My travels with a camera have taken me to some of the South island’s most incredible locations. However, access to these ‘incredible locations’ is not without its challenges. Much of the lower part of the South Island is covered in dense forest and national parks, there could be snow or floods or baking heat. And of course, there’s the Southern Alps. But now and then, I discover a location that delivers great rewards without too much of a challenge. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a short walk from the car park, as was the case with my recent image, Swamp Forest.
Swamp Forest was shot near an area known as Ship Creek, 20km (12 miles) north of Haast in South Westland in the South Island. Haast is a favourite location of mine. It is a striking landscape, where rugged and immense bush-clad mountains and valleys unfold to become the wild and windswept coastline facing the Tasman Sea. I love spending time here.
The incredible Te Wāhipounamu
Haast is located in an area known as Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand, a World Heritage area.
One of three World Heritage sites in New Zealand, Te Wāhipounamu (the place of Greenstone), is 2.6 million hectares of land in the southwest corner of the South Island. The area incorporates Aoraki/Mt Cook, Fiordland, Mt Aspiring and Westland National Parks, as well as other conservation areas. Here, you can expect to find glaciers, fiords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, 800-year-old beech forests and an incredible array of rare and endangered birdlife. It is considered one of the best intact representations of the flora and fauna of Gondwanaland and recognised as being of ‘global significance’.
Discovering Swamp Forest
A few years ago, I found myself in Haast on a commercial shoot for Porsche. During breaks, I would explore the area, including the beach by Ship Creek. The beach is the full west coast experience, wild and windy and invigorating. I enjoyed the chance to refresh with a walk along the beach but never followed the path in the other direction, into the forest.
I made plans to return to the area, and a couple of weeks ago, it finally happened. Up at photographer’s hours to catch the sunrise, with coffee in hand, I began researching the Ship Creek area and the nearby forest walk. I found a picture online of the swamp forest and decided to take a look for myself. With my small camera in hand, I set off from the car park, and in just 10 minutes, another world unfolded before me. This was the kahikatea swamp forest, and it was an astounding sight. I quickly returned to the car for the big camera.
The hidden world of the forest
Kahikatea is a species of forest tree found only in New Zealand. They grow to heights of 60 metres or more and can live for more than 500 years. Swamp forests such as the one I stumbled across are often home to birds, as well as fish and eels. I was amazed by the silent majesty of these forest giants and their wet feet.
The challenge of the Swamp Forest image was to capture this rich, deep setting in the same way that the eye sees it. The great wonder (and challenge) of the South Island’s dense forest is the many layers and colour variations of the foliage. It ranges from the tiny, bright green mosses and lichens to the ferns and young shoots right through to the mightiest of tall trees.
In an image like this, capturing it on camera is just part of the process. The work continues with the edit. Here, every detail is considered as I work to create a perfect representation of the colour tone, depth and feeling of this wondrous sight.
Swamp Forest is available to view at Romer Gallery or online here. The print is a limited edition and part of the newly released Forest Collection.