Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most iconic destinations and is a vibrant city that epitomizes the country’s magnificent natural beauty and thrilling adventure sports. When it comes to capturing beautiful photography, this slice of the south makes for easy pickings — there’s a reason Queenstown remains one of the top 10 most scenic airport landings in the world!
With so much natural beauty, it’s no surprise that Queenstown is a favorite among photographers around the world. But, you don’t need to be a professional shutterbug in order to capture Queenstown’s splendor. Whether you’re packing a camera, a tripod or simply your mobile phone, this guide will ensure you hit all of the top photo-friendly spots in and around the city to really liven up that feed.
The Skyline Gondola
The panoramic view from Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola is one of the city’s most iconic scenes. Queenstown Hill looms right behind the town’s main center, offering snap-happy photographers sweeping views. It also makes for a great base to jump off from attached to a parachute! The gondola ride takes around 10 minutes and as you take in the spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains on your way to the top, be sure to also keep your eyes peeled for wild sheep dotted along the hillside.
For maximum photo-taking pleasure, take your trip up on a clear day, at sunset, or after dark. A night-shoot allows for particularly magical shots of the twinkling lights of the town below. Just don’t forget your tripod!
Ben Lomond Peak
Here’s one for the zealous hiker! The ascent up Ben Lomond Peak will take a full day (6-8 hours round trip) and is known to be one of New Zealand’s very best trekking routes. Views from the top are not only sure to leave you astounded, but they also promise a grandiose ‘gram-worthy pic or two! For the full hike, climbers can begin from the bottom of Queenstown Hill, or take the easier and more scenic option of the gondola up and begin your hike from the top of the terminal at Bobs Peak — perfect if you have any camera gear to carry!
A fairly gentle slope most of the way leads to an abrupt summit during the final portion of the climb. Show-stopping views will welcome you at its peak. Use a wide-angle lens to best capture the full extent of the vistas around you. Weather permitting, you’ll have sweeping, 360-degree views of the Remarkables mountain range, Moke Lake below, and the far-reaching Southern Alps on the horizon.
The Shotover River
The Shotover River originally found its fame during the gold rush, with substantial deposits of gold found along its riverbed. Now, the river is home to the renowned Shotover Jet Boat and makes for a brilliant photo opportunity. Be sure to capture the stunning turquoise waters meandering through the canyon from the vantage point of the Lower Shotover Bridge or Arthurs Point. For the adrenaline junkies, a ride on the Shotover Jet Boat is a must and a photo of the jetboats beneath the 100-year-old Edith Cavell Bridge a well-framed opportunity. Be sure to utilize a wide-angle lens for all-encompassing shots and experiment with photographing both vertically and horizontally. Just don’t stand too close to the water or you’ll get splashed!
For those who enjoy a hike but don’t have the time for a full day’s walk — or, let’s be real, the energy for one — Queenstown Hill’s Tiki Trail is quicker than the Ben Lomond trek and is also easily accessible from the town center. Don’t be fooled by the term “hill,” however. Though the walk should only take an hour at most, it’s straight up the entire way! Like with any rigorous hike, remember to bring plenty of water and wear good walking shoes.
There are numerous lookouts along the way, perfect for stopping for a snack or a photo. Have your camera at the ready for glimpses through the forest of Lake Wakatipu and the town below.
A trip to Queenstown wouldn’t be complete without a day spent at a few of the spectacular wineries that pepper the Otago region. Check out Amisfield Winery and Bistro and capture the magnificence of the estate, which is set before the Pisa mountain range. Head out to Gibbston Valley Winery for a tour inside New Zealand’s largest wine cave and to snag a few shots of aging wine barrels beneath soft yellow light, with an extra visit to the region’s oldest vineyard. Carry on to Mount Difficulty for a visit to its winery and restaurant, which offers outdoor seating with dramatic views of Bannockburn’s undulating valley landscape. After a day’s worth of successful snaps, why not sit back, relax, and enjoy a wine tasting experience — it’d be rude not to!
Situated just 20 minutes from Queenstown, Lake Hayes is serenely picturesque at all times of day, but especially so on a still, clear-skied morning when the waters are as smooth as glass. Arriving early in the day ensures a clear shot without any passersby, allowing for pristine shots of this piece of untouched nature. Another great time to venture out for a photo is at sunset when the pink and orange tones in the sky dance across the water, reflecting the rugged mountains beyond its shores. Whether you choose to pop by for a quick photo or embark on the 2-3 hour walk around the lake’s perimeter, you’ll find any excuse to stop for a few perfect pics.
Skippers Road, Coronet Peak
Head up Coronet Peak towards the Ski Station and make the turn off at Skippers Road for unmissable, expansive views over Speargrass Flat and beyond. High above the Shotover River, gaze out upon the patchwork quilt of rolling valleys and green farmland, dotted with pine forests and lakes. Take advantage of the many chain bays along the road and pull over to snap different viewpoints along the mountain. The unpaved portion of Skippers Road continues into Skippers Canyon and is narrow, steep, and only goes one way. If you choose to venture farther, it’s best to keep your wits about you when scanning for the best photo opportunities! To stay on the safe side, pull over in the carpark 20m from the Skippers Road turn off and base your shoot from here.
The Queenstown Gardens are only a few minutes’ walk from the town center and offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the lively downtown area. The pristine lawns, rose gardens, trees, and water features combine to make for an enjoyable stroll along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Bring along your camera (and, if it’s warm out, a picnic) to immerse yourself in the variety of natural beauty on offer. A loop around the garden and peninsula should take around 30 minutes, with one side of the peninsula offering views back towards the town and wharf, and the other side permitting views of the snow-capped Remarkables. Try using a macro lens to play around with the different textures and colors of plants.
This botanical garden is not only home to flowers, shrubs, and ancient trees (some of the first English Oaks were planted in 1866), but also an ice skating rink, tennis and bowling clubs, and the ever-popular Disc Golf. Attempt a personal best, or simply sit back and people watch — there are plenty of Instagram photo ops to be found!
ONSEN Hot Pools
Considered one of Queenstown’s “must-do experiences,” Onsen Hot Pools offer relaxation in an unparalleled location — think luxurious outdoor bathing with mother nature at your fingertips. Overlooking the Shotover River canyons, these idyllic, cedar-lined hot pools overlook the alpine valley and make for a dreamy experience, allowing you to spend some quiet moments taking in the beauty. Each private pool room can accommodate up to four adults and is continually refreshed with pure water from the surrounding area. Onsen Hot Pools are an exceptional way of relaxing in true comfort in a magical setting, no matter what time of day or time of year. Whether you snap a steamy and snowy pic, a shady, sunny summer’s day or a wintery, star-filled night is up to you.
Interested in seeing more of New Zealand? Explore New Zealand’s Majestic Landscape Through an iPhone 8, or to check out our other Instagrammer’s guides, click here.
Header image by Morgan Worthington.