This journey will take you from the garden city of Christchurch west to the coastal forests on the other side of the Southern Alps. We then drive south into the heart of the Southern Alps, where we photograph New Zealand’s glacier-covered mountains, punctuated by Mount Cook. While at Fox Glacier, we helicopter over the glacier itself to shoot aerial views of the Mount Cook massif, ice caves, crevasses, and hanging ice formations. Southward still, we travel over to the rugged Haast Valley and Haast Pass, enjoying the opportunities along beaches and coastal wetlands where few have photographed before. Then, it's on to Wanaka, where we will visit the iconic Wanaka Tree, before spending time at Milford Sound. The highlight here will be our private-charter photography cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea. On our return route back to Christchurch, we travel through the Catlins, where we will encounter sealions and many bird species. We will spend a few days on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, taking in the stunning panoramic views and photography opportunities with different light than from the beginning of the journey, and exploring the back country. At the end of our loop around the South Island, we arrive back in Christchurch.
October 13 – ARRIVAL DAY IN CHRISTCHURCH
Fly into Christchurch International Airport (CHC; flights are not included) where you will be greeted by a friendly executive cab driver and transferred to our group's hotel for our introductory meeting and orientation, followed by a group dinner at one of Christchurch’s fine restaurants. Overnight in Christchurch at Focus Motel and Suites, a short walk from the city center.
Oct 14 – CHRISTCHURCH - GREYMOUTH
We depart Christchurch this morning and travel from coast to coast. The journey takes us directly west through the Arthur's Pass, which is at the northern end of the Southern Alps. We will make brief stops along the way to photograph the imposing mountain scenery. In the afternoon we arrive on the West Coast, and the town of Greymouth. We take a short break to refresh before driving north along the coast to the Punakaiki area for our last-light shoot. Our visit has been timed to coincide with high tide, when the blowholes at the unique limestone formations of the Pancake Rocks are at their most spectacular. Overnight Coleraine Motel.
Oct 15 – GREYMOUTH
We spend the day exploring the rugged Paparoa National Park coastline north of Greymouth, including a foray into the backcountry. This area is one of the best remaining examples of New Zealand coastal forest and is dominated by towering tree ferns and the endemic Nikau palm, giving a tropical feel to the landscape. Our sunset shoot finds us out of the coast again, capturing the last drops of light on this dramatic seascape. Overnight Coleraine Motel.
Oct 16 – GREYMOUTH - FOX GLACIER
We depart very early this morning to photograph at a little-known lake, where New Zealand's tallest tree, the Kahikatea, have set their roots in the lakebed itself, and stand like silent sentinels out in the dark waters. After our sunrise shoot we drive south and arrive at the Fox Glacier village in the early afternoon. A nearby forest offers wonderful macro opportunities of moss-covered trees, ferns, and cascading creeks, and we will spend time exploring this magical location. In the late afternoon we drive to a rural location to photograph Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest peak, and the equally impressive Southern Alps. Overnight at Sunset Motel.
Oct 17 – FOX GLACIER
This morning we go down to the nearby heli-pad for an exhilarating aerial shoot of Fox Glacier, Aoraki/Mt Cook and the Southern Alps. This is aerial photography professional-style with the doors removed for unobstructed shooting. We will make a series of flights in a powerful Hughes 500 helicopter. This machine's nimble and responsive capabilities make it the perfect fit for flying in the mountain environs. Photographers are positioned in the right side of the chopper, with one photo leader seated behind the pilot, directing via a miked headset to set up optimum photographic compositions. Both Phillip and Michael have extensive experience shooting aerially and know exactly how to communicate flying instructions to our expert local pilot. Please note that this activity is weather-dependent, which is why we have allocated a two-night stay at Fox Glacier to give us the best chance for suitable flying conditions. After returning to the base we will have breakfast and then venture out again to photograph forest and mountain scenes. In the afternoon we take a well-earned rest before re-grouping for our last light shoot at Lake Matheson, where the dark waters of this tannin-stained lake reflect Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman bathed in the light of the setting sun. Overnight at Sunset Motel.
Oct 18 – FOX GLACIER - HAAST
An early start this morning for the pre-dawn walk to visit Lake Matheson again. This scene has a completely different feel in the morning, with a subtle, ethereal quality evoking a sense of calmness and serenity. After breakfast we depart Fox Glacier and continue south along the West Coast. Our base for the night is the small village of Haast. In the late afternoon we set up at a nearby coastal location that in true West Coast style is covered with artistically twisted and knotted driftwood, which have been thrown up on to the pebbled beach by the surging Tasman Sea. We then move to the other side of the sand dunes to photograph an ancient podocarp-hardwood forest wetland. Overnight at Asure Motel.
Oct 19 – HAAST - WANAKA
Another early start this morning to get us in position for first light along the coast. At this secret location the tree-covered headland and imposing rock outcrops are positioned perfectly to catch the first rays of light as the sun rises over the hills behind us. We then return to the village for brunch before driving up the glaciated Haast Valley, over the Haast Pass and down into Makarora Valley. Along the way we will stop to photograph at one of the most charming waterfalls in this area. Our road then takes us beside the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea before rejoining the southern end of Lake Wanaka, where we overnight at the delightful lakeside town of Wanaka. After some down-time to refresh we meet up again to shoot the last light over the mountains. Overnight at The Moorings Luxury Studios
Oct 20 – WANAKA - MILFORD SOUND
That tree! What visit to Wanaka would be complete without photographing the iconic Wanaka Tree, a solitary willow tree growing out in the waters of Lake Wanaka. We leave our hotel pre-dawn to start shooting well before the sun breaks the horizon. It is often the pre-dawn light and atmosphere which produces the most hauntingly-beautiful images of this lonely local hero. After breakfast we start the drive to Milford Sound, which is the most northern fiord of the Fiordland National Park. While most visitors make this a hurried day trip, we will be staying for two nights to take advantage of the vast range of opportunities of light and mood found in this brooding and mysterious area. The drive to Milford Sound passes through deeply-carved glaciated valleys and we make stops to photograph along the way. We arrive at Milford Sound in the afternoon and after taking a break to recharge we go down to the water's edge to photograph the towering peaks which overlook the fiord, with the centrepiece being the iconic Mitre Peak. Overnight in new luxurious Mountainview Chalets at Milford Lodge.
Oct 21 – MILFORD SOUND
Today we enjoy a full day of magnificent photography in the Milford Sound area. We set up pre-dawn on the shoreline, where we hope to capture the sheer-sided mountains swathed in low cloud as early light breaks on Mitre Peak and The Lion and The Elephant (aptly named due to their resemblance to these animals). After breakfast, we venture into tree fern-filled rainforest, where the trees drip with iridescent green mosses. In the afternoon we take a private-charter photography cruise through the fiord and out to the Tasman Sea. In addition to the tremendous landscape of sheer mountains, plummeting waterfalls, and untouched coastline, we may encounter penguins, seals, and dolphins. At last light we are back on the Milford Sound shore hoping for a colorful end to the day. Overnight in new luxurious Mountainview Chalets at Milford Lodge.
Oct 22 – MILFORD SOUND - TE ANAU
We have one last chance to master our compositions of Milford Sound at sunrise before we journey back through the mountains to the lake town of Te Anau. Along the way we will take a side-trip where a short forest walk leads to a turbulent mountain river punctuated with moss-covered boulders. We arrive at Te Anau in the afternoon and after taking a rest we are out again to photograph the surrounds of this picturesque area. Overnight at Anchorage Motel Apartments.
Oct 23 – TE ANAU - CATLINS
A very early start for us this morning as we are packed and gone well before dawn. Our first-light shoot is at a high-country lake location hidden in the mountains. The golden tussock grasses growing here give the scene a distinctly New Zealand-wilderness flavor. We then drive back out to the main highway and make a stop for breakfast before arriving at the northern part of the Catlins in the early afternoon. After checking into our lodging we make our way to a nearby bay to photograph the Hooker's sealions. Male sealions can weigh up over 1,000 pounds and we will be hoping to witness males squabbling over territory and their harem, given that we are visiting in the breeding season. Nearby is a spectacular coastal location where we set up for last-light shooting. Overnight at Kaka Point Motels.
Oct 24 – CATLINS - MOERAKI
After shooting sunrise along the coast we will explore nearby waterfalls, and photograph the lush, rolling countryside found in this region. We then travel north through the Scottish-influenced city of Dunedin and arrive at the seaside village of Moeraki in the afternoon. Later we drive to the coast to photograph the return of the Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) from a day at sea hunting for food. These unique and rare birds come ashore singly, before meeting up with their mate and friends to noisily (Hoiho means noise-shouter) discuss their day with each other. A resident colony of New Zealand fur sealions are also found here, and there will be newborn pups around, under the watchful eye of their protective mothers. Overnight at Moeraki Village Holiday Park.
Oct 25 – MOERAKI - CROMWELL
This morning we are on the beach well before sunrise to shoot the other-worldly Moeraki Boulders. These curiously unusual spherical concretions, which look as though they simply dropped out of the sky, are embedded in the sandy beach and can reach nearly 10 feet in diameter. Afterwards we drive north for breakfast in nearby Oamaru before turning inland as we make for the small town of Cromwell, in the heart of Central Otago. Originally settled by gold diggers, it is now the centre of New Zealand's stonefruit industry. Also, many of New Zealand's highly regarded Pinot Noir wines are produced by the boutique vineyards found here. In the late afternoon we drive to an isolated location in the hills to photograph the sweeping high country landscape, which is dominated by impressive schist-rock tors. Overnight at Carrick Lodge Motel.
Oct 26 – CROMWELL - TWIZEL
We are up in the hills again for first light with new perspectives and compositions to explore as the light hits the land from the opposite direction to our previous shoot. After breakfast we continue north to the town of Twizel, where we stay for two nights. From this base we can photograph at any number of locations based on the weather. In the afternoon we drive into the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park to photograph the Southern Alps from the eastern side. The day culminates in shooting the last rays of light on New Zealand's tallest peak. Overnight at Aspen Court Motel in Twizel.
Oct 27 – TWIZEL
We are out in the field pre-dawn, and drive to a nearby location to photograph the first light in the Tasman Valley. The setting is once again Aoraki/Mt Cook and the Southern Alps, with this location offering stunning panoramic perspectives. We then return to Twizel for breakfast. After lunch we explore a hidden backcountry location and work this area until last light. Overnight at Aspen Court Motel in Twizel.
Oct 28 – TWIZEL - CHRISTCHURCH
We enjoy our last sunrise shoot together this morning, before we travel south to Christchurch to where our adventure began two weeks earlier. For those departing this afternoon we say farewell and safe travels. Accommodation for this night can be arranged for guests who plan to fly home the following day.
INCLUDED: Accommodation for fifteen nights, based on single occupancy (prorated double-occupancy available). All meals and beverages (including wine or beer with dinners). All in-tour photographic instruction, land transportation, and guide services by leader team of two photo pros plus one group field support. Private-charter boat excursions: Milford Sound photo cruise. Private-charter helicopter doors-off photography at Fox Glacier aerials. Department of Conservation concession and permit fees, all local taxes. All gratuities.
EXCLUDED: All international air travel and domestic transportation within your home country, any other travel services required to arrive at the tour commencement location, along with all associated taxes, levies and insurances. Immigration, duty, passport and visa fees where applicable. Personal items including gifts or other purchases, any paid communications, hotel room service or minibar charges, travel insurance, etc. Optional activities not explicitly listed as included in the itinerary, e.g. additional helicopter flights, additional whale watching excursion, etc.