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New Zealand Photo Prep Part 9 – Photography Planning for Wanaka, South Island

For those of who read my Art of Travel Photography series, you know that one of the most important tips for taking good travel photos is to understand what you will be photographing before you travel.  This is important for a number of very good reasons.  First and most importantly, if you aren’t familiar with what is at your destination, you might not even make time to see some of the amazing things you could have seen, let alone photographed them.

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Even if you do have a good itinerary planned that covers all of the top things that you would like to see at your destination, understanding exactly how you are going to photograph these subjects or locations before you travel can save you valuable time.  I like to know where the best spots that give you the best angles are before I arrive.  That way I am not wasting valuable travel time trying to figure out where to take the best shots.

Finally, understanding what you want to photograph and how you want to photograph those subjects or landscapes before you travel will help you prepare what type of gear you will need to have with you.  For instance, what time of day is best to photograph at these locations?  Where are the best spots at these locations to capture sunrises or sunsets?  What type of lens will be best for capturing the subjects or landscapes at these locations?  These are just some of the questions that the proper advanced research can answer.

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With about a month to go until our trip to Australia and New Zealand and the itinerary for our trip all set, I figured now was as good a time as any to start doing the photo prep for the trip.  In this series, I am going to walk you thru my photography prep for each of our destinations in Australia and New Zealand.  If you haven’t had a chance to review my planning process for our Australia and New Zealand trip, I have linked those articles for you to review below.

In the ninth installment of my photography planning for the trip, I am going to cover our ninth destination, which is Wanaka.  I am going to outline the research I did on what the top photography locations in Wanaka are, where it is best to photograph in those locations, which time of day it would be best to photograph the locations, and what type of photography equipment I will need to get my desired shots.

Resources I Used

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When doing photography planning for any trip, the first step I take is to do research on the location to see what there is to photograph, where the best places to photograph those subjects or landscapes are, and when and how to photograph them.  When it came time to do my research on Wanaka, here are some of the best resources that I used to do my research.

With these resources in hand, I sat down to start looking for places and things that I would like to photograph in the Wanaka area.  By doing this research now, it will ensure that I don’t miss photographing anything spectacular when I arrive in Wanaka and it will also help save me time trying to determine when and how to photograph the subjects and locations that I have identified.  If you would like to learn more about the process I use when I do my photography research, I would suggest that you check out my Art of Travel Photography – Planning Your Shots guide.

Photo Spots I’ve Identified

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After doing my research, I identified ten locations in Wanaka that I really want to take photographs at.  I am going to cover each of these locations in greater detail, but as a summary, I have included a map and a list of all ten locations for you to review below.

Wanaka New Zealand Photo Map

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The Wanaka Tree
Roy’s Peak Lookout
Glendhu Bay Lookout
Lake Wanaka Lookout
Lake Hawea Lookout
Mt Iron Summit
Rocky Peak Viewpoint
Isthmus Peak Viewpoint

The Wanaka Tree

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The first photography location that I would like to outline for Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island is arguably the most popular photography subject of the Wanaka area.  The Wanaka Tree is a famous tree that sits in Lake Wanaka along the lake’s southern coast.  It has been the subject of countless of amazing photographs and has become symbolic of the city itself.

Best of all, it is located right within Wanaka, so it is really easy and convenient to photograph.  If you do decide to photograph the Wanaka tree, I would recommend having a wide-angle lens with you for the landscape shots that include the tree as well as a lens with enough reach to get some shots of the tree in close.

Wanaka Tree Photo Map

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If you would like to get some shots of the Wanaka Tree during the Golden Hours, you’re either going to need to get up early to get your shots at sunrise or get out in a boat around sunset to shoot in towards the shore.  When I will be visiting Wanaka in early October the sun will be setting almost along the coastline, so the sun will not rise in an optimal location for sunrise shots, but I should be able to get some decent sunrise shots. The best time of year to get sunrise shots of the Wanaka Tree is between April and August.  Remember, if you are taking sunrise or sunset shots you should have a sturdy tripod with you.

Wanaka Tree - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Roys Peak Lookout

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A view from Roy’s Peak Lookout taken from Google Street View

The Wanaka area is well-known for having some of the best hiking trails and most amazing vistas on New Zealand’s South Island and one of the most popular of these is the Roy’s Peak Lookout and the hike to get there.  If you are interested in doing this amazing hike, I have included a detailed map below for you to review.

Please keep in mind that this trail is closed every year between October 1 and November 10th for the lambing season, so if you do want to hike to Roy’s Peak, keep that in mind.  I would strongly suggest bringing a wide-angle lens with you if you do this hike so that you can capture as much of the amazing landscape as possible.

Roy's Peak - Photo Map

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One of the great things about the high-elevation viewpoints that Wanaka is known for is that these viewpoints are typically really great for getting sunrise and sunset shots year-round.  The Roy’s Peak Viewpoint is an especially great viewpoint for getting amazing shots of the sun rising over Wanaka and the beautiful lakes, mountains, and valleys of the surrounding area.  I have included a map below that outlines where the sun will rise and set when I visit Wanaka in early October of this year.  If you plan on getting some sunrise or sunset shots from Roy’s Peak, make sure you take a sturdy tripod with you.

Roy's Peak Lookout - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Glendhu Bay Lookout

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A view from Glendhu Bay Lookout taken from Google Street View

In addition to amazing hikes with beautiful viewpoints, the other thing that the Wanaka area on New Zealand’s South Island is known for is its beautiful lakes.  The Glendhu Bay Lookout is one of the most breathtaking lake viewpoints that you will find in the Wanaka Area.  From this viewpoint, you can see much of Lake Wanaka and the gorgeous mountains that surround it.  If you decide to visit the Glendhu Bay Lookout to get some pictures, make sure you bring a wide-angle lens with you so that you can capture as much of the lake and the mountains as possible.

Glendhu Bay Lookout - Photo Map

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Because of its position on the Eastern side of Glendhu Bay, the Glendhu Bay Lookout is a great place to get sunset pictures with the lake in the background.  There are few things prettier than a colorful sky over a beautiful lake and you have the opportunity to get some great shots of that here.  If you are going to shoot sunset pictures at Glendhu Bay Lookout, make sure you have a steady tripod with you.

Glendhu Bay Lookout - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Lake Wanaka Lookout

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A view from Lake Wanaka Lookout taken from Google Street View

Another great lake viewpoint along Lake Wanaka is the Lake Wanaka Lookout, which is on the northern end of the lake.  This is some of the most breathtaking coastlines along Lake Wanaka, so it is definitely a spot that you will want to photograph at while you are in the Wanaka area.  If you decide to visit this viewpoint to get some shots, I would recommend bringing a wide-angle lens with you so that you can capture as much of the coastline and the mountains in your shot as possible.

Lake Wanaka Lookout - Photo Map

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Like I mentioned with the Glendhu Bay Lookout, any place where you can get pictures of a beautiful lake and a beautiful sunset in the same shot should be a must-visit location for any travel photographer.  This is certainly the case with the Lake Wanaka Lookout spot as well.  Because of its location along the east coast of Lake Wanaka, this viewpoint is great for getting pictures of the sun setting over Lake Wanaka.  Just remember to bring a sturdy tripod if you visit during the sunset hours so that you can ensure you get some great photographs.

Lake Wanaka Lookout - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Lake Hawea Lookout

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A view from Lake Hawea Lookout taken from Google Street View

The last lake lookout location that I would like to highlight for this photography location guide for the Wanaka, New Zealand area is the Lake Hawea Lookout.  The other large lake in the Wanaka area is Lake Hawea and the most popular lookout along this gorgeous lake is the Lake Hawea Lookout.

Like Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea has some absolutely stunning coastline that is characterized by steep mountains.  From this lookout, you can get some absolutely breathtaking shots looking across the lake.  If you decide to visit, I would recommend bringing a wide-angle lens so that you can get as much landscape in your shots as possible.

Lake Hawea Lookout - Photo Map

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Unlike the viewpoints that I highlighted for Lake Wanaka, the Lake Hawea Lookout sits on the west side of the lake, so it is a great spot to get pictures of the sun rising over the lake.  I have included a map below that outlines where the sun will rise and set when I visit Wanaka in early October of this year.  As you can see, I should be able to get some stunning sunrise shots of Lake Hawea from this viewpoint.  If you are planning on visiting this viewpoint to get some sunrise shots, I would recommend carrying a sturdy tripod with you.

Lake Hawea Lookout - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Mt Iron Summit

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A view from Mount Iron summit taken from Google Street View

When it comes to grand vistas and amazing hikes in the Wanaka area of New Zealand’s South Island, there are some absolutely stunning ones to choose from.  However, some of these hikes are rather long and difficult, which makes them inaccessible to people who aren’t equipped to go on long hikes or don’t have the experience to make a difficult hike.  The Mount Iron Summit is not one of these such hikes.

At only about 3-miles rough trip with a relatively small 700-foot elevation climb, this is a hike that is accessible to even the most inexperienced of hikers.  Once at the top, the breathtaking views of Wanaka and the surrounding area is a treat that is certain to amaze.  If you do this hike, make sure you bring along a wide-angle lens so that you can capture as much of the landscape as possible from the top.  If you would like to get some closeups of surrounding landmarks, having a lens with some reach can be helpful as well.

Mount Iron Summit - Photo Map

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Because this is an elevated viewpoint, you can get some great sunrise and sunset shots from this viewpoint almost year-round.  However, the most notable Golden Hours shots you can get from this viewpoint will undoubtedly be the sunset shots.  With the city of Wanaka and Lake Wanaka off to the west of this viewpoint, you can get some breathtaking shots of the sun setting over the city and the lake from this spot.  Remember, if you are going to take some sunset shots from this viewpoint, I recommend bringing a sturdy tripod with you.

Mount Iron Summit - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Rocky Peak Viewpoint

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A view from Rocky Peak Viewpoint taken from Google Street View

If you are looking for an alternative to hiking Roy’s Peak, the Diamond Lake\Rocky Mountain Track is another great hike that rewards you with some absolutely breathtaking views.  It’s a much shorter hike than the hike to Roy’s Peak, but it does still have quite a bit of elevation change.  However, there aren’t any really technical sections of the hike, so it is a hike that even beginning hikers should be able to tackle.

If you are visiting the Wanaka area between October 1 and November 10th when Roy’s Peak is closed for the lambing season, this hike is a great alternative for you to look into.  If you do decide to do this hike, I would strongly suggest that you carry a wide-angle lens with you to capture as much of the breathtaking landscape as you can from the viewpoint.

Rocky Peak Viewpoint - Photo Map

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Like all elevated viewpoints, this viewpoint is great for sunrise and sunset shots year-round.  However, while the sunset shots from the viewpoint are pretty, the sunrise shots from this viewpoint are absolutely breathtaking.  With Wanaka and Lake Wanaka to the east of the viewpoint, you are in the perfect position to get photographs with the sun rising over the city and the lake from this perch.  If you do decide to get some sunrise shots from this location, make sure you have a sturdy tripod with you.

Rocky Peak Viewpoint - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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Isthmus Peak Viewpoint

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A view from Isthmus Peak Viewpoint taken from Google Street View

The last location that I would like to highlight in this photography location guide for the Wanaka, New Zealand area is another one of the magnificent hikes that you can do in this area.  The Isthmus Peak Track ultimately takes you to the Isthmus Peak Viewpoint, which is located near “the Neck”, which is the area between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.  From this viewpoint, you can see the lakes on each side, as well as the beautiful mountains that surround each of the lakes.  It is an absolutely stunning view.

It’s a rather long hike, so if you do decide to make this trek you should be prepared.  Also, if you are going to take pictures from the viewpoint, I would recommend carrying a wide-angle lens with you.  This way you can capture as much of the stunning landscape as possible.

Isthmus Peak Viewpoint - Photo Map

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This is one of the rare locations where you can capture absolutely fantastic sunrise and sunset shots almost year-round.  With mountains and a beautiful lake to your east and your west, you are set up to be able to get some truly spectacular shots at both dawn and dusk.  As you can see in the map that I provided below, the sun will be rising over Lake Hawea early in the morning and setting over Lake Wanaka in the evening when I visit in early October.  This is a photographer’s dream spot!  Remember, if you are going to visit to take some sunrise or sunset shots, I would recommend carrying a sturdy tripod with you.

Isthmus Peak Viewpoint - Sunrise and Sunset Detail Map

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7 replies »

  1. More lovely areas. I especially like the tree in the lake. I can see why it’s popular. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re going to have time to see and do all these things! This will be an amazing trip, but it’s gotta be a month long?? 🙂

    • We will be there for three weeks. We’ll hit all the cities for sure, but time will tell if we have the time to hit up all these spots. I am guessing we won’t be able to do everything. Good to write about for the benefit of others though 😀

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