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Getting away from the busy streets of Queenstown to find some peace and quiet is something I love doing. Let’s face it, I moved out here for the surrounding landscapes and Queenstown’s vibrant town center was just a bonus. There are lots of awesome places to visit to escape the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, however, my favorite is without a doubt Glenorchy.
This tiny (and I mean tiny) town of just over 200 people lies on the doorstep of the Southern Alps. With no other towns or cities connecting with it other than Queenstown, there’s only one way in and one way out – the scenic Queenstown-Glenorchy Road! This has kept Glenorchy small and free from large developments that would only ruin its pristine environment. To put it simply, Glenorchy is in Paradise (you’ll get that pun later on!)
As with any place located in a remote mountain setting, there plenty of amazing things to do in Glenorchy. The best part? You’ll get to do them without the crowds!
Unlike the most popular hikes in Queenstown such as Ben Lomond Track and even Queenstown Hill, the trails in Glenorchy remain far less crowded. Even tours and activities are much less busy, and sometimes you can feel as though you have the place to yourself!
As a must-visit destination in New Zealand, I’ve written this blog to share the 17 best things to do in Glenorchy. This way, you too can enjoy this magical place near Queenstown and fall in love just as I have!
Getting to Glenorchy
The easiest way to explore Glenorchy is in a car. If you don’t already have your own wheels, you can rent a vehicle in Queenstown. Prices range but you can find great deals that won’t cost you more than $50 for the day. Then, you can easily explore the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy too!
If you don’t want to drive then your only other option is a guided tour. There are a range of half-day and full-day tours from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Some are purely scenic tours and others visit LOTR locations too.
17 Fun Things to do in Glenorchy
1. Hike the Routeburn Track
Just outside of Glenorchy begins one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, the Routeburn Track. This 32-kilometer (20 miles) trail travels through the Southern Alps finishing on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. It’s breathtaking and one of the best hikes you can do in Glenorchy and on the South Island in general.
Although hiking the full trail involves lots of planning (as well as booking in advance) you can easily hike parts of the Routeburn Track in a day on a trip to Glenorchy. Some of the shortest day hiking options are less than 10 kilometers return taking you through a moss-filled forest, up the Dart River, and to a stunning waterfall.
Even on a day hike, you’ll get to see why the trail is so famous. But if you can, hiking the entire Routeburn Track is amazing too! I did the full Routeburn Track over 3 days hiking all way to one side and then back again (I didn’t want to organize a shuttle from the other side back to Queenstown.) It was an amazing adventure and the best part was that I got to see the trail twice (although I was so tired by the end!)
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s most famous hikes, so hiking some or all of the trail is easily one of the best things to do in Glenorchy!
Interesting fact: Milford Sound is actually just on the other side of the mountains from Glenorchy, yet visitors must travel for 3.5 hours from Queenstown around the mountains to get there. There have been calls to build a road to Milford Sound from Glenorchy but the locals are against it (I don’t blame them.) If they did, the journey to Milford Sound would be less than 1.5 hours, but Glenorchy would become a busy tourist hub!
2. Glenorchy Boardwalk
If hiking isn’t really your thing then you simply must hike the Glenorchy Boardwalk. This super easy trail starts from the jetty in Glenorchy and follows a 5 kilometer, completely flat boardwalk to the Glenorchy Lagoon. It’s not really a hike and is more of a nature walk.
As you pass through the Glenorchy Lagoon you’ll get breathtaking views of the Humboldt Mountains and on a calm day, mirror-like reflections. I honestly love this boardwalk and think it’s the most underrated free activity in Glenorchy.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan then you may recognize the lagoon as the Dead Marshes! Although the scene was also filmed in Wellington and Te Anau, the Glenorchy Lagoon was still the main feature. It can be hard to see without the computer animation, but if you use your imagination, you can totally see Frodo, Sam, and Gollum walking through the Dead Marshes here!
3. Visit Lord of the Rings film locations
There are a lot of Lord of the Rings film locations in Glenorchy and even some from the Hobbit Movies. Unfortunately, they aren’t as easy to find as you may think. However, with a little preparation, you can see a few of the most famous ones on your own.
Here are a few (some with pins to their locations) around Glenorchy:
Misty Mountains – The Misty Mountains in LOTR was filmed in the mountains around Glenorchy. In fact, as you drive from Queenstown towards Glenorchy, look into the distance, you’ll see exactly where the fellowship walks through the snow in the Fellowship of the Ring.
Isengard – From the Isengard lookout you can stare out, and with a lot of imagination, picture Isengard in the valley. It’s a hard one to see because of all the animation used in the movie.
Forest of Fangorn – While looking at Isengard, look to your right into the forest. Here sits the Forest of Fangorn!
Ithilien Camp – Last is Ithilien Camp. This one is marked on google maps and there is a small fire pit where Frodo and Sam sat with Gollum and ate the rabbit.
These are just a few and there are a lot of smaller scenes filmed in the area. Honestly, if you’re a true LOTR fan you need to do this organized tour. It includes a visit to all the film locations above and lots more as well as a scenic tour around Glenorchy and Paradise. I’ve personally done it and had so much fun (as you can see from the picture above!)
4. Get a coffee at Mrs Woollys General Store or The Trading Post
There aren’t many places in Glenorchy to eat. A town of 200 doesn’t need much, but, there are two excellent cafes. The first is The Trading Post which is located near the jetty on Lake Wakatipu. Here you can get a range of snacks and drinks including good coffee.
The other is Mrs Wolly’s General Store. This is actually my go-to place. Although a little more touristic, the coffee’s good and the New Zealand meat pies are even better! I always stop here to pick up one of their famous pies (my favorite is the salmon pie) and a cup of coffee before exploring the area. They also sell lots of souvenirs, and the best part is, they have a different selection to the shops in Queenstown (that begin to look the same after a while.) Plus, since it’s something to do indoors, it’s perfect for escaping any bad weather or the cold in winter months.
This is only a short stop but one I recommend making in Glenorchy!
5. Go skydiving with Skydive Southern Alps
Skydiving over the mountains has to be one of the most amazing experiences in Queenstown and Glenorchy you can have. Not only will you get the adrenaline rush of a lifetime but you’ll also get to enjoy some pretty spectacular views. It’s basically a scenic flight and skydive in one!
There are two skydiving companies that offer jumps in Queenstown, however, what most people don’t know is that Skydive Southern Alps (one of the two) actually does their jumps in Glenorchy.
On their tour, you’ll drive out to Glenorchy (or organize to meet them there) before climbing to altitude and falling back down to earth. As your parachute opens you can enjoy the views as you slowly come into land.
I’ve been skydiving twice now but never in Queenstown. I would absolutely love to go and will do one day!
Related read: Skydiving is one of the top adventure activities in Queenstown, find out what else you can do to get that adrenaline flowing!
6. Jet boating
You can go jet boating all around Queenstown, however, no tour in Queenstown is as unique as the jet boating tour run by Wilderness Jet out in Glenorchy. You might be wondering why?
Well, Wilderness Jet’s experience isn’t just about jet boating. In fact, halfway through the tour you’ll get out of the boat and take a walk around an area very few get to see while your guide talks about the region’s history and unique flora and fauna.
But aside from the fact the tour includes a guided walk, you’re also going to zoom down the stunning Dart River in a beautiful region called Paradise. Yep that’s right, there’s a region outside Glenorchy that’s literally called Paradise (get my pun in the intro now?)
Wilderness Jet is the only company allowed to operate in the river and honestly, it’s the most beautiful place to go jet boating around Queenstown (the most thrilling would be Shotover Jet in Shotover Canyon.)
7. Explore Paradise
Heard the saying “paradise on earth”? Well it exists! And the best part is it’s only a short drive from Glenorchy!
Paradise is a small region in Otago that lies on the eastern side of the Dart River. Paradise is home to most of the LOTR locations I’ve mentioned above and is easily one of the most popular places to explore while in Glenorchy.
The Glenorchy-Paradise Road is a 13 kilometer stretch of gravel road every visitor to Glenorchy should explore. Along the way, well you guessed it, you’ll get to see what paradise on earth looks like. Stop as you please and enjoy all the breathtaking views. Oh, and be sure to get a photo with the Paradise sign!
8. Hike to Lake Sylvan
Lake Sylvan is one of the most peaceful places in Glenorchy. This small lake is located near the beginning of the Routeburn Track and is accessed just off of Routeburn Road at the Lake Sylvan parking lot.
At the parking lot, you’ll find the Lake Sylvan campground, a DOC run campground that sits on the Routeburn River. It’s a great place to stay for those in campervans and it’s cheap! Just past the campsite, the trail to the lake begins.
Start by crossing the suspension bridge over the river and continue on for around 45 minutes until you reach the lake. From here you can choose to do a loop track or even hike on further before turning back. The trail is almost completely flat and usually uncrowded.
If you simply head to the lake’s viewpoint you only need 2 hours to complete the trail. It’s a well worthwhile adventure for those who like to get off the beaten path!
9. Spend the night at Kinloch Campsite
The most beautiful campsite near Glenorchy is Kinloch Campsite. This small campsite has only 15 non-powered/tent sites and is owned by the DOC but run by the Kinloch Lodge (a beautiful lodge for luxury travelers.)
The campsite sits on the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu from Glenorchy and is right on the edge of the lake. From the campsite, you can stare out at the mountains around the lake and enjoy one spectacular place to stay in Glenorchy! It’s quiet and tranquil, making it a must-visit for those who also like to escape the crowds.
The campsite operates on a first come first serve basis and costs $15 NZD per night for adults and $7.50 for children with under 5’s staying for free.
If you’re looking for a quiet place to lay your head for a night or maybe more, Kinloch Campsite is a top choice.
10. Hike Diamond Creek Track
On any Glenorchy day trip itinerary, you don’t want every activity to take hours. Luckily, there are some really short hiking trails you can do and one of the best is the hike to Lake Reid via the Diamond Creek Track.
So what’s “short”? Well how about a 35 minutes hike each way!
From the trailhead on Routeburn Road just after the bridge that crosses the Ress River, it takes only 35 minutes to reach Lake Reid at a steady pace. The trail follows Diamond Creek which is a popular trout fishing spot in the area.
At the end of the trail you can enjoy the views of the lake, the Dart Valley, and Paradise! It’s short, but beautiful!
11. Glenorchy Animal Experience
If you’re traveling with kids (or not) then the Glenorchy Animal Experience is one of the best activities you can do in Glenorchy! The tour involves walking around a small New Zealand farm to see the animals. Although a real farm, the animals are no longer farm animals but more like pets. The entrance fee is $20 for adults and $10 for children
It’s a self-guided tour and starts with some info on the rules on the farm and what animals you cannot feed. Then you can walk at your own pace and say hello to New Zealand sheep, lambs, horses, ducks, chickens, pigs, and of course friendly farm dogs.
I honestly love this short tour, and despite being perfect for children, it’s also fun for adults!
Related read: For more ideas of family-friendly activities, check out my blog about the best activities for kids in Queenstown!
12. Explore the Glenorchy Jetty and Railway Shed
The first place I always go when I get to Glenorchy is the jetty. From the jetty, you can join the Glenorchy Boardwalk and it’s also a great place to park that’s walking distance from shops and cafes.
If it’s your first visit, be sure to get out and walk to the end of the jetty. It provides a great vantage point to enjoy the mountain views and get some photos.
Another place to check out is the Railway Shed which was used many years ago in Glenorchy. On the inside, you can read some plaques about the history of the area and more.
Last, is a unique attraction that sits in the shallow waters of Lake Wakatipu. The famous “trees in a line” are located just in front of the Railway Shed and are a pretty cool sight to see and photograph. I’m still not sure how the trees grew in the water in a perfect line. Did someone plant them like that!?
13. Horseback riding through Paradise
Unfortunately, I’m not the person to be talking to about this activity as I’m deathly allergic to horses! But I wanted to include it in my best things to do in Glenorchy so horse lovers out there don’t miss out.
There are a few companies that offer horseback riding tours in Glenorchy including Dart Stables, Paradise Livery Stables, and High Country Horses.
The most popular based on reviews is High Country Horses. They offer a huge range of tours including half-day, full-day, and overnight tours as well as multi-day camps and training sessions. Honestly, if you love horses then this is one tour in Glenorchy you’ll want to do!
Once again, I’m sorry I can’t offer more… annoying allergies!
14. Invincible Gold Mine Track
Around Queenstown, gold mining used to be the most prominent industry. You can see this on trails such as the Mt Crichton Loop Track and with the fact that Queenstown was once called “The Camp” (because it was a gold mining camp.)
Miners searched far and wide for gold, and in a small mine just north of Glenorchy, some miners struck gold (quite literally!)
This mine is now accessible by the Invincible Gold Mine Track. This trail 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 remanence of the areas gold mining past including old machinery. Keep an eye on the ground, you never know what you may find!
The trail also offers stunning views of the Rees Valley so it’s both an historical walk and viewpoint trail. In fact, I’d say I like the views more!
15. Hike Earnslaw Burn Track
The last hike on this list of things to do in Glenorchy is a good one. Best suited to those who consider themselves hikers, Earnslaw Burn Track is an epic overnight hike or grueling day hike.
The trail starts on Lovers Leap Road just off Glenorchy-Paradise Road and leads through the backcountry until you reach Mt Earnslaw and its famous hanging glacier.
One way the hike takes around 5 to 7 hours depending on the size of your pack and pace. The Earnslaw Burn Track is rated as medium to hard, so this definitely isn’t a walk in the park. Personally, I recommended camping one night on the trail. With epic views of the mountains and the track’s quiet nature, this is one adventure avid hikers shouldn’t miss in New Zealand.
Hiking the trail requires some planning so check out this guide to the track for more info.
16. See lupins around Glenorchy
Lupin season is one of my favorite times to road trip around New Zealand’s South Island. From mid-November until early January the lupins on the South Island bloom in an array of colors along highways and lakes.
In Glenorchy, there are lots of places to see lupins with some of the most breathtaking being the Glenorchy wharf, Little Stoney Creek Campsite, and on the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy. With that said, just drive around and I’m sure you’ll find lots of places filled with lupins as they change every year.
One of the reasons why is because lupins are actually a weed in New Zealand and they are sprayed to stop them from spreading. Because of this, each year some lupin patches do disappear. Although a pest, they make for some pretty spectacular photos and some people even plan their trip to NZ around lupin season!
17. Enjoy a scenic flight
If you’re not game to go skydiving then there is only one other way to get a birds-eye view of the stunning landscapes around Glenorchy. On a scenic flight, you can cruise high above the valleys, mountains, and rivers taking in more views than your eyes can handle. It’s a beautiful, fun, and even romantic activity that anybody can do not far from Queenstown!
There are a few companies that offer flights in Glenorchy. Glenorchy Air and Heli Glenorchy both offer scenic flights. Heli Glenorchy specializes in helicopter flights and they offer a huge range of experiences including one to Mt Earnslaw.
Glenorchy Air, on the other hand, offers scenic flights in small planes. They also have a large range of flight options including flights to Milford Sound, Mt Earnslaw, and Mount Cook.
When choosing between a plane and helicopter it’s impossible to say which is better. Scenic flights in planes are cheaper and you generally see more, but in a helicopter, you certainly get closer to the action!
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. Its the perfect place to take a break and unwind. The best places to stay are:
Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat – This place has it all! It’s a holiday park and has motorhome sites all the way up to luxury accommodation. The hotel focuses on being environmentally conscious which I love.
Kinloch Wilderness Retreat – Kinloch Retreat is located a short drive out of Glenorchy in an even quieter location on the other side of Lake Wakatipu. Next to Kinloch Retreat is a DOC-owned (but operated by the retreat) campground with non-powered sites for $15 per person per night. Of course, if you want some luxury stay at the retreat where they have dorm beds and luxury rooms.
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. They also include a superb breakfast.
There are a few other places to stay in Glenorchy that you can check out on Booking.com. Otherwise, check out some great holiday home rentals in the area.
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 book 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.
- 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! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for Reading!
Glenorchy is paradise, and the best part is that Paradise is only a short drive away. With so much to see and do in Glenorchy, it’s no wonder it’s seen as one of the most amazing places to visit in New Zealand. To me, it’s a break from Queenstown’s busy atmosphere and a place to clear my head and refresh – a must-visit place on any Queenstown itinerary if you ask me!
Thanks so much for reading my guide on the best things to do in Glenorchy! If you found this guide helpful then stay awhile and browse around. This blog is dedicated to providing the most up to date information and tips on everything Queenstown and lots of other amazing places to visit on the South Island!