Anyone who knows Birdlings Flat – that wild, treacherous beach 45 minutes south of Christchurch on the road to Akaroa, knows how beguiling it can be. One day calm, peaceful, tranquil, the next, windy, wild and dangerous.
It’s been too long since I wrote anything here, so I have decided 2022 is as good a year as any to make a comeback. And I’m coming back with my weekend photographic outing to Birdlings Flat with a friend, who was keen on photographing the large colony of White-fronted Terns that have made the stony beach their home.
Originally named Te Mata Hapuku, it became known as Birdlings Flat after William Birdling and his family arrived in the 1880s – the first European settler to farm the area. These days, its popular with fishermen, bird watchers and beach fossickers – and people who just want to sit and contemplate the beauty (and ferocity) of Nature.
I‘m often awake at 5am but I rarely get out of bed then; but with the Birdlings Flat sunrise predicted for 6.30am, it seemed a worthwhile motivation.
With nothing between Birdlings Flat and Antarctica, weather can be rough and the seas, unreliable and dangerous. Giant waves can come out of nowhere and signs pointing out the dangers of swimming, mark the car park. It pays to heed the warnings. On Saturday though, the usually windswept, unforgiving environment turned on its charms and I fell into thinking.
There’s just something about a raw, untamed environment that crowds out the mundane and the more worldly concerns of the day – like the Covid-19 pandemic, the negativity, the social upheaval, the irritating talk of anti-vaxxers. I like to escape all that, so I frequently take myself on short road trips around Canterbury. I lose myself in thought and creativity (either photography or sketching, sometimes both). It keeps me one-step removed from the discontent and the fear, (and hopefully, infection) and it helps me stay in touch with the beauties of life.
I’ve always been aware of the power of Nature to heal and to inspire, even when I was young; but now that I’m older, the importance, the significance of that glimmer of light on a bird’s wing, that roar of an untamed ocean, that awe-inspiring sight of ‘a million’ bird wings cutting into the blue sky have taken on a whole new level of meaning.
At the end of the day, it’s those ‘small things’ that matter most.
I’m no bird photographer. But every so often I chance a photo that reminds me of everything. It encapsulates the many hours spent sitting on that stony beach marvelling at the wild white surf crashing onto the shore. It sums up the quiet joy of listening to hundreds of terns ‘chattering’ on the early morning breeze, the first sun catching their wings as they come in to land. And the delight of finding a tern feather among the grey beach stones.
It’s in those moments that nothing else exists.
It’s in those moments that contentment lands.