At the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, less than an hour’s drive from Queenstown, sits the small town of Glenorchy, population 363. With panoramic views of lush beech forest, rugged mountains and rivers flowing into the lake, Glenorchy is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true.
The Rees and Dart Rivers, two of the famous braided rivers of New Zealand, weave their way through the valleys, bringing glacial minerals into the lake. These minerals create the rich turquoise hue of the water, which mirrors the sky on a fine day.
Local activities include tramping and day walks, water sports, skydiving, horse trekking and environmental pursuits. A large amount of The Lord of the Rings was filmed in the wilderness surrounding Glenorchy, as well as providing the background for other movies such as The Hobbit, Vertical Limit and The Water Horse.
There are many day walks and hiking tracks around the lake and into the surrounding region. From gentle boardwalks to intense climbs, there is something here for everyone. The Routeburn, one of New Zealand’s great walks, starts nearby, and the Rees-Dart Track follows both rivers on a scenic circuit route. Please remember that this is glacial terrain; be sure to check the weather and inform the local authorities if you are taking one of the longer trails, and always prepare for changeable weather situations.
Water lovers will enjoy exploring the caverns and coves by kayak, while the more adventurous can take to the rivers for some white water jet boating. There are scenic flights, helicopter rides and road tours as well. Swimming is available in the Glenorchy Lagoon Creek, where the water is warmer than the lake.
For horse lovers, three stables offer horse trekking. Seeing the sights from horseback is an unforgettable experience, and you could even ride one of horses who appeared in The Lord of the Rings!
Environmentalists will appreciate the restoration work undertaken by the local environmental groups to restore the natural balance and beauty of the area, where introduced pests including feral cats, stoats, possums and rabbits have caused massive destruction.
Native birdlife includes kaka, kea, karearea, kakariki parrots, robins, riflemen, rock wren, and mohua. New Zealand’s only native mammal, the pekapeka or native bat, also lives here.
It’s just possible there are a few hobbits to boot. In 2001, Kiwi film sensation Peter Jackson began filming The Lord of the Rings in the New Zealand countryside. Isengard, Lothlorien, Amon Hen, the Ithilien camp and the Misty Mountains are all here in Glenorchy, as well as scenery included in The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and X-Men origins: Wolverine which were filmed in the area.
In case you think Glenorchy isn’t perfect enough, up the road a further 20km you’ll find Paradise. The area is maintained by the Paradise Trust, who operate a variety of incredibly cute bush huts and cabins for rent. Paradise is rustic New Zealand at its best.
Come to paradise – you won’t regret it!