Firstly and briefly: Queenstown
There is no such thing as a quick weekend visit to Queenstown. There are so many adventurous possibilities in this lakeside town and its amazing surrounding countryside. Queenstown is the main town on Lake Wakatipu. Over the years it has grown as tourism has taken this mountainous paradise to the world, with people venturing from international destinations to experience what the area has to offer all year round. The seasons make no difference to some of the adventures on offer so there is plenty for everyone. But wait, there’s more – beyond Queenstown there is a world to be discovered. One such direction is to Glenorchy and Paradise, popular for much of the filming of the movie ‘Lord of the Rings’.
Read of our arrival in Queenstown! Read story here
Below is a non-exhaustive list of things to do in and around Queenstown:
- Jet boating and river rafting
- Sailing on the lake
- Leisurley cruises on the Earnslaw and other cruising boats
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Tramping and hiking
- Gold panning
- Multi sports events
- Kayaking, canoeing and funyaks
- Bungy jumping, Skippers or Nevis Swing
- Wine tasting and Vineyard Tours
- Helicopter or fixed wing flights over Fiordland
- Heli skiing
- Glacier landings
- Heli picnicing
- Skyline gondola and luge rides
- City highlight tours
- Walter Peak visit with farm or food tours
- Lord of the Rings – Glenorchy Tours
- Skydiving and ziplining
- Quad bikes and mountain bike trips
- 4WD trips
Check out things to do in Queenstown here
Read more here: The best Skiing destinations in NZ
A day trip to the ‘head of the lake’ and beautiful Paradise
On this trip, arriving on a cold and wintry Friday night, we make plans for the following day. Being winter, snow was forecast, however, on discussing the weather situation the following morning, it is decided this is the day. We drive off through the town and the growing suburbs as Queenstown bursts at its seams trying to break out of its confines as people grasp to live in this amazing scenery. We head out towards the north-west for Glenorchy at the top end of Lake Wakatipu known as the ‘head of the lake’. This is another sporting playground for the adventurer and offers many mountain and lake sports including sailing, tramping, mountaineering, river rafting and jet boating on the Dart River where one can also enjoy the more sedate Canadian kayaks called funyaks.
Check out the location(s) on the map below. Queenstown/Glenorchy map
The Lakeside Drive
Driving up the lake side road, twisting and climbing along the contours of the steep mountainous terrain with sheer drops to the waters edge and peaks where you have to crane your neck to see, the weather changes to a gloomy, stormy but stunning scene over Mt Alfred away in the distance at Glenorchy. The mood in this area is set by the weather of the day and can range from squalls of rain, bright sunshine and howling gales. When the squalls are happening, the colours can vary from green and blue to purple and black. As soon as you get back into your car from photographing one scene it can change rapidly and have you jumping back out to capture that next look. Rainbows spring up across the lake which is choppy like a sea out of control. It is not as straight as the lake edge would suggest when you look at the map as it twists and turns, rises and falls. The road comes back to lake level at times and stopping points offer further great photographic viewpoints.
Lake Wakatipu is shaped a bit like an S or even like a snake! With no clear head and tail this lake is deep, wide and very cold. But the 45km drive along the side of the lake to Glenorchy is spectacular and easy. The road has been sealed for about 20 years making this trip one of the most beautiful in New Zealand; and makes access to the great mountain walks of the area even easier.
Spotting the TSS Earnslaw
We spot the TSS Earnslaw – the beautiful old steamer, lovingly known as ‘the lady of the lake’ steaming back from Walter Peak station. Still as regal as ever, but dwarfed by the imposing snow-capped mountain above, she steams back to Queenstown with a well-known ‘hoot’ and a billow of smoke from her steam engines; well known to the locals and tourists alike as the hooting sound reverberates about the wintery mountains. Sailing as the mail boat on Lake Wakatipu since 1912 she has been photographed and written about for over 100 years.
Read about the Earnslaw & history here / And here
In days gone by – I remember taking this trip as a girl guide in my teens – the only access route to Glenorchy and Kinloch, the settlements located on either side of the ‘head of the lake’, was by the TSS Earnslaw. The Earnslaw carried both mail and supplies to the farms and remote stations of the Glenorchy area. It was the only mode of transport for the growing numbers of trampers, prospectors, mountaineers and workers when no formal road existed or there was just a bullock track like so many early roads in New Zealand. When (in the 1940s) it was realised that the steamer would not service the area forever, some crafty country thinking got under way and the road was opened in the early 1960s – no quick fix in those days (read more here to be inserted). Today the Earnslaw regularly takes tourists to Walter Peak Station and back to Queenstown occasionally doing chartered tours around the bays, but doesn’t travel too far from ‘home base’.
A charming story about how the road got made! (read here) Read here
Glenorchy and Paradise Explored
Arriving in Glenorchy which was settled by farmers and prospectors in the early 1860s and locally and lovingly known these days as GY, it depends on your reason for being there as to which road you take out of town, if indeed you are heading further! One road goes to Kinloch and to the Caples-Greenstone track exit/entrance. Another goes up to the start of the amazing and famed Routeburn track with a drive through lovely farmland along the way. A third road leads to the beginning of the Rees track which meets the Dart track and glacier up in the mountains and hills across streams and tentative ice bridges. Read great content and information with a lovely photo of the Earnslaw from those early days. Read here
Today we drive almost straight ahead to beautiful Paradise, known for the filming of movies including ‘Lord of the Rings’. We pass Diamond Lake and turn into the driveway of the station that ‘is’ Paradise, a trust set up by David Miller, the former owner of this land, where cattle roam, greenstone (Pounamu) still rests in the rivers and the main tourist attraction is tramping, mountaineering, jet boating, Canadian Yak canoes and just getting away from it all. On the station, you can rent a rustic time-aged cottage in the woods and rest, relax and enjoy the wilderness that is so quintessential New Zealand. Read more and book here
Drive to the end of the Road
We drive through the beautiful and rugged countryside surrounded by big mountains to the end of the road at Chinaman’s Bluff, where tramping and mountaineering tracks start and end. All that is there is a toilet block, a shelter from the weather for weary travellers awaiting their pick-up, some great posters telling the history and the topography of the area and a nice view down to the Dart river where the jet boats and funyaks pass by. Remote and beautiful we enjoy our 30 minutes there and drive back to have nice coffee and food in the iconic Glenorchy Cafe – still in action 40 years after my husband has been in the area mountaineering with the famed David Miller in the days when they could both scale the peaks without effort!