The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand, with breathtaking views over the Wakatipu River for the entire drive.
Glenorchy itself is a 45 minute drive away from Queenstown. It’s far enough to feel like an entirely new world, but close enough that it’s not a whole day’s journey to get there. I personally love how quiet and tranquil Glenorchy is compared to the “big city” vibe of Queenstown. You can wander around listening to nothing but the rustle of trees and nearby birdlife, a great escape for a bit of peace, quiet and relaxation.
Despite being such a small town, there are actually plenty of things to do. So how to fit it all in without ruining that element of relaxation? I took it upon myself to do some “research” on the best way to spend a weekend in Glenorchy, so here’s my itinerary for you…
To break it down;
- Day one – The drive & Glenorchy Waterfront
- Day two – Hiking & LOTR sites
Day One – The drive and Glenorchy Waterfront
Spot Ithilien LOTR Site – 12 Mile Delta
12 Mile Delta is a campground located just a 13 minute drive from the centre of Queenstown. It is the first Lord of the Rings filming spot that you’ll come across on the way to Glenorchy. It’s also just a short distance from the popular walking trails; Bob’s Cove, and Mt Crichton Loop Trail.
From: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
12 Mile Delta Campground is where Peter Jackson filmed the Ithilien Camp. This is where Frodo, Sam and Gollum watched the battle between Faramir’s Rangers of Gondor and the men and Oliphaunts of Harad. It is also where they made camp themselves, lit a small campfire and debated about cooking – the exact spot of this scene is unknown but you can see where previous visitors have created small rock circles in order to recreate the moment.
Mt Crichton Loop Track
From 12 Mile Delta the Mt Crichton carpark is just a 2 minute drive. You could also walk from here but that would add an extra 20 minutes each way.
- 2-3hours return
- 8km distance
- Medium fitness required
- Gradient: fairly flat
- Elevation gain: 370 meters
- There is a toilet located at the carpark and by Sam Summers Hut (half-way point)
My favourite part about this walk is that it’s practically hidden to tourists. It’s a little bit off-the-beaten track, so it’s never very busy. From the carpark there is a short path leading across the main road towards the trailhead. Once at the trailhead you can see both the start and finish points, so it’s up to you which direction to go. I recommend going straight ahead over the bridge and doing the walk clockwise. This way you can avoid the steepest parts of the trail on the way up and on your way down you’re rewarded with the best views.
You can find out more about this walk here: Beginners Guide to the Mt Crichton Loop Track, Queenstown
Bennetts Bluff Lookout
Bennett’s Bluff Lookout is the best place to stop to get a view over the scenic drive. The lookout itself is particularly new, with a large car park and toilets. It was created in order to stop visitors from stopping alongside the road itself and creating traffic. It unfortunately doesn’t give you an overview of the winding cliffside road, but it does still offer spectacular views over Lake Wakatipu.
Lunch at Mrs Wooly’s General Store & Cafe
Mrs Wooly’s is the most popular place to stop for food in Glenorchy and rightfully so. Here they are known for their famous Fairlie Bakehouse pies – and as an Aussie I can confirm they are great! I got a vegan pie which was made with lentils and some sort of sweet spice. It had a deliciously flakey crust which went really well with a coffee on the side.
Glenorchy Waterfront & Red Boatshed
Glenorchy Waterfront is where you’ll find the famous red boatshed that is the cover image for every Instagram photo ever. So of course I came here to take photos. At the end of the pier you’ll be able to see views out over the Dart River and the glassy water extending out into the lagoon. The mountains mirror themselves in the very small amount of ripples. It’s also an idyllic spot to sit and listen to the rain.
Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway
The Lagoon Walkway has two loop trails that explore the mirrored lagoon and its surrounding steep mountains and flora. These two stunning walkways trail over the tussocks and “dead marshes” with a few areas to stop and sit by the water. There are two loop sections that you can do – the smallest taking about 30 minutes, and the larger taking closer to an hour.
Jump in the Hot Tub at Kinloch Wilderness Retreat
Kinloch Wilderness Retreat is about a 30-40 minute drive away from Glenorchy. On Google it states that it takes 25 minutes, but as most of the road is unsealed, it’s typical for the journey to take a bit longer. Once you’ve arrived, the perfect place to enjoy the sunset is from the hot tub (all guests are welcome to use it).
For dinner there is an on-site restaurant, although for those travelling on a budget I would recommend cooking something up in the communal kitchen. All the crockery and cutlery is supplied so all you need to bring is the food! I made myself some gnocchi & veggie sausages with a cheeky diet coke on the side. As the journey from Glenorchy is so short it’s easy to bring along some refrigerated good with you because before long they’ll be back in the fridge.
Day Two – Hiking and LOTR sites
Brekky at GYC
Glenorchy Cafe and Bar (GYC) is the best spot to grab some brekky while in Glenorchy. As the other spots such as Mrs Wooly’s and the Trading Post only really serve baked goods and cakes, GYC is the most suited for those who want to sit down and have a proper meal. The Cafe sits just around the corner from the waterfront, and has a delicious breakfast menu on offer all day.
Go for a Walk
Not only is Glenorchy known as a place for relaxation and retreat – it’s also a great base for hikers and trampers. Most of the people that I met while staying at Kinloch were preparing for their journey on the Routeburn track which is about 20-30 minutes away from Kinloch and Glenorchy. Some of the most popular walks in Glenorchy are; the Routeburn Flats Walk, Lake Sylvan Track, The Invincibles Track, and the Earnslaw Burn Track.
Spot Isengard LOTR Site – Dart River Bridge
From: The LOTR trilogy & Hobbit trilogy
Isengard, also known as Angrenost (‘Iron Fortress’) in Sindarin, was one of three major fortresses of Gondor. It can be difficult to picture it without a reference as most of the setting was created digitally. The parts taken from here were mostly just the backdrops. The best viewpoint for this is from the Dart River Bridge along Glenorchy-Routeburn Road. On Google you can find it here as the “Isengard Lookout”. Lothlorien and Amon Hen can also be found in Glenorchy. This is where Boromir was killed by the Orcs, and where Merry and Pippin are captured by the Orcs towards the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Another scene filmed here was Beorn’s House from The Hobbit trilogy.
Coffee at The Trading Post Cafe
And our last stop – The Trading Post. This is the best place to get a smooth coffee with a little bit of chocolate on the side! For the sentimental, there is also a small shop inside selling local goods such as honey, as well as some books and cards.
Other things to do;
“Located in a UNESCO World Heritage Area, Dart River Adventures offers quintessential New Zealand scenery. It offers both an exciting jetboat ride on braided glacier-fed rivers and a Funyak (kayak) drift trip. The Funyak trip is a unique way to explore Dart River, as well as hidden side streams, rock pools and dramatic chasms and a picnic lunch in a beautiful setting.”
Getting Around; Jucy Rentals
For my trip to Glenorchy I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of Jucy’s Adventure Wagons. Though I’d heard of Jucy before, and had travelled with them previously in Australia, New Zealand truly is their home – you’ll see their green and purples vans floating around everywhere! This young, modern company has taken over with their noticeable colours, logos, social media presence and my favourite – their very budget prices.
Had I been taking a longer trip I would have opted for one of their bigger vans, but knowing I was travelling alone and wouldn’t be in need of any self-contained features I opted for something smaller. The Adventure Wagon was perfect for me because it gave me enough room for my bags as well as the perfect bed to get comfy in while I listened to the rain. The seats could fold out into either a table and chairs or into a bed. The table I loved because I could sit comfortably without my head touching the ceiling, and the bed was suitable for two, or a greedy one like myself. On the roof there was a pod for additional storage, and space for snowboards/skis if I had needed it. Inside the car the features also included;
- Snow chains
- USB ports
- AUX port & radio (unless you already had your own, you could purchase an AUX cable at the pick-up)
- Curtains for the windows & front seats
Where to Stay; Kinloch Wilderness Retreat
Kinloch Wilderness Retreat is the perfect starting point for the best hikes in Glenorchy. With its secluded location you’re guaranteed a quiet night’s sleep! Its stunning location can be found about a 30 minute drive from Glenorchy’s town centre and offers various types of accommodation. Camping, dorms, and lodges are available with an on-site hot tub, yurt, yoga, massages, kayak tours and a restaurant – what more could you need! There’s also a communal kitchen and lounge area with shared bathroom facilities.