New Zealand should be on the bucket list of every Landscape photographer, Hiking Enthusiast and people with wanderlust in general. The “ Land of the Long White Cloud” or Aotearoa is it is referred to in Maori can amaze you with its expansive Landscapes, Lush Green Hills and meadows filled with spring flowers. From verdant beaches to snow peaked mountains New Zealand has it all.
I decided to skip the North Island and Auckland the most populous City of New Zealand and decided to just explore the South Island for my first trip as I had heard thats thats where the best scenery is. I plan to visit the North Island on my next trip there.
Getting There : Christchurch is the International Airport for the South Island . Many International Airlines have flights to Christchurch including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Cathay Pacific etc The other option is to fly to Auckland and drive and take a ferry to to the South Island.
New Zealand Time : GMT+13
New Zealand Currency: New Zealand Dollar
New Zealand Visa : See info here
Seasons in New Zealand :
Being located in the car southern hemisphere New Zealand has its seasons opposite from the usual months.
SPRING - SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER, NOVEMBER
SUMMER - DECEMBER, JANUARY, FEBRUARY
AUTUMN - MARCH, APRIL, MAY
WINTER - JUNE, JULY,AUGUST
Summer is the most popular time for tourists to visit New Zealand But I usually prefer to avoid summer for my travel as that tends to be peak tourist season and everything from accommodation to flight tickets and car rentals are expensive and places tend to be more crowded. I prefer the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn and sometimes winter too.
For this trip I chose to go during the New Zealand Spring.
I flew from Chennai to Christchurch via Singapore on Singapore Airlines. The flight duration from Chennai, India to Singapore is about 4 hours and the flight from Singapore to Christchurch is about 10 hours. On landing at Christchurch I caught the shuttle bus to the Car Rental place and after a short wait had my car for the trip a compact SUV loaded with my luggage and headed to my Motel for the night .
I had an exciting 9 day road trip planned and wanted to be rested and well prepared before I set off the following morning. Most of my hotel bookings for this trip were done on Booking.com and Hotels.com . I also recommend using Trivago.com and Tripadvisor.com for doing hotel reservations.
At Christchurch I stayed at City Centre Motel and Quality Hotel Elms . As the name suggest the first one is a Motel with basic amenities but is located in the heart of Christchurch. Lots of food options around. The Quality Inn Elms Hotel is more upmarket and has a lovely restaurant. Do try out their Grilled Chicken on Brioche Bun.
My first destination was Tekapo. Lake Tekapo is without doubt one of the highlights of any trip to NZ. I had already researched Lake Tekapo by looking at images online and had some idea of the kind of images I wanted to take.
Where to Stay at Tekapo
My Hotel room at Tekapo at the Peppers Bluewater Resort was a pleasant surprise. It was way bigger than I expected and very well located near the Lake and close to the main shopping strip at Tekapo.
Some Other Stay Options at Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is the second-largest of three roughly parallel lakes running north–south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island of New Zealand (the others are Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau). It covers an area of 83 square kilometres (32 sq mi), and is at an altitude of 710 metres (2,330 ft) above sea level.
The lake is fed at its northern end by the braided Godley River, which has its source in the Southern Alps to the north. The lake is a popular tourist destination, and several resort hotels are located at the township of Lake Tekapo at the lake's southern end. The Lake Tekapo Regional Park, administered by Environment Canterbury, is located on the southern shore of the lake.
An astronomical observatory is located at Mount John, which is to the north of the town, and south of the small Lake Alexandrina.
Highlights of Tekapo
Church of the Good Shepherd
Situated on the shores of Lake Tekapo is the Church of the Good Shepherd, which, in 1935, was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin. The church at Lake Tekapo was designed by Christchurch architect R.S.D. Harman, based on sketches by a local artist, Esther Hope. The church is arguably one of the most photographed in New Zealand, and features an altar window that frames views of the lake and mountains.
Stargazing at Mount John Observatory
Mackenzie Basin walking tracks
Moeraki is now all known for its boulders; magical spherical stones scattered across a beach. Each boulder weighs several tonnes and is up to two metres high.Scientists explain the boulders as calcite concretions formed about 65 million years ago. According to Maori legend, the boulders are gourds washed ashore from the great voyaging canoe Araiteuru when it was wrecked upon landfall in New Zealand hundreds of years ago.
Where to Stay at Moeraki Boulders
I booked my stay at Moeraki Boulders Kiwi Holiday Park & Motel which is a short drive away from the Moeraki Boulders Beach. See image below. The holiday park has prefab huts which are very comfortable with attached bathrooms. The camp also accommodates camper vans if you choose to use a camper van for your New Zealand Trip. Other nearby options with good ratings on booking.com are Noah's Boutique Accommodation Moeraki and Three Bays Apartment.
Queenstown is the crowning Jewel of New Zealand’s South Island in my opinion. Its a beautiful picturesque all weather resort town. With an elevation of just 310m it still manages to have ski slopes and a magnificent Lake Wakatipu at its doorstep. This terrain allows for so many activities that draws in the tourists. From Skiing in Winter to trekking and water sports in Spring and Summer it has it all. From a Landscape photographers perspective Queenstown and the surrounding areas present a lot of opportunities. Situated a short walk from Queenstown center, the Gondola carries visitors high above Queenstown to the Skyline complex. The best views in the region are found here, spread out in a spectacular panorama with breath taking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peak.
From a Landscape photographers perspective Queenstown and the surrounding areas present a lot of opportunities. Situated a short walk from Queenstown center, the Gondola carries visitors high above Queenstown to the Skyline complex. The best views in the region are found here, spread out in a spectacular panorama with breath taking views of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables mountain range and across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peak.
Also within a short drive from Queenstown there are locations such as Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Cardrona which present lovely landscapes and viewpoints to explore.
Where to Stay at Queenstown
I divided my stay between these two hotels so as to have access to different photography spots. Both Hotels are superbly located and have great views of Lake Wakatipu.
Wanaka is just over an hours drive from Queenstown. Lake Wanaka lies at the heart of the Otago Lakes in the lower South Island of New Zealand. The township is situated in a glacier carved basin on the shores of the lake and is the gateway to Mt Aspiring National Park.
Lake Hāwea is a 15-minute drive away, en route to the frontier town of Makarora, the last stop before the West Coast Glacier region. To the south is the historic Cardrona Valley, a popular scenic alpine route to neighbouring Queenstown. I loved the drive from Wanaka to Lake Hawea. There are a number of scenic viewpoints from which to photograph on this drive .
At its greatest extent, which is roughly along a north-south axis, the lake is 42 kilometres long. Its widest point, at the southern end, is 10 kilometres. The lake's western shore is lined with high peaks rising to over 2000 metres above sea level. Along the eastern shore the land is also mountainous, but the peaks are somewhat lower.
Wanaka lies in a u-shaped valley formed by glacial erosion during the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago. It is fed by the Matukituki and Makarora Rivers, and is the source of the Clutha River. Nearby Lake Hāwea lies in a parallel valley carved by a neighbouring glacier eight kilometres to the east. At their closest point (a rocky ridge called The Neck), the lakes are only 1,000 metres apart.
Where to Stay at Wanaka
Wanaka offers plenty of choices of accommodation from premium lodgings to hostels for back-packers. My hotel of choice was the Edgewater Hotel which is close to Lake Wanaka offering views of the Lake from the Hotel Grounds. Lake Hawea Hotel, Ramada Resort by Wyndham Wanaka etc are all good options.
Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook
Lake Pukaki is the largest of three roughly parallel alpine lakes running north-south along the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin on New Zealand's South Island. The others are Lakes Tekapo and Ohau. All three lakes were formed when the terminal moraines of receding glaciers blocked their respective valleys, forming moraine-dammed lakes.
The glacial feed to the lakes gives them a distinctive blue colour, created by glacial flour, the extremely finely ground rock particles from the glaciers. Lake Pukaki covers an area of 178.7 km², and the surface elevation of the lake normally ranges from 518.2 to 532 metres above sea level.
The mountain is in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, in the Canterbury region. The park was established in 1953 and along with Westland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park forms one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park contains more than 140 peaks standing over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) and 72 named glaciers, which cover 40 percent of its 700 square kilometres (170,000 acres).
The peak is located at the northern end of the Kirikirikatata / Mount Cook Range, where it meets with the main spine of the Main Divide, forming a massif between the Hooker Valley to the southwest and the Tasman Valley east of the mountain. These two valleys provide the closest easily accessible view points of Aoraki / Mount Cook. A lookout point at the end of the Hooker Valley Track located only 10 km from the peak has views of the entire mountainside.
My Gear for New Zealand
This is the gear I had carried to New Zealand.
I found that I used the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm lens a little more than the 17-40mm. On my next trip I will probably carry a fast wide angle prime such as my Sigma 20mm f1.4 to shoot landscape and in particular for Astrophotography. Lake Tekapo is a designated dark sky point and that is why they have an Observatory there.
General Tips for Travel to New Zealand
New Zealand is prone to Earthquakes..they are not frequent but they do happen from time to time. Check all travel advisories before going and also be prepared when you are there. Emergency services are very good in New Zealand but just let someone be aware of your itinerary.
New Zealand is a windy place. Specially near Lakes and waterbodies the wind pick up speed as it passes over the water.
While renting a car take the optional GPS package. This will come in handy.
Gas Stations in New Zealand usually have a convenience store so you can stock up water and other snacks there.
Most Hotels have decent wifi. But get the travel data card from the airport cause that will allow you o stay connected even in remote locations.
New Zealand Customs is very particular about not letting anything which can potentially harm their plant life. All your shoes should be cleaned before you pack them.If they find dirt on your shoes they will ask you to clean thematic the airport before handing back to you and may also fine you. Check out NZ customs rules form their official website before you go.
There are restrictions and strict laws on flying drones in New Zealand. Pls be aware of them before you operate one.
NZ is a sparsely populated place specially the South Island. So when you travel it is better to travel with a companion if possible. I travelled Solo and did not have any problems but often found myself thinking it would be nice to have a companion .
New Zealand image Gallery
Kamal Chilaka in Association with Eyemage Tours undertakes small group and customised photography tours to New Zealand and other locations suited for photography. Please contact Kamal Chilaka at +91 8778336918 or mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.