Landscape Photography – The Unexpected Moment at Mount Cook
Gale force winds and cloudy skies gave the indication that we might not have the best conditions to photograph sunset.
Arriving to Queenstown for a short 4-day trip to photograph ice patterns, I had one location in mind and that was Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Having visited New Zealand and photographed the peaks around Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound many times before, there was one trail I’d heard so much about, but never had the chance to visit.
The Hooker Valley Trail.
It’s ranked as one of the best day hikes you can do in New Zealand, yet despite driving past on a number of occasions, weather, time or just a different itinerary had always stopped me visiting.
For this short and spontaneous trip, I made it the sole destination.
Hiring a car in Queenstown, we drove north to Mount Cook Village and while the weather window looked great when I booked the flights 24hours earlier, it had changed quickly and a storm was soon on our tail.
I’d researched two other short hikes that I wanted to attempt while in the area, and with sunny skies upon arrival, we opted to venture down to the shores of Tasman Lake first, with icebergs on the menu. It’s only a short 20 minute hike from the car park which made it ideal for a quick adventure before the storm swept through.
I’ll be sharing more on Tasman Lake in another article, but this story is all about the peak of Aoraki/Mount Cook that was playing a very good game of hide and seek with the cloudy conditions.
Waiting out the storm in our motel, I sat by the window gazing out at the mountain landscapes as the windows shook in the strong, gusty winds. There’s something about these wild moments that make me feel so alive, even if I was hiding inside while the worst of it passed, I couldn’t wait to get outside and was using the time with WiFi to suss out a few options for sunset.
Kea Point was on my list of backup locations and seeing that it was another short hike from the carpark, we opted to wander up once the rain cleared. The wind was still incredibly strong but felt so fitting in this rugged, alpine wilderness.
Reaching the point, I spent an hour photographing nearby icy pockets and the rocky glacial moraine as clouds stuck around and clung to the peak and light faded. I had the 300mm f4 lens on my OM SYSTEM OM-1 camera and was enjoying getting super close to the snow patterns as clouds rolled through the valley.
While I usually like to wait it out until well after dusk, the winds were pretty fierce and the temperature was dropping so I began to wander back down towards the car. Within about 100m of the viewpoint, I noticed a glow starting to appear in the sky. It was still dark in front of my, but when I turned around, my jaw dropped.
The clouds that had been clinging to the peak, suddenly turned every shade of pastel pink. The winds had created lenticular cloud formations that produced the most photogenic display that stretched up and over the peak.
To say it was surprising is an understatement.
The light and clouds were changing so rapidly that I quickly dropped my camera bag and started taking photos with the 300mm lens because I already had it on. The sky though, was far too good to miss, so I very quickly switched over to the 40-150mm f2.8 lens to try and capture a bit of the surrounding colours in the sky too.
It was one of those moments we all hope for as landscape photographers. I like to think the dull lead up to a moment like this always makes it ten times more exciting when the light, landscape and location align.
I’ll be sharing about the Hooker Valley Trail in a more informative guide/article soon!
The three images below were taken within about two minutes as I photographed while stunned at the scene before me. Captured with the OM SYSTEM OM-1 camera, the first image is with the 300mm f4 lens, the second and third with the 40-150mm f2.8.
You can see why my jaw dropped at first glance of the pastel brilliance, then how quickly the light changed in the final image.