Destinations: Glenorchy

Just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown, at the north end of Lake Wakatipu, peaceful Glenorchy is like another world. You can still get a good coffee but the tourists are thin on the ground and you pretty much have the scenery to yourself.

This is the stuff New Zealand is famous for — around every corner is a different view of mountains, rivers, and lakes. Sometimes there's the fun of driving through fords — and then you come to Paradise.

I imagined the early settlers were very happy with their environment but the DOC ranger at the start of the Rees Dart track disillusioned me — Paradise is named after the ducks that inhabit the valley.

Tramping in Glenorchy

Serious trampers base themselves at Glenorchy or Kinloch to walk multi-day tramps, but we were happy to do two shorter walks. One of these goes to the remains of the Invincible Mine and is accessed from Rees Valley Road, north of Glenorchy.

Shepherds working for William Rees were the first Europeans to arrive at the head of the lake. This was in 1861 and shortly after this the first gold miners began to appear. One of the places gold was found was at the Richardson Range and, though there is little trace left of the thriving settlements that once called the Rees Valley home, there are some remnants of the mine to discover.

Glenorchy _9

The track begins on the terraces of the Rees River and winds up through beech forest, following the route the miners made in 1880. After about half an hour's walking you come across the remains of a cookhouse hut with rusty billies scattered around.

The higher the track winds, the more stunning the views become. In one direction you look back towards Glenorchy and Kinloch, the other into Mt Aspiring National Park. The mine site itself is reached after a further half hour. The time given to do this walk depends on how much time is spent looking around. We were fascinated by the relics and spent quite a while exploring. We ate our lunch gazing down the Rees Valley towards Mt Earnslaw, with only hawks for company.

Lagoon Walkway

In Glenorchy itself, there is the Lagoon Walkway, a loop track through an area of wetland which starts near the wharf, meandering beside Lagoon Creek amidst willows, flowers, and flax. The views of Mt Earnslaw soon become reflected in areas of water and the track leads onto boardwalks.

The first part of the Lagoon Walkway was built in 1997 but was doubled in size with an extension in 2012. Walkers can do the original loop, the longer circuit, or a figure of eight.

The boardwalks lead between mirror-like pools and in some places there are side tracks with seats for contemplation of the snow-capped peaks. Bird life is prolific with plenty of black swans, paradise ducks, and Canada geese. As the walk loops around, the trail leaves the boardwalks and follows the flood bank back to town. The final section runs at the edge of the golf course. The walk takes between one and two hours.

If walking is not your thing, there are plenty of other activities on offer. Fisher folk can try their luck from the wharf in Glenorchy, or at one of the nearby lakes. Kayaks can be hired or you can go horse-trekking.

If you think the scenery is familiar, maybe you saw it in The Lord of the Rings. Local operators will take Tolkien fans to locations used in the trilogy. Or you can sit in a café – I recommend the one at Kinloch – and just take in the views and the sounds of silence. I'd call it Paradise.

Glenorchy _1B

Local knowledge

  • From Queenstown to Glenorchy is about 45 minutes driving time. To Kinloch it is another half an hour.
  • There is a motorcamp at Glenorchy, a DOC camp at Kinloch, and another at Lake Sylvan. Freedom camping is not allowed in the area.
  • There is a small store at Glenorchy, some cafes and gift shops, and a petrol station.
  • Information about walks in the area is available from DOC. Other information is available at Glenorchy or at the Queenstown Information Centre.

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