I recently spent two weeks touring the South Island of New Zealand. It has to rank as one of the top locations for landscape photography in the world.
For American photographers, what can it be compared to? Based on my own travels in the western U.S., I’d say that the South Island offers the best of the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington; the coastal formations of southern Oregon; the mountains of Glacier National Park; and the Sierra Nevada above Yosemite. However, New Zealand delivers something we lack in the U.S., namely Milford Sound and the fjords. All of that packed into one island and in a trip lasting only two weeks.
My trip was expertly guided by Phillip Bartlett of Capture New Zealand Photography Tours:http://www.capturenewzealand.co.nz/
I decided to visit New Zealand with only about one month’s advance notice, as it coincided with business travel to Australia. I first considered and rejected standard tour companies that could arrange for the accommodations. I then searched online for photo tour companies, and discovered Phillip’s website. When I spoke with him by phone, it was clear that he would arrange a trip around photography, from sunrise to sunset shots. Only a local New Zealander could do that. The Capture New Zealand homepage includes a link to Phillip’s gallery, which is a separate website. Even a cursory review of those images will reveal Phillip for what he is: an extraordinary professional landscape photographer in his own right.
I could never have managed to arrange for accommodations on my own at such short notice. The advantage of a local guide like Phillip is that he knows all the options. For example, one night we stayed in a youth hostel, because nothing else was available in that location on short notice. If I had tried to arrange for the trip from thousands of miles away and by phone, I simply wouldn’t have known about that option. Another significant advantage was that Phillip did all of the driving. Frankly, I was a bit concerned about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and he conveniently solved that problem.
To put my experience in context, over the last 30 years I have shot 35mm, medium format, and 4x5 large format films. I now shoot with a Canon 1Ds Mk III, and thus consider myself to be a fairly advanced amateur. It was therefore an added bonus that Phillip, a consummate professional, also taught me many new approaches to photography as I was capturing the stunning scenery of New Zealand. Phillip never tried to impose his own views on me, and probably would have kept his advice to a minimum if that had been my preference. But I encouraged the opposite, and it was an unexpected added bonus to the trip.
Phillip was scrupulously honest and professional. To offer one illustration, I expressed an interest in photographing blue ice caves inside one of the glaciers. He arranged for a helicopter flight and a guide for the day on Fox Glacier. The cost was so reasonable that I contacted Phillip and expressed an interest in taking a second helicopter flight to photograph Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps. He responded that the cost was low because he was paying for half the cost of the helicopter and guide as he planned on shooting as well and would professionally benefit from the trip. If anything reassured me, prior to my arrival -- that I had selected an honest and reputable guide -- it was that explanation. Virtually all tour guides anywhere in the world would likely charge the client the full cost of the helicopter and guide on the glacier, -- and -- take photos for their own professional benefit. The extraordinary point is that Phillip was so honest that he neglected to even explain that he was paying for half of the cost of the glacier trip – until I asked about the cost of a second helicopter trip. (I did pay for a second helicopter charter, and the experience of flying with the doors removed for photography at 12,500 feet is simply incredible.)
I have heard a few horror stories of expensive guided trips where the guides spend their time shooting their own photographs and ignoring their clients. Phillip, by contrast, rarely was shooting, and was instead offering helpful, intuitive guidance to me. (When I chartered the second helicopter flight, he wasn’t even planning on joining me, since he had not contributed to the cost of the flight, even though the back seat would have been empty. I insisted that Phillip join me and shoot his own photos).
For Americans, one other aspect of his professional service might even sound old fashioned, but it tells you something about this gentleman. He insisted on opening the door of his SUV each and every time I got in or out of the vehicle. I protested that I hardly needed such service (I felt like a little old lady, for in the US no one except a grandmother gets such treatment). Nonetheless, Phillip insisted, and did it throughout the trip.
For anyone considering a professionally guided trip to New Zealand, I would give Phillip a superlative recommendation. On the Michelin standard of 10 stars, Phillip would earn 15.
I am very pleased to highly and enthusiastically recommend Phillip Bartlett. I wish to make it clear that such high praise is only offered when it is entirely justified. By way of contrast, you may wish to peruse my assessments of Heathrow in this forum, or of Hewlett Packard in the printing forum.
P.S. Three additional tips when flying from Auckland to Christchurch:
(1) When you arrive in Auckland you must transfer to a domestic flight to get to Christchurch. You have to haul your luggage from the international to the domestic terminal. The buses run infrequently, and it takes 10 to 15 minutes to walk the distance, so allow plenty of time between your flights.
(2) The domestic flights will weigh your carry-on and if it exceeds 15 lbs you will have to check it. Even if your carry-on can fit under a seat, it must be checked if over 15 lbs. Either have your camera equipment in a bag that weighs less than 15 lbs or use a hard case such as Pelican that can be locked and checked. Air New Zealand in particular is completely inflexible and zealously enforces the rules.
(3) When leaving New Zealand you must pay a departure tax of $25 and that is another very long line, in addition to security, so allow plenty of time when departing.