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Holy Grail | Ivory Lake Hut

Should photographers promote the wilderness?

This to-die-for destination is a three-act drama: the glacier, the lake, and the hut.

Erected in 1970 for meteorological research, the hut is perched precariously on a prime piece of real estate above the headwaters of the wild Waitaha River. This six-bunker – with its quirky lean-to workshop – squats above its namesake lake, a milky viridian circle cradled in an alpine amphitheatre. Beyond, a remnant glacier crumbles over a cliff into the cirque, a shadow of its former self. This retreating puddle of ice is a sure sign of climate change.

Here is a fragile ecosystem which, until recently, was guarded by its extremely rugged location and the intense rainfall of this region. Access up the Waitaha valley is impeded by three notorious gorges. The sections of track are choked with hook grass, cutty grass and speargrass, making progress a slow grind. Alternative access includes exposed ridge traverses and tricky navigation.

There’s a delicate balance between over-promoting our wilderness regions, or leaving them alone with no human footprint. As a landscape photographer, I wish to record and share the beauty of our wild places. I want others to enjoy the alpine ambience and spectacular scenery in the hope they too will become respectful caretakers of our conservation estate.

A number of magazine articles and a TV series have featured Ivory Lake Hut. So, inevitably, the visitor book here is filling up faster than the glacier is shrinking.

Perhaps, one should earn the ‘right’ to reach such iconic locations, in an immersive mode such as hiking – not in a fleeting helicopter visit. Indeed, the hut at Ivory Lake is remembered fondly by those hardy souls who have toiled up the fearsome ravines and leapt over house-sized boulders; whose flesh has been torn by wild spaniards … to finally attain the safety and shelter of her hallowed walls. The greater the effort, the greater the reward.

Warren Chinn has the final word:

‘The Ivory belongs to the kea, the wind, the rain and the snow; to the natural processes that carve the rock and shape the land. For our part we need to know when we are no longer welcome in such places, and to make sure that we provide wilderness to those who need it.’

Camera Settings: Canon EOS 5D MkIII | 17mm | f/4 | 60 second exposures | ISO 800


To really get a feel for the trials and triumphs of the tramping photographer... this photography mission on YouTube, and turn up the sound: EPISODE FIVE | Wild Camping on Mt Stokes.

Or follow along with Ray as he processes his best images in Photoshop. Enroll in his landscape masterclass, LOCATIONZ where you can fast-track your own photography journey, saving years of mucking around.

Keywords: landscape photography south island nz, new zealand landscape photography, wilderness camping, wild camping nz, wilderness camping nz, freedom camping nz, wild camping south island nz, free camping new zealand, ivory lake hut, doc, waitaha

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