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The most photographic spots in New Zealand’s South Island

There’s nowhere quite like New Zealand. Rolling green hills and meadows filled with purple lupins give way to towering mountains surrounded by ominous cloud. Butterflies glide across sparkling turquoise glacial rivers, which flow through stark canyons draped by green foliage. Glow worms sparkle like the milky way on the ceilings of pitch black caves and in the canopy of dark forests. We spent several weeks exploring the most photographic spots in New Zealand. I’d like to share my top photographic spots with you, starting off with the South Island in this blog.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound isn’t just one of the most photographic spots in New Zealand, it’s up there with one of the best in the world in my opinion. It’s also the second wettest place on Earth, with over 11 metres of rain fall some years. This makes for some epic conditions. We arrived in thick fog and rain and spent half a day kayaking in the most surreal atmosphere. Colossal waterfalls poured straight out of the cloud and down the limestone cliffs into the frothing ocean. The next day the sun come out and it was like another world entirely. Sun beams splintered over the gigantic monolithic rocks. Dolphins splash in and out of the waters along the fjord, bird song fills the air. Whatever the conditions, you won’t be disappointed you visited.

Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park

Mount Cook is a tricky one to photograph as it often hides behind a layer of cloud that blows in from the ocean. At 3,724 metres high, Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand and you can spot it from all over. One of the best places to photograph it in my opinion is the Hooker Valley trail. From here you can capture the fast flowing Hooker River in the foreground. There’s plenty of other opportunities around the area for example Lake Pukaki is a brilliant milky blue glacial river which is lined with lupins in the spring. Then there’s Lake Tasman, you can kayak around the lake and float amongst huge Icebergs the size of double decker buses.

 

Wanaka

Wanaka is just perfect. It’s a sleepy little tourist town that sits peacefully on the edge of Lake Wanaka. There’s several great spots around here.

Most famous is ‘That Wanaka Tree’, which sits stoically out in the middle of Lake Wanaka.

There’s also Roys Peak which is a very popular, arduous, but simple trek. It starts just along the highway from Wanaka and goes pretty much straight up to the Peak of Mount Roy. The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular. It’s around 5 hours return, a lot of people set out early but I would recommend camping at the top. Being up there alone at night is an experience I will never forget and photographing the night sky up there is any photographers dream.

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown is a small party town with a big personality. There’s a cable car from the centre of town up to Skyline, where you can find a restaurant and entertainment area. This spot also happens to have some incredible views over the town, lake and surrounding ‘Remarkables’ mountain range. Don’t miss this one if you are in town and try and get up there around sunset for the best conditions.

 

From Queenstown you can drive along the lake towards Glenorchy. The whole is drive is beautifully scenic and you will find yourself stopping regularly to photograph. The edge of the lake at Glenorchy has some lovely spots too, such as the tree scene below. Have a proper explore in this area and you won’t be disappointed.

The Blue Pools

The Blue Pools can be found along the main road from Wanaka. There’s plenty of parking along the road and the views are just a short 20 minute walk through the forest over some swing bridges. Be prepared for sand flies though, the Blue Pools are a stunning spot but we also got smothered in bites. The water is also incredibly cold as it’s glacial, but it’s refreshing. I found the best photos to be from the last swing bridge, looking back up the valley.

Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier

There’s no doubt that this is another beautiful area. Unfortunately, the area is not known for it’s good weather and we got rained out. I have seen some beautiful photos from the area, especially if you take a chopper up onto the glaciers themselves. We had zero visibility, so I’m afraid there’s not much I can show from here.

Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds is a collection of ancient sunken river valleys connected to the ocean. Along each sound are numerous hidden bays with sandy beaches, surrounded by steep, green, forested hills. The best way to see this place is on a boat. To fully explore all the bays and we were lucky enough to join some friends on their yacht. If this isn’t an option for you, make sure you take a day crossing to the North Island on the Ferry and get out on deck to take in the view. There are also some great hiking trails where you can walk along the ridges of the hills. We walked a few sections of the famous Queen Charlotte Track and I would highly recommend it.

Abel Tasman

Just along from Marlborough is Able Tasman; it is a coastal paradise with perfect sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. We didn’t make it here but it looks well worth checking out.

Nugget Point

Another one we unfortunately didn’t have the time to get to. Nugget Point is an iconic piece of coastline, scattered rocks rise out of the ocean watched over by a lighthouse. It’s one place that will be high on my list when I return.

One thing you will quickly learn with New Zealand is that almost everywhere is photogenic. We frequently pulled over along main roads to capture amazing views. There are few landscapes that don’t look like they are straight out of a scene from Lord of The Rings. The thing you will find yourself wanting most is more time.

If you enjoyed reading this blog then keep an eye out for the next section about the North Island which will be coming soon. If you’d like to read more of my guides why not check out The Most Photographic Spots in the Dolomites.