A couple of weekends ago our camera club went for a drive to Nenthorn, an old town from the goldmining heydays. We’re lucky enough to have a member who knows the area – and history – like the back of his hand, and he put together an informative tour for us. It was a real treat for me as I hadn’t managed to explore the rugged terrain of inland East Otago before this, and was curious about the landscape.

Kāhu/Swamp Harrier, Native

The great benefit of being the passenger, and not the driver, is that I could take photos out of the car window! There were plenty of images to delete afterwards, but even though the quality isn’t fantastic I am still really pleased with this photo. There were many kāhu (swamp harrier) around, and with these ancient rocks and hardy flora it created a real Middle Earth feel. I love the tussocks and ferns in this image, framing the bird, and the stormy clouds coming in from the left of the image.

We get kāhu around our place, too. They’re one of the few native birds who have benefited from our agricultural landscapes as clearing the land makes it easier for them to hunt. While they do sometimes hunt domestic stock like chickens, they also predate introduced pests such as mice, rats and rabbits.

Common Copper, Pepe para riki, Endemic

As we drove past snow tussock, I noticed little spots of orange and realised they were copper butterflies! I had only rarely seen copper butterflies before (though we are now blessed to have at least one frequenting our orchard meadow) so I was eager to get some photos. It was also a great opportunity to take advantage of switching to a mirrorless camera with an option for silent shooting, and much more advanced autofocus than my entry level DSLR. I am sure the butterflies appreciated being photographed without the sound of a machine gun-like click going off.

Ruins of St. Bathan’s Hotel, Nenthorn

The now abandoned town of Nenthorn was only in existence for a few years in the late 1800s. Above are the remnants of St. Bathan’s Hotel, on what was the mainstreet of Nenthorn. It was a town built on promises of gold that never quite panned out… rumour has it the hotel was burnt down by the owner so he could claim insurance, though it was never proven (and he did get his £300 claim). The ruins of this hotel are all that is left of the town.

We stopped here for a lunch break, and one of our cars got stuck in the mud – took us a while to get back on track but we did manage it, whew! It was quite a surreal feeling to be standing in what felt like the middle of nowhere, knowing that at one point there was a thriving town around us. I’ve included a map of the township below to give an indication of historical scale.

Map of Nenthorn, 1889. Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright reserved.

Now the stone ruins stand on conservation land, with snow tussock to provide safe habitat for the endangered Otago skink, and a rugged landscape that feels so far from civilisation. We didn’t spot any of the skinks, but there was plenty of other wildlife to keep me occupied! My favourite, of course, were the copper butterflies, but I was also quite intrigued by this chafer beetle which to me brought about images of scarab beetles associated with ancient Egyptian culture.

While in some ways a classic portrait shot is unoriginal, I still think it has a place. Portraits are made of people we love, or admire, or have some kind of importance in our lives. Taking portraits of our little winged friends is a way for me to say, hey – you’re important.

Common Copper, Pepe para riki, Endemic

My favourite image of the day was this copper butterfly. There’s so much character! I spent a lot of money on my new gear and (especially during this recession/cost of living crisis period) seeing photos like this one absolutely justifies my purchase. The butterfly I was photographing didn’t flinch at all, armed with silent shutter mode and a 300mm lens, so not only do I get better images more easily but I am also being less of a nuisance to the animals who kindly let me photograph them.

As an aside, there’s still a lot we don’t know about our little copper butterflies (they only grow up to 33mm, a little over an inch) and the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust is working on identifying and naming each of our copper butterflies. You can read more about the Butterfly Discovery Project here.

It feels naive now, looking back, but I didn’t know much about our moths and butterflies beyond the kahuku (monarch) and the cabbage white. There are so many moths and butterflies and they have become a bit of an obsession! It’s hard to find much out about them, though, so it’s fantastic to see the trust invest in this work.

Through the window: Ruins of St. Bathan’s Hotel, Nenthorn

If you’re interested in learning more, the Whitestone Geopark website has a brief history and directions for how to get there. You can read the information about Nenthorn here.

Exploring Waitaki: Nenthorn