I think that it’s no surprise to most people that landscape photographers often have to go the extra mile to get their shots, both in a figurative and literal sense. We are in our element wandering around in the dark at ungodly hours in search of the perfect scene in ideal light. Our photos are often accompanied by thrilling ‘hero stories’. We all have our ideas about how we present our images and one of my quirks is making up fanciful titles for them. Personally I tend not to dwell too much on whatever ordeals were endured in the creation of my landscapes. I think the public already have an expectation that these are part and parcel of the perseverance required to be in the right place at the right time. When I do focus on a back story, I prefer to use one which illustrates some aspect of my creative processed. Or in this case an entertaining anecdote which from a personal perspective makes me treasure a photograph more.
The deep southern region of New Zealand known as the Catlins is remote and sparsely dotted by sleepy towns. During winter, the feeling of isolation is even more apparent with almost no supermarkets, restaurants or banks open. However this was exactly what appealed to me on my recent trip to New Zealand. I had always wanted to return to this region to reshoot some of the waterfalls and continue my exploration of its coastline.
I already had a rough idea of the coastal areas I wished to visit, so one afternoon we made a scouting trip to a relatively obscure beach, mainly known to surfers. At this stage I had relinquished the wheel during the more tortuous roads to my companion, whose constitution was not appreciating the centrifugal forces generated by my turns. As she pulled into the dirt patch which doubled as a car park, I commented that from previous experience it was also possible to park on the beach itself. After a brief hike, the view opened out onto a beautiful sandy beach which had a couple of features sought after by seascape photographers : a tannin creek running into the sea and cliff tops in the distance. Pleased with a composition I made, I decided that we would return to photograph the sunset here. In passing, I made mention of the old beaten up car parked on the beach and that we could have done the same to avoid the short hike.
On consultation with the owner at the beachfront studio where we were staying, it seemed that there was a grand total of one restaurant in the general region open for dinner. After a pretty dodgy tasting pork chop at the tavern for dinner, we returned to the beach for our sunset shoot. Given the remote location and the burgeoning darkness, this time I suggested parking on the unsealed road rather than the beach just to be safe. However she had other ideas and we ended up parked on the edge of the beach. The conditions were too overcast for any sort of sunset colour so I decided to wait a while for some blue hour shots. This gave me some time to recompose since the composition I had scouted earlier in the day had been altered too much by the outgoing tide. By the time we had finished up, it was dark enough for my exposures to be around the 5 minute mark without any filtration.
In hindsight I should probably have taken control of the wheel again as evidenced by the loud crack when she backed out. The rear wheels of the sedan had rolled over and become lodged behind some rocks. Attempting to drive forward or in reverse only served to cause the vehicle to sink further into the sand. After half an hour of digging, pushing the car and attempting to fashion a ramp out of sticks and branches, we admitted defeat. Although I was fairly certain we were far out enough to be safe when the tide came back in, the sand was still a bit damp underfoot so I couldn’t be 100% that it would not be a problem at high tide. I knew we were a long distance from getting a cell signal so off we went to the highway to try our luck. Fortunately within a few minutes we had managed to wave down a car with our iPhone torches. We asked the male driver whether he might be able to give us a lift to a nearby town where we could get reception. He appeared somewhat high and there was an incredible amount of rubbish in the car but it was quite likely that there might be nobody else pass by at this time of the night. He mentioned that there were no nearby towns where he could take us but could bring us to his father’s farm a 15 minute drive away to use their landline.
Adding to the drama was that the two of us had recently watched Wolf Creek (both 1 and 2!) before the trip so when we arrived at the farm, we were somewhat alarmed at the scene before us. Three rough-looking guys in various states of inebriation were standing around a garage. Several monster trucks were parked out front. I could see a rifle in the front seat of the one in the driveway. The carcass of a large animal split in sagittal section was hanging from the room of the garage. One of the men went up to it with a carving knife and hacked a large piece of raw meat off – not the most comforting gesture under the circumstances!
In any case the blokes cleared out one of the monster trucks and agreed to attempt to tow our vehicle out. On the way back to the beach, my companion who normally likes to criticise my driving was oddly silent despite the driver’s wayward driving, which was punctuated with swigs from a bottle of beer. After some difficulty finding something suitable to tie the rope to, one of the guys scooted under the car and attached it to the rear axle. But despite a few firm attempts, the car refused to budge. A closer inspection underneath revealed that some rocks were catching the midsection of the vehicle. The main guy asked me “Is this a rental? We can try to use brute force but can’t guarantee that it will stay in one piece”. I replied “Do whatever it takes”. I was slightly reassured that I had taken out the maximum insurance but wasn’t overly confident that it would cover something like this. The moment of truth arrived. With a fair run-up, the monster truck managed to dislodge our car with an almighty CRACK! There was a puff of dust and an acrid odour in the air. To our amazement, the car remained intact. At various stages during the night, we had imagined our car drowning at high tide, being raped or shot. In the end it turned out that we were in the right place at the right time and found just the people who could help us.