New Zealand may be one of the world’s most isolated nations but this has not prevented it becoming one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. A variety of volcanic, thermal, alpine, forest and coastline scenery abound in addition to the appeal of skiing, jet boating, white water rafting, bungee jumping, and bush walking. For photography, Queenstown in New Zealand is an absolute gem.


Gondola Heights ““ a visit to Queenstown is never complete without the cable car ascent to Gondola Heights. Certainly it’s all routine picture making from the viewing platforms but the scenery is irresistible, more so if there is snow on the Remarkable Mountain range. Also consider a dusk visit when the lights of the town have just switched on.

Where is it?

New Zealand is an island country located in the south western Pacific Ocean around 2000km south east of Australia. Queenstown is located at the southern end of the South Island.

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Getting there/getting around

Many international airlines offer flights to Queenstown.

Once there, car/campervan is the best way to travel around New Zealand because you can linger, move on or circle back to locations at your own pace.

Most campervan and car hire organizations provide maps, travel brochures, listings for accommodation, camping grounds and Department of Conservation (DOC) camping sites. Some will also include or hire out a GPS.

Most of the DOC camping areas have only basic facilities however they are relatively inexpensive and are often close to good photo locations.


Paradise ““ Paradise by name and in many respects paradise by nature for here is a truly delightful area with farmlands adjacent to the Dart River and majestic mountains as a backdrop. Autumn is probably the best time with ample colour, early snow falls and often a good chance of morning mists.

What Gear to take?

Cameras and Lenses

The best advice is to keep things simple and don’t burden yourself with too many lenses.

General purpose zoom lenses are ideal for travel but be aware than the greater the wide angle perspective the greater the prospective barrel distortion.

If you want to concentrate on landscapes you may find a fixed focal length lens, for example a 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) works well. For nature studies a mid telephoto of moderate weight should be adequate.

Take a second camera body or at least a small camera capable of providing the quality you need.


A tripod can be a photographer’s most used accessory, especially in New Zealand. Taking a tripod in your main luggage will mean finding one just the right size and weight to fit, stable but light and compact enough to carry all day.

When you see tourists using flimsy tripods with wobbly, 5-6 section legs you wonder why they bother at all. Your tripod must be strong and sturdy and, if possible, be able to support your camera at eye level.

Of course there are ways of helping out with lighter weight tripods, like suspending rocks or bags of sand under the tripod to give it strength.

Another recommended practice is to set the camera to a shutter delay to assist in minimizing any camera shake associated with just pressing the shutter release. If you have stabilized lenses check the manual to see if the stabilizer should be switched off when working from a tripod.

Storage and Back up

Taking a small laptop or netbook computer plus a USB-powered hard drive on longer trips is usually a good idea, even though it adds weight to your carry-on baggage.

A portable external hard disk drive will provide facilities for backing up shots as you travel. It can be packed in a different bag from your laptop to minimise the risk of losing your images if the laptop is lost or stolen.

Camera Bag

A backpack is the ideal way to carry all your camera gear. It goes with you as cabin luggage and should be of a size and weight to make it comfortable to carry all day.

Look for a backpack that allows quick access to the contents and pockets that can be used for a water bottle, waterproof poncho, LED light, safety whistle, passport and perhaps a small food pack.

An air-tight and waterproof plastic container is an ideal way to store and carry all manner of digital camera accessories, including USB cables, battery chargers, inverter, USB cards, and camera instruction books.

Wet Weather Gear

You cannot expect to complete a trip to New Zealand without experiencing some wet and miserably cold days.

If ever there was a ‘must have’ photographic accessory it would be a waterproof poncho. This inexpensive item will cover both you and the backpack, and it folds up small enough to fit into a backpack pocket.

A pair of waterproof leggings might also be considered. They slip on quickly and in tandem with the poncho make a complete waterproof kit.

Decent walking boots are a must for New Zealand, as are some small towels or soft cloths to keep you and your camera gear dry.


Shotover Jet boat ““ the Shotover River jet boat adventure is world famous. Taking a camera on the boat is not recommended but from the starting point you can try your hand at recording the action. Try variations from very high shutter speeds to panning along with a slow shutter speed. Allow plenty of space in front of the boat in the picture frame.

Specific Places to Visit

Queenstown has developed into a major tourist destination where a whole host of attractions draw many thousands of visitors each year.

For the adventure seeker there are experiences like jet boating, white water rafting, skiing and bungee jumping.


Bungee jumping ““ New Zealand is famous for bungee jumping. At the historic bridge on the Kawarau River you can practice taking shots just about all day as people take a dive from the bridge.

For the photographer who prefers a gentler pace chasing the landscape, then a day or two in old goldfield areas or centered around Glenorchy can be beneficial.


Sylvan Forest  ““  the forest around Lake Sylvan was logged many years ago. It has remained “open” in the sense there is little undergrowth thereby making camera work all the easier. The DOC camping ground is a convenient base camp adjacent to the fast flowing Routeburn River and is only a swing bridge crossing from the forest.

This is very much “Lord of the Rings” countryside. Places to visit near Glenorchy include the start of the famous Routeburn Track, the circuit walk at Sylvan Lake, the Rees Valley and the drive past Diamond Lake and Paradise to the end of the track along the Dart River.  


Dart River ““ take the road past Paradise as far as it goes to Chinaman’s Bluff on the Dart River and not only enjoy the route but also the open valley and bush walk at the end.

The Dart River road involves several creek crossings and the use of a vehicle with good ground clearance. Never attempt to cross a stream in flood.

Glenorchy has a range of accommodation while the DOC camp grounds at Dart River and Sylvan Lake will have you right on prime photo locations.


Lake Wakitipu ““ the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy goes along the side of Lake Wakitipu. There are several high vantage view points and some pleasant picnic spots such as the 25 mile Creek crossing.


Earnslaw ““ the steamship “Earnslaw” makes several trips a day on Lake Wakitipu.

This is article is extract from New Zealand: A Photographer’s Guide  by Trevern and Anna Dawes – a comprehensive guide to New Zealand’s best photographic locations, with advice on when and where to go, and featuring more than 150 superb images from around the country.
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