New Zealand – Winter 2018

Hobbiton, Mordor and everything in between.

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If you’re into photography, nature, travel, etc, all people ever tell you is “you have to go to New Zealand!”. I’ve heard it a million times throughout the years and they were all right. New Zealand is amazing, diverse and epic, there literally aren’t enough words to describe this place. Both the North and South Island delivered in expectations 100%, both in natural landscape and touristy stuff.

I’ve been talking about coming here for a while now and I finally made it. New Zealand blew my mind from the second I got off the plane. Snow capped mountains everywhere you look, rolling green hills in the North Island, sheep and cows in every direction, epic sunsets everyday, all a dream come true.

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Winter or Summer/Spring/Fall

Coming in winter was both a good and bad idea. The good is that it’s less crowded, cheaper, cool moody weather, unique wintry landscapes and it’s cold. The bad is it can be harder to get around because of the weather, camping/RV’s aren’t fun in the cold, chance of snow can ruin your fun and fall colors are gone and certain spots are less pretty. If I did it all over again I would wait until February (Spring) or late April/May for the Fall colors. Winter was awesome but I think it could of been better.

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Camping/RV or Car/Hotel (South Island)

This was the first landscape trip I’ve ever rented an RV on. This was also a good and bad idea, especially in another country driving on the other side of the road… The good is for the most part you can park and sleep/use the bathroom whenever you want. There’s no lack of camper van parks, they’re literally everywhere and usually have pretty open availability (in the winter), the facilities they provide are really clean and great too, no complaints.

The bad is that you’re limited to driving on certain roads and it takes extra long to get everywhere, it’s also not convenient when doing a sunrise mission. Another negative is you have to keep dumping the water, waste, etc, it gets a bit annoying after the first couple days. If I was coming here on a regular vacation and not just for photography this would of been great, but needing to go specific places at certain times made it not the best idea. Also wouldn’t recommend this in the winter time. With all that being said I saw 90% of what I wanted to see and got some amazing photos so I can’t really complain. I’ll just have to come back!

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WiFi Availability (South Island)

If you have an internet based job or absolutely need the internet then don’t bother going outside of Queenstown or Wanaka. Because of the location and how remote everything is the internet is going to be a luxury and hard to get outside of major cities and even at some campgrounds. I didn’t have any problems with getting internet in the North Island. For example, at Milford Sound you can buy 500mb of satellite internet for $7 at the campground, (which was really slow) other than that there’s no reception anywhere. Cellphone plans are also pretty expensive, $20 for 1GB of data, $50 for 3GB and $90 for 8GB, all with Vodafone which seems to be the most reliable. I also used T-Mobile’s international plan and it was so slow it wasn’t worth using.

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North Island or South Island

New Zealand is a pretty big place with lots of variation in things to do and see. The North Island is where its at for tourist attractions like Hobbiton and the Waitomo glow worm caves (highly recommend both) and just a good vacation. The South Island is where it’s at for the landscape, heli flights, extreme activities and real raw New Zealand. If you have the time I’d probably do both islands as they both offer something different. In the two weeks I spent there it definitely wasn’t enough time to see both islands, or even a good amount of the South Island. Coming in the winter prevented me from going around the island like I had hoped, but even then there wasn’t enough time. New Zealand is like the size of the west coast of the US.

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Currency

New Zealand Dollar is the official currency, everything there is somewhat expensive. Coming from the US our money is worth a bit more so that helped a lot. The best comparison I can think of is things are as expensive as California there after the exchange rate. Definitely not Iceland expensive but not cheaper either.

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Aerial Photography

This gets it’s own section because it’s 100% worth doing if you visit the south island. I did my first open door flight in Hawaii and I’ve been hooked ever since. You can’t come to New Zealand and not see it from above, it’s an absolutely amazing experience and I can’t say enough good things about it. For my tour I went with True South Flights which was just perfect. If you do one of their photo flights you get to choose the route, altitude, etc, can’t recommend them enough!

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Drones

The Department of Conservation is super duper strict on drone laws in New Zealand. To fly a drone in part of the country that they have say over (which is a good majority of both islands) you need to fill out a very detailed form. All of which includes where your flying, what time, the number of times you land, what your flying for, etc. You also have to get a quick interview from them as well. A such a hassle and time consuming process that I didn’t bother to bring mine. If you want to fly legally do a quick Google search on the procedure of how to get the ok from the DoC.

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Camera Gear And What To Bring

This is the first trip ever I used a new camera system on. Luckily everything went totally smooth and I didn’t run into any problems. I brought the Sony A7RIII, 12-24, 24-70 and 100-400. I used the 24-70 about 75% of the time and the 100-400 the other 25%. If I was coming back I’d probably leave the 12-24 at home and swap it for a fast wide angle prime because I only used it 2 or 3 times on the whole trip which I totally could of used the 24-70 instead. Definitely need a fast wide prime for astrophotography because the night sky is amazing and bright there and there’s always a chance for the southern lights. The 12-24 being an F4 lens didn’t work out too well for night shooting.

As far as accessories go I’d highly recommend some ND filters and a polarizing filter. There’s so much glare coming off the clouds on the water and the majority of things in NZ involve shooting lakes and rivers. Would also recommend bringing a lighter tripod if you plan to do the big hikes, most things to see are really short walks but the big hikes are a different story. I regret bringing my RRS tripod up Roy’s Peak, way too heavy for that hike.

One thing I encountered that I’ve never seen before is a international transfer security screening between Australia and NZ. I carried my tripod on the plane and had some allen wrenches in my bag and they told me I had to throw them away because I can’t bring “tools” into the country. Never had this before but oh well, luckily they’re cheap. So just a little tip for future trips, carry your tripod accessories and tools in your check in.

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Milford Sound

This is probably New Zealand’s biggest attraction in the South Island and I can see why now. The drive there is absolutely amazing in every way, Fiordland is like Yosemite mixed with Washington state on steroids. When I went it was completely clear skies and no fog but that’s extremely rare, plan on it being foggy, rainy and wet. This only applies to winter but I’d check the weather before going because it’s an avalanche area and there’s only one road in and out and you can get stuck there for days because of the weather. When I was there I was planning on staying an extra day and I’m glad I didn’t because all the roads were closed later that day due to the weather. I’d also recommend checking out Doubtful South cruises along with the Milford cruise.

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The Roy’s Peak Hike

So I’m definitely not a hiker by any means but this hike is no joke. At least in the winter time, there’s a good amount of mud and ice at the top to deal with. I highly highly suggest bringing proper hiking boots (waterproof) for this and trekking poles, it’ll make all the difference. It’s about a 6-7 hour round trip hike, 3-4 hours one way. I’d also suggest starting early in the morning to give yourself enough time to catch sunset and to not rush to the top. And it goes without saying I didn’t make it to the top, I was 40 minutes away and losing light pretty fast so I had to turn back. The view is amazing all the way up and completely worth it.

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What I Saw

  • Hobbiton
  • Waitomo Worm Caves
  • Mount Aspiring National Park
  • Fiordland National Park
  • Milford Sound
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Wanaka
  • The Wanaka Tree
  • Queenstown
  • Roy’s Peak

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Overall an amazing trip, amazing food, epic views, would definitely go back without hesitation, I’d just go in a different season and not do a camper van. Even though the 15 hour flight almost killed me, I would recommend going to Hawaii first then going to NZ from there.

Select photos from this post are available to print on my website.

If you have any questions or comments leave one below. Thanks for reading!

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