Photos by Rambo Estrada
There are certain photographers that you come to associate with certain environments, and hearing the name “Rambo Estrada” instantly transports me to New Zealand.
Known initially for his surf photography, Rambo’s documentation of the stunning landscapes of his—still remarkably untouched—homeland is something to behold. I had an inkling as to the location of the attached photos, but being a sucker for green water and dramatic landscapes, I called on Rambo to help tell the story of the remarkable coastline of the South Island of New Zealand.
When I called, Rambo was helping his mum with a few household chores before he intercepts Dion Agius, Creed McTaggart and Nate Tyler to guide them around the Islands for the latest instalment of Joe G’s Cult of Freedom. He told me that the solo trip that he took to the southernmost point of the South Island was the latest installment of a yearly ritual.
“Once a year I try and go somewhere pretty isolated on my own,” Rambo explains. “I’m always taking photos, but it’s not often for myself. Especially in surfing. It’s a good time to try out things you’ve been thinking about for ages. I’ve been shooting slow shutter stuff for five or six years, but I don’t get much chance to do it with surfers. Dawn and dusk are the best time to do it, and I wanted to concentrate on being at the beach at sunrise on this trip. And because there’re no surfers involved, if I blow 99% of the waves then it doesn’t really matter.”
I’ve previously visited the national park where the majority of these photos were taken, and if you’re in search of isolation, then this is the place. Once you’re in the area there’s little in the way of supplies—only one small town with a small supermarket, and, as Rambo describes it, a “super weird café which is basically just this guy’s bus filled with loads of weird artwork.” The area’s rife with natural beauty and seems to have come on the radar of travelling surfers due to being featured in a number of surf films and magazine trips of late. During my trip there three or so years ago, we didn’t see another surfer the whole time. Reassuringly, and somewhat surprisingly, Rambo says that he only shared the water with two others the whole time he was there. In light of crowd paranoia, I ask Rambo what his policy is in regard to sharing the isolated locations of where he shoots many of his photos. In typical Kiwi fashion, he explains that he doesn’t really worry about it much.
“The only place that I’d geo-target was Raglan,” says Rambo. “Recently I’ve been flipping the photo and making it into a righthander and calling it ‘Nalgar’. So many people are hitting me up. I’ve been telling them that it’s 45 minutes east of Notlimah—which is Hamilton backwards,” he laughs.
Then, after the conversation drifts off through the fickle reality of surfing New Zealand (despite what Instagram accounts like Rambo’s would have you believe) we land on sharks. We’re all too aware of the number of the hungry men in grey that circulate Australian shores at any given time, but in New Zealand, well, from experience there seems to be a nationwide fingers-in-ears policy. The deep south however, is one area that’s synonymous with them. And not the small variety. Rumblings that are backed up by the knowledge that a French bodyboarder (one of the two) got bitten while Rambo was down there swimming around trying to artfully capture breaking waves.
“There’s not much phone coverage down there,” explains Rambo. “And when I got back into town I had so many missed calls. The news wasn’t specific as to who got bitten, and my friends knew I was down there. I was a bit spooked after that, and I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t go out at dawn unless there was someone else in the water. As luck would have it, I didn’t see anyone else the whole time.”