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Sunset over Queenstown

Sunset over Queenstown
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Date:
Location:
Country:
Latitude:
Longitude:
Altitude:
27 February 2017
Queenstown
New Zealand
45°01'35"S
168°38'58"E
790m ASL
Google Maps Link
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

MY FAVOURITE sunsets are those viewed at altitude in mountainous precincts where the setting sun filters through a thin layer of alto stratus cloud.

Road to Queenstown

Road to Queenstown

Following a couple of days in Milford Sound, I had just arrived in Queenstown following the long highway. The sun had already gone down behind the hills when I had checked into the hotel.

The Remarkables

The Remarkables

I will be heading home tomorrow morning, so only had this evening to quickly explore the adventure capital of New Zealand. With most attractions already closed, there was one obvious choice of what to do this evening.

I headed up the hill a couple of blocks from the town centre. A steep hill forested in pine trees ascended dramatically from the town. A narrow strip was cleared through the forest. A cable carrying gondolas rose up the steep hill towards a large building at the top.

The gondola

The gondola

It was serviced by a small building at the bottom where I bought a ticket and climbed into one of the small gondolas ready to head up the steep hill.

Gondola entrance

Gondola entrance

Slowly swinging around the car caught the main cable heading swiftly out of the building and starting the long climb uphill.

Gondolas

Gondolas

Quickly The Remarkables mountain range appeared behind the town. The tiny cabin I was riding in quickly rose past rocky outcrops as the pine forest on either side clung tightly on the surprisingly steep slope.

Looking below the town spread out over the low rolling hills at the edge of Lake Wakatipu. The very steep hill only became steeper as the car rose towards a building perched at the edge of the cliff on top of the mountain.

Steep hillside

Steep hillside

Finally, the tiny gondola reached near the level of the large building standing on stilts and entered the rotating landing area at the top.

I climbed out of the carriage rather clumsily still a little stiff from completing the Milford Track two days ago. Once back on solid ground I walked through the entrance passing a restaurant and heading upstairs to the observation deck.

View from the top

View from the top

The deck was quite crowded with lots of people having the same idea as me being up here to watch what will hopefully be a spectacular sunset.

A thin layer of alto stratus cloud had built up behind the mountains on the other side of the platform, preventing the low sun from shining through. Some cloud had filtered over the mountains and were already starting to show the colours of the anticipation of sunset.

Queenstown and the Remarkables

Queenstown and the Remarkables

Looking below me in the enormous distance the gondola had taken me up, Queenstown spread out in the valley and low hills surrounding Lake Wakatipu, an ancient glacial lake that had carved its way through the valley across the jagged escarpment of The Remarkables turning to the south to end at Kingston hidden in view behind the mountains on the other side of the lake.

The lake itself is fascinating. It is over four hundred metres deep and being one of the few lakes in the world with a resonant wave, where the tide rises and falls about twenty centimetres every fourteen minutes.

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

A mountain range followed the far side of the lake. Most of the mountains were about the same height, but several rocky peaks created spectacular monolithic landmarks framing the other side of the lake under the cloud pattern.

The valley was already growing dark, with the clouds now bright and splitting the colours overhead. The clouds were thin, so there was definitely the opportunity for the sun to filter through them over the coming half hour to produce a glorious sunset. Fingers crossed.

The lake

The lake

The sun did shine through a small gap between the layers of cloud. It would have still been clear out over the Tasman Sea. A line of cold red sunlight streaked across some of the lower slopes of The Remarkables and across the top of Deer Park Heights, a large domed grassy hill in front of the mountains on the other side of an arm of the lake where it drained through a dramatic gorge forming one of the main branches of the Clutha River. Either side of the channel had a small peninsula jutting out into the lake.

Over the following minutes more of the sunshine broke through brightly illuminating much of the Remarkables. The town itself remained cast under the shadow of the low mountain I was atop.

Last sunlight on The Remarkables

Last sunlight on The Remarkables

By now some of the crowd had gone but a few more photographers had joined me. Some of them had tripods. Now I was starting to wish I had my tripod up here, but they were awkward to manage here on the crowded platform with no real space for them. Fortunately, I do have a steady hand as it gets dark I'll need to crank up the ISO. Fortunately most of the landscape was quite some distance away, so I'll also be able to get away with a wide aperture.

The clouds around the mountains were going interesting shades of magenta and orange. The lake was going a deep blue interrupted only by the occasional streak behind a speed boat, but even they were heading back to port for the night.

Looking towards Kingston

Looking towards Kingston

The shadow of the mountains had already climbed up most of the way up The Remarkables. Just a thin band of magenta crossed the tops of the jagged peaks leaving the deeply scarred gullies below them washed out in the grey purple shadow quickly climbing to absorb the mountains.

Looking back up the lake towards where the sun was setting, there was a bright layer of yellow crossing the sky, but the sun itself was hidden, most likely behind the hill where the building stood.

The mountains on the other side now had enough light and shade definition for me to notice a couple of deep valleys between the mountains.

Towards Coronet Peak

Towards Coronet Peak

Looking to the north I could see the small triangle on top of the large dome of Coronet Peak, one of the main ski fields. There was no snow on the mountain, or on any of the mountains around here for that matter, but with autumn quickly approaching, plenty of snow will begin falling here in the coming months.

The clouds were becoming more magenta, with grey areas where the sunlight was washing out. The highest peak on The Remarkables was still tipped with the faint red wash of sunlight. It was the only summit still seeing the sun.

Glowing clouds

Glowing clouds

The clouds were beginning their brilliant light show of the sunset. It was going to be good tonight. The colours now reflected in the lake, with some parts mostly calm and other parts ruffled by the gentle breeze blowing across sections of it. Narrow streaks were appearing along channels of the lake as if the wind was dancing over its surface.

Falling dusk

Falling dusk

The wind was fairly moderate and cold up here, with the temperature now quickly dropping in preparation for the typically cold New Zealand nights, especially around here in the southern outposts of the country.

Queenstown

Queenstown

The cloud seemed to be thinning, but what remained was now brilliantly coloured in the fires of the sunset whilst the darkening silhouettes of the mountains and lake were preparing to go to sleep.

Brilliant clouds

Brilliant clouds

The setting sun was now penetrating the bottom of the cloud layer highlighting it in the most brilliant orange colour in stark contrast to the purple grey colours of the upper thin layer under the sky still blue.

Colorful dusk

Colorful dusk

Here at around latitude 45 degrees south the dawn and evening twilights are long, much longer than the short twilights of the subtropics where I now live. These latitudes have the advantage of delivering much longer timespans to make the most of and capture the sunsets dragging long into the evening.

Spectacular clouds

Spectacular clouds

The colours of the alto stratus clouds were very vibrant towards the setting sun, whereas looking to the east the palette was a more subdued pastel range.

Mountain silhouette

Mountain silhouette

The gondola was still going with the small cars on their perpetual climb up and down the mountain effortlessly on their cable loop. Not many people were going up now, probably more were heading down. Those of us still keen were still up here making the most of this very dramatic sunset.

Perpetual gondola

Perpetual gondola

The colours were getting deeper now. The yellows had completely gone and there were just a few wisps of orange left in the clouds. The bottom layer was a deep magenta red and the top layer a purple blue. The clouds had mysterious sweeping patterns and textures dramatically embellishing the sky.

The clouds turn red

The clouds turn red

The clouds to the east were starting to lose their colour completely, with the magenta tones quickly fading out to grey. In the distance, a plane took off from the airport, heading across the front of The Remarkables navigating its precarious route around the mountains. The dramatic landscape here apparently makes this one of the world's trickiest airports. It was something for me to look forward tomorrow flying out on this exact route on my first leg home.

Purple lake

Purple lake

Looking down at the town, the lights were just beginning to turn on, giving it a new lease of life converting the adventure capital by day into a party town by night. It was very still down there apart from a few cars giving life to the roads working as veins connecting everything together and delivering blood throughout the town.

Fiery clouds

Fiery clouds

The glass windows of the restaurant behind me gave spectacular reflections of the brilliant clouds as other photographers were capturing the dramatic scenery before it fades into the blackness of night.

Lights begin to come on

Lights begin to come on

The photographers were spread out along the long section of the viewing platform to the left, whilst the main viewing platform to the right contained the crowd of rather rowdy people. There were a few couples including one talking about all their personal issues rather loudly for everyone to hear. No wonder the serious photographers were located a bit further across where it was quieter and where they could concentrate.

Photographers

Photographers

That being said, the only view across to the most dramatic colours was only achievable from the main viewing platform. There they couldn’t set up their tripods to capture the beauty.

The colours of the sunset were fading away with the sun now slipped over the unseen horizon to the west. The mountains on the far side of the lake had lost their definition, now reduced to a jagged black silhouette.

Changing colours

Changing colours

Although the brilliant colours were now fading away from the landscape, the town below me was coming to life with its array of lights from street lamps, shops, houses and cars.

Lights on in Queenstown

Lights on in Queenstown

With darkness falling I had to increase the ISO and widen the aperture to allow more light in making up for the lack of a tripod. The colours of the landscape became deeper giving a brilliant contrast to the town below.

Illuminated lakefront

Illuminated lakefront

Although the town seemed to recognise it is night, the sky was still dark blue and it will be a while before the sunset is completely over.

The sky darkens

The sky darkens

The town extended westward along the edge of the lake, giving a spectacular constellation of lights beside the grey lake. A few lights were also visible in the distance along the other side of the lake, some remote settlement accessible only by boat.

Spectacular town

Spectacular town

The lights in the distance were balanced by the last wisps of magenta disappearing from the grey clouds. There was still a bit of light to the west, a final reminder of the brilliant day that had now passed.

Fading dusk

Fading dusk

The Remarkables was now a black silhouette against the navy blue sky quickly going black. Over the following minute the bright lights of the town made the mountain range completely disappear into the blackening sky.

Getting dark

Getting dark

Only the faintest light remained to the west when I returned into the building, passing a couple of large murals constructed from jelly beans. One was a world map, and another a realistic image of Frodo - Elijah Wood holding the one ring.

Jellybean picture

Jellybean picture

I headed back to the gondola area and climbed into a small car, heading back down the steep mountain.

Heading back down

Heading back down

It was almost completely dark heading downhill, with nothing to see apart from the brilliant lights of the town gradually approach as I headed down the mountain. These gradually stretched out as the building at the bottom came into view and became larger.

Eventually the car I was riding in reached the bottom building. I climbed out and walked back through the town to the edge of the lake.

Lakeside

Lakeside

The wavelets were lapping gently on the shore. The boats were moored at the small port asleep with the darkness of the moonless night.

Plenty of people were wandering around the town centre even though most things were already shut. Being the adventure capital of New Zealand they were partying late into the night.

Town centre

Town centre

Looking back overhead, I could see the bright lights of the observation tower overlooking the town from a great angle from the otherwise total blackness of the night.

 
 
 

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