The old Glenorchy Steamship Depot "The Red Shed" at Glenorchy waterfront

Explore Glenorchy

Guide by Roxanne de Bruyn

Last Updated 25 January 2024

Situated on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is surrounded by hiking trails, spectacular scenery, and filming locations from the Lord of the Rings.

A breathtaking 45-minute drive from Queenstown, Glenorchy is a tiny, rustic town surrounded by formidable mountain ranges and native beech forest. Here you can access various outdoor activities, including jet boating, kayaking, horse trekking and some of New Zealand's best hikes.

Spend at least an afternoon discovering Glenorchy and its magnificent surroundings. It's an easy drive from Queenstown, and visiting the town and hiking one of the local trails is a fantastic way to spend a day. Then, stay until sunset to see Glenorchy at its best.

The view of Lake Whakitipu just outside Glenorchy

Driving to Glenorchy from Queenstown

The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is so beautiful that it's worth taking the trip to see the enchanting surroundings for yourself. The road hugs the lake's shoreline, and the Southern Alps' panoramic views circling the lake are magnificent. As you drive past, two of Lake Wakatipu's islands – Pig Island and Pigeon Island- are visible.

 To get to Glenorchy from Queenstown, head down to the waterfront and follow Lake Esplanade to the Fernhill roundabout. Then, follow Glenorchy-Queenstown Road until you reach Glenorchy. The journey should take around 45 minutes but allow more time to stop for photos.

Woman hiker enjoys the view of Earnslaw Burn Track in Glenorchy, New Zealand

Walking and hiking in Glenorchy

Glenorchy is the gateway to the spectacular Mount Aspiring National Park, with several long and short trails. Wander through beech and podocarp rain forests, across river valleys and up mountains, seeing jewel-like lakes, glaciers and waterfalls on the way.

Some popular day walks near Glenorchy include Lake Sylvan, a flat track to a glacier lake which takes around 40 minutes each way; the Routeburn Nature Walk, a 45-minute walk across a swing bridge and down into a valley; and the Routeburn Flats Walk, a 4-hour hike which encompasses the first day of the famous Routeburn Track.

Glenorchy is also the starting point of some of New Zealand's most beautiful multi-day hikes. The Routeburn Track, widely touted as the best Great Walk in the country, is near Glenorchy. This 3-4 day hike takes you through native forest, up towering peaks and past alpine lakes.

Other popular multi-day trails are the Rees and Dart Track (4-5 day loop track) and the Greenstone and Caples Tracks near Kinloch (a moderate 4-day walk). All these hikes have well-maintained trails, DOC huts and spectacular mountain scenery. 

The mouth of Dart River in Glenorchy

Dart River

The stunning, glacier-fed Dart River makes its way through Glenorchy's wilderness. Experience the river on a jet boat tour which will take you deep into Mount Aspiring National Park. You will also learn about the area's history, the Greenstone Trail and local Māori legends.

You can also combine an inflatable kayak trip with jetboating to see some of the Dart River's rock pools, chasms, and hidden streams up close. On this trip, you will also see the Isengard and Lothlorien Lord of the Rings locations.

The road to Paradise in summer


Follow the gravel road out of Glenorchy and around the lake to Paradise. The beech forest on the road to Paradise was the filming site of Lothlorien, the elven kingdom, in the Lord of the Rings. Stop at Diamond Lake along the way – a peaceful and enchanting spot with excellent photo opportunities.

A sign and not much else marks Paradise itself. However, there is more to see than there appears at first glance. Start with the beautiful hike leading to the old homestead. It takes about 90 minutes return, and you can soak in the majestic mountain views.

If you want to see more of Paradise, you can spend a night in a rustic cottage, wander through the forest, search for glow worms, and see bats in the evenings.

Reflections of the mountains in Lake Whakatipu in Glenorchy.

Where to stay in Glenorchy

If you plan to spend a few days hiking and exploring the area around Glenorchy, there are a handful of good accommodation options near the town. Here are a few which we recommend.

  • Blanket Bay, for beautiful, tranquil accommodation on the shores of Lake Whakatipu

  • Headwaters Eco Lodge, a net-zero sustainable property with remarkable mountain views

  • Little Paradise Lodge with relaxing accommodation in a big garden, 15-minutes out of Glenorchy

If you want absolute peace, head to Kinloch, a 25-minute drive from Glenorchy, to really relax. Here are a couple of places to stay in the area:

  • Kinloch Wilderness Retreat with a range of rooms, from dorm beds to hotel rooms. The closest accommodation to the Greenstone and Routeburn hiking tracks

  • EcoScapes for a beautiful studio overlooking the lake with breakfast included.

An old cabin and the historic General Store in Glenorchy

Where to eat in Glenorchy

Although Glenorchy is a tiny town, there are a couple of good places to eat. Unfortunately, a few of the local eateries have closed during the pandemic, but these are still open and worth visiting:

Where to next

Paradise (mentioned above) is around a 20-minute drive from Glenorchy and makes a lovely addition to the trip.

Alternatively, you can keep driving around the lake until you reach Kinloch. Located directly across the lake from Glenorchy, Kinloch is the starting of the Routeburn Track and the Greenstone and Caples Tracks mentioned above. It's also a beautiful place to spend a few days if you want to get away from it all.