It’s difficult not to fall in love with New Zealand, especially for a nature lover like me. When it comes down to landscapes I have never seen so much diversity in such a small country. It’s a perfect spot for photography lovers!
After living in Queenstown, I finally decided to leave what the locals call the Queenstown bubble and go on a road trip around the south island. A road trip that took me right back to Queenstown.
During the 6 weeks, I was on the road I wanted to capture the most dramatic landscapes of the south island of New Zealand. Landscapes that make you want to gasp for air.
I have put together a road trip plan for photographers on New Zealand’s South Island to make your planning easier if you want to visit most of the spots enlisted below.
1. Moeraki Boulders
The Moeraki Boulders are one of the highlights of the east coast. These spheres started to form over 60 million years ago at the bottom of the ocean.
The best time to photograph them is in the morning as the beach faces east toward the sunrise.
Tidal times are really important too as the boulders could be half-submerged and unreachable or completely devoid of water.
2. St Clairs Beach – Dunedin
It’s a short 10-minute drive from Dunedin‘s city centre and a short 5-minute walk from the closest parking spot.
3. Purakaunui Waterfalls
The nearby McLean falls are a 20-minute walk away from their respective car park and are also worth visiting. They are a 30-minute drive apart from each other.
4. Church of the Good Shepherd
The list wouldn’t be complete without at least one Astro shot from this gem. A must-see for every astrophotography enthusiast! This little chapel is placed right among the international dark sky reserve in Tekapo.
One of the stops on my one-week road itinerary around the South Island of New Zealand. For the best results make sure to have the least cloud coverage and the lowest moon luminance. Parking is available directly at the church.
5. St. Peter’s Lookout – Lake Pukaki
A roadside pulls off on the road to Mount Cook, one of several amazing drives in New Zealand. Peter’s Lookout showcases the winding road, New Zealand’s tallest mountain Mount Cook and the crystal clear icy blue water of Lake Pukaki.
6. Lupin Flowers in Tekapo
Once a year at the start of summer usually starting in late November, lupin flowers bloom for around 6 weeks. They are commonly found along the shoreline of Lake Tekapo, Lake Wanaka, Lake Pukaki, the Lindis Pass and the Ahuriri River.
7. Wharariki Beach
With a bit of luck, you might spot some seal pups hanging around the place too.
To get there it’s a 1km walk from the car park which meanders through rolling hills before eventually emerging out on the beach where the vista of the Archway Islands is right in your face.
8. Hooker Glacier Lake
The glacial lake at the foot of Mount Cook is stunning at all times of the year. The carving of the Hooker Glacier creates icebergs that float toward the south end of the lake, they make for very interesting foreground subjects.
It’s a 10km return hike to this lake which crosses 3 scenic suspension bridges. It’s a great hike on the South Island. Sunset is the best time to get golden, orange and sometimes vibrant pink light on the southwestern face of Mount Cook.
9. Roy’s Peak
This is an iconic viewpoint overlooking Lake Wanaka, The undulating ridge like on the Roys Peak hike has become very popular and queuing up is not uncommon to take this photo. To get there it’s a 2-3 hour steady uphill hike.
The photograph above however is taken from a slightly different spot called the Coromandel peak. I am afraid this one is only accessible via helicopter.
The two islands in the lake, which you can view from the top are called Mou Tapu and Mou Waho which translate to Holy Island and Outer Island.
If you are not a fan of crowds check out my article about other photography spots in Wanaka.
10. Lake Matheson
Another vantage point of New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Lake Matheson offers reflective panoramas of the western face of Mount Cook. Its location on the West Coast makes it great to combine with a trip to Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers.
To get there it’s a 30-minute drive from Franz Josef Village or a 5-minute drive from the town of Fox Glacier. Once you’re at the trailhead car park, it’s a 20-minute walk to the photo spot featured above.
11. Milford Sound
Generally, the background is of the Mitre Peak, one of the most prominent peaks in Fiordland National Park but foreground elements often include driftwood, moss-covered rocks, grassland and boardwalks.
It’s a must-do if you’re in New Zealand and here’s a list of travel tips with 8 beautiful photos that will inspire you to visit Milford Sound.
12. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges, with the most notable Remarkable and Hector ranges draw in many tourists from around the World. Not only because of how photogenic they are, but because of Queenstown. The town was built right on its shore and today it is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand.
The photo above was taken from the 1-mile car park. I spent a total of 7 months living in Queenstown and here are my top photography spots around here.
13. Bennett’s Bluff on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road
A viewpoint on one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand that connects Queenstown and Glenorchy. The viewpoint overlooks Pig Island, Pigeon Island, Lake Wakatipu and the winding Queenstown-Glenorchy road.
The roadside pulls off, which has space for around 5 cars, is roughly a 30-minute drive away from Queenstown.
Access to this viewpoint is very dangerous whilst driving back from Glenorchy as it’s on the opposite side of the road. Make sure you visit it on the way to Glenorchy.
14. Nugget Point
On the southern part of the east coast, they are remote but not too far away from the waterfalls in The Caitlins mentioned earlier.
Sunrise is one of the most scenic times of the day to shoot here but astrophotography is well sought after here too. At a certain time of the year, the core of the Milky Way rises directly behind the lighthouse. From the car park, it’s a 25-minute walk away.
15. Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall
One of the largest waterfalls in New Zealand, the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall is 131m high and well worth a visit. Take your rain jacket and expect to get wet if you plan on getting up close and personal.
The path to get here contains several sections of steps and can get wet and boggy. The walk takes around 30 minutes one-way.
16. Okarito, West Coast
The beach faces west so is best in the afternoon. It’s a 25-minute drive away from Franz Josef Village.
17. Franz Josef Glacier Valley
Although quickly retreating the Franz Josef glacier is still spectacular. The river that was formed by the glacier over thousands of years offers a great photographic opportunity both up and downstream.
Another viewpoint is from the Alex Knob hike. The elevation gain on this hike makes for better photos and the extra effort is obviously worth it.
18. That Wanaka Tree
A symbolic willow tree just off the shoreline of Lake Wanaka is rumoured to be one of the most photographed trees in the world. Both are great at sunrise and sunset, I think sunrise has a slight edge as the mountains in the background showcase the soft first light.
The best time of the year however is Autumn when the leaves turn golden. This happens usually around mid to late April. This is widely regarded as the best time to visit the photography spots around Wanaka. My personal favourite time too!