Embarking on an adventure through Te Waipounamu, New Zealand's South Island, was a dream for me. Family ties had brought me to this place before, but it was a recent opportunity to travel here while working on a TV show that truly opened my eyes to the wild scenes that New Zealand has to offer. And, as someone with a passion for shooting 35mm film, I had always wanted to capture the place in my own way.
My journey began in the Canterbury and Central Otago regions, where I spent time exploring and photographing the picturesque lakes Pukaki, Ruataniwha, and Benmore. These serene bodies of water mirrored the surrounding landscape, reflecting colorful trees with the last remnants of autumn leaves. In the distance, the Southern Alps stood as a prelude to what awaited us.
The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly Milford Sound, also known by its Maori name Piopiotahi, a majestic fjord flanked by towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls that's abundant with wildlife. The night before our visit, as I stayed in the nearby town of Te Anau, I could barely contain my excitement; despite an unfavorable weather forecast calling for heavy rainfall, I held onto the hope of perfect conditions.
As we headed down the winding road towards Milford Sound, the landscape grew increasingly impressive. Towering mountains with waterfalls cascading down their slopes began to enclose us. The torrential rain (the forecast turned out to be correct) posed a constant obstacle to my mission to document the place on film, requiring me to continuously wipe my lens and protect my camera from the downpour. Eventually I yielded and began shooting through a poncho that became my shield against the elements.
"True to its unpredictable nature, the rain transformed into glistening sunlight and back again within a mere 20 minutes."
Those who have visited New Zealand know that the weather can change in an instant, for better or for worse. True to its unpredictable nature, the rain transformed into glistening sunlight and back again within a mere 20 minutes. I did what I could to make the most of those moments between the rain.
A few days after our journey through Milford Sound, we headed northeast and embarked on a drive through Lindis Pass, a scenic mountain road that connects the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago. When we reached the base of the route, we found ourselves caught in a sudden blizzard. (Again, the weather in New Zealand is unpredictable.) Despite the challenging driving conditions, the blizzard offered incredible sights, transforming the trees and landscape into a snow-covered winter wonderland.
Our last stop was Wanaka, a well-known adventure town nestled among mountains and lakes. Photographers (and probably anyone who has seen photos of New Zealand on Instagram) know Wanaka for the classic shot of "that Wanaka tree," a lone willow that grows in Lake Wanaka which, on this day, was hidden in a layer of fog. On the bright side, conditions provided a different perspective to this well-known and often-photographed destination.
My journey through the South Island filled me with gratitude for the opportunity to visit such a place and inspired me to create a book whose title draws from the Maori name for the place. These photos are a few of what I filled its pages with, and it's my hope that the whole is true to the essence of what I witnessed in the raw beauty of the South Island's landscapes.
Thomas's new photo book, *Te Waipounamu, is now available for $20.*