Great Drives from Queenstown: Glenorchy

Our third day in New Zealand kicked of with a morning hike up Queenstown Hill. The trail begins on Belfast Terrace, a quiet residential street above Queenstown, and continues on up the hill for almost 1.2 miles.

Introduction: Christmas in Hong Kong, and New Year in New Zealand
Cathay Pacific First & Business Class Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific Business Class (Reverse Herringbone) SFO-HKG
The Conrad Hong Kong – Harbor View Twin Room
The Intercontinental Hong Kong – Harbor View Room
The Sights and Sounds of Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge HKG Airport
Singapore Airlines Business Class HKG-SIN-AKL
Arrival in Queenstown & The Rees Queenstown Luxury Hotel Apartments
Queenstown Day 1: Milford Sound
Queenstown Day 2: Glenorchy
Queenstown Day 3: Crown Range Road & Wanaka
The Hilton Auckland
Hobbiton, New Zealand
Emperor Lounge @ Auckland Airport (via Priority Pass)
The Park Hyatt Sydney – Opera View Deluxe King Room
Virgin Australia Business Class SYD-LAX

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The trail offers some interesting markers and signs indicating the historical significance of the trail and the changes that have occurred to Queenstown since its first establishment in 1853. The trail is extremely steep and takes a good 3 hours to do roundtrip. This was heck of a workout for such a warm day (temperatures were in the 80s) and was made longer by our decision to take the longer shaded path through the forest  at the fork in the road.

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Here is a video of the hike taken with Google Glass. Sorry if it’s a little shaky, the trail was a bit slick especially on the way down due to loose gravel.

The trail ultimately culminates in this nice view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables. It was truly worth the hike to see Lake Wakatipu in all its glory.

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At the head of the trail is this iconic sculpture coined “The Basket of Dreams” by Caroline Robinson.

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There was even a guy laying down in it, basking in the sun when we first arrived at the site. I don’t know if it is normal for people to just lay down and enjoy the sun in it, but this guy was certainly didn’t budge until almost 20 mins later.

A plaque by the sculpture has the following poem by the artist:

The Basket’s spiral of steel follows you
inward to reflect to draw inspiration from the mountains, lake and
from those who are with you
outward to dream for the future.
Time flies, eternity awaits.

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For the trail down, I just took the steeper, shorter road down, which took 5 minutes to the fork and another 35 minutes to the parking lot. The picture above is the view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu as seen from the pathway down.

Bottom Line: 

A fairly intense 45 min – 60 min hike, which has almost no flat terrain and a very steep gradient all the way. The views at the end of the hike are some of the finest you can get of Queenstown. However, if you don’t have time, you might as well substitute this hike with the Skyline Gondola, which gets you up and down faster. 

After taking a shower back at the hotel, we had lunch at Pita Pit in downtown Queenstown (they have a really nice vegetarian falafel wrap) and then headed to the famous Cookie Time bakery for those wonderfully warm cookies. We walked around for a bit in the city centre and decided to drive over to Glenorchy because it was just a terrific day outside.

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The drive from Queenstown-Glenorchy is one of the finest drives in all of New Zealand. The road takes tons of twists and turns along Lake Wakatipu before finally arriving in the small town of Glenorchy. The road itself is quite narrow compared the road to Milford Sound and doesn’t have a shoulder like many roads in the U.S. So just be aware that you do need to be a little careful driving here. The area is popularly known as the setting for much of the scenes from Lord of the Rings including Isengard, Lothlorien, and the death of Boromir.

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The drive has a multitude of spots to pull over and take breathaking pictures of Lake Wakatipu and the mountains that surround Queenstown. If you make the trip in the winter or early spring, there will be plenty of snow on the mountains. I took the following video using my Google Glass during the drive:

 

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Along the way is one of the iconic views of New Zealand, the view of the mountains with Pigeon island in the foreground. We were very lucky to have had such spectacularly clear weather that day and just loved the views this drive afforded.

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Just before entering the town of Glenorchy, we saw this clearing with many cows just grazing and basking in the afternoon sun.

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Just past the town of Glenorchy and along the main road is the Glenorchy-Paradise Road which continues on to become the Glenorchy-Routeburn Road. At the end of this road is the Dart River Bridge, and where the river by the same name converges with Lake Wakatipu. Looking toward the source of the river reveals the setting for Orthanc, and the area of Isengard from Lord of the Rings.

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December is the middle of summer in New Zealand so the area where the convergence actually happens was a bit dry. We spent some time just walking around and soaking in the views.

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On the far end of the area were the famous water bound willows of Glenorchy, but I completely forgot about those as I daydreamed Lord of the Rings scenes.  I completely regret it now obviously because the Willows make for an awesome photo opportunity.

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Leading straight after crossing the bridge is a gravel road leading to other area attractions and other Lord of the Rings locations. If you are interested these areas will require a tour guide or 4×4 at the least. Either case, not a place you want to venture out on your own in a rental car.

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DSC06111Bottom Line:

Glenorchy is perhaps the best of the drives near Queenstown due to its short distance from town and easy access to spectacular mountain views. Furthermore, if you are in love with Middle Earth as much as I am, this easily the most accessible place to witness some of the most breathtaking settings. The road also has many nice hikes like Bob’s Cove and the popular Routeburn track. To put it simply, if you don’t like long drives or bus drives (eg. the journey to Milford Sound), this is the place to invest all of your time. Just make sure that the weather is clear.