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Glenorchy is a small town with a huge backyard. As a Queenstown local, I’m always taking off for the day or on overnight trips to Glenorchy to get out of the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. In fact, visiting Glenorchy is one of the best things to do in Queenstown. But the best part? There are a ton of awesome free things to do in Glenorchy!
Yep, you heard that right, almost all of the activities in Glenorchy cost nothing at all. With Queenstown being such an expensive place, it gives the wallet a well-deserved break.
But what are the best free things to do in Glenorchy? Well, as you may have guessed this blog is about them all, so lace up your boots and hit the road, paradise is waiting!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Here’s a list of my absolute favorite free things to do in Glenorchy:
- Follow the Glenorchy Boardwalk to spot wildlife and take in scenic views of the Humboldt Mountain.
- Spend 2-3 days on the Routeburn Track, one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand’s South Island.
- Visit the Lord of the Rings film locations around Glenorchy.
- Drive the Glenorchy-Paradise Road to see the New Zealand town called “Paradise.”
- Go stargazing – with a population of 200 people, there’s almost no light pollution here so you can see lots of stars!
1. Glenorchy Boardwalk/Walkway
The Glenorchy Boardwalk is easily one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy. Starting from the famous Glenorchy Railway Shed the hike follows the edge of the lake before cutting into the Glenorchy Lagoon.
From the lagoon, the boardwalk navigates the swamp-like area all while giving visitors breathtaking views of the Humboldt Mountains. There’s lots of birdlife to see on the trail so it’s recommended to take it slow. The best time to hike the trail is on a calm day when you get perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains.
The Glenorchy Boardwalk is a 5-kilometer (3.2 miles) loop track and is rated as easy because it’s completely flat. The only thing I suggest? Bring bug spray! The sandflies can be brutal at certain times of the year!
2. Visit the Glenorchy Foreshore
The one thing I do every time I go to Glenorchy is visit the Glenorchy foreshore. This is where the Glenorchy Walkway starts from but is also where you get the most magnificent views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains.
At the foreshore, there is a large parking lot. Here, be sure to take a stroll to check out the jetty and the famous Railway Shed (aka Glenorchy Steamship Depot.) Inside the shed, you’ll find some information about Glenorchy, and it also makes for some beautiful photos with the mountain backdrop.
Another cool attraction is the famous “trees in a line” (pictured above.) I’m still not sure how they got there, but they’re pretty cool!
Although only a quick stop, visiting the Glenorchy foreshore and jetty is one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy!
3. Hike the Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is easily one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand’s South Island. It’s part of what New Zealand calls its “10 Great Walks”. Each of these are famous for their own reasons, however, they all share one quality – a huge diversity of landscapes, flora, and fauna! The Routeburn Track easily claims its spot as one of the top activities in New Zealand.
The Routeburn Track is one of the best (top 3 if you ask me) and one end of the trail begins just outside Glenorchy at the Routeburn Shelter. From here, you can hike the 32-kilometer (20 miles) trail all the way to the other side of Fiordland National Park. This usually takes between 2 and 3 days.
While not free, if your main priority in coming to Glenorchy is to hike Routeburn then you might want to consider booking a full-day tour if you are coming from Queenstown.
This Routeburn Track Guided Hike will let you hike a beautiful portion of the trail, 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) in total, over the span of the whole day at a moderate pace. If you consider you won’t need to pay for a rental car and gas, worry about driving, and have a local guide at your disposal, the $340 NZD for this tour kinda even itself out a bit.
However, if you don’t want to hike the entire trail you can actually do a range of day hikes from Glenorchy, some taking only a few hours. There are a lot of different itineraries, and I actually have a guide on day hikes on the Routeburn track that mentions them all!
4. Drive Glenorchy-Queenstown Road
This may seem weird, but one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy is getting there!
The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy, conveniently called Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, is utterly breathtaking! Along the way, you can stop at lots of viewpoints and attractions such as Moke Lake and hikes such as Bob’s Cove Track and Mt Crichton Loop.
Although only a 46-kilometer (29 miles) drive that takes around 45 minutes, if you plan on stopping and enjoying even just a few of the best stops on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, you’ll need to allow a few hours. Of course, this will eat into your time in Glenorchy, but honestly, it’s so worth it!
5. Visit Lord of the Rings film locations
Lord of the Rings fans will love touring Glenorchy. Just outside of town, many of the most famous scenes from the movies were filmed. Peter Jackson loved this area and after visiting it’s not hard to see why.
However, finding the locations can be hard. With all the effects used in the movies, you do need to use your imagination and know exactly where to look. For instance, if you plan on doing the Glenorchy Walkway then you’re going to pass through the Dead Marshes. Although not entirely filmed here, they were used for some scenes.
Other places you can find include:
Isengard – Finding Isengard is actually very easy. A viewpoint to the film location is actually marked on Google Maps. Just bring your imagination as you won’t find one of the Twin Towers there!
Misty Mountains – The Misty Mountains are actually just the Southern Alps, however, a few scenes were filmed behind Glenorchy in the surrounding mountains. As you make your way to Glenorchy, look into the horizon, they sit behind Glenorchy in the distance.
Forest of Fangorn – As you stare into Isengard, look to your right. There sits the Forest of Fangorn, home of the Ents!
Ithilien Camp – Ithilien Camp isn’t actually in Glenorchy. Instead, you’ll need to stop there on your way to Glenorchy at Twelve Mile Delta Campground. Its location is marked on Google Maps and there is a fire pit where Frodo and Sam cooked their rabbit!
Of course, if you want to see more locations that are much harder to find, the best thing you can do is join a Glenorchy LOTR Tour. I personally did this one (pictured above) and loved it. The best part is though, it’s not just a LOTR tour but is actually a scenic tour too!
6. Drive through Paradise
Yes, there is a place in New Zealand called “Paradise” and it’s only a short drive from Glenorchy! Crazy, I know!
The best part is though, Paradise got its name for the simple fact that it’s paradise on earth! This stunning area sits on the border of both Fiordland National Park and Mt Aspiring National Park, and with no highways leading further, it’s the end of the road.
Because of this, the region has remained extremely remote but stunningly beautiful. To the lucky few people who call this region home, it’s pure paradise.
The best way to explore Paradise is to drive Glenorchy-Paradise Road. This 13-kilometer (8 miles) one-way stretch of gravel road leads to nowhere but that’s kind of the point. Stop along the way and get out and look around – you’re in Paradise!
7. Hike to Lake Sylvan
For those looking to get away from the more popular hikes (like the Routeburn), Lake Sylvan Trail is a great option. The trailhead is located just outside Glenorchy near the beginning of the Routeburn Track.
At the parking lot, the trail crosses a suspension bridge and then continues along a well-maintained path for 45 minutes until you reach Lake Sylvan. Here you can visit a small viewpoint of the lake and enjoy some pretty spectacular views, and even reflections on a calm day.
To get to the lake and back takes around 2 hours to complete at a steady pace. If you want to do a little more hiking you can hike the Sylvan Lake Loop at the end of the trail. This short loop doesn’t follow the edge of the lake though, but it does eventually link back up with the original path back to the parking lot.
8. Tackle the Earnslaw Burn Track
For those looking for a serious challenge, the Earnslaw Burn Track could just be for you. This grueling hike starts on Lovers Leap Road just off Glenorchy-Paradise Road and climbs through the mountains until you reach Mt Earnslaw and its famous hanging glacier.
One way, the trail takes between 5 to 7 hours depending on your pace and what you’re carrying. You can hike the trail in one day, and without a large pack, you should be able to make it there and back in under 10 hours.
However, what I love most about this trail is the fact you can turn it into an overnight adventure. So, pack your tent and sleeping gear and get hiking. Then set up camp for the night and enjoy a backcountry camping experience under the stars and a glacier!
Because the trail is so remote and not hiked by many people it can be dangerous. In some sections, the trail can be hard to find especially after heavy rain. Instead, only go during the summer season and not right after heavy rain. Also, bring an emergency locater with you just in case (you can rent these from the DOC in Queenstown.)
9. Invincible Gold Mine Track
The Otago region (where Glenorchy and Queenstown are) was once home to one of New Zealand’s largest gold rushes. If you hike trails near Queenstown such as Mt Crichton Loop this isn’t hard to see. However, even Glenorchy has its own historic trails that have you stepping back in time to the gold rush days.
The Invincible Gold Mine Track starts just outside Glenorchy on Rees Valley Road and takes around 2 to 3 hours to complete at a steady pace. Along the way, you can see lots of remnants of the area’s gold mining past including old machinery.
The trail is not flat by any means and does climb a considerable amount, however, that climb takes you to clearings where you get magnificent views of the Rees Valley. Despite being labeled a historic walk, this is more of a viewpoint trail to me.
The stars around Glenorchy are out of this world. With such a small town of only 200 people, there is almost no light pollution! This means you can view the stars with the naked eye and if you have an SLR you can capture magnificent photos of the Milky Way (like I did.)
The best places to go are the Glenorchy foreshore, anywhere in Paradise, and the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy. The above photo is of the Humboldt Mountains which are the same mountains you see on the Glenorchy Walkway.
That just gave me a great idea! Shoot the stars from the Glenorchy Walkway…next time!
Where to Stay in Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a beautiful place to spend a night or two. Honestly, the atmosphere is so peaceful and nothing like Queenstown. It’s the perfect place to take a break and unwind! That said, the majority of hotels in Glenorchy are for mid-range budgets and above, as there aren’t many super budget-friendly places to stay here (I’d recommend staying in Queenstown for more options on a budget).
The best places to stay in Glenorchy are:
Kinloch Wilderness Retreat – $/$$
The Kinloch Retreat is a fantastic mid-range hotel located a short drive out of Glenorchy in an even quieter location on the other side of Lake Wakatipu. It’s also the most budget-friendly of the options available, with dorm rooms available all the way up to cozy six-bedroom houses.
Next to Kinloch Retreat is a DOC-owned (but operated by the retreat) campground with non-powered sites for $15 NZD per person per night. Of course, if you want something a little more luxurious, stay at the retreat and enjoy access to the kitchen lounge, as well as an on-site restaurant.
A bed in a dorm here at the Kinloch Retreat starts from $65 NZD per night, while you can enjoy a one-night stay in a twin room from $170 NZD per night. With just 19 rooms available, make sure to check availability early and book your stay here to avoid missing out.
The Headwaters Eco Lodge – $$$
This place has it all! The Headwaters Eco Lodge is a holiday park and offers luxury accommodation with stellar views. Not only are breakfast and a 3-course dinner included daily, but as their name suggests, the hotel focuses on being environmentally conscious, which I love. All rooms also enjoy free Wi-Fi, heated floors, and you get free parking with your room.
A one-night stay here at The Headwaters Eco Lodge starts at $790 NZD, and you can check availability and reserve your room online here.
Ecoscapes – $$$
EcoScapes is a luxury hotel with the most amazing views. Each room has a large glass wall, so you don’t miss a single sunset or sunrise if you don’t want to. Family-owned, all room reservations also include a fantastic breakfast, and their cooked meals are highly rated.
With some of the friendliest and helpful staff you could ask for, I’d recommend staying at EcoScapes if you’re looking for plenty of luxury with some of the best views you could ask for.
Rooms here aren’t cheap, starting from $595 NZD per night, but if you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply want to enjoy a seamless stay with extra luxury, it’s one of the best. You can check availability and book online here on Booking.com.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Glenorchy is a nature lovers’ paradise and with so many amazing free things to do in Glenorchy, it’s a must-visit! I personally love this small town and who knows, maybe one day I’ll call it home!
All that’s left now is to pack your day pack and hit the road! It’s time to enjoy the best activities in Glenorchy without spending a cent!
Of course, there are lots of other awesome free things to do in Queenstown too – so be sure to check them all out! Or head over to my Queenstown or New Zealand pages for a wider range of content. I’ve also included some of my most popular guides below!