June 14th was a day I’ll remember for a long time. My hosts at Waitomo Caves B&B recommended a new tour, Green Glow Eco-Adventures, which offered a low introductory price. It sounded good: small, personalized tours with a guide who is himself focused on photography (no pun intended).
My tour with Paul was even better than expected! For $100/person (or $200 if your tour group numbers one), you can pick and choose among rock climbing, abseiling (rappelling), and caving, with as many photo-stops thrown in as you like. Maximum group size is four! I really enjoyed the 30m abseils, and we stopped to take a lot of photos.
The couple with me (in our tour group of three) was very patient on the photo stops, but they were rewarded with a few shots like this:
To get decent shots in a cave, you must use off-camera flash, but I didn’t bring mine on the pack-light RTW trip. Off-camera flash means one or two remote flashguns (preferably two), triggered manually or via remote. The built-in flash is not ideal and lights the scenes pretty badly. Paul had two off-camera flashes that we used to get fantastic lighting in the caves.
Here’s a back-lit photo:
Now an example of what you can do with two strobes. This was a long exposure (13s), but was only lit up for a few microseconds (twice) when Paul manually fired the flashguns.
Here’s a shot of glowworms, a combination of Paul’s and my ideas: I suggested to paint the bottom half of the photo with the headlamp. Paul wisely has the idea to put people in most of the photos, otherwise there’s no sense of scale to show how BIG the cave is.
Speaking of glowworms, here’s another combination idea. This was a 30 second exposure at ISO 3200, with a flash to one side on very low power (in the case of this non-adjustable flash, muted by two layers of white cloth).
One final cave shot, a close-up with my trusty Canon SD1000 pocket camera. This shows all the stages of glowworm life: the sticky threads that the worm used to catch flies to eat, the cocoon (now empty) from which it emerged to mate, and the orange eggs that it laid – which will eventually hatch into new glowworms.
Last but not least: a photo of the last abseil we did, on a face where Paul has also set up quite a few rock climbing routes. As I remember this abseil was over 30 meters.
If you’re traveling around New Zealand’s North Island, Paul’s adventure is one full-day activity you have to try near Waitomo. It blows away the touristy “official” Waitomo Caves (Glowworm, Ruakuri, Aranui). If you go before September 2010 you’ll still get the introductory rate, but even once the rate has gone up to $180, this tour is a bargain. For the duration (up to six hours!), the small group size, and the personal care you get, I’d expect it to cost >$300!
This tour ties for first place on my trip so far, equaling the Amazon tour at Explorer’s Inn in Peru. Anyone else who’s ever been on one of Paul’s tours at Green Glow, drop me a line here and let me know how you liked it! I’d love to see some other photos taken on some of his tours (Flickr, anyone?).