It’s the shot I thought had got away – the image of New Zealand’s Aoraki Mount Cook and its surrounding range, dusted in snow, with glacial icebergs floating in the river before me.
Only 3 weeks prior, our initial trip to Hooker Lake ended in disappointment. The trek to the lakefront was filled with slips, slides, falls and bumps as the ice underfoot made a (normally easy) walk that little bit more interesting. Despite the clear skies and great snow cover, however, on arrival we were met with bad news : completely clear skies and a solid frozen lake with no definition. While happy that the shots I captured were the best I could get, the scene just wasn’t strong enough to my eye.
Fast forward, and following our New Zealand Photo Workshops we were heading back out to Mount Cook for another try. While quite the detour from my original plan, I was determined to get a shot that I had in my mind, and the weather had finally managed to break from the fog and rain that plagued the 2 weeks prior.
Instead of trekking the 3 hour round trip to Hooker Lake this time, however, we opted to explore the Tasman Lake area and its own glacier that is slowly melting and floating towards Lake Pukaki.
The start of winter this year was unexpectedly warm – to the point where Queenstown’s Winter Festival was held in warm sunshine and no snow – and this had the same impact on the Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park.
Where before, we saw snow-covered mountains, now had exposed golden rocks and volcanic flows of earth spilling down the sides of the mountains. A pre-sunrise “check-trip” would be needed to make sure we were in the right spot, so we started walking towards the iceberg-filled lake.
At first, a little disappointing – the angles on the regular pathway were all wrong for a sunrise shot to capture the colour in the sky. While the sun wouldn’t actually appear over the mountains for a few hours after it hit the horizon, I still wanted to balance the “glow” coming from the source of light in the distance. Stepping off the standard track however, as always, it was a different story…
This would be a fantastic test for my two latest new toys : Phase One’s XF100MP medium format system and Rollei’s latest range of Pro Square Nano IR Filters – both of which would allow me a better chance of capturing the huge amounts of detail and dynamic range needed to present this amazing view with real authenticity.
Early morning sunrise starts are never on my “top ten list” of experiences, especially when you’re leaving a nice warm bed in the middle of winter – but it was time to start walking and hope for at least a few clouds. Retracing our steps from the day before (and this is why it’s always a good idea to scout a location in daylight) we arrived at the perfect point with a view over the icy lake in the crisp morning air.
While initially cloud-free, they sky began to fill with small pockets of moisture as the temperature changed with the impending sunrise and the upper winds started pushing them from east to west. Switching quickly from one filter setup to the next, I ended with three shots – one initial long exposure, one fast capture but the second I saw this second long exposure, I knew it was the one to keep.
Cold, serene, natural wilderness: A New Zealand winter at its very best.