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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart

YOUR COMPLETE PHOTO GUIDE TO QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND

Your complete photo guide to Queenstown South Island NZ

I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again, that Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand is one of my most favourite places in the world, and for so many good reasons. Not only does it have some of the most incredible landscape photography locations New Zealand has to offer, but it is also known as the adventure capital of the world for its epic array of outdoor activities year round including skiing, hiking, bungy jumping, jet boating, mountain biking .. the list goes on.


Lake Lochnagar Queenstown
Lake Lochnagar seen from a scenic flight. If you can I'd highly recommend getting up in the air to see the mountains from above

In recent years I have truly appreciated the South Island and Queenstown in particular when it comes to family trips and the endless activities available that keep the whole family entertained. Although this blog is focused on the epic landscapes available to photographers and sightseers, if you're coming to Queenstown with the family definitely check out Queenstownnz.co.nz for amazing activities including Ice Skating, Skyline Luge, Kiwi Birdlife Park plus much more.



When it comes to landscape photography, I have lost count how many times I've been to Queenstown in search of images for my portfolio especially during the winter months. With Queenstown being nestled amidst some of the most breathtaking landscapes of New Zealand's South Island including the incredible Remarkables Mountain range, the Southern Alps, glacial lakes like Lake Wakatipu, and vast glacially carved valleys and river braids, it really is a photographers paradise.



Join me on a visual journey through my lens of Queenstown, where I take you to all the extraordinary landscape photo locations I have encountered in this magical part of New Zealand's South Island.


For ease of use and exact locations you can download my New Zealand Map and Guide, plus have access to travel itineraries and over 400 epic New Zealand photo locations, activities and places to stay.


NZ Travel Map and Guide

 

CONTENTS



 

GETTING TO QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


FLYING INTO QUEENSTOWN AIRPORT


You may have heard people talk about it already, but getting the window seat on the plane flying into Queenstown is an absolute must do (or any spot in the South Island). As the plane descends towards Queenstown Airport, the incredible peaks of the Southern Alps rise majestically with their snow capped summits catching the light (especially on the red hour dawn flights), while the crystal clear glacial waters of Lake Wakatipu shimmer in the morning sun. Every time I fly into Queenstown I am completely blown away by the views.


Window seat flying into Queenstown in winter
Views from the window seat flying into Queenstown in winter

With direct flights from major cities across New Zealand and Australia, Queenstown Airport makes getting to the adventure and beauty that awaits in Queenstown and the surrounding regions effortless. As soon as you step off the plane you're greeted by the crisp mountain air and panoramic views of the Remarkables mountain range.


Lake Wakatipu window seat Air New Zealand Queenstown
Lake Wakatipu as seen from the descent into Queenstown

With its convenient location just a short drive from the town centre, Queenstown Airport serves as the perfect introduction to the wonders of the South Island, promising a seamless transition from air travel to exploration in this captivating corner of the world.


CHRISTCHURCH TO QUEENSTOWN


The road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the best cross country South Island New Zealand routes you can take with so much next level scenery to take in along the way. It will take you approximately 6 hours driving time covering around 480 kilometers, but definitely factor in some camera time along the way or even an overnight booking at some of the photo spots.


From Christchurch you will head along State Highway 1 towards the iconic landscapes that await in the Mackenzie Basin. Along the way, the journey unfolds through picturesque countryside, passing charming towns like Geraldine and Fairlie (be sure to stop at the Fairlie Bakery for one of their famous pies!).



From there, the road winds through to the breathtaking Mackenzie Basin, where your next stop will be Lake Tekapo. Be sure to stop here for some of the amazing photo opportunities with this incredible turquoise blue glacial lake.


Check out my Photo Guide to Lake Tekapo for more info.


Lake Tekapo South Island NZ Blog

Continuing onwards, you will traverse the Lindis Pass, a mountainous terrain renowned for its dramatic vistas.


After the Lindis Pass you can take two options, travel through to Wanaka for more photo opportunities and then continue on over the Crown Range into Queenstown (personally this is my favourite route), or you can travel through the Kawerau Gorge (also full of beautiful views through the gorge).


Lindis Pass Drive Winter
Driving through the Lindis Pass in winter on the way to Queenstown

If you're planning to take the route through Wanaka check out my Guide to the Wanaka Tree blog.


The Wanaka Tree NZ Photo Blog

Finally, as you descend into Queenstown, be prepared to be captivated by the stunning scenery of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains, and get ready for your adventure to begin.


Crown Range Summit Queenstown Winter
The view from the Crown Range Summit looking towards Queenstown

Check out my Christchurch to Queenstown 7 Day Roadtrip Itinerary Blog if you're interested in making the most of this route.


Christchurch to Queenstown 7 Day Roadtrip Itinerary

 

WHERE TO STAY IN QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


In Queenstown you'll find a wide range of accommodation options, from camp grounds to beautiful resorts, all designed to enhance your experience in this amazing mountain town.


QUEENSTOWN ACCOMMODATION


QUEENSTOWN CAMPGROUNDS


My absolute favourite of the Queenstown campgrounds is Driftaway Queenstown. I have stayed here numerous times and it is always so welcoming, clean and tidy, they have an amazing kitchen with a view over the lake, playground for the kids and hot tubs you can book! It is the perfect spot right by the lake if you're in a campervan or want to book a cabin.


Arrowtown Holiday Park is also another super nice campground I can personally recommend just 20 minutes from Queenstown in the quaint town of Arrowtown. Again I have stayed here numerous times and it has always been a treat.


For a list of other campgrounds check out the Queenstown website.


QUEENSTOWN HOTELS AND MOTELS


If you want to splash out a little and experience a bit of luxury then from personal experience I have stayed at the following Hotels and Motels in Queenstown and can absolutely vouch for them.



For more information on accommodation in Queenstown check out the Queenstown website.


NZ Landscape Prints and Canvas

 

QUEENSTOWN WEATHER


Queenstown's weather offers a diverse range of options for photographers to explore throughout the year with each season presenting its own unique charm and photographic opportunities.


In the summer months from December to February, the days are long and sunny, usually with clear blue skies and golden hour lasting until at least 9.30pm at night. This is the perfect time to capture the vibrant colours of the tussock and alpine meadows against the blue waters of Lake Wakatipu.



Autumn, from March to May, brings an incredible range of colours to the landscape including lots of reds, oranges, and golds as the foliage transforms. Queenstown and Arrowtown in particular look absolutely beautiful in Autumn.


Autumn Speargrass Road Arrowtown Queenstown
Autumn in Queenstown along Speargrass Road Arrowtown

Winter (my favourite), from June to August, blankets the region in a layer of snow, turning Queenstown into a winter wonderland. This season offers the most stunning opportunities for capturing the snow capped peaks of the Remarkables, the Southern Alps and the surrounding frosty covered landscapes.


Mount Aspiring Aerial Photo Winter Queenstown
Mount Aspiring during winter from an aerial flight with Glenorchy Air Queenstown

Last but not least, spring from September to November can be such a magical time with snow still on the mountains and blossoming lupins especially in Glenorchy. The temperatures become milder and it is a lot easier to get out for that sunrise without freezing.


Whatever the season, Queenstown's ever changing weather provides endless inspiration for anyone seeking to capture the beauty of this remarkable region of New Zealand.


 

YOUR COMPLETE PHOTO GUIDE TO QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND


NZ Travel Map and Guide

Travel Queenstown with my full map and itineraries in my New Zealand Guide and Map app which includes photo tips, google map locations and everything you need to know right from your phone.


 

1. GLENORCHY QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


Situated at the head of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is a small town surrounded by snow capped mountains, glacial blue waters, and has one of the best scenic drives (the Glenorchy Queenstown Road) in the whole of New Zealand. This winding road offers breathtaking views at every turn, showcasing the rugged landscapes and dramatic mountain ranges that make it so special.


GLENORCHY WHARF QUEENSTOWN



The Glenorchy Wharf is quite a famous photography location, and can often be very busy during the day, but if you're up early and want to photograph it at its best, I suggest getting there before sunrise to grab a good spot and then wait until the sun rises to catch that beautiful golden light hitting the Humboldt Range.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best at sunrise. Amazing in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


GLENORCHY THREE SISTERS QUEENSTOWN


The Glenorchy Sister Trees are next to the Glenorchy Wharf on the right hand side. These beautiful Willow trees are all lined in unison and create a beautifully composed image, especially when using ND filters and long exposure techniques.



Like the wharf, this location has become quite popular, and I would suggest arriving at sunrise to beat the crowds.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best at sunrise. Amazing in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


GLENORCHY LAGOON QUEENSTOWN


The Glenorchy Lagoon has a beautiful walking track that meanders around the water and there is a stunning platform spot to take a rest and grab a magical landscape shot. Mt Earnslaw can been seen reflecting in the calm waters as well as other surrounding mountains.



Photo Tip: Shoot on your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for compression shots of the mountains, and best at sunrise and sunset. Amazing in autumn with changing colours on the trees and in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


GLENORCHY BOAT SHED QUEENSTOWN


Near the iconic Glenorchy Wharf lies another little icon - the ever charming and picturesque Glenorchy Boat Shed. Standing proudly against the backdrop of the majestic Southern Alps, this historic little red boat shed has become quite famous with visitors to Glenorchy, especially photographers.


Glenorchy Boatshed Winter Queenstown
Late morning at the Glenorchy Boatshed during winter

I personally have only ever taken photos of it during the day but it would be beautifully lit at sunrise with the golden light coming from behind and hitting the shed.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best during the day or at sunrise.


GLENORCHY LUPINS QUEENSTOWN


During the Spring time (November-December) the famous Russell Lupins that are found in the Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook regions can also be found in Glenorchy. Although it is not guaranteed they will be there every year, there will usually be a few lupins growing in this area.


Lupins Glenorchy Wharf Queenstown
Lupins near the Glenorchy Wharf in Spring (ISO250, 20mm, F9, 5sec)

Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and this spot would be best at sunrise / golden hour.


ROAD TO PARADISE GLENORCHY QUEENSTOWN


The Road out to Paradise (Glenorchy-Paradise Road) is another incredible drive with mountain views for miles. Mount Earnslaw can be seen from the road and the drive is just so beautiful.


Road to Paradise Glenorchy Queenstown
Road to Paradise Glenorchy Queenstown (ISO200, 104mm, F8, 1/640sec)

Photo tip: Take your zoom lens (70-200mm) to compress the mountain. I was here just after sunrise and the light was beautiful.


NZ Prints and Canvas

 

2. BENNETTS BLUFF VIEW POINT QUEENSTOWN


Bennetts Bluff Viewpoint Queenstown
The view from Bennetts Bluff Viewpoint (ISO200, 70mm, F11, 1/125sec)

Bennetts Bluff is a beautiful vantage point that provides absolutely stunning views over Lake Wakatipu out to Glenorchy and the Southern Alps. As you wind your way along the Glenorchy Queenstown scenic drive leading to Bennetts Bluff, you'll truly be captivated by the stunning scenery. Once you arrive at the carpark the easy graded walking track is only 630 m and takes 15 min return. The track is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies.


Bennetts Bluff Queenstown
Bennetts Bluff Queenstown (ISO320, 30mm, F11, 1/640sec)

Photo tip: Shoot on a wide or mid range zoom (24-70mm) and this spot would be beautiful during golden hour at sunset and sunrise. Amazing in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


 

3. MEIKLEJOHNS BAY QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND



Meiklejohns Bay is a popular photo spot along the Road to Glenorchy with an old jetty that is slowly crumbling away as the years go by. I've stopped here many times on my way to or from Glenorchy and it is especially beautiful in the winter and spring months.


Meiklejohns Bay Queenstown with Spring Lupins
Meiklejohns Bay Queenstown with Spring Lupins (ISO50, 20mm, F11, 15sec)

The jetty makes for a beautiful photograph with the surrounding mountains in the background and it is a hot spot for when the Aurora Australis is firing off as the jetty points directly south.


The roadside car park to the old jetty is just off the Glenorchy Road opposite the Tea Rooms.


Photo tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm) and best at sunrise or sunset.


 

4. WILSON BAY QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


Wilson Bay is a stunning little bay on the way out to Glenorchy. It offers majestic mountain views of Walter Peak and the clear water on a calm day brings the most beautiful reflections. There is ample parking available in the carpark area.



Photo tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm) and best in the late afternoon and golden hour.


 

5. MOKE LAKE QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND



Nestled in amongst the mountains and valleys near Queenstown lies Moke Lake, an off the beaten path amazing little lake with one of the best landscape views in the South Island. Just a short drive from the town centre of Queenstown, this serene lake offers a peaceful retreat from all the action happening in town and a chance to get back to nature. Surrounded by rolling hills and snowy mountains in winter, Moke Lake is one of my favourite go to Queenstown photo locations especially at sunrise.



Although it is a bumpy road to get there, with a 4wd being a must during winter, it's absolutely worth the drive especially if you have self contained accommodation as you can stay at the Department of Conversation reserve for a small fee. In the morning you will often wake up to a beautiful mist on the water as the sun rises.


Most of my shots are taken from the campground itself, just drive right to the end of Moke Lake Road and you will see it.



Photo tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm). The lake points south so when there is any aurora action, this is a great place if you want to be to capture the Aurora Australis. Best at sunrise, sunset and astrophotography and amazing in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


LAKE KIRKPATRICK QUEENSTOWN


Be sure to stop in at Lake Kirkpatrick which you will drive past on your way in to Moke Lake. This small roadside like is absolutely beautiful in winter. It is however quite boggy around the lake edge so just beware and perhaps bring the gumboots!


 

6. ONE MILE CARPARK & QUEENSTOWN WATERFRONT


Queenstown waterfront is one of the easiest locations in Queenstown to take a photo of the magnificent Remarkables Mountain range and Lake Wakatipu.



Head to One Mile Carpark just out of the city centre heading towards Glenorchy and there is a beautiful set of schist rocks that make for a stunning foreground to your image just near the car park.


Photo tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm). Beautiful at sunrise and sunset. If you want to capture colourful skies behind the Remarkables then I would suggest trying at sunrise, where the sun rises behind the mountains. If you'd like to capture sunlight on the mountains I would suggest going at sunset, however the waterfront tends to be a little busier during that time.


NZ Landscape Prints

 

7. SKYLINE QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


Skyline Queenstown has one of the best views of the Remarkables mountain range and it is also super fun to get up to the viewpoint via the gondola ride from the bottom. At the summit, you'll find a wide range of adventure activities to keep you entertained like the Luge, Bungee, plus much more and the Stratosfare Restaurant where the viewing deck is.


Queenstown Remarkables from Skyline Gondola sunset
Queenstown and The Remarkables from the Skyline Viewing Deck at sunset (ISO100, 21mm, F11, 97sec)

Photo tip: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm) and take the Gondola up in the late afternoon and catch the last of the suns light on the Remarkables Mountain Range.


 

8. MOUNT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK SUNRISE FLIGHT QUEENSTOWN


If you have some extra cash to spare while you are in Queenstown I absolutely recommend taking a winter sunrise scenic flight over Mount Aspiring National Park with Glenorchy Air. Their modern fleet ensures you have an unobstructed view of the mountains and their skilled pilots make sure you get the shots.



The views from this flight are beyond incredible and it is honestly one of the best scenic flights I've ever experienced.


West Coast on the Glenorchy Air sunrise flight from Queenstown
Looking out towards the West Coast on the Glenorchy Air sunrise flight from Queenstown (ISO1000, 19mm, F8, 1/400sec)

Photo tip: Photographing from a moving object like a plane at sunrise can be quite a challenge but my best advice would be to set your ISO high, your shutter speed at least 1/500 sec and your aperture around F7. You will need to constantly adjust your ISO as the sun rises and the scene gets lighter, so it definitely requires some effort.


Mount Aspiring at sunrise taken on an aerial flight with Glenorchy Air
Mount Aspiring at sunrise taken on an aerial flight with Glenorchy Air (ISO800, 23mm, F8, 1/400sec)
 

9. SHOTOVER RIVER GORGE QUEENSTOWN


One of my absolute favourite Queenstown photography spots and one that is relatively easy to get to is the view down the Shotover River Gorge from Edith Cavell Bridge.



The Edith Cavell bridge on Arthurs Point Road is around 15 minutes from the city centre heading towards Coronet Peak ski field. There is public carparking available just past the bridge on your left. Please note the bridge is very skinny and you will need to stand on the provided footpath and steer clear of any large vehicles crossing the bridge while you are on it.


Photography info: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm)  and because the canyon is in shadow most of the time I would suggest photographing during the day so you can achieve the best light possible.


 

10. LAKE HAYES & ARROWTOWN QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND


Lake Hayes and the small settlement of Arrowtown is an definite must do if you are travelling to Queenstown in the Autumn Season and want to catch some of the incredible colours of the changing trees.


Lake Hayes Jetty Bendemeer Bay Queenstown
The Lake Hayes Jetty just after sunrise in Queenstown (ISO100, 16mm, F11, 20sec)

Lake Hayes is a beautiful little lake that can be found on your way in to Arrowtown and is a great spot for sunrise and sunset. 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 most of my shots from Lake Hayes.



Spots like Speargrass Flat Road and The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement offer some of the best Autumn colours for landscape photography.


The Historic Hut at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement during Autumn
The Historic Hut, Arrowtown Chinese Settlement Autumn (ISO100, 200mm, F9, 1/100sec)

Thurlby Domain on Speargrass Flat Road
Thurlby Domain on Speargrass Flat Road Arrowtown with stunning autumn foliage

Photography info: Shoot on your wide angle lens (16-35mm) and Lake Hayes is best at sunrise and sunset, with Arrowtown Chinese Settlement being any time.


 

OTHER QUEENSTOWN SOUTH ISLAND PHOTO SPOTS


SKI FIELDS CORONET PEAK & CARDRONA


The ski fields can be a great way to obtain some of the best elevated views over the mountains. I have photographed from both Coronet Peak and Cardrona and can say its totally worth taking the ski bus up the hill to check out the scenery! And if you are a skier like me then absolute bonus to have some fun while you're up there without the camera also.



ROUTEBURN TRACK GREAT WALK


The Routeburn Track in Fiordland National Park is considered one of the most rewarding walking tracks in New Zealand especially for photography. It is among the most popular due to its majestic views and it being one of the shortest of the Great Walks on offer (33km one way). Traversing through both Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks, you can start the track from the Queenstown side near Paradise Glenorchy.


For full information on the Routeburn Track and all the photo spots check out my Guide to the Routeburn Track blog.


Hiking the Routeburn Track Blog NZ

MILFORD SOUND & FIORDLAND


The drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown takes just under 4 hours and is around 288km by car. If you have the time I would highly recommend visiting this part of New Zealand as it truly is an incredible place.


Considered the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' .. check out my Complete Guide to Milford Sound Fiordland blog for all the info you need when visiting.


Guide to Milford Sound New Zealand Photo Spots

 

Thanks for taking to time to read my Complete Guide to Queenstown South Island NZ. I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore the Queenstown region sometime soon.


If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.



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