If you are flying to Queenstown, make sure that you get a window seat. The view is simply breathtaking and hard to describe. You can see that all fellow passengers have their noses glued to their windows as their jaws drop from the beautiful scenery. Landing in Queenstown is an experience by itself, nearly scraping big mountains on the left hand side. Coming back from Cambodia a few days before this trip, we couldn't believe how clearly we could see everything. It looked like mother nature already post-processed everything in HDR:-). We used to live in New Zealand and were always amazed by the clean air and great visibility which is great for good landscape photography.
Checking to the Hilton Hotel in Kelvin Heights, we nearly missed the reception. It is well hidden and if you don't look hard enough, it is easy to miss. The hotel is near the airport but about 10km from Queenstown, and isn't a problem to get to if you have a car. The hotel itself is situated on the banks of the Lake Whakatipu and is simply stunning. The hotel is new and the big bonus is the heated floors in bathrooms. Staying in many hotels around the world, we have to say that we really liked staying there and would definitely go back.
Heading to Milford Sound
The next morning we got up about an hour and a half before sunrise to take few nice pictures at the lake on the way to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is about 280 km from Queenstown and will take you about 3 and a half hours to get there. We never rush as the scenery of the South Island is magical. We take time to stop, enjoy the scenery and take a few photos along the way.
Our first stop is usually in Te Anau mainly because they sell the best venison pie in the world. The pie is to die for, full of big chunks of tender meat. It was early in the morning and it was very calm. If you are interested, you can take a scenic flights by helicopter to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound.
Make sure you have a full tank of fuel before leaving Te Anau as there are no fuel stations until Milford Sound. You can only get petrol at Gunns Camp in Hollyford Valley which is a detour from Milford Road. Otherwise you can get petrol and diesel in Milford Sound, although the service is limited to certain credit cards. The return trip is 240km and there is no cellphone coverage between Te Anau and Milford Sound. The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is truly scenic. The first stop is usually at Mirror Lakes. For photography we recommend early morning when the mountains are nicely illuminated by the rising sun and the reflection in the lake is beautiful.
If you are interested in hiking, the Routeburn Track is quite nice. If you don't want to complete the whole track (which is 32km and takes a few days) You can park your car at the Divide, and walk to the Summit Key instead. The track weaves through beech-forested valleys and alongside clear green rivers, glistening alpine lakes and breathtaking views from the mountain pass.
The next stop is Homer Tunnel. The 1.2 k tunnel is open for two-way traffic during avalanche season but outside this season, road users need to follow traffic signals at each end of the tunnel. The signals operate from 9am to 5pm (please check times before your departure as they change depending on road conditions) and are there to help prevent any traffic congestion. As you arrive at the tunnel, there is an area where you can pull over and take photos, and it is here where you are often met by one of New Zealand's native parrots, the cheeky Kea. These gregarious birds take great pleasure in "tasting" plastic and rubber pieces of your car, so keep a watch out for them.
There are many photo opportunities from Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound.