• Sam Wilson

Photographing South Island New Zealand

My Photography Experience

Or at least Queenstown and surrounds in my limited experience

While I may have only spent a week in this area (so far), I thought I would share my experience.

This was my first ‘overseas’ trip on my own. Ok, you can stop laughing at me now. Firstly NZ may not be considered by everyone to be overseas, and secondly I did a photography tour with Brett Wood, so it can’t (and isn’t) considered one of my ‘solo’ trips.

Tree in lake New Zealand
'That Wanaka Tree"

Nevertheless, I bravely booked my flights and additional accommodation and off I went. One extra thing I did indulge in was booking personalised transport to and from the airport.

This was something my husband and I always did, and I couldn’t see any reason not to continue with this. It makes for stress free arriving at the airport in plenty of time for your departure at the beginning of your trip; and there is nothing like having someone there at the end to just bring you home.

Flying into Queenstown was truly a magic sight - stunning mountains everywhere, and I have to say the view from my motel balcony didn’t disappoint either

Views from the hotel balcony

Thanks to keeping a copy of all my itineraries (scribble notes included), here’s the list of locations we stopped at over the 5 day tour -

  1. Wanaka Tree

  2. Meiklejohns Bay - Lake Wakatipu (sticks in water)

  3. Glenorchy Wharf

  4. Arrowtown

  5. Cromwell

  6. Lindis Pass

  7. Mount Cook - Glentanner

  8. Twizel - Lake Ruataniwha

  9. Tasman Lake

  10. Lake Ohau

  11. Lake Alexandrina

  12. Lake Dunstan

Taken on a walk around Queenstown

The first afternoon was drizzling with rain so the group consensus was to photograph ‘that’ Wanaka Tree.

This was another Brett Wood Photo Tour and what I really like about his tours is the flexibility. The itinerary sent out is a list of ‘possible’ locations that you will shoot. Brett is constantly looking at the conditions so that you can make the most of the local weather at the time.

At the time I wasn’t convinced I actually wanted to photograph this tree. It has become notoriously popular with photographers and Instagram so it just felt like there were way too many photos of this.

There have been known to have been over 100 people at this location, and it is really only quite a small area.

It was wet and drizzly when we went, so while not ideal, this was very much to our advantage - hardly any people! Needless to say, I am very glad that we did go there and I actually got a couple of photos that I’m very happy with.

Next up was Meiklejohns Bay - Lake Wakatipu (sticks in water)

Another reason I’m glad I still have my itinerary - imagine trying to google that without knowing the correct spelling.

I’m not normally a big fan of shooting jetties and scenes like this, but we were blessed with fabulous conditions that afternoon, so as usual glad I went.

Side note - once I had finished photographing here I noticed what I thought was a bench seat with a nice little view. I proceeded to sit down on this ‘bench’ only to discover it was broken a little too late. Luckily for me everyone else was still taking photos so no one saw me take a not very elegant tumble.

Up super early the next morning was Glenorchy Wharf for sunrise. This I think was the coldest I had ever been. It was only -2 degrees celsius from memory, but I managed to get my feet wet and it took me hours to warm up again. Note to self - always take spare socks at least.

Established in the 1800’s during the heights of a gold rush, Arrowtown is a quaint little town just 20 minutes from Queenstown. Beautiful at all times of the year, it is particularly stunning in Autumn. A must visit for photographing South Island New Zealand.

Many of the old buildings from this era are still in good condition due to careful preservation - a lovely place to wander the shops and grab the ever-essential coffee.

We then headed towards Twizel after our two night stay in Queenstown.

A couple of stops along the way included gorgeous orchards in Cromwell and Lindis Pass.

Lindis Pass links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago and apparently you can see snow on the tops of the mountains most time throughout the year and which we definitely did when we stopped at the viewpoint.

Courtesy of New Zealand Tourism - Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields, all set under a star-studded sky.

According to Ngāi Tahu legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage, their canoe overturned on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island (Te Waka o Aoraki); Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.

For our accommodation for the next two nights we were split across 2 air bnb houses, both with very little toilet paper when we arrived.

What made my day was on the way back to the houses at the end of a long day, instead of heading straight to the supermarket, the first stop was for me to get my wine - wine before toilet paper. That’s when you know you’ve found the right tour guide!

Loved all the different sayings on the Juicy Vans that were everywhere

Just outside of Twizel, Lake Ruataniwha is an artificial lake that was formed between 1977-1981 as a result of the Upper Waitaki Hydroelectric project.

Every time we drove past a lake we would see mirror like conditions which was on my bucket list to photograph, but whenever we stopped a breeze would come up! I was, however, happy with this photo taken on our afternoon at the lake.

The next morning we headed off for sunrise at the Tasman Glacier that stretches for 27km and is up to 600km in depth. Research indicates that this particular glacier is currently in a period of accelerated retreat and the terminus is not only melting, but also calving. This has resulted in icebergs of every shape and size periodically tearing away from the glacier.

There are many ways to access this area including helicopters, but we elected for a lovely short (20 minutes or so) and well maintained view where we were greeted with the most intense sunrise of the tour.

He next sunrise we did was one that really highlighted to me the value of going with a guide that not only knows the area extremely well, but also has all the necessary permits required.

Without these, we would not have been heading down dirt roads in the dark to be greeted with morning scenes like these -

This photo below is a classic example of not getting the conditions you were hoping for when you go out for a shoot. You can plan all you like, or in this case, you are there for a once off and don’t have the opportunity to come back when conditions are more favourable. So, you have to make do with what you have.

As photographers we are often told how ‘lucky’ we are when we share a photo that has a magic sky or epic fog conditions, but more often than not it either comes down to planning, or going back to the same location again and again until we are blessed with those magic conditions.

It reminds me of a saying - the harder you work, the luckier you get.

You really do have to commit to the time and effort, and sometimes repeated visits, before you are rewarded with the ‘lucky’ shot.

Our last sunrise of the tour was Lake Alexandrina. This is a beautiful lake with little jetties dotted all around. If you noted before, i’m not particularly interested in that, but was fascinated by all the boats along the edges so i was in heaven - I really could have stayed there for hours, but eventually coffee and breakfast were in order.

On the way back to our accommodation to finish the tour we had one final stop at Lake Dunstan where we finally got as close to the mirror like reflections that I was looking for the whole trip.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was anything BUT disappointed and still have a credit for flights to New Zealand from a cancelled trip in 2020 - I will be back.

That’s it for now -

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