My first few hours in the Catlins were not my best.

The Catlins are a ~130 kilometer stretch of land along the southern coast of New Zealand. The area has an unusually large density of natural points of interest and provides great insight into the rawness of Southern New Zealand.

I arrived at the western end of the Catlins rather late in the day, but since I knew the sun would be setting in an hour and that the clouds at the time could make for a spectacular sunset, I set out for a lighthouse I saw on my map across many kilometers of gravel road (great for rental cars).

As I pulled into the parking lot, I knew there would be trouble; the wind was howling and the rain was not letting up. So I did what any self respecting photographer would do: I put on my waterproof jacket and pants, wrapped my camera in its waterproof enclosure (a plastic garbage bag), and made my way up the trail.

As I arrived at the lighthouse, the rain became heavier and the wind was whipping and lashing at the cheap plastic bag protecting my camera. I struggled up and down the hills surrounding the lighthouse, searching for a good angle and framing, but the weather proved to be quite distracting.

In the end, the sun retreated below the horizon in the most unremarkable, monochromatic way, leaving me with equally as unremarkable photos along with wet shoes and socks. I guess I would just have to try my luck again at sunrise.

Now, I was on the western end of the Catlins, exactly where there are no campsites. There is, however, a large grassy parking lot that allows people to park and sleep in their cars. I had been putting off this day as long as possible, as I’m a particularly light and restless sleeper; however, my only other option was to drive back the way I came or pay for a night in a hostel. So I decided the day had come; I would sleep in my car.

After some serious internal debate, I decided to sleep in the passenger seat with the seat reclined, rather than the back seat. So I got into my sleeping bag, threw back the seat and waited for sleep to come.

Surprisingly, I slept quite well until around 2AM when I decided I had warn out my luck with the passenger seat and crawled into the backseat. It must have been quite the scene as I maneuvered to the backseat in my half-dazed stooper all the while fighting with my sleeping bag, with only the light of the moon that made it through the condensation inside the windows. When I woke up two hours later with leg cramps, I repeated the process only in reverse.

Since I knew sleeping would be a struggle, I hadn’t set my alarm to awake me before sunrise. Apparently my lack of sleep, however, had made the impossible possible. I slept past 6AM. When I did wake up, I realized that it was quite light outside. A quick glance at my phone revealed that it was 6:30AM. There was still time to make it back down that gravel road to the lighthouse before sunrise, but I would have to hurry.

I threw off my sleeping bag, threw on my pants, hopped over into the driver’s seat, wiped the inside of the windshield with my towel and got onto the road, with compromised visibility. In my rush, the gravel road seemed twice as long as it had the night before, but I arrived at the lighthouse parking lot just as the sky began turning pink.

I reached for my shoes and socks, only to remember that they were soaked from the previous night’s photo shoot. I somehow managed to find another pair of socks to wear along with my hiking boots. I then grabbed all the camera things and sprinted up the trail to the lighthouse. My legs, which had been lugging me and all my camping gear up and down mountains for the past few weeks protested, but I ignored them and made it to the lighthouse just in time for the colorful sunrise to reach its peak.

As I drove back down the gravel road to my next destination, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of my morning.

And unlike the night before, I managed to capture some photographs of which I’m quite proud.