Top Locations for Long Exposure Photography in New Zealand

With Richard’s passion for long exposure photography and knowledge of the best spots in the country, he has put together a list of his favourite ten locations for long exposure photography in New Zealand.

Nugget Point, Catlins Coast
ISO 64, f11, 20 Seconds

1. Nugget Point

One of New Zealand’s most iconic and recognisable coastal vistas, Nugget Point sits below the most photographed lighthouse in New Zealand, jutting out to the Southern Ocean where the sky and the ocean become one. Below the cliff-top lighthouse are sprawled the rocky islands for which Captain James Cook named the point, in reference to their resemblance to nuggets of gold.
While I do love being here at sunrise—shooting straight into the rising sun for dramatic lighting and strong colours—one of my best visits here was in much more subtle lighting conditions under a cloudy sky. The softer pastel tones in the sky complemented the cool blue ocean, and long exposures helped blur the movement of the sky into the waves crashing below, causing the horizon line to vanish between them.

2. Purakaunui Falls

Set amongst the forests of the Catlins Forest Park, Purakaunui is one of my favourites of the endless beautiful waterfalls that we have here in New Zealand. The walkout, although short and relaxing, provides a beautiful example of some of New Zealand’s native bush, including tree fuchsia—the country's only deciduous tree. During the autumn months, the fuchsias surrounding the waterfalls come alive with colour and cover the rocks and stream below with yellow, confetti-like leaves. This small pop of colour, in our all but green forests, adds an extra sense to the scene, creating some lovely colour harmony.
While there are various spots to photograph from, I often favour shooting down close to the water, to add some extra foreground interest and capture the water movement around the rocks below.

Purakaunui Waterfalls, Catlins Coast
ISO 64, f11, 1 minute

Moeraki Boulders
ISO 200, f11, 1/4 Second

3. Moeraki Boulders

There are few better places to explore with long exposure techniques than the Moeraki Boulders. I often refer to them as ‘Dragon Eggs’. At sunrise, waves splash across them, reflecting the golden morning light to give them a flaming effect. While I do favour shooting here in the golden hours, the Boulders offer some stunningly moody and minimalistic shots on a grey day, as well as spectacularly popping colours during a pristine sunrise or sunset. 
There are numerous boulders to choose fromeach unique, producing various effects upon the ebbing tides. This makes it a location that I never tire from visiting and challenging my compositional skills.

4. 'That' Wanaka Tree

Wanaka's willow with wet feet is New Zealand's most photographed tree and most ‘Instagrammed’ image; amazing fame for a non-native tree that actually began life as an old fence post. Framed with the mountains of Mt Aspiring in the background, the tree provides a great sense of depth in a photograph. It manages to draw hoards of photographers from all over the globeand although I and other New Zealand photographers may not like to admit it, it is a lovely scene. 
The most beautiful images I have taken here were captured during a recent workshop in what felt like very unfavourable conditions; we were juggling umbrellas, shooting in the rain. The grey morning offered a very minimal look at this lone tree, and with a long exposure, the water and sky became one silky element and the distant hills were lost from view.

That Tree, Wanaka ISO 100, f11, 4 minutes

Milford Sound, Fiordland ISO 100 f11, 8 Seconds

5. Milford Sound

Milford Sound sits within Fiordland National Park. This is my favourite area of New Zealand to photograph, due to the scale and drama of the extensive fiord-covered, wilderness landscape. Milford Sound, part of the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage site, is the most accessible location in the park, and the only fiord that is accessible by road.
Another of the New Zealand landscape photographer’s must-hit spots, the Milford foreshore provides some of the most internationally-recognisable shots of our country. Mitre Peak rises high above the fiord, its perfect conical construction giving an incredible natural symmetry to the landscape. The calm tidal foreshore offers great options for long exposure photography: various elements of foreground interest can be used to build your composition, and the right tidal conditions create the chance to capture a perfect reflection. Continuing on from Part 1. Richard shares another 5 of New Zealand's top landscape photography spots.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula ISO 64, f11, 8 minutes

6. Cathedral Cove

One of my top coastal landscapes on the North Island, Cathedral Cove is an awe-inspiring location to photograph. It is one of the most popular sites of the Coromandel Peninsulaand therefore frequented by hordes of tourists during a hot summer day, just like the iconic archway of Durdle Door in Englandbut an early sunrise can still offer the chance to get the beach mostly to yourself.
Standing here under the gigantic stone archway, which shelters the white sandy bay in an air of cathedral-like majesty, you look out onto a crystal clear ocean, dramatic cliffs, and pohutukawa trees. Capturing the near-fantasy framing of the large pinnacle rock known as 'Te Hoho' or Sail Rock through the archway with a long exposure creates an extremely compelling and iconic New Zealand photograph. 

7. Tawhai Falls

Pouring over the lip of an ancient lava flow amongst native forest, these 13-metre high falls are a stunning and easily-reachable location in the extensive Tongariro National Park. This beautiful waterfall stands below the volcanoes of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ngauruhoe. It is a landscape created by many volcanic eruptions, containing myriad waterfallssome as high as 50 metres.
I have probably shot this waterfall more than any other in New Zealand, due to the amount of time I spend in the park. Like any waterfall, it requires a combination of conditions to get the perfect shot; I find the best conditions are found on an overcast afternoon when the light penetrating through the forest is controlled for an even exposure. Tawhai Falls is also the filming location of Gollum’s poolwhere Faramir and his archers watch Gollum fishmaking it a highlight for “Lord of the Rings” fans!

Tawhai Falls, Tongariro National Park ISO 64, f11, 1 second

Tasman Lake, Mt Cook ISO 64, f11, 10 seconds

8. Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a mecca for New Zealand landscape photographers, offering great opportunities to build your landscape portfolio. The peak of Aoraki/Mt Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, calculated to be 3,724 metres high.
Options for photography and views of Mt Cook are limitless in the park. Many are accessible only by arduous hikes and climbs onto the surrounding mountainsidesbut if you are not a climber, never fear! Mt Cook can be shot from various locations on the valley floor to produce jaw-dropping images. One of my top spots for shooting an epic sunrise is the Tasman Glacier Lake, with icebergs floating atop its deep waters. 

9. Wharariki Beach

My favourite South Island beach and home to some of the most spectacular coastline in Aotearoa, Wharariki offers endless vistas with wind-sculpted sand dunes, beautiful rocky outcrops, and the Archway Islandstwo giant monoliths rising out of the ocean at high tide. Due to its remote location on the top northwest corner of the South Island, it is off the beaten track of the main tourist route.
Although this area is known for dramatic weather, I captured my most treasured photograph here on what I thought would be a disappointing sunset, with completely cloudless skies. The shoot was saved by the find of a very calm tidal pool: in its reflection, I was able to capture the perfect symmetry of the islands.

Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay ISO 100, f11, 8 seconds

Lake Matherson, West Coast ISO 64, f11, 30 seconds

10. Lake Matherson

A gem of New Zealand’s west coast, Lake Matheson sits within beautiful native forest at the foot of the snow-capped Southern Alps. Attracting photographers from all over the world, the lake’s view is one of the staple images of any New Zealand landscape photography portfolio. 
It is still one of my favourite views in New Zealand when conditions are optimalwhich can be hard to find, given that it is in one of the wettest parts of the country. I love visiting on a clear winter’s morning for the best chance to capture the perfect reflection, with the added element of some morning mist. By shooting the lake with a long exposure, you can smooth out its surface to capture the glorious mirrored reflections of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. 

Long Exposure Workshops

Feeling inspired? Learn how to do long exposure photography on our 1-day workshops and our 4-day masterclass.

1-Day Long Exposure Workshop – Auckland – 1st August 2020

1-Day Long Exposure Workshop – Wellington – 31st October 2020

Long Exposure Masterclass – Coromandel – 14th-17th November 2020

About the Author
Richard Young is a full-time landscape and wildlife photographer based in Wellington. He has been guiding groups of photographers in New Zealand since 2010 and founded New Zealand Photography Workshops in 2013.

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