New Zealand is famous for its landscapes of untamed and largely untouched wilderness. From tranquil forests to rugged cliff tops and mist-covered fjords, the changing scenery is awe-inspiring and worthy of a photograph.
I’ve rounded up the best Instagram spots on New Zealand’s South Island, with my number one ranking as Lake Matheson. Not only do its peaty waters provide the perfect medium to reflect the stunning mountainous surroundings, but the environment here is one where time has stopped. When you spend time at Lake Matheson, you step away from civilization and return to our natural origins; here, you can feel at peace as you snap the perfect image to remember your time in this little piece of paradise.
Wharariki Beach is one of the most photographed beaches in the Nelson region, thanks to its magnificent natural rock sculptures, golden sands, and windswept dunes. The best time to traverse this coastal landscape is during low tide when its rugged array of caverns and islands is fully visible.
This coastal playground offers a backdrop of rocky archways that provide the perfect snapshot for Instagram. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a pair of seals frolicking on the shore.
While this beach is one of the most photographic locations on the South Island, the wild winds and remote location make it unsuitable for swimming.
An hour’s drive from Christchurch, along the scenic route of Arthur’s Pass, you’ll find Castle Hill. Nowadays, the area is frequented by skiers and rock climbers who seek to utilise the rocky outcrops. But the site has a far more mystical history that early Maori settlers appreciated, long before the arrival of Europeans.
It’s easy to see why they believed this place could be magical as you stand in awe of these formations. These impressively sculpted rocks are officially known as a karst landscape and possess an incredibly photogenic quality.
The best way to explore this mystical paradise is to wander at your leisure. An infinite number of spots make the perfect photograph, not one single location. This area allows you to find your unique snap as you explore the rocky terrain. And with the backdrop of the Torlesse and Craigieburn ranges, you can’t go wrong.
More than 14,000 years ago, when Fox Glacier retreated following its last significant advance towards the sea, Lake Matheson began from a depression in the earth that was later filled with water.
Combining just the right ingredients, this peaty water provides the perfect “mirror,” particularly at dawn and dusk. The organic materials extracted from the forest floor give the lake a dark, glass-like effect that offers exquisite views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.
The complete walk takes around an hour and a half, with the best viewpoints at the halfway point. The view of views provides an elevated position, while the jetty extends into the lake, offering a clean, uninterrupted shot.
The Aoraki Mountain National Park is one of the most Instagrammable locations on the South Island. Running through the heart of the Southern Alps, this park offers spectacular viewpoints at every turn (providing you have a clear day).
Check the weather forecast to make the most of these unparalleled views, as overcast days can reduce visibility to zero. Additionally, Aoraki is one of only eleven dark sky reserves recognised around the globe, which makes nighttime photo opportunities just as abundant as daytime ones.
The Tasman Lake is the perfect place for sunset photography, with icy chunks floating in the foreground and mountainous peaks canvasing the backdrop.
Located in the heart of the South Island, Lake Tekapo is a photographer’s dream, thanks to its vibrant blue waters. The colour – created by the rock flour suspended in the lake – is impossible to believe until you’re standing in front of it yourself.
In spring, the lupins add colour and vibrancy to the outskirts of the lake while tingeing the surrounding water with a delicate purple hue. The Church of the Good Shepherd, an early 20th-century building, provides an equally Instagram worthy opportunity – its strong yet simplistic style represents the qualities of early settlers to the area.
With a town located to the south, you won’t have to walk far to snap off the perfect picture. The lake’s level varies due to hydroelectricity control, which can present variance in the rocky foreground of your image.
The Clay Cliffs, Omarama
You could be forgiven for thinking that you’d left New Zealand and stepped onto an otherworldly planet as you enter the landscapes of the Clay Cliffs. Aotearoa offers various landscapes, though none quite like this dramatic setting.
With towering pinnacles and deep-set ravines, these silt and gravel formations are even more majestic in real life than they appear in photographs. Allowing 45 minutes of walking time lets you absorb the essence of your surroundings, and you are free to wander as far into the area as you wish.
The Wanaka Tree
Deemed “the lone tree of Lake Wanaka,” this gently curving willow appears to emerge directly from the lake itself. It may be the most photographed tree in New Zealand, but the seclusion of this plant allows it to thrive.
Off the beaten track and not marked on tourist maps, the Wanaka tree is allowed to live out a peaceful life in its picturesque surroundings. Located at the foot of Mount Aspiring National Park, the walk to the tree casts a striking landscape.
One of the best ways to explore the phenomenal sights of New Zealand is on foot. And when it comes to hiking trails, Roy’s Peak – located in Wanaka – is one of the best. The track takes around two and a half hours to reach the famous “Instagram” spot.
Though the hike is – dare I say – underwhelming at times, the lookout point is worth the trek and not to be missed when visiting this part of the country.
The track continues for around 30 minutes to the summit of Roy’s Peak. This spot is worth the extra walk if you’re looking for a quieter area and offers 360-degree views of the area
Milford Sound Pier
Deemed the “eighth wonder of the world” by famous British writer Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world.
Located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site, this park offers an array of excellent photography spots, from the glacial Eglinton Valley to alleviated views off the peak of Mt Luxmore.
Among these delights is the Milford Sound Pier, the centre of the action with passing cruise boats and plenty of visitors. Time it just right, and you could snap off a once-in-a-lifetime shot as the rays of a setting sun paint a fiery orange canvas behind the fiord.
When driving along the North Otago coast, you can’t avoid the awestruck feeling of seeing the Moeraki boulders. These mysterious stones, located on the Koekohe beach, are up to two metres tall and weigh several tonnes each.
The best time to capture a momentous Instagram shot is during low tide when the boulders are fully exposed, and you can appreciate the extent of their build.
While you’re there, a boat ride offers the chance to view this rare sight from a different angle, and there are some safe swimming areas just outside the park. There are more than 50 boulders in total, each one possessing its own shape and design for a unique photo.
The Otago Peninsula offers picture-perfect views of diverse ecology ranging from penguins and fur seals to impressive cliffs and swirling blue waters.
On the ocean side of Otago point, you’ll find high cliff tops and rugged expanses; on the harbourside, sheltered landscapes fill with warm air. Walking tracks lead to various beaches, lookout points and nesting sites for the local wildlife. At victory beach, you’ll find landmasses known as “the pyramids” thanks to their resemblance to the famous Egyptian landmarks.
This natural paradise also offers a rare glimpse of the Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) and little blue penguins. With volcanic origins, this peninsula runs 20km parallel to the mainland and offers a diverse range of wildlife and natural backdrops to capture the perfect Instagram image.
Nugget Point Lighthouse
Nugget Point – so-called thanks to the rocks that resemble golden nuggets in the sunshine – offers a stunning spur where the ocean touches the sky and abundant wildlife resides.
Walking to the lighthouse, you’ll experience some incredible views of the thrashing waves beyond the edge of the land. And, you’ll have the chance to see a group of fur seals frolicking in the waves. Bring binoculars (and a camera with a good Zoom) to get the best views.
Aside from the coastal views and interesting wildlife, the lighthouse provides the perfect focal point for an Instagram worthy image. This lone building looks like something from a novel and adds an air of mystery to its surrounding landscape.
The best photography spot is at the start of the pathway to the lighthouse. Here, you can capture the building sitting atop its rugged spur with rocks and sea surrounding it. You can capture an intriguing image any time of the day, but sunset offers spectacular backdrop colours, while nighttime provides a starlit canvas.
Arguably the most striking waterfall in the Southland region, McLean Falls sits on the Tautuku River within the Catlins Conservation Park. The track is an easy 40-minute return that leads you through native bush to 22 metres of cascading water.
This must-see feature of New Zealand is flanked by green moss-covered rocks on both sides, providing an enchanting setting for the falls. The lower falls are impressive, but make sure you don’t miss out on the top section.
With multiple layers of rock and soft white water flow, you’ll capture an image that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale.