Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Adventure, Kiwi Style
A photography journey Down Under documenting the masters of sport
In the coming months, I’ll meet Mike Ward of Nelson, 67, who’s the only competitor to have competed in all 26 of the grueling Speight’s Coast to Coast races. This 243-kilometer, multisport race (bike, mountain run and kayak) is the gold standard and one of the oldest multisport races in the world. I’ll meet Paul Caffyn, 63, a sea kayaker who completed a 17,000-kilometer circumnavigation of Australia and, last year, was kayaking the coast of Greenland. I’ll also photograph and interview open-water swimmers, rock climbers, surfers, whitewater kayakers, mountaineers and other athletes over the age of 60 who continue to test their mettle against New Zealand’s rugged and challenging landscape.
The uniqueness of New Zealand’s landscape didn’t disappoint on my first photo outing to scout the sea-cliff climbing possibilities a few miles east of Dunedin at the black basalt cliffs on the Otago Peninsula. The climbing crag is known locally as Lovers’ Leap. The cliff is reached by way of a short walk through stands of windswept evergreens called macrocarpa—the same type of tree that hobbits Samwise and Frodo hid under to escape the Dark Riders. I walked past the ubiquitous sheep grazing on tussock- covered sand dunes, wound through stalks of toitoi and flax to bring me to the spectacular Leap. The cliffs of Lovers’ Leap appear to be about 300 feet in height. The ocean swells sweeping from west to east are in the notorious roaring 40s, indicating the southern latitude where the wind-driven ocean waves are uninterrupted by any continental land mass on their march around the globe. Over the noise of the ocean swells rushing under a 100-foot sea arch (for which the Leap is named), I hear the unearthly high-pitched screams of sea lions.
To reach the base of the cliff, I negotiated a steep ridge line of lichen-covered rock and grass. In wet conditions, I can imagine one misstep would result in a rain-slickened toboggan ride right off the cliff and into freezing water. I’m sure it was the photo I shot of a climber clutching tussock, on her way down to the climbs, that set the image of that last big skate in my mind.
What really captivates me about this place is that I’m only 30 minutes from a bustling city of 120,000 clinging to a cliff face perched above wild water with a view south where over the horizon I know lies Antarctica. Around me are sea lions, penguins and albatross, and I half expect to see a whale breach below me. This location is just a microcosm of what New Zealand has to offer, and I look forward to going on my first adventure with a true master.
Bill Hatcher travels the world in search of adventure and good stories. Visit his website at www.billhatcher.com.
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