The sign says 46km as you leave Queenstown on your day trip to Glenorchy; and this will be one of the most spectacular 46km you will ever travel. The 1 hour trip to Glenorchy is considered one of the most scenic roadways in the world as it winds it way along Lake Wakatipu.

Opened in 1962 the road squeezes it’s way along the side of the lake tucked under the high Southern Alps. On your left Lake Wakatipu rises and falls 15cm every 27 minutes (caused by the beating the heart of a great Ogre that lies at the bottom of the lake). You will pass through picturesque Bob’s Cove and see the small Pig and Pigeon islands that originally housed a timber mill.

Situated at the top of the lake (hence the name of the international BBC TV mini-series) Glenorchy is home to about 200 very lucky people. Surrounded by native beech forest, the township is nestled between the Humbolt, Barrier and Richardson Mountain Ranges (which make up part of the massive Southern Alps). Mt Earnslaw sits majestically watching over the rustic sun-drenched village. Boarding on Mount Aspiring National Park the are is a playground for hiking, fishing, mountain biking, jet boating as well as a great place to relax in a number of different cafes, restaurants and bars.

Many great hikes and rivers in Glenorchy

Glenorchy boasts some of New Zealand’s best hiking trails right on its doorstep. Valleys through the mountains are carved by cascading glacial rivers including the Rees and Dart. Both valleys offer lovely short walks along the rivers or more serious multi-day hikes.

The Greenstone and Caples Valleys make up part of the traditional route the native New Zealand Maori would take to travel back and forth from their more permeant camps on the Caitlins coast armed with meat from the Moa bird and Weka hunted from the region as well as the prized Greenstone.

The Greenstone from the area is called Inanga and was found mainly in the Drat River. Unlike the deep green of it’s relatives on the West Coast Inanga has milky white colours and is prized for its beauty and rarity.

Also just around from Glenorchy is the small township of Kinloch and the Routeburn Valley. The multi-day Routeburn hike is an incredible high-mountain experience over 3-4 days through soaring mountain peaks and jewel-like lakes.

Just a short drive from Glenorchy at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu is the popular Mt Alfred day hike. The track zigzags uphill through native forest and emerges from the bush line for spectacular views over the whole region.

A history of Glenorchy tourism

Glenorchy has always been a destination for travellers and continues to be a must-do for many travellers to the greater Queenstown area. In the 19th century wealthy travellers would make their way to the head of the lake by boat arriving at the Glenorchy wharf where they would be shuttled to hotels in Kinloch and the aptly named Paradise. From here they would take excursions into the Routeburn Valley to the Falls and Harris Saddles.