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Glenorchy is a cute town just 40 minutes from Queenstown. One of the best things to do in Glenorchy is, of course, to explore the beautiful Glenorchy Walkway! This takes you to the Glenorchy Lagoon, or what is commonly referred to as Mirror Lakes. This is one of my favorite day trips from Queenstown because the views are stunning, to say the least.
Not only is the Glenorchy Walkway scenic, but it’s also really easy, accessible all year round, has tons of birdlife, and takes you to a Lord of the Rings filming location! That’s right, the Glenorchy Walkway is an epic hike not too far from Queenstown that’s well worth checking out. I also love that it’s a free activity in Glenorchy– it doesn’t get much better than that!
But if you want to hike the Glenorchy Walkway for yourself there are a few things you should know before you lace up your shoes and leave. In this blog, I’ll tell you all about exploring the Glenorchy Walkway and the Glenorchy Lagoon Boardwalk.
Don’t have time to read the full article? The Glenorchy Walkway is one of my top easy hikes near Queenstown. It will take you about an hour to complete and takes off right in town, plus the reflective views are my absolute favorite! If you don’t have a rental car, consider taking a tour to Glenorchy from Queenstown.
Glenorchy Walkway Overview
Distance: 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) return
Elevation gain: 0 (this track is flat – yay!)
Time needed: 1-2 hours
Type of Trail: Loop
The Glenorchy Walkway is the easiest of all the hiking trails in Glenorchy (located only a short drive from Queenstown). It starts at the main jetty (dock) in Glenorchy town and takes you along Lake Wakatipu’s foreshore until you reach the Glenorchy Lagoon. Here is where you’ll be able to explore the lagoon on various boardwalks as you loop back around to the beginning again.
The Glenorchy Lagoon is also commonly referred to as Mirror Lakes because of how calm the water is. That combined with the many birds around makes for some beautiful photo opportunities!
Oh, and did I mention that they used this location for filming in the Lord of the Rings?! The Dead Marshes were created in a studio in Wellington, and landscape shots were taken near Te Anau. However, the shots of Gollum leading Frodo and Sam through the marshes were filmed here!
So, whether you’re looking for a LOTR film location or just one really beautiful walk, the Glenorchy Walkway is somewhere you’ll definitely want to check out!
Glenorchy Walkway FAQs
What to Pack
Bug repellent – The Glenorchy Walkway takes you to Glenorchy Lagoon which is famous for having sandflies. These little guys bite and leave an itchy mark (somewhat like a mosquito). Use bug repellent or cover-up to avoid this.
Walking shoes – You don’t need any heavy-duty hiking boots for this walk. In fact, you could probably do it in sandals without a problem. Just do beware that in parts it can be very muddy (especially in spring).
Sun protection – There isn’t much shade along this walkway. Sunscreen and a hat will come in handy on sunny days.
Water – Although an easy walking trail, there is nowhere to fill or get drinking water. So, bring your own and be prepared for a hot day (especially in the summer months!).
Related Read: If you’re looking for more hiking options, check out my full guide to the 9 best hikes in Glenorchy!
Getting to Glenorchy
The first step to hiking the Glenorchy Walkway is getting to the town of Glenorchy where the trail is located. From Queenstown, Glenorchy is located 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) away, or about a 40-minute drive.
The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is absolutely stunning, and in my opinion, it’s easily one of the best things to do in the area. There are viewpoints and other trails along this road too like Moke Lake or Bob’s Cove Track, and you could easily spend a few hours stopping along the way.
I recommend taking an entire day to drive to Glenorchy, stop lots along the way, and then hike the Glenorchy Walkway before returning to Queenstown.
Alternatively, you can actually stay in Glenorchy. It is much smaller than Queenstown and therefore more relaxing. However, there are lots of fun things to do in Glenorchy and even some great places to stay. It isn’t a bad idea to spend a night or two here to check out the Glenorchy Walkway, Paradise, and maybe even day hike the Routeburn Track.
It’s also important to note that the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy is notorious for road closures and accidents in bad weather. Take it slow and carefully. Also, watch for road conditions, and don’t drive in the snow!
Tour Option: If you don’t have a vehicle, you can visit Glenorchy on a guided tour. No busses run from Queenstown to Glenorchy, and you simply can’t miss visiting one of my favorite small towns! I love this tour because you get to explore the beauty of the drive by stopping for scenic photos, as well as viewpoints at Bennet’s Bluff, and eventually, you’ll make it to the Glenorchy Wharf. While you won’t have time to complete the entire walk, you can see just how beautiful it is here.
This tour takes you beyond Glenorchy to explore Paradise and LOTR film locations. So this is a great taste of Glenorchy, next time you can take on the Glenorchy Walkway now that you know where it is! You can check the details and book this tour in advance here.
The Glenorchy Walkway Trailhead and Parking
Conveniently, the Glenorchy Walkway starts right at a large parking lot, the Glenorchy Waterfront Car Park. It’s located right in the town of Glenorchy and is a place you’ll want to check out anyway.
Here, you can explore the waterfront including the Glenorchy Warf with some incredible views of the Humbolt Mountains and Kinloch Valley across Lake Wakatipu. There is also the historic Glenorchy Railway Shed that was once a steamship depot, receiving and dispatching goods to steamships in the area. Today, it contains information about the shed and Glenorchy – it’s like a tiny museum!
After you’re done checking out the lakefront, head to your right (if you’re facing the lake) to find the Glenorchy Walkway trail. It is the only trail in the area so you can’t miss it!
Parking is free and there is lots of it, so getting a space shouldn’t be a problem.
Lake Wakatipu and Rees River
The first portion of the trail takes you along the edge of Lake Wakatipu where it connects with the Rees River. You’ll walk next to the river for a short while before the trail takes you inland past a golf course.
This portion of the trail is a nice and easy stroll. The trail is flat and well maintained. Although the views of the lake and river are nice, this isn’t the highlight of the trail and you must keep going to reach the lagoon.
Glenorchy Lagoon Boardwalk
Once past the golf course, you’ll reach the Glenorchy Lagoon and boardwalk. The boardwalk allows you to explore the lagoon without getting your feet wet which is great! The boardwalk loops all the way around the lagoon with a shortcut through the middle. There are also viewpoints with benches and areas to hang out. It’s really a gorgeous place to explore.
I recommend walking to the far side of the lagoon. From here you’ll have views of the Humbolt Mountains in the distance. On a calm day, the mountains reflect perfectly in the lagoon (hence the nickname Mirror Lake Boardwalk).
If you have time, I would find a bench and sit for a while. In the stillness, you’re more likely to see birds. The Glenorchy Walkway is not generally very busy, and oftentimes you’ll have the entire boardwalk area to yourself!
Related Read: The Glenorchy Walkway is one of the best free activities you can do with kids in Queenstown!
Parking on Glenorchy-Paradise Road
The Glenorchy Walkway Boardwalk is actually located right next to Glenorchy-Paradise Road. Many people cut the walk short by just parking on this road and walking about 50 meters (150 feet) or so directly to the lagoon and boardwalk.
I have to admit, I’ve done this once before myself. It was a super calm day and I wanted to photograph the lagoon reflections without having to walk the entire trail.
With that said the Department of Conservation does not recommend doing this. There is no proper parking lot or pull-over bay on Glenorchy-Paradise Road and that has made it a high-collision location.
So, maybe think twice before doing this. Instead, park in the proper parking lot and complete the entire Glenorchy Walkway trail – it’s a beautiful hike!
Other Things to do in Glenorchy
The Glenorchy Walkway is a rather short activity, so I wanted to outline some other things you can do in Glenorchy to make the most of your time! Many of these activities are part of a Queenstown to Glenorchy day tour, which makes it a convenient way to explore if you don’t have a rental car!
Glenorchy Animal Experience
Perhaps the most authentic Kiwi thing to do is visit the Glenorchy Animal Experience! This is a fully functional farm that doubles as a petting zoo. I know what you’re thinking, “a petting zoo?” but I can honestly say it’s fun for any age! You can pet and interact with so many animals, such as sheep, lambs, mini horses, pigs, llamas, goats, donkeys– pretty much any farm animal you can think of.
It’s also unique because you’re supporting a local business, and you can see how important farming is to New Zealand’s culture. It’s a great activity if you’re visiting Queenstown with kids, and thankfully it’s a rather cheap activity too! Tickets for adults are only $25 NZD and for kiddos just $15 NZD. You’ll need at least 1 hour here if not more!
Lord of the Rings tour
As I mentioned before, Lord of the Rings fans will love Glenorchy, as it was the spot for a few significant film locations. I took a half-day Lord of the Rings tour, I was even more impressed than when I visited Hobbiton because it’s less touristy. We spent a few hours stopping at Twelve Mile Delta, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Isengard Lookout to see the movie spots, as well as other beautiful viewpoints around Glenorchy! It was a great way to experience Glenorchy– you can book the same tour I took for $189 NZD.
Dart River Speed Boat
If you’re looking to get a little adventurous in Glenorchy, try the Dart River speedboat tour! The Dart River is a gorgeous glacier-fed river that winds into Mt. Aspiring National Park, so you can imagine how scenic a 4-hour boat tour is. Plus, riding on a jet boat is a thrilling activity that can actually be done any time of the year in New Zealand. They pick up a lot of speed and do crazy turns and tricks– it made my stomach drop!
While there are many adventure activities in Queenstown, this jet boat ride in Glenorchy is one of my favorites. A 4-hour tour is $321 NZD per person. You can check the departure times and book in advance here!
Photography tour of Glenorchy
What better way to experience the Glenorchy Walkway and Mirror Lakes than on a photography tour in Glenorchy? This place is wildly scenic, how can you not whip out your DSLR and photograph it!? This 5-hour tour is led by a local photographer, so not only do they know the best spots, but they also are here to share their tips and tricks for photography. It is a great option for any skill level, whether you’re brand new or want a refresher.
You do need to have your own camera, but they provide transportation and 5 hours of lessons/sightseeing! You can reserve this photography tour in Glenorchy for $380 NZD.
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!
Essential Info to Remember
- Try to visit the Glenorchy Walkway on a calm day without any wind. This way you can see the lagoon reflections.
- Bring bug repellent as sandflies can be around.
- Don’t park on Paradise-Glenorchy Road to access the lagoon. Instead, park at the allocated parking lot in town and walk the trail.
- If you’re coming all the way to Glenorchy, pair your trip to the Glenorchy Boardwalk with other cool attractions nearby
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!
Overall, the Glenorchy Walkway is one of the best easy hikes around Queenstown. It’s short, offers stunning mountain reflections, and is different than other hikes in the area with a boardwalk through a lagoon! Not to mention, it’s one of the few free things you can do in Glenorchy – bonus!
If there is anything I didn’t already answer in this blog, comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Be sure to also check out all of my other blogs about hikes around Queenstown or hikes around the South Island for some more inspiration! Here are some other specific blogs to give you more inspiration for exploring the Glenorchy area.