Where to Photograph on New Zealand's Southern Island
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 leads up to Mt. Cook and offers some stunning views. The best part about the lake is its unbeleviably blue water.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.