Photo Story by Kunal Kumar
A last minute decision to head down to Tarawera Ultra Marathon this year to support my friends for the biggest race on NZ trail running calendar.
I started the day early on Saturday (race day) to head down to Rotorua, with a stop over for sunrise just outside of Hampton Downs, the fog and hazy sun was the first signs of a golden day to come. I had not planned a specific spot or time, and that was the theme of this trip (and maybe a theme I want to follow more).
I had missed my goal of making it time for the Buried Village aid station at 31km, so I decided to go straight through Rerewhakaaitu (The dragonfly) aid station. First in was Sian, who was looking strong, remembering they had already now covered 55km - this is already a impressive achievement in my books! Eugene, Emma, Julz and Greg followed. And so that would be the pattern to follow for the day. Through to Okahu, the next aid station where we see them for the last time for a long time as long stretch of 60km on their own with no spectator or crew support. So this was a good opportunity to check out the new finish line setup down by lake reserve, and to see the elite 102km finishers come in (and a wedding!)
The highlight was seeing Manuela Soccol emotional finish across the line. From there a catch up with another friend who did the 50km. Into the evening it was time to head to Lake Okataina for the milers, but first a stopover at Lake Rotoiti for sunset - again unplanned - just where I was. Now through the night in probably the most technical part of the course, they will arrive at the Lake Okataina already clocking 120+km! Incredible - and a chance to pick up their pacers for the last 40+km - yes they still have a marathon to run through the night, and the next morning! From Lake Okataina , is the next aid station we see them is at Blue Lake, at about 4am a few spectators were at the aid station including me greeting Sian with her pacer Geoff - there was only a few words exchanged, a high five, and they are off again. It was a weird feeling, you could the light from the runners head lamps in the distance - how are they doing this at this time of the morning, in the forest, mostly alone! I decide I will see Sian at Redwoods and then the finish, which would I would miss the others at Blue Lake, but I would do the back and forth from the finish line to Redwoods for the others. Shortly after the second sunrise Sian crosses the finish line. And over the next few hours, Eugene, Emma, Julz and Greg all come in - something incredibly special.
After it was all over. I saw Manuela Soccol with her winners trophy, catching her in a moment she could talk, I congratulate her, say how amazing her achievement is, she was still overwhelmed with emotions with a sparkling smile. She asked me how my race was; this is the one thing I love about our sport - the humbleness of the top elites and how easy you can just approach them, remembering also the group run we had Sage Canaday a few days earlier - these are the best endurance athletes on the planet and also the most approachable, I'm consistently just pinching myself. Anyways I told Manuela - I didn't run this year, so she insisted that I must run next year. Maybe a run and maybe to capture those special emotions and moments.
Photo Story by Kunal Kumar
Nothing really is forever, but it takes you forever to realise this. One of the cool things having fantastic creative friends is that they know some of the best locations to check out. One of these is Diamond Lake just outside of Wanaka. Diamond Lake was definitely one of these amazing locations - a beautiful tiny lake, and awesome lookouts.
Things appear not to be crystal clear
Reflections is where you find yourself
Find yourself a frame
Somewhere to look out far
But also somewhere to look close
And to watch the clouds do their dance
"If you have a passion for something - you're lucky because - what would it be like going through life not having a passion for anything" Ann Trason
I get to the registration tent the next day - I had misread the compulsory equipment and not realised that we were required to have thermal pants, thermal long sleeve top, as well as seam sealed jacket, and an emergency blanket. It's back to the motel to pick these extra things up - was it totally overkill - perhaps, perhaps not - I had now to shove all of this into my pack. One thing that it did affect - was how much fluids I was able to carry with me, plan was to carry the 1.5L bladder and 2 small handhelds, one with some electrolytes. This was because there was no aid stations on the course, or was there?! In my view this was a big mistake by the organisers especially what was told to us at the start - this did affect how much water I was putting in my system along the course - I will touch on this later.
Anyway, all registered and on the bus to the start line near Cardrona - the start would be on a farm, and transition stage for the multi-sports athletes to go from the bike to this mind blowing crazy run that they had to do. A 30km, point to point traverse up Mt Alpha and Mt Roy to Wanaka, some 1,900m elevation climbing - the Skyline Traverse, a race through the sky. The majority of the climbing coming in the first 14km. If this all sounds crazy - it is crazy!! For me, the average Kunal, I really underestimated what the climbing would be like at that time of the day, in the heat of the day 31 degrees Celsius. I was about to find out.
We start off flattish, just crossing the farmland, over a few deer fences to join a 4WD track - which would go up the mountain - Mt Alpha. The surface was hard and rocky, but the mood was cheerful, there was talk amongst people passing, or being passed. There were the multi-sports teams who had already had a day and half of the torture what absolute legends. My mind went to Jake and his Dad who were doing the event - where they were - how they were doing - would I see them - I will touch on this later.
Sometimes you just know when you've taken a photo to remember for a long long time - this was that.
Once we are on the 4WD track - there is no flat or downhill bits. Climbing. climbing, climbing! I estimate a mind-blowing 1600m of climbing in about 13km. The body was in shock, and I wasn't taking in as much water - thinking I still need fluids for the last 15km of the race - I want to finish this thing - so I was just sipping water. About 10km I was feeling exhaustion from the heat and not know how much water to take, I had gels to keep me going. I felt I was still going ok, and making the short course cut off with one hour still remaining. I was really heavy breathing and asking the marshall how much climbing left - he said 300m more to climb! So I calculated we were at an elevation of 1300m. 300m more is higher than Mt Eden, Rangitoto, any urban mountains in Auckland - this almost broke my heart. The marshall cheered my mood by saying he'll take a photo of me - with a smile I posed, the view behind me - unbelievable!
I cheered up a bit, but I felt there was effects of dehydration and/or elevation - something was not right and some signs of dizziness - I think dehydration - how much water do I take - I don't know! I carry on and the last 300m are crazy tough - single ridge track with a good gradient, by good I mean crazy.
I make it to the top. The marshall at the top, who appears to be a foreign student asks me whether it had been all uphill to that point - I said yes we've had nothing but climbing. I confirm with him that we are at the top, a sign which says the highest point of the course confirms this and I ask whether it's downhill from here, he says yes BUT there is the small climb to Mt. Roy. This ridgeline section is like nothing I've done before - it is a single trail (goodness) maybe reminding of that trail I know at Anawhata - but that one is beautifully green. This one is rocky, bare, scree, rocks, exposed to the sun. In the mid-afternoon heat. I slow down a lot on this ridge track - lots of people are passing me. On this one bit of the track has given way to a slide on a steep angle, loose scree, rocks. I tell the guy passing me - "at least I'll have a cool photo of you" which I did. I proceed very slowly. At this stage, I'm losing confidence and suffering a lot from the heat. And there an urge to stop and sit, which is exactly what I do right in the middle of the trail in between Mt Alpha and Mt Roy. At that stage, I hear "Kunal!" Yes - it is Jake and dad competing in the multi-sport event - what legends. I ask to take their photo - this would be a very memorial photo of them standing on track with the narrow ridgeline up to Mt Roy in the backdrop. Sometimes you just know when you've taken a photo to remember for a long long time - this was that. I have gifted a full resolution of this to Jake.
With that, I get a boost to carry on along this ridge - taking steps forward is the way to go - slow and steady. The last bit is a very very steep gradient up to the trig of Mt Roy - there are support crews hanging at the trig for those teams competing in the multi-sport event - they are encouraging us to get up this final climb then it's the down hill. It seems like an age but I get to the trig, pretty much collapsing there. I sat down thinking "this is the famous Roy's Peak" and actually thinking - well, this is not where all those Instagrammers take that cliche Roy's Peak shot - I later find it - it's further down the mountain. But here I was at the top - 2nd summit on this damn run - sitting down trying to take it in but also really buggered from this climb. The view is incredible - firstly there a view of the ridge line going back to Mt Alpha where we had come from.
And panning around views of Wanaka, Lake Wanaka all around - it's beautiful, but to get here has been nothing but brutal. I get up and head my way down there. I find it's very hard to jog - I think it's just cramping on my left leg. This is so disappointing, this is the portion of the trail that is runnable, I can't run! It seems I have destroyed my legs and probably where I obtained my knee injury. There's nothing to do but just one foot in front of the other - I walk down as hoards of tourists are making their way up.
I catch up with a team which is also walking down. They have a support crew who are coming down with them - encouraging them on the way down. They mention that there are water and aid station at bottom of Roy's Peak at the carpark. I'm relieved to hear this and then the very next moment - frustrated and annoyed - why were we told there would be no water on the course, no aid stations. Whatever. I've now started taking big gulps of my water. We walk down to the carpark - the people at the aid station are very helpful - with water, ice and of course Red Bull on hand. Now it is time to head back to Wanaka, about 6km to the finish line.
We walk along the lakeside - we are actually fast enough to almost catch up to the next team ahead, we are doing really well, chatting with the support crew - listening in on these guys from Palmerston North - they do these crazy multi-sport events with their support crew - it's pretty cool I reckon. We decided to jog the last 300m to the finish line - yes!! It's a great feeling. I see Jake, we have a quick chat.
I'm well enough to walk back to the car, back to the motel, grab food and pass out. The next day I'm not feeling too bad and able to move around ok - I even send a message to Jake saying the legs are not too bad (did I just curse myself) I check the usual tourist spot #thatWanakatree - I'm sorry it's a pretty sad tree in a lake - the tourists who were there at the time also agreed with me. Maybe I was jaded, maybe I've seen some magnificent trees in beautiful forests myself. Whatever the case - I decide to go to Diamond Lake, recommended to me by my friend Lian. I wanted to continue onto some photography - it's a short hike, with a slight hill up to Lake Wanaka lookout. It's nice - I'm hurting a bit but nothing sharp or bad I feel.
“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.~Ken Chloub
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves
Choose the road to the mountain
Valley of dreams and hopes: Your journey is unique, make it yours
Lead me to the mountain
Where does the path take you
Is this a bridge too far
This was the life that was given to me, make it the best
Dream of being in the clouds
Be grateful for your own story
Whiles I have been out taking photos and running, I haven't quite kept up my blog entries, not for this week anyway. They are in the works, and I want to put together photo stories. In the meantime I was just looking back at my 2014 photo reel, and found some beauties in there:
It must be about 2km in and I see the group come around the corner, we stop briefly and we stop again as we bump into Jenny and Pete. The whole group is now together and we are off on our way into Goldies bush to set on a adventure we won't forget. We climb up those Constable Rd stairs and cover a bit of the gravel road and into Goldies bush, it's a big downhill, more stairs (that we'll have to come up on our return). It's very lush, the trail here is nicely groomed, and we are all having a bit of fun running downhill, jumping about, taking photos.
We reach the swing bridge, this is where we decide to tackle the river. But first some photos on the bridge, there was a group of 3 girls there chatting with some of the group. One of the girls asked kindly to take our photo, and later I found that she is my insta-friend Paige! A chance meeting out on the trail - I'm very thankful she took our photo, we did miss Liz though, as she hadn't caught up yet (taking too many photos ;)), and we had almost forgotten about her!! (Sorry Liz)
I wanted to go when it was still wet season, there would good water flowing through for some good photos as well. And of course the others were keen on hitting some trails as well, there is big network of trails out in the Kaimai Ranges and I haven't been to ranges myself.
Ad sets a date for the adventure, it's a Saturday and nearing beginning of spring time, there has been lots of rain recently as well. It's a busy weekend on the calendar though, on the Sunday there is the Xterra Woodhill, which most of the running group are opting to go to, read my other post on why I'm not doing Xterra this year. Which means most the group won't be going to the waterfalls adventure and there is also the North Shore Marathon for the speedy road crew, ah I do remember the times I used to run road races :) But it is what it is. There ends up to be 6 of us, myself, Ad, Liz, Sean, Bronwyn and Hayley W.
It's just over a 2 hour drive down to the falls, we opt to leave at 7am in the morning. Sean has his big 4 wheel drive 7 seater so we all hop into, thanks Sean :) And we are off. Firstly the weather is perfect, like totally perfect no clouds in the sky - that is amazing. Along the way we decide to stop over at Te Aroha, for coffee and refreshments. It's a cute little town, right on the base of Mt Te Aroha - that has to be a future adventure! We stop over at Te Aroha domain for a loo stop, the gardens are small, but again cute. The lawn greens and the small museum at the end reminds me of a miniature version of Rotorua, even the smells as there is a thermal pool at the back!
We are about 30 minutes from the falls car park now. The road is a narrow flat road with the impressive Kaimai Ranges to the left. As we get to the car park, there is already a few cars there and people ready to go out onto the track. After getting all our back pack gear ready: for me - I'm carrying my Sony camera with a kit lens but also have a zoom lens in the bag, along with my knock off GoPro style camera. 2 gorilla pods, a sandwich, banana and hydration pack and my buff. And we're off after a quick selfie of course!
First impressions of the trail is just how rocky it is, just big slabs of rock on the trail. First photo op is at one of the bridges, and then another bridge, which Bronwyn points out how I could frame my shot! I'm telling ya she had her photography hat on that day from the start! There are mini waterfalls all along the way as we cross little and big bridges, something definitely around each corner, the moss growing the rocks, the sun peaking through the trees, the sound of the water rushing down the river. Then we hit the stairs, huge criss crossing stair case, awesome little workout.
As we come off the stairs and some more trail, we approach the first lookout point, seems about mid way through and we can see the whole length of the waterfall, through the bush and with that morning light coming through this is magic. A bit of a stop and a few photos later, we back on the track - ready to hit the top of the waterfalls. It's a good climb up to 400m+ and I have fallen behind the group now, hah my great fitness coming into play again. As we near the top there are glimpses of the spectacular view on the right hand side - the Waikato country, blocks of farm and in the distance the hills and mountains looking at west.
Towards the top part of the track it's a little muddy, nothing too bad really. The others are there already, along the river and now we head to the lip of the falls, there are little cascading falls along the way. We reach the viewing platform, the view is amazing! At this point, we are all doing our separate thing. Hayley and Liz are filming the 22 push challenge videos with those views in the backdrop, the others have got some food out and just taking in the view. For me I want to get to the other side of the river and get onto the edge!
I begin my trek across the river, the flow of the river is not too bad, but the rocks are slippery, like really slippery, slippery enough that I almost fall over!! There is about 5 metres to the edge of the falls, it's a bit hairy, I look back and see Ad and Bronwyn looking at me and gasping a bit! I take it easy for the rest of the way across being extra careful and then down onto these big rocks nestled on the right hand side, on the edge of the waterfalls, by edge I mean over the edge is 150m down!!
I settle in and sit on a rock where the water is not flowing, in a relatively "safe" spot. The view here is amazing, all I can hear the water rushing by me. Under neath me the water goes directly down, ahead of me is the most awesome view of the Waikato - there is no cloud in the sky and can make out some of the hills and mountains further away. To the left of me more rocks and beyond that the viewing platform where I can see the others hanging out doing their thing.
I know I can't be there forever, but I just spend a few moments sitting on the rock taking it all in. And then reliase, I've got a camera in my hand - I better take some photos. I take a wide panaroma to the left is the viewing platform to the right the bush, I take a short video and I also take a few photos of the others on the viewing platform. Hard to describe the feeling, but hopefully the photos do.
I make my way back across the river very carefully, I'm back. The others are ready to go, fair enough. I take out my sandwich, scoff down a quarter, have another quarter in my hand. And we're off - we decide to go further down the Wairere Track - the best thing we did that day!
It starts off pretty muddy, it's definitely not well groomed, it's wild, there is the river / stream running on one side of it and the most beautiful bush throughout. A beautiful green grove welcomes us - trees are really rich saturated green colour, the moss on them making it more so. The light in coming in through the trees. At this point Bronwyn has started to melt in this beauty and start taking photos in burst mode, 30 in each burst! The green extends out onto the river, which I may add is crystal clear, we can see right through it and the rocks on the bottom have green mossy stuff growing on it. There is a great shot from Bronwyn looking down the river with foliage on either side, it's magic. We are in love. The river is quiet, there's nobody else on the track - it's incredibly peaceful, again it's hard to describe in words. But there is more gems to come.
I wake up - it's early in the morning, around 6am or so on Sunday. Fuzz had sent me a message day earlier about shooting a sunrise down by the marina. I had said yes, sure I'll join in. It was one of those weekends - after Thursday night trails with Ad, I was feeling all sniffly and just a cold coming along. The running group had organised a mega cool adventure up to The Pinnacles in Coromandel, but I just didn't think I was going to make it. I let Ad know on the Friday, and besides I had done The Pinnacles a few months back - blog post on that in future.
So anyway I thought I need to get out and Sunday would be a good opportunity to do that - and pursue a sunrise which I haven't done in a while. I'm running a bit late, I let Fuzz know - meeting point is at Westhaven, there is a little beach there. I get there - Fuzz is already setup with his gear.
I wanted to go for my 2 camera setup this time - one taking in a time lapse and the other free handing some shots around the location. After we were done there, we decide to walk down the marina and check the Wynyard Quarter and the fish market there. Fuzz told me about his experiences overseas, where he was shooting a fish market, much more bigger scale. He has lived in many parts of the world, and shooting with him is always interesting as there is always something new to find or a new story he has.
I had never been to our fish market myself, so was good to check it out. it was fairly empty, we took a few photos inside and then left walking further onto the waterfront. By this time the magic golden hour light was gone and after taking a few more snapshots and talking about street photography we were done. It reminded how much photography is about timing, to get that golden light, you to be there at the right time, to capture that emotion you have to have captured it at the right time. This is what we have to think about lots. Here's a few snaps and the time lapse I ended up with.
I get a message from Fuzz on a Monday evening about who would be keen to going out for a astro shoot on the following night, as the weather, conditions and timing was looking good for it. It was a group message, others in the group started replying that they could be keen, it could be a option. I reply later - "peer pressure" jokingly, as everybody else was keen!
It's a weekday with work commitments the next day, it's pretty crazy. I tell the group I will the decide the next day. The Tuesday is a pretty cloudy day to begin with, and at that point I had already decided I would probably not go. As the day went along - it started to clear up, and by late afternoon, virtually no clouds in the sky! I reply back to group "I'm in". By 9pm I'm heading my way out to Bethells Beach, we meet at a meeting point in between to do car pooling. We all hop into my car and we are off to Bethells.
Few advantages of Bethells is that it's not too away, and also one of the less popular beaches, with hardly any light pollution around. We meet up with another group there - Guillaume with his friends James and Brendan. The plan is head to south end of the beach, near some rocks out there. It is still clear out, milky way still pretty high above us, but getting lower and lower. As we approach the southern end, we are pretty free to explore the area and we split into little groups. I'm initially there with Alan, we climb up a rock, Alan nearly falls over whiles we are up the top. But the spot is not so interesting, as there is no foreground to shoot. The milky way is still up and beautiful, but after taking a few photos we can see clouds showing on our photos.
We come down from the spot and now I split off to climb another big rock - Alan, Fuzz, Grantis are all nearby somewhere, as I can see the light from their head torches and the LCD screen of the cameras. I'm in search for a spot to setup a time lapse.
I find a space to setup my time lapse camera - it's a pretty sweet spot I think, with a rock on the right hand side, the end of the beach on the left hand side and a slight elevated position showing the beach in between. As soon I finish my setup I look up and I start seeing dark patches of sky!! The clouds - it is covering a lot of the sky. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I thought maybe this would only be temporary and would look OK on the time lapse anyway, I set it and let the camera do it's thing.
I make my down from the rock, being careful to use my red light only, as I can see the others are shooting beside and behind me. It is pitch black, so I need some sort of marker to remember where I left my camera as well, in case the battery dies and I can't see the LCD screen - I remember a branch on the ground being nearby, use that as my marker.
I'm back on the beach now - make my around the rock I just climbed to the other side. I've got my other camera on hand - it's time to explore a little bit. But the clouds have set in for good, for most part there is cloud all over the galactic core of the milky way. I take in a few shots and some mini time lapses. I see the others are now shooting behind the big rock, Mars is visible - about to dip behind.
At this stage - we had spent almost 2 hours out there and with no signs of the clouds retreating, we called it a night. There was some awesome shots taken by Fuzz, Guillaume, Alan, James, definitely go check out their work. Alan got a nice glowing milky way photo behind those clouds. Although at end it didn't turn out to be greatest night out for milky way shooting, we made the most out of what we had.
This was not the first time I've been out star gazing, but yet again I was just so amazed by looking up at the sky seeing a billions and billions of stars, galaxies, planets, and other objects out there. And for a lot of people - they have not seen this, if you live in a urban area, you will not see the sky like this, all the light pollution around you just doesn't allow for it. Go out to a dark area, let your eyes adjust and it's amazing what you will see, I saw a couple of shooting stars that evening as well!
A Cloudy Way
Search for the milky way - Bethells Beach, Auckland, New Zealand kunalkumarphoto.com http://ift.tt/2a5cNQ5 fb.com/kksnap Music: http://ift.tt/1JeOXIs