Topic: Sand - Pilot Point
Pilot Point is situated on the northern side of the Tongaporutu River.
For my purposes, its northern boundary is the bluff immediately north of the Pilot Point cave. Beyond this is Rapanui South beach. In essence they are both on the same area of beach. The boundary is an artificial one, created for the purposes of this project.
The beach as such, travels south from the bluff, and dependent upon which side of the estuary the Tonga River is on, a large sand bar can extend some distance south. At the Point Proper of Pilot Point, there is a distinctive large, through arch. On the river side of this prominent arch there is a resident family of rocks. Pilot Point then turns east, (to landward) and follows the Tonga River eastwards. Closest to where the river enters the sea, Pilot Point is bounded to the north by indented cliffs. After this, the cliffs abruptly give way to a substantial sand dune area.
There is an extensive driftwood field that borders the dune. I suspect that the dune itself also contains an extensive collection of beached logs, long since covered by drifting sand. The log fields on the beach expand and shrink in accordance with the river’s migratory patterns, beach evolution and weather. The beach on the seaward side of the dune is prone to shelving and ponding. Around the back of the dune, it is much more stable, not being subject to the harsher conditions present on the seaward side of the dune.
Unless I mention the dunes specifically, the beach descriptions will refer to the beach/sand bar between the Pilot Point cliffs and the Tonga River, and on the cave (seaward) side of Pilot Point.
In Section Seven on the Family of Rocks and the Tongaporutu River, and Section Five on Sea Caves, I mention the beach level in conjunction with these features. Due to this, some of the information noted here will be brief.
On the seaward side of the cliffs, beach changes weren’t always mirrored on the river side of the cliffs.
12.5. 2002 PHO2008-868, 871
PHO2008-868 was taken on the cliff top above the cave. This was before the project started and this particular cave was the catalyst for everything that followed. The Pilot Point arch is obscured from view. The sand level looked very good.
PHO2008-871 was taken on the Tonga River side of Pilot Point. Again, the sand level looked good.
27.4.2003 PHO2007-190, PHO2008-882
This is the date the Tongaporutu Impermanence Project started.
The beach level was good.
18.5.2003 PHO2007-199, 203, PHO2008-889
The beach level had reduced and quite a few rocks were present.
1.6.2003 PHO2007-314, 316, PHO2008-892
I was amazed at the substantial changes that had taken place. I concluded, or began to conclude, that depending on the wind direction, sand would either be built up or taken away.
On this occasion, sand had been scoured out and lots of small boulders were exposed at the river side cliff caves. Previously, they had been covered with sand. I estimated around a foot of sand had been lost on the seaward side.
PHO2008-892 shows the sand is well built up at the cliffs on the Tongaporutu River side of Pilot Point.
30.6.2003 PHO2008-035-038, 041-042, 046, 929
I was stunned by the huge changes that had occurred since my last visit. All of the rocks up to the arch had been covered in sand. Around four feet of sand covered the outer members of the family of rocks, while at the arch, it had been scalloped out between it and the cliff. This was filled with water and a lot of rocks were uncovered. On the seaward side of Pilot Point, the beach was well endowed with sand.
13.7.2003 PHO2008-054, 058, 940, 943-944, 947, 949-950
It was a calm, sunny, winter’s day. I went right out to the end of the spit to photograph looking north up the coast. Sand had been washed in closer, but out on the spit (sand bar), the sand was ridged and rucked with pools of water.
At the arch, the rocks in this location were more exposed. At the cliff-line on the seaward side, bedrock was exposed, but the sand level was good beyond this. Near the cave, there was a temporary pool of water in roughly the middle section of the beach. The sand level on the Tonga River side of Pilot Point was good.
20.7.2003 PHO2008-062, 955, 957
These images were taken at the Pilot Point sand dune.
27.7.2003 PHO2008-079, 081-082, 974
A cold north-easterly was blowing off the land. Wall to wall cloud. The forerunner to a low in the Tasman. The sand cover was good. Even the gap between the Pilot Point arch and the cliff was filled in with sand. At the family of rocks however, the sand level was scoured out somewhat.
The weather was unstable with large cloud build-ups and showers. On the 27th, heavy rain accompanied by a stiff northerly pounded the province as a front went through. Down at the beach, storm surge conditions were prevalent. Despite this, the sand level was very good, especially close up to the cliffs.
The south-westerly was screaming and there was a 5 metre swell running. After having a cold last Saturday, I wasn’t really feeling up to coming up to Tonga, but interesting stormy weather doesn’t happen on cue! The beach level was very good with high sand cover.
ALPHA STORM. A ferocious storm slammed into Taranaki on Sunday, 28th, packing thunder, lightning and north-westerly gales. I had intended to go up on that day but it was chucking it down and too dangerous.
Monday (today), dawned cold with very strong south-westerly winds and heavy showers. It was due to abate later so I decided to take my chance and go up to Tonga.
After photographing the storm from Gibbs’ Fishing Point, I planned to photograph the decimated dune area at Pilot Point, but the conditions were too extreme.
From what I could see, if there had been any nesting pied oystercatchers, stilts or other birds, their nests, eggs and chicks most probably would have been swept away. Most of the dune area had been flooded out. Sand was being whipped up into a stinging frenzy. I managed to stumble to the landward end of the cliff that led around to Pilot Point, but it was almost impossible to stay upright. Even a couple of tidal pools were having water sucked up out of them such was the force of the wind.
6.10.2003 PHO2008-221, 223-225, 227-228, 1038, 1040
A cold, sunny day with a slight westerly breeze. A welcome respite after the spate of storms we have been enduring. Sand was quite high up to the Pilot Point cliffs but scoured out towards the water-line. Rocks and bedrock being exposed.
At the family of rocks, they had been washed free of sand right down to their bases. However, the gap between the arch and the cliff was replete with sand.
Rounding the Pilot Point arch, sand was also high up to the cliff, but bedrock and rocks were visible not too far to seaward, being approximately 25 feet away. The cave was gouged out right down to bedrock with lots of roundish stones being revealed. It was the lowest I have seen the cave. Where does all the sand go?
Next, I went to the sand dunes to photograph them. Unfortunately, I haven’t done much about them before, apart from photographing a couple of chaps, a dead cow and some driftwood on the 20th July. I noticed that the driftwood and log debris was piled hard up to the marram grass boundary before the beach proper. Sand had blown over the marram grass, but it didn’t completely bury a lot of them. From what I could tell, the grassy dune area had been severely reduced. The only birds I saw were gulls.
The huge tree trunk root section was still there. Up until a week ago, it had resided inside a cave where it had been since May.
CLIFF SEQUENCING. The seaward side of Pilot Point only at this juncture. This was done at the tail end of the Rapanui South cliff sequencing. It was a fine, sunny day with a stiff south-easterly. The sand height was good, but there was a shallow V formation in roughly the middle of the beach which had water in it. The sand bar was quite extensive. A fisherman and his dinghy give scale, with Whitecliffs and Mt Egmont in the background.
High cloud and blue sky. Quite a stiff westerly. A moderate surf was running, but it all seemed to be jumbled up at the wave-line where the Tonga River met the sea. No huge surges. Also, a high sand bar had been built up which prevented any surges from coming in. The only water present was spill over. Conversely, the sand had been banked up high at the cliff bases facing the estuary, but gouged out below them, exposing rock.
Around the Pilot Point arch (seaward side), the sand had been washed away to expose the bedrock and other rocks. I assumed it had gone into building the fairly high sand bar further out to sea. At the family of rocks, the sand had been gouged out from around them. Some of them were enveloped in coffee froth foam.
A dull day dawned. Rain was due in the evening. At the Pilot Point arch, water filled the gap between the arch and the cliff instead of sand. Beyond this, walking north towards the cave, fluted sand now covered rocks that had been visible on my last visit.
4.2.2004 PHO2008-646, 648-650
There had been days of persistent rain prior to my visit. Upon arrival at Tonga, it was very calm. The river was quite high due to the volume of water. February is usually hot, hot hot and fine, not wet, wet, wet and wet. The sun was trying to come out, but didn’t succeed.
Scrambling down the steep track to where the dune marches up to the landward side of the Pilot Point cliffs, I was gobsmacked to see that a huge chunk of the dune here had been taken out. I had to scramble down a five foot wall of sand to access the scoured out beach below. This was the first time I had encountered this. I photographed the leading edge of the dune with a large log in the foreground.
At the cliff corner that leads around towards the Pilot Point arch, the bedrock was exposed – no sand. Rounding this, I saw that the sand had been swept very high up to the cliff bases and a ginormous sand bar had formed, taking in the Point and right across to the river which was over on the Mammoth Rock side of the estuary. A shallow V channel had formed in this sand bar which contained water.
The family of rocks were completely buried with sand, apart from a few inches on top of one of the rocks. Also, the largest rock was around a foot clear of the sand shelf. The leading edge of the sand bar (the seaward side of the water filled channel), was about 2.1/2 to 3 feet in height, rising to around 5 feet at the Pilot Point arch. I assumed that this was where the sand that had been excavated away from the entry point to the dune had ended up.
At the Pilot Point cave, this too was well endowed with sand. No rocks were visible.
7.3.2004 PHO2008-715, 717
After the Super-Storm Event of last month, the weather appeared to be promising. It had come in fine with the full moon.
At Pilot Point, my first surprise was at the bottom of the steep track that led down to the beach. There was a huge drop from the flax-line down to the beach. The flax here is about 15-20 feet above the beach proper and slopes down to the dune where marram grass takes over. The dune itself had an approximate maximum height of around ten feet above the beach proper.
The sand dune had been heavily gouged out by the sea. On my last visit it had resembled a sand wave. This time around, the dune had receded even further. Some of the lower cliff/vegetation had splooshed down onto the beach to the immediate right of the bottom of the track. (The cliff indents here before tracking a short distance towards the Tonga River, then turning to seaward towards the Pilot Point arch).
As I rounded the corner, the sand had now all been built up. There was no visible height difference as when I visited on 4.2.04. Around at the cave on the seaward side, the sand level was also very high.
The weather wasn’t too wonderful. It was cold with a blustery south-westerly. Down at the beach, sand was being rushed off the beach and into the air, sandblasting everything in its path. The access down to the beach from the track was still chomped out. It hadn’t built back.
As it was late in the afternoon, a good portion of the dunes were shaded by the cliffs. Because of the swirling sand, I protected the camera with a supermarket shopping bag, only removing it to take photos. My first photo shows the log pile up near the bottom of the track. I then trudged to the middle of the dune at roughly its highest point and set the camera up on my tripod. I wanted to do a panoramic set of images. These could be stitched together in the future.
While there, I noticed that the large, old pohutukawa tree trunk that had called the inner part of the estuary home had gone. Sand covered a lot of the logs on the village side of the estuary. On the seaward side to my right, a lot of logs had been lost to the sea. Of the marram grass, bare roots were all that remained in some areas. After this, I hauled my creaking carcass back up the arduous track to the top of the cliff and onto the O’Sullivans’ farm.
19.4.2004 PHO2008-794, 797-798, 1264-1265
It’s almost a year since the project started and I wanted to end it where it began, at the cave at Pilot Point. Today, the weather was perfect. Wall to wall sunshine and no wind.
Down at the bottom of the track, the sand bank remained in its fragile state. There was no building back as yet. The beach itself was well built up on both sides of the Point and with the Tonga River over on the Mammoth Rock side of the estuary, the sand bar extended out for some distance. The family of rocks were beginning to emerge from their sand tombs, but they wallowed in pools of water. I photographed a family sitting on one of the rocks. White Cliffs and Mt Egmont were visible in the background.
The project is essentially finished, but I can’t seem to tear myself away from it. It rained yesterday and there was a northerly wind. Today, Sunday, it is very muggy with no wind. There is also a sea fog and low cloud base. Down at the beach, the sand was still high up to the cliffs and the beach glowed in the sea fog.
At the arch, the gap between it and the cliff now housed a pool of water. After rounding the point to be on the seaward side of it, I hopped across ‘sand islands’ until I came close up to the cliff. Some of the sand islands were quite soft. This was because they were partly liquefied by interlocking pools and channels of water. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph this, but it most likely shows up in other images.
This view from the Pilot Point Overlook though principally showing the Family of Rocks, also shows the beach state. Interestingly, it also shows that the top layer of the cliff resembles the beach below in that it is composed of sand. Shells are even present.
At the cave and in general, the sand cover was good. The washed up logs were rare, temporary visitors.
11.12.2005 PHO2008-1526, 1531, 1534
The weather was hot, sultry and cloudy. There were large cloud build-ups, much like monsoon weather. Down on the beach, the sand was very built up near the cliffs, but the river was running very close to them.
15.5.2006 PHO2008-1618, 1621
There was a stiff southerly blowing in connection with an active front which passed through yesterday, Sunday. Sand was built up at the cliff bases. The Tonga River was right over on this side. On the seaward side towards the cave, the beach hollowed out at the halfway point between the cliff and the surf-line in a shallow V type formation. On either side of this, the sand was well built up.
There was a stiff westerly blowing and the sea was rough. Down the bottom of the track, near the last tree and flax bushes, I saw that the sand had encroached quite a way in. Where soil had previously been, there was now sand. The steep sand bank was still there, it’s just that some of it had extended over the top of the rise and into the first part of the coastal forest.
Lots of logs littered the beach. I was also surprised at how much of the sand dunes appeared to have been lost to the sea. I took one scenic shot looking along the leading edge of the dune towards the Tonga baches. Up close, the damage had been extensive. A large area of marram grass had been trashed by the waves. Undercut areas revealed a cache of old, beaten up logs that had probably been dumped by the sea a long time ago and gradually covered over by the dunes. Now the sea was reclaiming them.
The weather was fine, but there was a stiff south-westerly blowing. It had been relatively calm for a while up until now.
Upon arrival at Pilot Point, White Cliffs was all but lost in salt spray mist. Down at the dunes there was a new lake. This formed a moat, separating the dune from the sea. It was the first time I had seen this sort of thing. The marram grass had been well and truly hammered and was only a fraction of its former self.
At the family of rocks, although the sand level was quite high, some of the rocks were enveloped by water. Around the point, the sand level was also quite high, but around the half way point between the cliffs and the wave line there were some small rocks and sand islands with water channels separating them.
10.2.2008 PHO2011-1162-1163, 1165
There was a light northerly, sea mist, horizon to horizon cloud and light rain as the country is assailed by a series of feeble fronts. Aside from this for the most part and the remnants of Cyclone Funa experienced on 23.1.08, the country has been in the grip of a severe drought.
At Pilot Point I wanted to document the estuary and sand dunes to show how much they have retreated. By now the Scotch mist had stopped and there wasn’t much wind. Down at the bottom of the track, the mini lake was now a mini pond. One of the photos shows a cliff portion to the extreme left and leading from this is the entry point to the beach. The nude wall of sand is clearly shown. The sand level was good.
I could smell burning. Some bright spark had been lighting the logs spewed up by the sea. The marram grass was looking a bit sad with roots exposed and large chunks of habitat a goneburger.
Rain was forecast. Although black clouds prowled the sky, their rain held off. This past summer has been very dry. I hadn’t planned on accessing Pilot Point, but while over on the Three Sisters beach side of the Tonga River, I spotted a cliff collapse over at Pilot Point. As the river was right over on the Pilot Point side, I could get quite close to the cliffs fronting the river. The sand level was good at the cliff bases, but a lot of stones were present close to the river.
20.4.2008 PHO2011-1223, 1225
The weather was fine with a cold south-easterly blowing. On the beach, the lake next to the dunes had disappeared. (I didn’t photograph it unfortunately). As I walked along towards Pilot Point arch, the sand up to the cliffs was very well built up, but was excavated out on the river side of the family of rocks. Those close to the arch were housed in sand.
Though the river was close to the Pilot Point side, on the seaward side of the arch, the sand bar was well built up out to sea. So much so that I could easily walk past the promontory at the cave to get a clear view and access to Rapanui had I wished. There were some frothy pools and channels present.
SUPER-STORM EVENT. Super-Storm One. The seas were raging, the north-westerly wind howled and horizontal rain sleeted in. Fortunately, by the time I accessed Pilot Point to document the destruction of the arch, the rain had abated. Though the photos primarily show the destruction of the Pilot Point arch and the cave, they also show that the sand level was surprisingly good, at least close up to the cliffs. As the tide was quite high, I could only comment on what was visible. The Tonga River was close to Pilot Point.
SUPER-STORM EVENT. Super-Storm Three. It was cold, showery and very windy with north-westerlies. The Tonga River was closer towards Mammoth Rock, being roughly in the middle. In a short period of time it has migrated some distance across the estuary.
Down at the beach, the sand was well built up at the cliffs leading up to the remains of the Pilot Point arch. About 40 feet from the cliffs, sand islands surrounded by water became prevalent. Though I was concentrating on recording the evolution of the arch and cave debris fields, I did observe that on the seaward side of the point the sand level was good.
31.8.2008 PHO2011-1306, 1309,1312-1313
There was a slight northerly blowing and it was partly cloudy. The first photo was taken from the cliff top above the cave. Though the tide is a fair way in, the beach level was reasonable near the cliffs. Rock debris and other rocks were also visible. I am still recovering from the flu I had nearly six weeks ago so am not feeling too flash.
The sand dune, that is the part covered in vegetation such as marram grass, flax, etc., was very much reduced. All the marram grass on the southern side was scorched. The sand level was good.
After this, I strolled towards the Pilot Point arch debris field. There was a fair swell running, but the tide had gone a long way out. The river was tending closer to Mammoth Rock so the sand bar was well developed on this side. Unusually, there were lots of small, roundish rocks on the sand bar. I don’t remember seeing this sort of thing before. Overall, the sand level was good.
12.10.2008 PHO2011-1351, 1353
The weather was fine with a slight westerly breeze. The sand bar was still well built up. From what I could see, the large field of small, roundish rocks on the sand bar were being smothered by sand. The family of rocks were also being engulfed by the sand.
12.11.2008 PHO2011-1388, 1392-1396
CLIFF SEQUENCING. It was fine with a light westerly blowing. It had been fine for a while. At Pilot Point, the sand bar extended a long way out. Closer to the river and the sea, sand islands were numerous. Due to the heat, steam was rising from the coolish, wet sand, delivering sauna-like conditions. The small, roundish rocks I first observed on 31.8.08 were now either buried in sand, or they had been pushed further up the coast. The sand level was very good.
I noticed a lot of plant material, a sure sign of a cliff collapse somewhere. I quickly discovered the source. There had been a massive cliff section collapse immediately to the rear of the Three Sisters on the Three Sisters Beach.
3.6.2009 PHO2011-1601, 1606, 1610
It was fine and cold with a slight south-easterly breeze. At the dune area there were lots of logs. This is nothing unusual. However, they extended a fair way out as the sand level had built up quite a lot. The Tonga River was roughly in the middle of the estuary so the sand levels were good on either side.
Walking close to the cliffs up to the defunct arch, the sand was well built up. No bedrock or rock platforms were visible. The original family of rocks were almost completely buried in sand and the new family members, what remained, were also trapped in high sand cover. Around at the cave, there were lots of small, roundish rocks near Pat’s Stack. (This was born in the destruction of the Pilot Point cave).
Returning to the dunes, I climbed to the highest point. They had shrunk back quite a bit. I keep saying that, but the photos will reveal whether the dunes are actually continuing to shrink or whether it’s just my perception that they are continuing to shrink. Some of the marram grass was sending out leaders, trying to reclaim old territory lost down on the beach.
2.12.2009 PHO2011-1689, 1691-1695, 1698
Today, there was a north-westerly breeze, low cloud and sea fog. This was the third day of wall to wall fog. I haven’t been to Pilot Point for some time, so wanted to rectify that. I have been so busy documenting the continuing evolution of the massive cliff section collapse that I observed at the Three Sisters Beach on 12.11.08, plus the New Sister.
Down at the beach, the Tonga River was over on the Mammoth Rock side. The dune proper appeared little changed. That is, it hadn’t retreated any further, or not enough to notice. A large sand shelf that was festooned with logs extended some way out into the estuary before dropping down a short way to the beach proper or sand bank. I took a photo from near the base of the cliff where you enter the beach. A large log anchored the foreground with the dune in the background and the Tonga baches further back.
I took a series of five images covering the dune from left to right. These can be stitched together to form a panoramic image. This can then be compared to the earlier one I did on 28.3.04.
Walking towards Pilot Point, the sand bank was well built up. Overall, the sand level was good, but some members of the enlarged family of rocks wallowed in pools of water.
Although I didn’t access Pilot Point, I was able to observe the dune area from the cliff top overlooking Mammoth Rock and the Tongaporutu River. With the river running roughly in the middle of the estuary, the sand bank leading back up to the dune area was quite extensive. Of the dune itself, it does appear to be narrowing. That is, it appears to be shrinking back from the landward end back towards the seaward end.
This is just a superficial observation at the present time.
It was wet and miserable on this, the last day of documenting Pilot Point for the project proper. I had come up on the offchance that the weather might brighten up later on. It didn’t. As a not so low tide of 0.6m was due at 4.22 pm, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to access beyong the Point. I was pleasantly surprised. The Tonga River, though accessing the sea on the Pilot Point side, wasn’t hard up to it. The beach was very well built up with sand, even beyond the Family of Rocks.
At the dune area, the beach here too was extensively well endowed. Of the dune itself however, it appeared quite diminished. As it was too windy to photograph the dune from the beach, I photographed it from atop Pilot Point. The spinefix cover is shrinking back towards the Pilot Point cliff where it turns inward (north). There is an isolated small ‘island’ of spinefix/pingao? At the extreme eastern end of the dune (looking towards the bridge and baches). There is also a lone flax bush nearby. This is presumably a washed up survivor of a long past cliff collapse that occurred on the Three Sisters Beach.
At the bottom of the track, the steep sand bank remains with sand drowning plants lower down and spreading up into the lowest part of the coastal forest.
N.B. The photos taken on the 27th June didn’t come out. They will have to be re-done under better weather conditions.
I returned today to re-do the photography under hopefully better conditions than those experienced on the 27th June. Unfortunately, the day was a re-run of the 27th June. However, I did obtain some good images of the Family of Rocks. The sand level on the 26th July was good up to and around the Point.
11.8.2010 PHO2011-1823-1824, 1830
The weather was fine as in sunny and there was a slight to moderate westerly breeze blowing. I particularly wanted to photograph the dune area as I hadn’t done so for a while. The dune as a whole appeared to be in a quiet, stable state. Though it hadn’t retreated, it hadn’t built back either. The beach between the dune and the Tonga River was however, well built up in a distinctive shelf that extended some way towards the river before sloping down towards the river. The beached logs and driftwood were well settled into the sand with no obvious newcomers. This was because due to the high beach state, the high tide mark was lower than the resident logs.
Near the bottom of the track, a small lake had formed. Walking towards the Point, once again the sand level was good. However, around the Family of Rocks it was heavily scoured out. At the Point, the sand ‘stopped’ for a distance of around two feet before ‘re-emerging’ again and continuing around the point. The height of the sand on either side of this bedrock channel was around 12 to 15 inches. The channel or ‘breach’ in the continuous flow of the beach, extended only for a short distance of about two feet from the main cliff face (the point) to where it spread out in a hollow that enclosed the Family of Rocks. I haven’t observed this before.
Around from the Point towards the cave and beyond, travelling north up Rapanui South Beach, the sand level was very good. It extended some way out to seaward in a definite sand bar. This was further accentuated by the very low 0.1m tide that was due at 4.32 pm. The sea state was moderately vigorous, but there was no storm surge.
MEGA-STORM. Such was the ferocity of this storm that I could hardly stand, let alone get down to the wind blasted dune. From what I could see from the cliff top looking down on the dune, it appeared to have shrunk back considerably. The little ‘island’ to the rear that contained a lone flax plant and some spinifex was even more isolated from the main dune than before. A lot of the resident driftwood appeared to have been either consumed by sand or washed away.