Not your average Tuesday on Tiritiri Matangi – or maybe it is!

Author: Grant Birley. From his second visit to the Island and his first overnight stay.Photo credit: Grant BirleyDate: 20th March 2024

My Tuesday morning on the island started like any other morning on Tiritiri Matangi. Up early to get out into the bush to enjoy the dawn’s chorus – it truly is a sound to behold! Then it was back to the bunkhouse for a quick breakfast and coffee, a little breakfast chat around the table and then off on what was going to be a very busy day! The forecast wasn’t great with predictions of rain coming through but that was not to deter my plans of walking around the entire Island! I started at the Bunkhouse and went up the East Coast Track all the way to the Papakura Pa and then back along the tracks that hugged the Western coastline. While it was a long day, it yielded some great sightings and a few special captures too. I absolutely loved the variation in flora and fauna at different stages along the island. 

My photography goals on the island were two fold. Firstly, in the day, to traverse as much of the island in search of the incredible bird and wildlife that call Tiritiri Matangi home and, secondly, to capture and experience the magic of the night that has become synonymous with this island, from the very elusive and incredibly special creatures who wander the night like tuatara, kiwi and giant wētā to the incredibly dark skies that are found here. Capturing the new milky way core rising high up into the sky above the lighthouse which will then, hopefully, be followed by an incredible sunrise was one of my main goals for the trip! To capture this and more, sleep and rest were merely afterthoughts!

On this specific Tuesday the Island had one more surprise up its sleeve! Talia had mentioned that on their swim the night prior to our arrival, that they had come across bioluminescence in the water when they went for a swim. However, it was only visible when the water was disturbed! I tried finding some for two nights and came up empty handed. While there might’ve been in the water, for me, I prefer capturing this phenomenon on its own terms and so unless the colour occurs naturally, I do not capture it. I am happy to play in it though on those occasions! 

On our last evening on the island, two volunteers Jon and Kath joined me for a walk to see if we could spot some kiwi and tuatara. I also had a feeling that it might pay to head down to the wharf and Hobbs Beach just to have one last look if any bio was around and making its presence known. On our way there we bumped into three kiwi – one adult which wandered around us for a little while and who eventually disappeared into the bush. We decided to sit and wait to see if it came out again. A few minutes passed and all of a sudden we heard quite the commotion coming from the same direction the kiwi disappeared into the bush. The bush was too thick for us to see what was going on but soon after, this very young and small kiwi came wandering out and into the open. It walked straight up to us, mulled around for a short period and then moved on past us and into the bush on the opposite side. It took us a few minutes to appreciate what we had just seen and all 3 of us looked at each other to confirm we were all seeing the same thing. That interaction and experience in itself was enough to yield our walk a success, however I still felt the need to go have a look see down at the waters edge. We then bumped into another kiwi on the Wattle Track on our way down although this was a short-lived interaction as the kiwi moved away from us and into the bush. When we arrived down at the wharf it was just on high tide, the wind was blowing in off the sea making it a little choppy. As we walked up to the wharf we switched our headlamps off and I could immediately see blue shimmers on the surface of the water and every so often a flash of blue in the waves crashing on the beach. I raced along the waterfront to see if there was any a little further down closer to Hobbs Beach and sure enough there was. Not much and quite infrequent but enough to get me excited. I decided at this point to make a very speedy return to the bunkhouse to collect my camera gear – you see I left the bulk of my gear behind as the idea of the walk was not of photography but more to enjoy the experience without the pressure to capture images. By the time I had returned the tide had turned and was on it’s way out. The wind was still up and it was starting to rain – albeit very softly. Each time the rain started we seemed to have a burst of blue. It wasn’t long before the wind died down and the outgoing tide turned from some nice, small sized waves to very flat! I thought that was it – there was not enough water movement to stir it up! But, if you know me you will know I don’t give up easily and I have also learnt a thing or two about this stuff – mostly that it sings to its own tune and no matter how good you think you are, it is impossible to predict what it is going to do. I was beyond excited when I realised the “blue show” was starting to kick off as the tide moved out and as it went out so the blue started making it’s way down the shoreline from the wharf to Hobbs Beach. I followed it along the coast chasing the more vibrant sections as they popped up. 

It was incredibly vibrant and visible to the naked eye and what my camera was capturing was in fact the same as what I could see. At times, the “sparkles” resembled scenes from Avatar or Moana with entire areas glistening in blue sparkles! Rocks seemed to come alive with “blue glitter” at times!

It was beyond incredible. I spent the entire evening moving up and down the shoreline capturing the blue as it would kick off until eventually, just like that, it disappeared in the blink of an eye. By this time the tide was super low and apart from very feint and infrequent shimmers here and there on the surface of the water, you would not even know it was or had been there!

After packing up and still being on cloud 9 I decided I would still try find a tuatara and so set off with that in mind albeit close to the break of dawn at this stage. No more than maybe 10 metres from where I started my walk back I came across my first tuatara for the night. On the edge of the bush line and beach, it scampered into the undergrowth when I got close – I had originally not even seen it and it was only the noise of it scurrying that caught my attention. I was then fortunate to come across several more as I walked to the end of the Hobbs Beach track. Having seen several I decided it was time to head back as it was impossible to have more luck! Boy was I wrong! As I got to where the Hobbs Beach Track opens up into the wharf area something caught my eye and right there, in the open stood another kiwi. Again, it is one of those moments where for a split second you second guess yourself until the message from your eyes to your brain registers! I stood dead still and let it go about its business as if I was not there. I got to spend a good amount of time with this one and even got to follow it slowly down the track until it moved off deeper into the bush! Believe it or not I saw several more kiwi on my walk back to the bunkhouse as I was trying to get back to the lighthouse to capture some pictures of the break of dawn and sunrise. A quick trip back to the bunkhouse followed to drop off all the gear and then back out to find a spot to sit and listen to the dawn’s chorus as the sun begins to rise! To round off the perfect evening/morning, it was back to bunkhouse for breakfast and a well deserved coffee! 

My Tuesday had quickly become my Wednesday!

As I said, sleep and rest were optional and by all accounts an after thought!

Tuatara during the day

Tuatara at night

Wētāpunga during the day