Fiordland Photography Guide

“The 8th Wonder of the World.”

Photo by Doug Golupski

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The Fiordland can be found in the extreme South-West of New Zealand and is home to the majestic Milford Sound. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this wild and isolated land is a haven for photographers.

Firodland National Park - Photo by David Mark
Firodland National Park - Photo by David Mark

About the Fiordlands

Encompassing 12,607 square kilometres of lush forests, soaring mountain tops, and 215 km of pristine coastline there are few places on earth as beautiful as the Fiordlands of New Zealand. This untouched wilderness begs to be photographed and is a must for the wayward landscape photographer. From deep still waters of Milford and Doubtful Sound to the lush green rainforests of the region, there is much to be discovered in New Zealand’s largest National Park.

Lady Bowen Falls, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand - Photo by Bernard Spragg
Lady Bowen Falls, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand - Photo by Bernard Spragg

Getting There

If you are travelling by car, there is little risk of getting lost, as there is only one road in and out of the Firordlands. Extending roughly 120 kilometres from Te Anau to Milford Sound, SH-94 features near limitless photographic opportunities. But, don’t limit yourself just to shooting just the side of the road. The number of trails, tours, and hidden gems in the park is near limitless as well.

When travelling in the Fiordlands be prepared and take your time. There are narrow sections along the road and weather can change dramatically from one valley to the next. As a final word of caution, be sure to limit your impact on this pristine ecological region. Leave no trace if you are hiking and camping, and please only drive and park in designated areas.

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand - Photo by Mark Mann
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand - Photo by Mark Mann

What to Photograph

While the number of photo opportunities in the Fiordlands is endless, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite “must visit” photo locations.

Te Anau Downs Boat Launch

Along the side of SH94, you will discover Te Anau Downs. There is ample parking and a great spot to stop and take a few photographs. The boat launch here features prominently in a lot of photos because of its symmetrical design and ability to give a sense of scale to the massive expanses of Lake Te Anau.

Eglinton Flats

This stunning valley is a must stop for photographers. The contrast between the dark forests of the surrounding mountains and the golden carpet of wind tossed tussock grasses make for a stunning photography backdrop. If you are a Tolkien fan, you’ll note that the Eglinton mountains are the very same Misty Mountains seen in the Fellowship of the Ring.

Mirror Lakes

Featuring easily accessible viewing platforms and calm waters surrounded by reeds and rushes, Mirror Lakes is a great spot to stop and photograph. Aptly named, the lakes provide stunning reflections of the surrounding mountain ranges.

The Divide / Key Summit Trail

For the adventurous photographer, we recommend stopping at the Divide and taking the Key Summit Trail. The Alpine walk is well maintained and takes anywhere from 2.5-3 hours to complete. The trail is physically challenging, with steep inclines, but the paths through the forests and the views that you will encounter along the route are fantastic.

Monkey Creek

Home to several wild birds and other animals, this watershed is surrounded by snow-capped cathedral peaks and well worth taking the time to photograph.

1855 Lookout / Homer Tunnel

As you exit the Northern end of the Homer Tunnel, prepare to have your breath taken away. The tunnel seems to transport you into a different world, and this is a great spot to stop and photograph. The snaking road between massive cathedral mountains seems carved by giants, and the whole area will have you screaming, “stop the car!”

The Chasm

Lush rainforests, rushing waters, and stunning rainforests are but a few of the reasons to stop here and have a walk around. Vibrant green ferns and moss-covered trees highlight the golden rays peeking through the canopy, and if the light is just right, you will capture a magical fairyland.

Milford Sound

At the end of the road, you will find yourself at the final photography destination. Milford Sound is the only fiord that is accessible by car. For this reason, you will often find a lot of tourists here snapping cell phone pics for their Instagram accounts. Don’t be discouraged as this won’t affect your photos too much, and if you are there for sunset, you will discover that the buses will leave early to get the tourists back to Queenstown before bedtime. Our favourite shooting spot is the classic full view of Milford Sound. To get there, follow the boardwalk from the main carpark till you reach a platform under a large tree. It takes about 10 minutes of walking to get to it.

Photographing the Fiordlands

Photographing in regions like this can be challenging. It is hard to capture in a photograph the sheer size and scale of the expanses. The photographic key for your compositions will be finding ways to add something to the image which gives the viewer a sense of scale. This can be something as simple as driftwood, or a travelling companion. Other tricks are to find ways to photograph the area as low as possible. For example in Milford Sound, getting as close to the water with a wide angle lens as possible will add drama and emphasize the scale of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Probably the best time of year to visit is the winter. This is the quietest time of year, and the sun also is more northerly, which will greatly enhance the sunset at Milford Sound. Using an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a great way to find the best time of year for photographing beams of light entering into the valleys and sounds.

It should also go without saying when packing your gear that you will want the typical tools of the landscape photographer. Here is a short, but far from exhaustive, list of gear to bring:

  • Tripod
  • Variable ND Filter
  • Graduated ND Filters
  • Remote Shutter Release
  • Weather bag for the camera (it rains a lot, and the rain actually makes for some great photos_
  • Wide Angle Lenses (10-35mm)
  • Nifty Fifty Lens (50 mm)
  • Lens Cleaning equipment
  • Spare Batteries
  • Water

Enjoy the Fiordlands and remember, help preserve the area for future generations.

See it on the PIXEO Map

Milford Sound at Sunset - Photo by Ken Lecoq
Milford Sound at Sunset - Photo by Ken Lecoq

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