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Flash, Bang, Wallop – What a Picture!

 Geoff Marks

 

The unrivalled diversity of the natural landscapes in the Glacier Country region of New Zealand’s West Coast make it a Mecca for photographers. With an ever-changing landscape from the rugged coastline to tranquil lakes, river valleys, forests and mountains whatever the weather or time of year there is always an amazing photograph to be framed.

So, load up your camera bag head to the Coast for a photography road trip of a lifetime, and in the immortal words of Tommy Steele, “flash, bang, wallop what a picture – what a photograph”!

Sunset over Okarito Lagoon, West Coast, New Zealand

Even a basic cell phone camera can capture epic landscape photographs. Okarito Lagoon at sunset on a winter’s evening shot on a humble iPhone 8. (Credit: Geoff Marks)

WHAT TIME OF YEAR IS BEST FOR PHOTOGRAPHY IN GLACIER COUNTRY?

 

The weather in Glacier Country remains reasonably constant all year. Temperatures in lowland, coastal areas remain mild throughout the year and Glacier Country is also not especially windy – good news for photographers wanting to capture crisp mountain reflections in the lakes and lagoons.

However, the West Coast is New Zealand’s wettest region, with annual rainfall totals in the mountains regularly exceeding 10,000mm and with low elevation coastal locations typically recording between 2,000mm – 3,000mm of rainfall annually.

From a photographer’s perspective this is perfect weather! It’s neither too hot nor cold for walking to epic viewpoints or waiting patiently to capture wildlife portraits, and the frequent build-up of rain clouds over the mountains in the afternoon can provide a dramatic contrast against the blue ice of the glaciers, the green of the lush rainforest and white snow of the mountain tops. The regular rainfall also makes for atmospheric, misty and moody imagery in the rainforest.

For those wanting to capture the renowned West Coast sunsets, autumn through winter to early spring is usually best. The light is softer than at the height of summer, but also sun sets earlier in the evening so you don’t have to stay up too late!

Likewise, autumn to early spring is the best time for photographing the night sky. With very little urban development the light pollution in Glacier Country is minimal, meaning that on a clear night the opportunities for astrophotography are almost limitless.

Southern Alps and Mt Tasman, West Coast, New Zealand

The Southern Alps are regularly blanketed in a fresh layer of snow throughout winter and early spring, the white contrasts dramatically against dark, cloudy skies or the orange hues at sunset. Photo: Early morning cloud over Mount Tasman photographed in winter from Gillespies Beach on a 400mm telephoto lens. (Credit: Geoff Marks).

Okarito Lagoon, West Coast NZ

Winter in Glacier Country offers calm, settled weather perfect for capturing reflections in the lakes and rivers. Here, a kayaker is reflected in the waters of Okarito Lagoon with a panoramic view of the Southern Alps behind. (Credit: Geoff Marks).

BEST PLACES FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

The diverse habitats throughout the Glacier Country region offer an abundance of opportunities for wildlife photography.

Dolphins can regularly be seen off the coastline and there is a fur seal colony at Gillespies Beach near Fox Glacier. Little blue penguins can be seen on the beach at Okarito and further down the coast towards Haast, rare tawaki | Fiordland crested penguins can be seen in spring.

Hectors Dolphins, West Coast, New Zealand

Patience and a modicum of good luck is required for wildlife photography! A pod of endangered Hector’s dolphins surfing on a West Coast wave. (Credit: Geoff Marks)

Okarito Lagoon, NZ’s largest unmodified wetland, is home to over 70 species of birds and is the feeding ground for the kotuku (white heron), whose only breeding site in New Zealand is just north of the lagoon in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve. Guided tours to the colony from Whataroa, eco boat tours or kayaking on the lagoon all offer great opportunities to see and photograph these beautiful creatures as well as other wading birds. On land and by night, you might also be lucky enough to spot a kiwi on the fringes of the Okarito forest (but if you miss seeing a kiwi in the wild, visit the Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef).Glacier Valley Eco Tours offer guided hikes including sunset walks to see the blue penguins in Okarito and at Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge you can take a tour to photograph tawaki / Fiordland Crested Penguins.

Kotuku White Heron Okarito Lagoon, West Coast

The only breeding colony of kotuku | white herons in New Zealand is at the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve near Whataroa. (Credit: Geoff Marks)

Kea over Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand

A kea in flight over Franz Josef Glacier, another case of being at the right place at the right time. (Credit: Geoff Marks)

BEST PLACES FOR SUNSET PHOTOGRPAHY

 

With its West Coast location and contrasting landscapes, Glacier Country is the ideal place to capture sunset imagery.

Easy to access coastal locations are an obvious place to start – check out Gillespies Beach near Fox Glacier for great mountains to sea sunset options, or Okarito Lagoon and the Okarito Trig viewpoint with its panoramic views of the Southern Alps and coastline are two other spectacular options.

Of course, no photographers’ visit to Glacier Country would be complete without a trip to the famed mirror lake at Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier where the best times of day to capture the reflections of the mountains are at sunrise and sunset. For early birds, a coffee and breakfast after your photoshoot at the Matheson Café is a must do.

Mount Tasman and Southern Alps near Fox Glacier, New Zealand

The West Coast has no shortage of great locations for sunset photography, here the setting sun in Fox Glacier lights up the western slopes of Mount Tasman. (Credit Geoff: Marks)

Sunset photography over golden fields, Fox Glacier, West Coast

A vibrant summer sunset lights up the meadows near Fox Glacier. (Credit: Geoff Marks)

BEST PLACES FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Glacier Country is spoiled for riches when it comes to the variety of easily accessible locations for incredible landscape photography. A good place to start for some inspiration is by downloading the Best Walks in Glacier Country Map, which has some recommended short walks with epic viewpoints.

Copland River Valley and Southern Alps, Glacier Country, West Coast, NZ

Epic vistas of the Southern Alps are accessible throughout Glacier Country. Photo: the Copland River and Sierra Range (Credit: Geoff Marks).

The best way to capture the grandeur of the region’s landscape is from the air, and there are a number of scenic flight operators in both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. A guided heli-hike to photograph the incredible blue ice formations of the glaciers is an absolute must-do. To capture brilliant reflections, check out Okarito Lagoon, Lake Matheson or Lake Gault in Fox Glacier and Peter’s Pool or Lake Mapourika in Franz Josef.

On rainy days, misty, moody rainforest imagery can be captured on the Lake Wombat track in Franz Josef or the Minnehaha or Moraine walks in Fox Glacier.

If you’re looking for a full day hike and have good fitness levels, then the diversity of landscapes available on the Robert’s Point or Alex Knob Tracks is breathtaking. Or, for an overnight photography adventure, check out the Copland Track and Welcome Flat Hut with its natural geothermal hot pools.

Note: Check the weather and track conditions with the Department of Conservation in Franz Josef before starting a full day hike and always follow the Land Safety Code.

Reflections of Southern Alps in Lake Gault, Fox Glacier, West Coast, New Zealand

Glacier Country’s reflective lakes and lagoons such as Lake Gault (pictured) are ideal for striking landscape photography. (Credit: Geoff Marks).