It’s no secret that New Zealand has beauty hiding behind every corner. It’s everywhere. Over every ridge, through every forest, and across every mountainscape. There are a thousand and one places to see something magical, and just as many angles to see them from.
I spent 6 months discovering this phenomenal country from the very top to the very bottom. I scaled sandy hills to reach the tip of Cape Reinga and sat in a car with the wind blowing ferociously looking out over Bluff.
Each place I visited had that aura of pure magic. Every scene was distinct, individual, and otherworldly. There are mountains galore, but no two are the same. An abundance of lakes, who’s depths are unknown. Forest fulls of ferns and the intricate sounds of wildlife.
The mountains were forever calling me. Sweeping me across the North island and calling me to the South. I’ve curated a list of my absolute favourites, and some of the incredible vantage points I managed to witness them from. For now, follow me to the mountains. Beyond New Zealand, beyond wonder and beauty, to the mountains.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the South Island of New Zealand boasts some epic mountain views. The Hobbits didn’t go there for the food, oh wait, of course, they did. The majority of them are to be found across the South Island. Where each corner will have you gasping for breath and loudly proclaiming ‘I can’t believe it!’ Or that may have just been me. Idk
Aoraki / Mount Cook Peak from the Tasman River
There are a thousand and one vantage points to capture unique and wonderful shots within the Mount Cook region. The entire 3400sq km Mackenzie area is classed as an International Dark Sky Reserve. Making it one of the best places in the world to catch the Milky Way in all its shimmering glory, with spectacular mountain vistas to frame your shot. Aoraki/ Mount Cook herself is always mind-blowing, and you’ll find no end of glorious views opening before you along the tracks to the Hooker Valley, Kea Point, and of course, the much underrated (in my opinion) but effortlessly ethereal site that is Tasman Glacier. Rock up at sunrise or sunset and the giant wall of ice will sparkle before your eyes as the mountains are flecked with the pink and golden hues of the glowing sun. The scene here is always different, there’s always a new wonder to behold. Rain, shine, or even SNOW! This place is incredible and firmly holds the top spot for my favourite place to shoot photography in the whole of New Zealand.
Key Summit from the Road to Milford Sound
There’s plenty to discover down in the divine Fiordland. Every corner and every turn casts up a new wondrous scene. Taking the time to discover the road is essential, as you are sure to stumble upon something special and unique every single time. Whether it be the light reflecting perfectly off the lakes, the autumn colours blooming vibrantly in the forests, or the many waterfalls cascading down the giant cliffs. Forever changing and shaping the lands into different paths and metamorphosing scenes. Lake Marian is one of the routes close to the Divide - the entrance to the Routeburn track, one of the best Great Walks in New Zealand. A 3-4 day treck across the alps from Fiordland to Glenorchy. Marian is a mere 3-4 hour return journey, with a lake that will astound you as soon as your eyes crest over the bush line and you’re blinded by her incredible beauty. When the air is calm, the lake reflects the mountains perfectly, and as the sun goes down the cliffs turn into shadow and a myriad of colour pops into the scene. All manner of green mosses and blue crevices create a whistful scene that looks straight out of a fairytale and depending on the time of year, the snow-capped peaks will be magnificently dusted from tip to toe.
A killer of a hike to say the least. But this one truly promises a fantastic viewpoint when you finally reach the precipice. The views here are endless and are never the same twice. In any weather conditions, you’re sure to capture something iconic. This may be one of the most popular hikes in the South Island, but anyone can see why. If you do fancy a lesser-known but just as beautiful track. Nearby Isthmus peak offers a breathtaking view with a similar strenuous trek up the mountain.
The Wanaka Tree
There’s no doubt that the Wanaka Tree is the most photographed tree in the whole of New Zealand. The curious tree defied all odds by growing right in the middle of the lake. For years it has been delighting travellers to Wanaka and is an iconic viewpoint from the familiar lakefront. The best time to go is undoubtedly for sunrise. When the delicate sunlight glances over the mountains behind and begins to eliminate them a faint pink, before blazing the trees to
I picked a standard vantage point as I didn’t plan on getting anything special on this calm winter morning. I simply just wanted to be part of the spectacle. But the result was truly gorgeous and I’m so glad I rocked up at 6 am to witness it.
A suprise on my journey across the pass from Oamaru towards Wanaka. To my left, I suddenly spotted a scene from a dream and had to find a place to pull over immediately so I could hop out and enjoy the magic. The water was as still as a pond and such a perfect reflection was cast on the surface. I found myself getting lost in the captivating view as I quickly grabbed a few shots. Sometimes nature really does do all the work for you. Within minutes, a speedboat made its way across the lake and left ripples across the surface. My mirror lake was gone, and I was grateful to witness this fleetingly beautiful moment whilst it lasted.
Mount Taranaki is a sight to behold. 2518m of perfect symmetry. In winter it’s topped with a perfect little dusting of snow, which makes for the coveted reflection shot from the Puaki Tarn all that more majestic. It’s a slog of a hike up a few 1000 steps to reach the tarn, and most of it is below the bush line. But if you have the patience, or some witty pal to amble up the track and crack jokes to keep you entertained; the resulting view is worth it. Once you surface from the bush, it’s only a short distance to the Puaki Hut. Where you can have a nice cup of tea or a quick rest before pushing on for the last 20 minutes journey to the tarn.
Arriving for sunset is best, as the sun glides into the West illuminating Taranaki from the side. If you’re heading back down on the same day, it will mean you have to go back down in the dark. The track is well maintained and easily traversed with a good torch to brighten your way. Alternatively, spend the night at the cosy Puaki Hut and wake up for the spectacle of sunrise. Since the track is only another 20 minutes to reach the tarn from the hut, it’s a fabulous way to welcome in the day.
Getting the Shot
The hardest part of getting that dreamy shot of Taranaki mirror reflected in the tarn is capturing that beautiful still water. The easiest way to achieve the look is to time your arrival with a windless, clear day. But as we know, when you’re travelling things don’t always go as planned!
If you don’t manage to get all your ducks in a row, there are a couple of cheats.
An ND filter will go a long way in helping you keep the shutter open long enough to smooth out any ripples on the water or any sneaky clouds that roll on through.
Okay, this method doesn’t exactly give you that satisfying feeling of capturing a scene just right in camera. But unless you’re Cecil Beaton it doesn’t matter. These images are memories, and our camera rarely captures the true emotion of the scene at the time. Editing lets you turn a photograph into the image that sets your imagination on fire.
Milford Sound Milky Way