Using a drone on the West Coast of New Zealand

Lucy Wyndham
May 31, 2019

Drone photography - once the exclusive realm of professional photographers offering specialised services to real estate and tourism businesses - has now become mainstream.

The number of drones is expected to grow by seven million by next year, with these air-based devices being used for everything from real estate sales to emergency situations and even private photography.

If you visit the West Coast of New Zealand, your drone will definitely be put to good use. With a vast natural area spanning over 600km, South Island, Greymouth, and other stunning areas are some of the most photographed in the world.

What should you consider if you are thinking of capturing your next visit from ‘up in the air’?

Specific requirements for drone flights on the West Coast

Even the lightest of drones weigh around five kilograms, though middle-of-the-road drones weigh from 50 to 200 kilograms. Their size, speed, and weight mean that they can potentially be dangerous.

Therefore, if you will be flying your drone in Greymouth, Blaketown, South Beach and other nearby areas, know that you will need specific approval from Council.

These regulations are meant protect human beings, landscapes, and local fauna. Although drones for wildlife and environmental protection do exist, vehicles need to be kept specifically distant from animals so as not to stress or potentially injure them.

To work out whether or not your chosen area is prohibited, in addition to contacting the authorities, check out AirShare’s map for planning drone flights. It differentiates different types of land according to use, access restriction or freedom, etc.

Recommended areas for drone use

The Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, which is entrusted with conserving New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage, has very useful information regarding places you can freely use your drone to record footage of the West Coast.

They first recommend contacting a nearby Department of Conservation Office (the Greymouth office is on 17 High Street in Greymouth, Tel: +64 3 768 0427) to make sure you are on the right track and to obtain permission.

A few of the sites Department of Conservation recommend you apply to use a drone include the Big River Tracks (featuring an impressive array of gold mining relics); Carew Creek Falls (featuring 30m of waterfall over a jagged mass of rocks); and the Pleasant Flat Campsite (a grassy sheltered campsite that is nicely nestled among mountains).

There are so many different types of natural sites to capture - everything from dramatic Gillespies Beach to serene Lake Ellery.

A perfect area for those who enjoy capturing sites with a little history is Waiuta - one of the West Coast’s best known ghost towns. Once a mining settlement, it produced nearly 750,000 ounces of gold and is said to possess a certain ‘spirit’ that makes for mysterious, unique footage.

If you have a drone and are excited to use it in one of the most beautiful natural paradises of New Zealand - the West Coast area - make sure to plan ahead.

You will need permission to use a drone in most areas, though the good news is that there are a plethora of sites that are drone friendly.

Scenic beaches, lively waterfalls, and lush forests are just a few of the West Coast’s natural offerings that lend themselves to stunning aerial imagery you can share with your friends back home.