Where to Photograph on New Zealand's Southern Island

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand   Sony A7RIII, 16-35mm GM | f/20, 1/6", ISO 200

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Sony A7RIII, 16-35mm GM | f/20, 1/6", ISO 200

I recently took a trip down to New Zealand and I was absolutely stunned and blown away with the country's beauty.  I decided to focus my trip to the South Island after doing some in depth research on the top spots to photograph.  For research I ended up going to all of the photography workshops to see where they would go and I based my trip off that.  One of my bucket-list items was to photograph sharks, so I added an additional stop to Bluff. 

For the trip I flew into Queenstown and made my way to Te Anau, Milford Sound, Invercargill, Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook and then left out of Christchurch. If you're looking for a good route to follow I'd say this one isn't bad but give yourself 14 days to complete it.  

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I started my trip into Queenstown and I wish I would have stayed a bit longer since it was absolutely gorgeous.  I only spent the night there but even in that time I was able to capture some amazing photos.  Queenstown, New Zealand is also a place I could happily spent some serious time in.  It has great food, accommodations and activities. 

Where to photograph in Queenstown, New Zealand

Taken from the deck of the St. Moritz Hotel in Queenstown at Sunrise  Sony a6500, 16-70mm Sony Zeiss Lens | f/11, 1/45 sec, ISO 200

Taken from the deck of the St. Moritz Hotel in Queenstown at Sunrise

Sony a6500, 16-70mm Sony Zeiss Lens | f/11, 1/45 sec, ISO 200

There are a ton of great places to photograph in Queenstown but since time was limited I ended up focusing my efforts on two areas, One Mile Car Park and the Queenstown Gardens.  The above photo was taken at sunrise and looks towards Queenstown/the Queenstown Gardens.  This was actually take from the balcony of the St. Moritz Hotel which is an excellent place to stay. 

 

The Queenstown Gardens are another choice spot, especially for sunset.  I got some ok photos here but I the water was super choppy and I didn't really capture the sunset like I had hoped.  I wish I had another day there to give it a go! 

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Where to Photograph in Te Anau, New Zealand

After photographing in Queenstown I made my way to Te Anau which is a 2-3 hour drive to the southwest.  Te Anau is a small town that sits on Lake Te Anau which is a beautiful lake contrasted with huge mountains.  The town itself has great food and great accommodations.  There is also no shortage of outdoor activities to do.  I ended up staging out of here to drive to Milford Sound as well as Lake Manipouri.  

Shot from the Marakura Yacht Club at Sunset.  This is a composition of two shots done with my Sony A7RIII.  For the shot I took a long exposure, giving it that nice glassy look.  I then ran to the end of the dock and took another photo with a faster shutter.  I then merged the two photos in post production in photoshop.  

Shot from the Marakura Yacht Club at Sunset.  This is a composition of two shots done with my Sony A7RIII.  For the shot I took a long exposure, giving it that nice glassy look.  I then ran to the end of the dock and took another photo with a faster shutter.  I then merged the two photos in post production in photoshop.  

My favorite photography spot was the Marakura Yacht Club located on the south side of Lake Te Anau.  This has a small little wharf that looks directly to the north (see photo above).  If you come here at either sunrise or sunset you are almost guaranteed to get some great shots.  Another choice spot is the main waterfront.  I ended up going out there at sunrise (sunset would be better) and getting some cool shots of a seaplane.  

a6500, 16-70mm Zeiss

a6500, 16-70mm Zeiss

Where to Photograph at Milford Sound

Ok, so check it out, if you are in the Te Anau area go to Milford Sound, if you don't the pics you show your friends after your trip will be boring and they will be sitting there looking at your bullshit slideshow with fake smiles telling you how great your shots are while lying through their teeth.  If you are going to New Zealand, do it to go to Milford Sound, the rest of the stuff is just ancillary activities.  

If you get a chance, rent a place in Milford Sound.  Milford Sound gets an annual rainfall of something like 380 out of 365 days or some crazy shits like that.  It literally rains almost daily.  So if you only give yourself one day to photograph the sound, like me, chances are you will get rained out, like me.  So renting a spot up there for a few days increases your odds of getting a good sunrise or sunset.  Milford Sound has some unbelievable terrain and it looks like something out of a King Kong movie (swaths of Asian tourists included) mixed with Jurassic Park.   The hard part is the terrain is so insane you can only access it from a few places.  So your options are to photograph from the main parking lot (as seen below), take a flight, take a boat or go on a hike.  

Taken from the parking lot of Milford Sound looking out west.  This is an excellent spot for sunrise.    A7RIII,   24-70mm GM

Taken from the parking lot of Milford Sound looking out west.  This is an excellent spot for sunrise. 

A7RIII, 24-70mm GM

When you drive into Milford Sound give yourself plenty of time since there are a ton of places to go along the way that are photo worthy.  The drive itself from Te Anau should be around 2 hours, it usually took me 3-4 because I stopped so many times to get photos. 

Shot on the road coming into Milford Sound.  For this I used a J oby Tripod  to mount to the bridge going over the river, that thing was money.  

Shot on the road coming into Milford Sound.  For this I used a Joby Tripod to mount to the bridge going over the river, that thing was money.  

Another way to get some great shots is to take a boat tour of the sound.  The tours are pretty cookie cutter in that they all go to the same crazy waterfalls and show you all the same sea life.  So I don't think it matters too much which boat tour you end up choosing.  I took the Captain Cook tour and it was good enough for what I was trying to accomplish.  I made the mistake of not bringing enough cleaning gear and my lens kept getting fogged up with the sea spray.  

Taken on the road leading to Milford Sound with the  Sony a6500 , Zeiss 16-70mm lens.  

Taken on the road leading to Milford Sound with the Sony a6500, Zeiss 16-70mm lens.  

Sony A7RIII  |  24-70mm  | f/11, 1/100 sec, ISO 500  Taken on the Captain Cook Boat ride in the sound

Sony A7RIII | 24-70mm | f/11, 1/100 sec, ISO 500

Taken on the Captain Cook Boat ride in the sound

Photographing Mirror Lake, New Zealand

Mirror Lake is a quick stop on the way between Te Anau and Milford Sound.  The stop is always flooded with tourists but it's well worth the visit.  The lake will maybe take 20-30 minutes out of your day and is literally on the side of the road.  On the day that I went I got lucky with a double rainbow. 

Mirror Lake   Sony A7RIII ,  24-70mm GM  | f/20, 1/60 sec, ISO 125

Mirror Lake

Sony A7RIII, 24-70mm GM | f/20, 1/60 sec, ISO 125

From here I made my way down to Bluff, New Zealand where I did shark cage diving.  You can read all about that experience here! 

Photographing the Wanaka Tree, New Zealand

My next stop of the trip was to Wanaka, NZ to photograph what is arguably the most famous tree in the world.  The Wanaka Tree sits just outside the town of Wanaka on Lake Wanaka.  The tree is a single stand alone tree that attracts thousands of photographers every year. 

The world famous Wanaka Tree   Sony A7RIII,   24-70mm GM  | f/22, 15 sec, ISO 100

The world famous Wanaka Tree

Sony A7RIII, 24-70mm GM | f/22, 15 sec, ISO 100

The Wanaka Tree Paparazzi. Note: I didn't add any saturation to this photo!  I raised the shadows so you could see the photographers but this was the color of the sky.  It was unreal.    Sony A7RIII ,  24-70mm  | f/16, 6 sec ISO 100

The Wanaka Tree Paparazzi. Note: I didn't add any saturation to this photo!  I raised the shadows so you could see the photographers but this was the color of the sky.  It was unreal. 

Sony A7RIII, 24-70mm | f/16, 6 sec ISO 100

If you go to visit the tree make sure you get there really early to find your ideal spot.  There are a ton of photographers out there trying to get the exact same shot as you and they will get in your way.  I would suggest sticking around and getting shots of things other than the tree.  

The local man v. nature race on Lake Wanaka   A7RIII,  100-400mm GM

The local man v. nature race on Lake Wanaka

A7RIII, 100-400mm GM

After photographing Wanaka, I made my way up to Mt. Cook and the surrounding national park. I highly recommend putting this place on your photography list if you visit.  However, make sure you take more time than I did to visit as the weather is very unpredictable. 

Where to Photograph Mt. Cook and Mt. Cook National Park

At 12,218ft. Mt. Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain.  The surrounding mountains are also the base of a lot of Lord of the Ring's scenes and for a very good reason.  The mountains are unbelievably beautiful, rugged and photogenic.  There are a lot of great ways to photograph Mt. Cook but there are a couple that I'd recommend.  First and foremost I'd recommend splurging and taking a scenic flight.  I didn't have a chance to do this because of the weather but from what I have read this is the best way to see the mountain.  

Mt. Cook shot from Lake Pukaki   A7RIII , 100-400mm GM

Mt. Cook shot from Lake Pukaki

A7RIII, 100-400mm GM

I decided to do the Hooker Lake Trail.  To my demise there were no hookers there so the hike was already off to a bad start.  I had seen some incredible shots of the lake, featuring some amazing icebergs but in recent years the glacier has receded a lot leaving the lake generally empty of any ice.  The hike itself is pretty short but when I got there the view was a bit underwhelming in terms of photography.  I ended up going to the river that empties out Hooker Lake to get some of my shots. 

Mt. Cook from Lake Hooker.  You can barely see the glacier in the background.   A7RIII ,  24-70mm GM  | f/10, 1/60, ISO 200

Mt. Cook from Lake Hooker.  You can barely see the glacier in the background.

A7RIII, 24-70mm GM | f/10, 1/60, ISO 200

Composite shot of Mt. Cook at night.  This was taken with the a6500 on a time lapse.  

Composite shot of Mt. Cook at night.  This was taken with the a6500 on a time lapse.  

I think some of your best shots will actually be taken from afar using a zoom lens at sunset or sunrise.  I ended up missing the shot because the mountains around Hooker Lake kind of crushed my colors.  I think if I had another night I could have snapped some great night shots but it was too cloudy when I was there.  However, on the hike back I did manage to get the below shot which I was really happy about. 

If I could go back and. do it. again I would have staged on the road leading up to Mt. Cook, on HW 80, during sunrise.  I think that would be a choice time to get some incredible shots. 

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Following my trip to Mt. Cook I went to the area of Twizel, Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo. 

Photographing the Lake Tekapo, Twizel, Lake Pukaki Area

Look, if you're looking to just get unreal shots and not try very hard to get them, I'd recommend going to Twizel, getting a place and branching out from there.  Twizel is an easy drive to Mt. Cook, Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo and a bunch of other areas.  I will post a few shots from each area and kind of group them together, mainly because I am tired of writing at this point... This blog is long AF and contrary to popular belief I do have a life and I have shit to do.  So here are a few places I think you should consider for photography.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki leads up to Mt. Cook and offers some stunning views.  The best part about the lake is its unbeleviably blue water.  

Lake Pukaki shot from the east side of the lake.  This is an awesome place to watch the sunset! 

Lake Pukaki shot from the east side of the lake.  This is an awesome place to watch the sunset! 

Lake Benmore

Lake Benmore is one of the less visited lakes in the region but it is a great place to stop and get some photos if you have the time.  The Lake offers some amazing reflections and ended up being one of the best finds during my trip.  

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Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd is another huge photography spot.  The Church was built in 1935 and is a big stop for astrophotographers.  The town of Tekapo is a great place to stop/stay and would be a good alternative if you can't find somewhere in Twizel. 

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My Equipment Used During the Trip

While I had a whole bag full of gear these were the main pieces of equipment that I used during the trip.  You will notice I am team Sony now which I have to say is one of the best moves I've ever made. 

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This was my main camera for the trip and was amazing.  I made the switch to this after using the Canon 5D Mark IV and I couldn't be happier.  This was especially clutch for all the low light shots I took during the trip.  

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This was my backup camera for the trip and my main camera for doing time lapses.  Usually when I got to a spot I'd set up the a6500 for a sunset time lapse and let it run until I left.  This was also my go-to camera for the shark diving.  

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The Sony 24-70mm was my most used lens during the trip and is my most used lens overall.  The 2.8 aperture makes it ideal for anything from low-light shots to wildlife photography. 

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This was the lens I used for the a6500.  It has an F/4 aperture which makes it a little less versatile than the above lens.  However, it still takes incredibly sharp photos and for the price it's a hard lens to beat. 

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I ended up renting this lens incase I had a chance to capture some wildlife or needed to get some more far off shots.  Honestly it came in hand a few times but for the most part it just stayed in my bag.  It is an incredible lens with an f/4.5-5.6 aperture.  I think I could have used it more but all in all it probably could have just as well stayed home and I wouldn't have missed it.  

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This bad boy was clutch for the landscape photography.  It even can do astrophotography and I highly recommend it.  Between this and the 24-70mm I was able to get about 90% of the shots on my trip.  The lens has an f/2.8 aperture which makes it deal for astrophotography when backed to 16mm.