21 Nov The Tweed – Landscape Photography Guide
Where the good spots are and when to capture them!
Living and working from Kingscliff on the Tweed Coast really is an amazing place to be, especially with what I specialise in with the work I do being focussed on travel and landscape photography. Being so close to Gold Coast airport without all the Gold Coast traffic means that it’s easy to get in and out whilst still living close to the beach.
I have lived here for around 6 years now and covered nearly every photo-spot around, thought it may be time to write this post and share with you all a photographers perspective and guide to The Tweed!
Just before getting into the actual photo locations, there are a few things I want to say first. The Tweed is a naturally beautiful area and it is picking up in popularity, especially with landscape and nature photographers. More people are coming here to experience the ‘adventures in nature’ and that is great for tourism, but there is an aspect we need to be careful of.
If you are coming here to photograph the natural areas, please be careful and have respect for the environment around. I’m not going to wave my finger at you and demand anything, this is to put out there that if you take something with you, like food or a water bottle, take the rubbish home with you or find a bin. There’s nothing worse than going to amazing natural areas and seeing garbage all over the place. Simply use your common sense and if you see a wrapper laying around, it’s easy to pick it up and find a bin.
There is a whole thing on the internet about Instagram destroying natural places from over-visitation. Yes, unfortunately that has happened. It’s also because people go trampling off tracks that have been put in place to protect the environment around. There might be a nice photo somewhere off in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean you have to trample everything around. Just please, take care of the locations so they are around long enough for everyone to enjoy now, and in the future.
One last thing, if you choose to fly a drone, please follow the CASA regulations so they don’t keep restricting drone rules for all of us.
Right, with all of that out of the way (and if you’re still with me 😊), let’s get into it!
1. Fingal Head
Fingal Head is probably my favourite place on The Tweed to capture. It’s not just that it’s close to home, but there is so much opportunity for great imagery!
From this first image you would have figured out there’s a lighthouse. In the early part of the Milky Way season (late March – end of October) you can capture the Milky Way rising from the East over the ocean from the opposite side to the above image. This image was taken in late September which is when the MW sets horizontally to the West and makes for an amazing panoramic image!
The lighthouse also looks great at sunrise with a long exposure and some cloud movement over the top for dramatic effect!
At the base of the headland, you have what’s called ‘The Giant’s Causeway’. This awesome geological feature was formed by cooling lava from Mount Warning (we will get to that soon) and creating hexagonal stacks rising from the water. The only other place like it in the world is The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Of course, there are other stories – some indigenous tribes in the area also refer to it as ‘Booninybah’ which translates to Home of the Giant Echidna. I can see why.
Quite often at sunrise, you will find fishermen (or women) who have walked out onto the rock formations that make for a solid point-of-interest if you like having some people in your images.
If you want to fly a drone at the headland, you are allowed. From the beach on the left side of the headland, that is where the boundary for the Gold Coast airport stops. Lucky because drone shots at Fingal are awesome!
There is also quite a large pod, estimated to number around 200, that live just off the headland who make for great images, especially when they’re awake and playing in the waves.
But now, lets check out some of the images from there and it will help to open your mind as to some of the options you have available to shoot!
2. Cook Island
To talk about Fingal Head and not mention Cook Island would be robbing you of one of the best kept locations.
Cook Island is a protected island that people are not allowed on to. In saying that, you might be wondering why I would bother including it in this list? Well, have I got an amazing secret for you!
The waters around Cook Island are a protected marine reserve with HEAPS of TURTLES!! Can you tell I LOVE turtles??
You will get the best benefit from this location as a scuba diver to just hang out at 12-15m below with these friendly and super chilled fellas – some of whom are massive!
If you’re not a diver though, don’t be discouraged. There are a couple of companies that go out doing snorkel trips which still gets you really close to them. I would tell you to bring a camera that can go underwater (like this GoPro Hero 8) but this post is about photography so I’m sure you are already planning on doing that.
Like I just mentioned, there are a few companies that head out to Cook that you can experience the turtles with. I usually head out with Dave from Tweed Gold Coast Dive Charters who you book with through Kirra Dive on The Tweed. For those of you wanting to snorkel, check out Watersports Guru who head out there quite often.
With blue water most of the year and plenty of activity, there’s no surprise that Kingscliff is a holiday-makers favourite. But how does it go for photography?
It’s a bit of a mix to be honest. There’s no doubt you can get some amazing images from the air over Cudgen Creek mouth and looking along the beach. Surfers in the water are also a great subject to capture from the air. I did a video about using drone filters that was filmed at Kingscliff if you want to check that out.
Apart from beach landscapes, shooting towards Mount Warning from the Cudgen Creek bridge (either on or below) at sunset can give you some really great results. There is however another aspect to photographing at Kingscliff that most locals know but if you’re coming into the region, you might like this one.
Cudgen Creek is home to an Osprey nest and you can see these beautiful birds of prey in flight every day of the year. I suggest coming down at either of the golden hours so you get nicer light, but that’s up to you. You may also be lucky enough to find some black cockatoos in the area that are an amazing bird to photograph.
Let’s take a detour here for just a minute.
With landscape photography, comes a lot of wildlife, and The Tweed is no exception. There are an abundance of colourful birds and animals here to capture like rainbow lorikeets, whistling kites, brahmany kits, sand crabs, kookaburras and I’ve even seen a wedge-tailed eagle!
Keep an eye out as you’re adventuring out and about as they can be found in a variety of places. I will also mention in the upcoming sections what sort of animals I have seen in different places, just to help you out in what you’re looking for.
If you are looking for an on the water experience with wildlife, the whale migration season is from May to November and the whales seem to really love it here. I suggest heading out in June/July/August as that is when they are most active with a lot of breaches happening.
To really get the best experience, I go out with Dave and Tammie at Tweed Gold Coast Dive Charters (no they did not sponsor me to write this, but we are friends). The small boat experience is so different to the big boats you usually get and the personal service is nice to.
If you get seasick, take tablets. Small boats rock a little more than the big ones but give you a closer, more intimate experience.
For those of you who are really wanting something up-close and personal, you can also swim with the whales at certain times! Yep, Dave and Tam are licensed to allow you to do that and they are experienced operators.
5. Cabarita Beach
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Next to Fingal, Caba as it’s known, is my next favourite sunrise location. There is a wide-variety of content here that you can capture from surfers on the beach through to rocky, dramatic seascapes and then you get to the headland. A lot of choice in a small area.
There is also an opportunity to create that real epic ‘insta’ style photo with someone standing near a cliff, although I won’t be able to show you the ones I did as that was for a client (who loved the images). NOTE: If you do plan on creating a shot between the two tall edges of the headland, please be careful.
Cabarita is not just a beach though. There is a spot called Cudgen Lake set behind the beaches that is one of my ‘go-to’ sunset locations if I’m looking for a last minute spot.
With a direct view to the West and North, sunset is perfect timing to be here. There are also two sides to it. One with the piller coming out of the water (left image) which is quite often a mirror reflection and this old run down fence looking thing that just touches out to the water (right image).
You can achieve some fantastic results at both of these spots and this location is so accessible.
6. Hastings Point and Pottsville
For this post I wasn’t really sure what to put for Hastings Point or Pottsville. I have captured some nice images at both of these spots but I thought I would just say a few words about each place.
It’s a lovely little spot to chill out and relax or go for a swim in the creek. A photo of the creek at about mid-tide with the winding sand looks great. The headland has a number of good compositions, especially if you get down to the rocky areas. From the top of the headland during whale season is one of the best spotting areas to catch them as they swim by.
Although not known for photography locations, Pottsville has a spot called ‘black rocks’ that are two rocks sticking out of the water and make for a nice sunrise element. What Pottsville does having going for it though is a moving foodie scene. There are a couple of new restaurants that have won awards and are doing some great things, including food! Check out both Pipit and Baker and Farmer. If you like good, fresh food or seafood, you’ll like these places.
Great, now I’ve written about those two places, I’m hungry!
7. Cudgen & Duranbah
If you’re travelling to the area for the first time, these two place names may seem totally foreign. This is when we start to head away from the coast and get into more of the rural/farming side of The Tweed.
Cudgen, when you’re coming from Kingscliff is when you will start to see the fertile red soil where there are a lot of sweet potatoes and other produce grown, although sweet potatoes is probably the main thing in this area.
Heading out on the road from Kingscliff though, you will see a place that has grown quickly in its popularity called Farm & Co. It started as a little road side farm stall and has now grown into this wonderful hub of fresh, organic produce, sunflowers most of the year round and great food in their new cafe. If you’re after something to eat or just a snack for the road, maybe the ‘sunflower selfie’, then this if your stop.
Of a morning in this area, you will often find farmers going about their day-to-day activities which often includes plowing a field. One particular morning, there was a farmer turning the soil with beautiful golden light coming through just as the sun had risen. That probably sounds a little pretentious in describing an image, but it was awesome light.
Drone in the air and lining up the tractor to be driving through the frame made a great image for me. Hopefully the light is right for you in the area as well because there are some gorgeous shots to be had.
Your next stop is Tropical Fruit World.
This would be more of a daytime location to shoot mainly because it doesn’t open until 10am QLD time. I suggest taking the tractor farm tour and checking out a lot of the property as there is so much there with an extraordinary variety of tropical fruit with things you’ve never heard of like black sapote (chocolate fruit). It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours while the light is harsh.
It also makes for some interesting images of fresh fruit before it’s picked and so much colour. If you’re like me, I like colour in my images.
8. Murwillumbah and the Cane Fields
The logical next step is to head out towards Murwillumbah and the surrounding areas including Tumbulgum and the sugar cane fields.
Please keep in mind, these cane fields are on private property so do not go into them. Plus there’s snakes and all manner of things in there so it’s safer for your health if you don’t.
From the roadside however, there are a lot of photo opportunities to be had, like the above image of an egret with the cane in behind. This image just seems to stick in my head when I think about bird photography on The Tweed.
Usually from December through to February/March each year, storm season starts to roll through, often with large storms producing lightning and the occasional hail, at least on The Tweed. Between the two images above, you can really see how much of a difference the weather and cloud formations make to a cane field image.
The shelf clouds that are produced by these incomes cells are incredibly impressive. The trick though is to find an interesting foreground. This spot here is just outside of Murwillumbah and really pulls the eye into Mount Warning, the centre of the Tweed Caldera.
Seeing these storms roll in always reminds me of the song This is Australia by Ganggajang. Having actually seen lightning crack over cane fields, I understand why they wrote the song!
In the opposing season to Summer – Winter brings fresh fog moving across the open areas of the Tweed Valley and at sunrise, allows you to create some very serene images of trees and fog or fog moving through the valley.
It also looks great if you can do a cruise or get out on the Tweed River from Tumbulgum. Mount Warning Tours have a boat that leaves from there and along with some exceptional wildlife, the steam and fog on the water really adds to the atmosphere.
9. Mount Warning National Park
In this list, I almost blended Murwillumbah in with the Mount Warning National Park but decided this area deserves its own section.
If there’s ever a time that I may feel stressed or overwhelmed for any reason, this is the place I go. It’s just peaceful. Calming. Relaxing. Listening to the sound of the trees, running water and the overall sense of calm that comes with being surrounded by ancient trees from the Gondwana rainforest.
Rainforest photography is not a strong point for me, but is something I am working on. This area has a lot of variety to choose from and the wide shot looking into the tree tops is something I’m sure many photographers would see, but taking the opportunity to look closer can be challenging but very rewarding.
During different seasons, you will get different types of fungi growing or animals roaming in the forest. After a lot of rain, you may even see what I have taken to calling “Mount Warning Falls” in full flow. It does need a lot of rain, but I’m claiming the name!
Just take an hour out of your day to be present in the moment surrounded by so much history and nature.
You can also do the summit walk from here which is about 3-4 hours return depending on your fitness level.
Most times during the day are nice here but from about 10am to 3pm should allow you to get a star burst through the leaves in the trees that adds an extra element to your photograph.
10. Uki & Beyond
We’re down to the last areas I’ll talk about in this post, and I know it’s been a big one!
On this adventure throughout the area, you may be thinking that it will take more than one day to get around to everything! Well if that’s on your mind, check out ecOasis in Uki. Karissa and Peter run it and they’re great people.
I don’t just say that because I know them and I know how gorgeous the place is, I say it because if you stay in the Morning Mist Chalet, the view to Mount Warning over the valley is brilliant! Saves going anywhere for sunrise, you just go onto the balcony!
The final spot for a sunset is a bit of a drive (about 45 minutes from Kingscliff), but well worth it. It’s called Crams Farm and forms part of the Clarrie Hall Dam.
A note here – for sunset and astro photography, the gate will be locked. It’s not a big gate (easy to jump over), but you can arrange with Tweed Shire Council to keep the gate open if you have a group of people for a reason.
As far as Tweed sunset spots go, this would have to be one of if not THE best in the area. The reflections that you get matched with Mount Warning and (hopefully) a colourful sky give you such a great opportunity to create some take-home-worthy photographs.
Not just for sunset though – if you have a clear sky, give some astro photography a try. It will most likely be freezing cold so rug up, but Winter produces some spectacularly clear skies that present perfect conditions for capturing the night sky.
So what do you think? Did I miss something that should have been in there? Leave me a comment down below if you found this helpful and let me know your favourite locations.
I’m so glad I could share some of these amazing places with you all and an insight into some of the hidden and not so hidden areas that make for fantastic images on The Tweed!
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