Topic: Storm - 2010

Topic type:

16 January 2010  

PHO2011-1709, PHO2011-1710, PHO2011-1711, PHO2011-1712, PHO2011-1713, PHO2011-1714, PHO2011-1715, PHO2011-1716, PHO2011-1717, PHO2011-1718, PHO2011-1719, PHO2011-1720, PHO2011-1721


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

The Three Sisters Beach.

A 0.6m low tide was due at 5.50 pm.  Just after new moon.

This summer has thus far been a non-event with El Nino holding sway.  Specifically, it has been cold, windy and wet.  Today there was a roaring south-easterly.  The sky was mostly filled with cloud, but some blue peeped through.  Down at the beach the swell was quite big, being around two metres, but the sea state as a whole was good.

Later on, the wind swung around to the south which is on the beach.  It was blowing quite hard and sand was getting into my eyes at times.  It was very cold and the sea was now coming directly in.  Under today’s conditions I was unable to access the Four Brothers Beach.


30 January 2010  

PHO2011-1722, PHO2011-1723, PHO2011-1724, PHO2011-1725, PHO2011-1726, PHO2011-1727, PHO2011-1728, PHO2011-1729, PHO2011-1730, PHO2011-1731, PHO2011-1732, PHO2011-1733, PHO2011-1734, PHO2011-1735, PHO2011-1736, PHO2011-1737, PHO2011-1738, PHO2011-1739, PHO2011-1740, PHO2011-1741, PHO2011-1742, PHO2011-1743, PHO2011-1744, PHO2011-1745, PHO2011-1746


The Four Brothers Beach.

The Point.

The Three Sisters Beach.


A 0.2m low tide was due at 5.05 pm.  Full moon.

The weather was blue sky fine, apart from some cloud build-ups over the land and a puff of cloud trailing to the west of Mt Egmont.  Apart from this ‘tail cloud’, the mountain was clear.  The breeze was from the south and the sea conditions were choppy.

On both beaches the surf lines left by the retreating tide were tinged green from grassy plant material.  This traced all the way down to the Four Brothers Beach from the Three Sisters Beach.  I found no sign of a cliff collapse from where it could have originated from.  Normally, the prevailing current runs from south to north, but as the plant material was all grass based and identical to what I had seen on the Three Sisters Beach dune, I had to assume that it had originated from there.  The material was fresh and in good condition which meant that it had been carved off during the king high tide that had just preceded this low tide.

The sea water was warm, so perhaps a warm current was now close in and travelling from north to south.  This warm current thus transported the plant material south.  Plant and cliff fall debris is water borne along the coast, not wind borne.  The direction being dependent upon the prevailing current at the time.  Another explanation is that the warmer current had come closer to the coast and further south than usual.  Perhaps due to the time of the year.

This was and is (as at 12.6.2010) the first and only time I have observed plant and cliff debris material being transported south.  That is not to say there haven’t been other occasions this has occurred, only that this is the only occasion I have observed it.



28 February 2010  



Te Kawau Pa.

A 0.1m low tide was due at 4.36 pm.  Just before full moon.

The weather was fine but there was some broken cloud present over the hills.  There was a slight onshore breeze.  The sea had some vigour but wasn’t rough.  The water was warm.

I later discovered that there had been a massive earthquake in Chile that registered 8.8 on the Richter scale.  This sent a tsunami racing across the Pacific Ocean.  Though I can’t be certain, it could explain a couple of larger than usual wave surges that I experienced.  Larger to mean bigger than the prevailing conditions would have indicated.  One of these surges was on the northern side of Te Kawau Pa, while the other more powerful one occurred later on near Lion Rock.  This particular one was in the form of a double surge.  Specifically, another wave came in over the top of the first surge, adding substantially to its power.  Luckily, unlike the first one, I saw it coming and scrambled atop a ledge as it powered past.  Though I am usually vigilant about wave action on this dangerous coast, a tsunami wave surge remains an unknown factor.  These two wave types aside, the other waves appeared to be within the normal range for the prevailing sea state and weather conditions at the time


28 March 2010  

PHO2011-1948, PHO2011-1949, PHO2011-1950, PHO2011-1951, PHO2011-1952, PHO2011-1953, PHO2011-1954, PHO2011-1955, PHO2011-1956

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Point.

The Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.3m low tide was due at 3.20 pm.  It was two days before full moon.

The weather was fine as in mostly cloudy but with some blue sky.  The breeze was from the south-east.  Rain had pestered the hills prior to arriving at Tonga, but held off for the duration of the beach visit with eight members of the TARANAKI GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY.  This was a repeat of the guided walk that had been rained out on 15.11.2009.  The sea state was playful with small waves that played tiddlywinks on the beach.


Due to the very high beach state between Pinocchio and Cathedral Cave, we were able to safely access this part of the Four Brothers Beach where the cave was the highlight of the visit.



31 March 2010  

PHO2011-1792, PHO2011-1793, PHO2011-1794, PHO2011-1795, PHO2011-1796, PHO2011-1797, PHO2011-1798, PHO2011-1799, PHO2011-1800

The Four Brothers Beach.

Gibbs Fishing Point, on the seaward side of it down on the beach.

The Three Sisters Beach.

A 0.1m low tide was due at 5.41 pm.  The day after full moon.

Though the weather was fine, a lot of cloud punctuated the blue sky.  Some of this was speckled white cloud while a denser grey cloud bank prowled on the northern and western horizons.  Though the weather was calm and the sea state good, there was a slight onshore breeze which generated small, playful waves, none of which had any sting.

Down beyond Pinocchio the sand level was exceptionally high, even more so than when I visited with members of the Taranaki Geological Society on Sunday 28th.  For the FIRST TIME EVER, I was able to access the EXTERNAL MEGA-WALL ON THE SEAWARD WIDE OF GIBBS’ FISHING POINT.  Although having problems with the panoramic camera because of impatience and excitement, I did succeed in getting some rare, if not the only images, of this usually inaccessible part of the coastline.

This is due to it being so far to seaward.  Even with today’s exceptional conditions where the combination of very high sand cover, a very low tide and a very calm sea that had been quiet for some time, the waves, small though they were, still came right up to the cliff wall.  Apart from a small, low ledge at the northern end of the mega-wall where I was, there was nowhere to climb up above and out of the waves.  I had to work in the upper end of the wave wash zone.  There was also ONLY ABOUT A TWENTY TO THIRTY MINUTE WINDOW WHEN ACCESS TO THIS LOCATION WAS POSSIBLE.

Although the beach level is higher at the Gull Rock/Beach One end of the mega-wall, it slopes down at the northern end where I was, so full beach to beach access is usually denied.  (The Four Brothers Beach and Beach One).

Later on I spoke to Steve Mackenzie (check the first name).  When I told him that I had finally accessed the seaward side of Gibbs’ Fishing Point for the first time in seven years, he said that he had ridden his motorcycle right down to Pukearuhe, past White Cliffs.  Steve then added that he had ONLY GOTTEN PAST ALL OF THE BLUFFS ONCE AND THAT WAS 25 YEARS AGO!  He had been hoping to get down to where I had been today, but he’d left it too late.


11 April 2010  

PHO2011-1801, PHO2011-1802, PHO2011-1803, PHO2011-1804, PHO2011-1957


The Old Man Puriri hill above the Four Brothers Beach with views both north and south along the coast.

The Old Man Puriri.

A 0.8m low tide was due at 2.01 pm.  New moon was due on the 15th.

As I had specifically come up to Tonga to photograph from the Old Man Puriri hill, the tide conditions weren’t pertinent.  The weather was however.  I needed a clear Mt Egmont and calm conditions.  And that’s exactly what I got.

The day was exceptionally fine, although some cloud build-ups occurred over the mountain.  I wasn’t too bothered about this as it usually happens in the heat of the day.  It then dissipates in the cool of the evening.  The sea state was incredibly calm, like a millpond.  It was so calm that you could have gone out to sea in a seven foot dinghy and been quite safe.

As the day slipped towards a close, what little breeze there had been completely died.  The sea was silver and so flat that you could skate on it.  The only disturbances present on the surface were caused by shoals of fish.  Some slight ruffles were present further out to sea, but were nothing really.

So quiet was the silence that there were periods where you couldn’t hear anything at all.  Nothing, no tidily waves splashing, nothing.  Being up high you could hear everything.  Today I heard the odd plane, the odd bird and chirping crickets now that it was evening.  It was SO QUIET in fact that I even heard a DADDY LONG LEGS DELICATE BUZZING WINGS and rasping grasshoppers.  And just occasionally a very placid Tasman Sea.

29 April 2010  

PHO2011-1747, PHO2011-1748, PHO2011-1749, PHO2011-1750, PHO2011-1751, PHO2011-1752, PHO2011-1753, PHO2011-1805, PHO2011-1806, PHO2011-1807, PHO2011-1808, PHO2011-2148


Twin Creeks.

White Cliffs


A 0.3m low tide was due at 4.18 pm.  Full moon.

I haven’t photographed from the beach at White Cliffs since 28.3.2004 when I did cliff sequencing.  It is quite a trudge to get to from Twin Creeks.  Also, it is only possible if one can drive down to Twin Creeks, something I haven’t been able to do on a number of occasions due to either the parlous state of the road, or it being closed for lambing from the end of June until the end of September every year.

Another factor is, because of the sheer size of these magnificent white cliffs, one needs to get as far back from the cliffs as possible.  Far back to mean as far out to sea as one can get.  To do this you have to stumble over an extensive ankle cracking boulder field.  For this you need a very low tide coupled with quiet sea conditions.

This Thursday proved to be such a weather window, sandwiched between passing rain fronts.  I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of sunshine, so long as I turned out to be lucky with no showers.  This was because I would be lugging both my Pentax 6x7 medium format camera and my Fuji panorama G617 professional camera, plus my heavy tripod.

I half expected White Cliffs to be Grey Cliffs if it was cloudy.  These conditions would be workable, but at best I was only expecting to get record shots.  As I will be finishing this project shortly, I particularly wanted to get Whitecliffs ‘in the bag’ before it is shut off for lambing.

The weather turned out good with it fining up more as the day progressed.  There was plenty of blue sky and just puffy bits of clouds on the horizon and back over the hills.  The breeze was from the south-west.

Down on the beach at White Cliffs, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t a breath of wind. The sea state was playful but there was no surge.  This was important as I would be working with one camera on the tripod while the other would be at the ready atop my backpack.  There was a lot of salt spray which was testament to it being breezy away from the sheltered spot where I was.

With the sun on the cliffs and some nice clouds about, White Cliffs put on a wonderful show for me.  Later on they turned a beautiful cream colour.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for magic light as the tide was coming in.  A large pool of reflective calm water provided the finishing touch.  And when I photographed looking north towards the stock tunnel and beyond, clouds were reflected in smaller pools of water.

Often at White Cliffs, because of their height, you have to play a waiting game with shadows.  Today I didn’t have to.


16 May 2010  

PHO2011-1809, PHO2011-1810


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

Gibbs’ Fishing Point looking south along Beach One.

Gibbs’ Fishing Point looking from south to north across farmland.

A 0.5m low tide was due at 5.19 pm.  New moon was on the 14th.

After a fairly extended period of calm weather, a deep low which had been parked up north for some time, finally tracked south on Friday 14th.  On Friday evening after arriving home to a blacked out house, I discovered that as well as pouring rain, thunder and lightning (which I experienced up at Pukeiti where I work Friday afternoons), that a tornado had ripped through Plymouth Road just up from me.  The tornado took out a huge 80 year old macrocarpa.  This in turn totalled some power lines.  I, along with quite a few others, was without power for 18 hours.  It was a horrible experience.

On Saturday there were heavy showers, but today, Sunday, it just bucketed it down for hours.  Just after lunch it appeared to abate somewhat.  I made the decision to go up to Tonga with the panoramic camera.  Specifically, I wanted to go to Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  The expectation was that I would be photographing pelting rain with waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs, much as I had experienced on 29.2.2004.  (A super-storm event).

So much for expectations.  Due to a fortuitous hole in the sky, the sun was out where I was on Gibbs’ Fishing Point.  South of White Cliffs, the sky was black and it was obviously hosing down.  Mt Egmont is a weather magnet and it was really doing its stuff today.

I could see that the unexpected gift of sunshine wouldn’t last long, so I had to race against time to get a couple of hopefully great light shots in the bag before the weather returned to custard.  As I tried to set up on the northern end of Gibbs’ Fishing Point, a ferocious northerly was right in my face.  Trying to keep upright, let alone doing any photography was a real battle.  The sea state was rough and dirty looking close in.  There was a lot of salt spray flying around.  As soon as I opened up my backpack, the plastic shopping bag that I used to protect my cameras blew out and away.  I later found it wrapped around some fencing so was able to retrieve it.

At the southern end of Gibbs’ Fishing Point I was blessed with a tail wind and some nearby large flax bushes gave some shelter.  I set up and waited for the shaft of sunlight to track south towards the pipeline.  There was some sun on Whitecliffs while further south towards New Plymouth, everything was hidden behind a wall of water.  The light lasted a few minutes before being swallowed up by an incoming squall.  The sun didn’t come out again.

I agonised over my exposures and hoped that at least two might have come out okay.  I only took four panoramic images.



27 June 2010  

(Photos were taken but they didn’t turn out).

Pilot Point.

On Pilot Point, looking down on the dune and estuary towards the Tonga baches.

A 0.6m low tide was due at 4.22 pm.  The day after full moon.

The weather consisted mostly of well defined rain clouds with some patches of blue.  The wind was from the south-west and was right on the beach.  I had hoped that the weather might fine up later on, but this didn’t happen.  I had also hoped to photograph on the dune, but due to the windblown sand, this wasn’t possible.  Also, most of the time it rained.  The sea state was vigorous but not treacherous.  I managed to photograph the family of rocks looking south across the Tonga River with the umbrella up.  The wind at this end of the Point wasn’t as strong as nearer to the dune as it wasn’t being funnelled.  The sun tried to make an appearance on a couple of occasions.  It did succeed, but not where I was.


11 July 2010  

PHO2011-1811, PHO2011-1812, PHO2011-1813, PHO2011-1814, PHO2011-1815, PHO2011-1816, PHO2011-1817, PHO2011-1818, PHO2011-1819, PHO2011-1820


The Tonga baches looking out to sea.

The Three Sisters Beach.

The Four Brothers Beach.

A 0.4m low tide was due at 3.15 pm.  The day before new moon.

A big, fat, lazy high had taken up residence over the country.  Today, the sky was 100% blue, apart from some thin cloud up north which wouldn’t impact on my photography.

Up at Tonga the atmosphere was incredibly clear.  Whitecliffs and a snow-capped Mt Egmont gleamed in the crystal air that was devoid of any salt spray.  Though the sun was shining, it was quite cold.  The breeze was from the south, south-east.  The sea was relatively calm, but there was a fair sized swell running.  This was accompanied by moderate wave surges.  As the day progressed, the sea state slackened off more.  The water was quite cold.

All in all, it was a magnificnt day.  A perfect end to the Tongaporutu Project proper.  (I spoke too soon.  Pilot Point remains outstanding due firstly to poor weather and secondly to the photos not coming out).


26 July 2010  


Pilot Point

A 0.6m low tide was due at 4.02 pm.  It was full moon.

Though becoming fine when leaving New Plymouth, the weather crapped out at Tongaporutu.  The breeze was from the north-west and the sky was filled with rain clouds.  These clouds took a great delight in delivering copious amounts of rain.  However, I did enjoy a few minutes of ‘fine’ weather when the sun found an unexpected small hole in the clouds and lit up the Family of Rocks in weak sunlight.


11 August 2010  


Pilot Point including the dune.

Rapanui Beach South.

A 0.1m low tide was due at 4.32 pm.  The day after new moon.

The weather was mostly sunny with a westerly breeze.  There was some atmospheric salt spray haze, typical of a westerly.  Some cloud was present on the horizon and over the land.  The sea state was vigorous with a moderate swell running.  This generated quite a lot of frothy foam.  However, though the sea state was vigorous, it wasn’t dangerous as no storm surge was present.

One thing I noticed was that with the Tonga River being hard over at Pilot Point, the angle it entered the sea, combined with the northern flow of the current, meant that the waves were hitting the beach at an oblique angle.  This meant that roughly 65% of the waves were being deflected up the coast as opposed to them coming in ‘face on’ at 100% or full power.

This is obviously an ongoing process and the angle of outflowing river water into the sea differs with where the river is in its migratory path back and forth across the estuary mouth.


18 September 2010  

PHO2011-1755, PHO2011-1756, PHO2011-1757



Te Kawau Pa

Rapanui Beach North

Pilot Point

The Picnic Table Overlook, looking down on Cathedral Cave and Gibbs’ Fishing Point

The Three Sisters Beach


A 1.2m low tide was due at 12.09 pm and a 2.8m high tide was due at 6.32 pm.  It was three quarters full moon.


This first part of the diary entry was both written and corrected over several days, roughly coinciding with the duration of a massive storm I documented.



This is the biggest storm that I have ever recorded.  Period.  Tamati Coffey, one of Television One’s Weathermen called it ‘the Beast’ on Thursday night.  And it was, as of my writing this up today, Tuesday 21st.

I had originally called it an alpha storm, believing it to be similar to two others I have recorded, both occurring incidentally in September.  The first occurred on 29.9.2003 and coincided with a 3.7m high tide.  The second alpha storm occurred on 19.9.2005 and it coincided with a 3.9m high tide.  This storm however, is in a class of its own, hence the term Mega-Storm.  The other difference with this storm is its duration, hence the term ‘is’ and not ‘was’.  It struck on Friday 17th and is forecast to continue through until Thursday 23rd.

According to Philip Duncan, of the WeatherWatch website of the New Zealand Herald (16th September), he said that at it’s peak, this huge storm was in terms of size (covering an area the size of Australia) and with a central pressure that had sunk to 950 hectopascals, the LARGEST STORM ON THE PLANET.

Northwest gales generating 6 to 8 metre swells accompanied by heavy showers were forecast.

I had actually ‘finished’ the Tongaporutu Project proper on the 11th August.  However, this mega-storm has muscled its way in, thus providing a much more dramatic finale.  Also, it is highly unlikely that I will ever document a history making storm of this magnitude again.

In all three instances, this mega storm, plus two alpha storms, were all preceded by lengthy wet periods.  This was also true of the two super-storm events I have recorded.

This storm however has eclipsed them all.  The only saving grace was that it coincided with a very low high tide (2.8m).  Had it, like its predecessors, coincided with a very high tide, then the damage to the coast could have been catastrophic.  This is because an extra metre in tide height would have lifted the zone of destruction up into sections of the coastline and cliffs that are normally beyond the reach of all storms, except one, one of this magnitude.

Today, Friday 24th, I am doing the final corrections.  The Beast has finally abated after thrashing the country for the past week.  This ‘Beast’ was such that I likened it to a Hydra.  That is, like a Hydra, (cut off one head, another head replaces it), as one vicious front passed, it was immediately replaced with another.  They were like virulent spokes being spun up from a rotating cyclonic wheel.

I planned to go up on Saturday the 18th.  Firstly because the storm would be in peak form and secondly, because I wanted to catch up with Rodney White at Te Kawau Pa for the Maori perspective.  Also, the O’Sullivans at Pilot Point and the Mackenzies above the Four Brothers Beach for their perspectives on the coast.  I didn’t plan on seeing the Gibbs as I had already written to them.

I took my panoramic camera, my ‘big camera’, (a Pentax 6x7), and my Pentax K10D, 10 megapixel digital camera ‘just in case’.

What follows is the full diary entry for the day.  However, observations noted here that are relevant to other sections will also be included in them.  This is to preserve their continuity.

THE DIARY ENTRY PROPER, Saturday, 18 September 2010.

Upon arrival at the Tonga Reserve, I had lunch and listened to the tuis feasting on the kowhai flowers.  With it being ‘low tide’, the river, though high, wasn’t up to the stopbanks.  Lunchtime over, I drove along to Te Kawau Pa.

At Rodney White’s place I noticed two things.  Firstly, he was out and secondly, the weather was hideous.  The wind, which could only be described as ferocious, was virtually direct facing.  The seas, well, they were ginormous with massive waves breaking so far out to sea they were actually hard to see.  This was because of the extensive haze generated by salt spray.  Such was the salt haze’s extent that it extended several kilometers inland.  Even the Uruti Valley was affected by it.  The only thing it wasn’t doing was raining.  Yet.

The other thing that amazed were the giant globs of salt foam that were being flung up over the cliffs.  The wind was so powerful that the foam sailed inland beyond the main highway.  In places it came down like snow.

With Rodney not at home, I thought I’d get a couple of shots at Te Kawau Pa, especially the Keyhole before leaving the area.  I also realized that due to the strength of the wind, the digital camera was the only sensible photographic option.  As I struggled across the paddock to reach the clifftop, the reasoning became all too apparent.

I had to crawl along on my hands and knees, such was the wind strength.  Standing was impossible.  I knelt to take a photo of Lion Rock.  There was no way I could have set up the tripod, let alone either of my big film cameras.  They would have blown away to Kingdom Come.  I quickly realized that for the most part it was either digital or nothing, so horrendous were the conditions.  I then crawled to the viewpoint that looked across to the Keyhole.  I particularly wanted to photograph a nearby cliff face that was smothered in sea foam.  While taking the picture, I noticed that a sizable chunk of the cliff below my grassy perch had collapsed.  I also noticed that the collapse was so fresh, most of the soil was still there.  It had yet to slide down to the sea!

When finished, I drove along to Rapanui North.  Seeing nobody else there, I trekked down to the Rapanui Stream with the digital camera and headed towards the beach and outer dune.  Everywhere was awash with sea foam.  The quantity being generated by the giant swells was such that it formed ‘foamdrifts’ several feet deep in places.  If the foam wasn’t smothering logs, swamping the beach or frothing up cliffs, then it was flying about with frenzied abandon.

Aside from this, I noticed that unlike the Three Sisters Beach, the dune here still had surviving marram grass, although it was being thrashed by the wind.  Some black-backed gulls had even dared to fly.  However, little actual flapping of wings was evident.

Though it was not long after ‘low tide’, due to storm conditions, there was no such thing as a low tide.  Leading on from this, I found that irrespective of the time or tide while up at Tongaporutu, the storm surge delivered seas right up to the cliffs or beach ends.

When finished at Rapanui North, I drove off to the O’Sullivans at Pilot Point.  Evan arrived home just as I was about to leave the letter in their letterbox.  He was okay with the idea of writing up something about them and the coast for the project.

Before driving off to see Carol MacKenzie, I took the digital camera and went along to the Pilot Point clifftop.  Struggling to stay upright, I took a couple of basic shots from two different positions looking over the Tonga River towards the Two Sisters.  The river was a dirty brown colour due to runoff and sandy bottom churning.

After this, I went over to a spot near the track that leads down to the beach.  This was because I wanted to take a couple of shots looking down on the dune area.

This done, I drove off to see Carol.  By the time I arrived at her place, which is next to the beginning of the Whitecliffs Walkway, I was quite dehydrated.  This was due to the dessicating effects of the brutal wind and salt spray.

Just before I entered Carol’s conservatory, her cat shot outside.  Carol was sitting rugged up in a chair.  She was still missing her favourite singing canary that had died some time back.  Shortly after my arrival, Kathy and Steve walked in with some firewood.  Like Evan O’Sullivan, they all seemed comfortable about writing something up for the project for me.

With all the people now seen to, my thoughts returned to photography.  Going to Gibbs’ Fishing Point was out of the question due to the extreme winds.  I had already decided to go down to the Picnic Table Overlook.  This is because it is sheltered by a row of wind thrashed clifftop pohutukawas.  As well as the digital camera, I also took my tripod and Pentax 6x7 in the hope of getting something on film as well as digital.  Due to the appalling conditions, I shelved any ideas of using the panoramic camera.

Struggling across the exposed paddock, I noticed that near the northern side of the Picnic Table Overlook, some new fencing had been put up.  I couldn’t see any obvious damage looking over the Four Brothers Beach, so scrubbed photographing that.

I then turned my attention towards the southern end that overlooked Cathedral Cave.  Close to the pohutukawas,  a ewe had recently given birth to twins.  One lamb was on its feet while the other was lying down.  Before I left the MacKenzies, Steve had said that any lambs born today would die.  These storm lambs had survived because their mum had had the good sense to give birth near shelter.  The downside was that they were where I wanted to go.  Despite giving them a wide berth, mum and one of the twins scarpered off, leaving the prone twin on its own.  I carefully walked past it, then set up the big camera on my tripod.  I took a couple of shots looking down on Cathedral Cave.  There was the usual rock pile at the base, but I couldn’t tell if it was fresh or not.  Afterwards I took a backup photo with the digital camera.

Upon returning to the picnic table, the prone lamb had now gotten up on its feet.  It bleeted loudly to mum who had ended up on the hill opposite me.  She baa’d in reply and with the other twin in tow, rushed back towards us.  By the time they had reunited I’d moved well away from them.

I toyed with the idea of trying to access what was left of the Brothers Overlook, but decided against it.  I now set off for my final port of call.  The dune area down on the Three Sisters Beach.

Before going down the track I had another mug of tea and scoffed my vegemite cob.  By now I was quite buggered, and I still had the main photography to do!  Before descending the track, I trekked over to the cliff top that overlooked Mammoth Rock and the Tonga River.  Frothy waves were surging right around Mammoth Rock.  Also from what I could see, the dune wasn’t being overtopped.  Had this storm coincided with a king tide, it most probably would have been.

With my big camera and digital camera, I struggled down the track.  I had planned to set up the big camera on the tripod near the bottom so that I could photograph looking across towards Mammoth Rock.  Before setting up I was stunned with the conditions.  You couldn’t see the beach.  It was smothered in sea foam.  Where it was hard up against the dune, it was several feet deep.  A huge tree languished in the surf and ferocious surges roared up the beach.  Beach access here was impossible.  Firstly, because you couldn’t even see it, but more importantly, because the wave surges were coming right up to the dune bank.

Part way around to the rear of Mammoth Rock, I stopped again to take another couple of photos with the big camera.  Even though mounted on my tripod, keeping everything still was impossible.  I flagged further photography with this camera for the time being.  Also, a rain shower was rushing in.  I hastily stuffed the big camera into my backpack and grabbed the digital camera.  I quickly discovered that firstly, the shutter knob had been bumped off its setting, and secondly, the bloody lens cap had come off!  Was it in the car or where I had dumped the backpack?  Cursing, I couldn’t find it anywhere down here.  I hoped that it was still in the car.  Having no lens cap was a pain in the arse as I now had the added difficulty of covering the lens with my jacket or hand to keep the salt spray off it.

Around at the gap separating Mammoth Rock from the dune, the scene beggared belief.  Huge, foam bloated waves surged in over the top of the outgoing Tonga River and around both sides of Mammoth Rock.  Where a small stream exited onto the beach, the sand had built up into a ribbed platform on the landward side of it.  On the seaward side of the stream, the sand was fairly well built up near the dune bank, but it sloped downwards towards Mammoth Rock where it was being scoured out by encircling wave action.  Logs and fresh flax plants had been dumped in the vicinity of the dune bank on both sides of the stream.  However, more were prevalent on the landward side of the stream.  The dune as a whole was still receding, but the recession wasn’t uniform.

The drop off down to the beach was now lower due to the sand level next to the dune being higher.   I hadn’t planned on entering the beach here as in the past there had been a high drop off.  However, due to the unexpected localised sand buildup, I was able to quickly access the beach, and more importantly, safely escape from it should I need to.  (I should mention here that although huge swathes of foam were present at the gap, they weren’t being pushed hard up to the dune wall as on the seaward side.  There, the beach was completely consumed by foam right up to the dune wall.  It even extended into some of the flaxes at the corner).

Hand-holding the digital camera, I took a number of photos showing different things:  Mammoth Rock, wave surges, frothy waves, flotsam and also an image looking across to the Two surviving Sisters.  I also saw logs floating past like they were twigs.  I didn’t linger too long on the beach as the tide was coming in.

Atop the dune bank I set up the big camera on the tripod and took a couple of photos.  As the meter doesn’t work properly I’m not sure how they will turn out.  They may be a bit under-exposed.

I found the whole scene to verge on the surreal.  Specifically, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m highly unlikely to see anything like it again.  Storms like this mega-storm are a once in a lifetime event.  Further, I shared this experience with no other person.  No-one else was there.  In fact I saw no-one else at any of the other places I visited to photograph.  The sense of isolation I felt was unusually intense.  Though I’ve experienced it before, it’s never been at this level.

By the end of the day I was both exhiliarated and wasted.  With the light crapping out, that was all the excuse I needed to pack up.  Buggered, I headed back up the track.  However, near the top, the sky lightened up a bit.  Forcing myself to haul the big camera out of the backpack, I took a final shot looking down on the dune and across to Mammoth Rock.

Back at the car, I discovered the digital camera’s missing lens cap.  Hooray!  After having a well-earned mug of tea, I drove home.  Though cold and wind blasted I was happy.



SUNDAY 19th September 2010

In the afternoon I called in at The Taranaki Daily News with my story and digital photos.  They said they would use the material and that it would be on the front page.

MONDAY 20th September 2010.

My story appeared on the front page along with a photo I took of the Keyhole and foam frothing up the cliff at Te Kawau Pa.  The story was entitled:  ‘Photographer braves ‘beast’ of a storm’.






PLEASE NOTE, dates recorded AFTER 18.9.2010 will be FOLLOW UPS ONLY as the Tongaporutu project proper is now finished.  The follow ups will mostly be limited to the Three Sisters beach and the Four Brothers beach.  However, should anything major occur at any of the other locations, then they will also be recorded.




6 November 2010  



The Three Sisters Beach

The Four Brothers Beach

A 0.2m low tide was due at 4.31 pm.  New moon.

It was fine with some cloud and a stiff, cold southerly was blowing.  The weather pattern is very dry at the moment.  This is due to a strong La Nina.  While up at Tonga, I noticed that the seawater was remarkably warm for this time of the year.  Again, this is a signature of La Nina.


7 November 2010  


Pilot Point

A 0.3m low tide was due at 5.17 pm.  The day after new moon.

The weather was fine with some high cloud.  Prominent sand shelving was in evidence at the dune.  Also, a lot of ‘sand islands’ were prevalent on the Pilot Point side of the estuary.  Many of the logs that would normally beach to the rear of Mammoth Rock, now appear to make their way over to the Pilot Point dune.  Mainly to its outer boundary.

17 November 2010  

PHO2011-1958, PHO2011-1959, PHO2011-1960, PHO2011-1961, PHO2011-1962, PHO2011-1963, PHO2011-1964

Pilot Point

Te Kawau Pa

The tide nor the moon phase was recorded.  The weather was fine.  I had come up to Tonga with Glyn Church who writes books and writes a gardening article for the Taranaki Daily News every week.  I thought he might be interested on doing an article on some of the coastal bush and environment for the paper’s readers.

18 November 2010   

PHO2011-2135, PHO2011-2136, PHO2011-2137, PHO2011-2138


The Three Sisters Beach

A 1.0m low tide was due at 2.23 pm.  Three days before full moon.

It was calm with high cloud.  I had come up to Tonga to be filmed by Keith Finnerty for a short film to be exhibited at the Puke Ariki Museum.  It was to be part of their upcoming ‘What If?’ exhibition.  This is due to run from December 2010 through until March 2011.

5 December 2010  


The Three Sisters Beach

The Four Brothers Beach

A 0.5m low tide was due at 4.18 pm.  The day before new moon.

It was fine and the sea state was good.  The water was quite warm for the time of the year.


28 December 2010  

PHO2012-0599, PHO2012-0600

The Brothers Overlook, above the Four Brothers Beach

Above the Twin Arches cave system, (north-western entrance) – above the Four Brothers Beach

The Picnic Table Overlook, above the Four Brothers Beach, looking down on Cathedral Cave

A 3.2m high tide was due at 4.07 pm.  Moon phase – the last quarter.

A vicious WEATHER BOMB slashed much of the country over the past couple of days.  This delivered heavy rain and northerly gales that gusted to 100 kms per hour.  Also big seas.  The only saving grace was that it was a fast moving system.  Lots of sea foam was sent flying well over the cliff tops and huge spray plumes over-topped Gull Rock and the Gibbs Fishing Point.

I had come up especially to see Carol MacKenzie who sadly only has about a couple of months to live due to a terminal illness.  Carol and I have become close over the years I have been coming up to Tonga.  We have both endured the loss of our loving partners so share a common bond.  I have come to regard Carol as a surrogate mum, having lost my own mum in 1991.

Though I did do some photography, my main reason for coming up was to see Carol.  I wouldn’t have come up during such hideous conditions otherwise.  Many trees and branches were down, especially in the Uruti Valley and there was a large slip on Mt Messenger that blocked off one lane for a time.

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion