Paul Hersey finds the best photographic opportunities on New Zealand's Great Walks.

Aotearoa New Zealand has nine Great Walks (one of which is actually a Great River Journey). In a country with hundreds of tracks, these are considered the best of the best, meaning they pass through some of our most spectacular and varied landscapes, have a range of comfortable huts and campsites to stay at and are maintained to a high standard.

Our Great Walks are also renowned for being incredibly photogenic. From high mountain passes to mirrored lakes, pristine beaches to dense forest to boisterous birdlife, there are numerous opportunities to capture a range of special and memorable images of our wild spaces.

In terms of offering photographic opportunities, deciding on the best of the Great Walks isn't an easy task. In some instances, it depends on what type of landscape images you are hoping to capture. Some walks rely on certain times of year to bring out the true beauty of what might otherwise be considered a harsh looking landscape. And there are other walks that offer more easily accessible opportunities to photograph the wildlife found living in the surrounding environment.


The uniqueness of the Tongariro Northern Circuit makes it a strong contender as one of the most photogenic of the Great Walks. While in the height of summer the moonlike landscape of active volcanoes and old lava flows can seem rather barren, in spring especially the higher likelihood of a covering of snow up Emerald Lakes (a part of the very busy Tongariro Crossing) may take the prize as being the most photographed feature.

But for a different perspective, instead explore the southern side of Mt Ngauruhoe, especially around Tama Lakes.

Emerald Lakes on Tongariro. Photo / Paul and Shelley Hersey
Emerald Lakes on Tongariro. Photo / Paul and Shelley Hersey

The Whanganui River Journey is also a contender for being the most photogenic of the Great Walks. Though opportunities can be somewhat limited, especially with being mostly confined to a canoe, this offers its own unique advantages. Take the time to
explore side streams and quiet backwaters in the hope of capturing just the right image.

Photos taken from Harris Saddle or the slightly higher Conical Hill on the Routeburn Track are justifiably very popular with walkers.

With such an unobstructed view, there are opportunities to capture the scene looking west to the ocean, south towards the rugged Darren Mountains of Fiordland or over Lake Harris which is just beneath you. Also consider Lake Mackenzie as a more intimate and quite stunning option for memorable photos.

If capturing images of wildlife (especially birds) is high on your priority, the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island is where you should head to. Even before you leave the settlement of Oban to start your walk, the gregarious kaka (a large, native parrot) is likely to find you and perhaps even pose for a photo.

Despite Milford Track being an obvious and popular choice, for landscape images it is the Kepler Track that perhaps should take the title as the most photogenic of the Great Walks.

You can choose from the views over the various arms of Lake Te Anau as you climb above Luxmore Hut, the alpine section of the crossing which offers a range of spectacular options, or sunset over Lake Manapouri after you have descended into the lowland forest again.


New Zealand's Great Walks: The Complete Guide by Paul and Shelley Hersey, Random House NZ, $45.