Night Photography and Roadtripping to Wanaka

Last year I tried to photograph the night sky in the Hawkes Bay and failed epically! I was determined to try again at some point and my latest trip to Christchurch in June was the perfect chance! I’ve also been dying to photograph ‘the tree‘ in Wanaka, so I threw out the idea of a quick overnight roadtrip from Christchurch to the tree and my Aunt Ali was eager to join. (Yay for spontaneous adventures!)

With a driving buddy in the seat next to me we left around 11:00 pm, making it to The Church of the Good Shepherd at 2:00am. This cute little stone church sits on the edge of Lake Tekapo which is itself in the middle of a dark sky reserve and the views above are breathtaking! I was nervous when weather app said it would be cloudy, but rolling up to the site there wasn’t a wisp of cloud in the sky. All I could see when I looked up was an immense vastness covered in stars. I could have watched them all night… a clear view of the Milky Way is the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen in my entire life. No exaggeration.

I had read a few articles on night photography before jumping in the car (master of preparedness) and felt better about the images I was seeing on the back of my camera. A few of them show slight movements in the stars… proof that my shutter speed was too slow at times. I’m thrilled with the results, though this is one of the few places that are more impressive in person than in a professional image. A photography can’t capture the fear and wonder that run up your spine simultaneously when you stand under a dark, expansive, night sky.

From there we continued our drive to Wanaka… remember how I said I wanted to photograph a tree? This particular tree grows in Lake Wanaka, completely surrounded by water. The mountains in the background frame this odd tree in a stunning way. We arrived before sunrise and took a quick nap in the car. We woke up at the first sign of light, only to see ‘the tree’ on dry land. The lake had receded. I was so disappointed I didn’t even TRY and get a photo of it. I’ll have to go back another time. We grabbed breakfast at a local coffee shop and headed to Wanaka Puzzle World… a childhood favorite. It was as wacky and fabulous as I remembered (though less of a mystery for sure). Ali and I had so much fun I didn’t take any photos – other than a couple on my phone.

The drive back to Christchurch in the daytime was spectacular too. Honestly, I think the South Island is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s sparse habitation means the vistas are broken only by winding roads. We stopped by The Church of the Good Shepherd again and actually saw Lake Tekapo and the surrounding mountains. 🙂 I may have been sad about Wanaka’s photo bomb, but the drive home made it all worth it.

A few nights later, there was talk of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) being visible from Christchurch. Another Aunt (Rachel) and I drove out of town to the tip of the Christchurch peninsula to get a straight view south. It was too cloudy to see the lights, and once we got home we realized we had been an hour late, but I loved the moonlit images I got of the beach anyway. You can see a handful of stars peeking out from all the clouds. 🙂

I’m so thankful that I don’t have to do all these little trips alone – Thank you Ali and Rachel for being down for late night journeys with a hope of getting interesting photos. Landscape photography is very difficult, not just technically, but also for the amount of planning, hiking, cold (or hot) weather endured, and hours of waiting without always getting ‘the shot’ that you’re looking for. If you want to see New Zealand beauty through a pro who IS willing to bridge disappointment and struggle, I think you should check out Rach Stewart… she’s incredible!!!