Christchurch Skies

Living on the Port Hills, I am often treated to some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The best part of where I live is the vast amount of sky and big views of the estuary, mountains and ocean.

Christchurch is located on the eastern side of the Southern Alps in the South Island of New Zealand. Between the Pacific Ocean and the Alps are the Canterbury Plains. The flattest piece of land in all of New Zealand. On the otherside of the Alps is the rugged West Coast which is on the Tasman Sea. Across the Tasman Sea is Australia. The predominant wind on the West Coast is the westerly wind coming in off the sea. As this moist air comes in and ascends up the mountain range, it cools and looses moisture in the form of heavy rain on the West Coast. This is why the West Coast is covered in lush sub tropical rain forest. As the wind descends the mountains on the eastern side, it warms and it is now a warm, dry wind known as a Foehn wind. This warm wind creates spectacular lenticular cloud formations and adds drama and interest to the skies above Canterbury.

January Sunset from my garden
September Sunrise from the deck at my house looking out over the estuary and towards the Kaikoura Mountain Range
Pretty clouds – sunset January
Morning sky colours
Sunrise. Pacific Ocean.
Sunrise and Sumner Bay, Christchurch.
Sunrise. Christchurch estuary and Pegasus Bay. September.
The moon with pretty pink wispy clouds
Plane headed west to Australia

I am never bored at the beauty of the sky and clouds, and living in Canterbury, I am treated to some incredible skies. Not only is it beautiful at sunrise and sunset but you don’t have to travel too far out of the city to get some incredible night skies with the Milky Way. In South Canterbury, at Tekapo and Mount Cook, there is the Dark Sky Reserve. One of the best places in the world to see the Milky Way.

Kaituna Valley looking back towards the glow of the city. You can still see the Milky Way.
The Milky Way over Lake Ellesmere.
The Milky Way and Large Magellanic Cloud over Lake Ellesmere

I am only just learning about Night Sky photography and it is just a matter of doing it. Getting out there in the winter when it’s cold and dark and spending a few hours under the stars. Even if the photos don’t turn out the way you expected them to, just being under the night sky in the middle of nowhere is an experience in itself. The best time to photograph the night sky is in the middle of winter when the nights are longer and the Milky Way is in a good position in the sky. Also, when there is no moon as a big bright moon can flush out all the stars.

Well, there are a few of my sky photos. It does take quite a bit of effort as you need to get up really early in the morning to capture the sunrise. It pays to get to a good vantage spot before the colour starts to appear in the sky and get your camera and tripod set up ready. Sometimes you can be just a bit too late. By the time you wake up in the morning and see the sky out the window to when you get your gear in the car, drive up to a good spot, it can all be over and done with and you’ve missed the best moment. So it pays to keep an eye on the weather forecast and if it is a nor west forecast you can almost guarantee a good sunrise or sunset, so be prepared.

Photographing the night sky is its own unique challenge. The best time of the year is mid winter so you have to get all rugged up and then drive somewhere far enough away from the glow of the city lights and set up in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere. It’s always good to take a friend for company and security as it can be quite spooky out in the dark, far away from anything with all the strange noises of the wind and animals and even the sound of silence can be scary.

I will always be fascinated by the sky, the stars, the moon and the clouds. Nature is incredible and we are just tiny creatures in a massive universe. Take the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Photos never really capture the true experience of actually being in the now and taking in the amazing world we live in but I still like to capture the moments the best I can and add them to my photo collection.

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