20th January, 2015

Words & photography by Steve Fraser.

Discover what New Zealand’s south island has to offer with this ten day adventure.

Take ten days, add breathtaking scenery, a cute wife, a good 4WD, glaciers, helicopter rides, autumn colours, and great food and wine, mix them all together in the South Island of New Zealand, and you have the recipe for an amazing, 100% pure adventure. The flight from Sydney (make sure you get a window seat) to the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere only takes a couple of hours, and landing in Queenstown is an experience. The plane starts to descend in a circular pattern, as the mountains don’t allow for a straightforward approach. This means you get a 360° view of the mountains, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding area. This is the first real taste of NZ and a pretty amazing way to begin the journey.

I love Queenstown – it’s the birthplace of bungy jumping and the location of the famous Shotover jet boat. You’ll also find paragliding, bridge swinging, off road buggies, white water rafting, skydiving and zip lining. It’s my sort of town. On day one, after throwing myself off a mountain while paragliding, it was time for a feed, and The Cow is a Queenstown institution. Known well by locals, it’s tucked away in the heart of town and I can highly recommend it. One of the very cool things they do is seat you in a booth with strangers. We met the nicest people from Christchurch and heard all about the devastation of the earthquakes and how they had impacted lives. Great food, a nice wine or two and making some new friends on the first day ticked all the right boxes. Day two was going to be a highlight for the photographer in me. I had chartered a helicopter for the day, and Elaine (my wife) and I were heading out to Milford and Doubtful Sound with a couple of stops along the way. Before leaving, we topped up with a great coffee at Joe’s Garage – a very funky cafe in the middle of town. Brad, one of NZ’s best chopper pilots, was our guide for the day. Once in the air, it was time to take the doors off, put the harness on, rug up, fire up the camera and check out some of the most amazing country imaginable. We flew directly over the Southern Alps, landing on a boulder the size of the chopper (nice flying, Brad) to get some shots of one of the highest lakes in NZ. Then we kept climbing until we were directly above a beautiful glacier, which Brad was happy to put the chopper down on. We made our way to Milford Sound and had a short stop on the ground, followed by a memorable trip through the Sound.


“The largest ice cave we experience is around 50 metres below the surface.”

We decided it was time for lunch and I had arranged with Brad to have a nice quiet mountaintop lunch with Elaine. There isn’t anything more romantic than 360° views in the Southern Alps, a picnic basket lunch, my girl and a nice drop of white. Talk about brownie points. It was time to hit the road on day three, so we loaded up and headed out towards Arrowtown for sunrise. Arrowtown is only about 45 minutes from Queenstown and is well known for its amazing landscape. I wasn’t disappointed. The mountain at the back of the town was awash with autumn colours. Day four was spent in Wanaka. There are two ways to get there and I highly recommend the route through the Crown Ranges. It is spectacular and, if the road is open (it can get snowed in), it is a very enjoyable drive. Situated in the heart of the snowfields and nestled on Lake Wanaka, it’s easy to spend an entire day looking around the town and surrounding area. This is a great place to stay if you prefer somewhere a bit more relaxed with less people than Queenstown. I have wanted to get a sunrise shot of Lake Wanaka for a long time. On previous occasions the weather hadn’t been kind to me. The next morning was about to make up for any previous disappointments. The sky lit up and the lake and mountains came alive as sunrise hit the clouds. Getting up before the sun is very easy when you are rewarded like this.

After breakfast, it was time to head towards the West Coast and Fox Glacier. If you love driving, then you are in for a treat. The winding roads, mountain passes and rugged coastline make this a truly memorable drive. One thing about driving in NZ is that you need to allow longer than you think for two reasons. One is that the roads are extremely twisty with a low average speed, and second, you will want to stop at every bend to check out the incredible views. After a couple of stops, we make it to our accommodation near Fox Glacier. I am always impressed by how clean and modern a lot of the accommodation is in NZ. I like to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation so I can meet the locals. You get to meet some real characters this way, and it is the very best source of information about great locations to photograph. I head out for sunset to capture Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. It is often covered in cloud and today is no exception. I set up with a lake in front of me, and the mountain in the distance. No one else is around and I watch as the sky turns red. Moments like these are why I love nature, and why I love my job. Day six involves another helicopter ride. This time it is a short 20 minute journey to the heart of Fox Glacier. We put on our crampons and make our way across the glacier in search of a few ice caves. These caves are formed by the constant movement of the ice over thousands of years. The largest one we experience is around 250 metres long and you end up crawling (eventually on your stomach) to a depth of 50 metres below the surface. It’s not good if you suffer from claustrophobia, but amazing to see the textures and patterns that compressed ice forms over a thousand years. A couple of hours later we head back to civilisation and on to Franz Josef Glacier. The end of the day finds us on the beach at Hokitika for sunset. It’s a wonderful wild beach and great for sunset photography, where even the most amateur photographer will get a great shot. It consists of black sand and pebbles, which when the surf is pumping, makes for an incredible effect. The white foamy waves crash onto the beach in a glorious contrast. The start of day seven is cold and a bit wet. We take a sharp right turn and head across the island on the Otira Highway towards the Canterbury Plains. Before reaching the plains we pass over the Southern Alps. Some of the best scenery that New Zealand has to offer is near Arthur’s Pass. The autumn colours are spectacular and we eventually make it out of the clouds around Lake Pearson.


Finally, there is some blue sky, autumn colours and great subject matter. This means another lengthy stop to get some photographs. Descending onto the Canterbury Plains is so different from anything else in the South Island. It is a flat patchwork of agricultural country. The plains have the most amazing hedges and the roads are almost straight, which is a relief after the winding mountain roads. We decided to head south rather than go into Christchurch. I was a bit torn and decided not to see it at its worst after the earthquake. I will save that for another day when it has returned to being the beautiful city I remember. Day seven finishes on a high at Lake Tekapo. The Church of the Good Shepherd is situated right on the lake and is one of the most famous landmarks in the South Island. No journey to this area would be complete for me without trying to capture an image of it. Sunset is beautiful, which is just as well, because the start of day eight is very different. Day eight is cold, around 3°C and thick fog has set in. After a slower start to the day we head out towards the east coast and Oamaru, and on to the day’s destination – Dunedin. Thankfully, the heater in the LandCruiser is working well. If you have never been to Scotland and wondered what it is like, then a visit to Dunedin will be the next best thing. It is a city with a great history, lots of uni students, lots of pubs and a spectacular coastline nearby. There is so much to do in Dunedin. We spend the next day sightseeing, enjoying some great food and a little more of the Marlborough wine region’s Cloudy Bay wine (I may have developed a drinking problem by the end of this trip). The drive out to the eastern point at Taiaroa Head is well worth the effort – just avoid peak hour, as it can get busy. The Royal Albatross Centre is located here and it is great to visit. Day ten is our final day in New Zealand and it was time to head back to Queenstown. We take the route through Milton and then on to Cromwell, experiencing just a little more of the South Island’s beautiful landscape. I never tire of the beautiful mountains, flowing rivers, meandering roads and the colours of autumn. Add in some real characters, great food, 2000km driving and, yes, the odd glass of wine, and we have had the 100% pure NZ experience. If you are thinking about going, I can assure you won’t be disappointed.