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It’s no secret that I love Queenstown, but the real reason I moved to New Zealand was for the country’s breathtaking scenery. Since it’s a quick drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, I often find myself heading to this amazing small town to get out of the city and explore some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
Glenorchy only has a few hundred residents, so it’s super peaceful out here. It’s pretty remote and doesn’t have a ton of amenities, though, so I think that it’s a great idea for first-timers to visit with a guide.
I’ve rounded up my favorite Glenorchy tours from Queenstown so that you can experience Glenorchy’s amazing hiking trails, lakes, and even see some Lord of the Rings filming locations. This place is just so beautiful, so you really can’t miss it while you’re visiting Queenstown.
I can’t get enough of this part of New Zealand, so maybe I’ll see you there!
Don’t have time to read the full article? You can’t go wrong with this half-day tour to Glenorchy. Transportation from Queenstown is taken care of so you can enjoy epic views, Lord of the Rings filming spots, and chow down on a lakeside picnic all for under $200 NZD!
- About Glenorchy
- Why book a tour to Glenorchy from Queenstown?
- My Top Choice
- Best tours to Glenorchy from Queenstown
- 1. Premium Glenorchy and Paradise Valley Expedition
- 2. Glenorchy and Paradise Half-Day Explorer
- 3. Lord of the Rings Full-Day Tour by 4WD
- 4. Photography Tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy
- 5. Lord of the Rings Scenic Half-Day Tour to Glenorchy
- 6. Dart River Jet Boat and Wilderness Experience/Funyaks
- 7. Lord of the Rings and Glacier Helicopter Tour
- 8. Paradise Valley Full Day Tour
- Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Where to Stay in Queenstown
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Glenorchy is a tiny town that’s located 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) from Queenstown, but trust me when I say that it feels a world away from the city! It only has around 300-400 residents and there’s so much breathtaking scenery here. I consider myself lucky to live so close to somewhere like this!
If you rent a car in Queenstown, it takes between 45 minutes to an hour to drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. But that’s only if you don’t stop along the way and that would be a shame! There are lots of lakes, beautiful bays, and fantastic hikes along the way, so the drive itself is a great introduction to all of the natural beauty surrounding Glenorchy.
Once you arrive in Glenorchy, there are lots of scenic spots to explore both in and around the town. The town is surrounded by mountains and home to pristine lakes and unique wildlife, so it’s basically a nature lover’s dream.
Glenorchy is also really close to Paradise, a serene and beautiful region which, in my opinion, is very aptly named! It’s home to lots of scenic roads and lovely old buildings that will have you snapping photos non-stop.
And of course, I have to mention the fact that lots of scenes from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were shot in Glenorchy! It’s a must-visit for Tolkien fans, but even if you haven’t seen the movies you probably know that only very unique and dramatic locations were chosen for filming, which gives you an idea of just how incredible Glenorchy’s landscape is.
Why book a tour to Glenorchy from Queenstown?
As you can probably tell by now, I absolutely love Glenorchy and consider it among the best day trips from Queenstown and one of the must-see places on the entire South Island! I always take friends and family who come to visit here and use any excuse to make the trip.
And to be honest, I do think that you get so much more out of a trip to Glenorchy when you’re with someone who knows what they’re doing. The area is pretty remote and some of the best places to explore can be tricky to find, so I think it’s really worth going with a guide.
Tours are always great for taking the stress out of a visit, but it’s especially true when you’re heading somewhere with a really remote and wild landscape.
Plus, taking a tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy means that you don’t need to drive. The road can be tricky to navigate if you haven’t driven it before because there are lots of narrow sections and sharp turns. I won’t lie, it can be a bit of a stressful journey for first-timers! But when you take a tour, you’ll have someone to drive you so that you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the epic views!
My Top Choice
If you’re ready to book right this minute, I love this half day tour because it’s a great introduction to Glenorchy without being too expensive. You get to see some amazing views, visit local secret spots, and stop at Lord of the Rings filming locations! It’s so nice to be driven around by a friendly driver who knows the area, and the Kiwi music playlist in the van is a bonus! It’s a small group tour so it’s a really personal experience and it does such a great job of capturing what makes Glenorchy so special.
It costs $179 NZD and you can go in the morning or the afternoon, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule. It doesn’t include hotel pickup and drop off, but the meeting point is outside Marmolada Cafe, which is super central and offers some really great breakfast food … just saying! To reserve this tour, you can easily book online here and then get ready to fall in love with this tiny South Island town.
Best tours to Glenorchy from Queenstown
1. Premium Glenorchy and Paradise Valley Expedition
This small group tour of Glenorchy and Paradise provides a great snapshot of what life is like in rural New Zealand.
When you visit Lake Wakatipu, which is famed for its unusual shape and bright blue water, you’ll learn all about its significance in Maori culture. It’s so interesting to listen to some of the myths and legends surrounding the lake, and of course, you’ll get to snap lots of amazing pictures.
You’ll also drive along the Glenorchy-Paradise road and see several locations from The Lord of the Rings movies. Some of these can actually be pretty difficult to find on your own, so this is a big bonus for movie buffs.
I think this tour is perfect for families because you also get to stop at the Glenorchy Animal Experience which is a local farm where you can feed the sheep and watch a sheep shearing demonstration. I mean, I really enjoyed this as an adult but it’s extra exciting for kids!
You can choose to do this tour in the morning or the afternoon, so it’s really easy to fit it into your Queenstown itinerary, even if you don’t have long in the city. It costs $194 NZD for adults and $99 NZD for kids. The vehicle has really large windows and a glass roof! Plus as you drive along there’s commentary and storytelling through headsets offered in English, Spanish, or Mandarin.
I think this tour is the perfect introduction to Glenorchy for first-time visitors – especially those traveling with children. You can reserve a place on this half-day tour here and get ready to fill up your phone or camera with amazing pictures!
Related Read: If you are traveling on a budget, check out all the free things to do in Glenorchy!
2. Glenorchy and Paradise Half-Day Explorer
As I mentioned earlier, this is my favorite Glenorchy tour! The tour company that runs it is just so committed to delivering a fantastic experience – I feel like they really do their best to represent Queenstown and its surrounding areas well.
You’ll be picked up from a central meeting point in Queenstown (the Marmolada Cafe) and then one of the first stops on this tour is the Twelve Mile Delta Campsite. This was used as Ithilien Camp in the Lord of the Rings where Sam and Frodo ate a rabbit with Gollum!
You also stop at Bennett’s Bluff viewpoint where you get your first look at Glenorchy, as well as insane views of Lake Wakatipu. Then, you’ll go on a walking tour around Glenorchy including to the iconic red boat shed before driving to Paradise to see even more filming locations. Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (I’m not a big one to be honest!), this is still an awesome road trip because the views are so amazing.
Before you head back to Queenstown, you’ll also enjoy a Kiwi-style morning or afternoon tea in Paradise, right next to Diamond Lake. It will include things like cheese rolls, kiwi fruit (of course), chocolate, and lots of tea and coffee. This was so delicious and the views made it even better! There’s even a chance once you finish your meal to dress up as your favorite Middle-earth character for a few photos. How fun!
I love this tour because it’s so chilled out and doesn’t feel rushed. It’s also a small group tour so it feels friendly and personal, and you’re not stuck in the tour van the whole time. You spend plenty of time exploring outdoors, which is what a trip to Glenorchy is all about!
This tour costs $179 NZD for adults and $99 NZD for under 18s, so I think it’s really good value for money. This tour is not just a convenient way to see Glenorchy, it’s a fantastic day out and an amazing way to experience one of the best places in New Zealand!
3. Lord of the Rings Full-Day Tour by 4WD
Glenorchy and the surrounding area are home to many filming locations from the Lord of the Rings movies. However, a lot of them are difficult to find by yourself, and so much animation was used in the movies that you can even miss them if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
For this reason, if you’re a true LOTR fan you should definitely do this full-day 4WD tour. It will take you to lots of hard-to-reach spots in a 4WD vehicle and the guides even bring costumes so that you can dress up and take photos!
It’s so much fun, and it’s a small group tour with a maximum of six travelers so it feels super personal. It’s a great chance to bond with fellow movie fans!
I did this tour and had an absolute blast. It’s definitely one of the best Glenorchy Lord of the Rings tours as you get to have a blast dressing up, posing with props, and feeling like you’ve stepped right onto a movie set. Plus, you get to have lunch at a restaurant in Glenorchy, which is really nice.
The tour costs $550 NZD. It’s not the cheapest option. but it is a lot of fun, and it’s a really unique opportunity for LOTR fans to go behind the scenes of their favorite films. Having done it myself, I would definitely say it’s worth it if you grew up loving The Lord of the Rings movies!
If the price tag is a little too steep for you, the company also offers a half-day version of the tour for $270 NZD. It lasts for 4.5 hours rather than 9, and lunch isn’t included, but you still get to see plenty of filming locations, so this can be a good way to save some money.
4. Photography Tour from Queenstown to Glenorchy
For budding photographers, this tour is an excellent way to appreciate the incredible beauty of Glenorchy while honing your craft. Glenorchy has appeared in so many famous movies from LOTR to Narnia and X-Men, so of course it’s the perfect place to take some stunning photographs.
The tours are run by a professional photographer, Glen, who also acts as your guide. He’ll teach you all about the art of capturing landscapes and ensure that you take home some amazing photos of Glenorchy’s snow-capped mountains, mysterious forests, and pristine lakes.
This is a private tour, so it’s only for your group which means you get lots of instruction and attention. So for this reason, it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a complete beginner or have been into photography for a while! The tour will be tailored to your ability level so that you can get the most out of it.
You can choose to depart at either 6 am or 2 pm, but personally, I think it’s best to go for the early option so you can take some stunning photos in the morning light.
The tour costs $380 NZD per person and you’ll need to bring your own camera. I think that this is a fantastic way for any photography lover to experience Glenorchy in a totally unique way. You’ll come away with not only some gorgeous images but also new skills and techniques that you can use in the future.
5. Lord of the Rings Scenic Half-Day Tour to Glenorchy
This is another fantastic Lord of the Rings tour, but it’s a half-day experience this time, so it’s ideal if you’re on a budget or are pressed for time.
This tour is great for LOTR fans because you can visit Arcadia Station, a farm estate at the head of Lake Wakatipu. It’s on private land, so this is exclusive access you’ll only get with a tour! Actor Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf, called it “the Middle-earth I had always pictured” and said it was his favorite-ever filming location. He’s been in more than 50 movies, so that’s very high praise indeed!
There’s a picnic near the Glenorchy Wharf where you get to refuel on sweet and savory snacks before visiting several other epic filming locations from the movies. The majestic Dart Valley is up next, which was used for the Isengard Lookout and the tour company also has a special permit to enter and stop at the ancient forest inside Mt Aspiring National Park where tons of movies have been filmed. This was one of the highlights for me!
There will be costumes (and swords!) available, too, so you can have a ton of fun dressing up and taking photos at all of the different places you visit.
The tour costs $189 NZD for adults and $99 NZD for kids, which I think is a pretty good deal especially because some of the places you visit on this tour are quite hard to get to on your own. This half-day tour is easy to book with Viator online!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
6. Dart River Jet Boat and Wilderness Experience/Funyaks
Jet boating is easily one of my favorite things to do in Glenorchy. I mean, what could be more fun than zooming through Paradise along the glacier-fed Dart River? This jet boating tour is the perfect combination of adventure and beautiful views!
The Dart River is renowned for its beautiful light blue color, and it’s surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. So while you’re cruising along the way, it won’t just be the speed of the jet boat that takes your breath away!
As if the beautiful scenery and thrilling twists and turns of the river weren’t enough, you get off the boat partway through the tour to go on a guided walk. I love this because you get to explore a wilderness area that very few people ever get to see.
As someone who loves exploring hard-to-reach places, I think that it’s a really exciting opportunity. You get to learn about the area’s rare and unique flora and fauna and listen to stories about the Indigenous Maori people who have inhabited and traveled through this area.
For me, the Dart River is the most beautiful place to go boating near Queenstown. The company behind this tour is the only one allowed to operate on the river, so you can be sure that you’ll have it all to yourself!
This tour costs $321 NZD per person if you drive yourself to Glenorchy, although sometimes round-trip transport from Queenstown is available for an extra fee. You can check what options are available when you book online.
Or, you can choose this option instead which includes “funyaks”, which are inflatable kayaks. Exploring the river by funyak is so much fun because you can get into lots of inlets and streams that the jet boat can’t reach, so I’d definitely recommend adding this experience if you have time!
7. Lord of the Rings and Glacier Helicopter Tour
A helicopter tour in NZ is always an exciting experience, but for Lord of the Rings fans, this helicopter flight really is next-level! And to be honest, the stunning views make it bucket list worthy even if you’re not a fan of the films.
You’ll be picked up from your Queenstown hotel and head to the heliport where you’ll meet your pilot, Alfie Speight. He actually worked as the main aerial film pilot on the movies, so you’d better believe he’s got some amazing stories to share! You literally get a first-hand insight into what filming the movies was like.
You’ll fly over Mount Aspiring National Park where lots of scenes from the movies were filmed, and you actually get to land on the Clarke Glacier. There’s also a second landing in Skippers Canyon, where the magical flood took place in The Fellowship of the Ring.
And that’s not all! Soaring above famous fictional spots like Isengard, Amon Hen, and the Misty Mountains will leave you in awe. You get to see so much! Plus, the flight only takes 70 minutes, so you get lots of time in the air but at the same time, this tour is still easy to fit into a busy Queenstown itinerary.
The tour costs $1,041 NZD. It’s obviously not cheap, but for true LOTR fans, it’s an epic and unforgettable experience. You can book your tickets online and then get ready to take to the sky!
8. Paradise Valley Full Day Tour
This private full-day tour of Glenorchy ensures that you get your fill of the region’s highlights and has a great mix of some of my favorite activities in this area.
Your first stop is the viewpoint over the Dart Valley, aka the Isengard Lookout from LOTR. The views from here are just stunning, so it’s easy to see why it was chosen for the movies. There’s a quick walk nearby in a beach forest to get to another super photogenic spot above the Dart River. It’s overlooking Mount Aspiring National Park and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
You’ll also have lunch at one of the area’s cute cafes right by the lakeshore. But you don’t just get to admire the lake from a distance! There’s a guided walk along a trail above Diamond Lake to really appreciate the views.
I also like that you get to visit a local farm to see a sheep shearing demonstration and get a glimpse into what rural life is like on the South Island. New Zealand famously has more sheep than people, so you can say you met a few (or an ewe ha!).
The tour also includes a stop at Arcadia Station for epic views over Lake Wakatipu and as you explore the farm, you’ll also get to see filming locations from movies like Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
What I like about this tour is that you get lots of time to explore some of Glenorchy’s most scenic spots and famous filming locations, and it doesn’t feel rushed. Plus, since it’s a private tour you can spend longer at the spots that really captivate you, and you get lots of attention from your guide.
This tour costs $425 NZD per person and can be booked from Monday to Friday. It leaves at 9 am and lasts for about eight hours, so this is a full-day experience. If you’re looking to make some amazing memories with whoever you’re traveling with, booking this private tour is a great way to do it!
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
Once you’re back in Queenstown after exploring Glenorchy, there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many things to do in Queenstown, that it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:
- Take a cruise – Aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise you’re in for a scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown that’s great for any afternoon. This is one of the last coal-fired steamships in the world and you get to watch the crew add coal to the flames to power the vessel as you take in mountain ranges and lush green valleys. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
- Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- See Milford Sound – This day trip to Milford South with a picnic lunch will give you the ultimate ability to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included.
- Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance. It’s not that you won’t find something later on, but that all the really good places go first!
To get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
The first is for budget travelers and that’s Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget privates and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu! It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
If you have a little more money to spend then you should seriously consider Chalet Queenstown. I’m a supporter of smaller hotels because I feel you get better service. Based on recommendations, I stayed at Chalet Queenstown when I first arrived. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!)
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you know the luxury travelers, then you’re going to be spoiled for choice in Queenstown. I’ve personally stayed at the Hilton Resort and Spa on my anniversary and loved it. If you want an even more luxurious stay, look at Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel has the most beautiful spa overlooking the lake and is definitely one of the best hotels in Queenstown.
There are also lots of amazing Airbnbs in Queenstown as well as bach/holiday homes to rent! You can choose between modern homes, central apartments, cozy cabins, and so much more when staying in an Airbnb.
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
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 purchase it as soon as we land in 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!
Well there you have it, all the best Glenorchy tours from Queenstown! This tiny town packs a big punch when it comes to scenery and hidden gems. It’s not often you can see a place where this many famous movies were filmed! It’s an absolute must for Lord of the Rings fans or anyone looking for a neat place to explore close to Queenstown.
For more tips and inspiration for visiting Queenstown, have a look at my other Queenstown blogs. After living here, I have so much to share on what makes this city so special! Let me know if you have any questions and here are a few related reads to get you started: