Topic: Cliffs - White Cliffs

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These magnificent white cliffs which are often referred to in the singular ‘White Cliffs’ because of their distinctiveness from the neighbouring cliffs, are so named because of their unique chalky white colour.  They also tower over their near neighbours.  They are our very own massive White Cliffs of Dover!  White Cliffs is also home to the historic Te Horo stock tunnel and beautiful native bush.  White Cliffs also lend their name to the inspiring Whitecliffs Walkway which is open to the general public.  Part of the Walkway traverses private farm land, some of which is closed from the end of June until the end of September each year for lambing.


White Cliffs is located south of Twin Creeks.  It is separated from Twin Creeks by a large, impassable bluff.  This is known as Ruataniwha to Maori and Rigby’s Point after the European Constable John Rigby who drowned there in 1883.  This is the extreme southern end of the Tongaporutu coastline that I am documenting.  In reality though, for the most part, Twin Creeks is the effective end with White Cliffs only rarely being accessed.


Aside from its impressive chalk coloured cliffs, which are the highest and most distinctive cliffs on the entire Tongaporutu coastline, White Cliffs also differs in another way.  Here, the cliff tops are clothed in native bush, not the usual fenced off grassed farmland.


Some upper shelving is evident in places.  These have some vegetation growing on them.  In places at the base of the cliffs there low shelves that are above the high tide mark.  These shelves are congregation points for cliff fall debris that shower down, presumably on a semi-regular basis.  Where the cliffs are shear.  That is, absent of shelving, these may have come down in the past during major cliff collapses.  This shelving gives the cliffs a stacked appearance.  The cliffs also slope from top to bottom at a roughly 75 to 80 degree angle.  The top shelving is more to landward than the bottom shelves.


Superficially at least, the cliffs currently appear to be relatively stable, apart from low level shavings and rock falls.


A presumably constantly added to debris field of loose and coagulated cliff fall material permanently resides at the base of these cliffs.  This material sits at and above the high tide mark.  Any seaward advancing tongues of cliff fall material are quickly consumed by the sea.  There are no caves or arches in the immediate vicinity of White Ccliffs proper.


I am unable to date any cliff slides that occur here due to the infrequency of my visits.  Though technically speaking they are not part of Tongaporutu, they are at the southern boundary of my coastline project.  I have only documented the northern end;  that is, White Cliffs proper, not the beach or more normal cliffs that continue south.


Looking at my photos, these cliff fall debris sites at White Cliffs appear to be uniquely White Cliffs site specific.  Along the rest of the Tongaporutu coastline, cliff collapse debris fields break up as follows:  The loose fill, (soil, etc) tends to be sluiced away first.  This is accompanied by the rocks and boulders being smashed up with many migrating seawards.  Eventually what material remains becomes virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding beach environment.







8.7.2001   PHO2007-156


This photo was taken from the Three Sisters Beach.  This was the first time I had accessed the beaches at Tongaporutu (as opposed to the cliffs).  As well as two of the Three Sisters, it shows White Cliffs and Mt Egmont.  This is a location shot.







12.5.2002   PHO2008-872


Like the photo taken on 8.7.2001, this is also a location shot, but it was taken from Pilot Point.







1.1.2003   PHO2008-873


This evening shot shows part of the Whitecliffs Walkway.  White Cliffs and Mt Egmont are visible in the distance.



19.11.2003   PHO2008-406, 408-409, 1107, 1111,


These images show both White Cliffs and its beautiful bush, as well as the stock tunnel.  A small stream runs past the landward entrance of the stock tunnel.  The tunnel was accessible today, but was quite sticky in places due to water seepage.  The bush at White Cliffs is markedly wind sheared, especially the large puriris.  Tree ferns, nikaus, rimu, karaka, rewarewa and tea-tree were some of the trees present.



9.12.2003   PHO2008-463-464, 468, 1156


Dull weather.  At the stock tunnel, (PHO2008-468), I gingerly squelched my way through it accompanied by a freezing cold breeze.  I photographed the soaring White Cliffs, except that they were coloured grey in the drizzle.  White Cliffs’ bush showed up beautifully in the ‘wet light’.







8.2.2004   PHO2008-671-674, 1209-1216,


CLIFF SEQUENCING.  The stock tunnel.  Well, what a sorry sight.  A big slop of sticky earth/mud had parked itself right at the entrance.  From above the entrance, more of the same continued to slurp and dribble on top of anything either unfortunate or stupid enough (me!) to venture beneath it.  Upon entering the stock tunnel, after a gaspingly short distance, the wire framing petered out.  In the half light, I noticed lots of rocks scattered on the floor.  They were courtesy of the decaying walls and roof.  Not a safe place to be, Pat, I thought.  Should be closed to visitors.


On the beach proper the tide was much further out than at Twin Creeks.  One area of smallish rocks marched further out to sea than their neighbours.  I needed this distance due to the colossal height of the cliffs.  White Cliffs pierced the blue sky like gleaming white walls.  I imagined King Arthur and his Knights galloping past them.  They, like the cliffs, shining in armour.  I did the cliff sequencing photography from the same position, so they are angled.  Normally I would have walked down the beach at the wave line, but this was the only spot I could get far enough back to include the cliffs in their entirety.



29.2.2004   PHO2008-687


Super-Storm Three.  Extreme rainfall was followed by high wind.  The wind was such that I was barely able to stand up long enough to get this photo!



7.4.2004   PHO2008-785


The weather was partly cloudy.  I had my 300 mm telephoto lens and wanted to climb up a hill that gave a good view looking up and down the coast.  In the photo here, White Cliffs is shown from a different perspective.  Also, the Maori Pa Promontory is visible in roughly the middle of the frame.  This is the boundary that separates Beach Two from Twin Creeks.







27.10.2007   PHO2011-1070

The weather was fine and there was a slight south-easterly breeze.  A 0.1m low tide was due at 5.22.  The photo shows a small cliff collapse near the bottom of the frame in the vicinity of the stock tunnel.  The debris field appears to be quite fresh.  White Cliffs and Mt Egmont are also well illustrated.







20.4.2009   PHO2011-1759,


With the panoramic camera I photographed White Cliffs and the bush from the paddock.  These panoramic images will complement the other photos of the Tongaporutu coastline.



18.10.2009   PHO2011-1920-1921


From the same Top Paddock overlook as at 20.4.2009, I took a couple of images of White Cliffs, both with the wide-angle and slight telephoto zoom (digital camera) for comparison purposes.  No sun was out.







29.4.2010   PHO2011-1747, 1750-1754,  1805, 1808, 2148


As this project is finishing in June or thereabouts, I wanted to document White Cliffs for the last time.  This to also include the stock tunnel.  Timing was everything as I needed good weather, a high beach state and a 0.3m low tide or lower.  And I needed this all before the end of June as the Whitecliffs Walkway farm road and farm is closed to visitors for lambing from July through to the end of September.  I also needed to borrow the key to the locked gate so that I could drive down most of the way.  I planned to photograph Whitecliffs with both my Pentax 6x7 and Fuji GX617 panoramic cameras.  Both had advantages and shortcomings over the other, but combined I should cover most of the bases.


Everything came together today, Thursday 29th.  Normally I wouldn’t come up to Tonga on a Thursday as it is my shopping day, but there was a short weather window between fronts.  Also, today was the last day of the 0.3m low tides.  Today it being due at 4.18 pm.


Down at the stock tunnel, the large sludge pile observed on 8 February 2004 was still present, only now it resembled a reclining hippopotamus.  One that had taken up permanent residence.  This mud hippo did have a major redeeming feature.  It had shut off the water that used to flow through the tunnel.  Traversing through this sloppy mud made for a slippery and dangerous exercise.  Water probably does still flow through the tunnel, but perhaps mainly during really wet periods when it can wick through the mud hippo and enter the tunnel.


Such was the size of the mud hippo that the stock tunnel’s entrance had been much reduced.  Inside, I had forgotten how dark it was as from the landward end you are walking towards and into the light.  I had also forgotten how much the tunnel sloped downwards towards the beach and how long it was.  I clearly remembered though that a cold wind funnelled through the tunnel, but today I was pleasantly surprised.  There was no wind and it was quite warm.


Outside, there was no wind at all and it was boiling hot.  Of White Cliffs, I was reminded just how high and imposing they were.  They were, are, magnificent gleaming white citadels.  Later on, especially with some light grey cloud over the tops they turned a beautiful cream colour.  While staring in wonderment, I noticed that one of the cliff tops appeared to be jutting forward.  I thought that if a huge chunk of this toppled down then basically I’d be stuffed.  The death zone, due to the height of the cliffs, would extend beyond the fairly narrow strip of sandy beach and out into the boulder field.  This wouldn’t be runnable.


However, such a cliff collapse could be diffused and splayed out if it crashed down onto one of the more substantial ‘permanent’ grey mud flow sites that inhabit the base of these humungous cliffs.  These mud mini cliffs were actually features in their own right.


I didn’t see evidence of any recent cliff flows or collapses.  I suspect that overall, White Cliffs are fairly stable.  Stable to mean that they don’t appear to suffer from massive cliff face collapses or slab collapses that I have observed elsewhere.


Judging by the massive mud ‘slag heaps’ at their bases, they appear to shed material in the form of shavings, perhaps supplemented by small scale mud flows.  I am of course just surmising this.  The soil bleeds that occur on Beach One bear a passing resemblence to how White Cliffs, partially at least, decay.


I took a number of images with both of my cameras, including the cliffs reflected in a body of water.  Hopefully, one or two of the photos will turn out to be okay because I can’t go back and repeat the photo shoot!

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