This article shares some New Zealand memories and various photographs which were created during a number of visits to this spectacular country.
While international travel is still restricted in many areas of the world, many people have bucket list destinations they yearn to visit. New Zealand being one of those destinations for many photographers.
Beginning with our first trip in 2004, followed by visits in 2013 and 2016, through to our last two visits in 2018, my wife and I have many cherished New Zealand memories. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have spent almost 5 months on the ground doing self-drive photo touring of New Zealand. Our travels were summarized in our eBook, New Zealand Tip-to-Tip.
It is impossible to capture all of our experiences in a single article, or even an eBook for that matter. This posting provides a sampling of some of the photographs we captured over the years.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
My wife and I typically avoid major cities whenever possible as we prefer exploring more rural and out-of-the-way locations. Prior to each of our trips we spend quite a bit of time researching various locations and identifying specific photographic opportunities. The Tolaga Bay Wharf on the North Island is steeped in history and was well worth a visit.
The coastline of New Zealand has numerous small towns to visit and explore. We happened to arrive in Tairua on a Friday evening during our 2016 trip. This coincided with the weekly dinner organized by the Tairua Bowling Club. The food and warm hospitality was wonderful. When we returned to the area in 2018 we planned our trip to take advantage of another Friday night Tairua Bowling Club dinner!
To experience the beauty of New Zealand it is important to get off the main highways and explore the beaches and remote coastline. My wife captured this image of Mangawhai Heads Beach during one of our 2018 visits.
In 2016 my wife and I were staying at a motel in Matamata on the North Island on the evening when a massive earthquake hit the Kaikoura area on the South Island. While we did not feel the earthquake tremors at our Matamata motel, many others in the area felt the shock waves.
The damage was extensive, especially on the South Island, and caused us to change our plans as we could not make it through to Kaikoura. The coastal highway was still under major construction when we returned to Kaikoura in 2018, with parts of the highway still reduced to a single lane.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland has some spectacular scenery. Its beauty has drawn us back on three separate occasions. Algae on the surface of the water made the image above a unique photographic opportunity. It remains one of my favourite New Zealand memories.
Many of the locations in New Zealand, like Castle Point, are well off the beaten path and require advanced planning and time to visit. We experienced some heavy rains on the evening prior to our visit to Castle Point. Fortunately the local flooding did not block our route that day.
New Zealand is so diverse it is like seeing the world on two islands. The variety of scenery is amazing. Spending time planning out a good, detailed route is time well spent. We had no difficulty doing our self-drive photo tours and loved the flexibility that having our own rental vehicle provided. Most days we kept our driving to a maximum of about 2.5 to 3 hours to allow plenty of time to explore and photograph points of interest.
Many of the locations we’ve visited over the years, like Gemstone Beach, were pretty much deserted. This allowed us time to savour the natural beauty of the rugged coastline. I moved in very close to these pieces of driftwood and used a wide angle focal length to create the image above,
Access to many of the areas we visited during our various trips to New Zealand were via gravel and dirt roads. It is important to keep apprised of weather and road conditions to ensure that planned routes will remain passable. This is especially important after heavy rains. Some sites, like the Clay Cliffs, are on private lands with a small fee paid in an ‘honor box’.
On occasion we have stumbled upon unique locations totally by chance. Such was the case with Burke’s Pass. The antique cars and other artifacts had us exploring and photographing for a while. Having some structure during a self-drive photo tour is necessary… but we always allow some extra time in each day’s itinerary to take advantage of unexpected gems.
New Zealand has a lot of wildlife and birds to photograph, especially along stretches of beach. We had to hike in for about 40 minutes to arrive at this stretch of beach where some local sea lions were resident. This pup was quite playful and I was able to capture some interesting images.
It is important to always follow local guidelines in terms of the minimum distances allowed between you and wildlife. And, for one’s safety a photographer should never get between a mother and its pup. For safety, my wife always monitors wildlife when I am photographing individual animals. These Hooker’s Sea Lions at Waipapa Point were an unexpected find. The male was a truly massive animal.
Local motel owners are often wonderful sources of information with regards to local wildlife and points of interest to photograph.
When travelling in New Zealand abrupt weather changes can happen often. We’ve made the trek from Queenstown to Glenorchy twice. Both times it was beautiful, warm and sunny in Queenstown when we left. And, both times it turned quite cold, rainy and windy by the time we reached the halfway point to Glenorchy. That didn’t detract from the rugged beauty of the journey. Having weather proof camera gear, or at least a rain sleeve or umbrella, is prudent.
During our trip to New Zealand in 2013 my main camera was a Nikon D800. I took that camera body along with 3 Nikkor zoom lenses, and Nikon 1 V2 with an FT-1 adapter on that trip. My kit served me very well, although it proved to be quite heavy on long hikes throughout Mount Cook National Park. We used Nikon 1 gear exclusively for our trips in 2016 and 2018. The Nikon 1 system was outstanding for travel photography.
When travelling my wife and I always practice a ‘catch as catch can’ photographic approach. We do the best we can with the available light as we travel throughout the day. On occasion, as was the case in Te Anau, we are sometimes able to capture images during the early morning or late day when the light is more pleasing.
This image of Purakaunui Falls is one of the few New Zealand images I created using a tripod. I always prefer to shoot handheld whenever possible. There is a good selection of accessible water falls in New Zealand.
Slope Point is the most southern point on the South Island of New Zealand. We specifically visited this location to experience the rugged landscape as well as the fierce winds. These are so strong that the trees are permanently bent. Slope Point is accessed by hiking through a farmer’s field and past grazing sheep. When visiting be sure to secure the farm gate behind you to keep the sheep in the field!
My wife and I aren’t Lord of the Rings fans at all, but still thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Hobbiton. The guided tour is quite informative and there is something very special capturing images at a former motion picture site. You must obtain permission from Hobbiton to publish any images on a blog. Any images created at Hobbiton cannot be used or sold commercially.
The topography and weather can change dramatically and quickly in New Zealand. When coming upon interesting scenes we learned that it is important to find a safe spot to pull over… then capture some photographs immediately. A few kilometres down the road the opportunity can quickly disappear. The Rangipo Desert is one of those unique spots on the North Island that quickly transitions into green hillsides.
Cape Reinga is the most northern spot on the North Island where tourists are allowed to visit. The scenery is spectacular and worth the rather long drive. Sand dune surfing can be done along the way if one is thusly inclined… with rental boards available. Much of the peninsula is sacred Maori land so no food is available for purchase in the area.
One of the most photographed spots on the South Island is “That Tree In Wanaka”. If one is lucky you’ll be in Wanaka on a very still morning or evening when the surface of the lake is like glass. Or, perhaps when it is foggy. We didn’t have ideal conditions during our visit, but we still made the trek out to the shoreline to create a few images.
Many visitors to the South Island will do boat tours of either Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound. During our first trip to New Zealand we flew to Milford Sound in a small Cessna. It was quite an experience flying through passes in the Southern Alps as our pilot was scouring the air space looking for other small planes.
My wife took a photo of me during that Cessna flight back in 2004 that still makes her roar with laughter all these years later. Why? I have an air sickness bag over my mouth with one hand… while holding a camera in my other hand capturing images of the snow-capped peaks. Photographers need to be dedicated!
When exploring the southern section of the South Island, visiting Bluff is recommended. You’ll find a chain sculpture on the coast. It symbolizes the Maori belief that Stewart Island is anchored to the South Island. A similar sculpture in Rakiura National Park represents the other end of the chain.
As fans of The Lord of the Rings will know, there are numerous film locations throughout New Zealand. Some of these are quite remote and guided tours are required to visit many of the sites.
Others like the Putangirua Pinnacles are more accessible. I captured the photograph above during an hour long hike to get into the Putangirua Pinnacles area. I never made to all the way out to the pinnacles due to the weather conditions/high water levels that day. Most of the folks I saw along the trail were about half my age… that should have registered something in my old, porous brain!
Many of the roads in New Zealand are prone to landslides and rock falls. Again, it is prudent to monitor road and weather conditions especially if you are travelling in more remote areas. On the day that the photograph above was captured we were trying to make it out to the Cape Palliser lighthouse.
It had rained heavily overnight and we made it to within 3-4 kilometres of the lighthouse. We ended up turning back as a swollen stream was flowing strongly and deeply over the road. We were concerned that our small rental car could be swept off the road and onto the rocks and sea below.
We have visited many unique locations in New Zealand. Some of them, like the Blue Spring, are seldom visited by other tourists. Driving out to these spots, then hiking in to capture some images can make a trip to New Zealand an even more rewarding and memorable experience.
Not all of the areas that we’ve visited in New Zealand have been ‘post card pretty’… the Mohaka Township Bridge being a good example. These locations still formed some of our most vivid New Zealand memories. Sometimes there is no other option but to keep driving forward to reach your destination that day. So, you just take a deep breath and keep going on to the next adventure!
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. This is the 1,067th article published on this website since its original inception.
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