The varied landscapes of New Zealand

April 24, 2023  •  2 Comments


     New Zealand's beauty was a wonderful beginning to this year. In late January and February, I finally was able to go this trip that was in the works since 2019, but was postponed twice during COVID.  In 2022, international tourism resumed and I was finally able to go!

     After flying into Christchurch on the South Island, I met up with one of my favorite photographers...James Kay. He and his wife Susie have been visiting New Zealand for many years and know it well. Mount Cook National Park was the first destination. Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki to the native Māori population, is the highest point in New Zealand. 


     The top of the 12,218 foot tall mountain was shrouded in clouds for much of our stay there.  However, one evening it made a brief and dramatic appearance as the sun shined through a small gap in the clouds over the Tasman Sea.  This scene of the last sunlight of the day hitting the peak with pink clouds behind only lasted a couple of minutes.  

     This was a trip of several "firsts".  It was the first time for me to cross the Equator, cross the International Date Line, drive on the left side of the road and the first time to fly in a helicopter. 



     For each of these helicopter rides, the destination was to either land on a glacier or on top of a mountain. Here is a short video clip of us going over Tasman Glacier: 

Glacier helicopter ride   

     As you take off the glacier and head back down the valley, you can see the geological journey that has been created. It starts from ice fields up high that evolve into glacial moraines and new lakes with ice chunks. 


Ice Chunks


     Out of those newer lakes are braided streams that eventually leads to bigger and more mature lakes downstream.

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     Back on the ground, you can also get a good look at the difference between the newer and older lakes. The older glacier lake (in black and white) has recently formed with nothing but moraine and rocks still surrounding the lake with floating ice chunks still in the water. 


     The older glacier lake below is a little lower in elevation and now has vegetation growing up around them. 

     Next, it was on to the area around the popular resort town of Queenstown.  It is in this valley that some of the scenes from "Lord of the Rings" was filmed.  It was here, along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, where we were greeted with a cinematic looking rainbow. 


     In this valley, next to Glenorchy and the aptly named village of Paradise, you will find many lush meadows. 

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     Sheep are also plentiful in this picturesque valley. 

     It was then on to a different environment on west coast. Here, the climate is wetter. The landscape has even more trees that has a temperate rainforest atmosphere.  The scenery is similar to what you find on the southeast Alaska coast or the fjords of Norway. The most well known place on the west coast of the South Island is Milford Sound. 


Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, averaging 268 inches of rain a year.  Of course, we would see it rain here. Not only that...but also a prolonged heavy rain with a lot of wind. It probably rained somewhere over 5 inches of rain in about 24 hours. So is Milford Sound worth it in the rain? Absolutely! Otherwise, you wouldn't see scenes like these:

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Waterfalls were just pouring off the cliffs! Here is a short video of our group of photographers braving the elements: 

Milford Sound Boat

A photography trip to New Zealand would not be complete without visiting "The Wanaka Tree" in the town of Wanaka. The Wanaka Tree, a lone willow tree in Lake Wanaka, is one of the most photographed individual trees on the planet.  

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We were fortunate to have a view of the distant mountains and great clouds behind the famous tree...and even another rainbow!

Up the valley from Wanaka is Mount Aspiring National Park. Here, we had another helicopter ride with a clear view of the namesake mountain. 

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We landed on top of Dragonfly Peak. From here, you can see miles of mountains as far as the eye can see.  In the picture below, you can see Mount Cook in the distance...over 80 miles away! 


New Zealand has a variety of landscapes over short distances.  Many of the above pictures makes you feel as if you could be in Alaska or Switzerland.  However, there are other places that are similar to the Pacific Northwest of Oregon or Washington.  The temperate rain forests scenes were reminiscent of what I have seen in Olympic National Park. 


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There were other places where it felt like you were in Sonoma or Napa County in California, such as this vineyard on the outskirts of Wanaka. 


Further north on the west coast, there was more of a subtropical flavor to the landscape.  This felt more like Hawaii than Alaska. 


New Zealand might have become my new favorite country to visit.  I hope to make it back there in a future year.  Here are few more assorted favorite pictures of mine from the South Island:

MilfordSoundCloseupWebMilfordSoundCloseupWeb NZRiverCloseupWebNZRiverCloseupWeb MtTasmanBWWebMtTasmanBWWeb PancakeRocksWebPancakeRocksWeb

MathesonTreesWebMathesonTreesWeb LakePukakiCloudWebLakePukakiCloudWeb


James Kay(non-registered)
Wonderful photos, Damon! It was a pleasure having you join us. New Zealand is our favorite place on Earth and we enjoyed sharing it with you.
Bobby Shaw(non-registered)
Absolutely beautiful photos, Damon. New Zealand has been in my bucket list for a long time. However, at my age I seriously doubt I’ll get there. Thanks for sharing!
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