All the Adventure You Can Handle With 36 Hours in New Zealand

On limited time two photographers travel by land, sea, and air to see the South Island's legendary natural terrain

All the Adventure You Can Handle With 36 Hours in New Zealand

Author

Spencer Wells

Photographer

Spencer Wells

Camera

Contax RX, Fuji GA645

Film

Kodak Portra 400, Portra 160, Ilford hp5

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Spencer Wells an internationally published photographer living and working in New York City.

New Zealand’s South Island has to be the most inspiring place I’ve ever seen. The sheer drama of the land alone is jaw dropping. Add in unpredictable weather, unique flora, and the bluest water you’ll ever see and the combination is other-worldly. My partner Julie and I had just 36 hours to pack in as much of it as we could by land, sea, and air, this is what I came back with.

Leaving Christchurch by car there’s not much to see initially. The first couple of hours are relatively mundane. We booked it for Mt. Cook and before long the subtle rise of the road gave way to dramatic views of a wall of snow-capped peaks in the distance.

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"In an hour’s walk, we crossed rivers on suspension bridges, climbed up and over massive boulders, and took in distant waterfalls careening down the sheer rock walls"

As we approached the base of the mountains rolling foothills parted to reveal the most brilliantly blue lake. In the bright sun Lake Pukaki looked neon, and as we pulled out and walked down to the shores it became no less incredible.

Following the road further around the lake we wound our way into Hooker valley, the clearly carved out crevice that leads to Mt. Cook. Once on foot, New Zealand’s grandeur is that much more apparent. In an hour’s walk, we crossed rivers on suspension bridges, climbed up and over massive boulders, and took in distant waterfalls careening down the sheer rock walls surrounding us.

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What was a clear, sunny day back at the head of Lake Pukaki had quickly turned into pouring rain in the valley. The clouds rolled in imperceptibly and soon the whole scene turned into a menacing—yet somehow still beautiful—grey backdrop. But the long days of the deep southern hemisphere had more in store, so we departed the valley for greener pastures (literally).

Once back on the road the sun broke through the clouds to bake the countryside in golden light for a slow-dropping sunset. Such seemingly perfect moments happen so often that one can't help but feel even more connected to the landscape, even if by sheer coincidence alone.

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"I longed to explore the South Island’s alps, to get to know more of this unique country’s wild terrain."

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The following morning showed us the South Island from above. We lucked out and managed to book a flight to Milford Sound on a rare clear day. The young pilot I sat alongside in the cockpit was ecstatic to be able to maneuver within arm’s reach of the Southern Alps. This seemed like it would be one of those “journey is the destination” type outings, but once Milford itself came into sight, it was clear the show had only just begun.

Then came the boat tour. While these boats that cruise the massive fjord aren’t really that adventurous, the sights made accessible by them more than make up for it. Sheer rock walls, staggering peaks, and massive waterfalls thundering down in 360 degrees provide more visual stimulation than I could take in one afternoon.

Even with memories of Milford Sound from above still fresh in mind, I longed to explore the South Island’s alps, to get to know more of this unique country’s wild terrain. Sadly that trip would have to wait for another time. Thirty six hours is hardly enough to scratch the surface.

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Published 04-16-2019

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