Michael Breitung Photography


Blog - Travelling New Zealand – West Coast

Some time has passed since the last article of my New Zealand series. I still have some stories to share and I’ll start with my travel along the rainy west coast.

I might already have said this in my previous articles, but November 2014 didn’t excel as being warm and sunny. Some locals even said it was one of the wettest and coldest Novembers they remember. So it was no wonder that the west coast greeted me with rain.

Rainy Campsite at Punakaiki

The first night I camped at Punakaiki Beach Camp. A great place in a spectacular setting right at the coast. The famous Pancake Rocks are just a short stroll away. Unfortunately neither sunset nor sunrise provided special light so I continued my trip the next day without a presentable image.

Franz Josef Glacier

Again the weather was dull – grey skies and rain. As I arrived at Franz Josef Glacier in the evening it was drizzling. But because of this I had the whole valley nearly for myself.

I walked till the end of the valley right to the foot of the Glacier, which looked quite miserable. If you google for images of this glacier and look for photos taken 10 or 15 years ago, you’ll see a huge difference – clear signs of climate change.

impending darkness in Franz Josef valley

Dark Valley
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 Soft GND + Hoya HD Polarizer
Exif: f/11 | 55mm | ISO 100 | 2s – multiple exposures for Focus Stacking

Still the valley looked spectacular with it’s steep slopes and carved rock walls on either side, waterfalls coming down everywhere. You can clearly make out how the glacier formed the valley. I found a perfect S-curve in the river of melt-water, which led right to a set of smoothly curved rocks. The impending darkness gave this whole scene a well fitting, gloomy look.

As I walked back to the van I stopped time and again, looked through the valley and listened. Everything was so calm and pieceful. Not so the next morning when I went back. The sun was out and so were the helicopters that take people up onto the ice of the glacier. With the noise of the helicopters the valley felt much less serene than the evening before.

The good thing is you don’t hear that noise when you look at my next photo. You can totally focus on the wonderful view of lush rain forests, snow capped mountains and waterfalls. And if you ever visit yourself, make sure to either be there very early or go in the evening. Then you can really enjoy this incredible landscape.

Franz Josef Glacier with the rainforest in the foreground on a sunny day

Franz Josef Valley
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 soft GND
Exif: f/11 | 20mm | ISO 100 | 1/6s


The continuation of my trip led me past Fox glacier, which was equally crowded, and then through beautiful coastal forest down to Haast. In the New Zealand Frenzy book I had read about a little cove near Knights Point, where, with luck, one could spot penguins.

Penguins are one of my favourite animals, but I hadn’t seen them in the wild yet. Through thick rain forest a track led me to a rocky pebble beach. I scanned the shore and could instanly make out a couple of Fiordland crested Penguins near the far end of the beach.

I felt so lucky – perfect timing. Grabbing my tele lense I watched how they hopped along the beach, always waiting for the late arrivers. It was fascinating to see how they were able to climb the steep, rocky slope at the end of the beach, heading for their sheltered nests.

The drive along the Haast Highway the next day was also wonderful, despite the rain. It was hard to keep my eyes on the street. Fortunately there are many places I could stop for short expeditions. Again I found them in the NZ Frenzy book, which lists many waterfalls along the Highway.

I visited three of them. While of the first two I don’t remeber name or exact location, the third one cannot be missed. Thunder Creek falls is easy to spot and I think it’s a safe guess that on a sunny day you’ll encounter hundreds of people there taking selfies.

Fortunately the heavy rain prevented this. With my Camera attached to my tripod and an umbrella I walked across the rocks in search of a nice composition.

The blue color of the water was fantastic and in places some finely structured rocks jutted out above its surface. I used a set of those as foreground and placed the waterfall on the other side to balance the picture.

Lush green forest, deep blue river and a spectacular waterfall

Thunder Creek Falls
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 ND + Hoya HD Polarizer
Exif: f/11 | 17mm | ISO 100 | multiple exposures between 0,3s – 2s for Exposure Blending

The west coast really lived up to my expectations – not only in terms of how wet it was. The coastal forests are magical and I could have spent days exploring them. The coast is rough and diversified. It provides endless photo opportunities and if I ever visit the South Island again, I’ll definitly have to plan in some more time there.

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