Photography Travel

Do and see: 9 places to do a quick stop at in South Island, New Zealand


By now I’m sure you have read through all my other posts about what I did in New Zealand last year. Well, the fun’s not over just yet. In this post I will write some short summaries of other places I stopped at, that you can too, on our self-guided trip. Best of all, these are mostly free.

1. Dunedin Railway Station

IMG_1557This train station was built in the early 1900s, and has been fully restored. There is only one train that actually uses this station now, a tourist train. The station building itself is free and open to visitors as tourist attraction for its grand architecture and garden. Inside the building there are some small craft shops/galleries and a tourist information reception, and public toilets. There is free parking nearby. The platform is freely accessible.

Location: At the end of Stuart Street and along Castle Street, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand.
Recommended stay time: About 30 minutes during a quiet time, no more than 1 hour as there isn’t that much to see inside.




2. Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

dsc9326-edit-lgPhotography by Mike Hollman Architects: Robert Tongue and Baker Garden Architects.

This is a large and free museum definitely worth your time for in Dunedin. There are a variety of exhibits, with a cafe and gift store. Exhibits range from life of the early native people, European settlers’ journey to and early and later life in New Zealand.

Replica of a ship’s interiors:IMG_1558

Sleeping quarters in the shipIMG_1560

Rules for European immigrantsIMG_1561

Early mud and timber/straw hutIMG_1563

Tram carIMG_1565

Tram car interiorIMG_1588

Location: At the end of Burlington Street and along Castle Street, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand, next to the Dunedin Railway station.
Recommended stay time:
About 30 minutes during a quiet time, no more than 1 hour as there isn’t that much to see inside.

3. The Milford Road campsiteIMG_1774

There are several campsites in the Milford Sound area along Milford Road, some are powered and some are not. It was quite cold though, even in January when it is supposed to be summer. There are portable toilets. Not quite sure about running water though.

You can camp  here and go for a drive during the day to see the scenic areas along the road. These pictures were taken at the Kiosk Creek camp site. Camp fees apply. Read about Fees here.IMG_1758




4. Driving along the Milford Road and other scenic roads in South Island

Scenic spots are plentiful along the highways in the mountains around the Milford Sound area (and pretty much anywhere else in the South Island). Along the highway, sometimes there are look out opportunities, stop areas along the highway where you can stop your car and step out to stretch your legs and enjoy the view. I do have to say that sometimes it does get a bit monotonous. At other places along the road/grass fields, you can stop your car on the road side.

Scenes vary depending on location. Some places there are grassy fields, some places there are water, but almost all the places even in Queenstown, has mountains.

Grassy fields and cattleIMG_1782


A lookout opportunity along a road. There are places for cars and coaches to stop to allow people out. A coach came while we were here. Warning: Do be very careful in places like these and only visit during day light hours!!! There are no railings and civilisation is very far from these highways, and cell reception is not common.IMG_1811







An actual lookout near/along Milford Road with boardwalks and maps and information boards (not in pictures). I don’t remember the name of this place, if you do find it, this is a nice place for a (very short) stroll. The boardwalk in the picture leads down to the water from the road side and is in the trees, but there are signs along the road.IMG_1780






5. Bungy jump viewing at the Kawarau Bridge


The bungy jump viewing is free to the general public if you don’t want to do the jump yourself. Apart from that, the view of the water is magnificent, because that water is actually turquoise blue. Just look at it! No filter or editing! You can also do kayaking here, as seen in the picture. This is also a great place for photography. Unfortunately I only had a phone so I don’t have great pictures.IMG_2107

Click here to see a short video of someone jumping.

6. Aoraki Mountain/Mount Cook

The national park here has a year-round ski resort. You can also go climbing on the mountain on the actual glaciers. We stopped by the base of the mountain and it was pretty cold for me already (in summer in January). You can do a quick stop here if you have little time, or do not intend on going skiing/mountain climbing, and just have a look from the base.IMG_2235



7. New Zealand Alpine Lavender fields

So… I don’t know about you but I don’t like the smell of lavender or the taste of the oil. But if you like it, and don’t mind the extra hype, you can come here to their field and take photos for free. They have an onsite store in a shipping container and EFTPOS facilities. What surprised me is that it was literally in the middle of nowhere… a huge field along the road then BANG a shipping container shop.IMG_2320IMG_2347


I would only come here for photography but as you can see and probably already know, the purple of the lavender looks greyish and to be entirely honest, that’s the way it looks in real life. You can’t really get those colourful photos you see on the internet and in magazines/posters unless you edit the hell out of it in post production, which I am not a fan of. I like original, honest photography. You can buy lavender oil, soaps, little packs of dried lavender to put in drawers, and others. You can actually walk among the fields of the flowers and sit in the giant chair.

Location: 657 Mt Cook Road, Ben Ohau 7999, New Zealand, right near the south western tip of Lake Pukaki, between Twizel and Tekapo and about an hour after leaving Aoraki Mountain.


IMG_2379Recommended stay time: If you are just looking around and taking a few photos, no more than 1 hour. Free parking by the side of the road.

8. Mt John University Observatory

This area has a small reasonable fee per vehicle and free parking. You can join one of their paid night tours, or you can use this as a look out for some great views of Lake Tekapo. Located on the top of a hill/mountain, it is quite windy and cold. There is a full cafe here.











9. Church of the Good Shepherd and Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo village is a small strip of shops and restaurants that appeared suddenly on the side of the motorway as you are driving. There is an information center here that gives free vouchers and pamphlets for nearby attractions such as the hot tubs. You can also buy some souvenirs here. There was one in particular, a cute stuffed sheep that I did not see elsewhere on my entire trip to New Zealand. Regret not getting it.

A short 2 min drive away is the Church of the Good Shepherd by Lake Tekapo. The church itself is a popular subject of many photographs, however it is not allowed inside. The very small one-room cottage church is only open briefly (according to my experience) but isn’t spectacular inside, so you are better off photographing the outside and the water.IMG_2446

The beach/shore is quite rocky instead of sandy and can be hard to walk around. This area is very popular for photography.IMG_2436

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Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Larnach Castle, Dunedin


Larnach Castle is promoted as New Zealand’s only castle. While it definitely has castle-like features, I think it is more of a castle-styled mansion. It was the family home and commissioned by William Larnach, a New Zealand Minister, banker and merchant for his first wife, Eliza Jane Guise. Construction started in 1871, and was built by 200 workmen over 3 years. After that for another 12 years, European craftsmen worked on the interior.

For some time the building became abandoned and in poor condition until it was bought and restored in 1967 by the Bakers family, and has since been their family residence. Now it is open to the public for an entry fee. Reservations is not needed.

The Building
From the outside, the building looks quite grand for a family home. It is constructed of stone with a turret, and the interior is fitted with carpentry.









The grounds
There are some small ‘forests’ on the property and the driveways and carpark are lined with trees. This is the driveway that goes right up to the front of the building, used by tourist coaches.


The stone building with glass facade looks quite unique and interesting.IMG_1528

The gardenIMG_1525



View from the turret
This is the view from the top of the turrets. The climb is a steep yet not-that-hard-to-manage spiral steps in a small confined space. Maybe for some the view is worth it. For me it wasn’t anything special and it was quite cold outside. Because of the limited staircase space, you will need to give way to people going in the opposite direction to you.



20160121_083709 Watermarked
Forest on property (photo not by author)

20160121_083642 Watermarked
Forest on property (photo not by author)

20160121_083656 Watermarked
View of front of building and gravel driveway (photo not by author)

What’s here:
Inside the castle, there are a few small exhibits to see, and a room with a short documentary about the site.

There is a tea room/cafe onsite that is open every day, high tea is available but must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Unfortunately I do not have too many photos of the grounds. There are some small woodlands/forests on the grounds including a tree-lined avenue directly opposite the castle. There is also a very small garden outside the building.

There are no onsite accommodation options but there are ones nearby, and day tours that include this in the itinerary are available.

The gardens and grounds are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for use on the site. The castle itself is not wheels accessible and has a set of steep stone stairs to access and more inside.

Public toilets onsite available in the building on the ground floor near the ballroom/cafe. These are wheels accessible.

There are audio guides for hire (with a fee) or you can pick up a free pamphlet and do a self guided tour with that. The pamphlets are available in a variety of languages, including English, Chinese, German and French. I found the self guided tour to be totally sufficient, after watching the documentary (less than 10 minutes).

Free parking on site several metres away from the actual building.

Recommended stay time:
All up (gardens but not the rest of the grounds) and the castle tour and short climb to the top of the turret, took 2 hours.

If you have been to any castles in Europe, then this would be a let down. It basically is a castle themed mansion. However as a recommended New Zealand attraction I suppose it is worthwhile if you have not seen any other castles in Europe, or if you were interested in New Zealand history. I do not believe it is worth staying overnight nearby for this although the official website does have accommodation information.

At the end of the day, this is the private residence of the current owners, and in reality it is just a slightly small mansion (depending on your definition of ‘mansion’). It is basically the size of a typical wealthy family home/estate that would have different ‘quarters’ with servants back in the day. To be honest I felt ‘castle’ was pushing the title a bit, however the experience was not bad as such, for it’s size and what it offered, just a bit expensive and disappointing.

Entry Fees:
There is a fee to enter the building and is payable at the entry to the building, which is at the top of the stone steps at the center of the front of the building (see the first picture). It is not wheels friendly. The prices depend on what you would like to see, there are packages that include the gardens and building, as well as just the gardens and the grounds. Visit their official website for the full price list or click here to go there directly. We visited on January 21, the prices may update over time.

Getting here:
The official website has driving directions (we drove), however this location can be visited as part of day tours.

Address: 145 Camp Road, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand

Official website:

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