Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy NZ

A truly spectacular walk to a tussock basin below the Earnslaw Glacier. Highly recommended for fit walkers or those willing to spend a night there.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

You get up close and personal with Mt Earnslaw and its glacier on this mammoth walk, which took my wife and me almost 10 hours. The Earnslaw Burn Track follows the true left bank of the Earnslaw Burn through beech forest up to a tussock basin below the Earnslaw Glacier. Once out of the forest the views will be enough to knock your hiking socks off, and are amongst the best we’ve seen on any day hike. They include the Earnslaw Glacier and numerous waterfalls, big fallen rocks, and we caught sight of an avalanche too.

The only down side is about 7 hours of walking through seemingly endless beech forest. I like beech forest, but you can get too much of a good thing. And the walking was a bit tricky, stepping over roots, fallen branches and other obstacles. I managed to slip a number of times by making careless footing choices, and sprained my wrist on the way back. Track notes at the end.

The Scenery

I got a bit carried away and took too many pictures of the Earnslaw Glacier from various angles, but it was friggin awesome so I guess that was inevitable. Enjoy.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Looking up the looong valley that takes you to the glacier. The track follows the “true left” side of the Earnslaw Burn (as you look down stream), but was generally a lot higher.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Making progress. A lot of time spent in beech forest – not quite 7 hours, and we were really shifting it on the way back.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Finally out of the beech forest, and entering the Earnslaw Basin. This is roughly where we had lunch stops one and two. Sophia in the foreground. The marked track actually stops at the bush line but I had read somebody’s blog and we continued (about an hour fifteen or so) to a viewpoint overlooking the multiple waterfalls coming from the glacier.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Mt Earnslaw to the right.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Spectacular views as we progress through the tussock basin. Sophia in the foreground. We met a nice Scottish lad on the way who gave us some advice about walking the last bit. He had a very lilting accent.

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
The Earnslaw Glacier with the Earnslaw Burn in the foreground.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Sophia enjoying the view of the Earnslaw Glacier at the turnaround point.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
The Earnslaw Glacier viewed from the turnaround point.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
The Earnslaw Glacier viewed from the turnaround point.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Sophia doing her best cheesy/cutesy photo pose. There was a waterfall on the way that “fell” up and out from the cliff as the wind got it, never actually making it downwards.
I think this may be my favourite shot of the glacier. You get a sense of the width.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Looking back away from the glacier and down the valley, from whence we came.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Coming back.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Coming back.
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Looking back towards the beech forest. Only about 3.5 hours to go (give or take).
Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
Finally the end is in sight. You can just see the Earnslaw Burn and the aptly named Paradise Road (there’s a small community nearby of the same name), which is where we parked the trusty LC100.


Track Notes

You can find basic notes for the Earnslaw Burn Track on the NZ DOC website. They estimate it will take 8 to 12 hours, but I think this estimate is to the tree line and back. Certainly 8 hours (return) to the viewpoint in front of the glacier would be optimistic. However 12 hours return to the tree line is too generous, so I’m not really sure. The walking is slow going for most of the way, with many obstacles in the forest and mostly uneven ground in the tussock basin.

When in the tussock basin keep to the true left of the Earnslaw Burn (the right as you approach the glacier), and after about 1-1.5 hours you will come across a big rock with a cairn on it. This seems to be a good place to stop and feast your eyes on the view. It would be possible to walk even closer to the glacier, but it’s a pretty tiring walk as it is so make sure you have energy and light to make it back. You might see a helicopter flying in and out behind some rocks below the glacier, which is the luxury way to visit. That cost about $900 NZD per person in 2016. I imagine the waterfalls are impressive from that spot.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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