Making sense of my photography hobby in retirement


Rainbow Connection

Red Granite, Blue Sky, Catlins Coast, Southland. New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Red Granite, Blue Sky

The colours in this image taken in the Catlins on the Southland coast of New Zealand’s South Island were what caught my eye.  Red granite rock formations protrude into the sea to cause reefs which claimed their share of shipwrecks during the early history of the area.  On the day of our visit the weather was changeable, as it often is autumn, but a break in cloud cover let the sun catch a distant rain shower and allowed a show of rainbow.


Porpoise Bay

Rocks at Porpoise Bay, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Rocks at Porpoise Bay

The tiny settlement of Curio Bay in the Catlins region of Southland on New Zealand’s South Island hugs the long white sandy beach of Porpoise Bay, while Curio Bay proper is around the headland at the southern end of the beach. Near the camping ground at Curio Bay is a reef at the foot of the cliff of the headland, which is where this image was taken.  The sandy beach is to the left of the image. A pod of endangered Hector’s Dolphins live here and they can often be seen from the beach, hence the name.

Nugget Point from Short Bay

Nugget Point from Short Bay, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Nugget Point from Short Bay

To reach Nugget Point one has to drive some 25 km off the main road south of Balclutha to the coast at Port Molyneux , and then via Kaka Point, Willsher Bay and Short Bay along the coast on The Nuggets Road. Immediately it becomes clear that this is a coast with many reefs and why it was such a hazard to to early mariners in the time of sail and no GPS-based navigation.  This view was taken at Short Bay, the last small bay before the final sweep toward the point. One of the many reefs along the coast cuts through the scene just below the skyline. The famous Nugget Point lighthouse can be seen at the end of the headland.

Surat Bay

Surat Bay, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Surat Bay, Catlins Region, Southland, New Zealand

Surat Bay on the Catlins coast in Southland has one of the most beautiful unspoiled beaches in New Zealand. The bay is named after a 1,000 ton immigrant sailing ship that became wrecked here in 1874 after striking rocks further south along the coast. No lives were lost. The wide golden sandy expanse at low tide acts like a mirror as the breaking waves recede and leave a glassy  surface that reflects the sky and view in the distance beyond.  It is also one of the favourite resting areas for sea lions that come here from their breeding grounds in the Auckland Islands south of New Zealand. Click on the image for a larger view.

Tautuku River and McLean Falls

Tautuku River, Catlins Forest Park, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Tautuku River, Catlins Forest Park, Southland, New Zealand

The Tautuku River is in Catlins Forest Park and it cascades over the McLean Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand after the equally picturesque Purukaunui Falls, also in the Catlins Forest Park. The walk to the falls passes through native New Zealand forest beside the Tautuku River. McLean Falls is a favorite travel destination for many of the visitors who tour the Catlins on the South Island of New Zealand.

McLean Falls, Tautuku River, Catlins Forest Park, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

McLean Falls, Catlins Forest Park, Southland, New Zealand

Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2010

Purakaunui Falls

The Purakaunui Falls are a multi-tiered waterfall on the Purakaunui River in the Catlins region of the southern South Island of New Zealand.  These falls are an iconic image for southeastern New Zealand, and were featured on a New Zealand postage stamp in 1976. This image with its silky water was inspired by a well known photograph taken by New Zealand photographer Craig Potton.

Nugget Point Light

Nugget Point Light, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2010

One of the most popular places to visit in the Catlins region between Dunedin and Invercargill in New Zealand’s South Island is Nugget Point. A walk to the lighthouse which was constructed here in 1870  from rock quarried nearby yields spectacular views of the rugged coast that caused a number of shipwrecks in this country’s early settler days.  In 1989, along with all other lighthouses around the New Zealand coast, it was automated.

Abandoned in Black & White

I’m still a learner when it comes to taking and processing photographs.  Black and white is still a bit of mystery. Some photographs suit a monochromatic treatment better than others. Other photographs which are disappointing in colour develop a new life in black and white.

Abandoned Barn, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

I love old buildings as subjects to photograph.  The light on this one caught my eye as we rounded a corner on the gravel road between the Purakaunui Falls and Jack’s Blowhole. Long grass, bleached and warped weatherboards, lifting corrugated iron roof and leaning power pole bereft of power line added to the interest.

I was delighted to have discovered the building.  However, when I got to see the resulting image I was disappointed.  As an experiment I changed the image to black and white and adjusted it for the balance of tones.  The resulting image scrubs up pretty nicely in my view, but that’s just my view.  What do you think?  Remember though, I’m just new at this stuff.

Tragedy and Solution

The night of 29 April 1881 was starry and the sky was clear when the SS Tararua left Port Chalmers in Dunedin bound for Bluff carrying a crew of 40, 111 passengers, and a cargo. The ship passed the lighthouse at Nugget Point, south of Dunedin, just before 1:30 am. It was a dark night, and the coast could not be seen. The captain turned the ship west at 4 am believing they had cleared Slope Point.

Just after 5:00 am the sound of breakers was heard, indicating that the ship was too close to shore. The captain tried to turn the Tararua out to sea, but as it was coming around it struck the rocks of the Otara Reef about 1 km from the shore at Waipapa Point, breaking the propeller and disabling the rudder.

Lighthouse at Waipapa Point, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

During the ensuing confusion the first lifeboat holed on launching. The second lifeboat was launched at 6:00 am, carrying a passenger who made it ashore and raised the alarm at a nearby farmhouse. A farm hand then carried the news of the disaster inland by horseback, but because the message was not marked urgent when it reached Dunedin just after midday, no immediate action was taken.

Meanwhile the wind had risen and the sea grew larger. Because they believed the ship was the safest place to be, passengers stayed on board.  Attempts to reach the ship from the shore  failed. Eventually the Tararua began to break up, and as the stern sank the desperate passengers moved forward and up into the rigging.  Only one man managed  to swim ashore. Others made the attempt,  but were sucked out to sea or lost their lives just metres from the shore.

At about 2.30 on the second night the masts broke and the ship rolled over. By dawn it had sunk. Of the 151 passengers and crew on board, only the 20 who had made it to shore survived. Most of the victims who were found were buried at the nearby “Taraua Acre”, surrounded today by lush farmland.

Tararua Acre, Waipapa Point, Southland, New Zealand

Waipapa Point Lighthouse, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

In 1884 New Zealand’s last wooden lighthouse was built at Waipapa Point at the eastern end of Foveaux Strait to warn shipping of the dangers of the Otara Reef. It still operates today with an automatic light which flashes once every 10 seconds.

On the day of our visit it was cold and windy, but sunny.

Far South

As deceptive as it may seem, Slope Point on the Catlins Coast in Southland is the southern-most point in New Zealand – not Bluff, or even Stewart Island as most people think.

Tussock Grass - Slope Point, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

The big tourist attraction at Bluff is a signpost with signs pointing to major cities at all points of the compass for people to photograph themselves by. To get there is easy, just follow State Highway south until you reach the end!

To get to Slope Point requires more effort. One must take a detour onto secondary roads to the east of the main road through the Catlins, followed by a walk through farmland  beside the clifftop tussock grass to reach the coastal navigation beacon and sign at the end.  There you are informed that the distance to the equator is 5,140 km and to the South Pole is 4,803 km.

It doesn’t look much like a point; no sharp promontory, more a bump in the coastline. Sheep graze right up to the clifftop. It’s a pretty wild and rugged place though.  Cold winds whistle in from Antarctica which cause the tussock to roll like waves.  A reef protrudes into the sea at the base of the cliffs and shows itself through the surf.  Just as well for woolly hats and windproof jackets.

A Startling Experience

Surat Bay on the Catlins coast in Southland has one of the most beautiful unspoiled beaches in New Zealand. It is also one of the favourite resting areas for seal lions that come here from their breeding grounds in the Auckland Islands south of New Zealand.  Visitors to the area are warned to keep their distance from the animals when visiting the beach.

Sea Lion - Surat Bay, Southland, New Zealand

The track to the beach is through grass-covered sand dunes.  Flattened grass along the track is evidence that sea lions have recently visited.

We reached the beach without encountering any animals.  I was trying to photograph the margin where the grass meets the sand when suddenly, and without warning, there was a loud roar behind me and this sea lion reared up in the grass about five metres away. Startled, I quickly backed off to a safe distance and was able to capture this image of the sea lion guarding its territory.  Apparently it is mostly sub-adult  males that haul themselves onto the beaches along this coast.

Surat Bay is named after a 1,000 ton immigrant sailing ship that became wrecked here in 1874 after striking rocks further south along the coast. No lives were lost.

Horses at Surat Bay - Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

Curio Bay

Curio Bay attracts visitors for both its ruggedness and the 160 million year old fossilized logs that lie on its reef.  It was a cold moody autumn day when this image was taken.  A southerly wind was blowing in from the South Pole and one needed a good layering of warm and windproof clothing to venture onto the shoreline.

Curio Bay, Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

The fossilized logs are thought to be a Jurassic-age type of conifer that were swept from the surrounding hills by volcanic ash and mud flows.  Over the years silica replaced the wood cells to produce very hard replicas that can withstand the harsh environment where they now lie. Amongst nearby rocks fossilized leaves can be found, near perfect copies of the original.

Fossilized Logs at Curio Bay - Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

At the end of each day Yellow-eyed Penguins come ashore to nest overnight in the grassy banks along the shoreline.  Black oystercatchers wade in the rock pools near the pounding surf.

Not Really a Lake

Catlins Lake is not really a lake at all, it’s actually part of the Catlins River estuary and is tidal.  However, when the tide is in it looks like a lake.

Catlins Lake - Catlins, Southland, New Zealand

This image was taken at about 10.00am on our journey from the Pukaraunui Falls to Jacks Bay and the nearby Jacks Blowhole.  The tide was just turning and as we passed the narrowest part of the lake where the current formed by the outgoing tide was clearly evident.  When we passed the lake again later in the day there were only mud flats to be seen.

A clear morning sky and no wind produced great reflections so that there was a near-perfect mirror image of the distant sheep covered hills. A light breeze just ruffles the water in patches. Wading birds are a common sight along the shore at low tide. Shags patrol the waters when the tide is in.


The Catlins coast is renowned for rugged coastal vistas and waterfalls.  Perhaps the most visited place on the coast is Nugget Point with its lighthouse and scattering of small islands off the headland.  During the early days of settlement in New Zealand shipwrecks were common along this coast .  In 1870 a lighthouse was constructed here from rock quarried nearby.  In 1989, along with all other lighthouses around the New Zealand coast, it was automated.

The Nuggets - Catlins Coast, Southland Coast, New Zealand

The Nuggets have been formed by New Zealand’s shifting geology which has caused sedimentary rock to break up and tilt sideways over time to create today’s danger to shipping and classic coastal outcrops.  During our visit a fishing boat passed by the outer end of the islets and showed how a rather benign looking ocean swell could cause a smallish vessel to rock and roll. One could imaging how fierce the conditions could be in a storm and how sailing ships lost at night could easily fetch up here and get wrecked. The 1870’s lighthouse perched 76 metres above the cliff behind this view must have come as a relief to late nineteenth and early twentieth century mariners.

Nugget Point Lighthouse - Catlins

A wide variety of sea life can be found the rocky shoreline and islets including fur seals, sea lions, sea elephants, yellow-eyed penguins, shags, shearwaters, gannets and royal spoonbills.

Silky Water

An iconic picture of these falls by Nelson photographer Craig Potton has made them one of the best known places to visit in the Catlins, Southland.  Craig’s picture has fascinated me for years. When the opportunity came to revisit the falls after a gap of more than 20 years, I was intrigued to know if they would live up to my perceived image.

Purakaunui Falls - Catlins

There was less water flowing over the falls than I had hoped for.  This is not surprising considering the long dry summer New Zealand has experienced this year.  It was cool when we arrived just before 10.00 am and the sun was trying to break through the early morning mist.  It was quite dark in the bush that surrounds the cascades.

This image was taken with the camera mounted on a tripod and set at ISO 200 for 1.3 sec at F11. I wanted to capture some of the sensation portrayed in the famous Craig Potton photograph, and to a degree I think I succeeded.  To get this image required a scramble over slippery rocks near the viewing platform.

Pukauranui Falls are just one of several interesting cascades in the area which are worth visiting.  Over the next few days we photographed them too.

Misty Dawn – Catlins

Another morning, another dawn.  We moved to the Catlins Coast in Southland after riding the Otago Central Rail Trail for a different South Island experience.  Our accommodation was at Hilltop Backpackers at Papatowai, a one store settlement between Dunedin and Invercargill near the rugged Catlins coast.  Backpackers accommodation is not our usual style, but places to stay are in relatively short supply in that part of the world and Hilltop had good reviews on the web.  Being sixty something and not really wanting bunkroom style accommodation, we took the en suite double room which turned out to be a nicely furnished quaint period room in the old house overlooking the valley leading to the sea.

Misty Dawn - Catlins

Fellow travellers on that first night were from Hong Kong, Germany and New Zealand.  A retired school teacher and hotel concierge from Hong Kong, a PhD student from Germany, an office administrator from Auckland, and us – all fetched up on a hillside in the middle of remote Southland.

We had arrived at twilight. Being concerned that we had turned up at the right place we weren’t fully aware of the surroundings.  Sheep were wandering around nearby – one even surprised me in the dark as I unloaded the car by appearing out of the gloom to observe what was going on.

In the morning there was rustling outside our room which turned out to be one of our Hong Kong travellers photographing the mist and the sunrise. It didn’t take much to get me out there as well, and this is the result. What a great welcome to the Catlins Coast.