Topic: Storm - 2011

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13 February 2011  

Tongaporutu Coastline - Three Sisters Beach



The Three Sisters Beach

The Four Brothers Beach

A 1.3m low tide was due at 12.03 pm.  Full moon was due on the 18th.

The weather has been quite wet recently, very hot and humid.  Today it was fine with some innocuous cloud decorating the sky.  Later on, most of the cloud dissipated to reveal a burning hot sun.  On the Three Sisters Beach it was boiling hot with a slight breeze.  However, this did nothing to cool you down.  The sea state was calm.  In fact it was that calm you could easily have launched a dinghy.  Lots of people were up at Tonga, fishing and swimming.  Quite a few had kayaks.  Terns were still around and I saw a shag atop the Middle Sister.  Cicadas sang loudly from the cliffs.


20 March 2011  

PHO2012-0514, PHO2012-0529

Above the Twin Arches cave system

The Picnic Table Overlook, looking across towards Cathedral Cave

The Three Sisters Beach

The Four Brothers Beach

A 0.0m low tide was due at 5.13 pm.  The high tide was 3.8m and occurred at 10.57 am.  It was full moon.

The weather was fine with some insignificant cloud.  The breeze was a cool southerly.  A 2 metre swell was running.  I had hoped to access the beach below Gibbs’ Fishing Point, but thought that with the vigorous surf, this wasn’t going to happen.  I was proved right, unfortunately.

There were quite a few people up at Tonga.  Some took advantage of the very low tide state to gather green lipped mussels from the infrequently exposed small reefs.  There was even two people on horses.

The beaches were well built up, but the Three Sisters beach dune, after a period of relative stability, was once again being preferentially carved out, particularly at the gap.  This was due to the current cycle of very big high tides.  These tides were also being reinforced by energetic surf conditions.  On the seaward side of the dune, the medium sized stones that had been deposited there on 26.8.2009 remained insitu, but most of them were now covered with sand.The water was surprisingly warm.  So warm, even I would have been comfortable swimming in it.  It reminded me of how it was in February 2004.


14 April 2011 

Photos were taken, but they’ve been lost.

The Three Sisters Beach

The Point, looking along the Four Brothers Beach

The Fledglings Overlook, looking along Beach One

A 0.8m low tide was due at 12.20 pm.  It was two days after the first quarter (moon).

The weather had been very calm and fine for quite some time.  Today was no exception.  There was some flattish cloud in the morning, but this cleared after lunch.  Visibility was very good.  The Tonga River emptied into the sea from roughly the middle of the estuary.  The sea state was calm with a timid one metre swell.  Around lunchtime the sea flattened right off.  It became so calm that you could see individual fish shoals.  They appeared as ruffled ‘shadows’ on the sea’s surface.  What breeze there was, was very slight.  It was warm and the sea temperature was still warm, but not quite as warm as what I noted on the 20th March.  At the Three Sisters Beach, all three zones were very well endowed with sand.  The dune continued to retreat, but at a slower rate at present.  At Beach One, there was good sand cover until a short distance north of the reef where round rocks were visible.  Overall though, the beach state was good.

I had gone up to Tonga with Josefin Carlsson and her teacher, Anders Fridfeldt.  They were from the University of Stockholm, Sweden.  Josefin was studying geography and hoped to become a teacher.  They, along with several other students, have been staying in New Plymouth.  They’d been taking advantage of the resources at the Puke Ariki Research Centre.  Apparently this university sends students and teachers to both New Zealand and Namibia for geographic research and learning purposes.


27 April 2011  


Gibbs’ Fishing Point, overlooking the Wall and the Four Brothers Beach

Gibbs’ Fishing Point, overlooking the Fledglings and Beach One

A 2.7m high tide was due at 5.52 pm.  The moon phase was about half way between new moon and full moon.

A severe storm pounded the region yesterday (Tuesday), with the strongest south-easterly gales I have experienced since coming to Taranaki in 1993.  I was mostly without power from about 1.20 pm yesterday, apart from a couple of hours, until 1.30 pm today.  I’d had enough and decided to come up to Tonga.  The seas off New Plymouth were quite literally a seething cauldron of frenzied salt spray.  It created a kind of sea fog.

Up at Tonga, being a south-easterly, it was quite calm with a gentle sea state close in and warm.  The sky was a mix of cloud and patches of blue.  On the horizon it was blazing with light as the boiling sea spray shone against a darker background of cloud.  Atmospheric conditions over the land was good as all of the salt spray was being swept to seaward.  The high hills acted as a block, so the spray and angry sea conditions didn’t show up close in.

I went down to the Gibbs’ Fishing Point but wasn’t all that interested in doing any photography.  I had just come up more as a means of escape from the bleakness at home.


18 May 2011  

PHO2012-0523, PHO2012-0526

The Three Sisters Beach

A 0.2m low tide was due at 4.18 pm.  It was the day after full moon.

Strong south-westerlies had been hammering the country for a while.  Today, though a high was getting closer, it was still forecast to be a south-westerly.  However, for some reason, the wind switched to the south, south-east quarter.  Up at Tonga, for the most part it was out of the wind, but what few breezes managed to squeeze past the Point, though slight, were quite cold.  Having to walk in bare feet, the sand was cold, but the sea was still surprisingly warm.  The sand cover was good in all three zones, but some of the rock platforms in Zone Two had re-emerged after being mostly covered with sand on my last visit on the 14th April.  It was mostly fine with just the odd small puff of cloud.

A combination of king tides and big swells had removed more sand/soil and plant material from the dune, particularly at the gap.  Despite it being a very low 0.2m tide, powerful wave surges still managed to sweep up to the cliffs at times.  Passage past the Point onto the Four Brothers Beach was impossible under these conditions.


2 June 2011  

PHO2011-2377-2415, 2418-2446

Te Kawau Pa right down to White Cliffs   (AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY)

A 0.6m low tide was due at 4.06 pm.  New moon.

I had been wanting to do some aerial photography for a while.  Today, everything came together;  the right weather conditions combined with a suitably timed low tide.  The wind was a moderate south-easterly.  This cleared the atmosphere of most salt spray, revealed Mt Egmont and produced a slight sea state up at Tongaporutu.

The photography, with Richard Foale of Heliview, took place from about 3.40 pm until 4.30 pm.  The light was soft sunlight, it being diffused by high, thin cloud bleeding down from an approaching northern depression.  The light dulled off at the end of the flight.  We were quite literally chasing the light.  Some light turbulence was experienced at the beginning of the shoot that Richard had warned me to expect, but it didn’t adversely affect the photo shoot.

As this was an expensive personal exercise for me, I decided to do cliff sequencing down the entire coastline from Te Kawau Pa to White Cliffs.  Heliview also shot video footage going up the coastline (south to north, then north to south) while I took still images travelling from north to south with some secondary shots also.  In total I took around 101 images with about 90 of them being from Te Kawau Pa to White Cliffs.  Some of the others were odds taken south of White Cliffs or from looking through the front window of the helicopter.

Richard had taken the door off the helicopter on my side to facilitate photographic clarity.  This made for an expected cold ride, despite being well rugged up.

I also hired Roger French’s 12.1 megapixel D3 Nikon full frame camera, fitted with a 28-300 mm zoom lens.  (Roger doesn’t normally hire his camera out. This was a special favour to which I am eternally grateful).  I shot at 1/500 sec, hand-held, with the image stabilizer on.  I used shutter priority to lock the shutter speed at 1/500 sec.  The f stops varied between f9.5 and f4.5.  I also photographed in both JPEG and Raw.  The ISO was set at 400.

I gave the memory card to Derek Hughes of Derek’s Darkroom and he downloaded them to his computer for working on and outputting to two discs.  They all looked good, much to my relief.  I’ve never used a D3 camera before so it was a bit nerve- wracking.

I plan to place most of these images in Section One on the Tongaporutu Coastline.  It makes sense for the entire aerial coastline photographs to be showcased in the first section.

The inspiration for this aerial shoot was a still photo taken from video footage shot by Tony Monk of Heletranz.  It showed a substantial sand bridge that connected a thriving dune to Mammoth Rock on the Three Sisters Beach.  Tony’s video footage was shot in October 2005.  What I wanted to do was to repeat the photo from a similar aerial viewpoint.  Specifically, I wanted to show the total destruction of this sand bridge that had occurred since Tony’s footage.  (The sand bridge was breached during the July 2008 super-storm event).

Ironically, this was the one image that I didn’t get!

Please note:  This diary entry is similar to that written up for in Section One on the Coastline.  This has been done for continuity.


3 September 2011  

PHO2012-0619, PHO2012-0633

Three Sisters Beach

A 0.4m low tide was due at 5.09 pm.  It was 2 days after new moon.

The weather was fine as in blue sky fine and the breeze was from the south-east.  The sea state was calm, but there was a lazy one metre swell running.

Down on the beach it was quite cool, but with the sun being out, it was pleasant.  Several people were there making the most of the pleasant winter’s day.  This winter has been very mild for the most part (for winter), but also very wet, so this interlude of sunshine has been very welcome.  I had come up to Tonga to record the dune’s continued decline and to check on the New Sister.  I didn’t expect to be able to access the Four Brothers Beach to check on the Twin Arches cave system and I was right.  Due to the rocky state of the beach in Zone Three, access was impossible, short of swimming around the Point.


17 September 2011  

PHO2012-0524, PHO2012-0634

Above the Twin Arches cave system

Pilot Point

The Three Sisters Beach

A 0.4m low tide was due at 5.10 pm.  Two days after full moon.

The weather was blue sky fine with a light southerly that blew kisses instead of gales.  The sea state was vigorous.  The past week in particular, the country has been hammered by a powerful storm system.  It packed north-westerly gales that later changed to west, south-westerlies.  Unusually, it sat in a ‘parked’ position south-east of the Chathams.

The more usual occurrence is for high pressure systems to park up to the east of the Chathams.  (Generally in summer).   For storms to do so is in this location is extremely rare.  In fact this is the first time I have observed it.  Perhaps there was a blocking high much further out to the south-east.

According to Jim Hickey, Television One’s weather presenter, the storm at its peak, sunk to 956 hPa.  It also covered a huge area, stretching back to the south-eastern part of Australia.  I didn’t actually document this storm system.  However, due to its size, unusual longevity, low barometric pressure, (956 hPa at its peak), but above all, its catastrophic level of destruction, I have classified this as a Mega-Storm.  After last year’s mega-storm, I didn’t think I would see another one in my lifetime, let alone so soon.

Whereas last September’s mega-storm coincided with a low 2.8m high tide, this year’s coincided with several high tides that ranged from 3.1m to 3.4m.  Also, due to last September’s mega-storm’s relatively short-term duration, compared with this July’s mega-storm, the Taranaki coastline escaped mostly unscathed.

This year’s mega-storm however, was a very different beast.  Howling winds, rain, and huge swells lasted much longer than usual.  The conditions also prevented ships from coming into port because of a ‘long swell’.  Port authorities said that the storm was the worst they had seen in 25 years.

Another casualty of this storm system was what David Medway, a local ornothologist, termed a ‘SEABIRD WRECK’.  This mostly affected broad-billed prions, but other birds were also casualties.  Due to the duration and ferocity of this storm system, the birds were unable to feed or rest.

At the Pilot Point dune, it resembled a graveyard for birds.  I believe that the entire west coast of New Zealand was affected as washed up birds were reported in a number of places.  I guestimated that hundreds of thousands of birds perished in this rare event.

Of particular relevance to Tongaporutu was that it wrecked havoc on the Three Sisters dune.

This mega-storm was also preceded by a lengthy period of wet weather.


29 September 2011  

PHO2012-0539, PHO2012-0546

The Three Sisters Beach

A 0.7m low tide was due at 2.39 pm.  It was the day before New Moon.

The weather was mostly fine but there was a stiff westerly blowing with some puffy clouds present.  The sea state was boisterous but not venomous.

Normally I wouldn’t have come up to Tonga so soon after my previous visit, but I wanted Gary Bastin, a scientist at Puke Ariki, and Glyn Church, a plantsman and author, to come up and see first-hand the devastation that I had recently observed.  I believed that this was a once in a lifetime event;  that is the impending complete destruction of the Three Sisters Beach coastal dune and its forest.  Susan Burgess, president of the Taranaki Geological Society and her husband Ian, also came up.  On the beach we came across a geologist who was being sponsored by GNS.  He actually comes from the University of Montana in the U.S.A. if I remember correctly.

The beach at all three zones had been excavated right back to bedrock.  Zone One in particular had lost more material than I had ever seen before.  So much so that much of the ancient forest that once grew here was revealed as never before.

The two pohutukawas were still on the beach and it didn’t appear as if the dune as a whole had changed much from two weeks ago.  It was still losing material, but at a much reduced pace.


14 August 2011  

PHO2012-0553, PHO2012-0555, PHO2012-0557


The Three Sisters Beach

A 0.4m low tide was due at 4.08 pm.  It was full moon.

It was very cold thanks to a pulsing blast direct from Antarctica.  This was accompanied by very strong south-westerlies and wild seas.

I hadn’t really planned on coming back up to Tonga any time soon, but I want to enter the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition.  In particular I want to enter the Photo Story part of it.  For this you can submit from four to six images that tell a story.  I want to do something about the dune.  I plan to call it ‘Aftermath’.

A key image is one I took from the Gibbs’ cliff-top looking down on the dune forest and across to the first arch.  This was taken on 26.8.2009.  When I looked at the latest batch of photos that I got back from Fotofirst, I had an ‘after’ shot of the same scene.  Unfortunately, it was taken with the 75 mm wide angle lens.  I needed to take a photo with a 55 mm lens, (or 28 mm equivalent) to match both scenes.

The weather was forecast to be even worse tomorrow, Monday, so I decided to come up today, Sunday, just with the digital camera.  Once I had got the one shot I wanted ‘in the bag’, then everything else would be a bonus.  And it would give me a greater choice of other images to choose from for the competition.

Up at Tonga, the wind was roaring.  Worse still, it was blowing sand from the sand walls up and over the cliffs.  I managed to get the crucial shot that I wanted, but the tide was fairly high, so I decided to take another photo when I had finished down on the beach when the tide would be lower.  This was so I could include the 6,000 year old log that lay embedded on the beach.

Fortunately, even though the conditions were terrible down on the beach and it was bitterly cold, the sun remained out most of the time.  What clouds there were, scudded across the sky like spooked horses.

As an aside, ON MONDAY, IT SNOWED AT HOME AND IN NEW PLYMOUTH.  I’ve never seen anything like it here.  Also, according to the Taranaki Daily News, it is the first time it has ever been recorded in New Plymouth proper.  It even snowed up in Auckland.


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