The 7 day NZ South Island Road Trip: Autumn Edition
Updated: Mar 16
3 good friends, 1 beat up rental car, 7 magic days on the road, and many many adventures with new friends along the way. That pretty much sums up my autumn roady this year. As always, there was hardly any sleep involved, but hey who needs it when you are non stop exploring, taking photos, running about mountains and lakes, and making the most of every moment spent in this amazing part of the world.
These trips are one of the most refreshing things that I can do for my soul. To go away and leave the real world to solely be with nature, and with the sole purpose of capturing it on my camera. The bonus part is meeting amazing humans along the way, and all those unexpected adventures and moments that you just can’t plan for.
In this blog you can follow along with me to the spots that we chose to visit, and to the places that we ended up that weren’t part of the plan. Maybe these pictures might help you plan your own adventure, or maybe you can just read for a laugh. Either way I hope you enjoy them and take away with you some of the amazing scenery NZ has to offer.
So it all started with me flying in late at night to Christchurch, meeting my two buddies (Talman Madsen @talman and Carmen Huter @carmenhuter .. you might know them .. and if not, follow them!), and immediately hitting the road .. destination Tekapo and Mount Cook. The three of us piled into our little rental, full of excitement and eager to get this show on the road ….
The Church of the Good Shepherd and a full moon
We arrived at about 1am, and not surprisingly there were still about a dozen photographers about getting night shots and the like.
One major challenge awaited us when it came to shooting the milkyway .. the gigantic full moon in force!
Nevertheless, it was still just nice to be at this place without all the people.
Two years ago I visited here and only had to share it with a handful of others at sunset .. times have changed.
We carried on to Mt Cook and arrived somewhere around 2.30am. Sleep time.
Sunrise Tasman Glacier, Mount Cook Nat Park
A few hours later we found ourselves at the Tasman Glacier with our good friend Lee Cook @leecook_images for sunrise. It always astonishes me how different this place looks each time I visit. Clear skies and perfect reflections were on the menu this morning, and we were all pretty happy about that.
Twizel and Autumn Explores, Mackenzie Country
After much much muchhhhh needed coffee, the next few hours were spent exploring Twizel, taking off the beaten track roads in the crappy rental, and ending up in the midst of incredible autumn colours along Lake Pukaki.
Sunset Sealy Tarns, Mount Cook Nat Park
Before we knew it the time had come to start our trek up to the Mueller Hut in Mt Cook National Park. After an hour and a half of hauling and heaving up those stairs, we made it to the Sealy Tarns to catch the last light setting on Mt Cook. This place is a favourite pit stop, especially in such good company.
Ascent to Mueller Hut
The light faded and we continued up the track to Mueller Hut .. grueling being a word that comes to the forefront of my mind. I wont go too much into it, but hiking this track in the dark was definitely a challenge for me, and to be honest, not that enjoyable. I wouldn't even call it a track, more like a scramble over gigantic boulders, scree and a bit of slippery mud for good measure (I'm being sarcastic here)! It was a welcome sight to see a tiny light in the distance and a little red hut after 3 hours of hiking. Never have I been so happy to see the finish line! After a few astro shots sleep was in order, and thankfully, we had booked a bed.
Sunrise Mueller Hut
The alarm went off at 5.15am and it was time to hike to the summit of Mt Ollivier for sunrise. My body was screaming refusal, but when I walked out of the hut I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. An incredible inversion cloud was surrounding Mt Cook and Mt Sefton, the scene was just like out of a dream. But .. this is where I made a big mistake .. I decided not to take a shot here, but to try get up Mt Ollivier as fast as I could to get to a higher vantage point.
On the ascent to Mt Olliver the cloud came in and we could no longer see anything 10 metres in front of us. Fail … Zero photos. I guess I am going to have to do this one again, when I recover from the recent effort! Mount Cook Ski Planes and Heli
After we had made it down from Mueller Hut, we were lucky enough to fly above Mount Cook and the Tasman Glacier on a stunning evening during golden hour. The friendly team at Mt Cook Ski Planes & Heli and our awesome pilot showed us just how magical this part of NZ is from the air.
Thanks to my buddy Lee Cook for pressing the shutter on this one.
Sunset on The Mount Cook Road
Before we left the Mt Cook area we stopped at some roadside tarns on our drive out. This was the perfect way to say goodbye to Sir Cook, reflecting effortlessly in the still water. Next stop .. Wanaka!
Sunrise Wanaka Tree
Since I started this photographic journey of mine I have always wanted a shot of the Wanaka tree with its autumn leaves. I was here at the perfect time this year, the leaves were still on the tree, the weather as good .. but wait! What! No water? Ahh the lake's water levels were so low that tree had no water around it! Nevertheless it still looked beautiful and I was glad to be there.
We got to the tree when it was still dark in order to get a place to shoot, and it turned out fellow grammer and insta friend @mitchperfect.nz had thought the same. Within half an hour there were at least 50 photographers standing around us … again times have changed from when I first visited and was the only one there apart from the person I was with.
The Wild West Coast
With no time to waste the next stop was the west coast. My buddies went up in a heli to explore Fox Glacier while I had some downtime in the café .. next time I will get up there and explore!
For sunset we had planned to go to a small lake called Peter’s Pool, but very dark and ominous clouds hung over the mountains towards that direction and the call was made to save that one for winter and try out one of the rugged west coast beaches instead.
We ended up at Okarito beach and instead of take photos, we decided to just chill out , build a bonfire with the ample supply of driftwood that was scattered across the beach foreshore and just take in the scene. Turns out the sky went crazy so of course the cameras came out! But this was probably the most relaxing and much needed break that we were all craving.
Astro at Lake Matheson, West Coast
Arriving back at Fox Glacier, shattered and hungry, we went to the pub, had a great meal, and then decided we would go shoot the milkyway over Lake Matheson! Haha we really are a crazy bunch.
A few hours at the lake (walking the whole circuit after realising the milkway was covered by trees at the spot we had first chosen) it was time to try and get a few hours sleep before sunrise.
Sunrise Lake Matheson
A beautiful sunrise at Lake Matheson re-energised the soul and it was time for the next stop .. Queenstown
After meeting with some awesome locals @undersoulphotography, @amongmountainsandlakes and new friend @timothytay.nz, our sunset mission was up the top of one of the mountains near Coronet Peak. It was a mad race to the summit as we were already well into golden hour and my legs were feeling like lead. Alas, I didn’t make it in time, but the view was still incredible and twilight was just magical. I cant wait to return to this place in winter .. seeing the valley with snow would be incredible.
So things didn't just finish here that night, an aurora alert was on, and the best thing was, is that it showed up! I had never seen the southern lights before, and was beyond excited to finally witness it with my own eyes. It really was an amazing phenomenon, and I was over the moon to have experienced it with a bunch of awesome humans.
Sunrise Moke Lake, Queenstown
The alarm went off and I seriously did not want to get up after only having 3 hours sleep. Again, I dragged my sore body out of bed and got ready to go.
Moke lake is quickly becoming quite a famous little lake in Queenstown, and is a very beautiful one at that. I wanted to view it differently however, so had done some research on google earth and knew where I wanted to be to get that shot that was not the usual. What I didn’t expect was the low lying fog and being able to get above it! After bush bashing our way to above the cloud the view was an incredible one.
Thanks to Carmen for helping me with this shot.
The Arrowtown miners cottage
Unfortunately I didnt manage to get a lot of photographs from Arrowtown, but I did get this popular one! Arrowtown is so stunning during autumn and is definitely worth a visit. Cheers to Talman for this shot.
Sunset Glenorchy Road, Queenstown
By the time sunset came around we were all feeling pretty tired and didn't really want to exert ourselves too much. We decided the take the Queenstown-Glenorchy Road, purely for the fact it is one the most beautiful drives in the country. Without fail I drive this road every time I’m in Queenstown .. it really is a favourite and is so peaceful.
Next it was time to drive to Dunedin. Yip Dunedin. We are nuts :).
Sunrise St Clair Beach, Dunedin
The plan for the day in Dunedin was to join a crew of instagrammers who were attending the @wilddunedin Festival instameet being organised by @kimbirdley and @geoffriednz, but first .. and of course, a sneaky sunrise mission!
It had long been a dream of mine to photograph the old ruins of the pier at St Clair beach, and this was a good opportunity to finally make it happen. The subtle colours that came through at sunrise were just enough to give the shot I wanted some colour, and I was very stoked to have finally seen this place with my own eyes. LE heaven.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Dunedin's wildlife and scenery, visiting @penguin.palace, @monarchwildlife and @larnachcastle. Dunedin is a place I absolutely want to come back and explore further. I am definitely no wildlife photographer, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the day and tried my best. This was a perfect way to end the roady, sad to leave, but home was calling.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! I would love to know your thoughts so please feel free to leave me a comment. All of these photos are available for purchase, and a selection will make it to my website galleries in due course.
Cheers all! Have fun planning your next roady :)
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