New Zealand is a destination I've wanted to return to for a long time. It holds a special place in my heart and is really where my travel photography passion began. Having had to cancel my plans twice due to a world pandemic, I was extremely excited for this trip to say the least. I knew from the outset that I wanted to hire a campervan for this adventure. I've had the pleasure of doing several trips in a campervan and understood the benefits of travelling and living in such a manner.
A great place to stop or even stay if you're coming from Christchurch. The drive for me was about 2 hours and 45 mins. I hadn't originally planned to stop here but I was suddenly struck by the incredible turquoise colour of the lake appearing in my peripheral vision. I immediately parked the Kuga van to soak in the breathtaking views. Other than the picturesque lake it's known for the Church of the Good Shepherd and on a clear night you'll almost certainly find people and photographers out stargazing and trying to capture photos of the Milky Way.
After stopping at Lake Tekapo, I continued onto to Lake Pukaki which lies on the edge of the Mckenzie Basin. Like Tekapo, you'll find amazing turquoise colours created by glacial flour and erosion. I was lucky to arrive on a clear afternoon offering a beautiful view on Mt Cook in the distance. This was the third time I've visited New Zealand's most famous lake and I don't think I will ever get tired of this incredible and peaceful location. After taking a few photos, it was the perfect time to boil some water, brew a cup of coffee and sit to admire the view.
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
A trip to New Zealand is not complete without a visit to this iconic National Park. Lake Pukaki serves as a great little appetiser before a tasty and satisfying main course that is Mt Cook. I remember the first time driving down the highway heading towards the NP and my jaw just dropped. There are several scenic walks such as Sealy Tarns, Mueller Hut, Bowen Bush walk but if you're after value without too much cardio pain, the Hooker Valley Walk is a must do. Online resources say the track to the scenic Hooker Lake is about 3 hours return but in my experience it's more like 2.5 hours. The track is well marked and relatively flat.
I decided to wake up at 4am to do the walk in time for sunrise during temperatures of -25 degrees celsius. I was well layered, but boy was it cold and after an hour into the hike, the water in my bottle froze! I powered on and was treated to an awe inspiring view. Luckily, the conditions were clear and there was no wind. As expected, the lake was mostly frozen which I think gave it a little extra magic.
If you're after a powered campsite, I can recommend staying and parking your campervan at Glentanner Park. I paid 25 NZD a night which is relatively inexpensive and is located very close to the walking trails at Aoraki NP.
After spending some time in Aoraki Mt Cook, I decided to drive further south to Wanaka (approximately 2.5 hours). It's a lovely resort town and popular with people who have young families. The town's centrepiece is Lake Wanaka where you'll often find visitors sailing and kayaking.
I decided to visit the famous "Wanaka Tree" on the first evening. It's a very popular spot, one that I have actually never visited before so it was definitely something I wanted to do. I arrived a little before sunset and parked myself and my camera on the edge of the lake with the famous tree in front of me. It was certainly beautiful but the light was a little flat and I had resigned to accepting a rather lacklustre sunset. But to my pleasant surprise, the sky suddenly transformed into a beautiful purple and pinkish hue. I was absolutely delighted and continued to take photos until it was completely dark before making my way back to the Kuga van for some warm dinner and a hot tea.
The next day, I met up with a friend to do a sunrise hike to Roys Peak. Another famous location that I've yet to visit. I had read it was a tough hike, mainly because the track was pretty steep and unfortunately for me it was all very true. Within 10 minutes of the hike after starting from the carpark, I was exhausted. The track is steep and relentlessly so. Luckily we had prepared for this and gave ourselves a good amount of time to get to the lookout for sunrise. I was sore, tired and my thighs were cramping but it was all worth it! The views were some of the best I had ever seen and the dusting of snow over the mountain peaks made for a very special and dreamy morning scene. I could have photographer the panoramic view all day but after a drink and snack we headed back for an equally tough hike down. After reaching the carpark and hoping back into the campervan, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, what a memorable morning it was!
Is a great destination for adventure sport and skiing and while I love snowboarding, my main reason for stopping at Queenstown was to take a scenic aerial flight over Mt Aspiring with Glenorchy Air. Unfortunately the flight was cancelled due to poor visibility but luckily it was rescheduled for the next morning so I took some time to wander the town and enjoyed some expensive coffee :D
The weather was clear the next morning and the flight was a go. I had a terrific experience while witnessing some incredibly breathtaking views. Seeing the sun break behind Mt Aspiring was an absolute dream and if giving the opportunity, I would absolutely do it all again.
From Queenstown I made my way to Milford Sound (3.5 hours drive). Unsurprisingly I was confronted with pretty heavy rain as soon as I arrived. On average, Milford rains 182 days a year so expected to get wet! Unfortunately the rain continued for the entire time I was there which meant I was unable to do the hikes I had wanted to do. One thing you can do and I highly recommend is taking a Milford Sound Cruise. They operate even when it rains and is arguably a better experience during rain and heavy cloud.
I chose the cruise offered by Southern Discoveries which was recommended to me by staff at the holiday park. Even though it was cold and wet, it was all soon forgotten as I was totally absorbed by the epic geological formations and the plethora of waterfalls. The staff were friendly and the other guests onboard were in good spirits. It's a truly unique experience and I would highly recommend a Milford Cruise to all visitors.
From there I slowly made my way back to Christchurch. The trip overall was great and travelling in a campervan provided by Travellers Autobarn made it even more enjoyable. The freedom and flexibility offered by this way of travel is in my opinion the best way to experience New Zealand.