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Front Runner on the Move: Billy Nunweek

Front Runner on the Move: Billy Nunweek

- October 06, 2023

​Billy Nunweek is a landscape photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Growing up, he travelled extensively as his father worked for a global construction company. In 2015, he moved back to New Zealand, where he developed a passion for stunning scenery. To ensure he can get to the right places to capture these magical places, Billy purchased a 1994 Land Cruiser Prado. Front Runner recently met Billy to discuss his new movie, overlanding and photography.

© Billy Nunweek

​Why landscape photography? ​

It was not planned. I just found that's what I wanted to take photos of; the landscapes here speak to themselves; it felt natural and right. Over time, it has developed and grown, and I now also do adventure, lifestyle, and travel photography, which includes vehicles and branded products. All my photography is built around my passion for the outdoors. ​

© Billy Nunweek

You love the mountains. Why? ​

I grew up on the coast and am a beach boy by blood. When I was 15, I was on a flight to Nepal, which included flying over the Himalayan Mountains. I'd never seen anything like it before and became fascinated with mountains. When I moved down to the South Island and went on a day trip into Arthur's Paths, I got to experience the big mountains first-hand. Being in them and not just flying over them was my homecoming moment. I've been chasing them ever since.​

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© Billy Nunweek

Do you ever put away your camera?  ​

It's always close by these days. When I first started out, I wanted a defined separation between my creative lifestyle and my day-to-day life. As I started to delve into film photography, I was taking my 35mm film camera out more and more. And that lives in my car now, always ready to go. I can get some snaps of those special moments when I am with mates or family. ​

© Billy Nunweek

Do you have one or two helpful photography tips for overlanders? ​

It doesn’t matter what you are shooting with, an iPhone or top-of-the-range Canon; image composition is the key. How you frame the photo is the most essential part of the puzzle. Playing with things like the zoom feature or the wide-angle lens will add an extra element to your image. 

© Billy Nunweek

What makes your images of these landscapes unique? ​

When visiting popular “Instagram” locations, I strive for a unique perspective, be it a simple change in position or seeking an elevated vantage point. Instead of capturing typical sunset or sunrise shots, I might opt for star trails or a completely different approach. If you notice a point of difference in commonly photographed scenes, it might be my work, although others might’ve attempted the same. ​

© Billy Nunweek

Tell us about a recent challenging shoot.​

I genuinely shine in exploring unfamiliar and challenging locations. On a recent adventure, we boarded a ski plane and ascended to 20,000 feet, trying to capture all 26 of New Zealand's 10,000-plus feet peaks in one photo. Though clouds partially obscured the view, our initial attempt was relatively successful. The cabin was freezing, and I required supplemental oxygen.  ​

© Billy Nunweek

Caia is your 1994 Land Cruiser Prado; why this specific Toyota? ​

It has the ever-reliable KZJ78 3-litre diesel engine and is a stock standard apart from an EGR delete, which increases engine longevity. It’s way more comfortable than a 70-series Land Cruiser. If you spend lots of time in your vehicle getting to incredible locations, you want to be as comfortable as possible. That’s why I drive a coil-sprung Toyota, which is comfier than a leaf-sprung one.  ​

© Billy Nunweek

Camera and film gear is bulky and takes up loads of space in your vehicle. How did you create extra space for your equipment? ​

I use the Slimline II Roof Rack platform to carry the gear you don’t want inside the truck. This includes a couple of Wolf Pack storage boxes. I also have the large 42-litre Pro Water Tank up there. Finally, I have a gas bottle and some Jerry Cans on the rack, which have been secured using the clever Front Runner Gas Bottle Holder or Double Jerry Can Holder. ​

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© Billy Nunweek

Name and describe the three most incredible locations you have camped in. ​

They are all in New Zealand. The first is Maud Lake, up the glacial Godley Valley, carved out by ice for many years. It splits into three glacial lakes. Getting there involves about 30 miles of bouncing over large boulders. Many people have tried to get there and failed; luckily, I had done some suspension upgrades before the trip. ​

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© Billy Nunweek

The second is St Winifreds Hut which lies up the Havelock Valley; this was a week after visiting Maud Lake. Once again, getting there was a proper 4WD adventure. We got stuck there for three days as the rains caused the rivers to rise, and we couldn’t escape. Then during the second night, we had about 30cm of snow.​

The third location was a week later when I drove back to Auckland and stopped at Lake Tennyson; this glacial lake in the Canterbury High country lies over 1000 meters above sea level. We stayed there during a storm, and it was epic. ​

© Billy Nunweek

Much of your travel with Caia has been in New Zealand. What would your dream landscape photography expedition look like? ​

The three places I described were all on one trip I would classify as a dream trip. This September, we’ve a similar trip to tackle the most extensive river valley system in New Zealand, called the Rakaia Valley. If money were no object, an African crossing would be on the cards or a lap around Australia. If only one country in the world were allowed, it would have to be Iceland; I’d love to get my truck over there to explore the F-roads, also known as their gravel and 4x4 tracks.  ​

© Billy Nunweek

One of your film projects will be aired soon in NZ. What can Front Runner fans expect? ​

My film Every Mile is out soon, it depicts my journey of trying to find my North Star. After buying Caia I felt I had lost the pureness of landscape photography; every shot had a picture of her in it. It was driving me up the wall; it felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my passion as I wanted. ​

This trip was about marrying up my two loves: overlanding and landscape photography, and how to use the overlanding element to make the landscape shot happen. Of course, you can hike to places, but I prefer to drive. I love the challenge of extreme 4x4 tracks while trying to find the perfect image. I want to use my 4x4 to get into a position to take a shot that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.  

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