My 5 favourite photography spots in Hawke's Bay

Inevitably when you shoot photography for a while you have your favourite locations to shoot, whether you are shooting a family portrait, a landscape location or a bit of astrophotography.  These locations generally become your favourites because you know that they work for the look you are trying to achieve, but also because they provide some flexibility in the types of shots that can be achieved from a single location.

So below are my 5 favourite Hawke’s Bay photography locations that I find myself going back to again and again.

Te Mata Peak

This is the classic Hawke’s Bay photography location, and for good reason.  If you park in the carpark on top of the hill you are treated to a range of shots and angles all within a few minutes walk of the car.  The classic shot is normally the one from the northern edge of the carpark looking down into the lower Tuki Tuki Valley and the Craggy Range Winery, and this is still one of my favourite shots, but there are also amazing views towards Hastings, south to Mt Erin and southwest looking up the Tuki Tuki Valley or across to Mt Kahuranaki.  And these are all available within 10m of the carpark area.  And with a big more exploring there are lots of variations on these views.  And also most of the locations work really well for sunrises and sunsets, and in really dramatic weather conditions.  And then there is the rest of Te Mata Park to explore once you are done at the Peak itself.

Waimarama Beach

Hawke’s Bay is blessed with two stunning sandy beaches on the East Coast; Ocean Beach and Waimarama. While they are not within Hawke Bay itself, they are easily reachable with a 30 minute drive from Hastings. My favourite of the two beaches for photography is Waimarama Beach, mainly due to three factors: Bare Island which provides an instantly recognisable feature in most photos taken at Waimarama, a rocky feature that is commonly called The Reef in the middle of otherwise featureless sand, and a small creek which flows out onto the beach at The Reef.

And as you would expect for a beach on the East Coast sunrise is the best time to shoot at Waimarama, especially at low tide when the wet sand reflects the colours of the sky. Be warned that if you go to Waimarama at high tide then there will be no sand visible at all; it is definitely a low tide location. Oh and it is a pretty good spot to capture the Milky Way rising out of the Pacific Ocean during the autumn months.

Peka Peka Wetlands

Since this area has been cleaned out and regenerated by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council it has become a go to location if I am looking to get some shots of water or reflections.  Again it can be a bit of a 1 shot location, with the main curving boardwalk skimming over the still pool water providing the easy shot, but by wandering around the other parts of this location there are dozens of other areas to capture little pockets of water with reflections of reeds, or even to snap the swans, pukeko, swallows and rabbits that hang out in this location.  Strangely for a location that is right by the side of the main road south and is easy to get to, 95% of the times I have visited this spot I have been the only person there.  And again this is a great location to visit early in the morning before any breeze starts to disturb the reflections, but also works at most other times of the day, and night.

Lake Tutira

Another classic Hawke’s Bay photography location, this time with a 40 minute drive to get there.  The southern end of the lake is the easiest to get to and has the best collection of lake edge and trees to be had here.  It is an easy drive along the access road which runs along the southern shore to get to the camping ground, and from there a 15 minute walk along the eastern edge of the lake leads to another little bay, with a great view back towards the setting sun.  Another great feature of this location is the early morning mist that often sits over the lake during winter and provides a real atmosphere to photographs.  And again there is a large collection of wildlife on or around the lake including swans, ducks, scaup, pukeko, rabbits, cows and sheep.

Marine Parade, Napier

For something a bit different this location is probably my favourite urban location in Hawke’s Bay.  Whether it is shooting the classic shot of the T & G Building with the Masonic Hotel next to it, or the equally ( modern ) classic shot of the Napier Viewing Platform, or even the Tom Parker Fountain, this spot has dozens of completely different locations and views within a 5 minute walk.  And then there is the endless beach with concrete structures that appear and disappear depending on the currents and it’s ever changing patterns of shingle.  Again this location works well at any time of day but shooting here in the morning or evening can be most rewarding with the city lights glowing and the soft light from the sky.

Astrophotography in Hawkes Bay

I clearly remember my first attempt at Astrophotography in 2012. I had seen photos of the night sky and was amazed that modern day cameras could effectively see in the dark, so I headed out one cold clear winters night to capture the night sky; the results were pretty poor but I captured enough at that first attempt ( I actually managed to accidentally capture a portion of the Milky Way in some of the shots ) to ensure that I was hooked. Please excuse me for not showing those images; they were an important stepping stone to understanding astrophotography, but that doesn’t mean that I want anyone to see them!

After moving to Hawke’s Bay in 2008 I am pretty sure that I saw more stars in the sky in the first few weeks of living here than I had ever seen in my life before, so I was pretty sure that with a a bit of learning and a lot of practice I could capture photos similar to those that had got me interested in astrophotography, but with the beauty of the Hawke’s Bay night sky in my shots.

As a region Hawke’s Bay is blessed with many things that contribute to great astrophotography: settled weather ( especially in the winter months ), large areas of open dark countryside within a short drive, relatively low light pollution levels ( especially given the fact we have two reasonably sized cities within 30kms of each other right in the heart of the district ) and we have sea to our east ( I will explain the importance of that later).

The Milky Way

So a bit of information about astrophotography for those just starting out ( it has been described as the nerdiest form of photography so bear with me if this gets a little technical ). Our galaxy, The Milky Way, appears to us on Earth as a band of stars encircling our planet. Some portion of the Milky Way is always visible to us in our night sky, but for reasons of the way our planet rotates and wobbles we see different parts of the Milky Way in our skies at different times of the year. Due to Earths location within the Milky Way we have two distinct areas that we can see; our view towards the centre of the Milky Way is densely packed with stars and areas of interest, and is therefore main part to feature in astrophotography, whereas our view towards the outer edge of the galaxy is less densely packed with stars but still forms a visible band in the sky.

In the southern hemisphere we are lucky to be able to see the core of the Milky Way through our winter months, with it’s long nights making astrophotography much easier than in the northern hemisphere where the core of the Milky Way is only visible through their summer months, so for many people living in northern parts of North America and Europe the almost 24 hour daylight makes capturing shots of the core very difficult.

During our winter months ( or more February to November ) the core of the Milky Way appears in different parts of the sky, and has quite different orientations, depending on the time of year and the time of day ( or night ). In early February we normally get our first look at the core of the Milky Way for the year as it starts to move away from the area of the sky that our Sun occupies, and it appears in the early morning ( about an hour before sunrise ) as a near vertical band of stars stretching from the eastern horizon ( this is why it is good to be on the east coast ) up to and through the Southern Cross, which quickly fades into the daylight as the sun appears. Both of the photos below were shot just before sunrise late January and mid-March respectively, looking east.

As the ‘astro season’ progresses this vertical line of stars which make up the core of the Milky Way is visible earlier and earlier in the night and by June is visible just after sunset. As the core ‘rises’ earlier and earlier through the year then that core is also visible for longer parts of the night until again around June it is visible through the entire night, starting as a vertical band in the early evening and progressing across the sky to form a near horizontal band of stars on the western horizon just before dawn. After June the vertical view starts to be wiped out by the setting sun to the west before it has a chance to be seen in the night sky, and the horizontal western view is visible earlier and earlier in the night, until around November when it is visible just after sunset and is only visible for a short time before the rotation of the Earth drags it below our western horizon.

The photos below were both shot looking west but the first one was shot in June just before sunrise and the second one was shot in October just after sunset.

So for the ‘beginner’ astrophotographer the easiest time to take photos of the main part of the Milky Way is around June about an hour after sunset to catch the rising Milky Way to the east, and in October at around the same time to see the setting Milky Way to the west.

The easiest way to determine where the core of the Milky Way is at any time is to find the Southern Cross ( which sits within the band of the Milky Way ) and whichever side of the Cross has the 2 Pointers on it is the same side as the core of the Milky Way.

Settings / Equipment

Getting good shots of the Milky Way, or the night sky in general, is unfortunately one area of photography where the gear does matter to a degree. The average phone or ‘point and shoot’ camera doesn’t have the range of adjustments to allow it to capture good photos in the dark, so normally a DSLR / Mirrorless camera will be required, and coupled with that a lens with a large aperture ( a low f number like f1.8 or f2.8 ) is preferable to let in as much light to the camera as possible. Also because you will need to shoot photos which take a few seconds to exposure a tripod is also essential to hold the camera steady.

The technicalities of choosing a camera, setting it up and shooting the Milky Way is a whole other topic in itself, which I am planing run some workshops on in June, so feel free to check out the workshop page on my website,, for more information.