That evening – the previous morning in the UK – Jamie phoned to ask how she was; where she was up to with her photographic tour; and to tell her how much he was missing her. She asked him about his family and for any news about the shop. He told her that all was well at home and that two of the current month’s magazines contained nice articles about her. She said that she was missing him too and that she was more than halfway through her scheduled route.
Her final chore for the night was to make sure that everything that was rechargeable would be recharging overnight – her next overnight stay would be a non-powered site.
Mount Cook – Aoraki
Mel awoke the next day to glorious sunshine, a light breeze and Spring warmth. After a leisurely breakfast, she prepared a packed lunch and set off on her way to Mount Cook using the road northwards beside Lake Pukaki. She began by taking some photos from the car park for Lake Pukaki where she’d been prevented by rain from doing so the previous day.
There were several stopping points along some of the straight stretches of the road to Mount Cook where she was able to take great images across the lake. One of the best of these stopping points was Peter’s Lookout where she was able to use the winding road as a great leading line along the lake towards Mount Cook.
Because she didn’t want to arrive late at the Whitehorse Hill campsite that she’d booked, she ignored some of the online suggestions about Sealy Tarns, the Mueller Hut and Mount Ollivier. She opted instead to park at the campsite car park and hike the Hooker Valley track from there. This was almost seven miles there-and-back and included three river crossings with suspension rope bridges. These were spectacular in their own right. Mel felt that she’d made the best choice as she came across some beautiful locations along the way including views of the amazing Hooker Lake and Mount Sefton.
One of the reasons that she’d chosen to camp overnight was to try to get a sharp starry night shot across Mount Cook. The site was located a couple of miles from Mount Cook Village. It had great views across to Mount Sefton and, looking across in the direction that she’d hiked earlier, of the Mount Cook Range across its East Ridge. There were also flush toilets and a huge dining/kitchen area.
The weather conditions were great in one respect – it was the beginning of the New-Moon period so there would be no moonlight to contend with – in pitch blackness, getting sharp, point images of stars would be easy, especially with the current lack of appreciable cloud cover. On the other hand, there would be no moonlight to illuminate Mount Cook as the foreground subject.
Just outside the campsite, there was a place where she’d be able to get an amazing view of the mountain from the middle of the road. At that time of night, there would be hardly any traffic passing, and she could stay at the roadside just long enough to take some sunset and some early blue hour photos without any need to stay in the road-centre.
Scouting the area, for her starry sky shots, she decided that she’d need to find somewhere on the campsite itself – but somewhere shaded from lights being used by other campers. She noticed a mound in the campsite grounds, where she could get her static shots from. She could spend the remainder of the blue hour until pitch darkness there. It was a spot where she could stay with her camera in a fixed position on her tripod, and, with luck, it would be a position where she was unlikely to be disturbed for ninety-minutes or so. Sunset would be shortly after nine-fifteen, but total darkness wouldn’t be until close to midnight.
The other matter of concern was her personal safety. The total darkness of New-Moon was the other factor dictating that she’d need to be somewhere close to other campers. She clipped her attack-alarm to her belt. Even given a lack of moonlight there would be other campers within earshot.
She managed to take her sunset and blue-hour photos without any problems – only two cars passed during the hour she was there. Once she’d returned to the site, she parked the van and took her full-frame camera, tripod, some cleaning gear, her headtorch and a flask of coffee with her to the dark place she’d chosen earlier across the way. She also took a folding chair.
She was warmly dressed when she set up her tripod and focused on the brightest of the early stars she could see – taking and previewing test shots until she was totally satisfied. Once that was done, she locked the focus on her lens and took a shot of the mountain. It stood tall and proud between a Vee of intervening peaks. That shot would be her foreground in case she later needed to create a composite image later. She then changed to manual mode and set her lens to be wide-open, to gather the maximum light that would be possible in the dark. She then opted for a usable sensitivity. Her only setting from then on would be her shutter speed. Because of the Earth’s rotation, stars appear to move across the night sky in such a way that an exposure of any longer than twenty-five seconds would result in streaky – not point – stars.
At around twenty minutes before midnight, Mel took her final capture. She’d taken about a dozen more before that, at different stages of nightfall, checking for sharpness on her preview screen each time. It was as she was returning her gear to her backpack that she heard footsteps approaching. She froze, hoping that whoever it was hadn’t noticed her.
Unfortunately, he – it was a man – had seen her.
‘Well, hi there!’ he called. His accent was a mix of American or Canadian and Irish. ‘I saw the light from your head torch earlier and wondered who else was awake at this time.’
Mel didn’t reply, hoping that her silence would let him know that his presence was unwelcome.
‘My name’s Sean,’ he told her, ‘What are you doing out here in the dark? Do you mind me asking?’
‘I’m getting ready to go back to my van,’ she replied, and continued with finishing her packing. Everything was now stored except for her chair, her flask and her tripod. She picked up the tripod, thinking that it would make a useful weapon if it were needed.
‘I guess I can see why you’re here,’ he said. ‘You been taking photos of Aoraki? With that snow showing up so bright I guess it’d make a good picture.’
She didn’t respond.
‘You’re not very sociable are you,’ he said moving a bit closer. He was now about three metres – ten feet away. ‘From your voice I bet you’re English. You’re a long way from home. Are you on your own here?’
‘Look,’ she said, ‘It’s late. I don’t know you and I don’t feel comfortable with you approaching me and asking me all these questions. Please go away, back to your van or your tent and leave me alone.’
‘Well now,’ he said, moving closer, ‘That’s not very sociable. What if I don’t choose to leave?’
Mel moved her hand to the alarm on her belt loop and pulled the pin. Immediately the site was filled by a 140-decibel scream.
‘Shit!’ the man said, ‘Why the fuck did you have to do that. I was only trying to be friendly.’
He started to move away, but by this time, lights were going on everywhere around and there were people approaching to find out what was happening. The man held his arms up in truce mode as some burly campers got nearer.
Mel switched off the alarm and switched her headtorch back on – so that she could be seen and so that she would be better able to identify the man later. He was now surrounded.
‘Listen,’ he said, ‘she’s crazy. I saw she was alone and was just being friendly and offering some company.’
Mel stood, shaking, with her arms folded. A couple of women had come up to her to ask if she were all right. Another man pushed through the crowd, identifying himself as the Park Ranger. He asked the man for identification and the details of his van. The Ranger and the women then escorted Mel away to ask her what had happened. One of them carried her chair and tripod.
She was able to confirm that the man had not actually touched her before she’d set off her alarm, but that his menacing manner and refusal to leave had frightened her.
The Ranger told her that she’d done the right thing and praised her for taking the precaution of wearing the alarm. He asked Mel what she wanted to do about what had happened – if she wanted to report the matter to the police.
‘I’ve been thinking about that while we’ve been talking,’ she said. If I report him, I’ll have to go into Queenstown and, if they charge him, I’d have to cancel the remainder of my itinerary and stay in the island to give evidence.’
‘I doubt that they’d charge him,’ the Ranger said, but the threat of you reporting him hanging over him might give him a real scare.’
‘Listen,’ she told him, ‘Thanks for your help and suggestions. However, I’m sure that getting this incident reported isn’t something that you want either. It won’t help the camp’s image if it gets a reputation for being unsafe for woman.’
‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘Do you want to leave it at that then?’
She said that all she wanted now was to feel safe and to get some sleep.
One of the women had brought a flask top filled with tea and milk.
‘You’re still trembling, love,’ the middle-aged woman said in a northern English accent. ‘Drink this – and keep your alarm next to you when you sleep, but I really don’t think that you’ll get any more trouble now.’
The Ranger asked when Mel would be leaving – she told him that it would be the following morning.
He asked what her plans were and said that he hoped that she’d enjoy the rest of her stay in New Zealand. She thanked him for his assistance. He left, but some of the women stayed to make sure that Mel was properly recovered from her shock.
By the time she got herself and her kit stowed for the night, it was turned one in the morning. She realised what time it would be at home – early afternoon – so she phoned her mum and then Jamie. She’d decided not to tell them about her exciting – if terrifying adventure, but she needed the comfort of hearing their voices. She wished that Jamie had been with her.
When she lay on her bed later, it was a long time before she could find the comfort of sleep.
She thought back to what she’d said to Jamie when he’d proposed. On reflection, her words came across to her as having been arrogant. “What the Hell was I thinking?” she asked herself. “Talk about airs and graces!” The more she thought about it, the more she realised that he was the perfect partner for her. The barriers that she’d constructed around herself against men had kept her from fully recognising Jamie’s virtues. Yes, he had faults, but so had she. She re-evaluated her antagonism to marriage. All of a sudden, the security it offered seemed more valuable than she’d ever been prepared to credit.
She wondered whether he’d still have wanted her if she’d been raped – worse still if she’d become pregnant as a result. She realised how shocked her parents would have been. As for Tony and Lucy, would they have seen her as reckless and her judgement as being poor.
She wondered how, or if, she’d ever have recovered mentally from such an experience. Lying there, she wondered whether she was really prepared for the Milford trip.
Poor Jamie, she realised, would be hoping to put together a proposal that she would accept – unless he’d decided that she was a hopeless case and had already found someone less demanding – someone like Arabella, Fiona or that Belinda they’d mentioned.
“Oh, God!” she thought, “I really hope that he hasn’t done that.”
She berated herself, unable to sleep for hours – sometimes in tears – worrying that he was okay; that he wasn’t worrying; that he still loved her enough to wish to marry her.
Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.
The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday.
For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/11, focal length 26 mm, and ISO 400.