Earnslaw Burn is a real life fairytale of hanging glaciers in a valley surrounded by countless waterfalls. It is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets and truly feels like a dream being there. I can remember the first time that I saw a picture of Earnslaw Burn while doing research for our New Zealand trip. I couldn’t believe my eyes. From that moment it was our dream to get to Earnslaw Burn valley, we had to see this place with our own eyes!
This dream became reality and oh boy, the smile on our faces didn’t disappear for days. Earnslaw Burn is one of the most mesmerising landscapes we have ever seen. I truly hope you can make it there as well! So in this complete guide I’m going to tell you the options on how to get to Earnslaw Burn. And if you’re here for the photo’s then I don’t blame you either!
Watch this video from our Earnslaw Burn experience!
How to get to Earnslaw Burn
Earnslaw Burn valley is located in Mount Aspiring National Park which can be accessed from the small town Glenorchy. This is the place where the Earnslaw Burn track starts and where the Earnslaw Burn helicopter tour departs as well. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy on the so called ‘Road to Paradise’ which is considered being one of the most beautiful roads in New Zealand.
There are two options to get to Earnslaw Burn. Either by foot during an (overnight) 28km out and back hike, or by helicopter for an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience. The choice is up to you, and of course both options give a completely different experience. If you’re short in time during your trip through New Zealand and you have the budget for a helicopter tour, then we can’t recommend this experience enough. Another option is the helicopter tour to Franz Josef glacier for example. But for the hiking fanatics is Earnslaw Burn track a fantastic bucket list experience with a huge reward at the end.
How to get to Earnslaw Burn trailhead
The start of the Earnslaw Burn track is at Lovers leap road which is located just a 15 minute drive from Glenorchy town. Once you made it to Glenorchy you have to continue onto the gravel road towards Diamond Lake until you get to Lovers Leap road. At the first bend to the right on Lovers Leap road is a car park for the Earnslaw Burn hike. If you use Google Maps, then you will find the exact location under “Earnslaw Burn Track Parking”.
The trailhead of Earnslaw Burn can be found when you climb over the gate and follow the fence towards the forest until see the DOC sign marking the start of the track.
Earnslaw Burn hike key facts
If you’re planning to do the Earnslaw Burn hike it is important to know that this is mostly advised to do as an overnight hike. Not only because of the distance of 28 km out and back. But mainly because you give yourself more time to take in the impressive views of Earnslaw Burn.
Hike distance and duration: It is 9 km through the forest before you get to the tussock valley, and then another 5 km until you get to the end of the valley. This means 28 km return in total. It takes about 7 hours each way, depending on your fitness level.
Hike difficulty and incline: The incline of Earnslaw Burn hike is about 600 meters one way. But because it goes up and down the total elevation gain return is about 1300 meters. In terms of difficulty is the hike moderate to heavy, mostly because of the fallen trees on the track which you have to climb over or crawl underneath.
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
A slip during hiking is made before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Best time to visit Earnslaw Burn
Drastically influenced by the seasons, Earnslaw Burn gives a totally different experience in spring and summer compared to autumn and winter. Whether you’re going to hike to Earnslaw Burn or book a helicopter flight, it is important to know that the glacier waterfalls are at its best during spring and summer when glacier water melts. The valley is also lush green in those two seasons while in autumn and winter the grass turn yellowish. And even more important, the waterfalls will be mostly frozen in autumn and winter, so you’re most likely looking at a cliff without any water coming down. Nevertheless, the landscape is impressive in any season and Earnslaw glacier is definitely bigger in winter than summertime.
Overall, the best season to visit Earnslaw Burn is in spring and summer to get the ‘full package’. Especially if you’re going to hike you want to have good conditions (no rainy day as there is nowhere to dry your gear). And frozen tents and shoes is not much fun to start your day the next morning. Also, keep in mind that during the Earnslaw Burn track you will have some river crossings. So after days of heavy rain the river can be bigger than normal. You can check with the DOC about the current status of the track before you head out. Also, make sure to bring enough dry and warm clothes as the weather can change quickly in the mountains.
Earnslaw Burn helicopter tour
One of the most scenic flights you can do in New Zealand is the Earnslaw Burn experience. There are several helicopter companies offering flights above Mount Earnslaw, but that won’t show you the scale and beauty of Earnslaw Burn valley and the countless waterfalls. Luckily there is one helicopter company that has the exclusive right to land in Earnslaw Burn valley and we were very fortunate to fly with them!
Heli Works and Heli Glenorchy is a small, family-owned helicopter company based in Queenstown. Besides the exclusive Earnslaw Burn helicopter experience they also offer scenic flights to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and the Remarkables.
Our Earnslaw Burn helicopter experience
Intensely excited we departed from Glenorchy in the super slick black helicopter from Heli Works. We flew straight over the Dart river where we could admire the ‘veins of Mother Earth’. The pattern that the glacier fed Dart river makes are stunning and almost looks like an abstract painting. See our picture below.
After the Dart river we soon approached Diamond Lake and could clearly see from above why this lake is called ‘Diamond Lake’.
After these two beautiful locations we flew into the green valley that leads to Earnslaw Burn. Soon we approached the blue ice of the hanging Earnslaw glacier and then the valley with its glacier waterfalls revealed itself before landing. It felt so unreal to step out of the helicopter and see this incredible, otherworldly landscape!
We were fully taking in the impressive views of the Earnslaw Burn waterfalls surrounding us with the crystal clear glacier river making its way through the landscape. You feel so small standing in this valley. Truly one of the most incredible landscapes we have ever seen!
Glacier helicopter landing
As if experiencing Earnslaw Burn wasn’t enough, we also had a glacier landing included. So after taking photos in the valley we hopped into the helicopter again to continue the flight. We flew straight up along the waterfalls to the top of the glacier where we safely landed in the snow.
Again, the views were out of this world! We’ve never seen something like this before, standing on a glacier, looking out over the highest snow capped mountains of New Zealand. It truly felt like a dream coming true. As if we were standing on top of the world. It was ‘only’ about 3000 meters height, so I can’t even image how it is standing on top of Mount Everest which is almost three times higher..
A very special thanks to Heli Works for making this once in a lifetime experience reality!
Earnslaw Burn Lord of the Rings
Earnslaw Burn was made world famous by the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. It was featured in the opening sequence of The Two Towers, the second film in the LOTR trilogy with stunning aerial shots. While walking the Earnslaw Burn track you are following Bilbo’s footsteps as he and the dwarves continue their journey after leaving Rivendell. With many more Lord of the Rings locations to visit in Glenorchy, it is a must go for fans. But even if you know nothing about Lord of the Rings, standing in this otherworldly landscape beneath the spectacular glacier formed valley in the shadow of Mount Earnslaw feels as if you’re being transported back in time.
Book here your Lord of the Rings half day tour by car (Earnslaw Burn not included)
Must do tours in Glenorchy
Glenorchy is famous because of its Middle Earth mountain views and glacier fed river. It has lots of fun activities to offer and some are a once in a lifetime experience such as the Helicopter tour with 2 landings and Dart river jet boat. Depending on your interest you can book different tours to see the best of this area.
This tour includes everything you want to see in Paradise. You will visit a few movie locations used in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, catch views of the Dart River and Mt. Aspiring National Park, take a few optional hikes, explore a trail above Diamond Lake, and stop by a sheep-shearing farm. During this guided tour, you’ll also get to ride a 4WD off the beaten path to see the area used as Middle Earth in LOTR.
Explore the high country with an experienced guide and traverse the private farmland of Mt Earnslaw Station. Your informative guide offers a variety of options for exploring the high country, including a visit to the gold-mining town of Glenorchy in Paradise Valley.
We personally did this tour and can’t recommend it enough!! Whether you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or not, this helicopter tour is a once in a lifetime experience! Flying over the breathtaking landscapes of Queenstown and Glenorchy, you will see the mountain range from the opening scene of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,’ and feel like you’re in Middle-earth. Including 2 landings, you will experience remote places where you normally can’t get to. A once in a lifetime experience and totally worth the money!
If you come to Glenorchy you must include a tour on the Dart River with the jet boat! However, you have to secure your spot for the Dart River boat tour because they sell out quickly. Hop on a jet boat to explore the Dart river and then paddle your way through Mount Aspiring National Park in an inflatable canoe. Hotel pickup and drop-off plus picnic lunch and all equipment are included.
The perfect day tour to Glenorchy including several Lord of the Rings filming locations on the road to Paradise. You don’t have to worry about driving the winding roads as your driver will do that for you. Experience the cute sleepy town of Glenorchy with its stunning views.
If you’re interested in photography but you need some guidance to find the right spots in Glenorchy, then booking this photography tour is your solution! With a skilled photographer you will discover some beautiful locations in Glenorchy while learning how to take beautiful landscape images using your own equipment.
Where to stay in Glenorchy
For peace seekers and nature lovers is Glenorchy the perfect place to stay for one or two nights. It doesn’t have much facilities in terms of restaurants and supermarkets, but therefore it is the perfect place to relax and take in the fantastic activities that Glenorchy has to offer. Here are the best places to stay in Glenorchy.
Surrounded by the mountain peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park the Headwaters Eco Lodge offers some of the most beautiful accommodation in Glenorchy. Breakfast and 3 course dinner is included with all accommodation types. So the only thing you have to care about here is which activity you’re going to do during the day!
For a private getaway in a luxury lakehouse with stunning mountain views is this your best option in Glenorchy. With four bedrooms varied with double and twin beds, this is the perfect vacation home for families or a group of friends.
Located by the shores of Lake Wakatipu with stunning mountain views, Kinloch Wilderness Retreat offers a variety of rooms from dormitory rooms to queen rooms.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn. They have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the otherworldly Earnslaw Burn. Make sure to put this incredible place on your list!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.