Motukiekie Beach, West Coast

Seastar Sunset: Behind the Scenes at Motukiekie Beach

I am surrounded by 12-legged beasts who digest their prey by extruding their stomachs through their mouths. The tide is rising quickly and my only escape route is disappearing before my eyes as the water gurgles higher and higher. Am I worried though? Just the opposite. As I stare at those carnivorous creatures and the water lapping at my feet I think “This is fun.”

It’s my second visit to Motukiekie Beach in as many weeks but this time I have preparedness on my side. I first stumbled across Motukiekie in an “off-the-beaten-path” guidebook (how’s that for an oxymoron?) sent to me by a friend. The book described Motukiekie in flowery prose as the “South Island’s MOST DRAMATIC…interesting, photogenic, and WOW…bit of walkable coast!!!!!” It also mentioned the tide: “If it ain’t low, you can’t go!!” But tides mean something different to the casual beach goer than to a seascape photographer, so I knew I needed to get the lowdown on this place for myself.

The trail to the beach was nowhere near as hard to find or as sketchy as the one to Arnott Point (a story for another day), but it was still a good adventure with some bushwhacking, some ropes, and a rusty old iron ladder. At this point in my trip I was traveling with another photographer, Sean Webb, and even though we caught glimpses of the beach on our way down, nothing prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of this place once I actually saw it from the sand.

Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Me looking the wrong way. Typical. (Photo by Sean Webb)

I mean, this beach had everything. You want seastacks? You got seastacks. You want reflections? Sure, no problem. You want alien life forms? Why the heck not? The possibilities were limitless.

Motukiekie Beach, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Reflect-o-magic and many-legged freaks

There was just one problem: the guidebook knew what it was talking about. Sean and I hit the beach in the early afternoon at low tide, and accessibility wasn’t an issue. But sunset coincided with high tide, which was a full 3 meters higher than we were currently seeing it. As we discovered, Motukiekie is as flat as a pancake, and we figured a 10-foot vertical increase in the tide would mean hundreds of horizontal feet of beach would be underwater at sunset. And since I didn’t bring any scuba gear with me, that meant shooting was going to be a no go. Damn.

Sometimes you can fight against nature. You can chase the storms, change your view point, or just keep stepping backward as the tide reaches for you. But this time there was nothing to be done. I just had to shelve Motukiekie for the time being and come back when the low tide coincided with sunset, which would be happening in about another seven days. So I packed off to enjoy the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Wharariki Beach, and Nelson Lakes National Park in the interim.

Fast forward a week and I was back at Motukiekie, hungry to shoot. This time conditions couldn’t have been more perfect: low tide coincided wonderfully with sunset and sunrise, the sand was as glassy as could be, and the echinoderms were out in force.

Motukiekie Beach, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Luckiest starfish on earth

At this beach the issue wasn’t so much what to shoot, but how to choose. Reflections or seastacks? Starfish or tidal pools? In the end I chose answer E: all of the above. And after my wanderings during the sunset and subsequent sunrise, I walked away with an SD card full of keepers.

Motukiekie Beach, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Does the coast get prettier than this?

So a big shout to the NZ Frenzy guidebook, Sean Webb for sending it to me, and all those awesome starfish, because while Wharariki was perhaps the most beautiful beach I saw in New Zealand, Motukiekie was my favorite.

Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

If creating your own NZ photo adventure sounds like a heckuva lot of fun, join us on our New Zealand Photography Workshop, May 2015.

~Josh

p.s. feel free to leave your comments below!

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