Lifting her eyes to the mountains
“I came to Queenstown, and within a day I thought, this feels like home. It felt really comfortable. The energy here is safe. Everyone's really calm and chill. And my favourite thing is everything is on your doorstep. In Australia, I would have to travel for hours to do a hike. Here there’s an abundance of activities just a few minutes away.”
Born in Queensland, Australia, Krista moved to Canada in search of adventure as soon as she graduated. It was there she fell in love with the mountains and photography. But after a few years, her Canadian visa expired, and Krista realised she wasn’t ready to return home. Some of her friends had raved about Queenstown, so she thought she’d give it a go.
“I've been here for four years now. My love for landscape photography grew from being in the mountains in Canada, and I wanted to keep being around the mountains. So moving here was just perfect..”
Krista May in the mountains
Shooting the stars from the peaks
Krista is a seasoned backcountry snowboarder and hiker. She says, “These are not adventures for visitors to do alone. They’re only safe if you know the mountain and you know how to stay safe.” If you do want to experience winter backcountry adventures, touring experts at Small Planet can set you up with an experience off the beaten track, while Queenstown Mountain Guides operate guided climbing and mountaineering in the Remarkables.
“I like to go up for sunrise and sunset. So sometimes I'll get up really early and hike up Coronet Peak with all my camera gear and my snowboard, set up my tripod and shoot the sunrise before anyone gets there. It’s pretty cool because I'm hiking in the pitch black, and I get to see it all come to light. If I'm not feeling like getting up early that day, I'll stay at the top of Coronet Peak to watch the sunset and then ski down. Sometimes I’ll go up at midnight and shoot the stars.”
Krista doesn’t do adventure by halves. “Hiking and climbing are my favourite things to do, and hiking and photography go hand in hand for me. In winter I like to hike with friends to backcountry alpine huts. We’re usually the only ones there and it’s so much fun. We pick a hut that has a fireplace like Meg Hut in the Pisa Conservation Area, or Aspiring Hut in Mount Aspiring National Park. Sitting with my friends around a fire in the middle of the mountains with the snow all around has to be my second favourite thing to do.”
“My number one favourite thing is snowboarding. Homewood Bound at The Remarkables is probably the best run in Queenstown. But on a powder day, I prefer Coronet Peak because I love that pretty much the whole mountain is free range, which is really fun.”
Coronet Peak, image @kristamayphotography
Tips for capturing winter in Queenstown
Krista gives her tips for Queenstown photo spots to capture a killer winter landscape.
“My favourite thing to shoot in winter is the Alpenglow, which is the refraction of light just before sunrise or after sunset. It gives the snowy mountains this vibrant pinky-red glow. I recommend setting up your tripod on the lakefront and capturing the peaks, especially Cecil and Walter Peak because they’ve very distinct features. You’ll need a tripod if you’re shooting early or late because you’ll be shooting long exposure with a slow shutter speed so you can let in more light and a high aperture so everything is in focus. I use a zoom lens, and always set it on self-timer to avoid any camera shake from pressing the button.”
Cecil Peak, image @kristamayphotography
“Moke Lake at sunrise is another good winter spot for keen photographers. The first thing in the mornings is when the lake’s most still. When there’s no wind, that’s when you get those perfect reflections, especially when the top of the mountains have a little bit of snow. Moke Lake is super easy to get to. You just drive there, park up and set up your tripod.”
"At sunrise, the light and conditions are often at their best. I know to get those dawn shots, you need to push yourself to get up in the cold, but once you do, it’s so worth it. I won a photography competition recently with a night-time shot at the Remarkables that I almost didn’t take. I had this vision of a shot of the Milky Way between the twin peaks of Double Cone. I knew the conditions were perfect. It was a clear, still night with no moon. I almost couldn’t be bothered to go. But I made myself head up there, and it was the most amazing night I’d ever had. I was sitting in awe photographing this landscape. So, it’s always worth heading out in the cold. You never regret doing it.”
Milky Way above the Remarkables, image @kristamayphotography
“If you want to try your hand at astrophotography without having to go backcountry, I recommend driving up Coronet Peak. They have a few car parks where you can pull over and set up your gear. I like juxtaposing the city lights with the mountains in the background and the night sky. It gives you a good feel for what Queenstown is like. People live here, but it’s remote and you can still see the stars. Moke Lake is also a good spot for shooting stars because the mountains block the town's glow.”
AuthenticAs run private guided stargazing and astrophotography tours. You'll join local professional photographers, Simon and Emma on a dark sky tour of the Whakatipu Basin. They'll point out stars, planets and constellations with the help of high-tech telescopes and help you to capture unique photographs of the southern night sky.
Queenstown winter fun
We asked Krista for her recommendations for winter hikes where you don’t need a guide to be safe.
“Queenstown Hill is a popular walk, but it’s the best. The views from the top are just excellent. You pretty much get a 360-degree view of snow-capped mountains. It’s eight kms but it’s not super high, or hard. So, whenever I have friends and family to visit, it’s the one we do every time. I’ve walked it maybe 50 times, but I never get tired of it. I also love Bob’s Cove. You get high enough that you get a good perspective over everything around you, but it’s not super strenuous and the track is good, so it’s still doable in winter, which is cool.”
Queenstown Hill, image @kristamayphotography
“For the perfect winter day in Queenstown, I’d recommend doing an easy hike in the morning, followed by the Onsen Hot Pools in the afternoon. It is amazing, especially if you go for the sunset session because there’s usually a bit of snow, you’re outside and it’s a warm, fun atmosphere. Then go back into town for hot chocolate or mulled wine at Perky’s Floating Bar, this quirky little boat bar on the lake. The Sundeck is also really good for drinks because of the views. For food, Blue Kanu is my favourite restaurant in town because the Pacifica Asian fusion flavours they have going on are amazing. If you’re after a good pub feed, Smith’s Craft Beer House does the beers and burgers vibe, and their food is really good.”
“If you want to hang out with the Queenstown locals, head to night ski on Coronet Peak. It’s a great chill vibe, and because it’s nighttime, people hang out at the main base a lot, which is great if you want to meet the locals. Lots of locals hang out afterwards at The World Bar. They’ve got a decent lineup of beers, and a really nice outside area with heaters for those après-ski vibes, then when it gets too cold you can go inside by the fire."
“Sometimes people come here, and think it’s just a party town, but Queenstown is so much more than a good après-ski scene. Get out into the landscape because the surrounding areas have so much to offer."
Krista documents her Queenstown adventures and shares her photography on her travel blog, read more here: https://kristamay.photography/travel-blog/
Night ski, Coronet Peak
More ways to immerse yourself in Queenstown's alpine scenery
This winter, stay a bit longer to experience all Queenstown has to offer, both on and off the slopes – find plenty more ideas for immersive winter adventures in our 6-day guide to savouring winter in Queenstown. As you explore Queenstown this winter, share your Queenstown winter adventures with us on Instagram and #QueenstownLive.
Before you head out into our beautiful outdoors, it’s important to be prepared. The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council has great information to help you plan a safe and successful adventure.