Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu: New Zealand Photography Adventure, Day 01

Mountains above Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand

The plane hasn’t even taken off yet and I’m already overstimulated. There are enough movies and tv shows provided by the on-board entertainment system to fill a dozen trans-pacific flights. Will I even sleep on this overnighter, or will I just stuff myself with this glut of media? It’s a bit of a silly question: I’d much rather get some sleep than watch epidsode after episode of How I Met Your Mother. So after a late pasta dinner (what, no lamb, Air NZ?) I contort myself into some semblance of a reclining position and get some shut eye. Some 6 hours of sleep, a few nature documentaries, and a movie later the plane bumps down on the tarmac at Auckland International Airport under the barely-there cyan of a new dawn. Customs and immigration are as easy as could be. I breeze through, step outside, and take a deep breath. Ahhhh, I’m here.

The air in New Zealand smells different. Wetter, cleaner, and richer than it does back in California. Even the jet fuel smells better here. More sheepy, I think, and I wonder what exactly they put in their fuel additives.

I’ve got a four hour layover till my flight to Queenstown and I meander through the airport trying to kill as much time as I can. I hop on one foot, I take two steps forward then one step back. But this is a small airport and despite my dawdling I find myself at the domestic security check point in a matter of minutes. At least security will eat up some time. Or it would if this was a flight in the US. Here the Kiwis seem bent on being as friendly as possible rather than pointing out any security issues. Do I need to take my belt off? Nope, you’re good, mate. What about my shoes? Nah, mate, those are sweet. How about this 18″ machete? Sure thing, as long as it doesn’t set off the detector.

Oddly enough the only thing that raises an eyebrow is that my carry-on seems to be too heavy. Even though I’m allowed two checked bags of 23 kilos each, my carry on is limited to a paltry 7 kg. 7 kg? C’mon, I’ve got 7 kg just worth of photo filters, not to mention all my cameras, lenses, laptop, adapters, and other photo doodads I’ve stuffed into this camera bag. But the gate staff assure me that I can check my bag as a “fragile” item and everything should be hunky dory. So with great reservation I hand my most vital and irreplaceable pieces of equipment to the baggage handlers, people who are best known for chucking luggage around like so many moldy tangerines.

There’s no point in worrying on an empty stomach so I head off to get some grub. Part of the fun of traveling is trying exotic, cultural foods so I find my way to a little NZ restaurant known as McDonalds. I’m hoping for a Kiwi burger with marmite, or maybe some deep-fried weka wings, but they seem to be running low on these New Zealand classics because all I see on the menu are Big Macs and Egg McMuffins. But like the air, the McDonalds is better here too so I scarf some down and kill the rest of my layover shooting time lapse footage on my GoPro HERO2.

The flight to Queenstown is uneventful and gorgeous. As we cruise down past the Southern Alps I can see all the big guys out my window: Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, Mt. Not Appearing In This Story. And I’m getting excited. It’s time to see these mountains up close and personal. But first I need to pick up my rental car: a Nissan Sunny, which pretty accurately describes my mood once I pull out of the rental car lot and realize I have 25 days of photography adventures ahead of me.

Although perhaps there’s an even better word to describe how I’m feeling at this point. As 24 hours of straight travel, a case of jet lag, and a five-hour time zone jump begin to catch up with me, I’m not feeling anything so much as I am sleepy. I’m sitting here on the shores of Lake Wakatipu writing this and taking photos, thinking of all the amazing things I’m going to see and do in the next 25 days and yet what I’m looking forward to most at this moment is simple: a nap.


(If this sounds fun to you, be sure to check out my New Zealand Photography Tour. This epic workshop starts and ends in Queenstown and visits some of the most spectacular sights on the South Island. Check it out here.)

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