New Zealand is a big country with two bigger and a few smaller Islands somewhere in the south pacific. If you are not from Australia, it is far away from everything. It is the long journey there, but it is worth it. Besides a lot of nature and great landscapes there is also wildlife and cities to photograph. Because it is a big country you should plan enough time or just pick out some things. You do not really have a chance to see everything.
This article contains also a personal view. I was traveling for two months in New Zealand and have seen a lot but by far not everything. These tips should help you to make some choices and I will highlight some of the best things I have seen. Since New Zealand is so big, the list will not be completed.
1 – Clean Gear
Before you can enter New Zealand there will be a control of all your outdoor gear. New Zealand does not want to have foreign plants or diseases in the country. If you have used outdoor gear like shoes or tripods make sure it is clean and you will not have any trouble at the border. If you have gear that you have used in the water make sure it is absolutely dry. It is good if you have not used it for a few days before you enter New Zealand. You can find more at the homepage of New Zealands Biosecurity.
2 – Travel by Car
There are possibilities to go by public transport in New Zealand like trains or coaches, but as a photographer public transport is not a good option. If you have to travel long distances like from Auckland to Christchurch the best option will be an inland flight. As a photographer the best option is to take a vehicle. There are three good options, a car, a campervan and something in between. Cars are nice because you are flexible, but you have to find an accommodation for every night. Campervans are sometimes a bit bulky but you have your thinks always with you. Most times there are parking possibilities for camper vans on all the locations, but there is also a chance that you cannot stop with bigger campervan. You can also choose something in between, smaller vans where you can sleep in. You have not the comfort like in a bigger van (no kitchen or toilet). Sometimes these cars are prohibited at some camping grounds because they are not self-contained (no toilet), but you are more flexible with smaller vans. A lot of the locals travel with small campervans in New Zealand. As a photographer you should choose between these three options.
3 – Accommodation
As I mentioned earlier, if you go by a campervan you will not have trouble to find a place to sleep. Otherwise there are often cabins or small flats on the campgrounds that you can rent for a few nights. The campgrounds are usually good equipped and not so expansive. There are two good apps Campermate and Rankers where you can find a lot of campgrounds and ratings. An other option is to use AirBnB.
4 – Gear
In New Zealand you can nearly use all your photography gear. The country is big and versatility. From portrait to landscape and from street to underwater wildlife photography, there is something for everyone.
|Camera||Of course every photographer should bring his camera.|
|Second Camera||Good idea if you go to photography wildlife or are outdoors a lot. Sometimes it is good to have a second body with a different lens. There is also a good chance that your camera will get soaked in the rain.|
|Under Water Camera||If you have something like this you may be able to use it when you see marine life. Also good if you do some activities on the water, like kayaking.|
|Wide Angle Lens|
|Good for landscapes. The aperture should not be big for astro photography|
|Also good for landscapes or people.|
(70-200 or longer)
|Highly recommended if you want to photograph wildlife.|
|Teleconverter||Bring it. If you can extend you lens a bit, perfect for wildlife.|
|Tripod||Must have for New Zealand. Good for wildlife photography or if you want to photograph in the night or evening.|
|ND Filter||There is a lot of water on and around New Zealand. Nice if you can blur it a bit with an ND Filter.|
|Drone||Good for New Zealand, but prohibited on some places|
|Rain cover||A must have for New Zealand if you do not want to buy a new camera. I like the PeakDesign shell. It holds a lot of rain back.|
Drones are not really a problem to use in New Zealand but you have to pay attention. There are certain places where drones are prohibited. A good tool is the Airmap app where all official prohibited areas are marked. There are also a lot of local prohibited areas especially on the east and south coast of the south island. This is the breeding zone of the rare yellow eyed penguin. In nearly every breeding area drones are prohibited, keep an eye on this.
New Zealand is extremely versatile. From glaciers to volcanic islands there is everything. To give you a bit of an overview I will highlight a few regions and I hope you can
5 – Big towns
There are a few bigger towns in New Zealand. Some of them have even a historic centre. Not something that you can expect in Europe but there are definitely beautiful old buildings. In the next section I will highlight four cities are nice to visit.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and in the South of the North Island. There are a lot of nice buildings. If you are interested in architecture photography this is a good place. Beside of the “Beehive” the parliament building there are also other buildings.
If you come from the south island with the ferry do not miss the view to the sky line. From the boat you have probably the best view to the skyline.
Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city and in the north of the south island. It has an impressive skyline with a lot of skyscrapers from international companies. The tallest building is the Sky Tower and you can make really nice pictures from up there. The best view to the skyline is probably from the ferries which leave at the Downtown Ferry Terminal.
Auckland is great for architecture and street photography.
Christchurch is a town on the south island of New Zealand. The city was damaged by an earthquake back in 2011. You can still see some damaged buildings but the signs are slowly fading away. There are plenty of new buildings what is interesting for architecture photography. The city also includes the Banks Peninsula. It is a little populated place with the historic town of Akaroa and a lot of nature.
Dunedin is a town on the south island. At the end of the 18thcentury Dunedin was the biggest and richest city of New Zealand and you can still see it. There are a lot of impressive historic buildings from this time. The historic train station of from this time is one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.
The city also includes the Otago Peninsula. You can see there a lot of wildlife like seals or penguins. You can visit there the only albatross colony on mainland.
6 – Rotorua
Roturua is a volcanic active area on the north island. In this area you can see a lot of geothermal activity. Do not be afraid if you see some smoke coming out of the forest. It is probably a hot pool and what you see is not smoke, it is steam. There are a lot of interesting spots to visit which will follow later in this article. But the region itself is something that every photographer should visit when he comes to New Zealand. You can see geysers hot pools and lakes. It is like a part of Island but with forest.
7 – West coast
West Coast means the region New Zealand on the south island. The region is nearly the whole west coast of the south island. The interesting part for photographers starts at Hokitika and ends in Westport. There is always a bit haze in the air that makes the light soft and interesting for photographers. There are also a lot of cliffs and interesting rock structures at the coast. It is a really underestimated region. When you look for pictures of New Zealand you often do not see anything from this region beside the pancake rocks which follow later in this article. There are also fewer tourists than on the hotspots.
8 – Coromandel Peninsula
The Coromandel Peninsula is a peninsula on the north island not far from Auckland. There are a lot of people from Auckland which are coming on the weekends there. The climate is not too cold and there are some really nice beaches and cliffs. The most famous one is the cave at cathedral cove, the cathedral cave. But at this beach there are also othermore interesting rock formations from a photographers point. You can reach the beaches by a hike or by boat.
9 – Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a bay in the north of the north Island. It has some important places for New Zealand’s history like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Beside this it is a beautiful part of New Zealand with the historic town of Russel and a lot of marine life. In the bay itself you can see dolphins, sometimes little blue penguins or seals and sometimes even bigger marine live like whales and sharks. There are also a lot of interesting rock formations by the sea. I highly recommend a visit there but you should bring a bit of time. If you want to stay only one night there are other places that are better to visit.
10 – National Parks
10% of New Zealand is national park area. Most of the parks are on the south island but three of them are on the north island. The areas are often protected because the nature is so beautiful, what makes them interesting for photographers. Drones are prohibited in New Zealand’s national parks. Good for people looking for peace and quiet, bad for photographers. The only back is if you are on the ocean. In most of national parks the ocean does not count to the national park territory. In the following sections I will present a few of the national parks.
11 – Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
The Aoraki in Maroi or Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Around the mountain there is a national park which contains the high mountainous region in this area. It is a hotspot for landscape photography.
If you are a astro photographer you are here in the right place. In this region there is the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, one of the darkest places on earth.
12- Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park is a small national park in the north of the south island. The water is clear and blue and you can get really warm temperatures there. The best starting point to visit the national park is Marahau. You can visit the park by hiking and take a watertaxi that brings you to the best places. You can also rent a kayak or book a guided tour. The ocean around the national park is a protected area. This means there is a lot of marine wildlife to see, for example seals. The park looks great from up above, but keep the drone laws in mind. Close to the park there is the famous split apple rock.
13 – Mount Aspiring National Park
Mount aspiring National Park is in the centre of the south island near Queestown and Wanaka. There are a lot of Lord of the Rings filming locations in this area. The area around Isengard was shot in the valley behind Glenorchy. If you are in this area this is a great place to visit for landscape photographers.
14 – Westland National Park
The Westland National Park is a small national park on the west coast of the south island. In the national park there are the two famous glaciers Fox Glacier and Tasman Glacier. You can visit them by yourself but if you want go close and climb on the glacier you have to book a guided tour. There are also options to visit the glacier by helicopters.
This region is a very wet place with a lot of rain so you need a bit of luck with the weather or some time to wait for the good weather. If you go there to photograph I highly recommend a good rain cover for your camera.
If you are interested in wildlife photography a good spot is the Okarito Lagoon. Okarito is a small village but at the lagoon you can see a lot of local birds, for example the only New Zealand breeding area of the eastern great egret, an important bird for the Maori.
15 – Fjordland National Park
Fjordland National Park is in the south west of the south island and famous for, who would have thought it, its fjords. The park is directly at the sea and it is one of the rainsiest places in the world. This has an impact on the vegetation, most of the forests are temperate rainforest and really green. There are some famous spots like Milford and Doubtful Sound or the Kepler Track. There are also some high mountain ranges which you can visit if you go to Milford sound. If you go there bring a rain cover for your camera and sand fly protection.
16 – Tongariro National Park
The last national park I want to mention is the Tongariro National Park in the middle of the north island. It is a volcanic area with some beautiful lakes and volcano crates. The park is known for a seven hour hike through the moonscape of the volcanoes. But you have to keep an eye on the weather. It is a really great spot for landscape photographers. In the winter there is also a skiing area. Some of the scenes of Lord of the Rings Mordor have been filmed here. The Mount Ngauruhoe is famous because it was Mount Doom in the movies.
There are a lot of famous spots in New Zealand, some are in the regions that I have mentioned earlier and I want to highlight them specially, others are somewhere else.
17 – Nugget point
Nugget Point is a rock formation with a lighthouse in the south of Dunedin. There are some impressive cliffs. The nuggets are some rocks that are in front of the lighthouse. In the evening you can also see penguins in the bays if you are lucky.
18 – Keas at Homer Pass
Keas are endemic mountain parrots in New Zealand. A good spot to see them is on the Homer Pass to the Milford Sound on the Te Anau side before the tunnel. You can stop on one of the parking lots near the street and look for them. The birds are really curious and you should keep an eye on your car if they are around because they can damage it.
19 – Milford Sound
Milford Sound is at the Fjordland National Park. For photographers I recommend to stay there over night for sunset and sunrise. Rooms or campground places should be booked at least two or three days in advanced, in the high season way earlier. Milford Sound is one of the places with the most rain on earth. You should also make a tour with a boat. If you sleep there you can make one in the morning, there are less people than later.
Milford Sound is hard to photograph because you need a bit luck with the weather. Most time there is rain or at least clouds. As far as I know the best time for photographers is the winter when the sky is clear from time to time.
And to give an answer you may ask if you go by car, there are gas station, one on the way and one in the Milford Sound Village, but they are really expansive. So fill your tank in Te Anau, no matter how full it is.
20 – Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a small historic gold mining town near Queenstown. The houses look like in the wild west and you can think you are in a American town. The town is very touristic but I think it is much nicer than Queenstown. There are a few Lotr film locations near the town, the Gladden Fields and the ford of Bruinen. It is a nice area especially in the autumn when the leaves turn yellow.
21 – Roys Peak
The Roys Peak lookout is one of the most spectacular and famous photo spots in New Zealand. The view over the Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps is amazing. You can get even at bright day light really good photos. The only bad thing is, that you have to hike up there. The whole hike up to the Roys Peak and back is about 6 hours and full of people. There must also be a possibility to sleep somewhere up there but I did not found any information about that. The lookout is at the second toilet about 1 km before the top. For more information check out the DOC website.
22 – Wanaka Three
The Wanaka thee is a three in the water of Lake Wanaka and probably the most photographed three in the World. You can reach it easily from Wanaka by foot, there is also a parking lot near the three. If you are able to capture a completely new composition you are probably a genius, there are always photographers at this spot.
23 – Moeraki Boulders
The Moreaki Boulders are some ball-shaped rocks at a beach near Moeraki. There is nothing else to see beside these rocks but there are always a lot of photographers.
24 – Church of the Good Shepherd
The Church of the Good Shepherd is probably the most photographed church in New Zealand. The church is near the Lake Tekapo. This area is famous for the dark night sky (see 11).
25 – Split Apple Rock
The Split Apple Rock is a big ball-shaped rock near the Tasman National Park somewhere between Kaiteriteri and Marahau. You can rent a canoe at in these two towns and visit the rock from the water.
26 – Mount Taranaki
Mount Taranaki is a volcano on the North Island. The volcano is isolated from other mountains and stands in the middle of the flat country. The nice shape makes it to a perfect photo location.
27 – Hobbiton
If you a photographer and a fan of Lord of the Rings this is a must do. All the tours are guided but you will have enough time to photograph everything. The movie set was completely new build for the Hobbit movies. Everything was build that it looks good in high resolution movies, which makes the whole film set a great photo location. If you want a picture with bag and the sun you have to go in the morning.
28 – Wai-O-Tapu
The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is one of the best photo locations in New Zealand. In the whole area is geothermal activity. Steam comes everywhere out of the ground. The most beautiful place there is the Champagne Pool with blue water and red edges.
29 – Whakarewarewa
Whakarewarewa is a Maori village near Rotorua. The Maori there live with the geothermal activity. Steam comes out of the ground everywhere and gives the whole village a surreal look. Because there live actually people in the village you should be careful what you photograph and respect the visiting hours.
30 – Glow Worm Caves
There are some caves in New Zealand where you can watch glow worms. The most famous is the Waitomo Cave. The Waitomo Cave is a really bad option for photographers. You are strictly guided and cannot use your tripod. Photographing is prohibited until you are close to the end, but you will not get any good photos without a tripod. Look for free options where you can photograph how you like. There glow worm caves near Whangarei, Manawatu, Hokitika or Kakahi.
31 – Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
The filming locations from Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are all around New Zealand. Some are even in the middle of Wellington. There are books where all the filming locations are listed but I do not like them. If you are interested in photographing some spots you should use some free Google Maps for LotR and the Hobbit.
Things to photograph
There are a lot of things to photograph in New Zealand but I think there are a few things you should not miss.
32 – Moutains
This is quite an obvious one. The mountains of New Zealand are really spectacular. But you should keep looking for good compositions when you are driving around. I missed good compositions because I thought there will be better ones.
33 – Roads
The roads in New Zealand are often spectacularly built, sometimes for miles through the rainforest, sometimes high above a cliff coast. One lane bridges are widely used. You should take some pictures of the roads. A drone is the best camera for this.
34 – Silver Fern
The silver fern plays an important role in New Zealand culture. The plant is widespread on both islands. The plant is widespread on both islands and easy to recognize on the silver underside of the leaves. Do not forget to take a photo of this plant.
35 – Night sky
The night sky in New Zealand is one of the most amazing things. The light pollution is low and the air is clear. This makes New Zealand, especially the South Island, to one of the best astrophotography places in the world. Do not miss this.
Wildlife photography has two sides in New Zealand. There are no native land mammals but many marine animals. Birds are all around in New Zealand.
36 – Seal colonies
There are a lot of seal colonies around the south island of New Zealand. You can also spot them on some places at the North Island. Most of them are New Zealand fur Seals. There are some colonies that you can easily reach. At Moeraki are two where you can take good photos. One is at Moreaki, close to the town at Katiki Point. Another that is good to photograph is at Cape Foulwind at the west coast. Keep in mind that these are wild animals. You should always keep a safe distance (20m) and never stand between the animal and the sea. More information are on the DOC website.
37 – Dolphins
There are a lot of different dolphins in the water around New Zealand. You can spot them all around New Zealand. Hot spots where you can book guided tours to swim with them are Kaikoura or Bay of Islands. The rules for guided dolphin tours are very strict in New Zealand. It is a good idea to bring a water resistant camera with you. Another place where you can see dolphins very close is Curio Bay down in the south of the south island. In the bay are Hector's dolphins. I heard you can hit stones in the water, which attracts the dolphins, but I was not able to try it by myself.
38 – Birds
There are a lot of different birds in New Zealand. You can see everything from penguins to parrots. Some birds are endemic, some are introduced. Compared to the size of the country, however, the diversity of species is rather low. If you are interested in birds I can recommend the book «Which New Zealand Bird» by Andrew Crowe.
39 – Penguins
There are two different species of penguins in New Zealand, the yellow-eyed and the little blue. They are both not really big. The little penguins are the smallest penguins. The yellow-eyed penguin can be found on the west and south coast of the south island. It is rare and protected. I have seen only one at dusk when I was not able to take a decent photo but a friend of mine has seen one in the middle of the day. Also the little blues are sometimes hard to find. During the day they are on the ocean. They leave around sunrise and come back around sunset, but there are some colonies where you can watch them coming back from the sea.
40 – Albatrosses
If you are near Dunedin you can visit the royal albatross centre, on the Otago Peninsula. It is the only land based albatross colony in the world. It is a bit hard to photograph there because you can visit the nests only through a tinted window, bring at least a 400mm lens an a small tripod. If you are lucky you can see breeding albatrosses, little chicks or a feeding adult. You have also a good chance to see a flying one around the centre. It is also possible to book a guided tour in Kaikoura.
41 – Tui and Fantail
Tuis and Fantails are local birds in New Zealand. Outside New Zealand you don't hear much about it, but New Zealand itself is very proud of it. Do not miss to take a photo of these birds.
42 – Kea
The Kea is an endemic mountain parrot in New Zealand. It is very curious and comes close to people. A very good place to see and photograph them is at Homer Pass on the way to Milford Sound on the Te Anau site. Be not like me and miss the opportunity.
43 – Kiwis
The Kiwi is the most famous bird of New Zealand. To photography it is very hard. Kiwis are night active. At the places where kiwis are kept in captivity, photography is mostly forbidden to protect the birds from flashes. There are some places where you can do guided tours at night. Do not expect to come home with a photo of a kiwi.
44 – Time of the Year
If you want to go to New Zealand, keep in mind that you go to the southern hemisphere, the seasons are swapped. If you come from the winter in North America you go to the summer in New Zealand. New Zealand is not the warmest country. You can have really cold nights; keep this information in mind if you want to go camping. There are also some ski areas in New Zealand’s mountain, which means there can be a lot of snow in the winter. The main traveling time is the summer. The campgrounds are often booked and the rates for rental cars are the highest.
45 – Weather Apps
There are some weather apps that can help you. The MetService is the state owned weather service. The locals sometimes make fun of it, but I have found the data to be basically reliable. The two apps I can recommend, the normal weather forecast and the marine app where you can see the tides.
46 – rgps app
Another app to travel is the RGPS App where you can find a lot of good photo spots around New Zealand. Unfortunately it is only available for iOS.
47 – Mobile Data
If you are traveling to New Zealand as a photographer you probably need mobile data to share some photos, check the weather or back up things. The wifi on the campgrounds are sometimes free but often you have to pay for it. You can also buy a travel SIM card. I can recommend Spark. They have different plans for travellers but in every plan there is 1GB free wifi per day included. The wifi spots are all around the country and often close to campgrounds.
48 – Instagram
to give you an insight into other views of New Zealand I recommend the following Instagram accounts