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Photographer's Blog: Friday, May 27, 2022
Coastal South Australia
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Initially when planning this photography trip I had locations, distances and times of day all sorted for a big drive right through New South Wales. With nearly two weeks up our sleeves our boy and I were keen to set off. Then on the day we were due to depart the news was full of flood warnings. Major roads were closed and even whole regions inaccessible. Unwilling to let us head into danger my wife suggested we look elsewhere. The answer was simple enough, we would head west into South Australia instead. Massive drives and endless sunny days tend to be the norm in SA, making landscape photography a challenge, but we figured we would make the best of it.
Driving through the night we arrived at Port Elliot near Victor Harbor and did some nocturnal scouting, eventually settling on a composition overlooking Horseshoe Bay that looked very promising. As it turned out that morning the light did not play ball and it would take another two attempts at this location before being happy with the image. None-the-less, we had some enjoyable walks and there were a lot of seabirds which our boy had a fantastic time trying to photograph. Maybe it was the company or the nice weather, but the vibe of Port Elliot really felt good.
In the Adeliade region we found some potential sunset locations along the coast and a little waterfall up in the hills, proving that they do occasionally have rain afterall. However, with too many cloudless days forecast we decided instead to head onto the Yorke Peninsula and try some lighthouses. I'd been there a couple of times before and knew it was a big drive. Spending a whole day in the car, we eventually got to Innes National Park and arrived at Cape Spencer Lighthouse.
It is often said that when the weather turns bad the tourists head out and the landscape photographers head in. We had dark moody clouds underscored by warm sunlight, and sudden bursts of rain, but amazingly little to no wind creating the perfect conditions in which to shoot. Whilst there we also tried the West Cape Lighthouse, but with low cloud blocking the light I could not make a compelling image.
With the forecast socked in for days, we decided to continue west, so far west in fact that we almost left the state. Another massive drive later put us on the Eyre Peninsula and eventually the tiny township of Fowlers Bay came into view. As we approached, we were awestruck by the sheer size of the sand dunes which tower over the handful of buildings and a pier jutting out into the ocean. Sometimes you just know a great image can be made, and we had big smiles on our faces that day. The logistics of finding and capturing it however, proved to be considerable.
Our boy and I trekked across the dunes searching for compositions whilst being pelted with sand. Incredibly that was not as bad as it sounds. Although the devilish crystals got into everything, including our camera bags, the actual experience of being there with rivers of sand swirling around our feet was something to remember for years to come. Check out the extra wide (425 Megapixel) version of my Fowlers Bay photograph below, and imagine the sound of the wind and the sand swirling all around you.
Whilst I poured the sand out of my boots and cleaned our gear, the lad just had to have one last go, expending his youthful energy racing back up the tallest dune and madly chasing back down. Certainly, this location was the highlight of trip for us, but it was time to turn back east.
More driving through the night and we came to Murphys Haystacks, which is an unusual assortment of granite boulders that rises out of a farmer's paddock between Streaky Bay and Port Kenny on the Eyre Peninsula. We only had the one dawn here, but I was already familiar with it from a previous trip, so it was easy enough to remember my favourite compositions. The light was quite amazing, and, in the end, I could not choose between three versions of the scene. They each have something that appeals. Our luck, however, was about to take a drastic turn for the worse.
Driving away that morning my only six-year-old Subaru Forester suddenly decided it would display every warning light it could on the dashboard. Messages to check this and check that, cycled constantly and the vehicle itself began lurching strangely. I pulled over to consider what to do. There was no internet and no reception, but we were on a sealed road only a few minutes from a little seaside village, so I made the decision to try and drive there. The car quivered a bit, and again lit up its panels, but let us proceed.
At a servo I asked for assistance and was told Streaky Bay was my best bet, being only an hour away on a straight road, with no intersections. The car struggled to get moving, but then seemed happy at a moderate speed, and so it was that we edged into Streaky Bay with concern written over our faces and that photo trip high at an all time low.
Google Maps found me three mechanics all open. The first was too busy, the second lacking the skills to help, which lead us to the third who, diagnosed a failed automatic transmission and despite it being nearly Easter break, was able to order a used replacement from Adeliade, have it shipped over and install it for us. "She'll be right mate, no worries" he said. What a legend!
The downside of this exchange, however, was the largest bill for vehicle repairs I have ever had put in front of me, over $8000 AUD. (Had we opted for a new transmission it would have been significantly more and the part unavailable). I had fully expected the Subaru to last for decades much like the Toyota I'd had before it. This staggering expense and my disillusionment with the vehicle cast a real shadow over my thoughts. It had, until now, been my ticket to amazing and often remote wilderness regions. How could I trust our lives with it going forward?
For the next three days we stayed in Streaky Bay. We shot at the jetty each sunset and sunrise, but it was our very last evening in town that proved the most rewarding. In fact, we were all packed and ready to finally get back on the road with a now, hopefully, well-functioning car, but could not resist another sunset attempt.
A storm had been brewing most of the afternoon and chose the end of the day to break. By the time twilight had set in, there was a flurry of lightning strikes out at sea, just beyond the jetty. Whilst delighted onlookers exclaimed excitedly or ran for cover, we kept shooting over and over hoping to capture a strike on camera.
I composed for the jetty, and just crossed my fingers the lightning would play ball and land somewhere appropriate. Amazingly it worked. Out of dozens of failed frames, one had captured the biggest and closest strike positioned perfectly right at the end of the pier. Moments later the rain hit. We had seconds to grab gear and run for the relative safety of the shop fronts. What an experience to end our stay in Streaky Bay.
With only a few days left we made a brief visit to the Flinders Ranges, barely having enough time to reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. With the usual zero cloud forecast we headed to Hucks Lookout knowing it would deliver an accessible view that would catch the dawn. As it was, we were not disappointed with the first light of a new day painting the distant mountains.
Cloudlessness was not to be avoided, so we gave up on the Flinders Ranges. On the way out, Point Lowly Lighthouse proved to be a good sunrise scene. Having tried it before I had a spot picked out, so it was just a question of waiting for the light. Then back towards Adeliade we tried shooting sunset at a pier, but the place was overrun with people as we should have expected. SA has such vast expanses of nothing that it is easy to forget that crowds can still be an issue at times.
We drove out via Port Elliot and that is when out third attempt at this scene proved successful. Buoyed by the experience, we made for Robe, and managed a sunset there, but somehow, I stuffed it up. Torn between two compositions I kept swapping cameras and relocating my tripod and missed the best light in the process. You would think that after all these years as landscape photographer I would learn, but apparently not.
Another big drive and we were home bringing us big hugs, lots of unpacking and a very welcome chance to be showered and clean. It has now been a month or more since we returned, and all the images have been processed. When I look back at the series and reflect upon the trip, I have a real sense of satisfaction. There are some great shots here, with plenty of detail for wall sized prints, so I am happy with the outcome. More importantly I feel lucky to have been able to make the trip at all and to have shared all those wonderful experiences with our boy. He is growing up so fast!
So that is it for this blog. As ever thanks for reading and a special thanks to all those who continue to purchase my work, your support is truly appreciated.