring and its place in NZ Mountain literature. I concur fully with Peter’s conclusions. HERE is a link to the review. Danilo Hegg has written an excellent review of one of Paul Powell’s (who was a dentist by vocation) other well known books -“Just Where Do You Think You Have Been” Click HERE to read that review.

I hope to bring you further snippets and fresh imagery over the next few weeks.

PS HERE is a link to another poem written in the West Matukituki Valley in 1949 by James K Baxter.

Back to Reality

Click THIS Link to The First Chalet Blog Post which explains what its all about.
Aspiring as we left

Mt Aspiring shortly before we departed the chalet on Tuesday afternoon

The last nine days have been something of a surreal experience. It is going to take both of us some time to adjust. I can clearly recall similar issues after returning from nearly three weeks living in Antarctica, in a tiny tent on the edge of the Antarctic plateau, near the Ellsworth Mountains & the highest peak in Antarctica, Mt Vinson.
That was at exactly the same altitude as the chalet – 6000 feet. The winds there were comparable too.
Anyway, yesterday at 2pm, Phase One of our project came to an abrupt end when James “plucked” us from our magic eyrie above the Matukituki Valley, about three hours earlier than planned. The wind speed had started to increase progressively after midday and the decision was made to come sooner. When he landed, the wind speed was around 50 knots – which meant shutting the machine down was out of the question. With a wind of 50 knots James couldn’t afford to venture more than a few metres from the cockpit and controls. So it was a frenetic effort loading our gear into the machine and completing our final departure check list.
We were departing precisely on the equinox .. one of two days in the year when night & day are exactly the same length. With the equinox usually come equinoxial storms or in our case gales also known as “gales of the Antarctic dawn”.. Moments later we were bouncing our way down the spectacular glaciated Mill Creek valley and on to a 22 degree air temperature landing at Cattle Flat Station – directly below the Treble Cone Ski Field – the fascinating and exciting history of which was the subject of the book “Treble Cone” by Matt Conway, which I have recently published. The war temperature was the result of the Fohn wind effect characteristic of North Westers in spring here. Stark contrast to the minus 33 degrees windchill from the southerly just a day earlier.
We called in at the magnificent Whare Kea Lodge on our way home and were greeted by Emma the manager and Sandy her able and congenial assistant.

gale  patterns
Ice patterns in the Albert Burn Saddle caused by the equinoxial gales

Anyway there was so much more I was planning to rabbit on about tonight, but have decided to leave some of that for future intermittent postings. I’ll just post a few images now though & then let Erica wrap up for tonight.

aspiring at Dusk

Mt Aspiring at dusk on monday night (our last dusk on this trip) from the chalet


Twilight above the saddle on Monday Night… “Less is More” is one of my maxims when composing landscape images.


Starry night commencing on Monday ….. this is very relevant to Erica’s comments below… photo taken with a very standard lens (50mm). You do need a sturdy tripod though.

HERE IS a very short video to give you an impression of how lucid that sky is. It is stunning.

We have longer versions coming

milky way

Pointing towards the Milky Way.. also taken with that very bog standard ordinary lens & no enhancements or embellishments were involved. The clarity of the night sky there is breath taking.
Around a decade ago at the Cardrona Folk Festival held at the historic Cardrona Hall each Labour weekend a friend from Dunedin, now living in Nelson, Adrian Higgins, wrote a beautiful song about the night sky there. Martin Curtis, who wrote the Kea poem referred to in Erica’s blog post on Saturday, has recorded a version of Adrian’s song which you can hear if you CLICK ON HERE. Its called “The Stars of Cardrona”. The link is to an MP3 file. Here is a LINK to the words of the song.

So it is back to more mundane things now .. like taking Erica & Robyn to catch their planes at Queenstown by 7.30 am this morning & sorting out the washing, paying the monthly bills and making sure that our 18 year old bossy burmese cat’s food is to her liking. Robyn is off to Nelson to teach a book binding course there, so I’m going to be able to spread all my conglomerate of mountain gear stuff around a bit – for a while anyway.

Ill leave the last word tonight to Erica.

Erica’s Mini Musings

Well I’m back in the North Island…just. It’s a stunning Spring day with a lot more lambs and calves on the farm, than when I left. I was fairly anxious yesterday about our departure. I think a small part of me didn’t want to leave, although it is nice to be home. I suspect more of the anxiety was caused by the increasingly strong wind that was barrelling into the Chalet. The thought of getting into a comparatively small perspex/metal bubble and flying off down the valley was creating a rather large pit in my stomach. Dad kept saying that it would be ‘perfectly safe’ and it was ‘flyable’ (he is my Dad, so he would never put me in danger right? and he was a pilot so he knows about this stuff…right?!). The fact that the Chalet was shaking with many of the gusts was not reassuring! Of course, with the very skilled pilot, James Ford from Aspring Helicopters, we were perfectly safe. It was not all that comfortable though. If you’ve never experienced it, turbulence in a chopper is a little different to a plane, for one, you can see your stomach disappear below your boots thousands of feet below! Anyway, we got back down to Cattle Flat in one piece, and enjoyed the drive out of the Valley – as suspected, a little bitter sweet to be leaving. It was another beautiful day today so flying out of Queenstown, meant I was able to point out to Mum (who was flying North today too) exactly where we had been and nice to get one last glance at Aspiring for a while.

The whole experience of the last 10 days was amazing and something I won’t ever forget. Dad asked me yesterday what my favourite part was (his favourite question at the end of every expedition we’ve done). With this trip, it’s pretty hard to answer. Every day was different, temperature, light, humidity, wind, kea mood, our mood. Some days all of these changed every 10 minutes! So here are three special parts.

Being out in the snow shoes was amazing. Knowing that in some areas there is at least 12 feet of snow below you and then being surrounded by these massive, staunch mountains made you really appreciate your place in the world. Nothing but the sound of us crunching along through the snow and the odd kea cry (just to make sure we hadn’t forgotten him). If you’ve seen the pictures in previous posts, you realise how big the mountains are when compared to us, they command respect.

I live on a beautiful farm in the Rangitikei so I’m lucky, among other reasons, that when there’s no cloud, we get to see a spectacular night sky. However, the night sky up there in the mountains was something else. Dad taught me how to get relatively clear photos of the stars and how to capture them as they move across the night sky (which is really us moving more than them, but anyway). In each of those pictures, which capture a tiny snippet of sky, there are billions of stars. Again, you appreciate your place in the world when you’re surrounded by giant mountains with the Milky Way curling over your head. Being able to stand on the deck wrapped up warm with the crisp, cold air on your cheeks and watching the stars was superb.

Finally, I’ve been away from Mum and Dad for nearly 12 years now. I feel lucky to have two homes, but I think Wanaka is still my Turangawaewae – and the mountains are a big part of that. It was really special to be able to spend quality time with my Dad in the mountains that we both love. In that sort of close proximity you pick up on living habits more than I would when I just go back to visit, and there was one or two things which I noticed Dad doing, that I do exactly the same – am I just like my father? EEEK! I suppose that’s not so bad, he’s still my hero and I can’t wait to see what he does with all those beautiful images.

Time to go back to the real world; a bit greener and warmer, with running water! If you’d like to follow more daily musings, I am on twitter: I tweet about my work as an environment extension manager for Beef + Lamb New Zealand, weekends and spare time spent on the farm, and other adventures that might be of interest to my followers. Thank you to the Myer’s and the Whare Kea Team for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A few last images of mine below.

PS In case you hadn’t realised, the Kea were also a highlight for me – I truly hope we can look after the population that we have left. so I’ve added a couple of pics of them too, of course.

…with one very last run, down the roof, just for fun…and a squawk, the clowns flew away.


My final panorama of THE VIEW


My friend pretending to be a sentinel on the toilet roof

showing off

My friend showing off

Mill Creek

Descending Mill Creek

terra firm

Back on Terra firma .. James Ford & his Squirrel – ZK Hotel Alpha Hotel .. Buchanan Peaks & Mt Alta in distance.

We will have more stuff for you periodically during the next few weeks.

Link to Gilbert van Reenen’s Website

Click Link below left to read previous daily postings.

Monday Morning – after the storm

Around dusk last night the biting southerly wind doubled its intensity and stayed at around 100 kph for most of the night with some gusts estimated at well over 150 kph. As an experiment I left my big tripod (without camera) out on the deck all night with its newly designed stabiliser module in place. It was as steady as a rock this morning. At dawn the spindrift was going every which way and it was decidedly unpleasant outside. Our amazing shelter from the storm is SO gratifying.

Here is a pic of the view south at first light.

Storm on AB saddle

Soon after that the daily Dramatic Light Theatre Action was upon us again & I had great difficulty deciding which direction to point my one and only camera. The most pleasing results are obtained when I dedicate it to the one orientation for at least half an hour. This morning there were at least 5 equally worthy possibilities but I was again drawn to the exquisite grand sculptural forms to the North East. One reason for this is that having the light source (in this case the sun) at right angles to your camera will usually provide the most interesting result of a subject. This maxim usually applies to portraiture as well. The Dutch Master painter, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 -69) was one of the first to exploit this. Side lighting introduces much more dimension to an image.

Anyway here are a couple of images from the sequence. I’m not yet concerned that they look quite similar to some of my previous ones.

North from Albert Burn Saddle
North of the Saddle 1

North of saddle 2
North of the saddle 2

& Here is the resulting Video This file (and the others today) is somewhat larger than previous ones so you may need to wait till it all downloads before you attempt to play it.

Last night I promised to show you the Video from yesterday that includes one of my Kea Friends.


My next Timelapse today was a wide angle shot towards Fastness in the North West.


Then I decided to use a longer lens to record the action around the summit of Mt Aspiring.
THIS IS THE RESULT You will be left in no doubt that it is quite windy here today. Almost too windy for Keas. They have visited us briefly on 3 occasions so far but havent been game to attempt landing on the railing or deck.

The faces on Aspiring, Fastness, & Glacier Dome are entrancing. Here is a stitched panorama I made of them around midday. Erica also Made a stitched Panorama of further around to the east which I will post below mine

Aspiring Panorama

Ericas Monday Pano

Today will be our last full day here at the chalet for this section of the residency. Tomorrow night we hope to be posting you another episode, at a later time, from home. It’s been a joy to share this wonderful ever changing environment with you.

Erica’s Mini Monday Musings

The last time I went on a significant trip into the mountains with Dad was not too far from here (at least as the kea flies). My younger brother Brook, Dad and I were flown into the Upper Wilkin Valley by Paul Cooper for a few days. We based ourselves at Top Forks Hut at about 600m altitude, which wasn’t nearly as fancy as Whare Kea Chalet, but had the essentials and we were quite happy. The first day we went to Waterfall Flat up the South Branch of the Wilkin, which was a great little mission. The following day, Dad and I decided we would head up to the North Branch as far as we could get. Brook wanted to spend the day cruising round the flats and enjoying some peace and quiet.

The North Branch of the Wilkin is something quite special. There are three lakes which are all distinctive, Lake Diana, the smallest of the three, and lowest altitude; Lake Lucidus, the biggest at ~820m which is a glacial moraine and full of icebergs. The jewel in the crown (in my humble opinion), is Lake Castalia at about 1100m. There is another wee gem, Disappearing Tarn, just below Lake Diana, which after a bit of a slog up through the bush, is rather wonderful to emerge to. Given our good Dutch genetics, and therefore, long legs, we would’ve easily made it to Castalia in 2-3 hours, but of course, there were photos to be had so it took quite a bit longer. I also recall that I was carrying Dad’s tripod – a common occurence on our expeditions!

It’s interesting what you remember about trips like this. I don’t remember it raining at all during the day, but there must have been some showers because Dad took a photo of me next to Castalia in my bright yellow parka jacket (thankfully, technology has come a long way since then in terms of wet-weather gear!). It is one of my favourite photos from all of the trips we’ve done. We had quite a sense of accomplishment getting up to Castalia. It was a long day and not too far from the lake, we had to cross a very recent avalanche. This was my first encounter with avalanche risk, and I remember Dad saying that there could be more. I felt torn between getting to the lake we’d worked for all day, and not getting caught in an avalanche. Probably the fear of the unknown was greater than the actual risk, but the heart rate increased a bit as we sidled across the icy, snowy heap. Clambering over the loose rocks and boulders and coming up to the lake, not knowing what to expect and then seeing it come into view was magnificent. This vivid blue lake with snow and rock all around and towering walls leading up to the mountain tops above.

Shaun Barnett & Rob Brown in their wonderful book ‘Classic Tramping in New Zealand’ sum up this trip nicely, so I will leave you with their words “There is a magic in this valley which takes hold as the day wears on, and as we retraced our steps back down there was an unspoken reluctance to leave”. I expect there’ll be a bit of that as we fly out of the Matukituki tomorrow.

As an aside...

We’ve been watched over by Mt Aspiring / Tititea all day today, once the cloud lifted this morning it has been a beautiful sunny day – aside from the howling gale and more than minus 30 degree wind chill. Suffice to say, 12 years living in the North Island has softened my sensitivity to cold and I’ve not ventured out much! I did however, think I’d better capture the beautiful skyline so I braved it for a while and within a short time my two feathered friends flew over to say ‘g’dday’. Watching them flying in the strong winds was worth the bitterly cold temperatures and I captured a couple of great shots which I’ll share with you below.

Erica at Lake Castalia
Erica at Lake Castalia in the upper Wilkin . The jewel in the crown – when I was a lot younger!

Aspiring Kea
The Sky is the limit today

Solar Kea

Kea on Photovoltaic Panels

Wind Kea
My Kea friend tackling the wind – rather him than me!

Sunday in the Saddle – never a dull moment today

Not much stays the same in these mountains. I woke at 4.30 am to see zillions of stars and got organised to create some pre dawn timelapse sequences.The broken camera has created some major limitations but we managed to get some reasonable shots.

First Light at the Albert Burn Saddle

The first of them was THIS VIDEO I was beset with various technical issues during the making of it which I managed to reduce as the morning went on. Just as well because we were to get some spectacular but incredibly transient dramatic lighting effects a short time later.

Albert Burn Saddle  view

HERE is just a short clip of that sequence with the developing lenticular cloud up above. A friend in Nelson commented that exactly the same cloud pattern was visible over Mt Arthur in North West Nelson this morning. Its amazing how we are all connected.

It didnt take long for a really strong southerly wind to develop which put paid to our plans to explore the upper Hesther Pinney creek on snow shoes & crampons. Instead I set about devising a system of lateral anchors for my tripod so that the catastrophic event of yesterday was unlikely to recur again. It has been well tested this afternoon with gusts of over 70 km/h occuring regularly.

I made a couple of Time Lapses of the cloud on the summit of Mt Aspiring
and another of nearby Mt Fastness

After lunch I made another Time Lapse of the very dynamic nature of the environment on the other side of the valley on the east face of Mt Sisyphus.. HERE

The subsequent processing of these individual images into watchable videos seems to take forever and is one of the more frustrating aspects of being here. I have several more in the pipeline including some lovely footage of when the Keas arrived to check out what I was up to today. Ill try and process some of those tonight to share with you tomorrow. Typically a 12 second video clip takes me well over an hour of computer time to process. You can see that we dont have much time to spare as we several domestic duties as well. In fact there hasnt been a dull moment here all day.

Erica’s Mini Musings

As I mentioned in an earlier post, growing up in Wanaka meant my playground was the mountains (ok, I had a sandpit too!). I got into cross country skiing in my early teens and really enjoyed it. It seemed like a great way to experience the mountains with time to take in the views and without the crowds. I spent a lot of time up at the Snow Farm on the Pisa Range.

Mt Aspiring College offered every student a day up each of the 3 ski fields a year at a good price. This usually involved a lesson in the morning, and skiing (or boarding) to your hearts content in the afternoon. There wasn’t a huge number of us in the cross country ski team, but we did of course, take up the chance to get up the mountain on a school day. This particular year, our team manager (and maths teacher), the late Mike Sheehan, decided he would take team members (about 5 of us from memory) for the day, rather than us having to have a lesson. But Mr Sheehan didn’t want it to be just like any other training day, so we borrowed some snow shoes and headed off on telemark skis. It was one of those magical Wanaka winter days, not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky and fresh powder – perfect!

With our gear packed on, we headed down to the Roaring Meg Hut. A quick stop at the hut, then it was off with the skis and on with the snow shoes (much less modern than the ones Dad and I are using up here). It took a while to get the hang of it. The challenge was balancing yourself, with skis, poles and pack in deep powder on the side of a hill, and ideally making progress in a general upwards direction. It was worth it, coming up onto the tops with high mountain peaks as far as the eye could see was breathtaking. Cook, Tasman, Aspiring, all visible and all looking magnificent. I remember being in total awe, it was so peaceful. We cruised around the tops, taking in the view and looking for a good spot to come down again. Which we found, and it wasn’t pretty! Telemarking is really quite technical when you’re doing it for the first time in knee-deep powder, but it didn’t matter, bruises heal. It was unforgettable. Tragically, Mike was killed in a climbing accident not long after.

I hadn’t thought about that trip for a while until the other day when we jumped onto the snow shoes. Much to my surprise I got into the rhythm really quickly – despite it being well over 10 years since that trip and nearly as long since I was last on skis. We have had a lot of snow since we got here and without the snow shoes, we would be very limited in how far we could go before being completely drenched and exhausted. We had a small weather opening yesterday afternoon, so headed for the waterfall we can just see from the hut and we can hear when there’s no wind. We were well rewarded with yet more angles and perspectives of this amazing place. I’ve included a couple of my images below. I think there might need to be a few more snow shoe trips!

By The Way – Erica has a Twitter Feed which currently has over a thousand followers all over the planet…. many of them are following her blog entries.

Here is the Link should you wish to see her tweets too.


Abstract SnowShoe
Abstract Snow Shoes

Albert Burn Waterfall

Albert Burn Veg
Alpine Flora

Saturday Report – a bit of a mixed bag today

We are out of the clouds at last and the early light show in our Grand Otago Alps Theatre didn’t fail to impress.
Then I had a bit of a disaster – a rogue wind gust toppled my (most stable) tripod with my best camera on top of it, rendering it inoperative before I could rescue it.
Gravity is a wonderful thing but sometimes I wish it wouldn’t be quite so assertive. Luckily I have a backup camera with me and it is going to be working hard for the next few days. Just a few days ago I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have several more camera bodies with me because when the lighting gets into the zone I am always spoilt for choice for a good shot. With the timelapse work that camera is committed to that one orientation for maybe an hour or more. So I am going to have to become a crystal ball reader in a hurry.
Anyway one good camera is better than none and I will make the most of it from now on.
I managed to assemble a number of time lapse sequences in various directions with different lighting and Ill let you view short sections of them Click HERE for the ridge on the opposite side of the saddle
Click HERE for a view towards the north… this is the one that spelled the damage to the camera.
Click Here for a time lapse of a view towards the south town the East Matukituki valley. You will see there was quite a good dusting of snow on the beech forest overnight.

I had intended to write something about John Buchanan the amazing polymath naturalist and artist after whom the mountain range we are now on was named. I have had the good fortune to have been associated with his beautiful illustrations of the area and I will tell you all about that tomorrow.

HERE is a closer detail timelapse of the view to the south.

Over another fantastic James Stapley lunch THIS was the changing view outside our window. You can see that the weather is not quite settled yet.

After lunch we donned our snow shoes for a couple of hours of much needed and very welcome exercise on an excursion to the Upper Albert Burn basin and a nearby waterfall beneath the bluffs on Dragonfly Peak
Here are a few images from the jaunt.

Erica on Snow Shoes

Albertburn Basin

Albert Burn after snow

Erica at the Waterfall
Here is Erica at the waterfall looking for lichens.

Orographic Cloud

There was quite a lot of orographic cloud mooching around today signalling a return to more provident weather (hopefully because you can never be sure of anything in the mountains)

On Our Way Home
On Our Way Home

Ill now hand over to Erica to conclude today’s post with her own musings & images.

Erica’s Mini Musings

I’ve always been pretty keen on animals, hard not to be when you’re Dad is a vet. In particular, I’ve always had a fascination for New Zealand’s native birds. Every time we went into the bush, Dad would teach me how to identify different native plants and also the birds, by sight and by bird call. I was never very good at photographing them, but my first photograph of a kea was memorable. It was black and white and I took it up the Remarkables during a summer trip up to Lake Alta with some friends. I still have the print somewhere, it has a tear in it and is slightly over-exposed, but I was chuffed with it. The negative is no doubt buried somewhere (probably never to be seen again). I also remember a book of New Zealand Wilderness Stories which Dad gave me, my favourite story was ‘Charlie the Cheeky Kea’ by Jack Lasenby. The elusive Kea image has been on the mind for a long time!

When I was doing my postgraduate degree at Massey, I had a wonderful opportunity to help a friend who was looking at Salmonella in New Zealand lizards (skinks and geckos) for her Masters thesis. The first trip I accompanied her on was to Hauturu, Little Barrier Island which is inhabited by a huge number of birds, including many Kaka. The Kaka used to be hand-fed on the island and had to be weaned off supplementary food when it was realised that the best conservation strategy was to let them learn how to find food themselves. One of the Kaka though, was not keen on that idea and was very friendly. He was called ‘Ratbag’ – for obvious reasons. While Ratbag was not a Kea, he was a very suitable substitute and I subsequently have a whole bank of photos of him. He of course loved researchers. We followed the rule of not feeding him, but he worked out how to get food from us while we baited the skink pit fall-traps (just buckets in the beach to catch the skinks, they then can’t get out so we could sample them, measure them and then let them go). Great photo opportunities! I was still in pursuit of a good, photo-worthy kea though.

Most days this week, we’ve had a visit from Keas and at the slight hint of a ‘squawk’, I will leap out of the chalet, camera at the ready. An older bird decided to pop in this morning, slightly less mischievious than the glove-fiend, at least we hoped so. Armed with my camera, I spent an hour with ‘Charlie’, having a chat, taking photos and observing him. I think he was as interested in me as I was with him. There were a few things I noticed – whenever I was talking to him, he would tilt his head to one side, or right round. He was also quite keen to jump on my camera or my shoulder, but didn’t quite pluck up the courage. He did however touch my gloved hand with his beak. He learned quite quickly, that if he bit me, I would pull my hand away and yelp, which gave him a fright. But, if he was gentle, I would leave it there and he could look at the rest of my hand. He used the top and bottom of his beak and his tongue…very weird feeling! On shiny surfaces, such as the beams, he needed to use 3 points of contact to manouvre – OSH would be proud! This meant, two feet and his beak, which was highly amusing. Dad’s tripod was particularly entertaining as there is not a large surface area. He managed to perch on top and have a preen all the same!

With the snow we’ve had in the past few days there has been much build up on the Northern face of the chalet. Charlie was busy trying to pluck up the courage to climb onto my lap but eventually chickened out so flew off the railing and decided just below me would be a fine place to land. Unfortunately for him, this was right in the snow drift, which was much deeper and fluffier powder than he’d anticipated. Luckily for me, I had a camera and the result was what I can only assume is, embarrassment.

Kea used to be plentiful in the Southern Alps. Their demise, like many species in New Zealand is a result of human activities. Luckily, it is possible to co-exist. Kea used to be shot by run-holders because they were expert at wounding and killing sheep. This was no good for either species. They have also been decimated by stoats and possums who eat their young. DOC estimates there is somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 left. It is really frustrating when they damage gear or steal food, but we need to remember, we’re in their patch, we need to look after them. I hope, in years to come, that future generations get to interact with these glorious birds. They truly are magnificent with their 50 shades of green plumage and their bright crimson under-carriage.

Martin Curtis, a local song-writer, conservationist, mountaineer, and top-bloke has written a wonderful poem about Kea, which I’m sure most mountaineers who have explored this area can relate to. The last image below is exactly as described! I’ve included a YouTube Link of him delivering it to the Hawea Flat School: LINK. Enjoy!

Visiting Kea & His antics today

Visiting Kea

Kea & Tripod

Kea on Roof

A tale of two Kea – by Martin Curtis

Now I’ll tell you a tale of a kea
That I met in a high mountain hut
This clown of a bird was rather absurd
In fact a bit of a nut

I’d been out all day on the mountain; the descent to the hut was quite steep
So I boiled up a brew
Had a cuppa or two
And retired to me bed for a sleep

It was four or five in the morning
Long before the first light
As I slept the deep sleep of the weary
I heard a loud ‘clunk’ in the night

Then a pattering sound on the iron
And a galloping down the ridge
Then he opened his beak, let out a loud ‘shriek’
And slid right down to the edge

Then he climbed back up to the roof-top
And he started all over again
My what a din, up and down on the tin
Like the whole All Black Team

Well at last I could stand it no longer
So I jumped from me bed in a fit
Grabbed the broomstick that stood in the corner
And the ceiling proceeded to hit

All at once there was nothing but silence
Ten second silence ensued
Then a pattering sound down the iron
And a feathered face came into view

Hanging upside down from the gutter
With his beak pressed into the pane
‘What was that, that just rattled me talons?’
You could see going round in his brain

I hid really quiet in the corner
So he ran back up to the top
And he started again on his little refrain
So I banged to see if he’d stop

Once again there was a brief silence
As I thumped on the tin with the broom
Then a ‘squawk’, and the sound, of feet pattering down
And a face peering inside the room

For more than a half hour or longer
We continued with our little game
I’d bang on the ceiling, he’d run down the tin
And look in the window, in vain

Each time I would stand so quietly
He couldn’t see what made the noise
The poor bird was getting quite flustered
He was really loosing his poise

But at last there was nothing but silence
Ah, the kea’s flown off in a tiff
So I went back to bed and lay down me head
And I was sound asleep in a jiff

It was only another few minutes
When I awoke to a sound that I knew
‘Clunk’ on the roof, then a ‘clunk’ once again
Oh no, now I think there’s two!

They proceeded to dance the fandango
And a jig and a polka as well
So I leapt from the bunk, and I grabbed up the broom
And I started to hammer like hell

As I banged away at the ceiling
With the noise going on up there
The hairs on me neck started prickling
And I felt a cold, icy stare

I stopped in the midst of my efforts
And behind me I took a peek
There, upside down in the window
Two beady eyes and a beak

At that, the parrot got quite excited
With shrieks and squawks in full flight
Gave a few flaps like a great feathered bat
And flew back up to his mate

And with that, curiosity satisfied
They decided to call it a day
With one very last run down the roof, just for fun
And a squawk the clowns flew away

apologies for the lack of editing today – deadline & internet cutoff arrived before we could do that

Friday afternoon and still spoilt for choice

We have reached the end of the working week and are still overwhelmed with things to do.
It blew a storm for most of the night and we woke to another 10 – 15 cm of very light powdery snow outside the chalet. At dawn we were still in cloud but then for a very brief period that cleared from the Albert Burn basin and a sumptuously soft and subtle alpine landscape was revealed. It was a bit of a mission setting up my tripod for a timelapse of it partly because some of the moving parts had frozen solid and partly because the deck was covered in ice and getting around it proved to be very tricky.
Anyway this is the view I was attempting to capture.
Friday View

View to the North East at dawn on Friday.

I also succeeded in capturing a brief timelapse of the changing light and the cloud encroaching again.
View the Video HERE

After that the cloud closed in again & it has been pretty much the same ever since. However there was much to do.

The uploading of images and videos is something of a nightmare as the connection on the FTP client programme seems to drop off regularly and always at random … requiring starting the process all over again.

Patience and perseverance are wonderful virtues and mine seem to ebb and flow a lot under those circumstances. Technology advancement is wonderful and wouldn’t let me do what I’m doing here now but there are considerable limitations. Maybe Im pushing it a weensy bit hard?

I thought I’d share some interesting information about the naming of Dragonfly peak on which the Chalet is located. My friend & fellow Alpinist & Maestro Mountain Photographer, Danilo Hegg, from Dunedin, has written a very comprehensive description of it HERE The (late) Paul Powell mentioned, was one of my Otago mountaineering heroes… both for his wonderful sense of humour and his wonderful writing about his and his friends interactions with the mountains. In my earlier years I climbed several remote peaks in South Westland & Northern Fiordland that he had preceded me on. His books “Men Aspiring” and “Where Do You Think You’ve Been?” are NZ mountain writing classics.

This is an appropriate time to mention another connection with Danilo and the naming of Mt Aspiring which dominates the landscape & view from here (when it or we are not in cloud).
Four years ago Danilo & I independently and without knowing of each others work on the subject, concluded that the early surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, who named Mt Aspiring in December 1857, was actually looking at another Mountain Peak, Mt Aeolus which is at the head of the Wilkin valley just to the north of us. Danilo has written all about this on his website HERE You’ll be pleased to know that neither Danilo or I would want to see the names changed or corrected.

Erica’s guest blog was very well received by readers yesterday so we will keep her on for

Another Mini Musing from Erica

The Whare Kea Chalet sits above the Albert Burn Saddle, and when it’s not grey and snowing (as has been the case today), we can see down to the valley floor right onto Aspiring Flats. The Matukituki is a special place. I spent many happy school holiday’s at Mt Aspiring Station with the Aspinall Family and have also spent a lot of time exploring the valley. One memorable trip involves Aspiring Flats. It was the inaugural tramp of the Mt Aspiring College School Tramping Club (and as far as I’m aware, the only one, although I stand to be corrected!) and we were heading for the Rock of Ages Bivouac. The bivvy (as they are colloquially known) is nestled in the bush opposite the Rainbow Stream and sits just above the flats with views of Turnbull Thomson Falls, and the Kitchener Glacier from nearby. This was to be my first overnight tramp sleeping in a tent (at least that I can remember) and I was about 16.

A few days of rain preceeding our trip, and a dismal weather forecast were not enough to deter our small party of 3 students, a teacher and an Otago Polytech Student training to be an Outdoor Education Instructor. The first challenge was crossing the fast-flowing, and often under-estimated Matukituki River at Cameron Flat. Wet boots right from the start…great! The remainder of the trip in was relatively uneventful, other than it kept raining. Having done this trip a couple of years earlier with Dad and a good family friend of ours, I remembered that you come out of the bush, onto the Aspiring Flats and the bivvy is another 20 minutes walk or so. Not so for this trip! We came out of the bush to be greeted by a lake. Oh. What followed was another first….bush-bashing! In recalling this story over the years, I remember saying we spent 2 hours bush-bashing to get to the bivvy, I suspect that is an exaggeration, but it did feel like a long-time, and was certainly longer than 20 minutes!

We set up camp tucked up under the bivvy, a very impressive granite boulder which has been sheltering trampers since ages ago! When we woke up the next morning, the rain hadn’t stopped so after a quick brekkie, we set-off – bush-bashing again. We didn’t get very far, about halfway to Junction Flat (if I remember rightly), one of the streams which we had hopped over the day before, was a raging torrent. Our watchful guardians made the call that although we could probably get over this one safely, there were bigger ones to come, and we would be better at the bivvy than trapped between streams in the bush. We’d hunker down until the rain stopped and then head out. Mother Nature had other ideas, so a very, very long day tent-bound ensued. That night was the most impressive thunder-storm I have ever experienced. With every lightening bolt our tent lit up like a bright sunny day and the ground shook with the simultaneous thunder, we were in the thick of it!

Fortunately, the next day, the rain had stopped and being in the headwaters, the water had receeded. Our trip out involved a bit more bush-bashing, and a bit of mud/silt battling. Apart from being a little hungry, we were all quite happy, as were our families who had been expecting us a day earlier and without contact were a little worried. It made for a good story, which was reported in one of the local papers (made far more dramatic than it really was of course!). Importantly, it was a good lesson on being prepared (we carried spare food, just in case), and knowing your limits. I’ve never forgotten the trip, and it’s a bit of a thrill to be perched above the old bivvy again! I put together a panorama yesterday with Aspiring Flats just left of centre.

Ericas Pano

back to Gilbert

Ill finish off by sharing another video sequence from Wednesday and a few images … This video is of the East Faces of Fastness and Sisyphus and the cloud coming & going on it.

Here is Erica on snow shoes looking for my Kea stolen glove on Wednesday afternoon.

Erica on Snow Shoes

We get some amazing light effects on the mountains here.
This image is looking towards the south yesterday morning.

East Matukituki Morning

& Here are 3 from the other end of the day… they are of the last light on peak called 1920m on the other side of the saddle

Sunset on 1920

More sunset

more last light still

and here is one of the Albert Burn Basin in the middle of the day

All of the photos will enlarge & expand if you click on them.

Albert Burn Basin

You can see that we are truly spoilt for choice up here.
Deadline time is upon us again so thats it from the Albert Burn Saddle for today.
Have a great weekend wherever you are.

Thursday Report – hut bound

The chalet is much better than any alpine hut I have ever stayed in but the term hut bound will be familiar to most mountaineers. We had a brilliant universal star show last night until the dwindling moon rose around 2.26am. We managed to get some nice star sequences. Here are a couple of very low res unedited samples. I am rather hamstrung up here to put any bells & whistles on these videos.. I am posting them to give you a preliminary impression.
The first is a short sequence of the horizon to the west as the twilight advances.
Click HERE to view.
The profile of Mt Aspiring is very pronounced.

The next one is with a wider angle lens and takes in more of the southern sky.

Click HERE to view Night Sky 2.

For both of them the interval between individual exposures was around 15 seconds

The dawn this morning heralded another weather change approaching from the North West. We got some brief views of shafts of sunlight to the south but they were short lived and a proper storm established during the morning with gale force winds and snow slurries. It gave us a chance to sort some gear and download the large numbers of files from yesterday – over 100Gb of data all up.

If you click HERE you will get an impression of how the dawn developed.

I managed to assemble a nice video from yesterday showing the movement of clouds over Mt Aspiring and Mt Fastness. The full video shot over 4 hours is to large a file to upload on this site so Ive posted just two short clips from it.

Click HERE to view a few seconds of the opening sequence

THIS SEQUENCE contains a view of the Kea who stole my glove and flew away with it never to be seen again… You will see him briefly in the bottom right hand corner.. preening himself of course.

Here is a shot of him taking off with my glove

Kea & Glove

A well known & highly respected blog reader in San Francisco, Jules Older, has requested that I introduce my daughter Erica to you and tell readers who dont know her well something more about her. Erica has kindly offered to do that herself and has also agreed to contribute her own musings over the next few days.

Mini Musings

It was brought to our attention that Dad hadn’t introduced me…so here goes…and I might get a regular spot on here if I’m good!

I grew up in Wanaka with these beautiful mountains that you’re seeing here and more, as my playground. I have always been keen on science, animals, farming and nature and followed this through school, encouraged and inspired by Mum and Dad. That meant rock climbing, cross-country skiing, tramping and kayaking whenever the opportunity arose! I decided to follow in Dad’s footsteps and attend Massey University in Palmerston North (rather than Mum’s and go to Lincoln!) and completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. I then went on to do a Masters in merino wool production. While at Massey I belonged to the infamous, Massey Alpine Club (again, following in Dad’s footsteps…literally on some trips!) and started to explore the North Island, where I now live. Although I was studying agriculture, I also took ecology and conservation papers and have always wanted to be working on environmental management in the agricultural sector.

My first job was Wellington based for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as a policy analyst working on the Emissions Trading Scheme; thrown in the deep end! I later moved to the Waikato in a broader policy role and then started working for Beef + Lamb New Zealand as an Extension Manager. That means delivering tools, services and information to farmers to help them make informed decisions on every topic that’s relevant – animals, pastures, crops, water, human resources, finances etc. This was a great role working with some wonderful people in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty (some of whom are reading these posts!). In March this year, I took up a specialist role as the Environment Extension Manager and moved to the Rangitikei where I live on a sheep and beef farm with my partner. I am still helping farmers make informed decisions, and now have a focus on natural resource management and how this can be managed within the whole-farm system. I don’t get into the hills very much anymore, so the oppportunity to join Dad on this trip was one not to be missed. I also enjoy doing a bit of photography as a hobby, as does my younger brother, Brook.

Appropriately, Dad has left the food post to me. I’ve happily taken on the role of chief food preparer. Whare Kea’s Chef, James Stapley has put together what can only be described as a ‘feast of epic proportions’ for our 10 days here.

We have a huge range of choices for breakfast – from scrummy homemade muesli and fruit, to bacon and eggs (which we feel we can’t have unless we earn them…yesterday was a winner!)

Lunches are many and varied with lots of beautiful breads and fresh salad ingredients, not to mention some yummy South Island cheeses and meats. James has also made a selection of exquisite soups which are going down a treat with the stormy weather. Today’s Ribollita was great, full of goodness like curly kale (and much to my surprise, Dad really enjoyed it!).


Our dinner menu has been planned out for each day and we both always look forward to it following the daily blog-posting. James has put everything together so that it is very easy to prepare which I have been most impressed with. Given who my employer is, I should really only tell you about the meals of beef or lamb…but as a food-lover I will share all! So far we’ve had:

seared salmon with warm chickpea salad, fennel and orange salad and salsa verde
baked canneloni with green salad and bread
chicken cocount curry, naan, rice and yoghurt
lamb (wohoo!) tagine with couscous, carrots and yoghurt

I am sure James’ presentation of all of these dishes would be sensational, and I fear he will see the images of his creations and despair! Fear not James, while the presentation may be sub-standard, the eating quality more than makes up for it! Thanks for your hard-work and thought in preparing such delicious dishes. I’m off to prepare tonight’s pasta puttanesca…yum!

Concluding Comments from Gilbert ……

There is another family connection in the wonderful wholesome food supply and the menus. My son Brook, who is also trained as a chef, is now a Master Providore at the Bidvest Mediterranean Market in Wanaka where James sources most of his fresh ingredients. Brooko has contact with James on most days and gets on really well with him.

I am fast approaching the internet connection deadline again… never was a term so appropriate. Ive had some issues with uploading the night sky videos today .. these may appear truncated. I will try to sort that tomorrow.

Ive got just enough time to upload a few of Erica’s Kea Photos.

They really are clowns & no captions are necessary I think

Kea clown

This is a reverse of yesterdays one

Me & Kea

Erica also got a beaut shot yesterday Hoppy of one of the Keas in its customary hopping maneuver

& another one of him about to alight on the rail.

Kea & Rail

Wednesday Report – where to begin?

Where can I start? What an amazing day in an astonishingly beautiful location. There is no where else on the whole planet that both Erica & I would have rather been. It was very austere light at first with a cloud canopy at first only a few hundred metres above us but that soon changed as the sun broke through little gaps in the cloud and began highlighting various features in spectacular fashion. For example the faces on the opposite side of the East Matukituki of Mts Sisyphus & Fastness
Mt Fastness

I shot heaps of Time Lapse sequences today but havent had time to process them yet.
Then we had a visit from 2 Keas. Erica had the camera out again in no time


and she got some great shots which we will share with you later

More Keas

Then one of them had a desperate urge to inspect my number 2 camera

Kea & camera

then blow me down with a feather – he jumped down, delved into my camera bag & grabbed my precious glove. Cheeky bugger.
kea & glove

& took off down Hesther Pinney creek with it… with his mate in hot pursuit squawking with delight also a naughty bugger. We went looking for the glove this afternoon with no luck. I bet that ithas been shredded by now.

We did put on our snow shoes after lunch and went for a delightful wander down towards the saddle & Upper Albert Burn. The terrain doesnt come much more spectacular than this
Upper Albert burn

The view in the opposite direction is equally impressive

aspiring & Erica

What a place!

Ive run out of time & space in my blog tonight – The modem connection is about to shut down shortly. I was going to tell you about Whare Kea Chef Extraordinaire, James Stapley’s, incredible menus that he has provided for us but that will have to wait to another time sorry.

Here are a couple of pics to keep you going in the meantime.

Aspiring & Fastness

Mt Aspiring on left & Mt Fastness on right from the front of the chalet.

Aspiring & Chalet

Mt Aspiring from the rear of the chalet just prior to setting out on our snowshoe exertion exercise.

Ive made squillions of images today .. its going to take me years to process and assemble into presentable form.

Hopefully we will get to make some night sky time lapse sequences tonight. Ill let you know tomorrow how we got on.

Tuesday at my new office

We had about 20cm of new snow overnight and quite a few flurries during the day. Weather is best described as “dynamic” which suits me quite well because usually there is lots of drama with it and the light keeps changing frequently. We have shifted a lot of snow from the decks and have begun to tweak our systems & equipment.
One of my timelapse sequences looking across the saddle will give you an idea of how changeable things are here. Click Here to view. There was a 4 second gap between each frame. The wind was around 40 – 50 kph at the time & you will notice quite variable direction.
In between times I have been assembling some stitched panoramas shot today. Here are a few very low res samples.
d looking down valley towards Lake Wanaka

other direction here is one in the opposite direction… you will see that Aspiring is obscured. I did catch a glimpse of it after our sumptuous lunch (more on the amazing food & menus from Maestro James tomorrow)

We are getting some magic momentary light effects .. here is a good example
light glimpse

I’ll try and load up a few more images for you before the modem switches off soon. It only operates during daylight hours.

We had a visit from the resident Kea family of four this afternoon & Erica got some lovely shots of them.

Kea 1

They are always cheeky and incredibly intelligent. Here is a young bird strutting his stuff.

Kea 2

& here is his mate going for another look around on Mt Dragonfly.

The modem is poised to disconnect very soon so will have to leave it at that. The cloud has thickened & the wind has come up again it looks like I wont be able to do any astro photography tonight.

Day 1 – First Report

After much planning and co-ordinating, we have finally made it to our retreat location on the Albert Burn Saddle – just as the sun was disappearing behind Mt Aspiring, which was shrouded in heavy cloud. Erica had just flown down from Palmerston North to Queenstown and was highly organised. I didn’t think we had that much gear but there certainly wasnt much space left in Charlie Ewing’s Aspiring Helicopter when we took off from Cattle Flat.
Here are some images from the exhilirating flight in

“The chalet in the distance from below the western ramparts of Dragonfly Peak.”


“Whare Kea Chalet on the Albert Burn Saddle”

The saddle is at 1750 metres above the East Matukituki Valley

We are nearly there!

other side
The other side of the Albert Burn head basin looking towards the North East

After unloading the gear, Charlie was soon off to enjoy the rest of his Sunday. Thanks so much Charlie.
Charlie heads back down the valley

The silence was soon replaced by a group of Keas chortling excitedly high up on the bluffs above us. We were home.

Setting up the computer system & the wherewithal to publish these posts has been something of a mission today. I think I have most of the issues solved now. So here comes the first posting.
Today we have a storm brewing outside and we are in cloud and it is snowing quite heavily – not at all conducive to photography. I’ll have my first timelapse sequence for you shortly.

One of my major intended projects during my residency here will involve the production of some timelapse video sequences of the changing light and weather in this magic location.
I was aware that a dramatic weather change was on its way so managed to set up my camera to capture the rapidly advancing twilight. Processing the resulting images into a viewable video file on a small old laptop with very limited Ram memory is somewhat frustrating. Anyway here is a link to my initial efforts. Its a sequence of the fading light looking down the east Matukituki Valley towards the South West. Its an MP4 which should play on your Media or Quick Time player.
Click on Link to First Timelapse to view. More to follow soon.

It has been snowing quite heavily the last few hours with a substantial build up at the entranceway

here is another one – just as well we brought our snow shoes, crampons and ice axes.

You can also see the view in the other directions by clicking on the chalet webcams HERE