Boasting some of the finest natural landscapes on Earth, it’s no secret that both the North and South Island of New Zealand are a paradise for photographers and nature lovers alike. Now I’m a huge advocate for creating your own adventure and can’t stress enough the value of having your own photographic vision as well as getting off the beaten path when traveling, however I know that’s not always possible. So, if you’re heading to NZ and want to make sure you go home with some memorable photos, here’s my list of New Zealand’s top 10 must-see photography locations.
10. That Wanaka Tree
Ok, you couldn’t expect me to leave out this NZ classic! Frequented by photographers worldwide, the iconic willow by the shore of Lake Wanaka would have to be one of the worlds most photographed trees. And although she is far from ‘alone’ these days, it’s still possible to share a quiet sunrise with just you and her (although sunset might be a different story). No matter how many times I’ve been here, the changing water levels on the lake and snow coverage on the mountains help produce a new scene for every season. Follow Ardmore St to the West and you’ll find this baby nestled in the corner of the lake (or just follow the other photographers).
9. The Catlins – Purakaunui and Mclean Falls
Located on the South Island’s lower east coast, the Catlins boasts lush and remote forest and coastlines that feel worlds away from anywhere else. Two of my favourite waterfalls in the area (and country) are Purakaunui and Mclean. Checking out both makes for a fun day trip with the best light aroudn midday, if you wish to capture the sun in your scene.
8. Rotorua Redwood (Whakarewarewa) Forest
Just as if they were two different countries, the diversity between the North and South Island is incredible and definitely warrants a visit to both. A highlight on the North Island is the town of Rotorua which not only has some epic geothermal hot spots (pun intended) but also a beautiful Redwood forest that is unlike anywhere else in NZ. I recommend visiting at dawn when the first light breaks through and ignites the face of the towering trees.
7. Milford Sound
This ethereal place needs no introduction. If wildlife, ancient forests, waterfalls and monolithic mountains that rise from the sea are your thing, than Milford Sound is the place for you. Milford looks good in any mood but sunset is definitely where it’s at, especially when the last light of day beams down the Sound and glows on Stirling Falls. The drive in alone is worth it, just allow plenty of time for the ‘stop the car’ moments. Oh, make sure you also bring your wet weather gear, this is one of the wettest places on earth after all.
6. Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove)
Located on the North Islands Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove is a truly special location and a testament to the powerful forces of nature. Shaped and eroded by the sea, the cove and surrounding bays make for a perfect summer destination with some of the clearest and calmest waters I’ve paddled in. The famous cove itself can be accessed by foot or kayak and is best viewed at sunrise. Allow at least 30 minutes for the walk.
5. Nugget Point – The Catlins
Back to the Catlins again, this time to the dramatic cliffs and coastline at Nugget Point. This location is one of my favourites in the world due to it’s relative isolation and lack of crowds. Aside from the roar of the ocean below, you will often hear the cry of the local seals and sea birds above and below. Sunrise here is truly special as the sun rises from the depths of the sea below you making you feel as though you’re on the edge of Earth itself.
Neighbouring the buzzing tourist hot spot Queenstown, Glenorchy is like the shy cousin at your mates birthday party who has an undeniable charm that can’t be ignored. Follow the windy and ever scenic road along Lake Wakatipu and you’ll end up worlds away from Queenstown’s energy and find yourself back in time in a simple and vastly beautiful town surrounded by valleys and peaks straight out of Lord of the Rings. A simple stroll by the lake will grant you with stunning mountain views in every direction that are on point no matter what time you visit.
3. Moke Lake – Queenstown
I’m unashamedly obsessed with this location. It’s so quiet, has some killer reflections, looks great around the clock and is only a short drive from Queenstown. Follow the road in from Lake Wakatipu and park at the camp ground. A trail leads around the entire lake allowing you to face any direction but the best is both the northern and southern ends. This place is perfect for shooting the aurora and looks extra special in winter when the peaks are covered in snow. Just make sure you bring your snow chains along!
2. Church of the Good Shepherd – Lake Tekapo
Nestled by the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo is one of NZ’s most popular icons to shoot and strangely enough, it’s man-made. The church of the Good Shepherd has boomed in popularity over the years and I must admit it does strike a good pose for a photo, particularly at night (although this is when everyone else will be there). For a more relaxed vibe I suggest visiting at sunrise, just make sure you wait long enough for the sun to peak over the mountains and light up those golden tussocks all golden-esque.
1. Aoraki/Mt Cook Village
Numero Uno goes to NZ’s tallest mountain, the mighty Mt Cook (Aoraki). At the head of Lake Pukaki, the cosy Mt Cook village is nestled right in the midst of the awe-inspiring Southern Alps with access to three epic glacial lakes, the Tasman, Hooker and Mueller. Standing in the presence of Aoraki is a humbling experience and to really get amongst the mountains I recommend walking the Hooker Valley track (5km one way) right to the Hooker Lake where you can behold the ethereal face of Cook in all it’s glory, particularly at sunset. For sunrise I suggest heading over to the Tasman lake where you can walk down to the river mouth and get up close to some hefty sized pieces of glacial ice. To top it all off, the drive to and from the village provides ample opportunity for them ‘road to the mountain’ shots you know you want on you instagram feeds. In all seriousness though, this is truly a special part of NZ and one that will surely leave a lasting impression. Don’t be dismayed if the weather is nasty, it has a way of moving very fast here, make the most of time and check out the Old Mountaineers cafe or the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
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