New Zealand, South Island

Roadside river along road to Milford Sound

The North Island is separated from the South Island of New Zealand by a three hour ferry ride.  Commercial trucks, motorcycles, caravans and pedestrians all pile in for the ship.  Ferry rides are always exciting, but we have some trepidation as we know we still have a five hour drive once we arrive in Picton at 3:00pm.

Exploring New Zealand’s South Island

The very winding dirt road out of the port of Picton where the ferry terminates is described by many as the most beautiful stretch of road in New Zealand.  Not knowing the condition of the road after recent heavy rains, we opted for the safer, much less scenic paved route.  Yet another caravan drawback.

My first photo destination on the southern island was Pancake Rocks.  We were able to walk to the spot shown below from our muddy campsite in Punakaiki.  While walking, we saw where the road was down to one lane due to mudslides and the sidewalk to Pancake Rocks was now in the ocean.


Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks

We Survived Cyclone Gita

While shopping for provisions, the cause of the severe rains we were experiencing finally became clear by these newspaper headlines.  So the heavy rain and wind was not just normal wet season weather.  These were among the worst rains and winds experienced by New Zealanders in 20 years.

We got stuck in a several mile traffic backup due to the rain washing much debris on the road near Pancake Rocks.  Local dairy farmers got out their heavy equipment and came to the rescue.  I told a dairy farmer he should take up a collection from the grateful tourists.

Our flooded highway

Roll on muddy river, roll on

It was easy to spot the tourists from the locals.  The tourists had rain gear.  This local farmer did not even have shoes.  He and his very large dog enjoyed all the activity and chatting with the tourists who normally speed by his rural farm.

Washed my feet in a muddy stream, washed my feet but they did not come clean…


From Palm Trees and Surfers to Glaciers

Franz Joseph Glacier

Franz Joseph Glacier

South Island, New Zealand is somewhat a mix between California and Montana.  Snow, glaciers, palm trees and surfers are never too far away.  It is a long narrow island with high mountains between the two coasts.  We had made reservations for a helicopter flight to hike on this glacier.  The flight before ours took off fine, but our flight was cancelled due to more incoming bad weather.  Our backup reservations the next morning were called off as well.  My photography was foiled yet again by cyclone season, but saved me many hundreds of dollars in the process.  This glacier view is seen after a short, easy hike from the glacier parking lot. Numerous tall, beautiful waterfalls are seen along the way as well.

When visiting sites that offer helicopter rides, imagine the noise.  During the sunny periods, numerous helicopter companies were buzzing about the sky to the point where you had to stop talking during the fly overs.  What a summer irritation for the residents.


The Famous Blue Pools??

Green water in the ‘Blue Pools’

The many photos of these pools show brilliant, light-colored turquoise pools.  For some reason, the water could hardly have been more green during our visit.  Photos from the bridge were not possible due to the many scantily clad bathers jumping into the green river below, screaming all the way down, and who would want to see a photo of that?  Possibly the water was a bit murky from the heavy rains the area had received.



Don’t Chase Photographs

Photographers will sometimes try to replicate a beautiful photo or iconic scene.  This of course is generally impossible.  The light will always be different and likely not as good.  However, this specific tree was well-known to me and thousands of other tourists.  I stayed in the town of Wanaka for two rainy nights hoping to get a good photograph.  On our last day there was a slight let up in the never-ending rain.  I ventured out, only to have the rain start up again.  However, the rain and the fog simplified the photo by eliminating the background.  It is my favorite of the trip so far.

The Wanaka Tree

The Wanaka tree in rain and fog

For the sake of comparison, my prior day’s photo is below.  While it has the added attraction of three perching cormorants, it is my opinion that the loneliness and isolation of the tree comes through better in the above photograph where the background is obscured.  What do you think?

The Wanaka Tree


Milford Sound at the Island’s Southern End

Sterling Falls

Sterling Falls in Milford Sound


These flightless weka birds roamed freely around our Milford campsite.  Fully grown, these birds are about the size of chickens.

When birds lose their contact lens


Photography Style, by Design

Here is a photograph of the mountains and scenery while boating around Milford Sound.  This is what I envision most people shot during the boat ride that day, wide-angle, expansive shots of the landscape.  If my intent was to actually inform future travelers what to expect, I would take these photos too.

Wide angle view of surrounding mountains.

Wide angle view of surrounding mountains of Milford Sound.

My goal is only to take photographs that are pleasing to me.  This is not an informational travel blog for future visitors to New Zealand.  There are already plenty of those.  My typical photographic style is to get in close.  So from the above wide-angle shot, I zoomed into the composition which caught my eye to produce the image below.  I’m often attracted to layers and curves.  Hopefully you can see the photo below may be more interesting, but tells you less about the surrounding scenery.  My go-to travel lens is a Sony 24-240mm.  That covers a lot of ground and is very versatile.

close-up detail

Rocky Mountain High, in New Zealand…


Mountain view at a random roadside pull off


Famous New Zealand sheep seen heading into Queenstown.


Queenstown, Just for Fun

The biggest mountain in Queenstown is one huge fun park.  Not cheesy with neon signs, just a spectacularly beautiful mountain with toboggan sled rides, bungy jumping, zip lines, hiking, gondolas, bicycle trails, restaurants and more.  We opted for the gondola and toboggan ride.  The photo below is a panorama taken with the iPhone.  Could this place be any more beautiful?

Summer sled course in Queenstown.  (iPhone panorama)


Queenstown Bungy Jump

Bungy jumping was invented in Queenstown in 1988.  The college student inventors claim a 100% accident free record.  Despite this, the one voting member of our caravan voted no, for all members of our party.  An interesting thought is, what if she had voted yes?  What would I have done then?



Last Stop, Mount Cook National Park

Turquoise water below Mount Cook


Purple mountain majesty, Mount Cook

Hummm, I posted these two New Zealand blogs out of order, so next week we backtrack to French Polynesia, then on to Australia.


16 thoughts on “New Zealand, South Island

  1. Oh Harold, so sorry the camping thing didn’t work out for you but given the weather, not sure anyone would have enjoyed the trip except David and me, who have been campers from the time we were children. We rented a small van in Auckland a couple of years back that was often uncomfortable for the two of us but we’re used to that and had a great time tooling around, poking our noses here and there. The freedom of camping is in making up your mind about 4pm where you want to stay in relation to where you find yourself. We never made any reservations ahead of time and were there in peak season (January) but then that’s the way we travel and we’re comfortable with the consequences, if we have any. I find most people, like you, prefer to have reservations.. I think your idea of eating one big meal in the middle of the day and then snacking in the evening as opposed to cooking in the communal kitchens after a long day of driving and sightseeing was a good one. Made things much simpler. We were delighted to discover the NZ and OZ campgrounds to be so so much better that anything we ever see in the USA. Hey, I so understand the shortcoming being both the driver (on the wrong side of the road!) and the photographer. Lots of searching for a place to pull over, gear shuffling, only to find the shot you saw is gone. David drives and I often have to get my photos on the move with not the best results. I’ll put in a frantic request for David to stop immediately so I can take what I think is a fantastic photo only to find there is no safe place for him to pull the vehicle over for miles. Drat! Hate that. Lovely country. Maybe we’ll go back. Great photos!! Looking forward to your next blog. 😀

    • You have managed some wonderful images. Remember, you are the one who took the photo in Romania I saw while still in Springdale Utah. I saw it and had to travel there myself, the Sibiu, Romania cat: (Hope the link works)

      We are not as seasoned travelers as you two, like who is? So the added problems of no finding a place to stay late at night is not something we would handle very well. The planning has its pluses and minuses. I DO admire your travels. We will be giving up this nomadic lifestyle at the end of this trip and I’ll venture out on targeted photo exhibitions for shorter durations. Good luck to you two in your extensive travels.

  2. Gorgeous images, Harold! I’d have to agree with you re: the preference of the Wanaka tree in fog, but the other is a wonderful shot as well. The birds are perfectly placed, as if they could be the reason for the lean of the tree. Either would be a welcome edition to an inviting lobby wall.

  3. The natives must have planned the green river in honor of your former Chicago resident status, just to make you feel at home. Lovely pictures as usual. Sorry to hear about the weather conditions.
    Of all the magnificent scenery, I feel as though a video of you bungee jumping would have frosted that scenery cake, nicely.
    Wishing you better weather as you journey on.

    • Had I been with friends I know we would have coaxed one another into jumping. Gayle said if I jumped she would not take a video nor watch. I know I would have been scared and the jolt of the bungee could have hurt my already bad back as she pointed out. So I live to see another day. We are in Thailand now and I think YOU would like this place and would be writing blogs from a very different point of view…

  4. Harold — I like both images of the Wanaka tree, but your preferred image is really spectacular. I think Gayle was absolutely correct to vote no on the bungy jump. That video indicates it was a windy day — another level of complexity in an already dangerous venture. Queenstown was my favorite place in New Zealand. Did you fly out of the airport there? It is quite a climb to get out of the valley. We saw some sheep shearing at a farm along the shore of the lake in Queenstown. I think the guy sheared a sheep in about 20 seconds! Incredible!! Travel safely and keep the blogs coming. They’re great….

    • No we did not fly out of Queenstown as we still had almost another week to go. We flew out of Christchurch to Melbourne, Australia. Turning that RV all in one piece was a real joy. I watched my grandfather sheer sheep once, it took a lot longer than 20 seconds and he had medicine for the occasional laceration as I recall. Watched them in Scotland one day and they certainly make it look easy.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful information. Love hearing about your travels! Miss you too at the banquet. Your pictures were absolutely beautiful. I love the photo of tree with the foggy background. Stay safe!

  6. We were on the same road to Pancake Rocks, but must have been just a few days behind you since the road was cleared (but cordoned off to one lane). Our bus stopped at the rocks but the park was closed with a helicopter bringing in supplies to repair the trail.
    We also had reserved a glacier hike at Franz Josef and it was cancelled. We took the shuttle from our YHA to the same hike as yours, and have a similar photo of the glacier from below.
    From Queenstown we joined Ultimate Hikes for the 33.5 mile guided hike on the Milford Track. Amazing scenery!
    I’m looking forward to your photos of Australia, although I think we went different ways there. We flew from Queenstown to Brisbane via Sydney. Then rented a car and took 3 weeks to drive north to Cairnes.

    • WOW, a 33.5 mile trek is an ambitious undertaking at ANY age, good for you two. I’ll bet you got some good photos, but more importantly, great memories. In Australia, we flew to Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. When we learned the drive to Brisbane was over 10 hours, we flew there as well. Thank you for following along with our travels.

  7. Great pictures! I agree with you on the foggy tree. It is really nice. It sounds like from reading of others’ experiences in NZ you have to be willing to be flexible. You are so brave to drive that van. We opted for the train out of Picton and it was spectacular. We couldn’t get to Milford Sound due to a rockslide. I am enjoying getting to see things in your pictures that we didn’t get to see.

  8. I love all the images, but I have to agree with you, the lonely tree in the fog and rain does look beautiful.

  9. Well it looks like the rain cleared up just fine for Milford Sound and Mt Cook! We were in Doubtful Sound overnight and it was scary-fairy-tale gloomy. But we were also lucky for a wonderful hike with Mt Cook visible the whole way. You never know!

  10. As many now know the Wanaka Tree in the rain and fog is a real winner 🙂 Hmmm … theoretically a bungee jump could be good for a bad back … hanging traction with a cushioned mild jolt adjustment. If you ever try it for medical purposes let me know if it does work 🙂

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