With a variety of terrain and great lighting, New Zealand is a perfect place to add some awesome photos to your collection. It’s been a star of the movie and television screen, appearing in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Xena the Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
While you can capture some of New Zealand’s beauty with even a simple point-and-shoot camera, more advanced photographers using superzoom or SLR cameras will be even more richly rewarded. Well-equipped photo enthusiasts can grab images of stunning scenery, and their advanced gear will allow them to do justice to their work by making large prints worthy of framing and hanging.
Before I get to locations, here are a few quick words on gear. First, bring a variety of lenses. I used everything from an 18-millimeter wide-angle to a 200-millimeter manual focus lens. It might be wise to go with an even wider angle for some of the epic mountain scenery. Be sure to use high-quality polarizing filters: The sunlight is intense. Also, get familiar with your ISO and white balance settings, and be ready to change them on the fly, and often: There’s a reason people say “If you don’t like the weather in New Zealand, wait a few minutes.”
Tongariro Alpine Crossing – This is New Zealand’s most famous day hike. It takes you through the scenery used for Mordor in Lord of the Rings, up into a scorched highland of lava flows, past blasted out volcanic craters, past mineral-rich lakes and finally into a valley teeming with flora. It’s the volcanic areas, though, that will most beg for your photographic attention. Snap liberally, but you may need to be quick about it: There are only so many buses from both ends, and it’s about a 12-mile trek.
Franz Josef Glacier – You’ll hike from tropical rain forest to the terminal face of this magnificent glacier, then you’ll climb into its folds and crevasses. You’ll hear water rushing under the ice, and you’ll see an incredible expanse of icy power. Fortunately, most glacier hikes move at a … well, glacial pace, so you’ll have plenty of time for photography. Polarizers for the camera (and sunscreen for you) are essential here, with light streaming from the sky and bouncing off the ice. Winter visits are most likely to give you more blue ice, while early spring visits are more likely to produce awesome ice caves hollowed out by meltwater. If you’re coming from the Northern Hemisphere, don’t forget to swap the seasons!
Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland – This location on the North Island will make everyone viewing your photos grateful that you know how to use a camera. You’ll blow them away with some of the most unusual landscapes they’ve ever seen. Bubbling mud pots, boiling lakes and silica flats produce amazing colors that people simply have to see to believe. You’ll feel like you’re on the set of a movie about an alien planet. Of course, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see some truly lush forestland nearby. This famous thermal area also has geysers, which can be a really fun chance for you to experiment with camera settings. Varying your shutter speeds can give you vastly different results.