Rare red sprites captured in Kāpiti
© Brendan Gully
Rare red sprites captured in Kāpiti.


A Kāpiti photographer has captured a rare weather event, so rare it's the first time Metservice has documented the case.


Brendan Gully captured red sprites from the Kāpiti Coast last week during a thunderstorm capturing them not once, but three times.

"I was really stoked to have finally captured them in New Zealand and it was a bit of a relief too," Brendan said.

A landscape photographer who specialises in storms and likes to capture natural phenomena and scenes that are fleeting, Brendan has been chasing storms and red sprites for a few years.

"I started photography in 2015 and it was the storm-chasing that led me to get my first camera.

"I've had a decent number of attempts at them in the past, but just not had the right luck on the day."

Red sprites are rare bolts of red lightning that are rarely seen from the ground due to their high altitude.

They form between 50-90km above the Earth and only last a few milliseconds.

MetService communications meteorologist Lewis Ferris said, "This is the first documented case we have seen in New Zealand but it is likely there have been multiple events when we get active thunderstorm systems approach from the Tasman Sea or tropics.

"The lightning activity was relatively intense up the West Coast of the South Island and to the north on the night, which my colleague believed to be a good distance away to see the red sprite.

"It is theorised that red sprites occur alongside 'positive lightning' [when electrons travel from ground to cloud, transferring a positive charge to the ground], which is far less frequent than 'negative lightning' so this isn't a common occurrence.

"Sprites generally form between 50-90km above the Earth's surface and while lightning is very hot the sprites are not, they are more like fluorescent tube light than lightning.

"The more active the thunderstorm system, the more strikes, the greater chance a 'positive' strike happens hence more likely a red sprite occurs."

Brendan said: "I really like to photograph things other people are not capturing or haven't thought of, specifically natural phenomena and scenes that don't last particularly long.

"I chase storms as a hobby and try to visit the USA every year [pre-Covid], where the storms are bigger and stronger than they are here in New Zealand.

"Sometimes this means a lot of trial and error, hard work and failed attempts, but I get more satisfaction about these successes than I do when simply shooting the tourist locations that are popular these days."

Brendan captured the first sprite at 10.56pm on Tuesday, April 13 and the last one at 1.17am on Wednesday morning.

The only other known time a red sprite has been captured in New Zealand was in 2018 when Larryn Rae captured one accidentally when he set up a time-lapse during an astrophotography workshop at Te Arai beach north of Auckland.

Rosalie is a reporter for Kāpiti News