10 Must See New Zealand North Island Photo Locations
Updated: Mar 12
The South Island of New Zealand receives a lot of attention when it comes to photography, and rightly so .. it truly is a stunning place. Having said that, the North Island is just as beautiful and unique in its own way, and considering it is my home, I thought it was about time to share some of the places that I have visited on the north for photography, and that I think you should too.
The North Island is known for its stunning white sandy beaches on the east side, and rugged dramatic coastlines on the west side. We have more of a tropical climate, and a bit of everything. Beautiful waterfalls, amazing walking tracks, lush bush, incredible coastlines, freshwater lakes and we can't forget our snowy mountains!
This blog covers only a handful of the locations that I have photographed, and there are many more on my list that I want to get to. Hopefully I can update you at the end of the year with some of the new places I visit, but for now, I hope you enjoy what I have so far.
Pinnacles Summit, Coromandel
I have to start with my most favourite and in my opinion, the most breath taking view in the North Island, the Pinnacles Summit in the Coromandel. If you are willing to work for it, then this is the one place you will want to visit whilst here.
The 8 hour return hike can be completed overnight with a stay at the DOC hut near the summit, or can be done as a day walk. For photography purposes, I would recommend staying at the hut as conditions are prime at both sunrise and sunset.
The hike itself traverses through native bush including New Zealand's very own Nikau palms and runs across streams and swingbridges. Once you get to the hut, the summit is a further 40 minutes up ... if you are afraid of heights like me , take a friend to help you, but trust me it's worth it.
These shots were all taken at the summit for sunrise.
For more information please visit thecoromandel.com.
Lake Mangamahoe, Taranaki
This little lake is fast becoming popular as a photography location as the fascination with Mount Taranaki (one of the world's most symmetrical volcano cones) continues to dominate on social media.
The Taranaki region is full of diversity, from mountain landscapes to rugged beaches, forest, waves and long country drives in between.
Lake Mangamahoe is easily accessible by car and the 6km track that surrounds the lake is a great way to see the different vantage points of Mount Taranaki.
The shots I have shared here were taken at sunset and are a short walk from the car park at the end of Lake Road and sign posted.
For more information please visit Taranaki.info.
Tutukaka and surrounds, Northland
I have had a fascination with underwater photography for quite some time, but I'd never actually had the courage to give it a go myself. Early 2019 I decided it was time ... I went out and bought an underwater housing and there was only one place I knew I wanted to go to get the shots I had dreamed of, and that was The Poor Knights Islands.
Protected in a marine reserve since the 1980's, the Poor Knights Islands are home to incredibly abundant marine life both below the surface and above. This is a no take marine reserve .. no fishing, taking, disturbing of marine life whatsoever.
Rated as one of the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau, the team at Dive Tutukaka made all my dreams come true and I have since returned three times to capture life under the surface.
Tutukaka is approximately 3 hours north of Auckland by car and it well worth the drive. Be sure to visit Whangarei Falls on the way, and just a further 20 minutes on from Tutukaka is Matapouri, a beautiful bay where the sunrise is spectacular.
Mauao Summit & Mount Maunganui Beach
My home. If you're coming to the North Island, then you've got to come to place that I call home.
Ranked as one of the top 25 best beaches in the world, and white sand stretching as far the eye can see, "The Mount" is a must do if not for any other reason but that!
For the best view, and one of the most iconic, a short but steep climb up Mauao (Mount Maunganui) is the way to go. Mauao is the iconic extinct volcanic cone standing 232m above sea level, and is the landmark for our region. It is treasured by all of us here and holds deep cultural and historical importance.
It will take you approximately 45 minutes to get to the top .. and although a bit of a tough slog, it is absolutely worth it for the 360° views along the entire Bay of Plenty coastline, the harbour to Tauranga, the Kaimai Range and out to Coromandel.
I would suggest photographing the Mauao Summit at sunrise, and from the beach at sunset.
Tongariro National Park
Peter Jackson chose to film parts of the Lord of the Rings movie series in Tongariro National Park, and it’s no surprise why when you look at what’s on offer. Rocky landscapes, deserted hills, majestic waterfalls and not to forget those incredible mountains.
Located in the centre of the North Island, this national park is easily accessed via the State Highways leading into it and it's well worth spending a few days in the area exploring the many walking tracks and photography opportunities available.
Locations to note for photography include the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (notably Emerald Lakes and the Red Crater), Whakapapa Ski Road, The Desert Road, Tawhai Falls, Taranaki Falls, Mangawhero Falls and Tama Lakes.
There is plenty to choose from with locations working at both sunrise and sunset.
For more information please visit visitruapehu.com.
Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve (Cathedral Cove and surrounds)
Undoubtedly one the more famous of locations in the Coromandel area, Cathedral Cove is a picturesque beach paradise boasting some of the most beautiful coastal scenes you will find in New Zealand.
Not only is it one of New Zealand's few marine reserves, it also forms part of a coast dotted with amazing sea stacks, crystal clear blue water, and it's more well known feature .. the Cave that acts as the entrance to the beach.
Photography opportunities are endless here, with both sunrise and sunset being a winner. The Coromandel has some of the darkest skies in New Zealand, so astrophotography here is also very good. If you like seascapes, then this is the place to come.
The walk to Cathedral Cove is a short 45 minute hike (one way) from Hahei with incredible coastal views all the way. Famously used as the entrance into Narnia in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, you can totally see why this is a must do for anyone's list on the North Island.
For more information please visit thecoromandel.com.
Castle Point Lighthouse, Wairarapa
If you're heading further south down the island, then Castle Point lighthouse should definitely be on your must see list.
The coastal town of Castle Point is popular in the summer time for kiwi's on holiday, and is also home to New Zealand's tallest light house! The short walk to the lighthouse is definitely worth it and keep an eye out for a few of New Zealand's fur seals that like to lay about the path and surrounds. Please don't disturb or approach them .. they don't love humans all that much.
We spent a weekend here and experienced the lighthouse at both sunrise and sunset and from all angles. I preferred the area at sunrise as the sun casts beautiful light onto the rocks.
Another viewpoint is from the Castle Rock track. This hill climbs up 128m above sea level and the view is spectacular. Unfortunately I wasn't blessed with the greatest of conditions (gale force winds!), but it was stunning none the less.
Walk south along the lagoon edge and follow the track up through coastal grassland to meet the boundary track at the saddle.
Castle Point is located about 2 1/2 hours from Wellington via car. For more information please visit wairarapa.nz
Lake Tarawera, Rotorua
Lake Tarawera is one of the many lakes that can be found in the geothermal town of Rotorua. A favourite in the North Island, it has over the last few years become a very popular spot for photographers due to the endless jetties along the lake shore and the resting volcano Mount Tarawera in view from many different angles.
The lake is surrounded by beautiful forest, and the drive here is a stunning one passing the Blue Lake along the way.
Famous for its eruption in 1886, Mount Tarawera has been dormant since, but there is a lot of history tied with both this mountain and lake, and its importance to Maori is significant. Please respect the area as it is truly special and enjoyed by many locals and visitors alike.
Lake Tarawera is spectacular for viewing the night sky and astrophotography is definitely worth a try with very minimal light pollution.
The best time to visit the lake for photography is sunrise. I have tried many times at sunset and have been unsuccessful due to the suns position. The shots featured in this blog have been taken at The Landing, and Rangiuru Bay, both very accessible and easy to compose.
For more information please visit Rotorua Tourism.
Situated on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Raglan is one of the trendiest little surf towns you will come across. Amazing food, beautiful black sand beaches, waterfalls, awesome people .. it has it all.
Just a 45-minute drive west of Hamilton or 2 hours drive south of Auckland, Raglan is well known for its incredible surf breaks and brings visitors from all over New Zealand and overseas to spend time at the beaches here. Raglan is more of a sunset spot for photography but attracts some beautiful light at sunrise also.
Be sure to stop at Bridal Veil Falls on your way in or out of Raglan. You can walk to the top and down to the base of the falls which stand 55m high. There are three viewing platforms, with the second from the top being my favourite and where this photo was taken from.
For more information please visit Raglan Tourism.
Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay
The Hawkes Bay is a stunning part of New Zealand situated on the east coast of the North Island. Well known for its award winning wines, it is also home to some incredible landscapes including Te Mata Peak, which rises up 399 metres in the Te Mata Hills.
The summit is easily accessed via a formed road leading up to the lookout where these shots were taken. I would suggest going up at sunrise as the hills will be lit by the sun and it creates beautiful contours and patterns with the light.
As always, Leave No Trace & Keep NZ Beautiful
Thanks so much for reading my blog and for the support. Please leave me a comment to let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.