Important : Flying drones in National Parks is not permitted in most Western Countries unless authorised. Know the rules before you fly and always seek permission from local authorities / DOC sites / Farmers & Land Owners if unsure. Here are some useful links for you in NZ : DOC permission / New Zealand Air Share.
Gear used to make it all possible : https://kit.com/mananddrone
If you’d have said to me on my first New Zealand trip back in March 2007 that I’m going to return again 10 years later only with the ability to shoot epic cinematic footage that only a very expensive camera setup and helicopter could capture, I probably would’ve laughed.
Obviously to give the best representation of a country you would need years even a lifetime. My main objective with the New Zealand series was to create high quality adventure drone cinema, and keep raising the bar in the drone creative community.
This was my 3rd trip to New Zealand so I knew what I had to do having lived there for a year in 2014. I purchased a camper van through a buy back scheme. The company I chose awards you a buyback percentage, my trip was over 5 months so I received back 50% of original purchase price, which was good in my books as it’s still way cheaper than hiring a newer vehicle, the camper you also sleep in to save thousands on accommodation. I was leaving mid Winter and selling vehicles during those months could prove difficult so hence the buyback scheme. The other plus was that the company are true mechanics and literally strip the vehicles down after their big missions and give full service before their next mission. The mechanic that did my first 8K oil change commented on how well maintained the vehicle was. Definitely check them out if you’re considering something similar : Kiwi Cruise Control
Probably one of the most important things on this trip was the camera technology used. I had originally planned on purchasing a Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro from DJI for the whole tour, which would’ve done an okay job. DJI (drone manufacturer) then announced the Inspire 2 Drone around the same time and because of the leap in video quality I decided to take the plunge albeit for a high price. The drone would in theory give me smoother flights in strong winds, hi quality lossless footage and in turn a jump up in professional image.
The only problem would be back-country hiking with such a large and heavy drone (20KG total gear) with all accessories. The other problem and my worse fear came to fruition as the drone malfunctioned not even halfway through trip.. So I had to return it home (UK) as the warranty was locked to Europe only. I had little option but to reluctantly buy another Inspire2 in New Zealand. Thankfully ‘DJI Ferntech of Christchurch’ were able to give me a nice discount on one to help get me back up in the air for the Autumn colours! Big thanks to them.
Unfortunately my luck ran out with that drone too, at least it was towards the end of my trip. So only missed 3 weeks of filming. Two broken Inspire 2’s certainly not the cheapest trip!
I will create a Vlog on YouTube explaining what happened to the drones outlining the pro’s and con’s. Overall i’m still glad I took the gamble on the Inspire 2 drone as the footage really does blow the Phantom 4 Pro away, in my opinion you won’t get far doing these things unless you take risks and chances.
All the video equipment used are listed near the bottom of this page.
Associated Vlogs on equipment will be released over the coming months with rationale for their purpose.
I’m fairly well versed in capturing the night-skies so it would be rude of me not to showcase this. New Zealand is after-all home to some of the best spots for star gazing on earth.
I roughly knew the locations I wanted to shoot a year before in my head. The problems I faced were unforeseen such as lens-fogging and just bad weather over new moon phases. This forced me to extended my trip or settle for lesser locations. I’m still very pleased with what I managed to capture and still proved to myself I can juggle drone flying, stills photography & time-lapses all on the same trip.
The biggest and most annoying problem I encountered on this trip was the fact that the batteries on the Inspire 2 are so big and power hungry that they couldn’t be charged via the old vehicles cigarette lighter. These batteries fall just under the legal 100Watt hour limit for commercial airline flights so I was able to take them as carry-on which increased my camera bag by an additional 5KG. The inspire 2 takes 2 batteries and to start with I only had one charger, so it took me nearly 4-5hours to charge 3 sets. That’s basically half a day, so I was forced sometimes to use campsites or use the power-outlets at any McDonald’s or cafe that allowed it, thus increasing my expenditure drastically.
I did all the research, using a generator wasn’t feasible as I didn’t have the storage space in the van and the noise would draw too much attention. A charge bank such as the Yeti 400 might’ve only just managed to charge 2x sets of batteries then you would need to find a mains outlet to recharge that again. Solar was too expensive to retrofit and wouldn’t be enough juice, it was all just complete hassles so i settled for campsites 3 days a week and McDonald’s in-between.
As with much of my work I put in a lot of footwork and physical exertion carrying equipment about.
I would consider myself of average fitness providing no physical problems, however I’ve had numerous ankle surgeries and knee operations in the past so I’m definitely handicapped when it comes to activities such as day hikes.
This trip was no exception, My right ankle had been rolled so many times from previous accidents (Canada) that it was literally hanging by a thread. Still I managed to grin and bear the pain as I needed to get this New Zealand series down if I wanted to stay ahead of the game. I managed to hold out until the trip was complete by July so I flew back to London for an ankle ligament reconstruction operation.
During the New Zealand trip I tore both calf muscles from over straining them at different stages, this is because my bio mechanics are so messed up from various on-going problems and the equipment is so darn heavy.
The big effort hikes were :
Ben Lomond : 14km total 1428m Altitude Change – Summit is at 1750masl
Roy’s Peak : 13kM total 1300m Altitude Change – Summit is at 1578masl
Remarkables Lookout (3 Times) : Roughly 24Km total. 400+m Altitude Change – Lookout Summit is at 2050masl start point is about 1650masl
Tongariro (No Drone Just DSLR Equipment) : 19.4km total. Altitude Change 1100m Peak Altitude 1886masl
Other missions included dragging Pelican Case (+11.2KG) to the ‘3 Sisters’ when tide was out, ‘Cathedral Cove’ 4 times, Mount Manaia, Nugget Point 3 times, hiking to Lake Marian in sub zero, hiking to Key Summit, Tasman Glacier several times, many other lighthouses. Sitting in the cold for hours whilst taking night sky time-lapses.
Honestly I challenge anyone to do the same even the Physically sound. Off you go with an Inspire 2 worth thousands strapped to your chest hoping for no rain or falls, good-luck with the take-off and landing spots too. 😅
The weight of my equipment on all hike drone trips : F.Stop Lotus Bag : 1.5KG, Nikon d750 : 755g, 14-24mm Lens : 1KG, Sirui T-2205X Tripod : 1.25KG, K-30X Ball-head 500g, LaCie and Seagate Hard-drives : 1KG, Lens filters LEE & PolarPro : 700g, Straps and Fizen Walking Poles : 500g, Inspire 2 Aircraft : 2.41KG , Zenmuse X5s Camera : 450g, Inspire 2 Controller : 1.2KG, 8 TB-50 Batteries : 4.12KG, 45mm Lens + 50mm Nikon 1.8G : 300g, Smartphone as VDU & various cables : 400g, Food : 300g Water : 3KG
GEAR NET WEIGHT = 19.4KG / 43lbs.
GEAR NET WEIGHT WHEN TAKING PELICAN CASE TOO = 30.6KG / 67.3lbs
MYSELF = 106KG / 235lbs
ALPINE CLOTHING = 6-7KG / 13lbs.
So yeah that’s a big haul for someone with a lot of ankle and knee problems, really It’s just a good personal challenge. The real stars are the people I met who were hiking the entire country from tip to tip, my hat’s off to them!
WHAT’S MISSING?.. Perfectionism?
With so much to cover in only a relatively short timeframe it was inevitable that I’d miss a few key locations. I had this amazing locale that I wanted to hike to with the Inspire 2 to shoot Mt.Taranaki in all it’s glory, however the weather that week was torrential rain.
Also 4 months on passing back up-to the north island I could’ve gone back there but my drone was in for repair.
Waterfalls – New Zealand has many huge and majestic waterfalls but most lie in DOC (Department of Conservation) areas and seeking permission would prove too time consuming. Even just a pull back reveal of Bridal-Veil Falls in Raglan would’ve sufficed but I ran out of time.
I had actually filmed the smaller Whangarei Falls but stupidly deleted the footage by accident.
National Parks – The only National Parks that feature in the film are ‘Mt Cook National Park’ 2 scenes from Milford Sound National Park and a couple from Mt.Asiring.
Again if I had more time I would’ve sought all permissions to fly in Egmont, Tongariro and Abel Tasman National Parks. An opening pan-up shot of Milford Sound would’ve been great but with the airport so close there and another film crew shooting the next ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise it was impossible to achieve this.
Time-lapse Tuning – Although my time-lapses are good if we’re talking professional level. Had I used a proper tracker and slider a more effective capture of the Milky-Way would’ve been possible and those extra 5% details can be noticed if you know what you’re looking for. However this would’ve meant carrying way more gear, more expensive baggage on flights and insurance. I did message a cinematography company called ‘Sryp’ who are funnily enough based in New Zealand. They couldn’t be bothered to lend me a simple 360 mini for my project. Would’ve been some good advertising for them oh well! 😉 In future Probably better to approach the small stockists and plug the small businesses rather than go straight to general enquiries minion that probably doesn’t understand the vision. /rant
Wildlife – New Zealand has some pretty cool and diverse wildlife. It would’ve been nice to capture something other than curious sea-gulls, ducks, sea-lions, sheep & cows. I’m thinking the likes of ORCA’s, Dolphins, Sharks.
Adventure – New Zealand has boundless adventure opportunities. I could’ve capitalised on this more with some Heli-hikes (Expensive), Film some mountaineers traversing a glacier, track some para-gliders (with their permission of course). New Zealand is home to some of the coolest breaks and surfers in the world, would’ve been sweet to find some locals to shoot with if I had the time.
All this is a lot more organising and costs so I had to be realistic with the project. The helicopter flights should’ve been a reality had I not been forced to buy a 2nd Inspire 2. Oh well… Plenty of time for that in Canada MkII.
TOTAL EXPENDITURE (Feb 24th – June 31st)
Please see below for full Breakdown in NZD ( New Zealand Dollars ). Costs are approximate and rounded.
Fines Various $200 nzd
Camping Sites, DOC Various $1000+ nzd
DOC donations $100+ nzd
Shower Facilities $200 nzd
Vehicle Purchase, Toyota Estima with 50% BuyBack $2450
Vehicle Insurance $300 nzd
Vehicle Servicing $450 nzd
Vehicle Road Tax $30 nzd
Fuel / Gas $5000 nzd
Food for 5 months $4000 nzd
Plane Tickets $1000 nzd
Equipment Insurances $500 nzd
Equipment (purchased for trip, kept some, sold both drones)
1 x DJI Inspire 2 Drone Premium Combo + $12,000 nzd
1 x DJI Inspire 2 Drone + ProRes License $5500 nzd
Nikon DSLR D750 + 14-24mm $4200 nzd
Other associated camera equipment, SSDs, Lenses : $3700 nzd
New Outdoor Gear $250 nzd
Music Licensing $89 nzd
Sound Effects $120 nzd
NEW ZEALAND TRIP (excluding equipment) (July currency conversion) : £9k GBP / $15K NZD / $12K USD
CAMERA EQUIPMENT PURCHASED : £16K GBP / $27K NZD / $20K USD
TOTAL OUTLAY FOR ENTIRE PROJECT : £25K GBP / $42K NZD / $32K USD
AFTER SOME EQUIPMENT SELLING, TOTAL NET LOSS : £17k GBP / $28K NZD / $22K USD
EDITING / POST PRODUCTION
Music – I had heard this amazing track composed by Tony Anderson a few years back and I instantly bookmarked it as one for the future. Licensed via Musicbed “Eyes Wide Open” offered me a lengthy track time for multiple drone sequences with an assortment of night sky time-lapses to suit.
Tony continues to push the boundaries with creative masterpieces and it’s a privilege to be able to use his music for some of my stuff.
This is the most heavily laden sound-effect videos of mine. I decided to really up my sfx game and managed to source a lot of good sounds via Audio-Jungle and Audio-Micro, whilst using one or two of my own field recordings. I’m happy with the outcome as it really does add more immersion to the scenes, something which I feel is heavily missed still these days.
Editing – If I have a track to work with I’m always cutting clips to that so it fits and sounds natural, thankfully I had just about enough usable time-lapses and drone footage that wasn’t too repeated from the other series. This one seemed to take ages my longest edit yet (2+weeks) it became tedious and annoying and I was losing faith but I managed to get there in the end. Thankfully Premiere now allows for Proxy workflow which helps drastically when working with these heavy ProRes 4444 files.
The Vimeo version features a reduced SFX level for all the moaners that probably have bad audio equipment. Levels on the YouTube version are deliberate for immersion and YouTube’s bad algorithms i.e. copyright flags, you really need a proper setup to understand or know as much as myself. I think it becomes more than subjectivity at this level. Tutorial to follow.. You can watch the Vimeo Version below.
Overall I’m very pleased with the project, having met some awesome people too along the way.
Regarding my vision it’s probably 70% of what I planned to achieve, time, weather & hardware failures are the main reasons. In the future I would probably settle for lesser video quality and consider taking a Mavic Pro 2 or Phantom 5 Pro whichever drone looks more promising. This will help me achieve more back country hikes and prove less of a financial burden should one break.
The main message I always try to convey with my drone adventures is just get out there and try and create something, anything. Doesn’t matter how good it is. If I’ve inspired just a handful of people then it was all worth it.
Special thanks to Micahel Vettas for the wealth of knowledge, borrowing of one of his tripods for a time-lapse sequence, special access to TrebleCone at night and great company. Additional special thanks to the talented Tyler Walkey for the Ben Lomond and Remarkables avdentures, great to meet someone who also has an R/C background and built his first drone!
Zach Husted – For being an excellent travel buddy throughout June, incredible athlete and all round top bloke!
DJI Ferntech Christchurch, for the discount on the 2nd drone.. Really Appreciate the help on that.
I will definitely continue the odd epic adventure but am now more focused on sharing how I do things and behind the scenes action. So please subscribe to my YouTube Channel and stay tuned!
0:15-0:32 – Lake Pukaki (On route to Mt.Cook National Park)
0:33-0:37 – Mt.Roy Lookout towards Mt.Aspiring, Wanaka, Otago.
0:37-0:41 – Private farm Land near Lumsden, South Land.
0:42-0-46 – Raetea Forest, Northlands.
0:47-0:51 – Treble Cone, Wanka, Otago.
0:51-0:59 – Coronet Peak Lookout, Otago.
0:59-01:06 – Lake Hawea, Otago.
01:07-01:11 – Whangarei Heads, Northlands.
01:12-01:17 – Roaring Megs, Otago.
01:17-01:20 – Roaring Billy Falls, Mt.Aspiring National Park.
01:21-01:24 – Lake Taupo, Waikato.
01:25-01:29 – Poolburn Reservoir, Otago.
01:30-01:33 – Mt.Roy Summit, Wanaka, Otago.
01:34-01:38 – Te HoHo Rock, Te Whanganui-A-Hei Coromandel.
01:39-01:43 – Mt.Roy Lookout towards Mt.Aspiring, Wanaka, Otago.
01:44-02:09 – Bay of Islands, Northlands, North Island.
02:09-02:13 – Cape Palliser Beach, 50km from Wellington.
02:14-02:17 – Waipapa Point Lighthouse, Southland District.
02:18-02:35 – Cape Reigna Lighthouse, Northlands.
02:36-02:39 – Castle-Point Lighthouse, North Island.
02:40-02:44 – Cape Palliser Beach, 50km from Wellington.
02:45-02:52 – Nugget Point Lighthouse, Catlins.
02:53-02:58 – Lookout from Road towards Mt.Cook.
02:59-03:03 – Tasman Glacier, Mt.Cook National Park.
03:13-03:21 – Lake Manapouri, Fjordland National Park.
03:21-03:26 – Treble Cone Access Road, Wanaka, Otago.
03:27- 03:29 – Cape Reigna Lighthouse, Northlands.
03:30-03:34 – Katiki Point, Moeraki, South Island.
03:35-03:38 – Nugget Point Lighthouse, Catlins.
03:39-03:47 – Eglington Valley – Fjordland.
03:48-03:55 – Rob Roy Track, Mt.Aspiring National Park.
03:56-04:00 – Skippers Canyon Road, Otago.
04:01-04:04 – Castle-Point Lighthouse, North Island.
04:05-04:08 – Tree Canopy Fjordland.
04:09-04:13 – Eglington Valley – Fjordland.
04:14-04:17 – Remarkables Lookout, Queenstown, Otago.
04:18-04:21 – Rob Roy Glacier, Mt.Aspiring National Park.
04:22-04:25 – Lake Marian, Fjordland National Park.
04:26-04:30 – Remarkables Lookout, Queenstown Otago.
04:31-04:39 – Mt.Roy Lookout towards Wanaka, Otago.
04:40-04:48 – Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown, Otago.
04:49-04:56 – Mt.Roy Lookout towards Mt.Aspiring, Otago.
04:57-05:05 – Ben Lomond Summit, Queenstown, Otago.
05:06-05:14 – Glenorchy, view towards Routeburn Track.
05:15-05:22 – Moeraki Boulders, Moeraki, South Island.
05:23-05:36 – Glenorchy view towards Lake Wakitipu.
05:37-05:54 – Ocean Beach, Whangarei Heads.
Don’t Forget the rest of the series which you can watch below :
Equipment used to make it all possible :
DJI Inspire 2 Drone + Camera + Licenses : http://amzn.to/2qenEuv
Spare DJI Inspire 2 : http://amzn.to/2w0dt24
DJI CineSSD 480GB : http://amzn.to/2qhQ99Y
DJI CineSSD Reader : http://amzn.to/2qhSodj
Olympus M.Zukio 45mm Lens : http://amzn.to/2qe72Dr
Extra Inspire 2 Batteries : http://amzn.to/2rRfKrF
Pelican Storm Case IM2875 : http://amzn.to/2ry2Sd6
Polar Pro X5s ND Filters : http://amzn.to/2qesdVz
F.Stop Lotus Backpack : http://amzn.to/2CkPmvq
Sandisk 64GB Micro SD Card : http://amzn.to/2rNSvPG
Nikon d750 (Time-lapses) : http://amzn.to/2rNOryV
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 (Time-lapses) : http://amzn.to/2qT60ja
Sirui Ball Head : http://amzn.to/2qdTZBW
Sirui N-2204X Tripod : http://amzn.to/2qTkf7y
Zoom H5 4 Way Sound Recorder : http://amzn.to/2xcWB6P
Rode Video Mic Pro R : http://amzn.to/2iqr6CO