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  • Writer's pictureGregg

New Zealand: Austral Summer Trip

We spent most of January in New Zealand, finally making a successful journey, 3 years after our intended travel date with the country opening its doors once again. This magical land is a paradise for nature lovers, with its diverse landscapes and breathtaking scenery. In addition to natural beauty, we found the people, culture, and food to be equally memorable. We began our travels in Auckland and choose the following locations to align with our goals of experiencing and photographing marine life, birds and landscapes: Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Tongariro National Park, Wellington, Marlborough Sound, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Banks Peninsula, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, Wanaka, Queenstown, and Fiordland National Park. This rather ambitious itinerary allowed us to experience some of the most spectacular wonders that New Zealand has to offer over roughly 1000 miles of road travel. I have opened a new gallery on our website that has some of the my best shots and video, so click here to see all of them. There is a lot to like in New Zealand. As a wildlife photographer, the bird life there is absolutely stunning, as I was able to add over 40 new species to my lifetime list. It is nice to walk through forests that are alive with bird songs....something that sadly, is increasingly missing in the forests of North America. If you want to learn more about our trip, I have included below, the narrative from our travel log, so please read on, especially if you have a trip planned to this special place in your future!

We began our trip in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, and after exploring the city drove south to Rotorua. The area is known for its geothermal activity, with geysers, hot springs, and bubbling mud pools. We spent time hiking through the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and captured some stunning shots of the colorful hot springs and the steaming geysers. We found the landscapes to be very similar to those in Yellowstone NP, but the vegetation is more tropical in nature.

We had a couple of days in Lake Taupo, to take in some of the amazing bird life around that region We then headed south to Tongariro National Park, located in the central North Island, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning volcanic landscapes. We conquered the challenging hike known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and along the way photographed the unique high elevation thermal emerald lakes and the rugged mountain peaks in a landscape that resembled the surface of Mars!

From there we headed to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is a vibrant city with a rich cultural scene. Traveling on from there we took the scenic ferry ride that shuttles you between the north and south islands and separate the country into 2 distinct regions. We quickly headed to Marlborough Sound, a network of picturesque bays and waterways that are perfect for kayaking and hiking. We especially enjoyed the Queen Charlotte Track, the rugged coastline and the sparkling waters, and kayaking the coast to enjoy the very peaceful area with amazing birdlife along the shorelines. We ventured further south on to Kaikoura, a coastal town known for its abundance of marine life. We explored Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway and toured the areas offshore by boat to see dolphins, penguins, and an amazing array of sea birds all in their natural habitat. From Kaikoura, we headed south to Christchurch and then on to the Banks Peninsula, a beautiful peninsula with scenic bays and coastal cliffs along the eastern coast. This area is an extinct volcano and has some stunning views of Akaroa harbor. The town of Akaroa is a charming French settlement that retains much of its original heritage with great cuisine and a charming vibe.

From the east coast of the south island, we headed inland to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, home to New Zealand's highest peak, beautiful Mount Cook. We explored Tasman Lake by boat, traveling up the lake to the head of Tasman Glacier. We hiked the Hooker Valley Track and captured some stunning shots of the glaciers and the snow-capped peaks. We moved on to Wanaka, located on the shores of Lake Wanaka, is a picturesque town with stunning views of the Southern Alps. The highlight of this area was our hiking in Mt. Aspiring National Park. The highlight an amazing hike on the Rob Roy Track that travels through deep forests and culminates in this amazing view of Rob Roy Glacier and towering water falls cascading over the headwall below.

We traveled onward to Queenstown, and then finally to Fiordland National Park, located on the southwestern tip of the South Island. This is a remote and rugged wilderness area with some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. We spent time hiking on the Milford Track, but the highlight was our time on Milford Sound enjoying bluebird weather of the austral summer, as we observed one of the more spectacular fiords on the planet. We flew home from Queenstown, after traveling over 1000 miles during the course of our trip. As I reflect on our trip to New Zealand, it was truly an unforgettable experience, and certainly worth the time and effort to get there. From the geothermal wonders of Rotorua to the rugged wilderness of Fiordland, New Zealand has something for everyone who appreciates natural beauty yielding stunning photographs and memories that will last a lifetime. I highly recommend this place as a destination!Here are a few highlight photos, and to see all of them, click here.

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