Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009

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Limit 6 spaces | $16,495* Closed
Expedition October 13 - 28, 2017 | View other workshops

New Zealand with Michael Melford and Phillip Bartlett

Map via Google

An intimate first-class photo adventure through the magnificent landscape of the South Island

"I feel my experience in New Zealand has made me a much better photographer. I had several 'a-ha' moments that I will carry with me everytime I pick up the camera." –Marla R., 2016 participant

"The expedition greatly exceeded my expectations. It was no doubt an amazing and awesome experience of a lifetime!" – Susan S., 2015 participant

Towering mountain ranges, hanging alpine glaciers, wind-swept coastlines, crystal blue lakes, pristine turquoise river valleys, and primordial tree fern rainforests are just some of the scenes we will photograph as we explore the South Island on this intimate 16-day journey led by two top pros: National Geographic photographer Michael Melford (who recently covered the South Island on assignment for Nat Geo), and Phillip Bartlett, a renowned Kiwi landscape photographer and guide who is acclaimed for his professionalism and intimate knowledge of New Zealand's stunning landscape. It was with good reason that motion picture director Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as his location for the fantasy world of Tolkien's "Middle Earth": the variety of incredible landscapes found in such a compact area is simply astounding.

We sought to design a trip that would take your breath away, visiting locations off the regular tourist path that offer superb photography. To access these areas we will be travelling by 4WD Toyota Landcruisers, with two guests per vehicle. In addition, private charter excursions by helicopter and boat – at Fox Glacier and Milford Sound – provide us access to some truly phenomenal opportunities. All the while, your trip leaders offer generous guidance and instruction to ensure that you make the most of the photographic possibilities.

All of our past three annual excursions were exceedingly well received by our guests (see testimonials at the top and bottom of this page), but nevertheless we have adjusted the itinerary slightly to maximize the quality of the overall experience.

Click "read more" below right to see the itinerary and photo gallery...

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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


We enjoy our last sunrise shoot together this morning, before we travel northeast 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.

Michael Melford

National Geographic Photographer Michael Melford has worked with the Society for over 30 years. He has produced 19 feature stories for National Geographic magazine, and over 30 stories for National Geographic Traveler magazine.Born in New York, Michael received a bachelor’s in photography from Syracuse University and returned to New York City in 1977 to start his career.

He has been on assignment the past eleven years mostly for the National Geographic magazine, celebrating the marvels of our National Parks: Acadia, Glen Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Waterton/Glacier, and Death Valley, and a cover story on Our National Parks in Peril (2006). Michael recently shot for National Geographic's "The 50th Anniversary for the Wilderness Act" (2014), which was ranked #2 story of the year by the readers of National Geographic. Other National Geographic stories include: “Saving Civil War Battlefields,” “King Herod: Architect of the Holy Land,” and “Russian Kronotsky Preserve: Let it Be.” and “Solar Energy”.

Michael has produced photography for eight books for National Geographic, including three in Alaska, his favorite being Treasures of Alaska. He has received many awards for his photographs, but prefers to remain humble and share his knowledge, his love of nature, and his sense of humor with students of photography.

Michael has built an excellent reputation as an instructor and photo trip leader, teaching photography through the National Geographic, giving one-day seminars around the country, and onboard the various ships that NG has stationed around the world. His first photo expedition with Visionary Wild is to New Zealand’s south island, focus of a March 2014 feature article for National Geographic magazine.


VIDEO INTERVIEW: Michael Melford, Photographer, by National Geographic Live!


Born in New York 1950

Studied Photography at Syracuse University, Graduated 1973

Moved to New York City to pursue Career in Photography 1977

Contributing Photographer to LIFE Magazine, 1981

Worked for many publications including cover articles for :

Newsweek,  Time,  Life,  Fortune,  Smithsonian,  Geo,  Travel & Leisure, 

Travel Holiday, National Geographic Traveler,  Coastal Living,  Adventure Magazine.

Contributing Photographer to National Geographic Traveler, 1998

Began work for National Geographic Magazine (yellow magazine) 2003.  First assignment:  Acadia National Park. 

Just completed 19th assignment for National Geographic Magazine.


Awards include:  

POYi-1st Place Features Nature/Science

World Press Images Photos of the Year    

International Center of Photography

New York Art Director’s Club

Communication Arts Photo Annual

Graphis Photo Annual

The Missouri School of Journalism

Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Photography

Caribbean Tourism Award for Best Magazine Photographer


Books Published:

New England: Land of Scenic Splendor (National Geographic)      

The Emerald Realm (National Geographic) 

Canada’s Incredible Coasts (National Geographic)        

National Geographic Guide to New England

National Geographic Guide to Alaska

National Geographic Guide to San Diego

The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America   

Classic Photographs (Life)

Big Sky Country (Rizzoli)        

Treasures of Alaska (National Geographic)

Hidden Alaska-Bistol Bay and Beyond (National Geographic)

A Day in the Life of Japan ( Collins )

A Day in the Life of America ( Collins )

Expertise is in shooting the wonders of travel and nature and the people who occupy that landscape. An enthusiastic teacher of photography, with a great sense of humor.

Phillip Bartlett

The great thing about photographing in the digital age is instant feedback. Having the ability to assess each capture, while teaching out in the field, makes it so much easier to assist guests develop individual creativity and master new techniques.

Born in Nelson, New Zealand, Phillip Bartlett is a professional wilderness and nature photographer who, since pioneering multi-day photo expeditions in his home country, has been at the forefront of the best and most exclusive photography workshops in New Zealand over the past decade. In his constant search for new perspectives and vistas, Phillip has explored the island nation from top to bottom, from mountains to rainforest to fiords to coastlines and has been responsible for opening up some of New Zealand’s most magical locations for photographers. Phillip is intimately familiar with the range of seasonal opportunities and very special hidden locations off the beaten track. He is the most highly regarded landscape photography instructor in New Zealand, well-known for generously sharing his knowledge, expertise, and love of the place with photographers from around the world. His passion for photography and his desire to help others capture outstanding images and take their photography to the next level is remarkable, and Visionary Wild is very pleased that he has joined our instructor team.

Phillip began photographing the expansive landscapes of New Zealand using medium-format panoramic cameras, to capture a view comparable to the human eye. Both Phillip's father and grandfather were respected landscape artists, and he inherited their eye for composition and detail, which is evident in his work. As a result, his images are licensed for both commercial and editorial use around the world and his fine art prints are held in international private collections.

The amount of breath-taking landscapes which God has packed into this little country constantly amazes me and I can't imagine a better place to be a wilderness photographer. As I grew up close to the sea, the New Zealand coastline remains a favorite location which continues to intrigue and inspire me. The quality of light, along with the sublime blend of earth, sea and sky keeps drawing me back in search of the perfect image.



  • Landscapes that have to be seen to be believed: Alpine peaks and glaciers, tree fern rainforests, moody fjords, pristine lakes and blue glacial rivers, dramatic coastlines
  • Wildlife: Photograph the rare Yellow-eyed Penguins and Hooker's Sealions
  • Helicopter aerials: private, doors-off photography session over Fox Glacier
  • Boat excursion: private charter tour of Milford Sound
  • Luxurious group transport in three Toyota Landcruisers.
  • Small group – ideal for superior field photography experience, ample one-on-one instruction, and enhanced camaraderie.
  • Professional instruction by Michael Melford and Phillip Bartlett, with first-rate local support
  • Creativity and visualization: learn to find new and unexpected compositions
  • Advanced field techniques for landscape and wildlife photography
  • Breaking through creative block and making great photographs in challenging situations
  • Constructive critiques of participant photographs
  • All-inclusive from Christchurch

Accommodations & Travel


15-nights 4-star single-occupancy accommodation (pro-rated double-occupancy available at $15,495 per person).

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Airline flights are not included. Participants will be met at the Christchurch airport for executive cab transfer to the hotel in town that will serve as the site of our introductory meeting and first night's lodging. Helicopter flight for aerial photography at Fox Glacier is included. 4WD ground transportation is provided in luxurious Toyota Landcruisers throughout the itinerary, with two guests per vehicle. The itinerary includes one private-charter excursion by boat: photo cruise on Milford Sound. There will be short hikes on terrain ranging from level trails to rugged hillsides. Participants should be comfortable carrying their photo gear on easy to moderate hikes. We will be visiting a diverse range of climate zones and elevations in New Zealand's spring season. Temperatures will generally range from the 40s to 60s (fahrenheit), but be prepared for a temperature range from around freezing early morning in the mountains, to about 70ºF during the day at lower elevations.


Testimonials from our New Zealand Expedition clients:

"Thanks for a first-class photo adventure!" –Tom H.

"The NZ trip was really spectacular, we thought, and you're to be congratulated for ensuring that it was such a great experience for us from beginning to end.  Logistics could not have been better, small group size was perfect, and all three instructors were extremely helpful and approachable. I really appreciated all the advice and assistance that was available.  I made plenty of mistakes for sure, but feel I really learned a lot (about the initial capture as well as the subsequent processing) over the 2 weeks and hope I'll be able to put some of the lessons I learned into practice with even nicer photos in future.  Since we were last there 20 years ago, I had quite forgotten just how beautiful the South Island is.... Thank you so very much.  It was a pleasure travelling with you and Visionary Wild and we are very much looking forward to our next adventure with you."  –Kathy and David R.

"Thanks again for another fabulous trip. New Zealand was everything I hoped for and more." –Barry A.

"Thanks again for the great New Zealand Trip - we had a great time and learned so much." –Nancy R. and Greg C.