The sleepy village of Glenorchy sits in a dramatic landscape at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. It’s a spectacular 45 minute drive from Queenstown along the shore of the lake, and worth making the trip for the drive alone. The scenery on offer is amongst the best in New Zealand, and there are some really world-class hikes in the area, including the famous multi-day Routeburn Track.
Following are my favourite day-hikes around Glenorchy. There are majestic mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, tumbling streams, and atmospheric beech forest. And you might be joined by some of New Zealand’s friendly bird life along the way.
There are renowned walks in the area that I still haven’t done, so I’ll add to this post in the future. But until then start working your way through these. And have a look at my favourites within 30 minutes of Queenstown.
Mt Aspiring National Park
Glenorchy is the gateway to the southern end of Mt Aspiring National Park, including the start of the Routeburn Track. You can walk arguably the best sections of the Routeburn Track as day-hikes from here. The track will be fairly busy in peak season, but not enough to detract from the experience. And there’s a superb walk along Sugarloaf Pass that also starts at the Routeburn Shelter.
Walking as far as Routeburn Flats makes for a really excellent day-hike of only moderate difficulty. The well graded track steadily climbs along side the burn (watercourse) through attractive beech forest, eventually emerging at the flats, where the Humboldt Mountains tower overhead.
One of the best full-day hikes you can do is to walk the Routeburn Track as far as Harris Saddle. And if you still have energy to spare, the short but steep climb to Conical Hill (1525m) is well worth it. I simply can’t recommend this walk enough, especially when visibility is good. So get going!
Routeburn North Branch Track
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard (long)
The Routeburn North Branch Track is a spectacular valley walk with beautiful vegetation and mountains towering overhead the whole way. You can do it as a day walk from Routeburn Shelter, or you could stay overnight at Routeburn Flats Hut.
Sugarloaf Pass is a side trip branching off the Routeburn Track near the start. At first the track ascends quite steeply through some of the most attractive beech forest I’ve encountered. Once above the tree line the views begin to open up. But the views get really spectacular when you climb off-track through tussock grass to point 1290m. The 360 degree vista includes Mt Earnslaw / Pikirakatahi, the Humboldt Mountains, and the Rockburn Valley. And because this route is not well known you might have all of this to yourself.
This is a great walk in summer, but even better in winter.
Difficulty: Hard (Moderate to Heather Jock Hut)
Climbing to the summit of Mt Alaska (1965m) is one of the most satisfying walks I’ve done to date. There are excellent views for almost the whole walk, and the final steep climb to the summit through scree and alpine vegetation feels quite adventurous.
The official track ends at Heather Jock Hut. But I recommend at least climbing for a short while to a flat section at around 1440m of elevation, where there are even better views. For the full experience though, including views of Mt Larkins, and of course peak bagging bragging rights, you should continue on up the mountain to the summit.
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
After enjoying the excellent hike to Mt Alaska I had looked forward to returning and doing the Mt McIntosh Loop Track. Although this can be done as a loop by crossing over the Buckler Burn, we did it as an out and back tramp to the summit of Mt McIntosh (1701m) entirely on the northern side of the burn. Like the walk to Mt Alaska the views of surrounding peaks and valleys are excellent. A highlight for me were views of rugged Temple Peak (2089m), and views over the northern end of Lake Wakatipu.
You get up close and personal with Mt Earnslaw and its glacier on this mammoth walk. The track follows 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 include the Earnslaw Glacier, numerous waterfalls, big fallen rocks, and we caught sight of an avalanche too.
The only down side is roughly ten hours of walking, about seven hours of it through seemingly endless beech forest. I like beech forest, but you can get too much of a good thing.
Closed in 2019: check the DOC website for updates.
I’m including this moderate to difficult walk as an extra in my list, in the hope that they will open up this track again…
Mt Alfred (1375m) stands alone in one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand. There’s quintessential New Zealand scenery north in Mt Aspiring National Park, and south over Lake Wakatipu. The Dart River runs from the former into the latter, and adds to the already starkly contrasting colours.
Most of the walk is a steep climb through beech forest, which is nice enough, but the views begin when rising even more steeply through tussock to the summit ridge. It’s a flat walk along the ridge to the summit proper, where you get views over Mt Aspiring National Park.
Enjoy your walking 🙂