New zealand - Q3 lakes, mountains, giants of the sea & the universe

Carrying on with my travel/photography blog from our year in New Zealand, here is Q3 (finally!). Here are all of my previous entries if you haven't already read them! Q1 - Q2.0 - Q2.5

Our next plan was to head inland from Oamaru towards Lake Pukaki and Tekapo. However, before this, we took a quick detour back to Wanaka and Queenstown via the Lindis Pass. We were meeting up with a friend from Scotland, and we had also to planned to get a day of skiing/snowboarding in the area (along with a small celebration for my partner's birthday in Wanaka!).

The Lindis Pass

After this detour, we finally headed towards The Lakes.

Lake Pukaki.

Yes, it really is THAT blue. In fact, the photo doesn't even do the true colour justice. I had seen photos before of both Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, yet, nothing prepared me for the colour of the lake. It is simply breathtaking. Being surrounded by snow capped mountains made it even more jaw-dropping.

We drove for a short while around the lake to get a few different view points, before heading onwards to Tekapo. Here, we did a short walk along the lake banks to witness the White Bluffs of Lake Tekapo (a lesser known, quieter part of the lake). After which, we waited until dark, and, more importantly, until the rising of the Milky Way, hoping for a clear sky, to get a photo of The Church of the Good Shepherd (arguably the most photographed spot in NZ along with THAT Wanaka tree and the view point at Roy's Peak).

Lake Pukaki & The White Bluffs of Lake Tekapo.

Unfortunately, it seemed like it was going to be be a cloudy night on the lake. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a go and see what I could capture. Luckily, just as I had setup, the clouds parted, and this gave me a roughly a 15-minute window with nearly fully clear skies, just as the core of the Milky Way began to rise above the mountains.

The clouds lifting to reveal this magical scene that was hiding behind them, before rolling in again.

The scene was simply breathtaking, and to my complete surprise, I had the whole area to myself. As the clouds started to roll back in, I headed back to the van, this is when more people turned up, disappointed to see that it was now cloudy! As it was now dark, and getting later, we drove back to Lake Pukaki, where we would stay the night on the banks of the lake.

Upon arrival at our camping spot for the night, I noticed that the sky here was completely clear, with zero light pollution and no artificial lights in the area at all. I simply couldn't resist setting up once more for some more astro shots.

The core of the Milky Way from the shores of Lake Pukaki.

After taking a few shots, adjusting my compositions and allowing my eyes to better adjust to the dark, I decided to try a panoramic shot of the full archway of the Milky Way. The position of the Milky Way itself was maybe not ideal for this at this time, as it was spreading over the majority of the sky, in quite a high position, at about 180 degree of view. Nevertheless, this was the outcome.

The full arch of the Milky Way over the banks of Lake Pukaki (the windscreen of our van can be seen along the bottom reflecting some of the stars!). 20 vertical single frames over two rows merged in post production, Fujifilm XT-2 with the 16mm 1.4.

Of course, at the time of taking these shots to make the panoramic, I had no idea what the final outcome would be. It was actually only a few months later that I was able to process all the shots and combine them into the finished photo above.

The next morning, we awoke to a foggy lake scene, which quickly lifted and turned into the most spectacular sunrise we witnessed in the entire year.

Sunrise over Lake Pukaki looking towards Mount Cook.
Panoramic sunrise over Lake Pukaki looking towards Mount Cook.

Our next plan was to drive up the side of Lake Pukaki and to the small Mount Cook Village for one of the best day walks in the country. The drive to the village was incredible too, skirting the lake for the majority of the way, in the shadow of the tallest mountains in NZ.

The road to Mount Cook Village.

Arriving at Mount Cook Village, we had a quick look around the visitor centre before heading for the Hooker Valley walk. The walk follows a valley between the mountains, over several rivers, before finishing up at the Hooker Valley glacier lake, offering plenty of spectacular views.

The Hooker Valley walk.

We then drove further north, towards Kaikoura. We made several stops along the way, including one at Mount Sunday, better known as Edoras, from The Lord of The Rings films.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. Mount Sunday (Edoras) views & the Rakaia Gorge (on the road to Kaikoura).
The view from Edoras (Mount Sunday).

Kaikoura was to be our last major stop on the South Island of New Zealand before heading back to the North Island. Our plan was to stay for a few nights so that we could go on one of the whale watching tours and also try out sea kayaking.

Kaikoura, mountains rising straight out from the sea & some of the locals.

Just off the coast of Kaikoura lie the Kaikoura canyons. Around 800 meters off shore, these canyons run for roughly 60km and reach depths of over 1200 meters. This unique underwater landscape makes it home to an abundance of sea life, including Sperm Whales all year round.

We were lucky once again with the weather, and we had a blue sky day for our cruise out (the water was quite rough though!). Once you are out on the boat and reaching the canyons out at sea, the boats use a microphone underwater to pick up the sounds of the sperm whales to judge when and where they might surface for a high chance of seeing them. With excitement brewing amongst the guides the boat darted towards reports of a whale being spotted.

Upon reaching the first (yep!) whale, it was quickly established that this was actually a blue whale, and not a sperm. It's very rare to spot a blue whale on these cruises, the guides only see them only a handful of times each year, so we were incredibly lucky to see this one (even if it was only for a split second)!

Our glimpses of the blue whale.

Once this beast had disappeared into the depths, we were back on the search for other whales. It didn't take long for the crew to spot a sperm whale on the surface, and shortly afterwards there were also a number of humpback whales too (we had timed the cruise well to coincide with the humpback migration on the off-chance we might spot some).

Our encounters with the sperm whales and humpbacks with plenty of flukes!

Overall, we spotted 2 sperm whales, at least 6 humpback whales, and 1 blue whale. A pretty successful morning outing!


After leaving Kaikoura, we headed back to Picton, and to the ferry back to the North Island. Our plan now was to explore the south coast of the north island, before heading north via the east coast.

More from the Kaioura coastline & a cloudy Picton.

Cape Palliser was our first stop. Cape Palliser provided a beautiful lighthouse with a great vantage point, stunning views over to the mountain ranges of the south island, and also some incredible New Zealand fur seal colonies.

Cape Palliser.

There is no road from this point north, so we had to travel back inland before we could journey north. Along the route we also walked to the Putangirua Pinnacles (another LOTR filming location).

The Paths of the Dead, Dimholt Road (Putangirua Pinnacles).

The next photographic stop along the route was a Castle Point, and Castle Point lighthouse on the east coast.

A stunning beach with some incredible rock formations on which sits the lighthouse. Making it all very photogenic. Unfortunately the moon was nearly full, so the night sky shots couldn't show the Milky Way to its full extent, nevertheless, it still made for some great shots.

Castle Point Lighthouse under sunshine & the stars.

We then headed further north towards the towns of Napier and Gisborne. We had now started looking for work again, and knew these areas (including the Bay of Plenty) were quite good for seasonal work. We stayed a few nights in Napier, exploring all of it's art deco architecture before heading on to Gisborne.

Exploring Napier, Gisborne & the surrounding areas.

Whilst here, we received word of a job offer in the Bay of Plenty region. We had planned on taking the rural east cape road, but this was closed due to a landslide, so took the inland route up to Whakatane, and then along to where the orcahrd was, in Pongakawa.

Living the van-life.

The job was working on a kiwi orchard to help install and develop their new organic orchard. The owners were incredibly accommodating and welcoming, and they let us stay at their beach house close by along with the other back-packers also working at the orchard. We had been told that the job would be for around 6-8 weeks, so we settled down for a bit.

This is where I will leave Q3 of my New Zealand blogs. With lots still planned and much much more to still explore, Q4 will be coming soon!

As always, all of the photos featured are available on my online store here, have a look!

Some of the photos I have used here were also part of a photography collective of which I a member called 'UntitledDays'. We are a group of 7 photographers from all over the world, you can check us out on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks again for reading! Remember to check me out on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter to keep more up-to-date with my photos!

Force Media - Photography & Film

Created By
Scott van Schayk


Force Media Photography & Film - Scott van Schayk

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