New Zealand: The Place They Filmed Lord of the Rings
But it is so much more than that. For what I think might be a more commonly known reference, I compare New Zealand to Iceland, kind of like the Iceland of the South. For those of you who watch Game of Thrones, you’ve seen plenty of Iceland already and probably don’t even know it (and for those of you who don’t, what are you doing?). Probably due to it’s location, New Zealand seems a world in its own. Incredibly lush forests like those that you saw in Lord of the Rings, striking fjords and harboring sounds rivaling those of Norway, rivers, streams, and waterfalls EVERYWHERE, blue-ice (melting) glaciers, roaring coastlines, vast countryside, and a whole lot of sheep. For an aspiring photographer like myself, the Southern Island made the perfect setting to practice and refine my photography with Petr.
We hit the ground running (or hiking, I should say) in New Zealand with the famous Lake Marian hike. I’m surprised that it is as famous as it is (among tourists to the South Island) because in my opinion it really is a moderate-to-strenuous hike. I consider myself an athlete and in pretty good shape, and I was certainly winded at some points! I can’t say enough about this hike though, I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings if it was based in Jurassic Park. The forest is so old growth and so lush, covered in all types of plants and mosses everywhere, and a gorgeous flowing river runs along the hike almost the entire time. If this were a loop hike without a destination, it would still be something to gawk at. But, it was even better than that, and you don’t even get a tease until the very end of what you are hiking to. All of a sudden at the top of the hike the forestry opens up and you arrive at Lake Marian, completely engulfed and surrounded by immense mountains covered in glaciers, with the ice melt dripping down into the lake in the form of waterfalls along the faces of the whole mountain range. The water is perfectly aqua and still. If it weren’t overcast and the water wasn’t freezing cold I would have loved nothing more to jump in the lake and swim to the bottom of one of those waterfalls. All-in-all a terrific experience and amazing place to photograph.
Our next stop in the Southern tour of New Zealand was the also very famous Milford Sound. We stayed a night on the Milford Mariner, learning all about the Sound as we traveled out into the open ocean past jagged, sky scraping fjords and waterfalls pouring into the greater basin. The afternoon was spent docked with 360º views of the topography that surrounded the Sound, with Kayaks available to paddle closer to land. Before heading to sleep, we sailed back into the Sound (so the boat wouldn’t be exposed to harsh winds or choppy waves overnight) to catch the sunset peaking through the mountains, and drizzling their peaks in gold. A very relaxing afternoon, and beautiful way to wake up the next day.
And finally, Fox Glacier. This was my personal favorite part of New Zealand because this is where I met up with Petr to focus almost solely on photography. In our 3 days together, he took me (and my family) to all different views and terrains. At first, for an introduction, we went into a forest, similar to the one at Lake Marian, with some streams running through it and a lot of lush flora. Then we went to Fox Glacier itself (I may be wrong in the chronological order after the first walk) to hike up to it. It is impressive how close you can get to it, but even more impressive (in a bad way) how much the glacier has retreated, meaning melted. Apparently, less than 10 years ago, the glacier almost reached the viewpoint. Now, it is far from it. Photographing the Glacier was a lot of fun; because it was raining and windy, we had to make use of an umbrella to keep the water off the lens, and then move it quickly to take the shot. The next few outings were what really stood out, though.
The next mornings Petr invited me to wake up before sunrise so we could go shoot the sunrise. Waking up that early meant waking up at 4:30 AM – I am NOT an early riser, but I decided if I was going to be into photography, I would have to get used to this to catch the golden hour. So I did it, and we hopped in the car to this still lake with some fjords in the background and forest in between. To our dismay, it was overcast, so instead of perfect light we got harsh light. We made the best of it though; the clouds were low enough for some very dramatic shots, and I learned how to shoot in those conditions. Oh, but one thing that we couldn’t make the best out of were the freakin’ mosquitoes!! There is only one thing I hate more than mosquitoes, spiders. But mosquitoes are a VERY close second, ESPECIALLY when there are tons of them swarming you because you are standing still. at dawn. next to a still lake. I guess we asked for it.
After shooting this scape a little bit, we tried to drive over to fox glacier and shoot it from far away, only for it also to be shrouded by clouds. But once again, this made for a cool effect, and so we spent some time shooting there.
Later that afternoon, once my family met up with me we drove out to a pebbly, deserted beach with – I don’t know how else to describe it – acupuncturing rocks (as my brother and I quickly found out barefoot) and very, very intense waves. I just spent my time admiring the coast there while my mom did some shooting of her own with Petr.
Leaving from the beach, we raced over to another hike (passing a beautiful double rainbow on the way that we didn’t have time to photograph), to make it to the top just in time for sunset. I’ll just post the pictures for you to see. What a day.
Once again, it was a 4am morning before departing from Fox Glacier, and New Zealand. This time my mom joined while dad, bro, and sis stayed behind (their loss). Today the sky was clear, ripe for a perfect sunrise experience. And indeed it was. Petr took us to Lake Matheson, a mirror lake. The walk there goes in a loop around the lake, offering different viewing points for the stunning landscape ahead: a perfect reflection of perfectly positioned glaciered mountains and surrounding forest. We walked quickly to the viewing point that lay with the most direct sight, and as early as we got there there were already a few photographers waiting silently and patiently for the sun to rise. It was serene. Quietly, Petr explained to me how best to shoot the picture, and also different ways – ultra-wide for a full reflection, up close for mostly mountains, right in the middle for an even ratio, panorama – to frame it. The sun took longer to rise than expected, but it was well worth the wait. As it rose from the left over the trees, the low lying fog over the lake lit up, as if set on fire by a match, searing. The dead silence turned into beeps and shutters and gasps.