Once we arrived in super hectic and busy Queenstown, we immediately knew that we had to find a different place to stay for the night. A short look on our map, and there it was: Glenorchy. We did not know what to expect, but as soon as we hit the road we knew that we made the right choice. The township of Glenorchy, also known as the “Gateway to Paradise”, sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the 48 km drive from Queenstown is absolutely spectacular – you will follow the edge of Lake Wakatipu and pass through small bays and native forest. As you follow the road the mountains come closer and once you reach Glenorchy your journey has only just started.
How to get there?
Glenorchy is only a 48 km scenic drive by car from Queenstown. You can reach Queenstown by bus, train or airplane.
Driving to Glenorchy is a highlight itself. The Glenorchy-Queenstown Road will take you along Lake Wakatipu and reward you with some pretty amazing views. A trip to Glenorchy also definitely pays off for those who want to immerse themselves in some of New Zealand’s best scenery. Glenorchy is a sought after location for the film industry with recent shoots such as The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and of course the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. We had a blast exploring the surrounding areas on our way to “Paradise”, passing through the Forests of Middle Earth, Isengard, Wizards Vale ‘Nan Curunir’ and the Misty Mountains.
How long to stay?
Although Glenorchy is a quite small town, we would recommend to stay for at least 2 nights. Glenorchy is the jumping off point for the Routeburn, Dart and Rees tracks and there are lots of interesting walks and hikes to do. On top the village has a few cafes and shops, a small general store and a true country pub – so you will definitely not get bored during your stay. There also are a huge variety of adventure activities available.
Where to stay?
From campsites and backpackers through to the luxury of award winning Blanket Bay Lodge – there is some accommodation to choose from in Glenorchy. As we were traveling with a camper, we decided to stay at Mrs. Woolly’s campsite for 20 EUR per night and up to two persons. The campsite has quite good and free wifi, a nice fully equipped kitchen and even some good free BBQs. The kitchen and common area are good to meet other travelers and the campsite itself is located quite convenient. Next to it you will also find a general store to stock up on some things you might need.
Bennett’s Bluff Lookout When taking the road to Glenorchy make sure to stop at this stunning scenic lookout that often rewards visitors with their first clear view up into Mount Earnslaw and Mount Aspiring National Park beyond Glenorchy. Parking is limited on this blind corner, so take care when pulling in our out. Maori Settlement There is an old Maori camp near the Dart Bridge which was once inhabited by the Maori people who came from coastal villages in search of Moa, but the main attraction soon became Greenstone (Pounamu). Greenstone was found in the Routeburn, Greenstone and Dart Valleys. In the early days, Greenstone was used for tools and weapons and soon became a big part of the Maori culture. Glenorchy Historic Sites Glenorchy is rich in a history of community that flourished largely in isolation as the road to Glenorchy was only opened in 1962 and paved in the late 1990s. You can download the GY Museum Heritage App and follow the heritage trail, or go exploring on your own. Drive to Paradise Drawing visitors from the Head of the Lake since the 1880s, the drive to Paradise is one of the most magical in all the world. You will see glacier-capped Mount Earnslaw in front of you as you head out of Glenorchy on the Paradise Road, followed by the Cosmos Peaks emerging to the west. Native beech forest, mountain streams, and scenery that has drawn the interest of the film industry around the world will take you into some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Much of the road is unsealed and you might even have some fords to cross. So make sure your car will not get stuck (our little Totyota did pretty well though). Scheelite Mining Just 3 km from Glenorchy back on the road to Queenstown, you will see a sign for Whakaari, which means “high place”. Like much of the Wakatipu region, Glenorchy was in part settled by miners looking for gold, but the area was also rich in scheelite, an ore that makes tungsten strong. Follow the trail of the “Miners in the Clouds” to the Bonne Jean and Heather Jock, and take in their history while seeing some of the most beautiful views in the world. Popular Walking Tracks Along the road to Glenorchy, as well as in and around town you will find quite a big number of popular walking tracks. Here are the ones you can choose from:
Glenorchy Walkway Allow 1-2 hours. From the waterfront follow the signposts. The boardwalk traverses wetlands just north of the township with great bird life. The walk to the south of town has recently been extended. With beautiful mountain vistas all around, the walkway takes you to the lagoon where black swans, paradise ducks, smaller ducks and pukeko make their home. Thrushes, fantails, tuis and bellbirds flit through the willow lined path and can often be seen. It is a flat and easy 3 km walk and you can also add an additional 2 km northern loop to take you out into the country a little further.
Invincible Gold Mine Allow 2-4 hours return. From the Rees Road 30 min from Glenorchy. Follow a track built by miners in the 1880s with great views of Mount Earnslaw. Remains of water wheel and ore grinding bowls still present.
Lake Rere Allow 4-6 hours loop return. One hour from Glenorchy at the Greenstone carpark. Travel clockwise, over the bridge and through farmland to Elfin Bay. Climb steeply up through Red Beech to Lake Rere. A brief climb will bring you back to the Greenstone trail and loop back to your car.
Lake Sylvan Allow 2 hours return. Though thousands of people walk the Routeburn Track every year, only few know about a beautiful track only 3 km from the start of the Routeburn. It is a relatively flat track that can give you a feel for the same kind of beech forest that you encounter on the Routeburn. So if you do not have enough time to go for the whole Routeburn experience, this one might be a good alternative. The walk takes you through ancient beech forest and you might come across some native robins, riflemen and fantails. The track comes out of the bush at a beautiful lake ringed with mountains where on a summers day you can often see trout leaping. The easy walk gives you the taste of the regions forests and wildlife and the carpark is 30 min from Glenorchy.
Routeburn Track Nature Walk Allow 3-6 hours return. The carpark is located 40 min from Glenorchy. A well graded track that runs through the lower valley beech for a distance before climbing a bove the river to finally reach open flats. Good sites suitable for lunch and offering good views of the upper valley and peaks.
Twelve Mile walking track Allow 1-2 hours one way. Turning left off the Glenorchy Road drop down to the lakeside camping and picnic area used to represent “Ithilien” in the LOTR movies. A walking track runs off the western end of the area passing through areas of geological and historical significance through to Bobs Cove.
Mount Crichton walking track Allow 2-4 hours return. A well benched loop track passing through mountain beech with red beech stands in the gullies and manuka interspresed. Intesively gold mined there are several historic sites including Sam Summers Hut and a rock fissure cut for a sluicing tail race.
Bobs Cove walking track Allow 1-2 hours return to the peninsula. An interesting walk down through a nature reserve and out past historic lime kilns along the lake shore. The full track runs out to a peninsula from where you can link up to Twelve Mile Delta. Te Punatapu was a temporary village used by Maori on the Pounamu Trail to the Dart River.
Whakaari Conservation Area – Mount Judah Track Allow 2-3 hours return. Just past the airstrip on the right is a carpark and road entrance to this historical scheelite mining reserve with a network of huts and tracks. The Glenorchy battery that processed the scheelite ore is a short walk from the carpark above the Bucklerburn. The battery layout is well preserved as well as the Mine Manager’s hut. The Mount Judah state mine is a km further up the trail, the site of a labyrinth of underground tunnels.