At NZ’s latitude the summer daylight hours are fairly long, which means not much sleep for photographers looking to take advantage of the golden hours. For example, on the longest day in Christchurch (December 21st) the sun will rise at 5:44 and set at 21:10, with a good hour of usable light on either side. Further south there’s around 18 hours of usable light at the summer solstice.
A photography option unique to summer is the colourful lupins, which start flowering in early November and usually peak at the beginning of December. These can be found in a few places throughout the middle of the island (sometimes in places they shouldn’t be – they’re a weed species), but are most famous around the Tekapo area. Check out my A Brief Guide to Lupins for more info.
The snow line is drifting upwards rapidly, making access into the mountains much easier if you’re looking to tramp (hike). The Aoraki – Mt Cook area has some amazing day walks set among our highest peaks, such as the Hooker Valley track and Sealy Tarns. My A Brief Guide to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park has lots more details!
Beaches are of course popular if you like to mix your photography with other leisure. The top of the South in the Nelson, Abel Tasman National Park, and Golden Bay regions has endless beaches of golden sand set against sparkling turquoise water.
The temperature starts dropping noticeably throughout March, which coupled with shortening daylight hours and the first dusting of snow on the alps, certainly gives the clear impression that winter is on its way. That said, the weather is usually fairly pleasant and there’s often long stretches of settled weather (a great time for water reflections – see my A Brief Guide), interspersed with the occasional storm front from the west or south. It’s a tough call, but autumn is probably my favourite time of year for both adventures and photography.
Central Otago is amazing in autumn, with golden leaves set against blue skies and mirror lakes. Wanaka, Queenstown and Arrowtown all have endless options for that sort of photography.
With long settled patches of weather it’s usually a perfect time to visit the West Coast and Fiordland areas, where cool misty mornings give way to blue sky days, with hopefully just the right amount of cloud returning for sunset. I’ve written two articles covering some primo spots in these areas: check out A Brief Guide to Milford and Doubtful Sounds and A Brief Guide to Karamea for more info.
Daylight hours are at their shortest, so if you enjoy your sleep like me, life as a photographer becomes a lot easier! Again using our reference point of Christchurch, at the winter solstice (21st June) the sun will be rising at 8:00 and setting at 17:00.
Snow and frost arrives in the high country, so regions such as the Mackenzie Country and Nelson Lakes give plenty of opportunities to get some of the cold white stuff into your shots. When it gets super cold, a weather phenomenon known as the ‘hoar frost’ can trap the Twizel and Alexandra landscapes in a layer of ice, making for an incredible winter wonderland. Take a look at my A Brief Guide to Lake Tekapo to see more from this area.
The Milky Way core is high in the sky, so if you’re into your astro photography now’s a great time to visit. If you’re lucky, in the southern half of the island the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) may make an appearance.
NZ’s indigenous forests are evergreen, so luxuriant forest interior shots are possible even in the depths of winter.
Much like autumn, I enjoy Spring for it’s not-too-early and not-too-late golden hours, as well as the increased likelihood of atmospheric haze and mist to bring depth to images.
Spring means blossom, daffodils, lambs and other assorted photography cliches, all of which are available in abundance throughout much of the developed areas of the South Island in the early part of the season. Christchurch and hinterland is a great one-stop-shop for all such things.
Coastal areas like the Catlins, Kaikoura, Akaroa and Marlborough Sounds are absolutely beautiful in Spring – misty mornings, sunshiney days, and crisp evenings.
Although the temperature is gradually warming the mountains will still be holding a lot of snow. While making for great photography, the risk of avalanches in the high country is much increased. Because of this some of the sub-alpine and alpine tracks, which have been closed over winter, can remain closed for much of early Spring.