Join us on our first ever photo tour ‘down under’ to Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud), better known as New Zealand.
From magnificent snow-capped mountain peaks to wild coastal beaches and flowing waterfalls, New Zealand’s diverse landscapes, enchanting wildlife, and year-round majestic vistas present infinite possibilities for capturing stunning imagery. Home to a vast array of endemic species found nowhere else in the world – from the world’s rarest dolphin – to glittering glow-worms – you’ll find these and an abundance of unique flora and fauna to photograph.
New Zealand is a small country (similar in size to the United Kingdom or Japan), and with a population of just 4.5 million, it’s gloriously uncrowded. It’s a destination where everything’s close – from dramatic natural scenery to vibrant cities. The country will dazzle you with its Maori culture, movie-set good looks and thrilling action and adventures around every corner – plus warm, genuine hospitality that will stay with you long after your flight home.
Day 1: (Apr 21) Arrive Christchurch, South Island. You will be picked up by Hotel Shuttle for the short transfer from the Christchurch International Airport to our hotel. We’ll meet this evening for our Welcome Dinner. Overnight Christchurch.
Day 2: (Apr 22) Christchurch to Hokitika.
After an early breakfast, we will board the TranzAlpine passenger train, regarded to be one of the world’s great train journeys for the scenery through which it passes. As we travel from Christchurch to Greymouth, we’ll cross the majestic Canterbury Plains with the mighty Southern Alps as a backdrop. Throughout the five-hour journey, we’ll see and photograph epic vistas from the outside viewing carriage, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traverse the Southern Alps, and see miles of native beech forest. On arrival at Greymouth, we’ll take the short journey to Hokitika. For a small town, Hokitika is rich the resources. It is the birthplace of New Zealand jade/greenstone, which the Maori call “pounamu”. Before the gold rush, Maori were already heading here in search of this precious stone. We will photograph the windswept shoreline – where pounamu can often be found after a storm. You’ll also want to keep your eyes open for the Little Blue Penguin which has its habitat here. In the afternoon we’ll photograph jade master carvers in action as they shape the raw jade into beautiful ornaments and jewelry. Overnight Hokitika.
Day 3: (Apr 23) Hokitika to Franz Josef Glacier.
Today we’ll journey to “Glacier Country”, arriving at the perfect time of day to take advantage of the afternoon light and sunset. At Lake Matheson, near Fox Glacier, nature has combined exactly the right ingredients to create truly stunning reflections of New Zealand’s highest peaks – Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman. The waters of Lake Matheson are dark brown, so on a calm day, they create the ideal reflective surface. The color is caused by natural leaching of organic matter from the surrounding native forest floor. By a happy coincidence, the mountains to the east are perfectly positioned to reflect in the lake, known as “Mirror Lake”. If Mother Nature favors it, you’ll be able to photograph the mountains reflected in “Mirror Lake”. Overnight in Franz Josef.
Day 4: (Apr 24) Queenstown via Haast Pass.
After breakfast this morning, we will visit the Andris Apse Gallery. Andris Apse is a highly-awarded landscape photographer whose work has appeared in publications all over the world. He specializes in producing high-quality panoramic photographs that are available in limited edition print and pictorial book form. Crafted over the past 30 years, these photographs portray the many moods of both the New Zealand wilderness and rural countryside.
After our visit to the gallery, we’ll begin our journey to Queenstown, via Haast Pass. Haast Pass, a mountain pass in the Southern Alps, takes its name from Julius von Haast, a 19th-century explorer. We’ll travel through some spectacular scenery. We will stop along the way to photograph wild water as it crashes over river boulders and culminates in a number of spectacular waterfalls.
Surrounded by the soaring heights of the Remarkables Mountain Range and framed by Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is a small town which displays the energy of a city. It wears its “Global Adventure Capital” badge proudly. Within its boundaries, you’ll find a highly cosmopolitan restaurant and arts scene, excellent vineyards and five international standard golf courses. It arguably has some of New Zealand’s most beautiful views. We’ll spend two nights here, giving ample time to photograph the beauty of the area. Our hotel is located close to the lake and in the center of town, so everything is within an easy, flat walk away. Overnight Queenstown.
Day 5: (Apr 25) This morning, we will partake in some of the adventure that Queenstown has to offer. Our day begins with a helicopter ride. On this special and exhilarating flight, we will fly past spectacular mountains and blue-green ice falls before we land on one of the many glaciers in the area. There will be time to photograph the area’s majestic mountains. As we head back to Queenstown we’ll pass hidden alpine lakes. NOTE: This is weather dependent. In the afternoon, we’ll go on a 4WD, off-road adventure following a miners’ old wagon trail and explore a historic gold mining town with our cameras. Along the way, we’ll enjoy breathtaking scenery and multiple river crossings. Overnight Queenstown.
Day 6: (Apr 26) Manapouri/Doubtful Sound Cruise
We will leave Queenstown and drive to Manapouri in Fiordland, where we will board our boat for our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. Sometimes called “the Sound of Silence”, Doubtful Sound has a cloistered serenity within that contrasts with the better-known Milford Sound in the same region. Technically a fiord, rather than a sound, the landscape is rich in flora and fauna. There are several outstanding waterfalls in the area. At 421 meters deep, Doubtful Sound is the deepest of the fiords and is long and winding with three distinct “’arms”. As we cruise through some of the fiord’s most stunning scenery, knowledgeable nature guides will provide commentary – ensuring you miss nothing. New Zealand Fur Seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins, and Bottlenose Dolphins are just some of the animals you might encounter and get to photograph. We’ll drop anchor in a sheltered cove, where you’ll have the opportunity to explore the shoreline by kayak or tender boat or to simply relax onboard. For the more adventurous (or very brave), there’s even a chance to go swimming.
In the evening, enjoy a delicious three-course buffet dinner prepared by the onboard chef and served in the dining salon. Mingle with fellow travelers, savor some of the fine wines and, if the skies are clear in the evening, spend some time on the upper deck gazing at and photographing the stars and the Southern Hemisphere’s sky. Overnight onboard in twin-share en-suite cabin.
Day 7: (Apr 27) Return to Queenstown
We’ll start off the day with a hearty cooked breakfast onboard our boat, then spend the rest of the morning exploring and photographing other parts of the fiord before returning back to Manapouri around midday. On arrival back at Queenstown the rest of the afternoon will be at leisure. Optional activities include walking and photographing around Lake Wakatipu (right outside our hotel), wine tasting, jet boating, bungee jumping, gondola and luge ride, spa treatments, or shopping for souvenirs. Overnight Queenstown.
Day 8: (Apr 28) Queenstown to Mount Cook Alpine Village
Today we will leave Queenstown and head through the Lindis Pass into the wide open spaces around the Mackenzie basin before crossing into Mount Cook National Park. Recognized as part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Area, Mount Cook National Park is a breathtaking environment of glaciers, terminal lakes, turbulent rivers and Australasia’s tallest peak, the mighty Mount Cook. Known as Aoraki (cloud piercer) to the Maori, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3,724 metres. The area became famous by means of Sir Edmund Hillary. A New Zealander and the first westerner to climb Mount Everest with his Sherpa, Tenzing, Sir Ed, as he’s known in New Zealand, used this mountain as his practice climbing area before he went to the Himalayas. You’ll find his image on the $5 banknote of the New Zealand currency. We will finish the day with a sunset shoot of Aoraki/Mount Cook. (Weather dependent.) Overnight Mount Cook Village.
Day 9: (Apr 29) Mount Cook Alpine Village
After breakfast, you will have free time to explore and photograph in and around Mount Cook Village or take one of the alpine walks close by. Also in the area is the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which is well worth a visit.
In the afternoon, we’ll head out on one of the only accessible glacial lakes in the world that contains icebergs and have the opportunity to photograph the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s largest. Explore and learn about the ever-changing glacial landscape as you journey across the terminal lake in a custom-built MAC Boat with an experienced guide. Icebergs of every shape and size periodically tear away from the face of the glacier into the rapidly growing lake. With the effects of global warming taking their toll on New Zealand glaciers, their retreat is imminent. Now approximately 27km long and 600m deep, the Tasman Glacier is melting and calving at an exponentially increasing rate. In recent years, it has changed from a “melting” to a “calving and melting” terminus, resulting in a terminal lake that is rapidly increasing in size. Overnight Mount Cook Village.
Day 10: (Apr 30) Lake Tekapo
Just a short drive from Mount Cook Village is Lake Tekapo. Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, since 2012 Lake Tekapo has been part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve. It has very little light pollution, making it the perfect spot for stargazing. Lake Tekapo village faces north and looks out across the remarkable turquoise-colored lake of the same name, to the mountainous drama of the Southern Alps. It gets its intense milky-turquoise color from the fine rock-flour (ground by glaciers), which is suspended in the water. Today we will visit one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shepherd and take in the beauty of the lake and the shoreline. This evening after dinner we will head out to visit the Mount John Observatory where you’ll have the opportunity to hone your dark sky shooting skills. You’ll experience the thrill of looking deep into the cosmos with powerful telescopes. The Milky Way will be fully visible on a clear night and, in perfect weather conditions, the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) might be seen. You will be introduced to the objects and constellations visible in the sky to the naked eye, then move on to looking through several telescopes. These are portable yet powerful, and they are set up outside under the stars. The resident astrophotographers will help you capture the night sky with your camera. If the stars are hidden from view, you will journey behind closed doors and get a glimpse of what life is like as an astronomer. See a range of research equipment that is out of bounds to the general public, and learn about the research that goes on at the Dark Sky Reserve. Overnight Lake Tekapo.
Day 11: (May 1) Christchurch then fly to Auckland – North Island
Leaving Lake Tekapo this morning, we’ll stop for some final scenic shots on route to Christchurch. We will then head to the airport for our afternoon flight to Auckland. You’ll have some leisure time before we meet up for dinner. Overnight Auckland City Centre.
Day 12: (May 2) Hauraki Gulf and Waiheke Island
After breakfast, we will take a ferry out into the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island was named one of the world’s top 10 regions to visit in Lonely Planet. It’s a haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves, and beaches, all just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. As we leave the city behind, the skyline makes for a beautiful backdrop for photographs. On arrival, we will take a private tour to one of the wineries. We’ll meet the winemaker, photograph around the vineyard, taste award-winning wines and relax over a delicious vineyard lunch before heading back to the city. Overnight Auckland City Centre.
Day 13: (May 3) Auckland to Rotorua via Waitomo
Today we’re off to Rotorua. On the way, we’ll stop in Waitomo and visit the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The glowworm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand. Thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their unmistakable luminescent light as expert guides provide informative commentary on the Caves’ historical and geological significance. We’ll ride a boat and glide silently through the starry wonderland of the Glow Worm Grotto and its soaring subterranean cathedral. We’ll also visit Ruakuri Cave, home to an innovative spiral entrance, echoing waterfalls, and limestone that flows into delicate shawl-like formations. Finally, we’ll take a journey through a forest to magnificent Aranui Cave. With a natural cave entrance, it is the smallest and most delicate of Waitomo’s three main caves. Photographic opportunities abound.
In the evening we’ll journey to the world of the Maori and experience their famous hospitality. Set in a stunning 200-year-old native Tawa forest, we’ll take part in an ancient ceremony of welcome and immerse ourselves in the traditional Maori way of life. We’ll witness and photograph warrior training, poi dancing, and the famous haka war dance. We’ll also see displays in weaving, wood carving and facial tattooing, known as Ta Moko. Our evening will conclude with a traditional Hangi Dinner (geothermally-steamed food, cooked underground on hot stones), story-telling and a powerful cultural performance of song and dance. Overnight Rotorua.
Day 14: (May 4) Rotorua to Hobbiton (Matamata)
Rotorua, a town set on its namesake lake, is renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. We’ll visit the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Sculptured out of volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Wai-O-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal site. You will be introduced to a uniquely different natural landscape of geothermal activity. Photograph bubbling mud pools, geysers, and colorful sulfurous pools as you walk around this thermal wonderland. You’ll have the afternoon at leisure. Optional activities include shopping, walking along the lake observing native wildlife and visiting Wingspan Birds of Prey Wildlife Centre.
Day 15: (May 5) Rotorua to Auckland
You’ll have free time this morning in Rotorua.
In the afternoon, we’ll take a guided tour through the Middle-Earth™ at the Hobbiton™ Movie Set. Here you will step into the lush pastures of the Shire™, as seen in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Movie trilogies. Our guided tour will start at The Green Dragon™ Inn. We’ll be escorted through the 12-acre site, hearing fascinating stories and anecdotes about the trilogies. Afterwards, we’ll move into The Green Dragon dining room, to enjoy a banquet feast fit for a Hobbit. The tables will be heaving with traditional Hobbit fayre and, as is the tradition in The Shire, second helpings are encouraged! After dinner, we will re-join our guide and make our way back through the wandering paths of The Shire. The trails will be illuminated by path lighting and handheld lanterns will be provided to help light the way. We’ll travel through the village – breathtakingly lit up – with Hobbit Hole™ chimneys smoking and lanterns glowing in the darkness. After dinner, we will travel to Auckland. Where we’ll stay the night at a conveniently located airport hotel. Overnight Auckland Airport Hotel.
Day 16: (May 6) The international airport is located directly beside the hotel for easy access to guests homeward flights.