Header image courtesy of @holly_b (via Instagram)
If you’re looking for a snap-happy holiday destination, there are few places in the world that offer such an abundance of dramatic and varied landscapes as New Zealand’s South Island. Alpine ridges, rolling valleys, volcanoes, rivers, glaciers—New Zealand is every geologist’s dream and it is this dynamic geological activity that has resulted in (and that is still resulting in) such jaw-dropping views in every direction you turn.
So regardless of whether you’re an SLR pro or only armed with your camera phone, you would have to try really hard to take a bad photo whilst here but with so much on offer, it can be tricky to know where to start your photographic journey. Here are a few suggestions for stunning photography spots in South Island, New Zealand, to get you started.
Right at the top of the South Island is the smallest national park in New Zealand. But what it may lack in size, the Abel Tasman certainly makes up for in beauty. Think golden beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters, lush forests, and to top it off, an abundance of birdlife, fur seals, little blue penguins, and rays.
Accessed from the towns of Marahau and Kaiteriteri in the south, and from Golden Bay and Totaranui in the north, the Abel Tasman National Park is world-famous for its coast track. Totalling 60 kilometres, the track takes three to five days depending on how much of it you want to walk. Whilst it’s beautiful to see from the land, it’s highly recommended to get in a kayak and explore the bays by water, too. If you’ve got the time, spend at least one night camping under the stars on one of the many beaches.
Continuing down the western coast, allow for a lot of extra time if you’re driving as there are numerous places to stop and get the camera out. Stop off at the Buller Gorge and walk across New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, make a slight detour to Cape Foulwind (don’t be put off by the name), and add some seal pups to your photo library, then down to the curious pancake rocks of Punakaiki to find out why they got their name. If you’re not pressed for time, spend the night at Punakaiki and enjoy one of the infamous sunsets for dinner and pancakes for breakfast at the famous Pancakes Rock Café.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are an absolute must if you’re on the western coast. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the glaciers are receding, a helicopter and hike tour is really the only way to actually step foot on either of the glacier’s surface. If you’re on a budget though, there are a few walking options.
For Franz Josef, the most popular route takes you through the stunning glacial valley and as close to the glacial face as safety restrictions allow, with plenty of photo opportunities along the way. If weather conditions are good, make a quick pit stop at Peter’s Pool—a little lake famed for its reflections of the glacier. Fox Glacier and its surrounding mountains can also be captured via their reflection on Lake Matheson, which is easily accessed via a gentle walking track surrounding the lake.
Wanaka is a charming little resort town with a lot to offer—artisan cafés, cycling trails, horse riding, kayaking, lavender farms, sky diving, museums, skiing, and Kodak moments everywhere. A favourite Wanaka “must-do” is the hike up Roys Peak. Easily reached by car from the town, the track is considered easy to walk along but it is a 16-kilometre return hike that totals 1,228 metres of elevation so it’s not exactly a stroll in the park. However, there are almost 360-degree views the entire way, and they just keep getting better and better are you climb higher. Pack a sandwich, find a spot at the top to sit, and enjoy one of the best picnics you’ll ever have in your life.
No South Island holiday is complete without a Queenstown pitstop. Known as the adventure capital of the world, it’s also every photographer’s dream and you don’t have to go very far to find the perfect picture—and then another, and another, and another.
Walk around NZ’s longest lake—Lake Wakatipu, hike up Bob’s Peak or take the Skyline Gondola, stroll through Queenstown Gardens, go wine tasting through the Gibbston Valley, or grab a burger from the infamous Ferg Berger. The options are endless, and they all come with amazing views, so definitely give yourself a few days to explore this area properly.
Milford Sound is a truly remarkable fjord that offers waterfalls, rainforests, an abundance of marine life, and some jaw-dropping views. Bus/boat tours operate out of Queenstown but whilst the journey is scenic, be prepared to be sitting on the bus for up to five hours before you reach your boat. Another option is to base yourself in the nearby “gateway to the fjords” town of Te Anau and go from there. Either way, a boat cruise is highly recommended as the best option to get the full fjord experience and lets you get up close and personal with a few of the famous waterfalls (wear something waterproof!).
Located around three hours from Christchurch, Lake Tekapo is the epitome of natural beauty and puts on a different show depending which time of year you go. The lake is almost enough eye candy on its own with its bright turquoise waters but if you’re there around December, you can catch the lupin flowers in full bloom, adding splashes of purple and pink to your canvas. The area is also one of the best places for stargazing. So If you’re flying in or out of Christchurch, Tekapo is certainly worth the detour.