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Photographing Wild Horses

Kia Ora!

A week ago my family and I took a drive an hour and half north to a beach known as "90 Mile Beach." Fun fact: It's not 90 miles, it's actually around 55 miles, or 88km, but it certainly feels long when in each direction the beach just fades into haze.

The story goes that the early European settlers named it because they knew their horses could travel up to 30 miles in a day....Unfortunately, they didn't account for the slower pace of travelling on sand.

90 Mile Beach is considered a highway, and I can guarantee you will always find cars zooming past, or fishing lines strung out the boot of someone's old 4WD.


However, the reason I'm writing this post is because of the resident wildlife of this beach. Wild horses roam the dunes and the nearby 'Aupouri Forest,' and I was lucky enough to photograph them.

Even though I live somewhat close to these herds, I've never actually seen wild horses in New Zealand. The more well known Kaimanawa horses can be found further south towards the center of New Zealand, so I hadn't caught a glimpse of those either.

The horses of the north are known as the Aupouri wild horses, after the forest they live in and around. We took a road called 'Hukatere Road' in towards the beach, to find the herd roaming just beyond the dunes above the beach, way closer than I expected. There were also tell tale hoof-prints along the sand where the horses had been, which would have made an awesome photograph. Maybe next time. My brother and I initially explored up over a dune just to see what was on the other side, and ended up spotting three horses from the top. There was a grey mother and foal, as well as a beautiful black stallion, pictured below.


ISO200, F5.6, 1/125s

We continued walking, as we realised how comfortable they were with our presence. As you can see from the photo above, I got about 5 metres away from this impressive stallion, which gave me the perfect opportunity to get this shot. It was actually pretty funny, he barely put his head up from the grass when we approached, nothing like the movies, and I struggled to get a good photo until my brother started wandering away in search of other horses! Once we spotted these three, heaps more started popping up the more dunes we crossed, until we could see between five to ten in every direction, from foals to fully grown horses.


Click on each photo to view the in-camera settings I used.


Though the horses themselves were easy to get shots of, it was a particularly hard situation to shoot, as I had 75-300mm lens on (I usually shoot with an 18-135mm) which increased the camera shake, making a few of my longer range photos blurry. It was quite a grey day as well, and it actually ended up raining while I was out there. The best photos I shot were at a focal length of about 200mm. I got the hang of it towards the end, and actually found holding my breath was the easiest way to get a still photo. There was a lot of fiddling with settings, and I had my White Balance set to cloudy for 90% of the shots, which helped give them a warmer tone.



All in all, it was a super cool day, and I definitely plan on going back for a take two. I've heard some people haven't been so lucky, so I'm really happy I even got the opportunity at all.

“The head was that of the wildest of all wild creatures—a stallion born wild—and it was beautiful, savage, splendid. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that matched his savage, ruthless spirit.”

― Walter Farley, 'The Black Stallion'











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