New Zealand Landscape Photography & Hidden Gems

Moody morning New Zealand landscape photography from Milford Sound.
Moody morning New Zealand landscape photography from Milford Sound.

New Zealand landscape photographers and foreigners alike dream of visiting the South Island to capture some of the most breathtaking and diverse scenery found anywhere in the world. This New Zealand landscape photography and hidden gems guide will provide you with insight and inspiration for capturing the best New Zealand landscapes that the South Island has to offer.

We spent a combined total of over 6 months exploring the entire South Island with a focus on New Zealand landscape photography. Compiled in this travel and photography guide are a collection of our favorite NZ landscape photos. We’ve also included a brief summary of what we consider the best opportunities for each region.

NZ landscape photography showing a beautiful Hooker Lake, Mt Cook.
The incredible Hooker Lake as seen from the skies in Mt Cook.

While some of the places covered are very well known, we have also made an effort to provide you with some of New Zealand’s hidden gems. Many of these scenic destinations are unknown even to the kiwis!

If you are here planning a trip, you will absolutely want to bookmark a couple of our other New Zealand guides. In particular, our ultimate South Island New Zealand map is must-read, featuring EVERY point of interest we photographed on the entire island. This map includes pins and original photos for each destination.

We have also created a guide on deciding the best time to visit New Zealand, including everything you need to know to make that decision. Is having a chance to see the rare and beautiful Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) important to you? If so, which month is best? Check out the guide where we discuss that and much more!

Last, be sure to explore our New Zealand South Island 7 day itinerary (even if your visit is longer) to get an idea of effective route options and help maximize your time. This itinerary provides important travel insight and plenty more photographic inspiration for your trip!

We hope you enjoy our NZ landscape photography gallery and truly welcome any questions you have in the comments below. If you see any photos that you would like made into prints, just comment or send us an email and we can discuss prices and shipping!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#1: Mount Cook and Aoraki

Landscape photography of a frozen Hooker Lake in Mt Cook / Aoraki, New Zealand.
A frozen Hooker Lakes provides texture and interest to the foreground, while Mount Cook looms majestically in the distance.

Mount Cook National Park, also known as Aoraki Mountain National Park, is probably the absolute best New Zealand landscape photography destination there is on the entire South Island… when the weather cooperates, that is!

Located in the heart of the Southern Alps, the beauty of the mountain range that runs through Mt Cook/Aoraki is hard to overstate. When the peaks are visible, the views from anywhere in the park are simply magnificent. Better still, the opportunities for some of the best NZ landscape photography do not end after dark!

Aoraki is one of only 11 internationally recognized dark sky reserves on the planet. The night skies are so clear that the snow-capped mountain peaks seem to absorb that celestial light, allowing you to capture their majesty even on moonless nights.

Lunar light reflects from the mountains of Mt Cook in this night photography image from Aoraki.
The lunar light from a 30% moon reflects off the snow and illuminates the scene from Hooker Lake. The Milky Way can even be seen rising behind Mt Cook!

If you are a landscape photographer planning a trip to the South Island, be sure to focus your itinerary on the weather forecasts for Mt Cook. It is not uncommon to have days of 0 visibility, which obviously makes it difficult to shoot. As this is the region most likely to be affected by foul weather, your route should revolve around the forecasts here.

Below is a list of our favorite places to shoot NZ landscape photography within Mt Cook National Park, as well as the best time to photograph them.

The Road to Mt Cook

Before you even arrive, you will find some dreamlike New Zealand landscapes as you drive one of the most picturesque roads in the world! Mt Cook Road provides a perfect leading line to the Southern Alps. We have found the best light comes an hour or two after sunrise, or a few hours before sunset.

NZ landscape photography capturing the road to Mt Cook and Aoraki National Park.
The road to Mt Cook National Park is a destination unto itself for NZ landscape photography!

Tasman Lake

Tasman Lake is one of the most popular places to photograph sunrise and sunset in Aoraki. A short hike takes you to the river edge and Tasman Lake. The mountains fill your background while the soft water and large chunks of ice often add drama to your foreground.

Colorful sunset photography at the New Zealand hidden gem of Tasman Lake in Aoraki National Park.
A colorful sunset adds interest to the sky above Tasman Lake and the Southern Alps of NZ.

Hooker Lake

The Hooker Valley Track that leads to Hooker Lake is the main reason Mt Cook takes the #1 spot on our list NZ photography destinations list! The scene at Hooker Lake is be our favorite place to photograph New Zealand scenery on either island. While the light here can be challenging, it is a truly spectacular work of natural art, and the reward is worth the moderate hike.

Hooker Lake is where we photographed one of our most popular photos ever, and was captured after the sun had set. If you have clear skies, we encourage any New Zealand landscape photographers interested in astrophotography to include a night under the stars in your itineraries!

Night photography from Mt Cook, and the current 2020 visitor guide cover photo for the New Zealand Mackenzie region.
Stargazing at Mt Cook on a moonlit night. This image was honored as the current cover photo for the New Zealand Mackenzie Region visitor guide!

If the image above looks familiar to any of you, that may be because this photograph was chosen to be the cover photo for the 2020 Mackenzie Region visitor guide!

Our favorite place for New Zealand landscape photography is here at Hooker Lake in Mt Cook.
When the weather and light cooperates, few places compare to Hooker Lake for New Zealand landscape photography.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#2: Milford Sound

A snow-capped Mitre Peak looms tall on a moody morning at Milford Sound in this NZ landscape photograph.
A snow-capped Mitre Peak looms tall on a moody morning at Milford Sound.

Dubbed the “8th Wonder of the World” by New Zealand photographers, Milford Sound is the most widely renowned destination in all of New Zealand for landscape photography. Be warned that doing justice to the scale of these sheer drops is difficult to do in a still frame. With that said, even casual tourists using smart phones are sure to capture something incredible on their visit.

Much like Mt Cook, the weather will greatly determine your ability to come away with those award-winning snaps. What’s worse, Milford Sound receives more rainfall than any other place in all of New Zealand!

Low clouds create a dramatic landscape photograph at Milford Sound in New Zealand.
Low clouds and soft light create a sense of drama in this photo of Milford Sound.

There is a nice, thick silver lining to this rainfall though. Due to the verticality of the fjords of Milford Sound, hundreds of impermanent waterfalls begin streaming from the cliff edges following heavy rain. If you have ample time, the best conditions to seek is the first clear patch following heavy rains. If you get lucky, you might get a nice burst of colorful light as the sun ignites the mist particles while countless waterfalls spill into the Milford Sound.

Bowen Falls spilling into the Milford Sound is a popular composition for New Zealand landscape photography.
Bowen Falls spills into the Milford Sound.

Located deep in Fjordland National Park, the journey to Milford Sound provides as many opportunities for New Zealand landscape photographers as the destination itself. There is only one road in and out. There’s also nowhere to camp at Milford, so it is important to plan carefully. The only place to stay is the Milford Lodge, which is quite expensive but so, so beautiful!

Night photography of the Fjordlands New Zealand landscape with the Milky Way high above.
Night photography of the Fjordlands NZ landscape with the Milky Way high above.

Cruise Through Milford Sound

Some Milford Sound cruises allow time for kayaking adventures, which provide access to some of the best landscape photography you cannot get otherwise.
Some Milford Sound cruises allow time for kayaking adventures, which provide access to some of the best landscape photography you cannot get otherwise.

As we mentioned, accommodation in Milford Sound is limited and expensive. A great solution to this is an overnight cruise through the Sounds. While this is by no means a cheap option, it provides more than just accommodation! Taking a cruise through Milford Sounds also gives you greater access to some once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities.

Fully immerse yourself in the incredible scenery by hopping in a kayak or if you can brave the freezing waters, jump in! This was absolutely one of the highlights of our time in New Zealand. Just be mindful of protecting your cameras as the salt water of the sound is extremely corrosive.

There are also many companies offering day or half-day cruises if you don’t want to spend the night on a boat.

Fly Over Milford Sound

If you are visiting the South Island on a limited time table (or even if you aren’t), you should strongly consider booking the short plane ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Not only will this shave a lot of time off your journey, but there are some truly incredible photos waiting to be captured from the sky as well. Of course, the downside is that you will miss many of the stops along the way, but if time is precious it’s a good option to consider.

It’s also possible to book a combined flight and cruise experience. Or if you don’t have your own transport this highly rated Milford Sound tour offers a coach ride in from Queenstown, a cruise of the sound, then a flight back to QT, giving you get the best of it all!

Click here for more Milford Sound cruise and flight options.

A small plane ride provides incredible views of the New Zealand landscapes at Milford Sound.
Consider booking a flight from Milford Sound to Queenstown for the opportunity of shooting these impressive New Zealand landscapes from the sky!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#3: Lake Ohau (New Zealand hidden gem!)

Lake Ohau is a true New Zealand hidden gem for landscape photography!
The often forgotten Lake Ohau is a true New Zealand hidden gem for landscape photography!

Going back to Canterbury, our pick for the number 3 spot goes to a place that most visitors are completely unaware they are missing out on! While other nearby lakes get the tour buses, Lake Ohau remains quiet most times of the day. It’s easily one of our favorite scenes for landscape photography in New Zealand!

What makes the scenery here so special is having the backdrop of the Southern Alps (including a distant Mt Cook) with Lake Ohau and the river Hopkins to provide interest to the foreground. Most tour buses and travel guides will mention the more popular Lake Tekapo and nearby Lake Pukaki. However, Lake Ohau remains one of the few New Zealand hidden gems on the South Island.

The Southern Alps at Lake Ohau provide impressive backdrops for New Zealand landscape photographers.
Most visiting NZ landscape photographers are shamefully unaware of this hidden gem.

To access these views and more like them, take Glen Lyon Road to Lake Ohau and follow it around the EAST side of the lake. Go as far as you feel comfortable driving, which may vary based on vehicle.

The braided texture where the river meets the lake is absolutely stunning from the air, for those of you who have a drone. With that said, mind your height and always keep line of sight as this is a popular destination for hanggliders.

While it can be beautiful any time of day, we captured our favorite photos of the Lake Ohau landscape during the evening golden hour!

Golden hour lighting at Lake Ohau provides an amazing opportunity for NZ landscape photography.
Golden Hour at Lake Ohau creates a magical moment for NZ landscape photography.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#4: Roys Peak

Roys Peak is among the most popular destination for New Zealand landscape photography.
Adam standing high above Lake Wanaka at the Roy’s Peak lookout.

We have traveled to a LOT of places and done more hikes than we can count. But, the view from Roy’s Peak in Wanaka is the singular best viewpoint we have ever come across.

The Roy’s Peak hike has become one of the most popular hikes in all of New Zealand, despite being pretty challenging. This grueling trail takes between 5 and 7 hours for most people. Plus, the entirety of it is exposed to the relentless sun.

If this hike is on your itinerary, we have put together a comprehensive travel guide answering every question you need to know for hiking the Roys Peak track that you will want to queue up now and bookmark. This guide includes crucial information, seasonal closures, and even photography tips for ensuring you take home something magical from your visit.

Taking a rest from the grueling Roy's Peak hike to enjoy the spectacular New Zealand landscapes below.
Sophie taking a rest from the grueling hike up Roy’s Peak trail to enjoy the spectacular New Zealand landscapes below.

If you thought the hike took your breath away, just wait until you see the view! The trail will eventually flatten off where a well-trod track deviates. This trail takes you out along the ridge, ending at the ultimate vista.

Once there, standing high above Lake Wanaka, you will find yourself completely immersed by unparalleled scenic beauty. You will also discover one of the best places for landscape photography in all of New Zealand.

Sophie jumps for joy surrounded by the beautiful NZ landscapes of Roy's Peak.
Sophie jumping for joy on a snowy hike up Roy’s Peak. Don’t worry, this is no where near as dangerous as it looks!

While many people will stop at this point, this is not actually Roy’s Peak! To discover a bevy of other NZ landscape photography opportunities, keep climbing! What you will encounter as you ascend is 360 degrees of pure mountain euphoria.

The first time we visited, we actually stayed up top through the night in order to photograph the sunrise in the morning. As beautiful as sunset is, the best time to photograph Roy’s Peak is undoubtedly at sunrise!

Sunrise landscape photography from Roy's Peak in New Zealand.
Landscape photography capturing sunrise at Roy’s Peak near Wanaka, NZ.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#5: Rocky Peak Viewpoint (NZ hidden gem!)

If photographing Roy’s Peak just feels too touristy for you, you will love this nearby New Zealand hidden gem. Also located near Wanaka, the Rocky Peak Viewpoint hike was shown to us by a local and ended up being tied with Roys Peak for our favorite hike in all of New Zealand.

The Rocky Peak Viewpoint hike is a New Zealand hidden gem known only to the locals.
Sshhhh… only the locals know about this hidden gem near Wanaka, NZ!

While the views from Roy’s Peak tend to stay consistent throughout the hike, you are treated to a variety of unique scenery and incredible photo opportunities along the Rocky Peak Viewpoint hike. It is this diversity that makes this a Top 5 recommendation for New Zealand landscape photography on the South Island.

Below is a little list of the different views and compositions we found the most striking.

NZ landscape photography of the mountains near Wanaka.

Rocky Peak Hike Trailhead

Just as you begin your hike, look back in the direction you came; almost immediately, you are treated to an amazing New Zealand landscape!

Amazing New Zealand scenery begins at the Rocky Peak Trailhead.
The amazing New Zealand scenery begins at the Rocky Peak Trailhead.

Diamond Lake Conservation Area

As you climb higher, look back toward the Diamond Lake Conservation Area where the trail began. What you will find are a rich color palette and stunning natural scenery. Vibrant greens occupy the lower third of your frame, while warm mountain tones fill your central third and a white and/or blue sky claim the top. These cascading layers of color and texture are a landscape photographer’s dream!

Lanscape photography featuring New Zealand's Diamond lake Conservation Area.
Gorgeous evening light paints the ridges of the mountainous NZ South Island.

Diamond Lake Viewpoint

The first official viewpoint you will arrive at provides views of the beautiful Diamond Lake. There are, unfortunately, only limited opportunities for compositions here, but it’s certainly worth photographing!

Looking down at Diamond Lake near Wanaka, New Zealand.
Looking down at Diamond Lake near Wanaka, New Zealand.

Rocky Mountain Lake Wanaka Viewpoint

You’ve reached what many people mistakenly consider the end of the line, and wow is it impressive! This is the Rocky Mountain Lake Wanaka viewpoint, featuring the first glimpse of the Matukituki River below. The colors and landscape here are something to behold, and difficult to put into words. We will say this though; somehow, it only gets better!

The incredible New Zealand scenery just keeps getting better as you ascend to the Rocky Mountain Lake Wanaka Viewpoint.
The incredible New Zealand scenery just keeps getting better as you ascend to the Rocky Mountain Lake Wanaka Viewpoint.

Matukituki River Viewpoint

About halfway up, the views will begin to open up over Matukituki River and Lake Wanaka. This is precisely why we love this hike so much! Rather than staring at the same scene as you ascend, it seems you are constantly greeted by new scenery and vistas!

The Matukituki River Viewpoint is a New Zealand hidden gem that isn't even on the map!
This New Zealand hidden gem isn’t even on the map!

We particularly loved being high enough to see the braiding in the Matukituki River. In addition, you are really getting an understanding of the true shape and grandeur of the landscape at this point. And yet, somehow, the best is STILL to come!

Sophie nearing the climactic views from Rocky Peak on New Zealand's South Island.
Sophie nearing the climactic views from Rocky Peak…

Rocky Peak Viewpoint

Rocky Peak Viewpoint is a hidden gem and offers the best view in all of New Zealand for landscape photography.
This hidden gem may just be the best view in all of New Zealand for landscape photography.

There it is! As you make your way to the Rocky Peak Viewpoint, be prepared for this and other equally incredible views! From here you can chase the light in any direction, being greeted by beautiful but unique views in each.

We visited in the late evening and stayed through sunset. This was hands down of the best experiences in all our time on the South Island. It was also the most rewarding in regards to our New Zealand landscape photography portfolios!

In addition to the views, many other amazing NZ landscapes await!
In addition to the views, many other amazing NZ landscapes await!

Couple these views with the fact that we saw less than 5 other hikers our entire time on the trail and you understand why we consider the Rocky Peak hike such an amazing New Zealand hidden gem.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#6: Wharariki Beach (New Zealand hidden gem?)

Golden hour photography at Wharariki Beach, NZ.
The sea stacks at Wharariki Beach bathe in golden hour light.

Ok, it’s difficult to claim that Wharariki Beach is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems as it is rather well known in the NZ landscape photography community. However, we are claiming it as such because while most foreigners may have seen photos of it at some point, few know where it is!

Tucked into the remote Northwest corner of the South Island, this otherworldly beach is our favorite destination for seascapes! What makes it so striking are the interesting sea stacks that rise up from straight out of the ocean, boasting fascinating shapes.

In addition to the sea stacks, the constant winds sweep the sand into immaculately shaped ridges. These provide texture, as well as a sense of unspoiled beauty to your foregrounds.

Wharariki Beach is the best New Zealand landscape for seascape photography.

Most consider the best time to photograph Wharariki Beach to be sunset, and for good reason. However, the remote nature of this section of the island also means incredibly dark night skies. This means astrophotographers and Milky Way chasers have some amazing opportunities for night photography as well!

Night photography at Wharariki Beach with Milky Way.
Wharariki Beach feels otherworldly when photographed at night.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#7: Lindis Pass

An aerial perspective of Lindis Pass creates a far more compelling landscape photograph.
An aerial perspective of Lindis Pass creates a far more compelling landscape photograph.

Most New Zealand landscape photographers will feature the Lindis Pass on their South Island itineraries as a natural route from Mt Cook to Queenstown. If your itinerary does not include this route for some reason, you need to fix that immediately!

The Lindis Pass is a section of road that cuts directly into a jagged mountain range. There are a few places to stop along the way, but the most popular and probably the most photogenic is the viewpoint about halfway through.

Fresh snow dusts the tips of the mountains at Lindis Pass.
Fresh snow dusts the tips of the mountains at Lindis Pass.

Keep your eyes open throughout the drive for trails and vantage points that you find interesting, and consider hiking one of the trails that lead up the mountain from the viewpoint. A little elevation goes a long way towards capturing the beauty of the landscape.

To that end, those with access should definitely consider some drone photography from here. The perspective you get from the air really makes a massive different. Be mindful not to exceed 125m, however, as many local flyers use this as a flight path.

The mountain range of Lindis Pass is one of the most photogenic on New Zealand South Island.
The mountain range of Lindis Pass is one of the most photogenic on New Zealand South Island.

Those who are truly lucky will have their visit time out with a fresh snow dusting. The color separation the snow provides really transforms the mountains of Lindis Pass!

Cascading mountain ranges and fresh snow set the mood for some NZ landscape photography.
A light snow dusting on the mountains helps provide contrast.

READ MORE: All the camera gear we use for epic travel photography.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#8: Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki

Radiant colors make Lake Tekapo a landscape photographer's paradise.
Radiant colors make Lake Tekapo a landscape photographer’s paradise.

These two lakes need little introduction. In fact, Lake Tekapo is probably the most famous lake in all of New Zealand! If you don’t think you’ve heard of it, it’s probably because you don’t realize that this is the setting for the Church of the Good Sheperd.

Surprisingly, it is the actual lake that we love, while the church we barely bothered photographing! You can expect literal swarms of people at all times of day AND night at the church. But, don’t fret, the best landscape photography locations are actually from the sides of the lake!

The reason Both Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki made our list will be obvious when you see the jaw-dropping color with your own eyes. The aqua waters seem impossible to believe. This, accompanied with the incredible Southern Alps in the backdrop, combine for a truly magical scene.

NZ landscape photographers will not be able to put their cameras away when they encounter the impossibly blue waters of Lake Pukaki.
NZ landscape photographers will not be able to put their cameras away when they encounter the impossibly blue waters of Lake Pukaki.

When you visit Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, be sure to make time to actually explore compositions by driving the dirt roads around the lakes. While not paved, they are fine for campers and provide much more interesting landscape photographs.

An added bonus awaits you if you can get there in the spring when the colorful lupins blossom!

A house poses in front of sparse lupin at Lake Tekapo.
A house poses in front of sparse lupin at Lake Tekapo.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#9: Glacier Burn near Kinloch (NZ hidden gem)

The sunset at Glacier Burn near Kinloch was the best we experienced during all our time photographing the landscapes of New Zealand.
The sunset at Glacier Burn near Kinloch was the best we experienced during all our time photographing the landscapes of New Zealand.

Another New Zealand landscape photography hidden gem that is truly an unknown!

Out past Glenorchy where the road ends for most, you can continue on toward Paradise and potentially the small town of Kinloch. We highly recommend both of these places! Where we found the most interesting compositions, however, were from a small roadside trail near Glacier Burn. This gave us access to the river bed, where we had incredible views looking North toward the vast mountainscapes of Paradise and South toward The Remarkables and Queenstown.

A polarizer and ND filter allowed us to capture the deep colors and tones in this long exposure photograph from outside Kinloch.
A polarizer and ND filter allowed us to capture the deep colors and tones in this long exposure photograph from outside Kinloch.

Using the braided river as your foreground and the distant mountains to fill the background, the photos we came away with were some of our most prized. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were gifted to one of the most incredible sunsets we have ever seen!

If you have access to a drone, this is another place where you may want to consider using it to do some aerial photography. By gaining a bit of elevation, you reveal the braided texture of the Rees River.

Drone photography allows New Zealand landscape photographers to capture the texture of the braided rivers for which the country is known.
Access to a drone allows New Zealand landscape photographers to capture the texture of the braided rivers for which the country is known.

Those confined by gravity will still have some great opportunities, which vary based on water level. From the ground, we used our polarizer and ND filter to do some long exposure photography of the scene, and were extremely pleased with the results!

More long exposure landscape photography from our sunset at Glacier Burn, Kinloch.
More long exposure landscape photography from our sunset at Glacier Burn, Kinloch.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#10: Moeraki Boulders

Straight out of Game of Thrones, the well-known Moeraki Boulders deserve every bit of prestige they receive. These beachside boulders resemble giant, fossilized dragon eggs… and you can’t prove they aren’t!

Sunset photography of the Moeraki Boulders.
The Moeraki Boulders look like dragon eggs waiting to hatch!

We visited this location a number of times with different shots in mind on each occasion. However, you are very much at the mercy of the tides and conditions here! When you get those two things right, you have an opportunity to capture some of the most unique and beautiful New Zealand landscape photography!

On the topic of tide, for the most impressive photos you are hoping to catch a mid-to-high tide. Ideally, you would like it right where the water level reaches the boulders before draining back to sea. Too high and they will be completely submerged, but too low and the water remains distant from the boulders.

Sunset photography at the Moeraki Boulders is a must for any NZ landscape photography itinerary.
Sunset photography at the Moeraki Boulders is a must for any NZ landscape photography itinerary.

Regarding times, both sunrise and sunset can be beautiful, but sunrise is best being on the east coast. Blue hour does also offer a certain magic as well, and overcast days can add a moody tone to the scenery.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#11: Cave Stream Scenic Reserve (New Zealand hidden gem!)

Cave Stream Scenic Reserve may be the best kept secret of all New Zealand hidden gems.
This New Zealand hidden gem just might be the best kept secret in the country!

We almost didn’t want to include this place as we’ve never seen other New Zealand landscape photographers shoot here, and it felt like a true discovery. That said, the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is a well-known destination in Arthur’s Pass National Park, so I have no doubt that others have shot here before… But, with that said, we follow some of New Zealand’s best photographers, and images from here have never shown up on our feeds.

While we have explored and photographed many caves in the past, what makes this one so special is the stream that runs through it! In addition, doing a bit of light painting revealed the stunning colors and textures that the water has carved.

Photography inside the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve
Who would have guessed this dark cave house such amazing color and detail?!

Be warned, however, that getting these shots was very difficult! It is hard to know where the deep parts are and how deep they go. Keeping our camera and equipment dry and safe was a major challenge!

For those who dare, it is easy enough to find the entrance to Cave Stream on Google Maps. You can exit the cave about a mile upstream.

We would also like to warn you to be prepared for extreme cold! Even on a hot day, the temperature in the cave remains low and the water can get up as high as your chest at certain points!

All that said, a waterfall inside a cave is one of the most unique scenes we have yet photographed, and it was a special feeling to capture something so unusual!

A waterfall in a cave! This is truly one of the best New Zealand landscapes that no one knows about!
Yes, a waterfall in a cave! This is truly one of the best New Zealand landscapes that no one knows about!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#12: Marlborough Sounds

Drone photography from high above Queen Charlotte in the Marlborough Sounds
NZ landscape photographers will be amazed at the scenery from the skies about the Marlborough Sounds.

One of the last places you can go in New Zealand and not see a Jucy campervan is the Marlborough Sounds! While it may not be obvious, there is actually a lot of road access to the the most remote reaches of the region for those willing to get their vehicles a little dirty.

Because the Marlborough region is so expansive and seldom visited by New Zealand photographers, we are going to be providing an entirely separate NZ travel guide dedicated to the Marlborough Sounds.

As this is simply a guide to NZ landscape photography, however, we are going to keep it short and sweet here and simply mention a few of our favorite places. We should also mention that without a drone that can clear the tree lines, your views will be very limited.

Robin Hood Bay

One of the more accessible NZ landscape photography destinations in the Marlborough Sounds region, Robin Hood Bay should definitely have a spot on your itinerary if time permits!

Robin Hood Bay is one of the more accessible options for exploring the Marlborough Sounds.
Robin Hood Bay is one of the more accessible options for exploring the Marlborough Sounds.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Definitely the highlight of the area, the Queen Charlotte region of the Marlborough Sounds is one of the most interesting New Zealand landscapes you will find on either island.

Drone photography of the changing tones in the waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound.
Amazingly, the water color varies between each section of the Queen Charlotte Sound.

Whatamango Bay

Aside from having an awesome name, Whatamango Bay is special because it is one of the few viewpoints that provide brilliant visibility without needing a drone. As the photo suggests, photographing sunset here is highly recommended.

Sunset from Whatamango Bay is another NZ hidden gem known by very few landscape photographers.
Sunset from Whatamango Bay is another NZ hidden gem known by very few landscape photographers.

Pelorus Sound

The deep blue waters and clawed Earth of the Pelorus Sound make for some of the most striking New Zealand landscapes on the South Island.

Incredible blue waters and lush greenery make the Pelorus Sound in Marlborough exceptionally photogenic.
Incredible blue waters and lush greenery make the Pelorus Sound in Marlborough exceptionally photogenic.

Whenuanui Bay

The turquoise water and lush greenery complemented by golden sand beaches made Whenuanui Bay one of our favorite places for aerial photography in Marlborough Sound.

One of our most popular shots from our week photographing the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#13: The Clay Cliffs (New Zealand hidden gem!)

One of the strangest and best New Zealand landscapes you will find, the Clay Cliffs are another amazing hidden gem on the South Island.
One of the strangest and best New Zealand landscapes you will find, the Clay Cliffs are another amazing hidden gem on the South Island.

It is only as we write this that we realize how many New Zealand hidden gems we have provided here! The reason so many more popular places have not made this list is not because they don’t deserve to be here, but because there is a bit more magic in photographing unique scenery… and the Clay Cliffs are certainly unique!

This is one of the stranger New Zealand landscapes you will discover. Rising out of the Earth, jagged spires lift up as if the mountain itself shattered into splinters.

A panoramic photo of the Clay Cliffs of Mackenzie.
A panoramic photo of the Clay Cliffs of Mackenzie.

The light can be quite harsh on the Clay Cliffs which makes photographing them from the land very difficult. We did try a few shots from there, but once again our favorites were from the sky.

Following multiple visits, we found that early morning was the best time to photograph the Clay Cliffs.

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#14: The Otago Peninsula

Rain clouds begin to catch golden light in this seascape from the Otago Peninsula.
Rain clouds begin to catch golden light in this seascape from the Otago Peninsula.

Known more for the wildlife, the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin also boasts some of the best landscapes in New Zealand.

Below is a list of our personal favorites, though we also encourage anyone traveling through the region to look into the numerous opportunities for wildlife photography as well. Seals, albatrosses, and a few varieties of penguins all call the Otago Peninsula home!

Aramoana Beach (New Zealand hidden gem!)

It takes a bit of a scramble to get there, but the heart shaped arch provides a great frame for a subject.

Aramoana Beach is the best landscape for sunrise photography near the Otago Bay.
Aramoana Beach is the best landscape for sunrise photography near the Otago Bay.

Brighton Beach

It’s hard to explain what makes Brighton Beach so special, but it truly is a remarkable place to photograph seascapes. The light just always seems to be magical here, particularly at sunset.

A low line of rain clouds catch the fading sunset light as the aqua waves crash in on Brighton Beach.
A low line of rain clouds catch the fading sunset light as the aqua waves crash in on Brighton Beach.

Tunnel Beach (New Zealand hidden gem!)

An overcast day provides a nice moodiness to your landscape photography at Tunnel Beach.
An overcast day provides a nice moodiness to your landscape photography at Tunnel Beach.

As landscape photographers, Tunnel Beach is probably our favorite place in all of the Otago Peninsula. The views of the cliffs from the top of the trail provides some amazing opportunities for NZ landscape photography. However, the real award winners in our eyes are from within the cove!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
#15: Catlins Forest Park

Rounding out the list of our Top 15 NZ landscape photography destinations is the Catlins Forest Park on the south shore of the South Island. What makes the Catlins so special is the diversity of the subjects and scenery you will find to photograph here.

Below are a list of a few of our favorite spots, though this region deserves a travel guide dedicated specifically to its treasures!

Nugget Point Lighthouse

An early morning storm blows through, providing dramatic skies for this photograph of Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins Forest Reserve.
An early morning storm blows through, providing dramatic skies for this photograph of Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins Forest Reserve.

Nugget Point Lighthouse alone is worth the trip to the Catlins! This gorgeous lighthouse is placed defiantly at the cliffs edge, surrounded by sea stacks known as “nuggets”. It is one of the most popular destinations for NZ landscape photography.

Parakaunui Falls

Autumn tones create a colorful scene at Parakaunui Falls.
Autumn tones create a colorful scene at Parakaunui Falls.

While many New Zealand landscape photographers would argue, we find Parakaunui Falls ranks on our Top 5 waterfalls list for all of New Zealand! We absolutely love the way it tiers down, surrounded by green or yellow foliage (depending on the season). What really puts it over the top is the gnarled tree that twists at its base.

McLean Falls

The cascading tiers of water at McLean Falls make it a favorite destination for waterfall photographers in New Zealand.
The cascading tiers of water at McLean Falls make it a favorite destination for waterfall photographers in New Zealand.

Significantly more popular with New Zealand landscape photographers than Parakaunui Falls, it’s hard to argue with waterfall chasers who prize McLean Falls over all others. This roaring cascade features a massive initial plummet, followed by a staircase-like journey down. The possibilities for creative compositions at McLean Falls are endless!

Curio Bay Cliffs

A dramatic tide brings violent waves and amazing seascape photography at the Curio Bay Cliffs on the South shore of New Zealand.
A dramatic tide brings violent waves and amazing seascape photography at the Curio Bay Cliffs on the South shore of New Zealand.

The cliffs of Curio Bay are another dramatic place for New Zealand landscape photographers to shoot chaotic seascapes. During a big swell, the thunderous crashes of the ocean waves against the cliff walls provide some gripping drama for your photos!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
Honorable Mention: That Wanaka Tree

An epic sunset at That Wanaka Tree; a favorite destination for New Zealand landscape photography.
An epic sunset at That Wanaka Tree; a favorite destination for New Zealand landscape photography.

It’s hard to write a guide to New Zealand landscape photography and leave out “That Wanaka Tree”. It is genuinely one of the most beautiful compositions and scenes on the island, and is obviously a bucket list item for most landscape photographers.

Rather than ranking it, we listed this famous NZ landscape photography destination as an honorable mention for a few reasons:

First, it is a small and busy location, always teeming with tourists and photographers alike. While the photos are stunning, they are also not very unique.

Which brings us organically to the second reason, which is that the compositional possibilities are pretty limited. Because there are so many people there and you are forced to shoot according to the water level and light, you will likely struggle to get too creative or risk upsetting people by entering their frame.

Last, and most tragically, some jerk recently sawed off the lowest limb of That Wanaka Tree. While still photogenic, that scar is hard to ignore when looking at photos.

Blue hour photography at That Wanaka Tree in New Zealand South Island.
Blue hour photography at That Wanaka Tree creates far more serene aesthetic.

If you are going to shoot the tree, and you absolutely should, sunrise and sunset can both be very special, as well as both blue hours!

New Zealand Landscape Photography
Honorable Mention: Doubtful Sounds

The Doubtful Sounds receive an honorable mention for our favorite destinations for NZ landscape photography.
The Doubtful Sounds receive an honorable mention for our favorite destinations for NZ landscape photography.

While everyone is well-aware of Milford Sounds, far fewer people are aware of the other sounds you can visit in Fjordland National Park. This is truly unfortunate, as our Doubtful Sounds overnight cruise was one of the best adventures we experienced during all of our time photographing the landscapes of New Zealand.

Part of the reason so few people visit this gem is that you cannot get there by car, meaning only locals with boats have the ability to explore this untouched paradise without arranging a tour.

Still, those of you who have the time and budget should strongly consider including an overnight cruise to Doubtful Sound in your itinerary. Get some photos that few others have, give yourself a chance to see the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins, and enjoy an experience few others have had the privilege of knowing!

NZ Golden Hour landscape photography from the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise ship
Golden Hour from the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise ship

Final Thoughts on New Zealand Landscape Photography

One of Milford Sound's permanent waterfalls, photographed from a plane on its way to Queenstown.
One of Milford Sound’s permanent waterfalls, photographed from a plane on its way to Queenstown.

This guide to New Zealand landscape photography was intended to be a short, quick-hitting blog. The fact that it has grown to this length should give you an indication of just how beautiful the South Island of New Zealand truly is.

We hope you have found some inspiration from our photography and the information provided. We also hope that you will respect these locations, especially some of the hidden gems that we’ve covered which are less prepared for heavy traffic.

The people of New Zealand take tremendous pride in their country, and attempt to be gracious toward visitors despite the overwhelming number of them. Please be an ambassador during your visit and prioritize respect for the land over all things, including your photography!!

If you haven’t already, you will also want to check out and save our South Island New Zealand map now. This map features every point of interest that we explored and photographed on the South Island, and is an excellent resource for planning your visit.

If you like the photos you have seen in this guide and are interested in knowing what equipment we use, we have also written this blog detailing the travel photography camera gear that we use. We also sell prints and license all images found on our website; simply send us an email for more information!

Enjoyed our guide to New Zealand Landscape Photography? Pin it!

If you’ve found our travel guide to NZ landscape photography inspirational, save it to Pinterest!

13 Comments

  1. Patrick Weiss
    May 5, 2020 / 9:34 pm

    Hi there! Awesome photos you have taken! I was just in the South Island a few months ago and made it to a good bit of those place except the Milford because of the rain. I went to Doubtful Sound instead! I really enjoyed Rocky Point hike and that view is epic! I live in Maui and hope to make it back down there soon. I was interested in maybe getting that Rocky Point Viewoint in a print to frame? Mahalo- Patrick

    • May 6, 2020 / 10:08 am

      Hi Patrick. Thanks so much for your kind words. We also visited Doubtful Sound and absolutely loved it too! We absolutely do sell prints and will be in touch via email to discuss options 🙂 Mahalo.

  2. May 9, 2020 / 5:52 pm

    I’ve never been to New Zealand, but it’s definitely on my list. Your stunning guide really brings it to life – from the waves crashing into the cliffs to the nugget point lighthouse. Absolutely beautiful!

    • May 10, 2020 / 11:47 am

      Thank you so much! New Zealand, particularly the South Island, is so beautiful, it makes it easy!

  3. May 9, 2020 / 5:54 pm

    Wow your photos are insanely beautiful! New Zealand is a true paradise for photographers and it’s so high on my bucket list. Thank you for this amazing guide, I just saved it for my future trip!

    • May 9, 2020 / 8:06 pm

      Thank you so much! You would get some stunning photo in New Zealand I’m sure.

  4. May 9, 2020 / 7:03 pm

    New Zealand is amazing! My husband and I went for 2 weeks but I’d like to spend a full month there without feeling rushed! It’s truly breathtaking!

    • May 10, 2020 / 12:57 pm

      There’s so much to see, you could spend forever exploring it! It really is a spectacular country.

  5. May 9, 2020 / 8:56 pm

    I’ve never been to New Zealand, but it’s on my travel bucket list! I’d love to learn night sky photography–your photos are so beautiful! I’m gonna have to add all these places to my list! <3

    • May 10, 2020 / 12:52 pm

      It’s such a beautiful country and is an incredible place to practice night sky photography.

  6. May 10, 2020 / 3:49 am

    That photo of the Lunar Light is one of the most beautiful photos I have ever seen! I love these photography tips — they are so helpful!

  7. June 6, 2020 / 12:35 pm

    Hi. Thank you some much for this great post. We are planning our next trip in New Zeland. Your photos are really inspiring and are helping us to identify some spots to add to our 3 weeks itinerary :). We have a drone and I bet you have one too. We noticed that there are some restrictions. Was it hard to find where to you can fly your drone. Do you have any tips ? Thank you. Lauriane

    • June 6, 2020 / 7:00 pm

      Hi Lauriane. It’s so great to hear that you found our post helpful. AirShare has some great information on using a drone in NZ. We do have a drone and did use it in NZ at times. However, we were also really fortunate to live with a local guy who was a pilot so we also got to go on a few flights in different regions. Like a lot of countries, you’ll probably find that it’s pretty much illegal to fly everywhere. While some places you can safely fly with some common sense, other places you absolutely shouldn’t fly… most notably Milford Sound and Mt Cook. There is a LOT of air traffic from small planes and helicopters and they fly very low at times. I hope this helps a bit and you have the most amazing time in NZ.

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**All photos contained in this photography-based travel blog are copyright of Adam Marland & Sophie Clapton. 
They are not to be used for any purpose without the expressed, written consent of their owners.**