Glenorchy is a cute little town located at the doorstep of Mount Aspiring National Park. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, stunning lakes, glacier-fed rivers, and ancient beech forests, Glenorchy is a magical little town away from busier Queenstown. It’s a perfect day trip with plenty of day hikes, fun adrenaline-filled tours, or a relaxing afternoon restaurant hopping while enjoying the breathtaking views. In our complete guide, you’ll find all the best things to do in Glenorchy including some of the must-do tours in Glenorchy.
How to get to Glenorchy
Glenorchy is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown along some of the most beautiful roads in New Zealand. The so-called ‘Road to Paradise’ runs alongside the shimmering blue Lake Wakatipu and provides the perfect backdrop with a new spectacular view after every bend. With no other town connecting to Glenorchy, there is only one way to get there which is via the scenic Queenstown Glenorchy road. Therefore is visiting Glenorchy a perfect road trip from Queenstown to escape the busier touristy town for the more laidback, sleepy Glenorchy.
If you don’t have your own vehicle you can still explore Glenorchy with this private tour. You can customize this tour to your needs and fully enjoy the views along the way. Besides doing the Glenorchy walkway you can also explore some Lord of the Rings filming locations and drive further to Paradise to see the untouched landscape.
Glenorchy is the definition of a New Zealand paradise with its magnificent snow-capped mountain peaks, shimmering deep blue lakes and incredible hiking trails. Nestled on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu and with no other towns connecting to Glenorchy other than Queenstown, it really is an off-the-beaten-track destination. It will make you feel disconnected from the human world and one with the incredible nature of New Zealand.
The remote scenery of Glenorchy is world famous as the backdrop of popular fantasy movies such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, X-men Originals: Wolverine, and The Chronicles of Narnia. The Middle Earth landscape of Glenorchy was the perfect decor for these films and will instantly make you feel as if you’re part of the movie set. Visiting Glenorchy and Paradise in particular is a must. The scenic landscapes and tranquil ambiance make this former little gold mining town a perfect family trip. But also for the adrenaline junkies, there are enough epic things to do in Glenorchy!
20 BEST THINGS TO DO IN GLENORCHY
Hike the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway track
One of the easiest, fun, and free things to do in Glenorchy is the Lagoon boardwalk track. The one, to two-hour loop walk takes you along stunning reflection lakes and the turquoise Rees River with beautiful views of the snow-capped peaks of the Humboldt Mountains. The 5 kilometres loop track is very easy to follow on wide, gravel paths and a wooden lagoon boardwalk. There is a lot of landscape variety and birdlife to see along this easy walk. And another huge plus is the scenic picnic table and cute benches with million-dollar views. Glenorchy in general is absolutely worth a visit and this short nature walk makes it a perfect activity for young and old.
Go on a jet boat and kayak adventure in Glenorchy
Kayaking in Glenorchy is a must-do. You can book with Dart River Adventures which includes a transfer to and from Queenstown. The adventure starts with a thrilling jet boat experience on the Dart River before you hop on your easy-to-handle funyak (inflatable canoe) while paddling through Mount Aspiring National Park. Lunch and all equipment are included and no previous experience is required. A perfect family-friendly but adrenaline-filled experience in Glenorchy!
Book a scenic helicopter tour
One of the most unique and unforgettable scenic flights in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over Mount Aspiring National Park. This once-in-a-lifetime experience takes you to some of the most remote places in New Zealand. There are several helicopter tours possible, depending on what you wish to see.
Middle Earth Helicopter tour
This incredible helicopter tour shows you the Middle Earth landscape where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit scenes were filmed. You will pass by Glenorchy, see Mount Aspiring National park and the gold mining town of Arrowtown. It is even possible to fly with a pilot who worked on the films that will provide you with informative commentary during your flight.
Lord of the Rings and Glacier Helicopter tour
Whether you like the LOTR movies or not, this helicopter tour will show you some of the most incredible landscapes of New Zealand. This 70-minute LOTR helicopter flight includes 2 landings and shows Isengard, Amon Hen, Lothlorien, the Misty Mountains, and the Redhorn Pass. You will also see the mountain range from the opening scene of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’. It is an unforgettable experience!
Hop in a jet boat over the Dart River
Get the adrenaline pumping and enjoy this spectacular 2 hour jet-boat ride over the Dart River in Glenorchy. During this half-day tour from Queenstown, you will get picked up and venture to the gateway of Mount Aspiring National Park in Glenorchy. Surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery and hidden valleys, you’ll twist and turn down the glacier-fed Dart River while you learn about the unique vegetation and wildlife from your naturalist guide.
Visit the Glenorchy Lord of the Rings film locations
Fans of LOTR don’t want to miss this! During this half-day tour, you will visit multiple LOTR film locations around Queenstown and Glenorchy. Meanwhile, you will learn about the landscapes and their place in movie history from your guide. A morning or afternoon picnic is provided together with your transfer from central Queenstown. Some of the locations you will visit include:
Misty Mountains – The Fellowship of the Ring Misty Mountains were filmed in the mountains around Glenorchy.
Ithilien Camp – A small fire pit shows where Frodo, Sam and Gollum sat while eating the rabbit.
Isengard – With some imagination, you can see Isengard in the valley from the Isengard lookout.
Forest of Fangorn – When you’re at Isengard, look to your right into the forest where the Forest of Fangorn is.
Of course it is also possible to visit these locations by yourself. However, they are not very easy to find. Going with this organized tour is not only more fun but also less stressful to find the exact spots. Also, you will learn so much about the area and filming location from your guide!
Hike the Routeburn Track
Right outside of Glenorchy begins one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. The Routeburn Track is a 32-kilometer (20-mile) trail that takes you through the Southern Alps and finishes at The Divide Shelter along the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Although hiking the full Routeburn Track is highly recommended, it does involve a lot of planning and booking mountain huts in advance. But from Glenorchy, you can easily hike parts of the Routeburn Track in one day. The shortest Routeburn day hike option is less than 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) return taking you through a mossy forest along the Dart River to one of the stunning waterfalls in New Zealand.
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!
Explore the Glenorchy jetty
The Glenorchy jetty and railway shed are some of Glenorchy’s must-visit places. There are a few reasons for this. One of them is because the jetty provides a great vantage point to enjoy the mountain and lake views. You can get some stunning photos here overlooking the lake while you can see all the mountains around Glenorchy.
The railway shed is another place to check out while you’re here as it has an interesting history. The building was used many years ago as by the New Zealand Railways Department as a goods shed for freight carried on the steamers between Queenstown and Glenorchy. Inside you can read about the history of the area and from the outside the iconic Red Shed is a photogenic spot in Glenorchy.
Lastly, there is a unique thing to see in the shallow waters along Lake Wakatipu, close to the railway shed. The infamous trees which are perfectly in line with each other are a phenomenon and have been photographed many, many times. Together with the backdrop of the mountains this is truly a magical sight and must-see during your time in Glenorchy.
Paradise on earth exists! And in New Zealand it’s not a palm-fringed white sandy beach with turquoise water… No, Paradise in Glenorchy is a tiny village in the heart of the mountains. Surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park, this slice of Paradise is worth driving further to from Glenorchy. It’s a 13-kilometer (8-mile) stretch of gravel road that takes you along the Dart River deeper into the National Park.
→ Book here your complete Paradise valley day tour. 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.
→ Book here your 4WD tour to Paradise. 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.
While driving the Road to Paradise you will pass a few LOTR locations and will be more and more immersed into nature. Stop where you like and just take in this incredible scenery. We had our lunch with us and pulled over to have some of the best lunch views we’ve ever had! Paradise really is something else and a must-visit in Glenorchy!
Get a coffee at The Trading Post or Mrs Woollys
There aren’t many cafes or restaurants in Glenorchy. But the ones that are located in this small town are worth a visit. The Trading Post is located near the jetty with stunning views of the snow-capped mountains. Here you can get good coffee and home-baked cakes including sandwiches and some other snacks and drinks.
The other cafe in Glenorchy is Mrs Woolly’s General Store. The great coffee and yummy New Zealand meat pies make this a popular stop for everyone exploring Glenorchy. The good thing about Mrs Woolly’s is that you can either sit inside or outside. So if it’s bad weather you can still enjoy a warm cup of coffee or tea indoors. There are also plenty of souvenirs for sale if you’re looking to buy something typically from New Zealand.
Go skydiving over the Southern Alps
New Zealand is some of the best places in the world to go skydiving. Free falling over the magical mountain ranges of New Zealand is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This thrilling experience is some of the best things to do in Glenorchy with Skydive Southern Alps. They have many options for tandem skydiving that range between 15,000, 12,000 or 9,000-foot descent.
These different packages include a short scenic flight to the height where you will jump out of the aircraft. The minimum age for skydiving in New Zealand is six years old and 30 kg.
You can either choose to meet the team in Glenorchy or Queenstown so they can transport you to the Glenorchy drop zone.
Picnic at Glenorchy Lagoon
Glenorchy itself is already so scenic, but when you walk the Glenorchy boardwalk you will pass a postcard-perfect bench overlooking the mountains and calm lake. The perfect ingredients for a picnic and a small break from the walk.
Either bring your own prepared food, some snacks from the supermarket or takeaway from the local restaurants in Glenorchy town. There is no other place so easy to reach with these stunning views in Glenorchy. During hikes, we always love to bring crackers with tuna in a can, nuts, carrots or other easy-to-pack food. But because it doesn’t take too much time to reach this bench along the Glenorchy walkway, you can eventually carry some freshly prepared food and eat it here. Some of the most beautiful picnic benches we have ever seen!
Visit the wineries around Glenorchy
The Central Otago region of New Zealand is home to some of the best wines in the world, particularly Pinot Noirs. There aren’t any wineries in Glenorchy, but from Queenstown, you can access 6 different grape-growing regions such as the Gibbston Valley and Wanaka.
Join a guided winery tour to the Gibbston Valley and get the most out of the Otago wineries on the South Island.
Explore Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake is nestled under the eastern flanks of Mount Alfred, about 15 km north of Glenorchy. It’s a nice stop when exploring Paradise, but you can also go on an easy stroll along the Diamond Creek Track that follows the left bank of the creek to Lake Reid. It will only take you about 45 minutes one way. Diamond Lake is popular for fishing, so you might see some fishermen trying to catch trout. Camping at Diamond Lake is possible as well for NZD 8 per night.
Go horseback riding in Paradise
An unforgettable experience for an animal – in particular horse – lover, is a horseback riding experience in Paradise. High Country Horses offers 6 different horse riding tours suitable for beginners, intermediates, and experienced riders. You will be taken through the beautiful New Zealand countryside and see a lot of the Lord of the Rings filming locations. This is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Glenorchy. Enjoy the stunning scenery from the back of a horse while taking in the serene nature and silence.
See Earnslaw Burn
One of the most beautiful landscapes in Glenorchy is Earnslaw Burn Valley. This real-life fairytale of hanging glaciers in a valley surrounded by countless waterfalls feels like a dream. There are two options to get there, either with a helicopter or hiking.
Considered an advanced tramping track by the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, this challenging 28 km return track is advised to do as an overnight hike. It takes about 7 hours each way, depending on your fitness level. The Earnslaw Burn track begins to the left of Lovers Leap road just off Glenorchy Paradise road and meanders through thick bush and tussock grass plains until you reach the valley of waterfalls with hanging glaciers.
If you have the budget and you want to see the incredible, otherworldly landscape, then I highly recommend booking a helicopter tour!
Glenorchy Animal Experience
The Glenorchy Animal Experience is a family-friendly activity in Glenorchy. This family-owned farm can be entered for NZD 20 (adults) and NZD 10 for children of five years and above. A family pass is available for two adults and up to three children at NZD 50. You can pet their friendly animals such as llamas, rabbits, miniature horses, dogs, and Clydesdale horses while enjoying the stunning landscapes.
Walk Lake Sylvan track
Lake Sylvan is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Glenorchy and located on a 30-minute drive out of town. In 40 minutes you can walk to a viewing platform from where you can see Lake Sylvan and the spectacular mountain range including Mount Earnslaw. On a calm day, you can see mirror reflections in the lake providing magical photo opportunities. The loop track begins with a suspension bridge over some rapids. From there you can follow the well-marked path through the red beech forest to the lookout point in 40 minutes. It’s a perfect family-friendly track being a flat and easy walk.
See the lupins around Glenorchy in spring
Lupin season is a magical time in New Zealand. Every spring from mid-November until early January the lupins on the South Island bloom in an array of colors along highways and lakes. In Glenorchy are many places to see blooming lupins with an incredible backdrop of snow-capped mountains. These are the perfect ingredients for photography! Together with crystal clear rivers and lush nature, a picture of New Zealand with lupins is necessary when you’re there during spring.
Keep in mind though that lupins are seen as weeds in New Zealand and they are sprayed heavily to stop them from spreading. Because of this Lupin patches are disappearing, so don’t be too disappointed if you only find little bits of Lupins. Now at least you know why.
Go zip lining in Paradise
Ziplining is one of the fun things to do in Glenorchy. Paradise Ziplines has eight different ziplines making over one kilometre of zipline fun! Each zipline is different with some soaring over cliffs and others over rapids. You will start the zipline activity by walking through the red beech forest before you soar along the panoramic views of Glenorchy and Paradise. The price is NZD 150 per person for adults and children of 10 years and above.
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 in 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 this 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 road trip 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 give you a true feeling of freedom and connect you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 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, a 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
Best time to visit Glenorchy
Glenorchy is great to visit in spring, summer and autumn. There isn’t really the best month to visit as all months can deliver comfortable temperatures to explore the outdoors. However, you should always check the rainfall forecast as this can highly influence your trip to Glenorchy.
In the summer season from December until February, you can expect bigger crowds as this is peak season. These months usually provide warmer days and typically clearer skies. But the snow-capped mountains which you can see right after winter or in autumn are magical as well.
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 Dart River jet boat tour! 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 many 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 accommodations in Glenorchy. Breakfast and 3-course dinner are 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.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the 20 best things to do in Glenorchy. Make sure to put this awesome little town on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
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 travel tips, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!