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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Milford Sound, New Zealand


Milford Sound is a fiord, which is an inlet surrounded by cliffs of a mountain. It is located in the Fiordland National Park and can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. You can also camp there overnight in the cabins.IMG_1643

Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places in the world, with around 7 metres of rain per year in this area alone. We visited in January, which is actually one of 2 of the rainiest months in Milford Sound, the other being December, and both summer time for New Zealand. Being high up in the mountains and surrounded by mountain sides with melting glaciers, this area was wet and misty if not rainy. According to the official website, it is rainy for on average 182 days of the year. Even in the summer it was quite cold, in the low to mid teens.

When I visited: January 22nd 2016.

What I did: I joined the 1 hour 40 minute Milford Scenic Cruise with Real Journeys.

Getting here
Milford Sound is reached by driving very slowly up the mountain. You can rent a car and drive there yourself (free parking is available) or you can join a tour group. It can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information about getting here and essential info about Milford Sound in general.


Along the way you can see water running down the mountain from melting snow or glaciers.IMG_1639


This is the bus bay for the coaches that bring in tour groups. This is right outside the cruise departure hall. Everyone else has to park in the public car park where the cabins are (close to the entry after you at the top of the mountain). This area is a 15 minute walk away from the departure hall.IMG_1647

Some more scenery at Milford Sound, seen from the carparkIMG_1644

!!Important to know:
Mobile Reception:
There is no mobile reception at Milford Sound. Telephone service are at:

-Knobs Flat and Milford Sound Visitor terminal (both are landline phones I believe*) and -a satellite phone at Homer Tunnel for emergencies only.

There are no places to refuel during the drive once you leave Te Anau. Make sure you leave with a full tank. You don’t want to be stuck with no fuel and no phone reception! Fuel (petrol for cars and diesel for coaches) is available at Milford Sound but only certain cards and pin number access are accepted. Fuel is also available at Gunn’s Camp in the Hollyford Valley, but this location is a detour from Milford Sound.

*This information is taken from the “Milford Sound Drive Guide” pamphlet provided by the Cruise Milford NZ company’s obtained in January 2016. The pamphlet says “card phone” however I believe they mean landline phones accessed with calling cards as I saw one such phone (blue one) at the visitor’s terminal but did not see one at Knobs Flats, and there was no cell reception at the visitor’s terminal. Visit their website here:

Activities here
There are a number of activities one can do here. The most obvious ones are to join a tour and/or cruise group. The cruise takes you onto the water and around to see the waterfalls and cliffs and scenery. If you are lucky like we were, you may be able to spot sea lions. You can also do kayaking here, hiking, and if one day is not enough for you, you can stay overnight in their weatherproof cabins at the permanent campsite. IMG_1741

My Experience and *Tips for photographers*
I joined Real Journeys and it was a largish boat with probably 100 or so people.IMG_1661As a keen photographer myself, although I did not use them, from the sound of their services, I’d probably recommend and am inclined to join Cruise Milford because their boats and groups are smaller so can get closer to waterfalls and things and you would have a better time taking photos.

All cruises depart from their departure hall and each company has their own reception desk.



There was paid wifi available in the departure hall, but it was quite expensive, I feel. Although I suppose it is reasonable that they charge higher prices because there is no mobile reception there. This service might be aimed at campers seeing the data lasts 1 month. It should be enough for you to check your emails but no media browsing.IMG_1753.jpg

On the boat, there were free coffee, tea and biscuits provided on the cruise however they also have a paid food and souvenirs bar where you can buy postcards and photos, sandwiches, drinks, chips, chocolate, fruit and instant noodles (hot water is free). I suggest you bring your own food and have them with the hot tea. However I must say the boat swayed a lot and spilt tea was not an uncommon sight especially if you sat far from the coffee area.IMG_1739



The cruise boats have both indoor and outdoor areas.

There are not a lot of people in this photo because most people were outside taking photos. It was about half full on my trip.IMG_1663

*Tips for photographers*
You will almost certainly get wet (even if it is just a spray), if you go outside when the boat gets close to the waterfalls. Therefore make sure you have waterproof gear if you have expensive gear. I just used my phone which was easy to shelter from the water so it was fine for me. When we went, it didn’t rain but due to the area, the air was misty and the waterfall made some people wet. You should definitely bring raincoats instead of umbrellas. A change of clothes wasn’t necessary for us as we stayed on the boat (although our entire luggage was in our car so if we did need a change of clothes, we could change when we got back). Layered clothes might be advisable. There is no real reason why you would become soaking wet. Most people also used point and shoot cameras and it was fine, but just a heads up.IMG_1744

Also, Milford Sound’s official website does not name a best time to visit,  nor does it give a very good guideline on what the weather is like for each season but it does say that the best time to visit will depend on what you want to see. (Sea lions and penguins can be seen in the cooler months of spring according to their website but we saw them in January.) Which brings me to this piece of advice especially for photographers/people who want to go to photograph the area:

*Tips for photographers* those pretty photos you see on the internet of Milford Sound, they are taken on sunny days, and you will definitely not be getting any of those types of photos if you go with a large cruise/tour group (unless you are VERY lucky) as everyone will be around the edge of the boat trying to get a picture, and the boat won’t be staying long in any one place. So you will have to join a smaller group or hire your own boat.

Best time to go:
If you want waterfalls, then the best time to go is during the rainier months, but if you want sunny photos, you can go when it is less rainy. The rain isn’t exactly heavy, just continuous. Like I previously mentioned, Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information.






At the time (January 2016), Cruise Milford’s cruises started at $80 NZD per adult on a smaller group boat, while Real Journeys, the company we went with, charged $67.20 NZD per adult on a much larger boat and children were free. Both included complimentary tea/coffee and biscuits. As of July 2017, Cruise Milford’s prices have risen to $90 per adult, and Real Journey’s current price is $76.

Visit their official websites here:

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©All rights reserved for all content and photographs, usage on 3rd party sites are forbidden without permission. Photos are taken by author unless otherwise stated.