New Zealand – A Photographer’s Dream

I had the opportunity at the end of 2013 to re-visit New Zealand for three week self-drive holiday and take a wide range of photos. Since New Zealand is on the ‘bucket list’ of many photographers, I thought I would share some thoughts on which areas of the country provide some of the best photographic opportunities. All of these suggestions are based on personal experience, having spent about 6 weeks driving thousands of kilometers throughout the country on a couple of different trips.

Moeraki #2

Cameras used and set-up

I used my Nikon D800, hand-held, for all of my landscape images, primarily with my Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 VR and 16-35 f/4 VR. I expected stellar performance from the Nikkor 16-35 f/4 and it certainly delivered, and the 24-85 VR was surprisingly good. To limit the effects of diffraction with the D800 I shot in aperture priority at f/8 most of the time. This also helped with edge and corner sharpness with the 24-85 VR. I kept my camera settings simple and used auto white balance and 51-point autofocus. To make the most of the outstanding dynamic range and color depth of the D800’s sensor I shot at ISO 100 whenever possible and seldom shot at anything higher than ISO 400. I found the resulting RAW files were rich with details and gave me great flexibility when processing through Adobe Photoshop CS6 with Nik plug-ins and DxOMark Optics Pro 8. I did face the odd circumstance, in dark forested areas for example, where I needed to shoot at ISO 3200 (see Haast Highway sloping tree image) and I was extremely satisfied with the low-light performance of the D800.

Bird/Nature Photography

The majority of my bird shots were done with my Nikon 1 V2 using an FT-1 adapter and my Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR and TC-17E II teleconverter. This set-up gave me an equivalent field of view of 918mm at f/6.7. It was very lightweight and easy to handle, and was an ideal set-up to shoot the many small birds in New Zealand where added reach is a real bonus. For birds in flight I switched to my D800 as my V2 set up did not focus quickly enough at f/6.7. To limit diffraction I shot my Nikon 1 V2 in aperture priority at f/6.7, and used the 160-800 ISO range setting to reduce the amount of noise created by the V2’s small CX sensor. For most bird images I used spot metering, auto white balance, and continuous auto focus. Here are a few shots, including a rather startling image of two bull sea lions with a bloodied female in the background over which they had been fighting.

Bird #2

Bird #1

Nature

My “Baker’s Dozen” Landscape Photography Location Picks

Having driven many thousands of kilometers in New Zealand during a couple of three-week trips I do have some locations that I feel should be on the ‘must see’ list of most photographers. In my view these 13 areas are the most beautiful, scenic and interesting spots I came across during my travels. They are listed in alphabetical order…I’d have a real challenge trying to rank order them otherwise!

1) Bay of Islands (North Island)

Semi-tropical area with many beach/island scenes. Great location for sunrise and sunset beach scenes. This is one of the best areas in New Zealand to do a dolphin watching/swimming cruise. You likely won’t be allowed to swim with the dolphins if they have very young calves, but the family pods get very close to the tour boat and you can get some fantastic shots/video of dolphins swimming. And, by close…I mean close…we could easily hear the young calves breathing. (please excuse the quality of this photo it is from my first trip to New Zealand 9 years ago).

Bay of Islands

2) Coastal Drive – Westport to Frans Joseph (South Island)

Sensational scenery all the along this coast. Rugged, craggy, lush. Be sure to stop at all of the overlooks…you won’t be disappointed. Highlights include Cape Foulwind with its sea lion colony, and the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Allow at least 2 full days to do this coast…and more time if your schedule will allow.

Cape Foulwind

3) Coromandel Peninsula (North Island)

This peninsula has a wide range of scenery from rolling meadows to thick forests. The shorelines can be quite rugged, often of volcanic rock, and can make for some very unique and interesting shots. You will also have many opportunities in the remote coastal areas to take photos of sea birds like black shags, little shags, oyster catchers, and white-faced heron. One day to circle the peninsula is pretty tight. Allowing at least 2 days will do it justice.

Coromandel

4) Highway 6 Drive: Wanaka/Lake Wanaka/Lake Hawea (South Island)

Simply breathtaking. Outstanding mountain/lake scenery at almost every turn. Beautiful wildflowers and other flora. You can easily spend a half day or more on this single stretch of road. If you’re going to plan some sunset/sunrise shots plan for a couple of days in this area.

Highway 6 Drive

5) Haast Highway (South Island)

Snaking along the Haast River this stretch of two-lane road was opened in 1965. If you have time, be sure you include some of the water features along this stretch including the Blue Pools of Haast, Thunder Creek Falls, and Fantail Falls to name a few. They are all easily accessible off the main road with fairly short hikes. Some of the forest walks to reach the water features are beautiful in their own right with huge, gnarled trees, mosses, etc. You’ll need a fast telephoto to capture the many small birds in the branches and bushes as the overhead canopies can be quite thick. The road is very tight with lots of sharp turns and there are very few places to safely pull off, so take advantage of all of the overlooks and pull-off areas to make the most of the photo opportunities.

Haast Highway #1

Haast Highway #2

6) Huangshi Chinese Garden at Queens Gardens – Nelson (South Island)

With the Abel Tasman National Park just to the west of Nelson you may be visiting this area anyway for its various boat tours, hiking, and scenic vistas. The Huangshi Chinese Garden was an unexpected gem that we stumbled on by accident more than anything else. Very serene spot that will soothe your soul. Be sure to bring your bird/wildlife camera to this locale…you may be able to capture shots of the little shags nesting high in the pine trees, the numerous ducks in the ponds, and many small, colorful birds in the trees and gardens. A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon and get some memorable images to boot.

Huangshi

7) Milford Sound (South Island)

A cruise up the sound will reveal beautiful fiord scenery, some wildlife like sea lions, fur seals and sea birds, and some rock walls so colorful they will challenge your perceptions of reality. To add even more photo opportunities, try flying into Milford Sound from Queenstown. You’ll be in a small Cessna or something similar, and flying between the mountain peaks and up mountain valleys…so it’s not for the faint-of-heart…but quite an experience! Visits to Milford Sound are typically single day affairs as it is very remote and difficult to get in and out. Kayaking/camping adventures can extend your stay here (please excuse the quality of this 9 year-old digital image from my first trip to New Zealand).

Milford Sound

8) Moeraki Boulders (South Island)

Situated on the east coast these colorful rocks look like some giant dropped them out of the sky and onto the beach. As the rocks have eroded from wave action over time many of them have split open and reveal bright colors. You’ll need to coordinate the time your visit with low tide to make sure you can get up close to the boulders. It also can be quite busy, especially from mid-December to early March so you’ll need to be very creative to find ways of framing your shots to eliminate people in them. There’s not much else in the immediate area so if you want a good variety of shots a couple of hours to a half day should suffice. To capture the rocks at different tide levels, or trying to do sunrise/sunset shots will obviously necessitate a full day visit.

Moeraki #1

9) Mount Cook National Park (South Island)

A hikers’ paradise. Great trails and outstanding mountain scenery. If you have your heart set on some mountain shots with a sun drenched backdrop you may want to plan for a few days at this spot as the peak is quite often shrouded in clouds and/or fog. Some of the hikes can take several hours or more, others like the one to Kea Point are about an hour each way and definitely worth the physical effort.

Mount Cook

10) Napier – Art Deco Trust (North Island)

For folks interested in architecture this is a great place to visit. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake back in 1931 and the city now has the world’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings. All you really need to do is spend a few dollars on a self-guide tour map to have a great afternoon, or possibly even a full day afternoon wandering the Art Deco Trust and taking a plethora of photographs.

Napier #1

Napier #2

11) Pancake Rocks – Punakaiki (South Island)

Unique oceanfront rock formations with spectacular features carved by wave and wind erosion. It is sometimes hard to hit this spot on a nice sunny day as the West Coast of New Zealand can be quite rainy (it was raining during both of my visits), but the formations are spectacular none-the-less. If your camera is not weather-proof, be sure to pack a protective sleeve with your gear. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours here. This location is a part of the coastal drive from Westport to Frans Joseph and worth a mention on its own merits.

Pancake Rocks

12) Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive (South Island)

Beautiful mountain/lake scenery with a number of scenic pull-offs and overlooks. Plan for a half day at least to do this segment. The wildflowers along this stretch can be spectacular as well, making for some wonderful foreground details in your photos. There is nothing between Queenstown and Glenorchy in terms of restaurants or gas stations so plan accordingly….and you’ll have to turn around after you hit Glenorchy as the road is basically a dead-end past that point.

Queesntown to Glenorchy

13) Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – Rotarua (North Island)

Volcanic area with bubbling mud pools, interesting forest walkways leading to thermal pools, and the spectacular Champagne Pool. You can walk all of the 3 kms of trails in about an hour and a half, plus any time you need to spend actually taking photos. If you are into bird photography look for the pied stilts close to the thermal pools, and in the woods adjacent to the bubbling mud pools you can often spot fantails and other birds.

Wai-o-tapu #1

Wai-o-tapu #2

So, that’s my ‘Baker’s Dozen’…13 spots to take photographs in New Zealand…there are tons of other opportunities in this wonderfully scenic country but I’d highly recommend giving these serious consideration. To see more samples of the landscape images I took in New Zealand click on this YouTube link.

Article and all images and videos are Copyright 2013/2014 Thomas Stirr. Used with permission by PhotographyLife.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Mikael Borg
    February 1, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Hello Thomas!

    Amazing nature images and very inspiring text about your experience of the country.

    I’ve also been to NZ (12 years ago), but I was only able to stay there for 4 days – on the Norten Island. (That was during a period when I was working on a flight company – but also after I’ve ended as a constructor on Hasselblad).

    The landscape on NZ reminds of Norway but also little, little to Sweden – where I live. Your images once again gave me inspiration (and a dream) to return and see much more of what I missed – but Norway is closer for a Swede…

    I have worked with both Nikon (and of course Hasselblad) equipment for over 40 years but nowdays I mostly take my little Sony mirrorless cameras with me – also when I travel.

    The times they are a changin…

    Regards
    Mikael Borg

    • 2
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 1, 2014 at 4:26 am

      Hi Mikael,

      Thank you very much for your kind words….very much appreciated. My daughter went to Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland on holidays last year and when I saw some her photos I immediately thought of parts of New Zealand as well…..so I can really relate to your comments about the similarities!

      New Zealand is a unique destination….its like having almost the entire world (other than tropical jungles) on two islands in terms of the types of landscapes available to shoot.

      Best,
      Tom

  2. 3
    ) Al Bundy
    February 1, 2014 at 5:42 am

    So many beautiful images, only turned into worthless pieces of crap by those big, fat, ugly copyright notices.

    • 4
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 1, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Hi Al,

      For any copyright notice to be effective on an image posted on the internet it needs to be of a decent size and format to discourage unauthorized use of the image. Please keep in mind that all of these images in this article are my copyrighted works, they are not in the public domain and cannot be used in any way without my permission.

      These images are part of my Limited Edition Print offering on my web site and as such I maintain complete control and ownership of them. Exercising due diligence by posting copyright notices on images to ensure that my works are not copied or used without permission is simply a prudent thing to do for any professional photographer….selling our copyrighted work is how we make money. Unfortunately posting copyright notices does somewhat detract from the overall visual impact of the images…but necessary for all professionals to protect their work.

      As an author and photographer the protection of my copyrighted work is of extreme importance. The intent of this article is to provide people with some idea of the types of landscape photographs that are possible In a beautiful country like New Zealand….it wasn’t to give anyone free access to use my copyrighted work.

      Best,
      Tom

    • 15
      ) nelson
      February 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Al Bundy.. if you like the photos so much, why dont you buy the print from the photographer instead of being an ignorant moron?

      • 19
        ) Al Bundy
        February 3, 2014 at 11:27 am

        Hi there,

        Not that I’m in a position to test or judge anybody, but I wrote that very harsh comment to see how Tom would react. Apparently, he is a very talented photographer, and now I see that he is very professional too. You have my respect Tom, thanks for being so cool.

        Sorry Nelson, you’re not as cool.

        Best of luck to Tom, Nelson, and all my fellow photography life fans out there.

        Peace, – Al.

        • 20
          ) Nelson
          February 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm

          AL… Really? To see how Tom would react? You sir are an idiot.

        • 23
          ) Thomas Stirr
          February 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

          Hi Al,

          No offense taken…no harm done.

          Best,
          Tom

  3. 5
    ) David
    February 1, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Tom,

    Wonderful images that bring back fond memories.

    We traveled to the South Island of NZ in 2008 and visited some of the places shown here. On that trip, we had to travel light since we were trekking and mountain climbing. I carried my NIkon FM with a single prime (50mm/f1.8) and shot Provia.

    It turned out to be the last time I shot film. The hassles of transporting film through modern airport security was too much and I bought my first digital camera shortly thereafter.

    We still hope to return someday…

    Photo-essay here: http://www.dblanchard.net/nz_2008.html

    David

    • 7
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 1, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Hi David,

      WOW….loved your photo essay! You are much more adventurous than I in terms of hiking and getting well off the beaten path. I took special interest in your shots of Christchurch….we went there back in 2004 during our first visit…then again last year. It was so shocking to see the devastation from the earthquake. The city centre is still just a huge construction zone…or ‘condemned’ zone. So sad to see….but the spirit of the residents is amazing and they are bringing the city centre back to life….albeit slowly.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Tom

    • 17
      ) David
      February 3, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Thanks, Tom!

      So sad what happened to Christchurch. Do you have any photos showing the damage?

      David

      • 18
        ) Thomas Stirr
        February 3, 2014 at 10:49 am

        Hi David,

        Yes, I do have quite a few shots. They certainly are not ‘beauty’ shots in any regard. I am putting together a short video about the damage in Christchurch. Once it is done I will post the link here for you.

        Best,
        Tom

      • 42
        ) Thomas Stirr
        May 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm

        Hi David,

        Sorry that it took so long….but a new article here on Photography Life has been posted about the re-building of Christchurch.

        Here is the link: http://photographylife.com/christchurch-re-building-city

        Tom

        • 43
          ) David
          May 20, 2014 at 6:26 am

          Thanks, Tom.

          I had already seen the new article and was quite moved by the photo essay.

          David

  4. 6
    ) MJohn
    February 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Thomas,
    Awesome pics! Appreciate on the details you have furnished too.

    • 8
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Hello MJohn,

      You’re most welcome! Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Tom

  5. 9
    ) Eric
    February 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Hi,
    Thanks for the awesome pics and the info that came with it! I live in NZ and I honestly haven’t been to most of the places you’ve mentioned :-) Worth looking into!
    Cheers,
    eric

    • 10
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Eric,

      Glad you enjoyed the article! We certainly met a lot of New Zealanders who had travelled to Canada…and many had not explored their own, amazing country yet! I guess a lot of us tend to do that…hope you can make the time to see more of your wonderful country.

      Best,
      Tom

  6. 11
    ) Andrew Callow
    February 2, 2014 at 3:39 am

    Really nice images. I like your processing too; you’ve ensured that the green tones in the images are well balanced, and do not overpower all other colors.

    • 12
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 2, 2014 at 3:56 am

      Hi Andrew,

      Glad that you enjoyed the images, and thanks for the comment!

      Tom

  7. 13
    ) Nick C
    February 2, 2014 at 5:46 am

    I enjoyed the pictures – very nice. They remind me of a trip to the south island some 20 years ago. I was struck by the natural beauty – stunning and as you say there is a little bit of everything. I suspect travel was much easier then. Other than Christchurch, we didn’t bother with reservations (or even a detailed itineary), we simply stopped at the end of the day where ever we were. The reference to flying to Milford Sound brought back memories. Options were a 3+ hour bus ride from Queenstown or a 30 minute flight. They sold 13 tickets on a 12 seater plane and they stuck one of my mates in the co-pilot seat as he had least gone through the begining stages of flight school!

    I look forward to seeing more of your work.
    Nick

    • 14
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 2, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comments. Things are changing in New Zealand…can be tough to get a room in the more popular areas especially in the late December to February time frame….so a bit more ‘planning ahead’ is needed now.

      Sounds like you were on one of the ‘big’ planes going to Milford Sound….the one we were on sat 5 plus the pilot :)

      If you’d like to see more of my images visit my web site and look at the Limited Edition Print and Photo Art Print sections.

      Best,
      Tom

  8. 16
    ) Andreas Ehrenreich
    February 3, 2014 at 3:14 am

    Hi Thomas,
    You’ve got some great pictures here. Very nice writing as well. Brings back some great memories. I spent allmost 7 months in New Zealand 5 years ago. Since my time there I’m really in love with the country and the Kiwis. Damn, time flies too fast. One day I will go back. But next time I going to bring a proper camera with me :-)
    Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers, Andreas

    • 38
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 16, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Hi Andreas,

      7 months in New Zealand must have been a fantastic experience! It is such a beautiful, rugged country and the people are some of the warmest and most approachable on the planet. No wonder New Zealand is constantly voted as one of the top travel destinations.

      I hope you have the opportunity to go back and build even more wonderful memories.

      Tom

  9. 21
    ) Moritz
    February 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Hey Thomas!
    I am from Germany and spent the last half year as an exchange student in NZ.
    I think that NZ is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and I have quiet many around the whole wolrd.
    I think I agree with you with all the places you wrote up and visited all of them and they are all quiet magical. Besides I love all the Art Deko in Napier and visited it quiet often because the Partents of my Hostfamily lived there. I wanted to ask if you visited the Cathedral Cove in the North Island?
    It is soo gorgeouse and if you haven`t You should considder doing it next time :D
    You surely visited Queenstown didn`t you?! Please tell me you hiked up Mount Ben Lomand. It is a 5-7 hours Hike depending on your fitness (If you hike all way up and don`t use the gondula) And the scenery is AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL.
    Hope you had fun, Moritz

    • 22
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      Hi Moritz,

      Thanks very much for your reply. If there is a ‘next time’ (and I hope there is) I will need to fit Cathedral Cove into my next trip. We did not see it during our first visit and did not spend any time at all north of Auckland on this most recent trip. It does look spectacular! Another place my D800 would love.

      We did visit Queenstown during both of our trips…the first time we used it as a ‘home base’ to do some exploring in the area and as a launching pad for our flight to Milford Sound. And the second time was passed through on our way to Glenorchy. Queenstown really reminds me of Banff Alberta. It’s a bit too commercial for my liking and we didn’t spend much time sightseeing in the town itself. Unfortunately our schedules on both trips were quite tight and we did not allow ourselves the luxury of a 5-7 hour hike at any point during our two visits…..just a few shorter ones at Mount Cook National Park…..if there is a ‘next time’ for us we have talked about allowing more time for more trail exploring.

      I can only imagine the wonderful time you must have had being an exchange student and spending six months in New Zealand. Not only is it one of the most beautiful countries on earth….the people are some of the warmest, kindest and most interesting folks you could have the pleasure of meeting.

      Best,
      Tom

      • 24
        ) Moritz
        February 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm

        Good point with all that commercial Stuff in Queens!
        I dind`t like the town but liked the surrounding Mountains and they were quiet an excuse for me to stay there 4 Days in a cheap accomodation there and do a lot of hiking around there (With 16 years your still quiet fit and up for stuff like that :D)
        And yeah Kiwis are soo cool and frickin kiwi genius :D I only have a D5000 I got myself 3 Years ago after 4 Weeks of Hollidaywork so not that top notch stuff but the Pictures I got off it were still amazing. It got I believe around 9000 Clicks only in NZ and is now at arround 170000-180000 and still doing well… Guess it depends on how you tret your stuff. Did you ever visited Wellington? Becasue thats where I lived when I wasn`t doing some kind of travelling or road trips around there.
        I see you visited Moeraki Boulders so you were up south on the South Island as well. Did you drive through Kaikoura? Its at the more northern Point of the south Island. There is a Dolphin Encounter in the City Center (http://www.encounterkaikoura.co.nz/) where you can go out on boats and actually be in the water with real, free dusky Dolphins! They are not trained or anything and they don`t lure them, they just come right up to the boats out of free will and because they are curiouse. You are not allowed to touch them but they are like 15 cm away from you and they sometimes even touch you with theyr finns. You are even able to see whales but thats pretty rare. I went there at like 3 am and it was in the wintermonths so the water was damn freezing but thats one of the thinks I can live with for one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life and the experience with those Dolphins (at that day we saw around 180-200 individual Dolphins) which is most probably one of the most faascinating things I ever was allowed to be part of. So If you are into Stuff like this, next time this should be on your list as well. (Btw they don`t pay me for this :D Would be cool though). But I think in NZ people are making a big deal out of some Places which aren`t that interesting after all (at least in my opinion) and there are some very special Places which seem to be kept as secrets) And for travelling the winter months are extremely good because you are allone where ever you go and I saw how there were hundrets of peoples walking hikes in the summer months and when I came back a few months later, nobody was there but the weather was still gorgeouse.

        Best, Moritz

        • 25
          ) Thomas Stirr
          February 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

          Hi Moritz,

          Yes, we visited Wellington on our first trip and took the ferry across the straight to the South Island. We went to the Te Papa Museum while in Wellington and found it both enjoyable and educational. There is a nice cable car in Wellington that takes you up into the mountains that surround the city for a spectacular view of the city.

          We also visited Kaikoura during our first trip to New Zealand and stayed in a wonderful B&B that has since closed since the owner retired. The drive from Picton to Kaikoura is quite beautiful with lots of varied landscape and flora….from desert to mountain to forests. Very nice stretch of highway. We tried whale-watching while in Kaikoura and due to rough seas it was a bit of a disaster. At least half the passengers (myself included) got terribly sea sick and the tour was called back into port. When there are waves washing completely over the top of the boat…you know its time to head for land.

          We tried dolphin watching on the South Island around the Akaroa area and found it wasn’t anywhere nearly as good as up by the Bay of Islands on the northern portion of the North Island. Perhaps the water is much warmer up north…but we found plenty of young calves up north…and the pods in the south, even though it was the same time of year, didn’t seem to have calved yet.

          Swimming with the dolphins must have been a fantastic experience…one that will last a lifetime of memories.

          There are so many beautiful places in New Zealand I’m sure an avid photographer could spend six months there….shoot tens of th0usands of images….and come back feeling that they missed important things!

          Best,
          Tom

  10. 26
    ) Rainer Fels
    February 5, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Hey Thomas,

    me and my wife spent 4 weeks in nz last year (Nov-Dec). We did the north and south island and as you mentioned above it is really amazing and rightly called a photographer’s dream. We did a lot of birding and i was absolutely impressed about how close you can get to several kinds of birds, like your pied shag above. I did most of my bird images with my nikkor 80-400 and in most cases you won’t need bigger lenses.
    A nice experience was the visit of the yellow-eyed penguins at otago peninsula (dunedin) and the albatross tour at kaikoura. In both cases you can get really close to either kinds and the guides did a great job there.
    Hopefully we’ll get sometime back so we could visit steward island and watch the kiwis at daylight.

    best wishes
    Rainer

    • 39
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Hi Rainer,

      You and your wife were in New Zealand at the exact same time my wife and I were there with our best friends! Who knows….we may have passed you on either end of one of New Zealand’s famous one lane bridges in the back country.

      I took the pied shag image with my Nikon 1 V2, FT-1 adapter, Nikkor 70-200 f/4, and TC-17E II teleconverter. That set-up gives me an equivalent field-of-view of 918mm at f/6.7.

      Capturing that image had a bit of luck involved. We had pulled off to take some landscape photos of some spectacular volcanic rock and tree formations along the coast on the Coromandel peninsula. The pied shags were actually hidden from my view by a ridge of volcanic rock. My wife had spotted them from some higher ground and I actually went back to get the shot. I had to climb over quite a bit of razor-sharp rocks (my thighs and shins can attest to how sharp the rocks were) in order to get the shots. With the efov of 918mm with my set-up I was able to get close enough to get the shag virtually full frame which made for a great, detailed shot.

      Best,
      Tom

  11. 27
    ) Annette
    February 8, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Mr Stirr -such beautiful photographs.Thank you for sharing.

    I am only a point and shoot photographer but my husband is trying his hand at becoming an amateur photographer.

    Currently I have been trying to come up with a perfect three week itinerary for both islands that make up New Zealand. The forth week is made up of travel back and forth and a rest day before going back to what pays for the trip there. It is frustrating when so many say that it is nearly impossible. I’m not even sure that my employer will allow us to have a whole month off at a time. Meanwhile your pictures help to spur my dream on! Thank you!

    • 28
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Annette,

      Thank you so much for your comment…very much appreciated. You can cover a lot of ground in three weeks in New Zealand, especially if you don’t spend too much time in Auckland. Planning a self-drive holiday may be the best option for you. It will allow you the freedom to explore as you like without be tied down to a tour bus schedule.

      You can also fit in some B&B and farm stays to get deeper into the Kiwi culture. Spending a bit of money to fly between the north and south islands can also give you more time touring through some of the more spectacular areas of the countries.

      If your husband is planning on taking lots of photos during the trip…and it would be a shame not to…you may enjoy spending some time on Google Images. I often use this site when planning a photo/travel expedition. My wife and I usually map out some possible routes….then I go on Google Images to see what kinds of photos other people have managed to capture at various spots. This can really help focus the trip and maximize your photo opportunities.

      If you can get the time off….it truly will be a ‘trip of a lifetime’.

      Best,
      Tom

      PS: you don’t have to allow a week for travel time. You will cross the International Date Line (assuming you are in North America) so you will ‘lose’ a day on the way out….but ‘gain’ it on the way back…so there and back with a rest day is more like 4-5 days…not 7.

      • 29
        ) Annette
        February 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm

        Tom,

        Thank you for the advise and feedback.

        We are still saving for the trip so that we can plan a near perfect trip. Yes, we will be coming from Florida USA. The four- five days instead of seven helps so I can have more time there to explore.

        • 30
          ) Moritz
          February 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm

          Hello Annette!
          As long as Tom agrees, I would say a good trip is to land in Auckland and rent a Mobile Home there. Lots of agencys there are very cooperative and if you talk to them on the phone in advance you could surely figure out a way to drop the camper of in another town, presumeably Wellington, where you could easily fly to Nelson or something like that in under 2 hours without having to return the Mobile back to the city where you got it from, what saves you on the north island around 2-3 Days of driving if you stop by at many locations so you dont have to worry abiut that. I would personaly DO a Roundtrip across the whole South island what is managable whithin 10-12 Days. It involves a lot of driving but it’s definitly worth it because of all he different sceneries you see there. You drive through the jungle and around the next corner there is only flat grass with sheep or cattle and then you drive along the coast and you suddenly are in a thick forrest again (you get it i think).
          I would say the best way to leave agyin towards Florida is Wellington I suppose but I have to say I’m not familiar with the flightroute at all. Just guessing because Wellington is an international Airport and I think there aren’t any around the Southisland. I would definitely drive from Auckland to Coromandle Peninsula whit things like the Cathedral Cave and lots of small villages with nice local Restaurants. If you don’t like strong smells I would leave Rotorua aside. And rather look at something like the vulcanic valley! It is all the same thermal stuff where you can get a LOT of great photos without the bad smell, because Rotorua is a bit too commercial in my Opinion and you have to pay a lot to see a little. Maybe I was just too stupid to find anything thats worth having all that smell around you but I wouldn’t spent my precious (and costly Time, because you waste time you could spent seeing something REALLY great by staying around there for too long, or in fact at any other place you don’t like that much) i’m not saying that Rotorua isn’t great but it’s not THE best and there are a lot of places in NZ concidered THE best I would rather visit than just visiting a good place, if you know what I mean. If you have a different opinion Tom, pleace correct me. Napier is a must if you appreciate old towns and fine art architecture. (Don’t really know about you Americans, sorry but we germans are suckers for great art and could melt in all that beautiful art deco, if te scenery wouldn’t be destroyed by KFC etc but I think we notice that more because we don’t have that many Fastfood restaurants around as you do in America, at least from what I saw when I was in the USA. Tongariro vulcanic zone is great for hiking. Depending on your fitness level of course. I don’t know how fit or how old you are but for me as a 16 year old (well I do a lot of hiking in the Alps and do other physical demanding sports)

          • 31
            ) Moritz
            February 8, 2014 at 4:57 pm

            Consider most of these (for example tongariro crossing as fun hikes with breathtaking scenery. You should have at least a day for Wellington, wich has really nice spots and there is too much on the south island to write up here.
            Sorry for (probably quiet many) spelling mistakes and grammer mistakes. Hope I was helpful and If you would like me to inform you a bit more you can allways send me an email to moritz.golombek@yahoo.de.
            P.S: Sorry for the splitted post fail

          • 32
            ) Thomas Stirr
            February 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm

            Hi Moritz,

            Nothing to correct….there are so many wonderful places in New Zealand it often just comes down to personal choice, and the interests that someone has will determine what they choose to do. Personally, I’m not much of a city person so I tend not to spend much time in cities wherever I travel.

            We found that it was more expensive to rent a motorhome than it was to rent a car and go the motel route, so I can’t comment on a motorhome experience. Some of the rural roads, especially on the South Island can be ‘challenging’….especially with the one land bridges (usually for cars and trains by-the-way)….so if a person isn’t used to driving a motorhome New Zealand may not be a great testing ground…right hand drive, reversed column controls and tight roads could be a dangerous combination for some folks. Plus, the cost of gasoline in New Zealand is something to consider when planning a trip. In late 2013 the gas per liter in New Zealand averaged about $2.35 to $2.40….that’s roughly $9.00 a US gallon in NZ$….close to $7.50 US per US gallon. We were driving a Toyota Rav 4 on the South Island and a Mitsibushi Outlander on the North Island and $100+ fill ups were quite common for us…..depending on the car rented I’d budget about $0.23 to $0.28 per kilometer for gas cost ($0.37 to $0.45 per mile).

            If you pick up a car or motor home in one city and drop it off in another the drop off fees can be fairly steep so this needs to be confirmed before any rental is confirmed. I’m not aware of any rental companies that will allow you to rent a vehicle on one island and drop it off on the other after crossing over on the ferry.

            Annette….if you’re planning on buying all of your meals you’ll find restaurants are a bit pricey. A typical breakfast for a couple will run about $25 to $35 and you can add $4 to $5 for each cup of coffee on top of that. Lunches for two would be in the $30 to $40 range, and dinners (without drinks or wine) will run $60 to $80. These prices are at the more modest restaurants. Higher end ones will obviously cost more. The good thing is that taxes are included and tipping is not yet a part of the New Zealand culture. We love the café culture in New Zealand and we never ate at any of the fast food chain outlets that are springing up.

            Best,
            Tom

            • 33
              ) Mortz
              February 8, 2014 at 6:44 pm

              You are absolutely right with the cost ofthe food in restaurants. I even bought once a steak at lake taupo for 45$. This is quiet common for exellent Restaurants in germany but might seem very expensive for the US. I have to say you guys are one hell of a lucky country to have gas dirt cheap man. I start to collect water in my mouth thinking about all those Musclecars and I’m now damn shure why they (Ford, Chevrolet,Dodge) don’t even bother to list theyr v8-v12 monsters in german catalogs and only ship them over for you on special order. In Germany gas is around 1.68€ depending on where you live, most places even higher. For your understanding this is 2.30$ US. Thats why i didn’t take the gas price into conciderarion . You are absolutely rught with the drop off fees and the roads but I think (as we actually did it, I’m not just making stuff up here by the way) we decidet that the 120$ NZD dro poff fee would be cheaper than te drive back from Wellington to Auckland where we got the Camper from especially concidering you loose minimul 2-3 Days. You are best off buying your Stuff at pack’n’safe. These are giant yellow buildings with black letters. Bread is shit everywhere in NZ compared to german bread but I didn’t like the Bread in America as well so that might not be a problem for you. Te advantage of having a camper is your own kitxhen facility on the go and you can just stop at the side of the road and cook yourself something or have breakfast at sunset at the beach :D

          • 36
            ) Annette
            February 13, 2014 at 3:57 pm

            Thank you both for your helpful comments. Apologies for my late response as I was not with internet for a bit.

            Previously we were able to do a fortnight self drive tour thru Ireland and my husband found it easy to drive a shift on the left hand side. And those are some pretty narrow roads. But a motor home is not for us I think. We are B&B people.

            That is one strange thing that I noticed that the B&B offer mostly continental breakfasts in New Zealand. I guess that I’m spoiled because part of staying at a B&B is a hearty breakfast. Your cost projection for dining does sound a little high. The four to five dollars for coffee will be the worst as we both adore multiple cups in the morning!

            Thank you for the comments on gas. Right now I’m paying a smidgeon under four dollars a gallon but that is for 93 octane. Financially Now I can plan on that.

            Thanks for the comments on Rotorua. I wasn’t aware that it would be that stinky. By the way, I am very active and fit. The husband is a little less active but I motivate him!

            I have developed an itinerary that I think is pretty good. We would fly into Auckland and spend that day and the next two in the northland area. Is Whangarei a good place to stay as a base for that? We want to see nature mostly not city life. We could pick up,and drop off the car at the same airport. Then we would fly into Christchurch and explore the South Island from there. The areas that I was planning in order were Kaikoura, Picton, Nelson, Westport, Fox Glacier, Wanaka, Te Anau (They have an overnight cruise in the fjords that looks great!) Intercagill, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Lake Tekapo and back to Christchurch for a flight home. Westport, Fox Glacier, Te Anau and Intercagill all are one night while the other places have two nights. I don’t know if it is unrealistic to go straight travel from Te Anau to Stewart Island in one day. Is Lake Tekapo worth going to? Or should I ignore it and stay longer elsewhere? Would you reverse this order or can you recommend something else?

            • 37
              ) Thomas Stirr
              February 13, 2014 at 4:45 pm

              Hi Annette,

              We actually quite enjoyed Rotorua….and made a point of going there on both of our trips. It all comes down to personal taste.

              A great way to calculate driving times is to use Google maps. It will give you both kilometers and estimated time. I would check the travel times between the various towns in your itinerary to make sure you have allowed enough time for sightseeing and picture taking.

              As far as Wrangarei goes it really depends on what you’re planning to see on the north end of the North Island. If you are planning a dolphin tour at the Bay of Islands or a drive up to Cape Reinga going a bit further up to Paihia may be a more convenient choice.

              You will find choosing a coffee in New Zealand is an interesting experience as the selection in a typical café can be extensive…espresso, macchiato, long black, flat white, cappuccino, caffe latte, mochanccio….the list goes on and on. Each cup is individually brewed to order at the majority of establishments. It’s definitely not just a quick pour from coffee pot.

              Your South Island itinerary looks quite ambitious. Westport to Fox Glacier will take about 4 hours in good weather with no stops. Plus you’ll be going by some of the best scenery on the South Island…e.g. Pancake Rocks, Cape Foulwind. You may find that a bit of a rushed day.

              Given the spectacular scenery between Fox and Wanaka you may find that stretch a bit rushed as well. You’ll be on the Haast Highway for part of it and there are some great water features to take in. Plan on leaving early and making a long day of it. Parts of the Haast Highway are very narrow and twisty. When we were there in November last year the highway closed at 6pm each night because they were still trying to clear up a landslide that took out a good hunk of road a few months before and killed a couple of my fellow Canadians.

              I’ve not been to Stewart Island. Likely would be good to check on ferry bookings etc. to see how much time to allow.

              Looks like you have a lot of great locations planned. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.

              Best,
              Tom

  12. 34
    ) David Gray
    February 9, 2014 at 5:06 am

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for your article and very fine photographs.

    If you like NZ you should love Tasmania. Very similar terrain & weather and packed full of incredible animals and birdlife. I travel to both regularly and I always find Tassie makes NZ feel a bit dead. Bruny Island in particular is a photographers paridise!

    Regards to all
    Dave

    • 35
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 9, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks very much for you comments. I did spend a couple of weeks in Australia but did not venture to Tasmania….spent some time exploring areas like the Blue Mountains etc. with Sydney as a base….then Cairns/Great Barrier Reef, the Red Centre and Kangaroo Island.

      If I am ever lucky enough to venture out to Australia again I’ll certainly need to investigate Tasmania as a possible destination. Thanks for the tip!

      Best,
      Tom

  13. 40
    ) Kevin
    February 17, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Hi Tom,
    I have been a reader of PL for some time now and in the past have asked Nasim about lenses and indeed took his advice, 16-35 f4 and a 24-120 f4 being two of them.

    I am really glad that you enjoyed your time here in our small patch of Paradise, I live a few kilometers north west of Rotorua.
    Having seen almost all of NZ I would agree with your Baker’s Dozen choices and I would add a few more, the East Coast of the North Island north of Gisborne ( a couple of hundred Ks north of Napier) and around to Whakatane has some amazing coastal scenery. Another area I really enjoy is on the west side of National Park in the center of the North Island around the back of Mount Ruapahu.
    Did you get the chance to see the big Kauri Trees up north?

    Some of our native birds can be quite fun to photograph although they aren’t particularly coulourful and if you drive into any of our National Parks you will normally see them and you don’t have to worry about bears or snakes and even our spiders are pretty tame, if you see them at all.

    I have been lucky enough to travel twice to Canada and found the people there very friendly but the coffee took a bit of getting used to. By the way a lot of Canadians told us that when they were in NZ they found Mac Donald’s had good coffee at a reasonable price.

    Anyway thank you for your great post.
    Regards,
    Kevin.

    • 41
      ) Thomas Stirr
      February 17, 2014 at 5:15 am

      Hi Kevin,

      During our first trip to New Zealand back in 2004 we took a bus tour from Paihia up to Cape Reigna and part of that tour included visiting a Kauri Tree reserve which was quite spectacular. The majesty of centuries-old trees is quite striking. The experience reminded me of visiting the Muir Woods in California.

      I’ll have to add Mount Ruapahu to my list of places to visit in New Zealand if I am ever fortunate enough to visit a third time. I think New Zealand is one of those destinations that has so much wonderful scenery to see that no matter how many times a person visits, there’s always something that they’ve missed!

      We love the café culture in New Zealand and we didn’t go to any of the fast food establishments that seem to be popping up all over. We were saddened to see that a number of cafes that had closed or were up for sale since our trip in 2004.

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