Last Rays of Sunlight - Mount Ngauruhoe

Photography can be an exercise in frustration. Making the time, finding great locations, planning, looking at weather forecasts, only for the light to fade as the clouds roll in. If all you wanted from a trip was great images then you could be bitterly disappointed. Of course there is a whole lot of other benefits that go along with photography trips like this, the people you venture out with, time in nature seeing the beauty, and the chance to get out of the work to home home to work patterns.

 In truth, great light doesn't happen all the time. It's rarity is part of it's allure. It's the reason we go back time and time again. Great light doesn't often happen in perfect weather, more often than not it happens when the weather is marginal or worse. We look for those situations where good conditions might occur, and then learn from watching, but in the end, there is always going to be an element of luck. 

 After a week of rain and cold, Saturday, that reward for a week of toil, dawned fine and sunny. With no plans and a quiet weekend ahead, the peace and morning sunshine felt great. The wintry weather which had vanished for the moment, but was not forecast to be gone for long. There was one last gasp left from this system, which based on forecasts would make Sunday and Monday less than ideal. So how could we make the best of the day? 

The ding from Messenger caught my attention, it wasn't loud but like a tiny domino falling against another, it's affect caused a chain reaction. Gone was the peace of a lazy morning. In it's place, the possibility of some beautiful light and a weekend of fun with friends. With hurried preparations, packing, charging and showers we got ready to meet Anneka and Les in Ohakune. The weather was going to be cold, so thermals, changes of clothes and jackets were the order of the day. 

 As quickly as we could, the gear was checked and the car packed. Then off we went, up state highway one to Waiouru, turn left to Ohakune. Through squalls and sunshine, the k's rolled under the tires of our car. By text we kept touch, hoping that we wouldn't hold up the others too much. In the end, we both got to Ohakune about the same time, meeting by the giant carrot. 

The final short journey, to Les and Anneka's favorite mountain retreat, a little collection of units just south of National Park, didn't take long. The little two bedroom unit, frigid in the mountain calm, was our base for the weekends adventures ahead. With the sun well passed it's peak, there was little time to waste. Unpack, change into winter gear, then climb into the ute. Our goal was to find a great place to watch the sun set, the signs were there, the forecast was holding true. 

 All the way through the week, the weather maps and tools have hinted that Saturday afternoon held promise. The forecast was mostly fine with occasional showers, the landscape photographers lucky roll. The perfect conditions for changeable light, for drama, to watch the weather interact with the land in beautiful and unexpected ways. 

In the end we chose a little area called Scoria flats, on the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu. At 1,360 meters above sea level, this open plateau offers magnificent views to the north and west. With the rough weather of the past week, there was a moderate covering of snow on the ground. We were glad of our thermal layers and jackets though as the temperatures plunged well below freezing and the wind picked up. Still the beauty of the views were worth it as showers danced below us across the plains and snow showers blanketed the hills above. 

There was one question on every ones mind though, would it hold till sunset? The conditions looked promising but the approaching front was already beginning to influence the weather, as clouds surged onto then clung to the mountain peaks. I could only wonder at how it must feel high up on the mountain, the wind swept natures of the cloud hinting at the conditions. Still, for the most part the sky to the west was mostly clear so the chance of a nice colourful sunset looked good. 

Waiting for sunset gives you time to think, consider the composition, the options, the possibilities. Think about the walk a few weeks earlier up to Soda Springs in the Mangatepopo Valley, which is about the same height up Mount Tongariro as we were currently on Mount Ruapehu. Think bout the privilege of being in this environment, the beauty of the landscape and the danger. About what the mountain and others has seen from this vantage point, beautiful sunsets and sunrises like now, storms and volcanic eruptions. 

The sunlight turned golden and then orange, Mt Ngauruhoe and Pukekaikiore glowed in the last rays of light dancing across the mountain slopes, before the approaching cloud bank snuffed the light out. The peacefulness would soon be broken but not before my camera clicked several times, capturing the images needed for the panorama above. The final image is around 50 megapixels in size, or to put it in other terms you could print this image two meters wide at 180 dpi and you would get a print 1.8 meters wide by half a meter tall. So needless to say, the detail in the small preview above does not do this image justice, It's moments like this that makes you feel humble, thankful and fortunate.