Topic: Strata - Follow-ups

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17 November 2010  

PHO2011-1960, PHO2011-1961, PHO2011-1962, PHO2011-1963, PHO2011-1964

I had especially gone up to Tonga with Glyn Church, the plantsman and author, to show him the diverse scenery and flora up at Pilot Point (not photographed) and Te Kawau Pa.

PHO2011-1960 is actually part of the Inaccessible part of the coastline immediately south of Te Kawau Pa.  (The fishing platform is to seaward on the right sided promontory).  PHO2011-1961-1963 show Glyn Church and some of the fossilized trees.  PHO2011-1964 shows the beautiful green algae thriving around this rock pool.




17 September 2011  



While documenting the destruction of the Three Sisters dune following the recent Mega-storm, I saw what I thought was a large, washed up tree trunk.  It lay stranded on the stripped away part of the beach.  (Zone One).  Closer examination revealed that it was attached to a rock strata and was actually a fossilized tree that was several thousand years old.

Usually it is buried beneath a blanket of sand, but in rare events such as this, the Three Sisters Beach loses enough sand in strategic areas to reveal past treasures.

NOTE:  When I say ‘the destruction of the Three Sisters dune, I need to qualify this.  A super-storm event in July/August 2008 took out the sand/land bridge that had connected the main dune to Mammoth Rock.  Since that time it has continued to be washed away.  The destruction that I observed today was the most massive in that it has taken out most of the rest.  To put this into perspective, approximately 60 feet has been taken out in this latest hit.  (On the gap side of the dune).  On the main seaward side, approximately 20 feet has been taken out.

29 September 2011  

PHO2012-0545, PHO2012-0546

PHO2012-0549, PHO2012-0550


Two weeks on from my last visit, the beach, particularly in Zone One had been scoured out to a level I have never seen before.  In fact it was so low that as well as the log seen a fortnight ago, much of the ancient forest that used to grow here was also now revealed for the first time in exquisite detail.  Coupled with this, ancient tree trunks and bits of wood were also visible, protruding from part of the freshy exposed cliff-face where the highest part of the dune wall meets up with it.  (They may have been visible before but this is the first time I’ve noticed them).

On this trip I was accompanied by Gary Bastin, Glyn Church, Susan and Ian Burgess, all having a special interest in what was happening.  Susan said that she read or saw somewhere that Tongaporutu was said to be the fastest eroding coastline in the world.  I will have to Google this and find out.

The lovely pale blue mudstone seam that I had first seen on 15.11.2009 was also exposed.  Unlike then when it had been soft to the touch, when dry, it is hard.  It’s only soft when wet.

14 August 2011  

PHO2012-0563, PHO2012-0564, PHO2012-0565

PHO2012-0569, PHO2012-0570, PHO2012-0571, PHO2012-0572

As I wanted to enter the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition, I decided to come up to Tonga before a polar blast hit the country proper.

Conditions down on the beach were hideous with wind-blown sand and freezing cold temperatures.  Armed with just my digital camera and not being lumbered with lugging a tripod, one of the things I wanted to document more of were the unearthed remains of the ancient, 6,000 year old forest that had been revealed during last month’s mega-storm.

Though most of the tree remnants and whole totara log remained visible, sand was building back, so I made the most of the opportunity to record what I thought was relevant before they were completely buried once more.  Also, some of the beautiful blue papa strata that I like was present at the base of the southern end of the dune.  This ‘hard’ end of the dune has quite an interesting rock formation.




6 November 2010  


The Fractal Rock is continuing to be smashed towards oblivion.  Smaller ‘fractal’ holes can be seen inside the Fractal Rock.

5 December 2010  



Here, I’ve photographed the Fractal Rock from closer up.  This more clearly shows the internal fracturing.  The Fractal Rock as a while is now quite narrow and fragile.  It will eventually be wholly reclaimed by the Tasman Sea.

To the rear of the Oldest Brother, a rough V section of the beach, extending from the cliff to a short distance on either side of the Oldest Brother has had most of its sand removed, thus revealing smoothed bedrock.  On one of these molded tongues of bedrock, a thin strata in black/grey appeared to show the burrowings or tailings of very large ancient worms.  It is the first time I have noticed this.  I don’t remember seeing them before.  This was possibly due in part because the bedrock here is rarely exposed and in part because I may have walked past at a greater distance when the bedrock had been exposed.  I thus wouldn’t have seen them.

The localized beach scouring observed at this location today was highly unusual.  Not because it hasn’t happened before on infrequent occasions, but because of the severity of it.

Though I took a photo, because the meter was playing its usual silly buggers, it was a full stop over-exposed.  It is usuable and can be digitally improved, but I hope to repeat the photography if the opportunity presents itself again.


8 April 2012  

PHO2012-0648, PHO2012-0649


I’d come up to document the evolution of my three regulars.  Namely, the Three Sisters Beach dune, the New Sister and the Twin Arches cave system.  I also wondered how the Fractal Rock had fared.  This proved to be the biggest surprise of the day.  It’s whole face has been smashed out and it is now an impressive arch.  It immediately reminded me of America’s iconic Delicate Arch, located in Arches National Park, Utah.  Unlike Delicate Arch however, the Fractal Rock or perhaps that should now be the Fractal Arch, will be short-lived.  It will most likely be gone within a year’s time.  It is also composed of mudstone, whereas Delicate Arch is composed of sandstone.

I was also intrigued by a small rock shelf on the beach whose fractured patterning appeared to mirror that of the nearby sand.  A small pool connected the two together.

Another thing that I found interesting was an unusual straight-line slash in the upper cliff face at the northern end of the beach.  This was presumably revealed during a cliff collapse that occurred a few months back judging by the debris field at the cliff’s base.

6 May 2012  

PHO2012-0642, PHO2012-0643, PHO2012-0644

I hadn’t planned on coming up to Tonga so soon, but I wasn’t happy with the through the arch photo I took in April that looked across to Pinocchio.  The front lit photos that I took with the digital camera came out fine, but the one featuring Pinocchio didn’t.  It was my fault.  I should have done it manually rather than relying on just the Aperture Priority.

Anyway, last Thursday, I received an email from the New Zealand Geographic magazine informing me of their upcoming Photographer of the Year competition.  I’ve entered it twice before but with no results.  Not surprising really as I wasn’t really happy with what I had submitted!

I thought that if I could get a great image in great evening light looking through the Fractal Rock’s arch towards Pinocchio, then I might finally have something good enough to enter, let alone win such a prestigious competition.  I also didn’t plan on it being a diary entry as the Project has finished, but ...  As I don’t envisage doing any more photography up here in the foreseeable future, thought it might be good to finish off on a high note.

To get the photography I envisaged, I brought up my big Pentax medium format film camera.  However, I haven’t used it for a while and wasn’t sure if the battery had enough juice in it.  I can manually calculate the exposure, but I need battery power to fire the shutter.  A few years ago I made the mistake of going up to Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi Island with only my big Pentax.  Low and behold the battery had croaked.  I had a dead camera and no back-up!  So, I had a week’s holiday and couldn’t do any photography.

I didn’t intend being a dumbo a second time around.  I took up the Pentax digital camera, resolving to use it in full manual mode if the big Pentax didn’t work.

The Fractal Rock appeared little changed from my visit last month.  However, from the cracking and fracture lines, I think it will be lucky to survive intact through the winter storm period yet to come.

The last time I was here I was in bare feet.  I quickly discovered that the rock field to the rear of the Fractal Rock wasn’t made for my tender feet, so this time around I brought my gumboots along with me.  I also had my tripod so I could take my time and set the camera up as I wanted it.  The light situation was a bit better this month as last month I couldn’t eliminate the sun from the shot.  It is a difficult photo to take as you are photographing into the light.  This time around I could block it off with part of the arch.

I was careful not to leave footprints in the sand so as not to spoil the shoot.  I hoped that no-one else would come along.  Ultimately, one person, a woman, did come along, but she went on the beach side of Pinocchio.  Later, when she returned, I asked her to walk in Pinocchio’s shadow as she came closer to me.  She was comfortable with that and we both remarked on what a great day it was.

I arrived at the Fractal Rock at around 3.20 pm.  Before setting up the camera to the rear of the Fractal Rock, I just sat and ate my vegemite cob and enjoyed the scenery.  Just magnificent.  At around 3.40 pm I finally set up the camera.  Initially I was going to wait until later on for the light to improve, but thought I would take a few ‘record’ shots to ensure I had something in the bank image-wise.  Wouldn’t you know, I’d just set up the camera when a black backed gull alighted on top of Pinocchio.  Well, naturally I took advantage of this unexpected bonus.

I initially took four images over the period of roughly three quarters of an hour, all at 1/60 at f16.  At this exposure I reasoned that the foreground part of the arch, which was in shadow would go mostly black, which was what I wanted.  Pinocchio too would also be in shadow, but I was exposing to get the sea and beach mostly right and not blown out.

As time passed, Pinocchio’s shadow moved towards the Fractal Rock.  The sun wasn’t going to set where I thought it was.  Mistakenly I thought my angle of view would be better in winter with the sun being north, but unfortunately, it turned out that it would actually be best in summer.  I doubt if the Fractal Rock will survive fully intact until then.  And of course the NZ Geographic photo competition will be done and dusted.

A layer of wispy cloud close to the horizon meant that I wasn’t going to get the wonderful evening light I’d hoped for.  The best I could hope for was to catch the moment when the sun was just starting to dip below the jutting part of Pinocchio on its northern side.

Of course by the time I finally got my last three shots, the black backed gull had long gone.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t get what I had hoped for.  I don’t even know if I got the one with part of the sun just before it sank out of view behind Pinocchio.  Hopefully at least one image out of the seven I took will be good, but I doubt if any will be of competition winning standard.

By the time I packed up, around 5.10 pm, the tide was coming in.  I was worried about the channel at the Point and also about the riverside access beside the Tongaporutu River.

Upon reaching the Point, the light was fading surprisingly fast.  I could see that the water was surging in and it was deeper than when I crossed it earlier.  I actually couldn’t see the bottom.  Before attempting to cross, I removed my gumboots and rolled up my slacks as far as I could.  I then saw a couple and their labrador dog on the other side.  The dog jumped in with a stick in its mouth and swam across.  I managed to find a ledge that led out across the channel, but it stopped short of the other side.  The water was cool, but not cold.  The young couple looked to make their way across and I warned them not to go any further as the tide was coming in.  But they did and I didn’t see them again.

I stepped off the ledge and onto the bottom proper.   It was deeper than what I thought and the water came right up to my thighs.  The leg parts of my slacks got soaked, then a wave surged in.  Fortunately, there was little power behind it thanks to the sea being mostly calm.  However, because of the round rocks on the bottom, I almost lost my balance.  I was more fearful of falling in, not so much of getting wetter, but of my camera gear in my backpack.  If I had slipped proper, then I’d have stuffed up both of my cameras.  And that would have been the end of my photography!

Normally I wouldn’t leave returning so late, but I on this last occasion I was prepared to push the envelope.

The sand was cold to my bare feet and I was getting colder and quite tired.  At the river access point I was pleasantly surprised as the river level was lower than when I arrived, even though the tide earlier on was closer to low tide than it was now.  This is probably due to the river emptying effect.  It appears to suppress the incoming tide from coming in for x amount of time, but the reverse occurs on an outgoing tide.  Interesting.


It certainly wasn’t nice driving home in wet slacks.  Hopefully one of the images will be worth the effort.

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