Arthurs Pass- Devils Punchbowl


Te Tautea o Hinekakai

Waterfall adventures go something like this, at home in Queenstown we can meander to Sam Summers Hut and waterfall on the Mt Crichton Loop Track with relative ease or explore by short 4WD to the deep forest falls of the Lower Wye Creek Track south of the Remarkables.   


But the artists tale goes...over the last two weeks we had visited these, setting aside time for long exposure work layering on the learning from previous visits to the Catlins this autumn. As professional photographers to practice our craft outside of work time in order to develop our own style and perspective  is vital we think. And so it was Devil’s Punchbowl up in Arthurs Pass that had been our holy grail for some time. Because here the beauty of the beech and the waterfall are blended in composition. And composition through the lens was where I was preoccupied. 


Let me explain as part of our research in conservation and sustainability, we have recently been shooting a lot of Beech trees and identifying what we love about the three Beech species that are prevalent in the South Island here in New Zealand. The mountain beech has a form which speaks on a spiritual level as we adore their horizontal simplicity and black branches which present to the sun and prevailing light passively absorbing and standing still. Devil’s Punchbowl is surrounded by mountain beeches. Typically when you see photographs of it the angle of a single beech branch casting across the vertical lines of the waterfall is the most observed angle.

From our point of interest as landscape photographers we arrive with preconceived plans on which lens we will use. I had an idea to shoot this with my macro lens to focus on that branch and shape. I’m studying at the moment also and am focusing on three specific landscape photography Auteurs; Aberhart, Apis and Adams each inspiring me respectively with their passion for their chosen environments. Repeatedly capturing what was unique for them and shaping their narrative using their chosen scapes. I admire the drama and detail of Adams work, and his affection for this detail as it is gently imparted and shared, with such technical precision. I have seen Aberharts work in exhibitions over time. I appreciate his record of our history. I grapple with some of the choices he makes to shoot within a marae particularly of portraits of the deceased. Though I understand that he has a deep respect for how and why he does this.  I looked at water as it flows through rocks and the river through Arthurs Pass and played with the ISO and focus using my macro lens to create the ethereal effects of long exposure over the large river boulders with Apis in my thoughts and his love of atmospheric effect to convey the beauty of the flow. So to follow we climbed the many steps to the Devil’s Punchbowl, tripod and dry cloth packed to keep waterfall spray from affecting my lens. I retained a low ISO and set my long exposure. I realized very quickly that Beech being a living species change shape and my first reaction was that this single branch I had observed in other shots of this place was no longer a form to capture as over the summer smaller branches had grown and filled this lone shape. So I stood and observed what was special about this place to me. Again I found my focus was the water. The size of this waterfall attracts your eye to the flow of the water. I look at water in a sustainable form. Aberhart talks of capturing what isn't in his image, what can you see that is absent or wanting. I look at water in that sense. I work in an environment that constantly challenges how we treat our water. I respect water as a life force that we need, as I read of the Maori name for this waterfall meaning 'Weaving Waters" I look at what is needed to sustain this place. I observed the native forest, particularly the Beech but also the Mountain Flax, whose long white threads resemble the intertwining threads of the white water and were used to weave fine garments and mats, and more recent the small seedlings of Lancewood. The flax was soaked in the water in order to soften it. I looked at the falls, and using the tripod stood and shot many bracketed images. I focused on the water as an action as a flow. On processing this image in lightroom I altered the darks to bring some detail into the beech as the sun was behind the falls on this morning autumn day. I feel I convey the story of this place. But to truly understand this place as it is currently used we encourage a visit. At present the track is closed for maintenance but will re-open in the Spring. 

My thoughts return to Sam Summers and how he sustained his hut built with his father for ten years of prospecting initially next to the Mt Crichton Falls as a place to retreat to and take his young siblings even after his return from war. If you’d like to join us for our  Road to Glenorchy Photography Tour as always with any questions or just book directly online- follow the link on our website. We will show you how the right lens choice can project you direct and centre into one of our breathtaking waterfall landscapes.