Artist Caryline Boreham with her UFO-inspired works. Photo by David Cowlard.

Kaikōura lights: considering a close encounter


UFO sightings are a fascination for award-winning artist Caryline Boreham.

Since launching her research in 2016, Caryline has taken a deep dive into our most legendary UFO encounters, from the 1909 ‘great airship flap’ to the much-publicised 1978 Kaikōura lights. She has trawled through countless archival records, both civilian and military, and transformed her findings into thought-provoking photographs, moving images and zines.

Caryline has had three exhibitions showcasing this work and is working on a book about it. But don’t expect to see pictures of flying saucers and aliens; instead, she offers a fresh perspective, honing in on the viewer’s confusion – or conviction – surrounding their close encounter.

“I’m interested in the psychology of seeing, in how these sightings were described,” says the Whitecliffe fine arts lecturer and multi-media artist. “For me, it’s not about whether UFOs are real, it’s about the human element. My work explores how people have reacted to encounters, and what the official response has been.”

Feature Kaikoura INP

Some of artist Caryline Boreham's UFO-inspired work. Photo by David Cowlard.

Caryline’s interest was sparked after attending “an unassuming” UFO meeting in Auckland, which explored the teachings of a space-being called Maitreya who telepathically channelled messages through Scotsman Benjamin Creme.

“It struck me how different Kiwis are in the way we approach things. In America, everything is sensationalised, with sightings often linked to alien theories, but New Zealanders are more circumspect.”

The New Zealand Defence Force began keeping records on UFO sightings in 1952, and since then have accumulated vast tomes of eyewitness accounts, visual descriptions and correspondence.

“My work focuses primarily on the 1955 to 2000 time period. I was particularly interested in the letters people sent in – they were really genuine, just describing what they’d seen in a matter-of-fact way. People would say things like, ‘I don’t want any publicity, I’m just letting you know what I saw’.

“Another thing I’ve found really interesting is that the Defence Force responded to pretty much every letter they received, although as the decades passed they became more sceptical. In the 1950s they were quite open to investigating reported sightings, and their replies often started with sentences like ‘sorry for the late response but I’ve had a bout of influenza’.  There was a flurry of letters in the 50s and then it calmed down for a bit. After the Kaikōura lights, things fired up again. Robert Muldoon investigated that one, it was our biggest sighting. A film crew went up in a plane to record it and came back really shaken, but now the military says it was Venus.”

What does Caryline think? “I’m on the fence,” she admits. “When I first started this project I was more of a believer, but now I’d call myself a curious sceptic. It’s not that I don’t believe there are other life forms out there – I think it’s likely given how huge the universe is. But are they visiting us? I don’t know.”

One thing she has learned though, is that some of us are more receptive to the idea than others.

“Some people are just more open. Some people have that idea that there’s more in this world than we realise, and I think that’s an exciting thing.”


Story by Vanessa Trethewey for the Winter 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Vanessa Trethewey is a freelance writer who regualarly contributes to AA Directions Magazine.

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