It was late May, and the photography tour to the South Island, New Zealand, that I had been waiting almost a year for finally rolled around. We flew out of Melbourne, via Jetstar to Queentown NZ. The flight was only around half full, so we had room to spread out. Just over three hours later we approached Queenstown in a blanket of low cloud and rain. The pilots must have done 100% of the approach on instruments, because we didnt see the ground until we were only about 100 feet above it. The landing was comfortable though and within a short time we were through customs and bio security and out the door. Into rain, snow capped mountains and cold. Very cold.
We quickly found a shuttle bus that drops you off at the hotels in Queenstown, and for the princely sum of $13NZ each were shortly deposited at the door, and to the warmth of our hotel for the night. Looking askance at the weather, we dined in the hotel restaurant that night while the rain came down outside. Next morning we were up eager to be collected by our tour host Jarrod from Jarrod Castaing Photography… flung back the curtains to greet the day……..
Funny thing about rain.. when you start heading up the mountain in zero degree temps and get to 700-800 feet above sea level… the rain becomes snow.
After picking up everyone we drove up to Coronet Peak… roads were icy, the lookout under a heavy blanket of snow. We had prepared well with our thermals, windproof pants and feather down coats…but I should have also packed a full face balaclava! The wind off the snow was icy… pretty, but icy. Driving from Coronet Peak to Lake Tekapo, we drove through the normally brown plains of Lindis Pass. They also were blanketed in snow… and it was still coming down quite heavily as we drove through it.
Arriving safely in Lake Tekapo we drove straight to the Church Of The Good Shepherd which was oddly deserted. -1C and heavy snow falling.. (go figure 😉
The plan was to do a sunset shoot at the church… but as getting one looked as likely as a heatwave we all decided to just relax in our rooms until dinner time. Fast forward to the next morning and the snow has stopped overnight and the sky is clear. We headed back to the church around 6am, in pitch dark and setup the tripods to wait for the sun.
After standing around in the cold and the dark… the image that ended up as my favourite was the one above.. taken about 5 mins before we left as the sun came up. Leaving the church we drove to Lake Alexandrina.. gorgeous place… totally empty of tourists (sssshhhhh I dont think they know about it lol)
From Lake Alexandrina we headed for breakfast and then off towards Mount Cook, passing by Lake Pukaki we stopped in for a quick shoot. Lake Pukaki is a blue sparkling lake, fed by the glacier alpine lakes ..Sir Peter Jackson chose this part of the Southern Alps – the main divide stretching north-south the length of New Zealand’s South Island – as the setting for ‘Lake-town’ in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Arriving at Mount Cook we booked into the Hermitage and got ready for the planned afternoon shoot at the Hooker Valley. I had been looking forward to this part since I first signed on to the tour… but I had drastically over estimated my ability to walk 1.5hrs each way, up hill and down dale… and about 40 mins into the walk we turned back and left the others to finish it. It was mean (but rewarding) to hear later that the others also struggled with the walk.. and the light was dreadful when they got there and no one got their postcard shots.
The Hooker Valley trail leads to Hooker Lake.. the valley is ruggedly beautiful, and I still havent seen the lake in real life, but I can live with that.
The next morning, the sun was out…. as it rose and hit the snow capped peaks they turned a glorious golden yellow…. coming from a city that never sees snow it was a sight to behold. After breakfast we headed off again….our destination was Lake Wanaka and that famous tree. We were scheduled to do a sunrise and sunset there. Sunset cooperated with us… but sunrise just didnt happen. It was raining lightly as we arrived for the sunrise..and heavily by the time we sought the refuge of the van.
Leaving the lake we headed into town for breakfast and dried our coats, hats, gloves etc on the grate around the fire while we ate breakfast. Following breakfast, we headed towards Milford Sound, going over the Crown Range which had been closed to traffic a few days before due to heavy snow falls.
We passed down the Crown Range road… through Queenstown and headed towards Te Anau for lunch, then the last 2 hour leg to our final and last night destination Milford Sound. Once we left Te Anau and got closer to Milford Sound we lost mobile reception…. the last 21 klms prior to the tunnel is avalanche zone and no stopping is allowed…like so many bridges in NZ the tunnel is single lane – one car at a time – so we stopped to shoot some pics while we waited for our turn to enter
Envisaged by early settler Henry Homer in 1890 the tunnel was eventually started during the Great Depression in 1929. Five men armed with picks and shovels hacked through to the solid bedrock of the Homer Saddle and brought in the heavy machinery to start drilling. Years later, the tunnel was complete when the workers finally emerged into the Cleddau Valley. Several men had died over the years from avalanches including one avalanche proof hut in 1945.
Sunset at Milford was beautiful… and a very accomodating Egret decided to sit in the foreground for the tourists 🙂 We were staying at Milford overnight… being a long way from anywhere and with limited accom options they really have a sellers market… Our accom was backpacker style, at prices dearer than our plush hotel in Queenstown!
Sunrise… as the sun came up it lit up the snow capped mountains….again we were there from 6am – and sunrise was about 8am…. this shot was taken at about 8.20am… I wasnt moving until I got the sun on the mountains!
After breakfast we piled our gear back into the van to head back to Queenstown. With a stop along the way at Mirror Lakes and Cascade Forest…
We arrived back in Queenstown late afternoon… picked up our hire car and headed to our hotel. Had a fabulous time… learnt lots, and finally have my head around histograms lol. I was left wondering a few things though… New Zealand is a funny country….
- why so many single lane bridges? didnt they think cars or horse and carts might like to pass each other? and if it dates to horse and cart…geez couple of hundred years later and they havent widened them?
- Things that we buy over the counter here in Australia you need a script for in New Zealand
- For a country with more sheep than people, why are all the woollen products so expensive?
- And possums… supposedly they are vermin to be eradicated. Yet to buy anything made from possum fur – you could have bought a mink coat!
- Petrol….$2.05 a litre!!???
As an infamous redhead said….please explain lol