New Zealand / Aotearoa - Part 2 of 2
“Ko Hine-tītama koe matawai ana te whatu i te tirohanga”
(“You are like Hine-tītama, a vision at which the eyes glisten”)
Wanaka & Roy’s Peak
We woke up early in our camper early in the morning, just before dawn. After a quick breakfast, we headed straight to the Lake Wanaka park--just down the street from our holiday park-- to photograph the famed “Wanaka Tree.”
Yes it’s a shot that’s been done a million times and reposted another couple million times on Instagram. But since we’re already here, figured we might as well. By the time we reached the park, there were quite a few photographers already lined up along the coast… along with one guy knees deep in the water. I respect the effort, I really do, but it’s somewhat of a douchy move when you pretty much get in the way of everybody else who are trying to take a shot from the shore…. And really, how much more unique composition are you going to get anyway?
In any case, I got my one shot; long exposure, of course. Got the composition, good enough for me, done.
Afterwards we headed up the road to the Roy’s Peak trailhead and began our hike towards the peak. By hike, I meant a straight up 4500 feet climb in 5 miles. It was literally a straight uphill climb, no joke.
There’s really no sugar coating it, the hike was brutal and at times it felt like we barely made any progress up at all. Imagine if you were on a Stepmaster… for 4-straight hours… while carrying a backpack… and the machine spits out insult to you while you’re on it. That pretty much sums how I felt the whole way up.
Yeah yeah, the view at the top was amazing, as usual. It was a perfect spot to take a panoramic shot, so I setup my camera for a 6-vertical frame panorama.
We lingered around the summit for a bit eating our lunch, took some more photos, but we saw the clouds were starting to roll in so we packed up and headed back down to our van. Fortunately, coming down was much easier.
Getting to the sound is a 4-hour drive from Queenstown, down and around Lake Wakatipu, and you have to go back the way you came in. It’s a decent drive but once you get within the park, the views from the car was spectacular. Especially when the tall rocks started to envelope us as we headed into the famous Homer Tunnel.
We arrived in Milford on Christmas Eve and we had booked a pretty nice holiday park inside the park. Settled in to our camp spot and prepared our supper. Since we had a few hours to burn, we drove out to the end of the road to catch the sunset by the water.
The view was beautiful, but really not much going on as far as textures in the skies goes. So we ended up hanging around till just after dusk, and to my surprise the tide came in and made a clear mirror image of Mitre Peak and the surrounding mountains.
While the skies were clear, the stars didn’t quite came out. And I would’ve liked to stay even later into the night to try and catch the Milky Way. But we had to wake up early in the morning to make our sea kayak reservations!
We may not have a traditional Christmas this year, but being able to row our own kayak in the middle of the sound was a decent consolation.
Aoraki / Mount Cook
If there was a climax to all the endlessly beautiful sceneries that we’ve encountered in New Zealand thus far in the trip, Mount Cook (Aoraki) takes home the trophy easy. And it starts just as you started to turn into Highway 80 alongside Lake Pukaki when we got our first glimpse of the craziest bluest glacial lake we’ve ever seen. It was actually hard to believe that we were seeing something real.
And further up ahead, when you start to get glimpse of Aoraki, the scene is practically a painting coming to life.
Even from our campsite, we got clear views of the mountain range, and it was literally just steps from where we had parked our campervan. It doesn't get any better than this, really.
At night, the sky wasn’t clear enough for any astrography, but between the thick clouds we got just a quick peek at the stars, and that in itself was amazing. Had the skies been clearer, I think it would’ve been the clearest view of the Milky Way that I’ve ever seen.
As far as hikes, we did both the Hooker Valley track and the Tasman Glacier/Blue Lakes loop. Hooker Valley was really more of a nice long stroll along the alpine tundra valley, with beautiful views of the surrounding glaciers. And Tasman Glacier was really just a short walk to the Blue Lakes with clear views of the glacier terminus further away.
It was hard leaving Aoraki, because I could’ve easily stayed an extra day or two just photographing the wonderful vistas and its deep blue waters.
When we finally arrived at Tekapo, it sort of felt bitter sweet as it’s our second to last stop in the South Island, before we reached Christchurch to fly back to Auckland and eventually home. We initially thought we’d spend the rest of the day at Tekapo mainly relaxing and enjoying the lakeside, but along the way from Aoraki, we came along a sight that was just too hard to pass up.
A sea of lupines as far as the eye can see. The scene was just too good to pass up, so we pulled over to take a few shots of the amazing field of flowers. I couldn’t get any great shots from the ground, so I took out the drone and try to get some aerial shots, and the scenery turned out to be even more amazing from up high.
Later that night, we figured we’d try to take advantage of Tekapo’s status as a certified Dark Sky Reserve and try to take some star photos at the photo-famous Church of Good Shepherd. Since there were still some light, I wanted to take a long exposure shot of the church. I knew I wanted a black and white composition, but trying to get a clear shot of the church without getting any of the crowds required some... let's say creative tripod (and body) positioning by the fence.
We stayed on till dark, but unfortunately the cloud covering was way too thick to get any clear shots of the sky.
Twenty days went by like a brisk summer breeze, and it was hard to believe how much we've seen and experienced in a relatively short time. By the time we had to drop off our van at Christchurch, it felt like dropping off a close family friend. We've grown attached to "Goldie," just like we've grown attached to the beautiful sunsets, road sceneries, fluffy sheeps, delicious beer, flat whites, and meat pies... oh dear god, the meat pies...
But the thing we'd miss the most are the warm smile and friendliness of the Kiwis that we encountered along the way in the small towns, roads, and along the trail.
Taking a road trip, we feel, is the best way to see this wonderful and beautiful country. And if you have the fortunate chance to do it, as we did, I can't recommend it enough.