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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adventure, Kiwi Style

A photography journey Down Under documenting the masters of sport

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photo adventure
Lovers’ Leap, Otago Peninsula,
New Zealand
As I write this, I’ve relocated and have been living for less than a week in my new home base on the South Island of New Zealand. The coastal town of Dunedin will be base camp for the next six months. From my experience, New Zealand could very well be the mecca for adventure photography. The island’s roads and airports make it a cinch to get around, yet New Zealand offers a rugged landscape on par with some of the wildest places on earth. There’s a reason this location was chosen for filming of the Tolkien trilogy. It’s one part wild rawness and another part benevolent nature—a perfect balance for Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a place between two extremes. What better place to hang your hat for the short term and explore new avenues in photography.

I plan to do just that in these coming months. Traveling with a camera and a DAT sound recorder, I’ll capture impressions of the wilder side of the New Zealand landscape and its more adventurous residents. The people I plan to photograph and interview in New Zealand are adventurers over the age of 60. I couldn’t think of a better introduction to New Zealand adventure than talking to the country’s masters of sport. You can view and hear their stories as they’re posted via the blog link on my website, www.billhatcher.com.

Why choose to do a story about master adventurers and why in New Zealand? Visually, New Zealand’s unique landscape of mountains, rivers and coastline makes it pretty evident that you aren’t in Kansas anymore, yet almost no place on the island is too wild or remote to create any formidable access issues. But it’s the people of New Zealand who will make this project special. Adventure photography isn’t just about the wild landscape, but also blending that element with human endeavor.

Before coming to New Zealand, I knew it to be ground zero for adventure practitioners in every imaginable discipline and age. My initial research showed me that New Zealand has a population of about 4 million. Contrary to what many may think, the fact that sheep outnumber humans 20 to 1 in New Zealand doesn’t mean everyone is engaged in the wool business. What’s more, New Zealanders aren’t an idle group; Kiwis are among some of the best-traveled and most active and sports-minded people I’ve encountered. One would expect that to assemble such world-class performances as those of the past Olympics in Beijing, a country would need a larger population than that of New Zealand. The country’s entire land mass equals my home state of Colorado. For me, the math was simple enough: A world-class environment plus world-class athletes will equal amazing opportunities for making photos.

You sense the toughness and spirit of adventure with many New Zealanders you meet. Typical Kiwis aren’t prone to boast of individual accomplishments, but that doesn’t stop them from idolizing Sir Edmund Hillary by putting his image on the Kiwi five-dollar note or by erecting a sign at the town limits of Queenstown proclaiming it the “Adventure Capital of the World.” This attitude isn’t born from hubris, but from the idea that every Kiwi is capable of becoming a champion, so it’s not out of the ordinary to find people from all walks of life giving it their best in the outdoors.


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