NORTH TO SOUTH OF NEW ZEALAND: 10 PHOTOGENTIC SPOTS YOU MUST VISIT
New Zealand .. we have all seen how beautiful this country is, and I make a point of reminding myself every day how lucky I am to call it home and explore at my own leisure. From the snowy mountain peaks of the Southern Alps, to the sandy white beaches of the North Island that stretch for miles, New Zealand has it all.
I am often asked what my favourite places to visit and photograph are in New Zealand, and although it is so very hard to narrow it down to 10, I've managed to arrive at my top locations from the North to the South Island of New Zealand so you can experience them too!
In this blog post I'll tell you how to get there, photography tips on each location, and why the location is so special. Enjoy reading and planning your own trip around New Zealand soon!
WHERE TO START & HOW TO GET AROUND
THE NORTH ISLAND
As the North Island's biggest city and central to many of the locations in this blog, I would suggest starting your trip from Auckland. The American Express Airpoints Platinum Card can help get you there with 500 bonus Airpoints Dollars™ which is worth $500 to spend with Air New Zealand flights, car hire, or accommodation. This offer is only available if you are a new Card Member and apply online by 27 September 2021, are approved and spend $1,500 on your new Card in the first 3 months. Not only that, you can travel knowing your phone and trip are covered with complimentary smart phone screen insurance and travel insurance. T&Cs apply. Find out more here.
Hiring a car and travelling at your own pace is the way to go. It means you can just take your time, experience the area, and really have a good shot at getting a great photo without rushing or having to be somewhere under time restraints.
THE SOUTH ISLAND
To experience the South Island, I would recommend starting your trip from Queenstown and ending it in Christchurch. Queenstown is centrally located to many of the spots mentioned in this blog and you can fly with Air New Zealand and hire a car using the 500 bonus Airpoints Dollars™ that could be earned with your new American Express Airpoints Platinum Card. Not only that, you earn Airpoints Dollars each time you spend, accruing more Airpoints Dollars for your next trip! Learn more now.
Disclaimer: This blog post is in partnership with American Express. All opinions and words are my own. This article also features some affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you sign up to the card.
10 MUST SEE PLACES FROM THE NORTH TO THE SOUTH OF NEW ZEALAND
AUCKLAND & THE WAITAKERE RANGES
Often overlooked, Auckland City and the West Coast Waitakere Ranges offer some truly awesome photo opportunities as well as stunning nature and coastal walks out of the hustle and bustle of city life.
For those wanting to experience a little of the city but mostly nature, I would recommend spending just one night down town to experience the vibe and incredible food offered at the Viaduct City Centre. Don't forget to take your camera and capture the famous Sky City Tower with its lights on.
Then it's time to head 'out west' and experience some of the epic beaches and rugged coastline that hug this part of the country.
My suggestions would be to check out the following which are all approximately 30 minutes from Auckland City:
Photography Location Tip: Take the short 20 minute Tasman Lookout track at the end of Marine Parade for a stunning view over Piha Beach and Lion Rock. We went at sunset and the light was beautiful.
Muriwai Gannet Colony
Photography Location Tip: Visit during August to March to see the birds when they're back home in New Zealand. This short walk is well worth it (mind the smell .. these birdies have quite the stench to them!) and if you go at sunset you can capture the last of the sun dipping below the horizon.
Bethells Beach and the Te Henga Walk
Photography Location Tip: The Te Henga walk is a cliff top walk from Bethells Beach (Te Henga) to south of Muriwai Beach. We did the Bethells Road to Raetahinga Point section of the walk which was around 2 hours return and an easy grade. Sunset is your best time to shoot with the light on the hills from the setting sun.
Situated on the eastern side of the North Island and just 2 hours 20 minutes from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is surrounded by the Hauraki Gulf on one side and Pacific Ocean on the other, with the Coromandel Range (elevation 900m) running down the centre of the peninsula separating the two.
This stunning region where a large portion of New Zealand's population spends their summer holidays exploring the vast amount of beaches, caves, bush walks, islands and absolutely breath taking scenery that cover this part of the country.
It's an absolute must do if you are visiting New Zealand and the photo opportunities are endless. Famous spots like Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach and the Pinnacles are just a few of the locations I recommend you try get to on your visit.
Cathedral Cove, Hahei
Photography Location Tip: My favourite time to visit this spot is at sunrise. Go on a mid to low tide and walk through the Cove so you can take photos from all angles. The morning sun hitting Te Hoho rock from inside the Cove is a magical shot.
Photography Location Tip: Again my favourite time to visit is sunrise. Walk up Te Pare Point Pa and take in the scenes overlooking the islands and Champagne bay on the eastern side of the pa.
The Pinnacles Hike
Photography Location Tip: We hiked the Pinnacles so that we could photograph it under the early morning light, but it can be hiked and photographed at any time. The view from the summit is incredible and worth the slightly scary climb. For more info check out my Coromandel Blog.
Coromandel Coastal Walkway
Photography Location Tip: My favourite photography spot on the Coromandel Coastal Walkway is about 30 minutes past Poley Bay if you're travelling towards Stony Bay. The views are incredible the entire way! For more info check out my Coromandel Blog.
Rotorua has been called the Geo Thermal Wonderland of New Zealand, and that title absolutely fits the bill. It is one of the top regions visited by all travelers who come to visit New Zealand, and it's no wonder why as there is so much to do. It's just 2 hours 40 mins from Auckland, or 2 hours 50 mins if you left from the Coromandel.
You can try your hand at many of the adrenalin filled activities in the Rotorua region including mountain biking, white water rafting, skydiving .. visit the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, get to know our very special Maori culture at Tamaka Maori Village, Te Puia and Whakarewawera Maori Village, wander through the Redwood Forest, visit the incredible lakes dotted around the region .. there really is so much to do.
For photography, my must do spots to visit here are the Lakes, waterfalls and Redwoods Forest that are within the region. There is so much diversity and you'll love the photos that come from these amazing places.
Photography Location Tip: The best time to visit the lake for photography is sunrise. The shots featured here have been taken at The Landing, and Rangiuru Bay, both very accessible and easy to compose.
The Redwoods Forest
Photography Location Tip: There are plenty of trails and paths to take photos in the Redwoods. I have always been there at early morning after the sun has risen to get that golden light, and a small chance of fog which creates beams through the trees.
Photography Location Tip: The Okere Falls track is super easy and not a lot of effort is required to complete it. Photos can be taken from the various look outs including Okere Falls, Tutea Falls and Trout Pool Falls.
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 (2 hours 20 mins from Rotorua), 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.
Photography Location Tip: Although the Tama Lakes require a little more effort to get to (17km return), it's definitely worth the effort for the reward at the end. From the Upper Tama Lake you have beautiful views of both Upper and Tama Lakes, plus Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu. We did the track during the day and stayed for sunset. For more info check out Number 1 on my North Island Lakes Blog.
Whakapapa Ski Road
Photography Location Tip: The first shot here was taken near sunset hour on State Highway 47 about 5 minutes before reaching the turn off to Whakapapa Village. There is a safe pullover nearby.
The second shot was taken near sunset on the Bruce Road which is the ski road that heads up to Whakapapa Ski Field. There are many opportunities for photos along here, just be sure to pull over safely into an allocated bay.
Photography Location Tip: Taranaki Falls is a short 2 hour return walk from just behind the Tongariro Chateau at Whakapapa Village.
Photography Location Tip: This is an easy 5 minute walk from the car park which is located 16 km up the Ohakune Mountain Road.
For more info visit my Tongariro Blog
The Taranaki region is full of diversity, from mountain landscapes to rugged beaches, forest, waves and long country drives in between. Sitting under the iconic Mount Taranaki, this part of New Zealand is steep in culture and holds a lot of history especially for Maori and their ancestors.
Taranaki is located on the south west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, around 3.5 hours from Tongariro National Park, or 5.5 hours if travelling from Auckland.
There are a lot of amazing photo opportunities in the region, many that include views of the magnificent Mount Taranaki, which I have listed below:
Pouakai Tarn Hike
Photography Location Tip: The Pouakai tarn hike is one of the best views you can get of Mount Taranaki but it comes with some effort required. From the car park, follow the path back up to Mangorei Road and walk to the road end. The 10km return track (or you can stay overnight at the Pouakai Hut) climbs steadily up a lot of steps until you get past the bush line and reach the hut. 5 minutes past the hut take the track on your left from the top and you will get to the tarns 15 minutes later. View are magic at both sunrise and sunset.
Photography Location Tip: 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 info check out Number 4 on my North Island Lakes Blog.
Three Sisters, Tongaporutu
Photography Location Tip: This awesome coastal spot is home to the rock formations known as Three Sisters and Elephant Rock (which unfortunately lost it's trunk a few years ago to erosion). They are best shot at sunset and be weary of the tide times as you should only access these on the outgoing tide.
From here I would suggest travelling down to Wellington (New Zealand's Capital City) and catch a flight to Queenstown to start your South Island adventure! Book with your American Express Airpoints Platinum Card and earn Airpoints Dollars each time you spend.
ENTER THE SOUTH ISLAND
It goes without saying .. Queenstown is the buzzing hub of the South Island in New Zealand, especially during the winter. Nestled amongst the Southern Alps and lining the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a dream if you're a keen winter sport lover, mountain biker, food lover and all round adrenalin junkie.
The town is full of life, fabulous restaurants and you can’t help but feel excited being amongst it all. But what I love the most, are the incredible landscapes that are found on the outskirts of town .. the quiet places where the beauty really unfolds.
Top photography spots I suggest you visit include:
Photography Location Tip: This stunning little lake is about 10 minutes out of Queenstown on the way to Arrowtown. It has quite a few access points, but if you take the Bendemeer Bay access way, and stroll approximately 100m you will find the old jetty featured in this shot at sunset.
Photography Location Tip: Moke Lake access is approximately 6 km west of Queenstown on the Glenorchy Road. Turn right onto Moke Lake Road and follow a gravel road for about 7 km. It can be very hard to access during winter and a 4wd is a must do. You can camp down by the lake and photograph it at sunset, for astro, and at sunrise. See my South Island Lakes blog for more info.
Photography Location Tip: This quaint little town is just 45 minutes from Queenstown and the drive there has been named one of the most scenic New Zealand has to offer. Surrounded by towering mountains and beech forest, the trip out to the Glenorchy is a must do. Photo spots include the famous Glenorchy Pier, Sister Trees and the Lagoon, all shot at sunrise in the pics I have shared here.
Approximately 4.5 hours from Queenstown we have what has been named the Eighth Wonder of the World, the one and only Milford Sound. The drive to Milford Sound is absolutely jaw dropping as you travel through ancient glacially carved valleys, towering mountains, raging waterfalls and stunning native forest at every turn.
When you arrive in Milford Sound you can take in the incredible sights of Mitre Peak, take a cruise down the Sound and encounter the wild life including Bottlenose Dolphins, kayak the sound and get up close to some of the tallest waterfalls in the world including Sutherland Falls, or take a flight and see the stunning views from above.
My favourite spots for photography in Milford Sound include:
Mitre Peak, Milford Sound Foreshore
Photography Location Tip: Sunset is my favourite time to photograph the foreshore. If you visit during the Autumn months of April and May, you might be lucky and see the beam of light that is created as the sun goes down behind Mitre Peak.
Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound Foreshore
Photography Location Tip: From the foreshore, take the path all the way out to the end and then stroll out onto the sand until you get a nice view of Lady Bowen Falls. This shot was taken at sunrise.
Views from the cruise including Stirling Falls
Photography Location Tip: There are so many great photo opportunities to be had on the Milford Sound cruise. Make sure you've got your camera ready for the waterfalls, and be prepared to get wet!
Just over the hill from Queenstown (an hour's drive) is the stunning small town of Wanaka, and if you haven't heard, its famous for a very photogenic Willow Tree in the lake.
As the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, Wanaka is surrounded by the Southern Alps, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and again is the perfect base for adrenalin and winter based sports activities with Treble Cone and Cardona ski fields close by. There are many day walks and hikes you can do both in Wanaka and the surrounding areas, and photography opportunities are endless.
My top recommendations to visit in Wanaka are:
The Wanaka Tree
Photography Location Tip: Visit during sunrise to avoid the crowds and photograph the tree with the first of the golden light. You can park in the carpark at the beginning of Waterfall Creek Track and be there within a 2 minute walk.
Photography Location Tip: This is another spot where a little more effort is required but the reward is one of the best views in the South Island! The Roys peak track is 16km return and takes around 5-6 hours mostly uphill. The famous selfie spot is about 30 minutes before the summit and it works for both sunrise and sunset.
The Blue Pools
Photography Location Tip: The Blue Pools are an easy 1 hour return walk just past the Makarora Township. Enjoy the mature beech and podocarp forest and then the stunning blue water when you reach the end of the track. Beautiful for a picnic and swim if you're brave!
FOX GLACIER & SURROUNDS, WEST COAST
If you find yourself wanting to see epic New Zealand rainforest, glaciers and mountains right next to the ocean, then travel the west coast and enjoy all of the above! Lake Matheson in Fox Glacier should be one place that you stop and spend a little time with on your journey to the west.
There is plenty to do on the West Coast including taking an incredible scenic flight and landing on one of the many glaciers in the area, the most famous being Fox Glacier. With a guide you can experience ice caves and walk on the land before time .. camera in hand you will get some pretty amazing photos!
There's also many day hikes in the Fox and Franz Josef areas, take a trip out to the beach, visit Hokitika Gorge, Pancake Rocks, visit the local cafes and enter relax mode!
For photography, I suggest you visit the following:
Photography Location Tip: Lake Matheson's dark tannin stained water means the reflections on a still day are absolutely breathtaking, and next level for landscape photography. The walking track around the lake takes approximately 40 minutes and there are three viewing platforms to shoot from along the way. My favourite view point is Reflection Point. Here both Mount Tasman and Mount Cook can be aligned in the centre of the frame and the native bush just adds to the overall composition. Works at both sunrise, sunset, and Astro.
Photography Location Tip: Taking a scenic flight is one of the best things you can do in this area! The view from above is incredible and you get to see things you just cant view from the ground. For more info on flights visit West Coast NZ.
Photography Location Tip: Home to bright blue glacial water and stunning podocarp forest, Hokitika Gorge is a definite must do visit on the West Coast. The track is 1 hour return and the photo opportunities are plenty especially when you reach the lower Gorge at the end of the walk.
AORAKI MOUNT COOK
I have been fortunate enough to have spent a fair amount of time in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park over the past 6 years or so, and I have to say it's right up there as one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand.
Home to New Zealand's highest mountain standing at 3,724 metres (12,218 feet) Aoraki (Maori name given by the Ngai Tahu tribe) Mount Cook lies in the Southern Alps mountain range which runs the length of the South Island.
In Aoraki Mount Cook National Park you can get right up and close with icebergs in a kayak, you can walk on the Tasman Glacier and experience the ice caves, you can take a scenic flight and land at the top of the Tasman, there are plenty of hiking and biking activities, you won't get bored staying here!
For photography, the options are endless and it's one of the best places to photograph the mountains. Here are my top 3 spots you shouldn't miss while visiting the park:
Photography Location Tip: Situated in the heart of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, the terminal lake of Tasman Glacier really is one of the most unique lakes in New Zealand due to the gigantic icebergs that can be seen in the lake from the retreating Tasman Glacier. Sunrise is my preferred time to shoot, but it works well at sunset also, and astro is a dream with those dark skies!
There are a couple different view points to shoot the lake from. Most of my images are taken from the track that leads to the Tasman River .. about an hour return walk from the carpark.
Photography Location Tip: Sealy Tarns are two small alpine lakes which sit flat on the Sealy Range in Mount Cook National Park. The track up to the tarns requires a fair bit of stamina as you climb up to 1300 metres and over 2,200 stairs, but the view is most definitely worth it! I have shot Sealy Tarns at both sunrise and sunset and they are both beautiful times to photograph.