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Late summer evening at Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast, Northland

Northland’s Tutukaka Coast has a justifiable reputation for offering some of the finest coastal scenery in New Zealand, with literally hundreds of bays and coves to explore. One of the jewels in Tutukaka’s crown is idyllic Whale Bay, just south of Matapouri, where a short walk through a native bush reserve takes visitors to a beautiful crescent of golden sand sheltered by a low pohutukawa-fringed headland. Whale Bay’s sheltered aspect gives it its name: it was used by early Maori tribes during their whaling expeditions because of its calm waters.

Marine life is abundant here and on the afternoon I came to photograph Whale Bay I could see numerous kahawai flashing through the clear water just a short distance from the beach. Not that I was too interested in fishing just then; the water was so clear and inviting that even photography was forgotten about for a while as I cast my camera gear aside and jumped in, savouring the water’s tepid warmth and being amazed at the clarity of my own shadow shimmering on the sandy bottom a few vertiginous metres below me.

This is a dilemma I often encounter with coastal photography: do I spend my time at places like this taking photographs, or would I rather drop the camera gear and have a swim instead? Changeable conditions usually mean that it’s usually a matter of one or the other, and it’s true that I have often missed some superb photographic ‘moments’ simply because I’ve instead given in to the temptation to go fishing or swimming even when the light has been just right for photography.

On this day I was fortunate enough to have both — a late summer afternoon spent swimming and drying in the sun, followed by a warm, lingering evening in which I had plenty of time to collect a few photographs before dusk. This one was taken at the southern end of Whale Bay, looking roughly northwards along the beach towards Otara Point.


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