Glenorchy is a charming town featuring pristine lakes, red beech forests, open plains and towering peaks. Cornering both Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National parks, its untouched landscapes have been made famous in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
This prime filming location has boosted Glenorchy tourism, especially for Glenorchy Paradise, one of the most famous places to visit in Central Otago and a must-see on your next visit to New Zealand.
As well as this, there are many great amazing activities to add to your Glenorchy itinerary. Follow this 2020 guide for an overview of what to do in Glenorchy, as well as some insider tips from Kiwis who are big fans of this quaint, little town.
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Things to Do in Glenorchy
1. Glenorchy Lord of the Rings Film Locations
It’s no surprise that New Zealand is home to some stunning scenery. Some of these landscapes have been used as filming locations for the Lord of The Rings trilogy.
There are quite a few areas in and around Glenorchy used in the LOTR filming. Paradise in the heart of Glenorchy was used for scenes involving Isengard and Lothlorien. This is an iconic area to stop at when on a Lord of the Rings tour.
Closeburn just north of Queenstown is one of the areas used for filming during the final battle of the Fellowship of the Ring as well as the spot the Orcs captured Merry and Pippin.
Twelve Mile Delta, located on Glenorchy-Queenstown Road is the filming location for Ithilien Camp. There’s a great lookout point in the area. To find it, just search “Ithilien Lookout (Lord of the Rings)” on google maps.
2. Glenorchy Walkway (Boardwalk)
This easy, picturesque walking track has many name variations. Some know it as the Glenorchy Walkway or the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway, and some as the Glenorchy Lagoon Boardwalk. This track is definitely one of the best free things to do in Glenorchy NZ.
The walk is a one to two-hour loop around the town featuring steep mountain ranges, a mirrored lagoon and brightly-coloured tussock. The walk is beautiful no matter the season. In summer, the lush greenery and view clarity of the faraway mountain ranges are striking, and in winter, the yellow tussock, bare trees and snow-clad peaks look like something out of a painting.
This Glenorchy activity is perfect for keen birdwatchers. Many species of native birds call this boardwalk home, including the South Island Pied Oystercatcher, the grey teal and the grey duck.
3. Paradise Ziplines
Ziplining is one of the more thrilling Glenorchy activities. The Paradise Ziplines course consists of eight ziplines to give a combined total of over one kilometre of lines. Each zipline is different from the next, with some soaring over cliffs and some over the rapids.
Start by walking through the red beech forest zipline over the panoramic views and even catch a glimpse of Glenorchy Paradise, a film location in Lord of the Rings.
Adults and children 10 years and above can give ziplining a go at $150 NZD per person.
4. Brunch in Glenorchy
When it comes to Glenorchy food, there aren’t many options due to the size of the town. However, the choices are delicious!
There’s no place I’d rather dine for brunch than one with a great outdoor area and views of the mountains. Glenorchy Cafe and Bar (The GYC) is my favourite place for brunch in Glenorchy.
They have an all-day breakfast at typical New Zealand prices of less than $20 NZD. Coffees range from $4 NZD to $6 NZD.
The Trading Post has a similar ambience, with a cottage-style cafe and outdoor seating. If you’re looking for a simple breakfast, this is the place to go. The Trading Post serves great toasties and croissants.
5. Skydive Southern Alps
If you’ve ever thought about giving skydiving a go, Glenorchy is a great place to do it. Of course, you’ll get to view the Lord of the Rings scenery as you freefall from heights as high as 15,000 feet.
Because of the impressive scenery, Skydiving is unsurprisingly also one of the best things to do in Queenstown.
Skydive Southern Alps has many options for tandem skydiving. Choose between a 15,000, 12,000 or 9,000-foot descent which ranges in price from $289 NZD to $459 NZD. These packages also include a short scenic flight to get you up to the desired height.
The minimum age to skydive is six years old and 30 kg. There is no specified age or weight limit, but it will be subject to further assessment.
Choose to meet the team in Glenorchy, or you can meet in Queenstown Town where they will transport you to the Glenorchy Dropzone.
6. Sunrise at Glenorchy Wharf
At midday, Glenorchy Wharf is packed with tourists. Beat the crowds and have the whole wharf to yourself at sunrise. It is one of my favourite free things to do in Glenorchy NZ.
We left Queenstown at 6 am to catch the sunrise at 7 am in Glenorchy. Follow our Queenstown Itinerary if you’re planning on visiting Glenorchy from Queenstown. Of course, we had to make an early pitstop at Ferg Baker, one of the best places to eat in Queenstown for a breakfast pie.
We got to the wharf at 7 am when it was still dark. We set up our tripod at the start of the wharf and waited for the sun to rise. It was freezing, but the sunrise made it worth the wait.
As the sun rose, the mountain peaks were lit up by the morning glow. We watched the tips of the peaks turn bright yellow until the whole peaks and some of Glenorchy lagoon were saturated in the morning sunlight.
7. Glenorchy Paradise New Zealand
Glenorchy Paradise is the main Glenorchy attraction and what put Glenorchy on the map. Lord of the Rings fans flock to Paradise to see these iconic sights. Glenorchy-Paradise Road is a 13-kilometre long stretch of road, filled with many viewpoints to stop at along the way.
Visiting these Lord of the Rings locations can be done as a tour from Queenstown. There are many Lord of the Rings Tours in Queenstown to choose from, including a half-day tour of Glenorchy, a full-day tour, and even a thrilling 4WD tour.
Alternatively, a popular option is creating a Glenorchy Lord of the Rings self-tour with a road trip, which gives you the freedom to stop when and where you want along the roads and explore the landscapes yourself.
8. Glenorchy Food
The places to eat in Glenorchy are very different from the Queenstown restaurants.
Kinloch Lodge is a great pick for some upmarket food just out of the main town itself. It is only a few kilometres away from the town, but to get to the lodge, you’ll have to take the stunning scenic route just shy of 30 minutes. Try their Angus sirloin beef steak and the classic Kiwi favourite, beer-battered snapper.
There is no better place to buy dumplings in Glenorchy than at Queenie’s Dumplings. These make for a great snack to share in a group. A pack of nine pan-fried dumplings will cost $17 NZD. Pork and prawn is my top pick. Noodle soup and rice dishes are also served here.
If you’re staying at Glenorchy Hotel, there’s a pub and restaurant located just downstairs which is incredibly convenient.
9. Glenorchy Kayaking
Kayaking is such a relaxing activity as you glide through the water, but it’s also a great upper body workout! This is one of my favourite activities to do, whether it be in the South island of New Zealand, Vang Vieng in Laos, or the island of Rarotonga.
There are kayaking tours available for beginners, as well as combination tours with jetboating or trekking to get the most out of your day. Tours generally start at $100 NZD for a half-day tour.
10. Wineries in Glenorchy
Wine from the Central Otago region of the country is well-known, especially pinot noir varietals. There are countless, well, over 200 wineries in the surrounding regions, with most being the ever-popular wineries and vineyards in Queenstown.
The closest wineries to Glenorchy are actually in Queenstown. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand and should definitely be on your list of places to visit in New Zealand.
Either stop by a winery or two on your way to Queenstown or take a winery tour.
11. Lake Sylvan Track
Lake Sylvan has one of the most tranquil and marvellous viewpoints in Glenorchy. The track begins with a suspension bridge over some rapids. Follow the well-marked paths through a red beech forest to the lookout point.
The lookout point features Lake Sylvan. On a still day, the lake provides mirror reflections of the surrounding mountains. One of the mountains is the spectacular Mt Earnslaw.
The walk to the platform takes a short 40 minutes. The track is perfect for all ages and abilities, being flat in terrain and well-defined. Continue on the loop track for one hour, or alternatively, return back using the same pathway that you arrived in.
Lake Sylvan isn’t located right in Glenorchy town, but around 30 minutes north of Glenorchy. The views are definitely worth the drive out there.
12. Diamond Lake
At the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park lies Diamond Lake. Access Diamond Lake via the Diamond Creek Track, which will take you 45 minutes to reach Lake Reid. As you walk along Diamond Creek, you may see fishermen along the way catching trout. There will be views of the Dart Valley and some views of Paradise Glenorchy.
Most people end their walk at Lake Reid, but you can choose to continue on for another 80 minutes to reach Diamond Lake which is much larger and more spectacular. You can camp here too at $8 NZD per night.
13. Picnic at Glenorchy Lagoon
A picnic isn’t complete without great views, so where better to have a picnic in Glenorchy than at Glenorchy Lagoon? The Glenorchy Lagoon has a picnic bench at a viewpoint that looks out over the mountain ranges, which is the perfect spot for a picnic.
Either grab some takeaways from a local cafe or head to the supermarket to pick up some goodies. What we love to do is buy a cooked chicken, bread rolls and coleslaw from the deli section. Then, we’ll make up the rolls as we sit and admire the views.
If you’re intending on picking food up from the supermarket, choose food that requires minimal kitchen preparation, so you’re not fiddling around at the picnic. Some great food for picnics that do not require prep include grapes, chocolate or sweets, a pasta salad from the deli, cheese and crackers, and chips and dip.
14. Glenorchy Animal Experience
Glenorchy Animal Experience is a family-friendly activity in Glenorchy. Glenorchy Animal Experience is a family-owned farm in a stunning location. You’ll see views of snow-capped mountain ranges – one of the best landscapes you’ll view from a farm!
Pet their many friendly animals such as llamas, ducks, rabbits, miniature horses, and much more. They have an adorable Clydesdale horse and farm dogs on their farm too.
To enter, adults will cost $20 NZD and children five years and above at $10 NZD. A family pass is available for two adults and up to three children at $50 NZD.
15. Routeburn Track
The Routeburn Track is perfect for seeing a little bit of everything that Glenorchy has to offer. You’ll get to experience lush meadows, vast mountain ranges, and dipping valleys.
The Routeburn Track is currently under repair from February flooding, but a new experience named the Routeburn Return is now available. This track is for avid hikers, suitable as a four-day and three-night return trek. The hike is 33 kilometres one way with changes in elevation, making it a little more challenging than the original route.
Bookings are required for huts or campsites prior to the walk, so book in advance.
The perfect amount of time to spend in Glenorchy ranges from a single day trip to a few days – it really depends how long you have for your holiday and your interests. Adventure junkies may prefer to base themselves in Queenstown and take a trip to Glenorchy for the day, whereas those looking for nature, and peace and quiet, will love the feel of Glenorchy.
For the Lord of the Rings fans out there, make sure your Glenorchy itinerary includes Glenorchy paradise.
Other great things to do in Glenorchy include watching the sunrise at Glenorchy wharf (my top pick), going kayaking, the Lake Sylvan Track, and Glenorchy walkway.
There is limited Glenorchy accommodation due to its size, but there are still a few great places to stay, from eco-retreats to bed and breakfasts and hotels.
Kinloch Lodge is a popular option for basic accommodation. They have a range of rooms available from upmarket backpacker accommodation from $35 NZD per night to a Lake House from $320 NZD per night.
Glenorchy Peaks Bed and Breakfast is a place to stay that feels like home. This cosy accommodation has rooms available for the $150 NZD mark.
Ecoscapes is the place to go for luxury cabins right in the countryside. This is definitely one to treat yourself for – the views are incredible and the ambience serene.
Is Glenorchy Worth Visiting?
Glenorchy is worth visiting for a few nights or even for a Glenorchy day trip! At less than an hour away from Queenstown, it’s super easy to head over there and experience something new.
Despite being a small township, there are many things to do in Glenorchy, including skydiving, kayaking, and stunning Glenorchy walks.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
The best way to get from Queenstown to Glenorchy is by car. The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is just shy of one hour, around a 45 km distance. The views are incredible driving along the edge of Lake Wakatipu.
Be sure to stop off at the Bennett’s Bluff Lookout along the way. Roads can be windy so drive to the road conditions, especially in the snow.
Glenorchy Journeys is the cheapest way to get to Glenorchy if you do not have a car. They offer transport from Queenstown to Glenorchy via a shuttle bus at rates of $25 NZD one way. They have four departure times daily from as early as 8 am and as late as 4 pm.
Alternatively, there are plenty of day tours available that bring you to Glenorchy from Queenstown.