An ad­ven­ture with Le­ica camera has di­rected a bunch of lux­ury trav­el­ers to new paths filled with lit­tle known won­ders of ru­ral New Zealand

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Sonja Pion­tek

Cen­tral Otago in au­tumn was quite the pho­tog­ra­pher s dream. The vi­brant colors that made for an in­cred­i­ble In­dian Sum­mer down in the South­ern Hemi­sphere blends per­fectly into the stun­ning scenery that New Zealand is so fa­mous for

We were re­cently in the South Is­land for a rather ex­clu­sive pho­tog­ra­phy tour of­fered by Le­ica cam­eras, and for an en­tire week we were spoiled with the most ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, un­ex­pected lo­ca­tions, and un­for­get­table mem­o­ries.

Our home for the first few nights was Mill­brook Re­sort, the ac­claimed lux­ury re­treat out­side Queen­stown, sur­rounded by the snow cov­ered peaks of the Crown Range and the re­sorts award win­ning 18 hole golf course.

Our first ad­ven­ture was an ex­cit­ing 4x4dr ive up the Ar­row River that took us from his­toric Ar­row­town to the ghost set­tle­ment of Mace­town, the heart of the leg­endary Otago gold rush. At its peak in 1862, over 1,500 gold min­ers worked in this re­mote alpine camp;s ome are said to have found qui te some luck. For our group of pas­sion­ate pho­tog­ra­phers, over 50 river cross­ings, steep climbs, deep gorges, glow­ing au­tumn colors and the vast­ness of this rather in­ac­ces­si­ble part of New Zealands South Is­land were just as good as gold.

The fol­low­ing day was fo­cused on horse­power of a much more re­fined na­ture. We were in­vited to the newly opened Queen­stown Polo Club. Owner and avid polo player Jonathan (Jono) Gabler had the vi­sion of bring­ing the thrilling sport to this part of the coun­try and was busy set­ting up qui te a club on his 86 hectare piece of par­adise. Although the first tour­na­ment will be played in Novem­ber this year, we were able to get a feel for the horses and the field. Our friend Quoc Trung, a cel­e­brated mu­sic pro­ducer from Viet­nam, loved the ride on his polo pony Van­cou­ver and later got into a nice horsy chat with Jono over a glass of cham­pagne. Life could cer­tainly be worse! To round off that event­ful day, we took the ca­ble car up to Sky­line where we en­joyed the sun­set over Lake Wakatipu, learned how to do a tra­di­tional Maori Haka, and had a sump­tu­ous din­ner be­fore head­ing back to our re­sort.

Jet­boats are one of NZs many in­ge­nious in­ven­tions and one of Queen­stowns most pop­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties so we clearly needed to join the fun. It was amaz­ing how fast those boats could go, how crazy fast and tight they could turn, and how much fun this was. But there was more to come.

Up into the air was the motto of the rest of the day as we soared into the sky. Equi pped with our cam­eras and all the right lenses, we set off on a spec­tac­u­lar chopper trip deep into the South­ern Alps. We took two he­li­copters so ev­ery­one could have a win­dow seat, and we could take cracker shots of each other fly­ing over the ma­jes­tic snow capped peaks.

Our first photo stop was Tyn­dall Glacier, a spec­tac­u­lar spot for some se­ri­ous show off shots in the snow. How of­ten do you land on top of a glacier with two he­li­copters and pic­ture per­fect snow after all? From Tyn­dall we flew to Loch Na­gar, a gloom­ing dark alpine lake sur­rounded by steep, rocky peaks. We ap­pre­ci­ated hav­ing pri­vate he­li­copters so we could stay un­til the last shot was in and we de­cided to move on. One fi­nal stop was the mys­te­ri­ous Earnslaw Burn where we did a shoot­ing right in front of a wa­ter­fall.

We drove to Cardrona Ho­tel where we spent the night. The small bou­tique hot el is an­other relic from the 1860s gold rush, and prob­a­bly has the most pho­tographed fa ade in New Zealand.

Next stop was St. Bathans, the leg­endary gold min­ing set­tle­ment that ap­peared frozen in time. The lit­tle town once hosted thou­sands of gold min­ers. It is said that over 80 tons of gold were found here. To­day, St. Bathans isnt much more than a few au­then­tic houses, the in­fa­mous Vul­can Ho­tel and the orig­i­nal prison cell. Much to our de­light, one of us was al­lowed to spend the night in prison (and yes, it can only be locked from out­side!) . Ev­ery­one else slept ei­ther in the Vul­can Ho­tel or shared a lit­tle cot­tage down the road. This was clearly not your nor­mal five star ac­com­mo­da­tion, but an ex­pe­ri­ence like no other. After a great meal, we com­pletely took over the bar. Jude, the owner of the Vul­can, showed Quang how to pour our own beer, and Trung worked the old Juke­box. We played pool against the

only two lo­cals in the pub, danced, sang, and even­tu­ally fell into our beds. If only we knew which room was said to be haunted. St. Bathans is qui te a re­mark­able place and one we would cer­tainly never for­get.

Back in Queen­stown, we checked into our Vil­las at Mill­brook again be­fore tak­ing off on board Queen­stowns icon, the TSS Earnslaw (built in 1912) . It was nice to cross the lake on such an old ves­sel, even more so as our group was al­lowed onto the bridge. We stopped at Wal­ter Peak Sta­tion for a sheep shear­ing demonstration and a bar­be­cue lunch. On the way back, we were qui te sur­prised to get spoiled with yet an­other treat. We had our own pri­vate speed­boat that al­lowed us to take stun­ning shots of the old lady as she crossed the lake. Thats what I call a be­spoke travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

After a week of un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences, money cant buy mo­ments, hun­dreds of mil­lion dol­lar shots, and new­found friends, this unique pho­tog­ra­phy tour came to an end. The mem­o­ries how­ever will stay. The photos will be trea­sured and shared. And New Zealand will be for­ever in our hearts.

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