How To Spend 3 Days in the Photogenic Queenstown

Heads-up: you can witness very ethereal lighting in Milford Sound ūüėČ

I once read somewhere that your travels change when you find out specifically why, besides all the usual- and entirely legitimate- reasons of seeing new places and exploring the world, you want to travel. Some travel for the arts and history, some travel for the food, and some travel for the sceneries. For me personally, after a few years of being relatively “directionless”, I have fathomed out my Why. I travel to document the natural beauty of this world with my camera. I am wholly in my element when I am surrounded by nature. These days, when deciding where to go, I am more inclined towards countries that afford easy access to beautiful landscapes and plenty of opportunities to be in touch with nature.

New Zealand is one of those countries. And Queenstown in particular intoxicated me!

Queenstown was the final leg of my time in the country. By then, I had experienced an absurd amount of spectacular moments in Wanaka, Mt. Cook, Kaikoura, and¬†Marlborough Sounds. Which made me slightly skeptical whether Queenstown would be able to surpass them all, given that it is overrun with tourists. Now looking back, I can’t help but chuckle a little because that was such a silly, unwarranted concern. A place is touristy not for nothing. It would be unfair to say that Queenstown was the most magnificent part of New Zealand I saw, but from a photography perspective it was the peak. I am truly happy with what I was able to capture.

This was what I saw when I stepped off the bus and looked up. I silently told Queenstown, Hey you were made for me!

I should clarify, though, that I didn’t actually spend all my time inside Queenstown. It is a small, compact, pedestrian-friendly resort town that, in my personal experience, does not take a lot of time to hit all the main spots. However, it is the gateway to some of the most unreal parts of the South Island. And those places were where my eyes and camera got such fulfilling workouts.

So, if you are going to spend about 3 days in Queenstown like I did, below are my suggestions. Queenstown is the capital of¬†adventurous activities from¬†bungee jumping, skydiving, to¬†rafting and many others. They unfortunately¬†cost an arm and a leg, so¬†I steered clear of them. You don’t have to if you have the financial wherewithal ūüėČ

Day 1: Arrowtown and Queenstown


Listen, if you are in New Zealand during autumn, you MUST visit Arrowtown. I am not being hyperbolic; I am saying it from the bottom of my heart.

I am an autumn person through and through, and ever since I left the States I have been completely deprived of real autumns. I am living in Hanoi, the only city in South East Asia with four distinct seasons. Yet autumns here pale in comparison. When I set my feet in Arrowtown, I felt like I was finally released from an autumn dry spell.

Arrowtown is small and quaint. The detailed history of the town can be read here, the town’s official website. But basically, it was established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches, more than 60 of which can still be seen today.

To get to Arrowntown from Queestown by public transportation, take this bus, NZD 30 round-trip. The most important tip I have is you should take the earliest bus at 7.35AM so you can get there at 8AM. As a reward, you will have the whole town to yourself, and the lighting will be excellent. I took all of these photos in the span of two hours, from 8 to around 10AM. It is not easy to take photos once throngs of tourists pour in. I left at noon, but you can spend more time there if you want to.

The postcard quality of Arrowntown is top-notch.

Sigh, I am running out of words already.

I already told you guys I rarely feel the urge to shove my face in photos of places that I visit. I’m not young anymore and have come to a point in my life where I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anyone. (Kidding, I still have a ton of inner work to do.) BUT, I had to wake up at 6AM to catch the bus and wandered around in freezing temperatures. So, I was just kind of like, “Self-restraints, you can go fcuk yourself. I need a photo with this beautiful background, in an au naturel I Woke Up Like This state.” ūüėÄ

One of the cheapest yet most enjoyable experiences I had in Queenstown. 

Day 2: Milford Sound

This sight is just too heinous!!!

Even my friends who live in New Zealand commented on my photos that they hadn’t seen Milford Sound this copiously bathed in sunlight for a long time. Yes, I know I hit the jackpot with the weather!

Milford Sound needs no introduction. It is legendary; it is the quintessential New Zealand¬†experience. It was sad¬†that I had limited time and didn’t have a car; otherwise, I would have allotted more time for this place and the adjacent areas. There,¬†nature is in its unadulterated glory.

I booked this day tour by Real Journeys, and the whole experience was very pleasant. The bus was comfortable, the driver was entertaining, and we stopped at gorgeous places along the way.

This was the first stop of the trip, somewhere just outside of Queenstown. The water surface is unreal, isn’t it? I can’t even capture water surface this smooth when doing long-exposure photography.

Then, it was a few hours drive before we reached Mirror Lakes. I was literally shaking when I saw this!!!

Then, my heart stopped. 

IMG_3523I hate being repetitive, but I have no choice. The lighting was surreal, damn it.

I am glad the weather was cooperative because we were able to venture slightly further than usual, out to the Tasman sea. It could have been extremely choppy.¬†But honestly it would be fine even if it hadn’t been sunny. I saw photos of¬†Milford Sound in less than ideal weather, and there is something very dramatic and scintillating¬†about cloudy, foggy, rainy, and snowy Milford Sound. Anyway, the interesting information I learned on the trip is that the name Milford Sound is a misnomer. It is actually a fjord (or fiord), which is carved by glaciers and filled with sea water. A sound, per Wikipedia, is¬†is a large sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fjord.¬†Milford Fiord is definitely more of a tongue-twister.¬†

For your information, there is also the option of overnight cruises. I spoke briefly to the guide about what is special about night cruises, and she said it entails star-gazing, kayaking, and waking up to the dawn of a new day (glorious sunrise not guaranteed, however). Sounds pretty sweet, huh?  

And my trip ended on a GLORIOUS note. 

Day 3: Queenstown Hill track and more Queenstown

For me, this view is totally worth the calories. If you do not want to spend your calories, you can take the Skyline Gondola for NZ$33. 

On your last day in Queenstown, if you have already run out of money, do NOT fret. There are several things to do that cost nothing but calories. One of them is the Queenstown Hill track. 

The track is not a walk in the park, but it is manageable even if your fitness level errs on the weak side. You will be huffing and puffing for sure, but with¬†water and snacks you will recover quickly. And GOOD SHOES. A couple of girls I met along the way wore ballet flat shoes and were extremely disgruntled; they said they felt they were cheated- “it was supposed to be easy”. I did not know how to respond to them, as I personally think the word “track” and ballet flat shoes just do not sync. They made it to the top, but clearly did not enjoy it. Oh well…

New Zealand unlocked my love for mountains. Now I have vibrating feelings in my heart when I see¬†mountain-framed places ūüėÄ

I was waiting for my Fergburger (which by the way was the best burger I have ever had in my entire life. It was a life-changing burger) when I saw this. Gosh, I did love Queenstown with my whole heart.

Take a stroll along Lake Wakapitu during sunset. Your eyes will thank you. 



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  • Joo Yie

    Khoa you r so descriptive n funny in this post! I laughed all the way reading the way you pour your heart out. I went to NZ many moons ago before I picked up photography n definitely not in Autumn else I would remember such gorgeous fall foliage. Looks like i need to revisit NZ at some point. Looking forward to read your piece on Tibet!

    PS: U r the only guy I know who has so many colorful shoes. Do you collect shoes haha?

    • confuseddasher

      Joo Yie!!! Are you Joo Yie from Instagram? If yes, what a pleasant surprise. As you can see, I’m having too much fun on IG I forgot to write. It should be my main job, not Instagramming. Anyway, I think not just in NZ, autumn is gorgeous everywhere. You were in the US in the past, right? Remember all the autumnal colors?

      I’m not really a shoe collector, haha. I used to buy more than an average person, as I like them. But I have been kinda decluttering my life so I kinda buy fewer and fewer ūüėÄ

      • Joo Yie

        Yes it’s me, your worst nightmare here to claim your promise of a strip dancing show ūüėÜ