Kauri Park – The magical powers of high-visibility vests
The second part of this project takes us out of the nursery and around the North Island of New Zealand with the objective of capturing some of Kauri Park’s massive planting projects throughout the country. Apart from a road trip with great company, I got to take pictures strapped to a helicopter and visited New Zealand’s most classy golf course. Along the way an orange high-visibility vest became my greatest wild card …
This story is published in two parts:
Being New Zealand’s biggest producer of native plants, there were lots of projects to choose from throughout the country. I soon realized, that there weren’t many plants between Auckland and Wellington along State Highway 1 that had not come from Kauri Park at some point. A quite impressive fact, that can only be understood by driving past hundreds of kilometers of native regrowth!
With Terry Wearmouth I had phenomenal company and knowledge by my side throughout the trip. Being one of the brothers running the family business, he knew everything about the plantings and had many interesting stories to share. Photographing public and private planting projects often meant making unpleasant subjects like a fuel station or the supermarket’s parking lot look nice. A challenge that was not always easy, but made me realize that even in places where you would normally never even stop to take a picture, you can almost always find a nice perspective if you just look hard enough.
When taking pictures on or near active construction sides or next to the main highway, you’re almost certain to run into trouble. Putting on a classical high-visibility vest (sometimes in combination with a hard hat) seems to make you almost invisible. Never throughout the whole trip has anyone doubted the legitimacy of my doings. Be it taking pictures on the side of the highway, wandering through construction sides or flying the drone in the middle of Auckland: The orange vest is your best friend and makes you look official. I quickly realized “the amount of doors” this little piece of clothing can open up for city photographers. Conspicuously inconspicuous is the name of the game here!
While we had a couple of projects to shoot around Hamilton, one of New Zealand’s fastest growing urban areas, I was accommodated in a nice motel in the center of town. Projects in the area included the Hamilton Ring Road, the cities most important transport arterial, and new suburban sections with massive wetlands amidst private houses. A very interesting concept of reintroducing natural elements into urban living, while keeping the environment clean. Having the drone with me was invaluable and made it possible to capture these projects in a way that I couldn’t have from the ground.
While I was back in the nursery for a few days of editing, I took up on a chance to accompany the nurseries own seed collector on a trip to Northland’s rough west coast. Showing the remoteness of the landscape and the traditional approach to collecting seed by hand were the most important messages I was trying to deliver through my images in that series.
In contrast to the seed-collecting trip, I was headed to Central Auckland the next day, to photograph some of the more iconic planting projects within the city. The Waterview Connection pictured below is one of New Zealand’s most important infrastructural developments ever. Not surprisingly, Kauri Park’s plants had found their way into the fresh mulch alongside this massive roading project. Once more an approach without the drone was almost impossible to imagine and I had to realize how much I would miss having a drone after this project.
In my last two days on the project I got to take pictures of two very unique planting projects. The first one was Rotoroa Island, east of the more famous Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. After being purchased for £400 in 1908 by the Salvation Army, the island was used as an alcohol and drug rehabilitation site until 2005. By the time it was completely covered in foreign pine trees. Since then the island has undergone an unbelievable transformation, guarded by the Rotoroa Island Trust, to restore over 400,000 native plants and reintroduce native species in need of care and sanctuary.
After seeing some old photographs of the early days of the project, I instantly had the idea of recapturing the exact same perspectives to visualize the transformation that had taken place in only a few years. After being dropped off onto the island by helicopter, we went ahead on our mission of finding the scenes from the old images. It was a challenging but fun endeavor and took up most of our time on the island. In postproduction I went ahead and tried to align the before and after images as much as possible to one another. I’m very happy with the generated effect and can share some of the images here:
To round things off I got to use the helicopter for half an hour to take pictures from the air. I was safely attached to the inside of the helicopter with a climbing harness and we left one of the doors behind to enable me to stick my neck out the side of the helicopter. My neck is really an understatement in this case, as I was able to stand on the skids outside of the helicopter and lean into the void with my full weight. Being able to fly over the island and direct the pilot in any direction was surely one of the highlights of the whole project for me.
The last project on the list was definitely another vey special one. For a long time it was uncertain if we would even be able to get access to the Tara Iti Golf Course, which is being kept a great secret to the public. Being an invite only golf club with an allegedly six-figure membership fee, hidden within sand dunes and pine trees near Mangawhai, the project seemed to be a very interesting one. When I was finally on my way to the location to catch the sunrise, I was only slightly surprised to get lost. There are no signs towards the golf club and the entrance road doesn’t even have a name. Clearly they don’t want people ending up here randomly. Inside the gates I quickly found my way to the clubhouse. In the heart of the golf course, the building has a great view in all directions. The course nestles its perfectly green lawns almost naturally into the sand dunes surrounding the clubhouse. The eye is then guided towards the beautiful coastline in the background, with the iconic Hen and Chicks islands on the horizon. I don’t know much about golf, but it was becoming clear to me, that I was looking at one of the most beautiful courses in the world.
After three weeks in the project, I had taken well over 2000 images for Kauri Park. Myself as well as my client were happy about the outcome and it was a great experience for me to see what future commissioned projects could potentially be like. To my great surprise I was presented with a brand new DJI Mavic drone as a thank-you gift. My joy in flying the drone had obviously been noticed by Terry while traveling around the country together.
I want to thank Terry and the whole team at Kauri Park for everything. I hope to see you again in the future. I had a great time working with everybody!