Five of the Best Day-Hikes Near Queenstown NZ: Glenorchy Edition

Experience some of New Zealand’s best scenery on these five classic day-hikes near Glenorchy, just 45 minutes drive from Queenstown.

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 five of 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.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
A South Island Robin. This shot makes me look like a competent wildlife photographer, but was in fact taken at point blank range with my telephoto lens.

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

Routeburn Track NZ: Routeburn Flats to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill
Mt Xenicus (1912m).

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.

Routeburn Track to Routeburn Flats

Routeburn Track to Routeburn Flats, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Grand mountains rising above Routeburn Flats. These scenes are near the turnaround point and are a rewarding end to the outward leg of the walk.
Difficulty: Moderate

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.

Routeburn Track to Harris Saddle & Conical Hill

Routeburn Track NZ: Routeburn Flats to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill
I love youse all! Or so says Lake Harris. The lake is actually shaped a bit like South America, but from this particular angle, and with the right framing, you can feel the love.
Difficulty: Hard

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!

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Mt Earnslaw / Pikirakatahi viewed from point 1290m above Sugarloaf Pass.
Difficulty: Medium-Hard

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.

Around Glenorchy

Mt Alaska ascent, Whakaari Conservation Area
Glenorchy backed by the Humboldt Mountains.

Mt Alaska

Mt Alaska ascent (winter), near Glenorchy NZ
Black Peak (1989m) looming large as we descended from Mt Alaska.
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.

The track starts at the Whakaari Conservation Area car park just before you get to Glenorchy on the drive from Queenstown. And this walk is equally good in summer or winter.

Earnslaw Burn Track

Earnslaw Burn Track, near Glenorchy
The Earnslaw Glacier
Difficulty: Gruelling

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.

Mt Alfred

Mt Alfred ascent, near Glenorchy NZ
The Dart River and Lake Wakatipu, viewed from Mt Alfred.
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.

Sugarloaf Pass to pt. 1290m, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
A kea on Sugarloaf Pass.

Enjoy your walking 🙂

Best Day-hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand

My pick of the best full day-hikes around Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, with a few shorter options thrown in.

Queenstown is truly a hiker’s paradise. There’s dramatic scenery in all directions, and the mountains are filled with well maintained hiking trails. And as a major adventure-tourism destination the area is well serviced and cosmopolitan.

Plenty of tourists visit the area, and yet it seems the majority of people choose not to go hiking. In fact, I’ve sometimes not seen a single other person on the best hikes in the area. So if you are willing to put in the effort, you can have New Zealand’s magical scenery mostly to yourself.

Continue reading “Best Day-hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand”

Sydney’s Royal National Park: 6 Of The Best Day-Walks

Cliffs, sandy beaches, rock formations, lagoons, heathland, wildflowers and more, on six of the best day-walks in Sydney’s Royal National Park.

The Royal National Park is the world’s second oldest, established in 1879. It sits on the south-eastern border of Sydney, encompassing about 30km of picturesque and often dramatic coastline. The coastal sections are dominated by unique heathland, cliffs, rock formations, headlands, lagoons and sandy beaches. Further inland there are eucalypt forests and patches of rainforest.

Continue reading “Sydney’s Royal National Park: 6 Of The Best Day-Walks”

12 of the Best Hikes in Sydney’s Blue Mountains

Explore some of Sydney’s most dramatic scenery on twelve of my favourite bushwalks in the spectacular Blue Mountains.

The spectacular New South Wales Blue Mountains sit on the western edge of the greater Sydney area. They are easily accessible by car or train from the neighbouring metropolis of over 5 million people. More of a plateau, they gradually rise from the Sydney basin to over 1100m of elevation. The area’s largest town of Katoomba is perched high up at 1017m.

These upper sections are justifiably famous for their deep cut valleys lined by sandstone cliffs, as well as lush forests, impressive waterfalls and windswept heathlands. Thankfully this dramatic and rugged scenery has remained largely unaffected by urban or agricultural development. And since 1959 it has been protected in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park.

Continue reading “12 of the Best Hikes in Sydney’s Blue Mountains”

Bluff Mountain & Grand High Tops, Warrumbungle National Park NSW

The must do circuit walk in the Warrumbungles, taking in famous views of the Breadknife from Grand High Tops, and a visit to Bluff Mountain (1200m) where there are more great views.

The Grand High Tops Circuit with an added side trip to Bluff Mountain (1200m) is arguably the best walk in the Warrumbungles, especially for views. From Grand High Tops there are classic views of the pleasingly named rock formation, The Breadknife, which is a tall, thin and sheer slice of rock that you pass on the way up. There are also great views of nearby Crater Bluff, and of Belougery Spire, both prominent and striking hunks of rock. Continue reading “Bluff Mountain & Grand High Tops, Warrumbungle National Park NSW”

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungle National Park NSW

A long walk with excellent views from the summit over the whole of the Warrumbungles, although you might find the highlight are the huge numbers of fabulous grass trees in the final 200 vertical metres.

Mt Exmouth (1206m) is the highest point in Warrumbungle National Park, and I’ll admit to a spot of peak bagging in doing this walk. Nevertheless, I’d read that the views from the summit were excellent, and they were, although a bit hazy on an overcast day. Unexpectedly though, another feature of this walk stole the show, and that was the preponderance of fabulous grass trees on the final ascent to the summit. I’ve never seen so many in my life, and they were fine specimens indeed. So I’d recommend this walk even just for these, but the views will be an added bonus.

Track notes at the end. And if you haven’t already you should consider doing the park’s classic walk, the Bluff Mountain and Grand High Tops Circuit

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon: The Scenery

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Burbie Canyon

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Not as many wildflowers out as I’d expected, but these ones were quite nice.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Burbie Canyon

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Burbie Canyon

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Much of the walk was along Burbie Fire Trail so I thought I would take a picture of this just so you know what you are up for. Not so exciting but then the lower section of the alternative West Spirey Creek Track were not all that exciting either. It made for fast walking at least.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
One of three new wildflowers I saw on the walk, (as in, new to me).

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
An interesting aesthetic walking through native pine trees of some sort. Not many of these further east.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A prickly pear cactus. These have become a serious weed in Australia in the past. Not sure about nowadays. We saw just this one.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Wildflowers I’ve not seen before.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
The first of many grass trees on the final ascent to the summit.

Prepare for an overwhelming number of grass tree photos…

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Nice shades of green here.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Lots of grass trees.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
So many grass trees!

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
And still more grass trees.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
I particularly liked this grass tree, which looks like it is wearing a fur coat.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
One of my favourite grass tree shots with Sophia demonstrating scale, and hence the advanced age of these wonderful plants.

Up onto the summit area here…

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
I liked this long line of grass trees as we approached the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A very bushy grass tree.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Note sure what what that distant mountain is, but it looked a little volcanic, and could have been in this area given that it was moulder by volcanic forces many centuries ago.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Approaching the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A panorama from the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Grass tree ‘spears’ on the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Possibly my favourite shot from the summit of Mt Exmouth (1206m), combining the views with many grass trees in flower, the signature characteristics of this walk, at least in 2019.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A noisy friarbird.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A noisy friarbird.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
A noisy friarbird on grass tree flower spears.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Lots of grass trees at the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
I may have darkened this photo a bit too much, but a number of my shots turned out very hazy so I’ve tried to adjust for that. Split Rock to the left.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
View from the summit.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
The view from the summit of Mt Exmouth (1206m). Bluff Mountain in the centre, which we climbed the next day.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Sophia sometimes needs to lie down to let the blood back to her head. Of course, this doesn’t explain why she does so much lying down at home also. Pictured here on the summit of Mt Exmouth (1206m).

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
Not sure what these flowers are, but I liked the aesthetic.

Mt Exmouth via Burbie Canyon, Warrumbungles NSW
This is Belougery Split Rock, which is actually not on the walk, but you can start from this car park along Burbie Fire Trail, missing out Burbie Canyon. Not recommended, but I just wanted to include this picture. There’s a walk around the base of this small mountain and you can visit the summit also. One for next time.


Track Notes

We started the walk at Burbie Canyon, which is a nice 1km section of the ephemeral Burbie Creek, although we then had a long slog up Burbie Fire Trail to where the track begins the final ascent to the summit. NPWS info on the walk actuals refers to a start at Split Rock Car Park, but you’re better off walking through the canyon as it’s (probably) more scenic than the start of Burbie Fire Trail, and also 1km shorter each way.

An alternative is to leave from Pincham Car Park, also the start of the Grand High Tops Circuit, which we did the following day. You walk up a section of West Spirey Creek, and there are eventually views of the big cliff face on Bluff Mountain. (We descended down this track, and I think descending is better for the Grand High Tops Circuit). There’s then a link track to join the Mt Exmouth route at (kind of) the end of Burbie Fire Trail.  I can’t tell you what this section is like.

Here are some maps and basic info on the walking options in the park. Ignore the ‘you are here’ marker on the map, as we took this photo at the Split Rock Car Park. 

Map of walks in Warrumbungle National Park
The sign at Split Rock car park, which is not where we started from.

Walks in Warrumbungle National Park

Ferntree Gully Circuit, near Rylstone NSW

The circuit walk through Ferntree Gully Reserve passes through a scenic gully containing interesting rainforest vegetation. This includes various types of ferns as the name suggests, as well as vines and trailing roots reaching down over rocks to find the ground below. There are also good views from above the gully. It’s a short but rewarding walk that I recommend if you are in the region around Rylstone. Continue reading “Ferntree Gully Circuit, near Rylstone NSW”

Pagoda Lookout Track, Dunns Swamp, Wollemi National Park NSW

An excellent short walk on the Pagoda Lookout Track in Wollemi National Park, where there are views of rock pagodas & over the picturesque Cudgegong River.

The Dunns Swamp area is very picturesque, and a shortish drive from the also picturesque village of Rylstone, in NSW’s Mid-Western region. The short walk on the Pagoda Lookout Track passes along the foreshore of the dammed but still very attractive Cudgegong River, and takes you to the base of impressive rock pagodas. From there it’s a short but steep climb to the top of the rocks themselves. There are great views of the rocks and over the surrounding area. Definitely worth spending half an hour or so exploring the area around the lookout, and obsessively taking pictures (obviously). Continue reading “Pagoda Lookout Track, Dunns Swamp, Wollemi National Park NSW”

Wentworth Falls Circuit via Hippocrene & Vera Falls, Blue Mountains NSW

An excellent circuit at Wentworth Falls that takes in numerous waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, including the lesser visited Hippocrene Falls and Vera Falls.

An excellent circuit walk taking in a less travelled section of the Jamison Valley at Wentworth Falls. There are the usual grand sandstone cliffs the region is famous for, as well as numerous waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. Continue reading “Wentworth Falls Circuit via Hippocrene & Vera Falls, Blue Mountains NSW”

Mermaids Pool & Tahmoor Canyon, Southern Highlands NSW

An excellent walk that passes through the atmospheric Tahmoor Canyon, and also visits the particularly scenic Mermaids Pool.

After 13 years of bushwalking around Sydney we are still doing new walks that exceed expectations. The Southern Highlands circuit visiting Mermaids Pool and passing through Tahmoor Canyon was one such walk. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it was fairly popular so it’s evidently not a secret. Mermaids Pool is probably the most scenic pool I’ve seen in NSW, and Tahmoor Canyon was deep and very atmospheric in places. Definitely recommended. Continue reading “Mermaids Pool & Tahmoor Canyon, Southern Highlands NSW”