New Zealand Road Trip: Lake Manapouri to Milford Sound

Posted by David Travis on 12 Jun 2024

New Zealand Road Trip: Lake Manapouri to Milford Sound

This is the third of four articles showing pictures from four road trips I made while in New Zealand's south island in April this year. In this article, I travel from Lake Manapouri to Milford Sound. For more background, read the introduction to the first road trip, Arrowtown to Glenorchy. You can see the pictures from the second road trip here: Garston to Frankton.

Lake Manapouri to Milford Sound

Distance: 140km.

Map data from OpenStreetMap.

Frasers Beach Rainbow

I was near Manapouri when I saw this incredible rainbow in front of me. I knew that there was a nearby beach with interesting foreground as I had been there the evening before. Because rainbows are so transitory, I always find myself working fast. But on this occasion the conditions remained unchanged for long enough for me to fit a polariser to my lens and set my camera on a tripod.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 12mm. 0.5s, f/11, ISO 200.


I had seen photographs of Marakura Wharf in Te Anau and wanted to create my own interpretation of it. When I first arrived, I found some swimmers using it and a couple taking a selfie, but as sunset arrived I pretty much had the location to myself. I set up my tripod and took a couple of long exposure shots, but then this person arrived who wanted to claim the location for a family shot. He stepped around my tripod (not an easy manoeuvre as my tripod legs were extended across the full length of the jetty) and waited for his relations to catch up. I took a couple of pictures of him hovering around at the end before giving up on the shot. Back at my computer, I blended his figure into one of my longer exposure images. Although I was frustrated at the time, I think it turned out to be a better picture with a person in it than without.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 15mm. 60s, f/6.3, ISO 200.

Eglinton Valley Mist

I left Te Anau about an hour before sunrise hoping to get to Eglinton Valley as the light appeared. I was hoping for good light on the mountains heading towards Milford Sound but the sky had more colour looking in the opposite direction. The early morning mist added to the atmosphere so I stood in the middle of the road (keeping an ear out for traffic) and took this shot.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 21mm. 1/40s, f/5, ISO 1000.

Eglinton Valley

I liked the wide open, prairie feel in Eglinton Valley. This image just needs a cowboy on horseback to be complete.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 40mm. 1/160s, f/5.6, ISO 200.


I wanted to capture the movement of the grasses in Eglinton Valley, so I took this 1.3s exposure.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 25mm. 1.3s, f/11, ISO 200.

First light on Lake Gunn

The road to Milford Sound gets busy with visitors as the day wears on, so I made sure to get to this location before the tourist buses. It was quiet; the lake was still and there was mist on the water. I waited for the light to crest the mountain before taking the picture.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 13mm. 1/100s, f/8, ISO 200.

Christie Falls

This wasn’t a place where I planned to stop. But one of the pleasures of a road trip is that you can pull over whenever something catches your eye. When I drove past these falls I thought there was a picture to be made, so I decided to explore. I spent a while trying to compose an image featuring the boulder at the bottom right.

OM-1 with Leica 8-18mm lens at 12mm. 1/6s, f/8, ISO 200.

Monkey Creek reflection

Blue skies aren’t usually conducive to good photography. But there was a crisp light on the nearby mountains and I spotted this reflection in some water. It almost looks like gold leaf.

OM-1 with Leica 8-18mm lens at 13mm. 1/15s, f/7.1, ISO 200.

Alpine View

By the time I arrived at this spot the tourist buses began to arrive. I noticed that most people stretched their legs and took a selfie from the parking area, but few people walked any further. I had wellies with me, so I managed to get into this fast flowing stream and feature Mount Talbot in the distance.

OM-1 with Leica 8-18mm lens at 8mm. 1/25s, f/8, ISO 200. HDR blend of three images.

Homer Tunnel view

This is the view that greets you once you exit the Homer Tunnel heading towards Milford Sound. On this journey, I had clear skies and bright sunshine…

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 28mm. 1/125s, f/8, ISO 200.

Homer Tunnel view

…on the return journey the weather had closed in. The low-lying cloud obliterated the view.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 40mm. 1/320s, f/5.6, ISO 200.

Boat returning to Milford Sound

There was heavy rain while I was in Milford Sound. This isn’t unusual: I read that Milford Sound is the wettest place in New Zealand and among the wettest locations in the world (it rains 182 days a year). The upside of this is that you get some stunning waterfalls. These tourist boats take day trippers right to the foot of the waterfalls to give everyone a good soaking.

OM-1 with Olympus 12-40mm lens at 40mm. 1/160s, f/5.6, ISO 200.

View from Milford Sound Foreshore

Milford Sound is literally the end of the road. The foreshore is a flat, pebbly area, tricky (and slippy) to walk over. This is pretty much the only composition from this spot, so as a photographer your primary variable is the weather. I took this during a break in some very heavy rain showers.

OM-1 with Lumix 35-100mm lens at 35mm. 1/200s, f/4.5, ISO 200.

Gone Fishing

One of the surprises of my trip to New Zealand was that I saw very little wildlife. But I did spot this bird (an egret?) when I was at Milford Sound.

OM-1 with Leica 100-400mm lens at 400mm. 1/320s, f/6.3, ISO 6400.

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In the next article, I'll show photographs from a Wanaka to Mount Cook road trip. Sign up to my newsletter to hear when it's published.

If you liked this, try…

New Zealand Road Trip: Arrowtown to Glenorchy

15 May 2024

New Zealand Road Trip: Garston to Frankton

29 May 2024

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Peak District Through the Seasons

06 Dec 2021

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