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10 Best FREE Things to do in Glenorchy

10 Best FREE Things to do in Glenorchy

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Are you traveling to Glenorchy on a budget, or just want to keep an eye on your spendings to save up for that epic tour? Well, I’ve got you covered.

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. And one of the things I’ve learned is that there are a ton of awesome free things to do here!

So, what exactly are these activities? Well, as you may have guessed, this blog is about them all, so lace up your boots and join me as we hit the road, paradise is waiting!

1. Glenorchy Boardwalk/Walkway

Bailey enjoys the reflections along the Glenorchy Walkway
On a clear day the reflections are out of this world!
  • Distance: 5 kilometers (3.2 miles)
  • Total Time: 1 to 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation: None

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 rated as easy because it’s completely flat. The only thing I suggest? Bring bug spray! The sandflies can be pretty brutal at certain times of the year.

Related Read: If you’re wondering what some of the best things to do in Glenorchy are, regardless of cost, you can find a bunch of them over in my blog!

2. Visit the Glenorchy Foreshore

The famous trees in a line at the Glnenorchy foreshore in Lake Wakatipu
The famous trees in a line at 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 this 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

Bailey hikes along the Routeburn Track in New Zealand
This is a Great Walk worth doing!
Bailey on the Routeburn Track in Mt Aspiring National Park, New Zealand
Climbing up on the Routeburn Track!
  • Distance: 32 kilometers (20 miles), but you don’t have to go the whole way!
  • Total Time: 2-3 days
  • Difficulty: Challenging (especially if you decide to do the entire route)
  • Elevation: Around 1,300 m (4,265 ft) for the whole route

The Routeburn Track is easily one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand (it’s part of what New Zealand calls its “10 Great Walks”). Each of these is famous for its own reasons, however, they all share one quality – a huge diversity of landscapes, flora, and fauna.

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 this guide on day hikes on the Routeburn track that mentions them all!

4. Drive Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

A view taken from a pull over bay on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy
The stunning road from Queenstown to Glenorchy!

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!

Related Read: You can discover all the amazing stops on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road in my blog.

5. Visit Lord of the Rings film locations

A group of people are shown a Lord of the Rings location by their guide on a tour in Glenorchy
On the Lord of the Rings tour I did in Glenorchy!

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

A lady walks along Glenorchy-Paradise Road near where Isengard in LOTR was filmed
This is right near where Isengard was filmed!

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

  • Distance: 6.4 km (4 mi) loop
  • Total Time: 1 hour 40 mins
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation: 101 m (331 ft)

For those looking to get away from the more popular hikes (like the Routeburn), the 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 1 hour and 40 mins 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.

Note: The Lake Sylvan Trail is currently inaccessible due to the removal of the Lake Sylvan bridge. You can find out the latest updates here.

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8. Tackle the Earnslaw Burn Track

Bailey at the river at the end of the Earnslaw Burn Track in Queenstown
A tent set up below Earnslaw Burn Glacier on the Earnslaw Burn Track
Earnslaw Burn Track
  • Distance: 8.3 km (5.2 mi) each way
  • Total Time: 5 to 7 hours
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Elevation: 848 m (2,782 ft)

For those looking for a serious challenge, the Earnslaw Burn Track could just be for you. This grueling hike starts here 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

  • Distance: 5.5 km (3.4 mi)
  • Total Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
  • Elevation: 460 m (1,509 ft)

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.

10. Stargazing

The milky way near Queenstown New Zealand
The Milky Way on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy

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

EcoScapes Glenorchy hotel room with a view
A beautiful room at EcoScapes Glenorchy! Photo credit: EcoScapes 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

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! 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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary playing dress ups on a Lord of the Rings Tour in Glenorchy
Playing dress-up near where Isengard was filmed! 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 hope you have a wonderful time visiting this idyllic town, and do let me know how you get on.

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!

How to Spend 3 Days in Queenstown: A Detailed Itinerary (by a local!)

40 Best Hikes on the South Island of New Zealand

24 Best Things to do in Queenstown When it’s Raining

Richard Thompson

Saturday 23rd of September 2023

Thanks Bailey in NZ for a month in November, info has been most helpful in planning and making the most of our time there.


Wednesday 27th of September 2023

Hey Richard!

That's amazing to hear! Makes this all worth it!

Thanks Bailey

Brett Bond

Wednesday 4th of January 2023

Hi Bailey, Thanks for all the info. I've got a few days to time to kill before flying back to Sydney so this has been really helpful. Cheers


Sunday 8th of January 2023

Hey Brett,

So glad to hear. Enjoy your trip!

Thanks Bailey