Top 10 New Zealand Landscape Photography Locations

New Zealand landscape photography

Exploring New Zealand landscape photography locations unveils a tapestry of natural wonders waiting to be captured through the lens.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

For a country so small – around 10% larger than the UK, the same size as Colorado but half that of France – New Zealand boasts an incredible diversity of beautiful landscapes. It is a landscape photographer’s paradise.

Among the endless list of places to see, there are, of course, very many hidden gems which you may not find without the help of a local, but also what we like to call our ‘crown jewels.’

These unmissable and iconic locations should be on any visiting photographer’s bucket list. Here are ten of them to get you started!

1. Archway Islands, Wharariki Beach

On the remote northwestern tip of the South Island, Wharariki Beach is mostly deserted at the end of the day. An easy twenty-minute walk from the car park, the ‘arches’ of the rocks only become visible as you walk further down the beach.

new Zealand landscape photography locations

At high or mid-tide, you should see the islands reflecting in the shallow water, or at low tide, the shapes and patterns carved by the receding water. This is a year-round sunset shot, and you should take a head torch to find your way back off the beach when it gets dark.

A standard zoom lens such as a 24-70mm or 24-105mm is ideal for this location. Take a tripod for long exposures at sunset, and perhaps a polarizer or neutral density filter.

Read more: Long Exposure Photography – Creative Landscapes with a Slow Shutter

2. Lake Matheson, Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Formed by a giant slab of ice left behind as Fox Glacier retreated inland after the last ice age, Lake Matheson’s tannin-rich brown water creates perfect mirror-like reflections of New Zealand’s two highest mountain peaks – Mount Tasman and Aoraki-Mount Cook.

Sunrise and sunset can both be enjoyed here, but there is usually a much better chance of clear, windless conditions in the morning than in the evening. The stillness and quiet of the break of day are serene and simply beautiful to witness.

New Zealand landscape photography

The best time to visit is late autumn to late winter, when there is plenty of snow on the peaks and weather conditions are most stable.

A 50mm lens is all you’ll need to capture this iconic postcard view from Reflection Island, about 40 minutes walk under a canopy of rainforest, from the car park. Enjoy an excellent breakfast at the Matheson Café afterwards!

Read more: How to Improve Your Lake Photography

3. Lake Pukaki, Mackenzie Country

The glacial blue color of Lake Pukaki on the central South Island and the snow-capped mountain peaks around it are incredibly alluring at any time of the year. At the northern end, Mount Cook dominates the landscape, appearing to float on the water.

There are a number of roadside pull-outs from which to photograph the scene, but our favorite is just off highway 8 at Haymans Road, in the southeast corner of the lake where the highway turns inland.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

Mount Cook is actually some 60km distant, so a telephoto lens is recommended for the close-in view of this iconic scene if you’re hoping to photograph it from this location.

Of course, there are days when the high peaks are shrouded in cloud. But be patient! The weather can change in the blink of an eye here, and if you’re willing to wait it out, you may walk home with the shot you’re looking for.

Read more: How to Take Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens

4. Aoraki-Mount Cook

Whether seen from a distance or close up, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3,742m (12,277ft), and it is truly a majestic sight.

It is located in Mount Cook National Park in Canterbury, which forms part of one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the South Island.

Among our favorite spots from which to photograph the peak is the Hooker Valley track, which is one of our most popular day hikes for hiking photography.

After crossing two swing bridges and some 45 minutes into the walk, you arrive at the Hooker River where the mountain appears right in front of you. Continuing along the track for another 45 minutes, you’ll arrive at Hooker Lake, in front of the glacier terminal face.

New Zealand photography locations

Icebergs float in the water during the winter months.

Most views of Mount Cook are from the south looking north, so it’s best to be there early in the morning for sunrise or in the early evening an hour or so before sunset to avoid the bright light of the day.

Dawn sunlight illuminates the eastern face of the mountain, often casting a beautiful pink glow below the snow-covered peak, and the azure blue water of Lake Pukaki offers a stunning color contrast.

Shoot from a distance with a 70-200mm lens or similar, or from a closer roadside vantage point with a standard 24-70mm or 24-105mm zoom.

5. Milford Sound

The only road-accessible fjord in Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most popular visitor destination. The drive from the town of Te Anau is spectacular, and nowhere more so than on the far side of the Homer Tunnel looking down the massive Cleddau Valley.

This area is among the wettest on earth, with over seven meters of rainfall every year, and when it does rain, the valley is filled with hundreds of waterfalls cascading over the near-vertical granite rock faces.

This is a spectacular sight of nature’s power and rugged beauty and provides a fantastic array of photographic opportunities.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

There are not very many safe places to stop around here, but there is an overlook pull-out on the way down from the tunnel where the views around you are spectacular.

You can take a daytime boat trip out into the Sound, but our favorite spot for photographing is along the foreshore boardwalk, either at sunset or sunrise.

Low-hanging cloud between the peaks creates a mysterious, moody, serene scene which is far more compelling than that seen in fine weather! The scene particularly lends itself to a wide panorama composition.

Dress for rain, take insect repellent, and be patient, as the conditions change very rapidly here.

Read more: How to Shoot Landscape Panoramas Handheld

6. Lake Ohau

One of the lesser-visited lakes in the high country, Lake Ohau is only fifteen minutes south of Twizel to the highway turn-off, but very fruitful in terms of photographic opportunities. It lies in the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island, parallel to Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

This location offers a playground of braided rivers, winding roads, tarns, the lake itself, mountains on both sides of the valley, a view of Mount Cook on a clear day and many more reasons to stop, so you should ideally allow an entire day.

There are accommodation places here and a well-recognized and awarded ski field. Shoulder seasons and winter work best for this area.

7. The Nevis Valley

Off the tourist track, the Nevis Valley is a remote backcountry area with a history of gold mining. A 4×4 vehicle is needed to negotiate the dirt road and a number of fords along it, but the rewards for the landscape photographer are spectacular.

From Duffers Saddle, the highest point on the New Zealand road network, you are treated to a magnificent view of the Remarkables range and rock tors, which are dotted all over the hillside.

New Zealand landscape photography

Into the valley you may spot the Nevis Tree, and further along again, the old mining settlement with its quirky cottages and river views.

Prior to sunset, low-hanging cloud and mist can add an eerie mood to the Valley, making for stunning photography.

Read more: How to Use Focus Stacking for Landscape Photography

8. The Catlins

On the southeastern side of the South Island lies the Catlins, one of the most beautiful South Island regions; remote, sparsely populated, and boasting beautiful, deserted sandy beaches and coves.

An incredibly appealing feature for photographers is the number of picturesque waterfalls hidden away in the rainforest, all within easy reach of each other and just a short walk from the highway.

New Zealand landscape photography

Koropuku, McLean, Matai, and Purakaunui falls are our favorites. Take a tripod and neutral density filter with you to capture the movement of the water, and try to avoid breezy days when the moving tree foliage may spoil a long exposure.

Read more: The Essential Guide to Filters for Landscape Photography

9. Wainui Bay

Wainui Bay is found in Golden Bay, in the Tasman Region of the South Island, or “Top of the South” as it is known. One of many wonderful and seemingly deserted beaches in Golden Bay, this one, in particular, is a favorite as it is so easily accessible.

The gorgeous aqua tones of the water, rich orange sand, green trees, and blue sky are stunning when combined in an image. It is easily reached, at just thirty minutes out from the nearest township of Takaka.

Low tide provides some texture on the beach and the opportunity to walk around the rock formations to the left of the bay.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

An easy walk inland from Wainui Bay takes you to the cascading Wainui Falls, the largest and most accessible waterfall in the area, and well worth a visit to photograph.

More adventurous hikers can join the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, offering stunning views of golden beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush coastal rainforest.

Travel light! A standard zoom lens and a lightweight tripod are ideal when exploring this area.

Read more: How to Photograph Seascapes

10. Rotorua

Once considered the heart of the tourist diamond, Rotorua is set on the geothermal belt of the North Island and is renowned for its plethora of adventure activities on offer, its geothermal features, and rich Māori culture. It also offers a myriad of photographic opportunities.

Geothermal activity provides mood and mist in the landscape, and the forest of giant Redwood trees is a must-see photography location.

New Zealand landscape photography locations

Be sure to seek out one or two of the waterfalls in the area: Tarawera Falls, Huka Falls, Kaiate Falls, and McLaren Falls are all within easy reach of Rotorua and easy to access.

You can also include a visit to a hot water swimming hole at Kerosene Creek, not just to photograph but also to soak in!

In conclusion

Few countries enjoy the diversity of landscapes packed into such a relatively small land area as we do in New Zealand.

As well as soaring mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, rivers, forests, and golden beaches, we also boast a spectacular star-filled night sky, little light pollution away from the handful of larger cities, little traffic, and a particular passion for the great outdoors, which makes photographing here such a joy, year-round.

To explore everything on offer is a lifetime’s work, and we could easily list a top 100 of must-see places.

As with any travel photography, the secret is good planning, and there are now plenty of resources available to help photographers maximize their time and opportunities when visiting this beautiful land.

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