For an Australian landscape photographer there’s certainly no shortage of sand, sun and red dirt to shoot at home.
Yet after a couple of years of shooting mostly local scenery, I was desperate for some foreign inspiration. It finally came in the form of affordable flights and a two-week winter road trip around the South Island of New Zealand.
I joined fellow photographer and good mate Jesse as we toured through the country’s most famous mountain ranges, fjords, ski slopes and forest trails in search of the perfect photograph.
Our journey started in Christchurch, where we hired a trusty campervan and set off west towards the island's mountainous centre.
The weather those first few days was quite disappointing, but the gloom created a great atmospheric setting for this quintessential kiwi scene on the road to Mt Cook.
We arrived at Mt Cook just as the clouds started to break and booked the last scenic helicopter flight of the day to catch sunset over the mountaintops.
Our cameras didn’t get a second’s rest as we rose through the air and took in the best view of New Zealand’s highest peak. Our experienced pilot had a few stories to tell, including some from his days helping Peter Jackson film aerials for the Lord of the Rings movies!
After a hearty dinner in the Mt Cook valley, we noticed the skies were clearing up, so we decided to book our only night of the trip in a nearby hotel (avoiding an hour or two drive to the nearest campground). We were rewarded with a freezing, but gorgeous night in the valley under a full moon.
Our compass was set south to Queenstown and the weather appeared back on our side as we stopped just short of the town to capture the crisp frozen peaks of The Remarkables mountain range.
The range has become a famous backdrop to Queenstown and includes the Double Cone ski field, which comes alive with activity at this time of the year.
By nightfall the clouds had returned, but they proved to be a blessing as we woke to an ethereal sight of fresh snowfall across the town.
We carefully navigated the slippery streets in the early morning as the keenest skiers bristled with excitement at the opportunity of fresh powder on the mountains.
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After meeting some Aussie friends for a particularly raucous Tequila Tuesday night (made possible by Queenstown’s impressive bar scene), we decided to admire the skills of the more adventurous skiers and snowboarders at Snow Park NZ at Cardrona Alpine Resort.
The park features a variety of jumps, rails, freestyle sections and other jibs for practice. I positioned myself opposite to the sun on the biggest jump of the park and shot for almost 30 minutes before the shadow lined up perfectly on the beauty above!
With so many world-class activities and sights surrounding Queenstown, it’s easy to forget to sit back and soak up the actual town.
While its population is heavily touristic, Queenstown somehow invokes a thriving local community atmosphere, even during the busy ski season.
This shot was taken on a slow walk back up the hill to our campsite from the famed Fergburger restaurant. Try the Sweet Bambi burger (made with Fiordland deer) for something different!
Our number one priority for the trip was to drive out and take a cruise on Milford Sound. Unfortunately, the week's snowfall had blocked off the tunnel entrance.
We compensated with this scenic stop near the tunnel at Lake Gunn. It was hard to stay upset as our viewfinders were filled with crystal-clear reflections of snowy mountain peaks.
The area around Lake Gunn had some fantastic hiking options to keep us occupied and shooting for most of the day. We had the trails to ourselves and captured long exposure photos of aqua-blue stream waters.
Our setback at Milford Sound gifted us an extra day, which we decided to spend back in the "big city" of Christchurch.
After a quiet day of exploring, we drove up to Sugarloaf's peak and took in stunning views of the sun’s last light above the mountains and city lights below.
New Zealand is a perfect destination for road-trippers, photographers and nature lovers alike. I came back with a diverse and beautiful set of images to add to my portfolio, and an overwhelming lust to return and do it all again.