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!).
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Force Media Photography & Film - Scott van Schayk