8 Apr 2022

Seldom seen scenes of Auckland

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 8 April 2022

Matthew Davison works in IT, but in his spare time, he treks all over Tāmaki Makaurau photographing secret places of natural beauty.

When the pandemic put the kibosh on Davison's passion for travelling the world photographing live volcanoes, he turned his lens on some stunning local sights, including bioluminescence and rock formations.

Matthew Davison

Matthew Davison Photo: Matthew Davison

In between lockdowns, Davison set out on a mission to find natural wonders in his own backyard which rivalled those he witnessed in far-flung places overseas.

The rare bioluminescent waves seen in Auckland are some of the best you'll find on the planet, Davison tells Kathryn Ryan.

"Basically what happens is because they only happen a few times every year, there's a really good people-powered social community group and whenever someone might be out walking the dog for example and they see it, they can quickly post and let everyone know." 

"I always have my camera ready, my trusty smartphone as well, all ready to go, and it's just about literally dropping everything and jumping in the car and sometimes you can get an alert at 2am in the morning for example ... and hopefully, if you're lucky, the show will still be on.

"You get these beautiful waves rolling in that are lit up in these gorgeous neon blue colours. It's such an otherworldly, almost alien thing to see the ocean flashing and lighting up in the middle of the night."

A constant sand-fall in Auckland.

A constant sand-fall in Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Davison

The glow of bioluminescence is caused by the defence mechanism of algal blooms on the water, which light up when disturbed by waves or splashes, he says.

"When you have millions and millions of the algae, you can get the entire ocean as far as the eye can see lighting up all around you. Sometimes I've been the only one to see these shows, they can happen in the middle of the night when all of Auckland is fast asleep and I'm seeing one of the best shows in the world that's happening right here in Auckland."

Fluted pinnacles In Auckland captured by Matthew Davison.

Fluted pinnacles In Auckland captured by Matthew Davison. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Davison

Other stunning scenes Davison has captured include "alien-like structures" of fluted pinnacles, hot pools, glow worms, secret caves and a hidden constant sand-fall that goes over a cliff into the ocean,

"I've seen glow worms in caves in Auckland that rival some of our very best caves that we have around New Zealand.

"I have found caves that aren't documented, that are full of cobwebs and have no signs of anyone ever being in them so we do believe that there are certain caves that I've been in that no one else has ever been in before."

There's also an element of mystery to Davison's adventures, like the time he stumbled upon an incredible lake in a forest. 

"That was almost glowing this fluro-green colour and it had this great big straight pine trees growing out of it as well.

"It was something really unusual but also I had a lot of questions around how does a lake even form like that, and so a lot of these places come with great mysteries as well because I try and establish and work out how they came to be and that one I still have a lot of question marks on."

A fluro-green pine lake in a west Auckland forest.

A fluro-green pine lake in a west Auckland forest. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Davison

But it's not easy to get to the places Davison has been to, and he deliberately keeps them secret to protect them from a potential flood of Instagrammers.

"I know I'm doing my job when Aucklanders are surprised or don't even believe me that these photos are taken in their own backyard and a lot of these places that I go to are quite fragile and obviously they're very hard to get to some of them. So, I don't necessarily want to tell the world and for them to turn it into the next Instagram spots."

The places he goes to aren't even recognisable on maps, and with no road or track access, he sometimes has had to resort to crawling through caves and wading through waist-deep mud just to get his shots.

Matthew Davison's tips for starting out as a nature photographer

Davison does own a Sony DSLR camera and has used it on some occasions, but says most of his shots are taken on his phone.

It's handy to carry, especially when navigating tough terrain, and just takes great pictures, he says.

"I think a lot of people are very surprised to see what I can actually capture through a smartphone. I use a Samsung smartphone, they've come such a long way and look, there's a lot of different things you can do.

"It's just about having a bit of patience, understanding some of the advanced settings on the camera apps, and I do also cheat a little bit because I end up taking hundreds and hundreds of shots of the same things and usually you might get one or two decent shots out of that."

Matthew Davison captured this scenery of the aurora from Auckland.

Matthew Davison captured this scenery of the aurora from Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Davison

Davison uses a GPS to map where he's been and to pick up again where he's left off.

"You'd be surprised, sometimes you can find these locations just 10 metres off the track and so a lot of the time I'll even do grid searching. Grid-searching is simply just following almost a straight line on a map and just literally seeing what's there, and I've found some amazing things through this process.

"It's obviously a bit tedious and not everyone's cup of tea, but I do find some really interesting hidden gems when I do this sort of hiking."

Glow worms in Auckland cave.

Glow worms in Auckland cave. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Davison

Lastly, he recommends trying to capture a subject that's not too common.

"It doesn't have to be a location, it could be something that is generally unique. Go and find that thing and spend time and capture it in a way that is very true to form around what you would see through the naked eye because I think people really appreciate it when they know what you're capturing is exactly what you'd see."

Matthew Davison also has a YouTube channel called Extreme Pursuit where he posts videos of his adventures.