Topic: Fauna - Three Sisters Beach

Topic type:





Includes the Gibbs’ farm, the dune and the Tongaporutu River.







8.7.2001   PHO2007-156-157



These two images show some of the scrubby vegetation that scrape a living atop two of the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock.







8.6.2003   PHO2007-319-321,  PHO2008-895-897, 902


Some small, blue jellyfish  had washed up on the beach.  I also saw a dead sheep and a log that was jammed next to a pair of split rocks.  I also photographed some seagull footprints.  Up top, a coprosma and some flaxes jostled me for space as I photographed looking down on the Sisters.



11.6.2003   PHO2008-019


There was a preening shag atop the Little Sister.  There were also some black backed gulls in the surf.



13.7.2003   PHO2008-050


Near the Gibbs’ barn above the beach, I observed several fantails flitting around and some goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis),foraging for seed.  On the beach, the tree trunk that had lodged next to a pair of split rocks, had now parted company and had taken up residence higher up the beach.





At the bottom of the Gibbs’ track, I noticed that a lot of flaxes and other shrubs had been washed up on the beach.  I later discovered they had emanated from a full cliff face collapse on the northern, Three Sisters side of the Point.


With evening approaching, I heard a festival of starlings chortling on the Middle Sister.



13.8.2003   PHO2008-117


CLIFF SEQUENCING.  On the Gibbs farm above the beach I saw one rabbit, some starlings, Australian white-backed magpies ((Gymnorhina tibicen) and a skylark.  Down on the beach, I was struck by the tenacious plants that scraped a living atop the rock stacks.



28.8.2003   PHO2008-203


Down on the beach among the usual flotsam of logs etc., I saw a lot of flaxes like I saw over at Pilot Point.  There were also some boxthorn and even a tree fern (Cyathea spp).  (I later discovered that there had been a cliff collapse on the Four Brothers Beach).





ALPHA STORM.  At the bottom of the Gibbs’ track, large swathes of salt foam decorated the bushes.  It looked like someone had emptied washing up liquid all over them.  Unfortunately I didn’t photograph this.  As I stepped down onto the beach, I noticed that the sea had surged right up into the bushes and that vast amounts of sand had been excavated out.  On the beach itself and the cliff walls, lots of salt foam was present.



24.11.2003   PHO2008-427


PHO2008-427 shows some of the vegetation atop Elephant Rock.  Also, on the beach there was a lot of salt foam at the surf line.  A number of black backed gulls wheeled overhead.


The rocks to the rear of the Sisters have small mussels growing on them.  (PHO2008-414).  However, none ever reach maturity due to these rocks being covered and uncovered by sand in a constant cycle of change.  Specifically, mussel crops are destroyed on a regular basis, only to be eventually replaced by new crops in a never-ending cycle.



1.12.2003   PHO2008-429, 437-442, 1122-1125


I particularly wanted to do some plant photography up at Tonga, so as well as my standard 55 mm lens; I also brought up my 135 mm and 300 mm telephoto lenses.


Driving down the Gibbs’ farm track to their cliff-top barn, I was struck by the state of the paddock.  It was closed off to stock, presumably to make hay later on.  Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), red and white clover (Trifolium pratense and Trifolium repens), and other assorted pasture species jostled for space amongst the resident grasses (Poaceae Gramineae family).  (Note:  the predominant grass species is ryegrass (Lolium perenne).  This floral banquet supported both bumble-bees (Bombas terrestris), and honey-bees (Apis mellifera), and lots of flies, skylarks, magpies and starlings were also present.


On the beach, I spotted what appeared to be little blue penguin tracks (Eudyptula minor), that led up to the dune.  I also photographed lupins, a young pohutukawa etc., on the cliff face.  On the beach, I photographed an ice plant along with another succulent with tiny yellow flowers.  This is believed to be Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia complexa).  I then headed towards Mammoth Rock where I photographed a flowering convolvulus and flowering marram grass that were growing on the sand/land bridge that connected the dune to Mammoth Rock.  Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the sand bridge itself!



26.12.2003   PHO2008-1172


There was a lot of flotsam located at the high tide mark.  This consisted of logs, branches, the odd fisherman’s brightly coloured net float the size of a soccer ball and several beaten up flax bushes.  The flaxes indicated a recent cliff collapse had occurred.  I shortly discovered that there had been a cliff collapse just before the Three Sisters.


Upon returning from the Four Brothers Beach, an incoming shower forced me to take cover in a cave near Elephant Rock.  While waiting, a large barrel kept me company.  Finally, just before leaving the beach to go home, I noticed a clear plastic bottle that had a family of goose barnacles (Lepas spp), attached to it.  While photographing it, I reasoned that it must have been in the sea for a considerable amount of time for the goose barnacles to have grown to the size that they were.







5.1.2004   PHO2008-501, 1189, 1192


Fog partially enveloped a large pohutukawa tree outside the Gibbs’ farmhouse that they rent out.  White Cliffs and Mt Egmont were visible in the background.  I also photographed other pohutukawas on their farm in the fog.  These were to the rear of the farmhouse.


Down on the beach, it was heavily infested with driftwood and other flotsam and jetsam.  I concluded that at the moment the tides were low high tides so the debris, most being in the high, high tide zone, would be marooned there until either flushed out by the next storm or the next very high tides.



6.1.2004  PHO2008-1197


What a difference a day makes!  This is the same pohutukawa located outside the Gibbs farmhouse.





I was staying in the Gibbs’ farmhouse as I had planned to do cliff sequencing on Beaches One and Two.  In the morning, I heard a chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), singing.  I also saw lots of rabbits.  Outside, some silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis lateralis), were in an apple tree.  While walking down the paddock towards the beach, I heard a couple of skylarks singing.


Just past the barn, I stood at the beginning of the track that descends down to the beach.  Just before walking down it, I saw a young rabbit running up the track towards me.  I stood there thinking; surely it must know I’m here.  Then, as it continued to run towards me, I though it must be running away from a greater threat than what I presented.  It ran past, just three feet away to my left, and then darted under a gap in the barn just behind the gate.


I looked down towards the bottom of the track (what was visible), and saw something run down the bank on the left hand side and onto the track, then run up towards me.  Initially I thought it was another rabbit, but as it drew closer – I remained very still all through this – I could see that it was following a scent trail.  The animal was a weasel.  It too ran past me, just three feet away on my left and into the barn.  It had not, could not, see the rabbit, but had followed its fresh scent trail.  I then heard a little squeal from inside the barn.  A rabbit popped out under a gap at the side of the barn and ran away in a northerly direction.  I just stood there amazed.  It was as if I had been invisible.  I also deduced that the rabbit that shot out of the barn had been the original rabbit the weasel had been chasing, but had chanced upon another, unsuspecting rabbit that had already been inside the barn.  (A rabbit that squeals ultimately turns out to be a dead rabbit as I have witnessed a couple of times in my garden).


Down on the beach, I spotted a lone variable oystercatcher parked on one leg near Mammoth Rock.  It ignored me and I kept my distance, not wanting to disturb it.  On the beach there were still lots of logs jammed up.  Logs can only accumulate in the vicinity of the dune area which I call Zone One.  Zones Two and Three have no upper high tide log accumulation sites.  Even in Zone One, log accumulations are mostly transitory on the seaward side.  That is, they may last from one big storm to the next.  Depending on the time of the year, they could be months or days apart.


After I had finished on the beach, I returned to the track.  Near the bottom, I spotted a well fed totally black feral cat licking its front paws.  It couldn’t hear me because of the noisy sea and it obviously hadn’t seen me.  I quietly approached and got to about four feet away from it before it finally spotted me.  It jumped up, turned around, then its back legs momentarily slipped on the loose stones as it bolted away.  It ran part way up the track, and then veered off to the left into the bush.  No wonder the birds are being decimated, what with weasels, stoats and cats.  Of course, they could all be tucking into the more profuse rabbit population as evidenced earlier - rabbits providing more bang for their buck.  Nevertheless, the birds are also being predated, otherwise the bush would be alive with birdsong.  It isn’t.



4.2.2004   PHO2008-652


I spotted a white-faced heron (Egretta novaehollandiae), perched on a fence post on the right hand side of the road, just beyond the Gibbs original farmhouse that they rent out to visitors.  On the beach I photographed some very frothy coffee coloured salt foam that was choking up a small waterway between a rock platform and the cliff that was located to the rear of the Sisters.





SUPER-STORM EVENT.  Super-Storm One.  As Cecilia squelched through the puddle strewn dirt track down to the barn above the beach, the rain started bucketing down.  Though raining there was no wind.  With the car windows steamed up, I wondered why I should bother going down to the beach.  In the end I said that I was here now and I shouldn’t be a wimp.


Down on the beach, lots of small jellyfish had been coughed up by the sea and left to die.  They went off like firecrackers when you trod on them.





SUPER-STORM EVENT.  Super-Storm Two.  Before I even got down to the beach, an overpowering stench of death blew towards me.  I expected to see a dead cow or sheep, but no, just zillions of dead jellyfish piled amongst the driftwood.  Had to crunch over some of them, no avoiding it, and as before on the 15th, their air bloated bodies exploded like firecrackers.





In the pre-dawn light (I was staying at the Gibbs’ farm house), I used my torch to pick my way through the driftwood forest on the upper beach as I headed towards the Four Brothers Beach.



5.4.2004   PHO2008-784, 1246


A flotilla of logs had been chucked right up to the vegetation line of the dune, courtesy of the 3.6 metre high tides.  I also saw black backed gull footprints in the sand.  Shells, just one or two broken specimens, were there too, an endangered species apparently.  I also noticed bits of plastic, a green plastic hay bale remains and a blue toilet duck plastic bottle.


The Argentinean pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), shown in PHO2008-784 has since been destroyed in line with the effort to rid the province of this pest plant.  The coastal bush below it is part of the dune forest.



18.7.2004   PHO2008-1305,  PHO2010-0473


Part of what I wanted to document was the vegetation growing on the cliffs.  The photo that shows vegetation right down to the beach line was taken just past the dune area.  (PHO2008-1305).  Of critical importance however, was the photo, taken with my old Spotmatic camera, of the sand bridge that linked the dune to Mammoth Rock.  This was taken from atop the Gibbs’ farm.  It is not a great image, especially as it was taken in the early evening, but it is the ONLY PHOTO I HAVE that clearly shows this sand bridge.  It also shows the flax plants and marram grass that were growing on it.  (The reason for this photograph’s importance is revealed later on).  Basically what happens is that washed up logs accumulate at sites such as this and then they over time they get buried in sand.  Plants eventually colonise these bridges and the roots, combined with the flotsam logs, bind everything together.  As evidenced, they can stay in place for considerable amounts of time.







24.7.2005   PHO2008-1384, 1386


It is interesting to note that on the Two Sisters rock stacks, their north, north-western sides are largely devoid of any vegetation.  Elephant Rock is better endowed, but it does show where slippage has occurred.  This is because though the prevailing weather systems come from the south-west, the heaviest rain events mostly come from the north, north-west.


As the light levels lowered, starlings began looking for roosts on the rock stacks.



20.8.2005   PHO2008-1389


A large pool on the southern side of Elephant Rock had some sprats trapped in it.  In one of the minor caves that I photographed, algae and small mussels colonised the left-hand wall.  Further in, due to a combination of low light and wave smashing action, the rear of the cave is mostly bare.



21.8.2005   PHO2008-1423


Beautiful green algae festoon the right-hand wall in this through-going corridor cave cum arch.  It is located immediately north of the Three Sisters cave.



19.9.2005   PHO2008-810, 1455-1457, 1461 1465,


An ALPHA STORM hammered the coastline.  It was the worst individual storm to hit Tongaporutu since the Alpha storm of 29.9.03.


Down on the beach, at its northern end, most of the dune’s marram grass had been ripped out.  Also, great chunks of the banks had been washed away, complete with flaxes and other shrubs.  Storm debris such as bits of trees had been flung right over the top of the dune and onto the land.  (I didn’t photograph this unfortunately).  The beach at the dune is normally a graveyard of dead logs.  All had vanished, apart from one or two transient newcomers.  It was as if someone had come down with a giant broom and swept everything away.  The sand bridge that links the dune to Mammoth Rock remained intact.


The other notable thing was the huge swathes of sea foam that amassed everywhere.





While having a mug of tea atop the Gibbs’ farm, I saw a giant dragonfly (Urapetala carovei), zipping around like a silent helicopter.  Later on, after I had returned from the Four Brothers Beach, I saw a black backed gull flying around.









Down on the beach the conditions and especially the wind were so horrendous that photography was out of the question due to wind whipped sand.  I did see some small jellyfish and there was some fishing trawler junk, such as rope, etc.



15.1.2006   PHO2008-1549


On the beach the sea was quite turbulent.  I noticed numerous trails of surf bubbles left stranded after each outgoing wave.  These bubbles were lit up with the colours of the rainbow.  They were beautiful but fleeting.  I grabbed the camera and took some photos.  There were also lots of tiny blue jellyfish with the odd larger one amongst them.  I tried to avoid standing on them as they go boom when trodden on.


I also saw a giant spider’s web (Araneae ?), at the entrance of a small blind cave at the rear of Elephant Rock.  I never saw the spider that built it though.





When I returned to the Three Sisters Beach after photographing on the Four Brothers Beach, an old man and his dog approached me.  We chatted about the beach, and then he showed me a dead fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), close to Mammoth Rock.  It was minus its head.  I didn’t photograph it as the sand was blowing hard here and the light was low.





Atop Gibbs’ farm near the barn, the cicadas were in full chirp and there were some large field mushrooms begging to be picked, so I duly obliged.





A WEATHER BOMB crossed the country yesterday and as such, the vegetation down on the dune had taken a hammering.  Lots of flaxes, grasses and coprosmas were doomed to be washed away by the next big sea.





On arrival at the barn above the beach, I heard a song thrush singing in one of the banksias trees.


Skeletal shrub and tree remains littered the beach at the dune area.  There was also some flax, all having been dislodged during the recent bad weather.  A largish flax bush further down (south) the beach, appeared to indicate that a cliff collapse had occurred.  (A little while later, I discovered that a full cliff collapse had occurred just before you reached Elephant Rock).


As I neared the Three Sisters, I noticed that the large, ugly plastic type bag that was about eight feet long and filled with sand, was still half submerged behind the rock shelf that separated the Inner Sister from the cliff.  It had been there for several months, but I didn’t make a written note of it before now.





There were a couple of shrubs stranded on the beach that had been dragged out from the chopped up shoreline.  The large plastic bag to the rear of the Sisters was still there, but it was mostly submerged by sand build-up.  Of the cliff collapse that I had observed on the 26th June, the vegetation atop the debris pile still survived.





On the upper beach at the dune area, there were skeletonised small tree corpses.  They had been eroded out by the sea.  I should have photographed them, but due to the persistent rain I didn’t.

Later on, after I had returned from the Four Brothers Beach, as I strolled towards the Three Sisters, I noticed a pair of variable oystercatchers.  They were parked up on a rock shelf at the shoreline.







15.7.2007   PHO2011-1012


Down at the dune area, I noticed how much the shoreline had retreated with much of the marram grass had gone and tree skeletons tumbling onto the beach.  Near Elephant Rock I photographed some green algae on the cliff wall.


Later on, as I neared the Three Sisters, I heard a thrush singing from the cliff top.  I also saw flocks of starlings preparing to roost on the two surviving Sisters.



23.12.2007   PHO2011-1122-1123


The two remaining Sisters support weather ravaged vegetation.  This is clearly shown in the accompanying photo.  Elephant Rock is also well clothed in vegetation on its upper reaches.







10.2.2008   PHO2011-1166


Low cloud coupled with sea mist imbued the landscape with a strangely surreal texture.  Great to experience, but hard to photograph well.  (I didn’t succeed in the photo shown here).


The first thing I noticed on accessing the beach was a beachcomber’s hut.  This had been built with a sand floor, marram grass thatching atop the driftwood roof, rocks for low walls and four posts to hold it all together.  Today wasn’t beach bunny weather however.  The photo shows the hut, small in the frame, with the dune to the rear of it.


Cicadas were chirping from the cliffs.


On my return to the Three Sisters Beach after having been on the Four Brothers Beach, I saw three noisy variable oystercatchers parading around near the Sisters.  There were also some black backed gulls resting on the beach.  Also, the sea lettuce festooning some of the rocks was bright yellow.  I didn’t photograph them.  I don’t know if they were ‘blooming’ as there was nothing to indicate that they had been poisoned.  They weren’t shrivelled and ‘dead yellow’.  Perhaps it was a trick of the light.

6.4.2008   PHO2011-1202


Though it was dry, the weather was quite overcast.  When I arrived at the two surviving Sisters, I noticed that a large chunk of rock had been carved off the largest, Inner Sister on the cliff facing side.  I also noticed that the vegetation on both of the Sisters appeared to be either dead, or in extremely poor condition.  This was most likely due to the severe drought conditions of this summer, coupled with the continual assault of desiccating salt spray.


Just past Elephant Rock, I was intrigued by a trail in the sand.  Stooping down at the end of it, I spotted an unfortunate little green cicada.  Its wings were trapping a glob of sand.  I rescued it and put it on top of my shopping bag covered camera.  After rounding the Point separating the Three Sisters Beach from the Four Brothers Beach, I put it on a rock, planning to collect it on the way back and release it onto some flax in the dune area.  (Unfortunately it died).


Upon returning to the Three Sisters Beach, I saw a red billed gull and a variable oystercatcher, resting on one of the rock platforms near the Sisters.





Down at the giant log just up from the beach in the dune area, I saw an orange forest of giant toadstools festooning another log.  That’s how wet it has been.  I heard one or two black field crickets (Gryllus assimilis), chirping.  There was also a bellbird (Anthornis melanura), singing.


As I neared Elephant Rock, I spotted a green stink bug squirming on its back in the damp sand.  It reminded me of the hapless green locust I had tried to save when last here on the 6th April.  It seems that when insects get stuck on their backs in the sand they cannot right themselves.  I picked it up and put it in my anorak pocket.  The aim being, if it was still alive when I returned, to free it on the giant log just up from the beach.


Later on when I returned from the Four Brothers Beach, I spotted a pair of variable oystercatchers parked on a rock shelf near the Sisters.  On another shelf a red billed gull was also parked up.  None of the birds were perturbed by my presence.


And finally, the stink bug I had rescued earlier was still alive so I released it onto the giant log located on the dune just above the beach.



20.7.2008   PHO2011-1247-1249, 1251-1252


SUPER-STORM EVENT.  Super-Storm One.   Huge seas greeted my arrival at Tongaporutu.  Down on the beach, the coastline had been monstered.  There were logs and lots of debris, including live vegetation that had been ripped from the shoreline.  The dune had taken a hammering.  I also noticed two dead sheep, one of which I photographed.


Just beyond Mammoth Rock and looking north towards Pilot Point, sea foam decorated the beach.


FOOTNOTE:  I will need to check the vegetation on the rock stacks to confirm what I think.  That is, generally speaking, the northern sides suffer more erosion and loss of vegetation than the southern sides of the rock stacks.  I believe this is because the heaviest rain events tend to come from the north, north/west.



24.7.2008  PHO2011-1267, 1269-1270


SUPER-STORM EVENT.  Super-Storm Two.  Down at the beach I could see that the storm surge had come right up and into the dune.  Because of a new five foot drop down to the beach, I followed a track around to the rear of Mammoth Rock.  This involved scrambling through an overgrown log field.  That is, logs that have been covered over with sand, then soil, grass and shrubs.  From here I first noticed that the sand/land bridge that had connected the dune to Mammoth Rock had been washed away.   (I later learned from Russell Gibbs that this was estimated to have been in place for around 40 years). Lots of mature flax plants and other shrubs were tossed up at the cliff line.  All the marram grass and convolvulus that had resided both on the sand bridge and on the dune proper had gone.


Of the beach itself, it had been swept clean.  All the logs and other debris, including the two dead sheep I had observed on the 20th had vanished.  However, down near the first arch, a North Island fantail flittered about in the bashed up bush close to me.



3.8.2008   PHO2011-1273-1274


SUPER-STORM EVENT.  Super-Storm Three.  I went up to Tongaporutu to continue documenting the ongoing carnage meted out by three successive storms.  However, being ill with the flu wasn’t helping matters, but the weather, like rust, never sleeps.


The drop to the beach from the dune area was now ten feet.  This had doubled from my last visit on the 24th July.  The dune area had been chomped back so far that a cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), was now perched precariously close to the new boundary.  At the rear of Mammoth Rock, lots of flax plants, trees, logs and other flotsam were strewn about.  As I walked around to the beach proper, I almost trod on a seal pup.  It flapped away from me towards the sea.



18.8.2008   PHO2011-1288, 1291-1292, 1296-1297


Dropping down onto the beach, I was amazed at how much more of the dune had been lost.  The frightened cabbage tree I had seen on the 3rd had gone and a white fence that had been behind it was now at the bottom of the sand bank.  A lot more flotsam, trees, flax and logs were here compared to last time.


Around near Mammoth Rock, an old rubbish heap in the bank had now been exposed.  All the plastic looked in pristine condition as in it hadn’t rotted.  Not a good look.  Then, enroute along the beach heading towards the Sisters, I saw lots of mature green lipped mussels, literally tons of seaweed and loads of empty shells that had red and white stripes on them (Cassidae spp).  I thought I had been gobsmacked at the damage I had seen last time, but it paled in comparison to this.  In all of my trips up to Tonga, I have never seen anything that comes close to this orgy of destruction.  It really, really was mind-blowing.


Later, while setting up to photograph looking over the seaweed towards Mammoth Rock, I saw the young seal pup that I had almost trodden on a fortnight ago.  I called him Peter.  Of course, he could have been a she.  Anyway, he didn’t seem bothered by me or the other photographer there; rather, he was more bothered by the uncomfortable stones he had to slither over.  I did take a photo of him, but with the wide angle lens and lots of similar coloured stones to him, it is a case of ‘spot the seal’.



28.9.2008   PHO2011-1321-1324, 1326-1327


Before descending down to the beach, I took a series of images with the 105 mm lens of the dune area and right around and past Mammoth Rock.  These show the variety of vegetation growing there.  On the beach, there were more flax bushes lying limp in the sand.


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I had one frame of film left.  I took care to try and eliminate a large whitish ‘sheet’ of canvas that was half buried in the sand.  There were a number of these exposed at various placed on the Three Sisters Beach.  I wondered if they came from fishing trawlers.  They don’t break down or rot.



15.10.2008   PHO2011-1357


The first thing that hit me at the bottom of the track was the stench of death.  A dead animal was in close proximity, but I couldn’t see anything from my viewpoint.  Down on the beach, there was the usual debris of logs and other vegetation scattered about.  It was there that I saw a balloon shaped dead sheep and a de-furred and de-legged body of what appeared to be a steer.  The steer could be the remains of a steer I saw over on the Pilot Point side of the Tonga River on the 31st August.  Generally speaking, flotsam travels in a south to north direction, so having something travel in the opposite direction, though not impossible, is unusual.


Around at the Three Sisters Cave there had been a very fresh, huge cliff collapse.  I knew the collapse to be fresh by the large amount of soil present.  Also, a flax bush sat atop the debris pile and I could just see the top of a tree further back into the cave.



12.11.2008   PHO2011-1367, 1399


CLIFF SECTION COLLAPSE.  On the beach I was confronted by a mass of beached plant material.  Flaxes, coprosma, pohutukawa.  I also saw quite a lot of small, semi-transparent shells.  They were By-the-Wind-Sailor jellyfish, the most common jellyfish to wash up on the Tongaporutu coastline.  They were in tide-lines in places where the sand had started to build back a little.


Rounding the first arch, the full extent of the cliff collapse was truly jaw dropping.  As this is fully documented in Section Four, I will concentrate on the plants.  On the right side of the arch a huge number of flaxes had been washed up onto the round rocks at the base of the cliffs.  A massive amount of plants had been disgorged, along with everything else.  The amount of soil and cliff material released had been so huge that it hadn’t been able to clear the cliff.  Most of the material remained insitu, backed up about three quarters the way up the new cliff wall.  Numerous flax plants and other shrubs remained marooned on soil knolls yet to collapse.


Before finally leaving the beach, I rescued one of the tossed up flax plants and took it home.  It would join another flax bush that I rescued on another occasion.  That bush had been carved out from the dune and was about to drop down onto the beach and be washed away.



23.11.2008   PHO2011-1406-1408


I don’t normally return to Tonga so soon, especially with such a high low tide of 0.9m, but I wanted to document the continuing evolution of the massive cliff section collapse I observed on the 12th of this month.


Before clambering down to the beach, I walked along to the top of the cliff collapse that overlooked the Sisters, including the New Sister; she still being attached by a stony umbilical cord to her parent cliff.  A large crack was opening up on the Middle Sister.  A pair of starlings appeared to be nesting in there as I saw them go in the crack a few times.  Either that or they were checking it out as a potential nest site.  A photo shows the vegetation atop both the Inner and Middle Sisters from a rarely seen perspective.


Down on the beach, the dead and dying flax bushes still remained on the beach up near the dune.  Around at the cliff collapse site, dead flaxes and rushes were semi-buried in the sand.


Near the Three Sisters Cave, I heard a lot of activity in the vegetation up on the cliff.  A pair of starlings had a nest there and were busy feeding hungry nestlings.  They were located low down the cliff face.  This was probably in an effort, successfully so far, to avoid predators.  This is why birds prefer to nest on the rock stacks rather than the mainland.



14.12.2008   PHO2011-1425, 1435, 1468


CLIFF SEQUENCING.  The first thing I noticed was that the Middle Sister had lost her top.  In one of the cliff sequencing photos, there is a black backed gull perched on the Middle Sister’s new top.  As for the beach, well, sand cliffs had formed on the seaward side of the dune.  Also, the cliff leading around to the first arch was highly unstable.  Plants and rocks, etc., were sliding down these ‘cliffs’ and dropping onto the beach.


As I continued to photograph, I spotted a lone variable oystercatcher fossicking around.  It didn’t seem too bothered by my presence or that of the other people who were on the beach.


Later, after returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I took a photo of the Sisters from a seaweed festooned rock platform.  Some of these platforms are quite high and thus rarely get smothered in sand.  This allows for the colonisation of seaweeds and mussels, also barnacles.







11.1.2009   PHO2011-1502, 1505, 1507


At Tonga, I was pissed off at the lack of sunshine.  Just seems to be cloudsville of late.  Down on the beach I noticed a lot of coprosma bits and bobs littering the sand.  There were also some coprosma branches and flax bushes.  I later discovered they had emanated from a cliff collapse between Elephant Rock and the Point.  This collapse was so fresh that some vegetation was still present and alive.


Heading towards the Sisters, I noticed lots of white-fronted terns.  Some were nesting on the Inner Sister, but only on the pink flowering ‘cushion’ plants, (Horokaka – Maori Ice-plant).


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I noticed that some of the reefs situated at the low tide mark that resided between Elephant Rock and the Sisters, were almost completely buried in sand in places.  And this sand was smothering the mussels growing on them.


At the Sisters, I saw that the Little Sister was smothered in terns.  Even though I only had my wide-angle lens on, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of them.



8.2.2009   PHO2011-1574


The beach was so well built up between Mammoth Rock and the dune that the driftwood and truly dead flaxes were still present.


Later, after returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I became intrigued by some highly visible ‘top hat’ rock platforms near Elephant Rock.  They had mussel spat and seaweed growing on them.  Continuing northward, just past the big arch, I came across the body of another tiny bird (tern).  Like the one I had first observed on the Four Brothers Beach, it was naked of any feathers and its eyes hadn’t yet opened.  I wondered if it was a victim of the black backed gulls.  It’s quite sad really.


On a positive note, the terns are still persevering so I hope that they will ultimately be successful.



11.3.2009   PHO2011-1575-1577, 1588


Very high winds hampered photography.  I took a couple of photos on the cliff above Mammoth Rock.  They show wind whipped flaxes and other plants.


Down at the gap between Mammoth Rock and the dune, a forest of beached logs was hard up against the dune.  On the beach proper I saw lots of washed up jellyfish.  They looked like Vella.  I couldn’t photograph them because of the wind blasted sand.  At the wave-line, waves were tossing up salt foam.  Near the Little Sister I spotted a lone bluebottle jellyfish (Physalia physalis), washed up on the beach.  Finally, between the Sisters and Mammoth Rock, looking north towards Pilot Point, I photographed a long finger of salt foam that a wave had left behind.



12.4.2009   PHO2011-1590


There was the usual logjam in the vicinity of the dune.  The next obvious thing I observed was washed up jellyfish.  There were boat loads of them.  As I continued to photograph on the beach, the true scale of this mass stranding of Vella jellyfish became all too apparent.  There must have been thousands upon thousands of them.  If they had also stranded up and down the coast, e.g. Rapanui and the Four Brothers Beach, and stranded in the same volume as here, then the numbers could be in the hundreds of thousands.  This was a staggering stranding, even by jellyfish standards.  And this was just on the one tide cycle I happened to have observed.  What eats jellyfish?  This must have had an impact on the food chain.



25.5.2009   PHO2011-1595-1596


Down at the dune, I was surprised to see that the coprosmas that had lined the bank opposite Mammoth Rock had vanished.  The building sand bar at this location had gone due to the big seas which we have recently experienced.  This also impacted on the corner of the dune which was once again been eaten into.  Live tree corpses were seen littering the beach.


Near the arch there had been a couple of cliff slides.  Dislodged plants and plant material were still alive.  There was no flotsam on the beach, apart from a long dead canvas sheet.  This had probably shifted from the rock shelf located at the rear of the Sisters, having squatted there for some considerable amount of time.


Just past Elephant Rock, I came across a massive, full cliff face collapse.  It was very fresh as there was a large amount of soil and live plants present that had yet to slip down to the beach.


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I spotted a variable oystercatcher near the Sisters.

22.7.2009   PHO2011-1626


As I walked towards the Sisters, a lone adult seal ambled towards the sea.  I gave it plenty of space and didn’t cut it off.  At the cliff section collapse site, green algae was colonising the rocks that remained after last November’s massive cliff failure.  The cliff collapse to the rear of Elephant Rock that I observed on the 25th May still had a lone surviving flax plant near the bottom of it.



2.8.2009   PHO2011-1628-1629


Down at the gap between Mammoth Rock and the dune, more plants had succumbed to the sea.  A few logs also had taken up temporary residence here.



22.8.2009   PHO2011-1633-1634, 1638


First up, I photographed some of the vegetation on Mammoth Rock, then the dune area close to Mammoth Rock.  Later, as I arrived at the Sisters, I saw a shag atop the Middle Sister.  It was stretching its wings.  After I had photographed it, two black backed gulls joined it.  Murphy’s Law!


Aside from the birds, the most obvious thing I noticed was that the Middle Sister had also lost her southern side in a substantial rock stack collapse.


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I saw a number of black backed gulls flying around, plus a few red billed gulls.  I also saw a couple of variable oystercatchers.  They seem to be a resident pair.  Besides the birds, clouds of small insects, (type unknown), were buzzing around just above head height.  Thankfully they didn’t zoom in on anyone so they obviously weren’t ferocious sand flies.



26.8.2009   PHO2011-1657-1660, 1662-1663, 1887


I wanted to document the continuing evolution of the dune, particularly under high tide/big seas conditions.  Before venturing down to the gap, I took some images from the cliff top looking down on the coastal vegetation.  Down at the gap, more plant material from the dune was toppling into the sea.  Waves rushing past were replete with branches and twigs.  A log also trucked past like it was a twig; such was the force of the water.  On the beach proper, a dislodged flax plant and a clump of grass were being hammered by the rushing surf.



6.9.2009   PHO2011-1888-1889, 1897-1898


On the beach, one of the things I wanted to do was to take a series of images of the dune with the digital camera to be stitched together later.   The intention being to show the dune in its entirety and how the vegetation is being affected, along with the dune itself


Later on, while walking back towards Mammoth Rock, I saw a number of same type shells on the beach that I had observed on the 18th August 2008.  The soil discolouration in many of the sand pools came from a full cliff face collapse that had occurred at the cliff section collapse site.  Some live flax plants had yet to tumble down onto the beach.



19.9.2009   PHO2011-1666, 1674, 1681-1682, 1904, 1912


Down at the gap, I was sad to see the corpse of a little blue penguin.  Nearby was a washed up flax plant that was still alive.  On the beach proper there was a lot of plant material.  This body of plants consisted of small, scrubby trees, grass clumps and flaxes.  At the cliff collapse site observed on the 6th of this month, the flax bushes had gone, most ending their journey here on the beach.


After finishing on the Four Brothers Beach, I photographed a couple of rock platforms with the Little Sister in the background.  As they had been free of sand for some time, they had been re-colonised by small mussels.  I also photographed a couple as they passed between the dune and a beached flax plant to give scale.  Also, the dune on the main beach side shows how the vegetation is continuing to retreat landwards.



18.10.2009   PHO2011-1925, 1931, 1934-1935, 1937


There was a lot of vegetation littering the beach.  Flaxes, pepper trees, etc.  There was also a very bloated, dead sheep at the gap.  Due to the less than wonderful weather, there was a lot of frothy foam in the pools and on some of the rocks.


PHO2011-1931 shows some of the ice plants that colonise the more exposed, lower parts of the Inner Sister.


At Mammoth Rock, a large section of cliff had collapsed onto the beach.  I noticed that a small patch of reeds that were embedded in the sand were still alive, so the collapse was quite recent.


After finishing for the day, I stopped part way up the track to photograph looking down on the beach and across to Mammoth Rock.  This was for comparison purposes to show the dune’s rate of regression.



15.11.2009   PHO2011-1947


It was wet and miserable.  I had arranged to take members of the Taranaki Geological Society on a guided walk up at Tonga.  Had it not been for this, I wouldn’t have come up under such horrible conditions.  (Only three people turned up).  The photo highlights the vegetation atop the cliff and on Mammoth Rock.


Down at the gap, all the vegetation I had previously seen strewn at this location was dead.  There were also some jellyfish that had been washed up.  There wasn’t a lot though.  At the seaward end of Mammoth Rock we came across a bluebottle jellyfish.


Near the Inner Sister, a smallish rock platform was almost smothered by the increasing sand level.  There was just a small area on top that had sea lettuce, mussel spat and some limpets on it.  Everything below this sand line had been smothered.





Sea fog and low cloud dominated everything.  On the beach, sea foam loitered in the sand and rock pools.  Also on the beach, close to the Three Sisters, I saw a SHAG.  This struck me as being unusual because they usually favour a perch off the ground, presumably for preening and take offs.  Lots of terns were flying around the Inner Sister.  It was breeding time again, although I didn’t see any evidence of nesting at this stage.


I photographed the Sisters from one of the few visible rock platforms located between the Sisters and Elephant Rock.  (This image appears to have been lost).  The other platforms that reside here were now being buried by high sand cover.  A channel of frothy cappuccino coloured water separated the two visible rock platforms.


The dune showed up well in this wet light, as did the green algae that colonised a rock near the first arch.  In the forming V section of the beach in front of the seaward side of the dune, a large tree trunk was re-emerging from its sandy tomb.


The large flax bushes hanging on for dear life at the dune’s corner were still there.  The beach was building up here quite nicely and there was a lot of driftwood and dead plant material loafing about.







16.1.2010   PHO2011-1709-1710, 1712-1714, 1716, 1718


Before venturing down onto the beach, I photographed a young flowering pohutukawa tree that overlooked Mammoth Rock.  While setting the camera up to take this photo, I spotted what looked like a stoat running along the base of Mammoth Rock.  Down at the gap, tracks in the sand confirmed my original observations.  This was either a stoat or a weasel.  Bad news for birds.  There were also a lot of seagull tracks.  Birds in the coastal vegetation were few, but I did hear a chaffinch.


At the gap, driftwood was present atop a low sand shelf.  The dune here appeared to have stabilized to some degree.  I could still get down to the beach via a dead pepper tree that remained anchored by its roots to the lower part of the bank.  The blue board that had been visible nearby had now gone.


On the beach proper, there was some driftwood that had been deposited recently.  No more plants were dropping into the sea for the time being.  I did see a clump of bright orange coloured kelp (Ecklonia radiata) which I photographed.


In the vicinity of the Three Sisters there were lots of terns diving into the sea just beyond the breakers.  They were obviously whacking into some small fish.  Numerous shags were parked atop the Middle Sisters and black backed gulls were also flying around.


Just before arriving at Elephant Rock, I noticed an upended tree trunk that was half buried in sand close up to the cliff.  The trunk was festooned with dead goose barnacles.  They had been dead for a while because everything stank something cruel.  However, this tree trunk had presumably been underwater for a considerable amount of time prior to ending up on the beach for the goose barnacles to have taken up residence.  The barnacles weren’t mature, but their size indicated the trunk had been submerged for some months.


Up in the cliffs I heard lots of cicadas chirping away above the noise of the sea.


Returning to the Sisters, I saw that terns were once again nesting on the Inner Sister.  I took a closer photo of the Two Sisters.  This shows shags atop the Middle Sister and two terns nesting on the southern side of the Inner Sister.  Both were nesting on the highly favoured ice ‘cushion’ plants growing there.  They grow where nothing else can.  I assumed by the number of shags, gulls and terns present that the fishing conditions must be good today.


As the ice plants appear to colonise most of the offshore rock stacks, I wondered how they got there.



30.1.2010   PHO2011-1743-1746


Down at the gap, driftwood continued to make a home on the Tonga River side of the small stream.  At the Sisters, only the tops of the resident rock platform to the rear of the Inner Sister were visible.  Mussel spat was present on them.  Lots of terns were nesting on the Inner Sister.  There were a couple of young brown black backed gulls on the beach and I was being bombed by flying adults as I walked past.  One poop bomb splooshed close behind me.


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I photographed the mussel encrusted mini-reefs located in the vicinity of the Little Sister.  These had been exposed due to the very low 0.2m tide.  A little later I photographed the terns nesting on the Inner Sister.  Up close I noticed that some of the terns were nesting right on top amongst the low growing shrubs.  They actually preferred to nest on the more open and comfortable cushion plants, but due to bird numbers, some breeding pairs had to take what space they could get.  I also saw some variable oystercatchers on the beach, but they didn’t hang around due to the presence of dogs that people had brought onto the beach.





Today was a re-run of the Tonga field trip for members of the Taranaki Geological Society held last November.  The main difference being in the weather.  Today it was fine, whereas last November it was raining.


At the gap between Mammoth Rock and the dune, a small, dry high tide free area was establishing on the northern side of the creek that emptied onto the beach here.  Due to this, driftwood already present remained in place.  Some of the rock platforms between Elephant Rock and the Sisters were well exposed and had good mussel crops on their flat tops.



11.7.2010   PHO2011-1812


Up at Tonga the atmosphere was incredibly clear.  In fact it was so clear that it reminded me of the Mackenzie Country, where the clarity made you feel undressed, such was the level of exposure.


Down at the gap, though the dune was continuing to erode, the pace of erosion had reduced considerably, except at the corner where flaxes continued to be dislodged.  At the Three Sisters Cave I saw a  house sparrow (Passer domesticus), flying around.  I presumed it was chasing flying insects.


After returning from the Four Brothers Beach, I planned to photograph the Sisters looking south towards Mt Egmont.  As I walked between the Little and Middle Sisters, I was scolded by a walking variable oystercatcher.  As I came close by, its mate flew up from some mussel encrusted rocks near the Little Sister.


Finally, as I neared Mammoth Rock, I saw a kereru fly across from the dune coastal forest to Mammoth Rock.



18.9.2010   PHO2011-1755-1757,1853, 1855, 1857, 1860, 1862-1864, 1868, 1870-1872, 1875


MEGA-STORM.  I had wanted to photograph from Gibbs’ Fishing Point first, but the conditions were so horrendous that I had to scrub round that idea.  Though I had brought my big camera and tripod down with me as well as the digital camera, I only managed to take six photos down here on film, plus two up at the Picnic Table Overlook above the Four Brothers Beach.  This was due to flying salt foam, but mostly the wind which was at storm force strength.  You couldn’t keep anything still, including yourself!


Down at the bottom I was stunned by what I saw.  I’ve seen lots of sea foam before, particularly from the two alpha storms that I documented on 29.9.2003 and 19.9.2005, but nothing compared to this.  You couldn’t even see the main beach (the seaward side of the dune).  It was smothered in sea foam.  Where it was hard up against the dune, it was several feet deep.  It was like looking at a giant bubble bath that an ogre had whipped up in an orgy of anger.


A huge tree languished in the surf.  Anything else that might have been tossed up was invisible; buried in sea foam.  Beach access here was impossible.  Firstly, because you couldn’t see it, but more importantly, because the wave surges were coming right up to the dune bank.


Around at the gap that separated Mammoth Rock from the dune, a ribbed sand platform had built up on the Tonga River side of the stream that exited onto the beach there.  Driftwood and flax plants had accumulated on this platform. 

Elsewhere, parts of the beach in this vicinity were visible.  Froth bloated waves delivered great drifts of foam that rolled about everywhere.  Some frothed up into the flax plants on the dune’s vulnerable corner.  Where waves raced around Mammoth Rock, logs floated past like toy rubber ducks.


I don’t remember seeing any birds here or hearing any.  Not that you could hear anything above the crescendo of storm noise.


For the most part, if it hadn’t have been for the digital camera that I only brought up ‘just in case’, I would have got mostly nothing.  Though some of the images may not be tack sharp, even with the image stabilizer on, they are the only photographic record of this mega storm that slammed into Tongaporutu.  I saw no-one else there that day.    

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