Topic: Storm - 2005

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16 July 2005  


PHO2008-807, PHO2008-1372, PHO2008-1373, PHO2008-1374, PHO2008-1375, PHO2008-1376, PHO2008-1377, PHO2008-1378


Te Kawau Pa.

On Pilot Point looking south across the Tonga River towards the Three Sisters Beach.

On Gibbs Fishing Point looking south along Beach One.

A 1.2m low tide was due at 11.14 am.

The weather was mostly cloudy and the wind was from the north-east.  The sea state was moderate.


24 July 2005  

PHO2008-1379, PHO2008-1380, PHO2008-1381, PHO2008-1382, PHO2008-1383, PHO2008-1384, PHO2008-1385, PHO2008-1386, PHO2008-1387

Pilot Point Beach.

The Three Sisters Beach.

A 0.3m low tide was due at 6.08 pm.

The weather was warmish with a westerly wind.  There was also a mix of cloud and some sun.  The atmosphere was quite hazy with a lot of salt spray.  The sea state was reasonable.


20 August 2005  

PHO2008-1388, PHO2008-1389, PHO2008-1390, PHO2008-1391, PHO2008-1392, PHO2008-1393, PHO2008-1394, PHO2008-1395, PHO2008-1396, PHO2008-1397, PHO2008-1398, PHO2008-1399, PHO2008-1400, PHO2008-1401, PHO2008-1402, PHO2008-1403, PHO2008-1404, PHO2008-1405, PHO2008-1406, PHO2008-1407, PHO2008-1408, PHO2008-1409, PHO2008-1410, PHO2008-1411, PHO2008-1412, PHO2008 -1413

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.2m low tide was due at 4.15 pm.  Full moon.

There was a slight north-easterly breeze and it was mostly fine with cloud around the mountain.  The sea state was calm.


21 August 2005  

PHO2007-216,   PHO2008-808, PHO2008-1414, PHO2008-1415, PHO2008-1416, PHO2008-1417, PHO2008-1418, PHO2008-1419, PHO2008-1420, PHO2008-1421, PHO2008-1422, PHO2008-1423, PHO2008-1424, PHO2008-1425, PHO2008-1426, PHO2008-1427, PHO2008-1428, PHO2008-1429, PHO2008-1430, PHO2008-1431, PHO2008-1432

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.1m low tide was due at 5 pm.  Just after full moon.

Today there was no wind at all and the sea was almost flat.  Unlike yesterday the sky was filled with high, white cloud, perfect for cave photography.  I finally managed to photograph the Maori cave drawings on the Three Sisters Beach such was the quality of the light.

19 September 2005   

PHO2008-809PHO2008-810, PHO2008-1433, PHO2008-1434, PHO2008-1435, PHO2008-1436, PHO2008-1437, PHO2008-1438, PHO2008-1439 - PHO2008-1465,   PHO2010-0507, PHO2008-0508

The MacKenzies Picnic Table Overlook, looking down (south) on Cathedral Cave and the Gibbs’ Fishing Point.

Gibbs Fishing Point looking north along the Four Brothers Beach.  (From both high and low viewpoints, the low one being particularly dangerous).

On Gibbs’ farm looking down on Mammoth Rock on the Three Sisters Beach.

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Point

A 3.9m high tide was due at 10.31 am and a 0.1m low tide was due at 4.37 pm.  Full moon.

An Alpha Storm.

The following is taken from my diary notes written at the time.

“I have been waiting for some time to document ‘the perfect storm’ at Tongaporutu.  The closest I came was on 29 September 2003.  This powerful alpha storm destroyed one of the Three Sisters and one of the Four Brothers rock stacks.

On Sunday, 18 September, the barometer had dropped to the lowest I had ever seen it.  It fell to 964 hPa.  On the Sunday it rained for most of the day, but there was little wind.  Later, the wind, a west, north/westerly, picked up.

On Monday, today, it was very cold and the wind was really blowing.  However, unlike yesterday, today it was blowing from the west, south/west.  It was full moon and this coincided with a 3.9m king tide.  I believed this would be my perfect storm.

I hiked across the MacKenzies farm down towards the picnic table overlook.  It was very cold and the wind was full on being directly off the sea.  Heavy showers threatened on the horizon (coming in), but for the moment it was fine as in not raining.

Looking north along the Four Brothers Beach, a huge sea was running.  Some of the spray plumes from the bigger waves were reaching the cliff tops.  The remaining Three Brothers were still intact.  I then went to the opposite side of the picnic table overlook that looks down onto Cathedral Cave and across to Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  Where I stood, close to a row of bent and twisted pohutukawas, I believed I was just out of wave height range.  Here I observed monster waves smashing into the cliffs and sending huge spray plumes high above the cliffs and Gull Rock

I wouldn’t get any good individual wave images today as the sea close in was a seething cauldron of white water and foam.  After taking a number of images here I packed up and headed across towards Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  While I recorded the sound of the alpha storm of 29.9.2003, unfortunately I hadn’t brought up my tape recorder today.  Before I accessed Gibbs’ Fishing Point proper, I waited out a rain squall behind another belt of tortured pohutukawas.  It would have been hopeless trying to photograph in the pouring rain as I couldn’t protect the camera with the umbrella.  It was too windy.  And I couldn’t photograph with the plastic supermarket shopping bag over the camera!

After the squall had passed I trekked down to the lower part of Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  This is where a stream pours lemming-like over the cliff.  The bare, clayish-like cliff was slippery and I wasn’t comfortable with being so low down in comparison to the huge waves that were monstering the Wall.  Wind-whipped spray plumes furiously whipped up and all around.  Being this low down, relatively speaking (around 80 feet above sea-level), meant that I would be photographing wave plumes that were frequently reaching heights much higher than 80 feet.

I set up with the 55 mm wide-angle lens on, about five feet from the cliff’s edge that looked straight across to the Wall.  I set the shutter speed at 1/250th sec.  As I prepared to take my third shot, a huge wave slammed into the mega-wall on the seaward side of Gibb’s Fishing Point and set a massive spray plume over the top of the cliff.  It splashed right over me and the camera.  Fortunately the camera was partially protected by the plastic shopping bag.  I waited for the enveloping curtain of water to dissipate.  This appeared to take forever, everything having ‘slowed down’.  Obviously the actual time involved was literally only a few seconds, but time has the odd ability to appear to slow down in certain situations of extreme stress.

I finally took the shot, the idea being to show the spray plume, plus have enough visibility to show the Wall in the background.  Shortly after that, the whole cliff shuddered and I had vivid images of it collapsing beneath me.  That scared me even more than the wave spray plume that slammed down over the top of me.  I then changed my roll of film, took another three images, then went higher up the cliff to where it was ‘safer’.  There I took a further three images of the coastline looking north along the Four Brothers Beach.

After this I drove down to the Tonga Reserve to dry off, try and relax and have lunch.  I then drove down the Gibbs farm track to their barn above the Three Sisters Beach.  Before another dark rain squall arrived, I strolled over to the cliff that overlooked Mammoth Rock and the Tonga River.  The river was in full spate and surging outwards.  A huge log that resembled a beached whale lay stranded in the shallows fairly close to Pilot Point.

I then returned to the car to sit out the squall.  When the squall hit, the car rocked in the fierce wind that accompanied it.  As I sat out the squall, gobs of sea foam soared high over the top of the cliff and into the paddock.  A couple landed on the windscreen.

Down at the Three Sisters Beach the storm had been devastating.  Most of the marram grass had been ripped out and 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 and onto the land (which I didn’t photograph!).  I had never seen this level of damage here before.  There was a roughly two foot drop off to access the beach from the usual track.  The beach here was often a graveyard for dead logs.  All had now 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 other notable thing was the huge swathes of sea foam loitering up and around the nearest arch and cliff.  It looked like they were frothing at the mouth.  Another squall was coming in.  I would just have enough time to make it back to the whopping log the Gibbs had hauled up over the bank onto the dune area proper.  I had just changed my roll of film when the rain arrived by the bucket-full.  I sought refuge under a particular clump of trees and sheltered beneath these and my umbrella.

No-one else was there.  Nor had there been anyone up at Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  No-one else would have been stupid enough, apart from me.  That aside, I had assessed the risks and precautions that I should take.  So far so good.

The weather now appeared to offer me a respite for a while, so I left the umbrella beneath the large log and ventured down onto the beach.  Even though it was officially an extremely low tide of 0.1 metres, the powerful storm was sending waves surging right up to the cliffs on occasions.  I thought of the stark contrast when I was here during the last full moon on 20th August.  Then, there had also been a 0.1m low tide, but the sea was calm and the weather perfectly fine.  What a difference in moods!  As I rounded the Maori carvings cave opposite the Three Sisters, I was amazed at the veracity of the sea foam.  Great swathes of it swum around the cave opposite me.  The walls too were covered, like they had been licking their chops!

On the beach as a whole, there were huge wave surges and sea foam was everywhere, including the cliffs.  Wanting to capture the sea foam in flight, I set up close to the cliff where the Point starts and looking north towards Elephant Rock and the Sisters.  By this time another squall was approaching.  It would provide the perfect backdrop.

That’s when things started to stuff up.  First, I couldn’t get the tripod head to accept the plug and camera.  Then the bottom part of my anorak came apart – the zipped part unzipped below the zip.  Also, I was sinking into the running stream of water I’d had to set up in.  And everything was getting covered in the swirling foam.  Finally, I managed to get the camera to ‘seat’ properly on the tripod head.  I took a shot of Elephant Rock and the approaching storm front, then a gob of foam struck the lens.  Cursing, I had to use spittle to clear it.

For the last photo I moved the camera angle to include the Three Sisters with Elephant Rock against a squall filled sky.  I didn’t know how or if it would turn out.”  (This was later the lead photo in my photo essay:  ‘At the Boundary of Impermenence’, which appeared in the September – October 2006 issue, number 81, of the New Zealand Geographic magazine).

“By now I had really had enough.  I ran up the beach to some rocks and tried to free my anorak zip.  It wouldn’t budge.  Had to rip it open, ripping two zip teeth off.  Stuffed the anorak up.  After that I tried to wipe the camera clean as best as I could with a well used facecloth.

After all of that, I could see the squall was getting closer.  I hurried along the beach.  By the time I reached the Three Sisters, the wind was pummelling me along.  Fortunately it was a tail wind.  Had I outstretched my arms I’m sure I would have taken off.  The wind was so strong that it was lifting some of the water out of the pools and whirling it into the air.  As I reached the arch that led onto the dune area part of the beach, it started to hail.  I broke into a run as hail bounced onto the beach.  I finally made it back up onto the dune and into the trees after retrieving my umbrella.  With it giving me some shelter I waited until the worst of the squall had passed.

Totally stuffed, I got home at around 7.30 pm.”

NOTE:  Though this storm qualified as an alpha storm, the alpha storm that I documented on 29.9.2003 was the more powerful storm of the two as measured by its WASH ZONE – it extended further out to sea.


16 October 2005  

PHO2008-1466, PHO2008-1467, PHO2008-1468, PHO2008-1469, PHO2008-1470, PHO2008-1471, PHO2008-1472, PHO2008-1473, PHO2008-1474, PHO2008-1475

Beach Two.

A 0.3m low tide was due at 3.47 pm.  Just before full moon.

The weather was fine with a few light wispy clouds glazing the sun.  Though the sea was relatively calm, there was a one foot swell running with bigger sets interspersed with the lulls.  On the beach itself it was boiling hot.  This exacerbated the headache I had started the day with.


6 November 2005  

PHO2008-1476, PHO2008-1477, PHO2008-1478, PHO2008-1479, PHO2008-1480, PHO2008-1481, PHO2008-1482, PHO2008-1483, PHO2008-1484, PHO2008-1485, PHO2008-1486, PHO2008-1487, PHO2008-1488, PHO2008-1489


On the Gibbs’ top paddock looking north towards Twin Creeks and Beach Two.

Twin Creeks.

On the Maori Pa promontory looking north along Beach Two.

On the Maori Pa promontory looking south towards Twin Creeks and White Cliffs.


A 0.7m low tide was due at 7.47 pm.  Just after new moon.


There was a slight drizzle upon my arrival at Tonga, but by the time I arrived at Twin Creeks the sun had made a weak appearance.  The sea was quite calm apart from a roughly 1.5 metre swell that was running.  There was no storm surge though.



14 November 2005  


Beach One.

At the Pipeline looking south along Beach Two and towards White Cliffs.

On the reef at Beach One, looking north along Beach One, also, south along Beach Two and the reef itself looking out to sea.

A 0.5m low tide was due at 3.24 pm.  Just before full moon.

Upon arrival at Tongaporutu, a cold south-westerly wind was roaring and the sea was a herd of galloping white horses.  Thunderheads and squalls completed the action.  Churned up water replete with sand was visible for some distance out to sea.

I had been hoping for dull weather.  And it was, out to sea.  Closer in the sun was playing ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ with the clouds.  And on occasion a few drops of rain invited themselves in as the sun disappeared.  To make things even more difficult my damn camera battery was playing up.  Anyway ...



30 November 2005  

PHO2008-811PHO2008-1517, PHO2008-1518, PHO2008-1519, PHO2008-1520, PHO2008-1521, PHO2008-1522, PHO2008-1523, PHO2008-1524, PHO2008-1525

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.7m low tide was due at 3.48 pm.  Nearly new moon.

It was a warm, blue sky day and Mt Egmont was clear.  An onshore westerly breeze was present.  The sea was cold.  While on the Four Brothers Beach, I’d hoped to photograph the chunk of cliff that had been gouged out on the landward side of Cathedral Cave during the alpha storm that had raged on 19.9.05.  However, the sea between Pinocchio and the Gibbs’ Fishing Point where Cathedral Cave is housed, wasn’t going to permit me access today.  The water was usually higher in this area.  The unique topography causes the sea to ‘bulk up’ here with bigger waves.


11 December 2005 

PHO2008-1526, PHO2008-1527, PHO2008-1528, PHO2008-1529, PHO2008-1530, PHO2008-1531, PHO2008-1532, PHO2008-1533, PHO2008-1534

Dulcie Richards burnt down bach, Tongaporutu baches.

Pilot Point Beach.

Te Kawau Pa.

On Pilot Point looking south across the Tonga River towards the Three Sisters Beach.

On Gibbs’ Fishing Point looking north along the Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.9m low tide was due at 1.11 pm.  Roughly a three quarters full moon.

The weather was hot, sultry and cloudy.  Heavy rain had been forecast, but hadn’t as yet arrived.  The wind, what odd puff there was, was from the north, north/westerly quarter.

Upon arrival at Tonga, I was roasting.  Clouds were boiling up in the sky, much like tropical monsoon weather, such was the intense heat and humidity.  At the Keyhole at Te Kawau Pa, it was relatively fine out to sea, but over the entire land area and hills there were huge cloud build-ups.  I had just set up when thunder crash-banged overhead and reverberated right out to sea, then it started to teem down.  At the Pilot Point overlook, while there was a lot of thunder, the odd flash of lightning that I saw appeared to remain in the clouds.

On Gibbs’ Fishing Point the sea had slacked right off, not that it was rough before.  There was no wind and a light one metre swell tickled the Wall.  I’d taken my umbrella in case it rained.  Just when I had finished, I turned back for a final look when I saw a wall of water advancing towards me.  As the sea was so calm the rain’s advance could clearly be seen etched on the sea’s surface.  The coastline behind this liquid curtain was completely blocked out such was the rain’s intensity.  I took a couple of images, then hunkered down behind the memorial boulder to the late George Mackenzie.  I popped open the umbrella.  The rain torrented down.  Just as I was hunkered down, so too were the sheep in the adjoining paddock.  As the rain intensified, thunder ripped across the sky.  I was acutely aware of my umbrella’s pointed metal tip.  I didn’t want to be a lightning conductor.  I had taken a stupid risk in such conditions.

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