Be prepared to have your breath taken away by mountain scenery that’s simply inspiring from all angles.
Flying into Queenstown is an experience in itself but the winding roads that venture through sheep filled paddocks, past river rapids and underneath snow-capped peaks are a photographer’s wonderland.
This guide to Queenstown’s best photography locations is based on my experience from three visits in varying seasons. Just as the snow began to gently fall over the autumn coloured forests and harsh rocky mountain tops and twice in the middle of winter.
Here are my picks for the best photography locations in and around Queenstown, New Zealand. I could easily list another 50 but if you’re visiting for a few short days or spending some time skiing on the slopes then these 18 locations will ensure you have a great range of landscape photographs to showcase the magic of real middle earth.
As always, lets begin with a map so you know where you’re heading…
To kick things off I’m listing my favourite spot first, Wilson Bay. A scenic cove nestled on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, it’s an easy pit stop on the road to Glenorchy. Pebbled shores, thick forests, friendly ducks and views across to the rugged landscape of Walter Peak. Without fail I spend a few hours here on each visit because it’s so quiet and calming, the perfect place to set up your camera and click away.
Getting here: Wilson Bay is in the little suburb of Closeburn about a 15minute drive from central Queenstown. There’s a handy car park right on the shore so you can have all your gear within easy reach.
Photo tip: Take cookies for the ducks and get your underwater housing out! I took one of my most spontaneous shots here when two ducks decided they liked my picnic. If you’ve got gum boots it’s also a great place to wade into the water for some split-level landscapes.
The white snow-capped peaks that surround Queenstown are akin to pointy clouds resting effortlessly above Lake Wakatipu. Towering above them all is Cecil Peak, a gracious beauty that you can see from most hotel rooms in the city. Sure it’s great to take photos of it from afar, it’s a completely different story to get up close and land on the edge of a rocky cliff 1700ft above sea level! Jump in a helicopter and ask to be taken to ‘The Ledge’, Cecil Peaks thrill seeking rock platform that juts out and offers a panoramic view across the lake, Queenstown and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see.
Getting here: I flew with Heliworkz NZ, they are based at the Queenstown Airport on Hawthorne Drive in Frankton.
Photo Tip: Firstly watch your step…you are on the edge of a cliff and below you is a 1700ft drop, you don’t want to fall or drop your camera! Be sure to capture panoramics from the edge of ‘The Ledge’ while you have the opportunity, the scene is a once in a lifetime view and a panoramic is one of the few shots that attempts to do it justice.
Coronet Peak – Skippers Road
I’m pretty horrible at skiing so you won’t find me on the slopes of Coronet Peak…however, it’s a great vantage point for photographs! On the drive up the mountain there’s a turn off to Skippers Road and while it’s got a rental car warning sign take the turn. About 20m up the road there’s a little car park for a look out that’s well worth a stop. The rental car warning is for the unpaved road that continues into the canyon or if you’re really worried, simply park in the chain bay and walk 2minutes to the look out. In winter there’ll be plenty of snow to play in (if you’re a clumsy ski bunny like me), or in the other seaons you’ll find sweeping views across Speargrass Flat towards the Remarkables and Lake Hayes.
Getting here: Take Skippers Road up toward Coronet Peak Ski Station, once you’re close to the top you’ll find the left turn into Skippers Canyon and the look out.
Photo tip: Just like the Crown Range Road, take advantage of the chain bays for pulling over and taking shots. If you’re keen to shoot astro, head up to Coronet Peak at night and watch the stars come out to play!
Bennetts Bluff Lookout
As you travel along the scenic road from Queenstown to Glenorchy you’ll discover loads of vantage points to stop at. None however more beautiful than Bennetts Bluff. Perched up high on a corner, the look out offers views over Lake Wakatipu down to Glenorchy with all the mountain goodness behind. It’s also a great spot to capture shots of the winding road as it disappears into the distance.
Getting here: You’ll come across Bennetts Bluff about 25minutes into the drive from Queenstown. It’s nice and easy to find on Google Maps but there’s only space for about 4 cars at the lookout and it comes up quickly around a blind corner.
Photo tip: The perfect location to capture a shot of the road to Glenorchy as it winds alongside Lake Wakatipu.
If you’re into long exposure shots of gently moving water with epic mountain scenery as a backdrop, this is the spot for you. Jotting off the shores of Meiklejohns Bay is the remnants of an old wooden jetty. The wooden posts form a line leading to the mountains so when composed they’re fabulous for adding perspective. Along the shore there’s also a twisted old mangrove tree and a small stream that runs into the lake.
Getting here: There’s no real parking here but when driving from Queenstown, if you reach the Little Paradise Lodge and Tea Garden, you’ve gone too far. You’ll find the old jetty just in front of the lodge on the bend and there’s enough space to pull the car off the road here too.
Photo tip: The water in Lake Wakatipu is super clear so grab yourself a pair of gum boots and get wet for some split-level shots! Also because there’s almost zero light pollution here, head down for some astro shots.
Visible from almost every corner of Queenstown, this jagged mountain range is a magnet for landscape photographs. In winter, the white coating of snow makes it look like a long block of Toblerone (or maybe I just like chocolate too much…). You can photograph The Remarkables from most lake side areas around Queenstown, get up close and take the drive up to the ski station, from the Crown Range, Coronet Peak or the sky!
Getting here: Depending on where you decide to photograph The Remarkables from there’s lots of ways to get here. My tip, try and capture them from a variety of angles!
Photo tip: This beauty looks different in the changing light so get up nice and early to catch the sun rising behind, then watch as the warm evening glow turns the peaks into orange and red.
No visit to Queenstown is complete without a wander around the park. This park is like no other, with centuries old pine trees, rose gardens, a frisbee game that I can’t quite work out and of course, views worthy of a full memory card. There’s a path that leads around the edge of the park with views back toward the town and wharf, then on the other side the views look over to The Remarkables. At the point you’ve got uninterrupted views up and down Lake Wakatipu and across to the mighty Cecil Peak.
Getting here: Walk from downtown Queenstown for a bunch of photo stops along the way. Start the walk at The Bathhouse for a shot of the quaint building beside the lake then head over the little bridge and into the park.
Photo tip: Sunset is beautiful from the tip of the park and facing toward The Remarkables. While the sun sets in the opposite directon, it’s worth watching as the colours change the peaks into a rainbow of warmth. To capture a long exposure or evening shot of Queenstown all lit up, find a spot along the town side of the park for beautiful light reflections and if you’re lucky, the old steam boat!
Park Street – Lake Wakatipu Ride
At the lake entrance to Frankton Arm, you’ll find the shoreline dotted with boat jetty’s and rocky walls. If you’re walking through Queenstown Gardens, it’s worth adding on the extra 10-20minutes to walk along the lake front toward Frankton. Willow trees hang over the water and the passing boats work as a great subject against the mountain scenery.
Getting here: Follow the path from town around the lake front or cut across along Park Street.
Photo tip: It’s a great location for portrait photography so if you’ve got someone with you, ask them to walk along the rock walls or jetty with Cecil Peak behind.
Arrow River, Arrowtown
A twenty minute drive out of Queenstown nestled in the foothills of wooded mountains lies a rocky river that begs to be photographed. Arrowtown is known for being a popular, historic and quaint little village but just behind the main road are a collection of walking trails that wander along the Arrow River. In Autumn the surrounding forest is like a rainbow of reds, contrasting beautifully against the striking aqua blue stream. The river itself was once famous for a gold rush however now it’s a peaceful place where you can experience nature at its finest.
Getting Here: There are a few ways to get to Arrowtown on local buses, tours etc. however my suggestion is to hire a car and drive yourself there because along the way are some great photo spots. The route from Queenstown via Malaghans Road is the most scenic!
Photo tip: Get in the water. I visited in June and the water was a frosty -3degrees but I got in with my underwater housing and captured some over/under shots to showcase the contrast between the icy water and autumn trees.
Historic Chinese Settlement, Arrowtown
In the late 1800’s Chinese miners were invited to Arrowtown to re-stimulate the economy and hunt for gold. The settlement they created is still in Arrowtown today and is one of the most photo worthy locations in the region. You’ll find the most photographed cabin of all located in the car park of all places. It’s a rustic wooden cabin with a backdrop of the Arrowtown mountains and surrounding forest.
Getting here: Once in Arrowtown take the left turn toward the Chinese Settlement instead of turning right into the main street. Alternatively, park your car in the main area by the river and walk 2minutes to the left to the settlement.
Photo tip: Because the most photogenic cabin is located in the car park, arrive early to avoid having a campervan in your shot. If you’re short on time, walk up the hill a little to try and block out the cars and place the cabin in the bottom of your shot to compose it against the trees/mountains.
Hiring a car in Queenstown is essential in my opinion, the landscapes need to be explored up close and it’s the perfect place for road trips! The most spectacular? The road linking Queenstown and the tiny town of Glenorchy that sits at the mouth of the Dart River. Weaving alongside Lake Wakatipu, the road provides wow inducing views that will have you pulling over at every corner to take photographs. Along the way you’ll find Wilson Bay and Bob’s Cove which are closer to Queenstown and from there on you’ll be driving by the water and can stop whenever you see an opportunity.
Getting here: Grab yourself a hire car and find the Glenorchy-Queenstown Rd which runs alongside the river from Lake Esplanade. If you aren’t staying the night in Glenorchy be sure to get back before dark because the road has a lot of corners and can be quite narrow at times and check the weather especially in winter!
Photo tip: Stop as many times as you can. Wilson Bay was one of my favourite stops as you can get right down by the water to photograph the mountains.
Jack’s Point Golf Club
Beneath the immensely intimidating peaks of The Remarkables is a brand new estate called Jack’s Point. From the outside it looks like a regular land development but inside is the Jack’s Point Golf Club and it has some amazing photo spots! Golf courses of course have water hazards and because they are still bodies of water they are the perfect canvas for taking an exact reflection of The Remarkables.
Getting here: Located on Kingston Road just past the turn off to The Remarkables Ski Area you’ll find the stone fence entrance to Maori Jack Road. Follow the road until you see the clubhouse.
Photo tip: Directly in front of the club house is a great place for photographing the reflection! It’s a nice big body of water with a rocky shoreline so you can easily get close to the water level.
The Red Glenorchy Shed
This is the photogenic bright red shed regularly featured on Instagram by photographers and travellers. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu’s most northern corner you’ll find this great spot for landscapes at all times of the day. The historic shed offers a fun subject to capture, keep an eye out for reflections in puddles or wait around until the stars sparkle above.
Getting here: Follow all signs to Glenorchy and once you’ve found the main street with the cafes, follow it to the waters edge and you’ll see a car park right beside the shed.
Photo tip: Try to visit twice to capture it in a different light. Perhaps shoot sunrise here then go for a long hike nearby and return for sunset or even better…shoot astrophotography here.
Skyline Gondola Lookout
It’s probably the most touristy thing you can do in town but it’s also without a doubt home to one of the best views you can see in Queenstown. The Gondola ride up the hill is quite fun with giant trees lining the route, little lost sheep and goats peeking out from the bushes and the view enhancing with every passing minute. Once at the top the viewing platform provides a 180degree view over the city of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and looks over toward The Remarkables which is simply breathtaking. You can also have a little zip down on the luge!
Getting here: You can access the Gondola from the top of Brecon Street, just a short walk up the hill from the main street of Queenstown.
Photo tip: From the top of the luge run is the best view looking south over Lake Wakatipu, especially at sunset as the light dances across Cecil Peak.
Crown Range Road + Summit
Linking Queenstown and Wanaka, the Crown Range Road is the ‘scenic route’ for good reason. In winter, the roads are lined with fresh powder and the landscape is an endless field of white as far as the eye can see. Because the road winds steeply up the mountain like a zig zag, it’s best to take it slow and stop at every vantage point possible for a photo. Once you reach the top you’ll come to a car park with views all the way back to Queenstown and The Remarkables. On the Wanaka side of the range you’ll find Cardrona which has the photogenic Cardrona Hotel. When heading up the mountain from Wanaka (or down from Queenstown) there’s a little stream that runs in a gully beside the road so be sure to find a spot to pull over and shoot some of the mountain scenery.
Getting here: Travel from Queenstown or Wanaka and follow signs to the ‘Crown Range’. The road begins in Arrow Junction, just north of Arrowtown when travelling from the South. In winter it’s essential to have snow chains in your car as the road can get very dangerous. Always check the road conditions before heading up the mountain and keep an eye out for warning signs that are erected daily in bad weather.
Photo tip: Take advantage of the ‘chain bays’ to pull over and capture images. Just before you reach the peak when travelling from Queenstown, you’ll find a great spot to jump over the fence and walk out onto a small path. It’s great for those little people, big landscape shots!
Hidden behind the small suburb of Closeburn is the magnificent Moke Lake. Framed by mountains, it’s a popular spot for hiking and camping but it’s also completely dark at night meaning…stars, stars and more stars.
Getting here: It’s only a 10minute drive from Queenstown to reach the start of the dirt road into Moke Lake. It’s advisble to have a 4WD, especially in winter as the road can get pretty tricky.
Photo tip: Camp out for an evening photographing under the milky way, Aurora Australis hunting and star counting.
Malaghan’s Road – Flight Park
Between Queenstown and Arrowtown are paddocks filled with sheep and horses as the forests and mountains rest behind. Along Malaghan’s Road veer a number of driveways and lanes, the most photogenic of which is the driveway leading to the Flight Park. Straight, scenic and lined with trees, the road is perfect for perspective as Coronet Peak looks overhead.
Getting here: It’s only 15-20minutes from Queenstown, check out the map in this post for the exact location.
Photo tip: Use the lines of the road to create perspective and draw the viewer into the image. There’s also horses in the paddock beside so you could get lucky if they wander over and say hello.
Shotover River – Arthurs Point
Home to the thrilling Shotover Jet, this spot is one of those ‘can’t stop I’m driving across a single lane bridge’ places. The good news…you can stop. Cross the bridge and you’ll find a carpark on the left where you can park then walk back to the bridge and suck in your stomach as you take photos of the canyon below. Wait long enough and you’ll have the boat zoom past as it weaves it’s way between the hairpin turns narrowly avoiding the rocky edges. A place less commonly visited is found just up the river a little. A short ten minute walk from the Shotover Jet wharf is the entrance to an old gold mining tunnel.
Getting here: You’ll see it on your way out from Queenstown…take Gorge Road and once you get to the bridge about 5 minutes from town, it’ll be obvious where you are.
Photo tip: Walk out onto the bridge for a shot of the gorge below but be super weary of traffic. It’s well worth waiting for the jet boat to pass by to include in your shot!
Routeburn Track (just the beginning)
If you’re not keen to do a full 2-3 day hike and just want to explore the wilderness for a few hours, head down to the start of the Routeburn Track. Located about 30minutes drive from Glenorchy, the road there is photo worthy in itself, let alone the moss covered rainforest and river once you arrive. The first 2-3 hours of this hike are relatively easy, although some sections are quite steep it’s worth it to see the clear cascading waterfalls that flow through giant boulders.
Getting here: Head out of Glenorchy on the Glenorchy-Paradise Road and then turn left into the Glenorchy-Routeburn Rd and across the river. You’ll see a right turn heading down Routeburn Rd and then it’s a dirt road passed sheep, cows and through some stunning scener.
Photo tip: Expect lush green landscapes so flick your camera to ‘cloudy’ white balance to bring out the best in the colours. Take the small path near the start of the track down to the river to capture long exposures of the fast flowing water.
The Flight In/Out
Perhaps the most spectacular photography location of all? The flight in and out…be sure to book a window seat so you can stick your head against the perspex and gaze in wonder at the scenery below. In winter you’ll be treated to a white winter wonderland as the mountain peaks sit pretty from the west coast all the way to Queenstown. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of Mount Cook and also Milford Sound too!
If you’ve been to Queenstown and know of a secret spot for beautiful photos let us all know in the comments below…if you’re willing to share!
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. After three years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides and I'm always so excited to hear from readers as they're travelling and improving their photos!