Motukiekie Beach: New Zealand Photography Adventure, Days 18 & 19

Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

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, 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

Hey dummy, look behind you!

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 Punakaiki, Wharariki Beach, and Nelson Lakes 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.

~Josh

(If this sounds fun to you, be sure to check out my New Zealand Photography Tour which visits some of the most beautiful beaches on the South Island.)

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16 replies
  1. dustycar
    dustycar says:

    Hi I am one of the locals of Motukiekie beach. The best and safest access with plenty of car parking is just north of Kararoa Creek where you can just walk onto the beach. No need to take risks for yourself or your expensive equipment. If you come from Punakaiki it is about 500 m south of 13 Mile Creek.

    Reply
  2. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hello-

    I love your pictures – they inspired me to plan a trip around this beach/sunset timing next year. What’s the best place to park and how much time would it take from where you park your car to get down to the beach? Is there someplace that shows the route to the beach? thanks!

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Excellent, it’s a lovely beach! I highly recommend you download the NZ Frenzy guidebook (http://www.nzfrenzy.com/). It’s got excellent directions on how to get to the beach, where to park, and timing your walk. My only recommendation past the guidebook’s is that you time your trip for when low tide coincides with sunset/sunrise. That way you can actually be on the beach during magic hour. Have fun!

      Josh

      Reply
      • Michelle
        Michelle says:

        Hi Josh – I downloaded Scott’s book and it is a gold mine of great ideas and places I now want to work into my trip! I still have one question regarding Motukiekie beach. I’m still a bit confused on the timing. It says to start the walk 1.5 hrs prior to when you want to be there. I’ve scheduled my trip so I have two days at this beach when the low tide and sunset coincide. What I still need to assess is how much time do I have really with low tide and on either side of it? It looks like a 6 hr swing from high to low tide but really how much time do I have to walk, shoot and walk back before it’s dangerous? How much time did you get to shoot at the most photogenic sites of the beach before you had to start walking back? I’m 5ft and will be alone so I don’t want to take any chances. Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated! Thanks so much – Michelle

        Reply
        • Josh Cripps
          Josh Cripps says:

          Hi Michelle,

          I just measured on Google Maps and it’s about a 1 mile walk from the parking area to first big cluster of interesting seastacks. It’s another 1 mile to the last of the large seastacks. So if you walk all the way down to those I’d give yourself a full hour to get back to the car; 30 minutes if you only go to the first cluster of seastacks. Honestly I don’t think you’ll have any problems. If you get to the beach a few hours before sunset the tide should already be low enough for you to walk along the beach and explore and get a good idea of how far back you’ll need to walk. But if low tide is right around sunset then my guess is it will be dark before the tide forces you out of there.

          Cheers,

          J

          Reply
          • Michelle
            Michelle says:

            Thank you! This is extremely helpful and I appreciate you taking the time to explain this for me!

  3. Scott Cook
    Scott Cook says:

    Josh, glad I could help. Thanks for mentioning my book….but….I describe an easy-ish stroll down a low-tide beach, not some such high-wire access. I do know another route down onto the beach and rocks, but it still isn’t too hair-raising, just hard to find and park.
    Anyhow, I love the excellent photos! When I was there just 6-7 weeks ago the starish weren’t around. Damn. But the seal pups were in force at Wharariki…so, I guess you win some and “lose” some…hahahaha, if you could ever lose at either of these spots!!
    cheers, scott

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Haha, yeah, we found some funky fisherman trail that dumps you on the beach just south of the main cluster of seastacks. Pretty cool way down with this old rusty ladder and a few roped sections.

      Anyway, thank YOU for writing the book! Lots of great tidbits in there that helped me on my trip last year. Itching to go back!!

      Take it easy,

      Josh

      Reply
  4. sven
    sven says:

    Hello Josh,
    Great story and beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!
    I had high tide tide on this beach when I was there but even then it was awosome, have a look here:
    12 mile
    Cheers
    Sven

    Reply

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