Situated at the end of the road, there’s only one way in and out. The village nestled at the head of the lake, in the heart of the mountains, is a small slice of paradise.
As the saying goes “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” - this definitely applies here, your journey begins as soon as you leave the outer edge of Queenstown and see the ‘Gateway to Paradise’ road sign. It has been called one of the most beautiful drives in the world and it certainly lives up to that accolade.
The views along the way just don’t give up, at every turn you see another breath-taking vista of the lake with the backdrop of sheer mountains. Be sure to pull over at Bennetts Bluff, it will be the first view of the northern end of the lake, encircled by mountain ranges and Earnslaw Glacier in the distance.
Note: Paradise Glenorchy and Paradise Queenstown are one and the same. Glenorchy is 40 minutes from Queenstown and Paradise is a further 15 minutes along the road.
On the main street, Mrs Woolly's is a traditional local store selling home-baked goods, delicious pies, great coffee and a collection of beautiful New Zealand-made clothing, toys, art and crafts. We highly recommend spending a night at Camp Glenorchy, it’s an eco-retreat, built with careful consideration to the environment. Staying in a cosy log cabin with a verandah overlooking the mountains provides the perfect base to give you time to explore all that Glenorchy has to offer.
The Glenorchy to Paradise road begins at the roundabout just north of Mrs Woolly's. Turn left at the roundabout for the Red Shed and turn right to Paradise.
Source: Mrs Woollys
Check out the Red Shed for the obligatory photo stop. During the 1860s this was the main point of arrival in Glenorchy, the journey by steamship from Queenstown or Kingston was the main arterial route connecting the villages. The road wasn’t completed until 1962. Wander along the jetty to enjoy the expansive views of the lake framed by the Humboldt Mountains on one side and the head of the Dart River valley on the other.
This is also the starting point for the lagoon boardwalk. An easy grade short walk passing through marshlands teeming with birdlife. The wooden boardwalks meander through the lagoon, on a calm day the reflections of the mountains in the water are crystal clear.
The Glenorchy to Paradise road begins at the roundabout near the Red Shed. Head straight on for Paradise or turn right to head back to Mrs Woolly's and Queenstown.
Explore ‘them thar hills’
‘The gold in them thar hills’ was what brought the original settlers to Glenorchy. The legacy they left behind can still be seen today, if you’re keen to venture off for a day hike. For a relatively small village, there are plenty of great hiking options on the doorstep.
Invincible Mines. A three-hour return hike. A steady uphill walk through the native beech forest with expansive views of the Rees Valley and Earnslaw Glacier. There’s a variety of historic pieces of mining equipment dotted around that are still intact after 160 years. After reaching the top, possibly a bit short of breath, take a moment to appreciate the men and horses that transported the equipment up that very same track.
Rockburn Chasm. A 10k round trip. The first part of the track follows the edge of Lake Sylvan. Then the trail is undulating through the beech forest, keep an eye out for the orange markers to stay on track. The chasm is signed, a right turn off the main track. The reward for your efforts is the Rockburn Chasm. The granite rocks have been carved out over the years, the smooth, curved shapes of the grey rocks provide a stunning contrast with the turquoise pools. The water is so clear you can see the sculpted rock walls all the way to the bottom.
Mount Judah Track
Whakaari is a conservation area right on the edge of town. Take a hike into history in a majestic wilderness environment, once the site of the most extensive scheelite mining activity in New Zealand. The scheelite battery and some of the huts are still standing today. There are a variety of tracks to choose from ranging from a couple of hours to a challenging full-day loop. The Mount Judah track takes you on a journey back in time, passing the old battery and various mining relics along the way. The museum hut is a snapshot in time, complete with pots, pans, crockery, books, and personal effects. You can appreciate what it would have been like to spend a harsh winter there!
Rippled Earth - Kayak to Pigeon Island
On your approach to Glenorchy, you may have noticed the two small islands not far from the shore. Taking a kayak trip over to Pigeon Island is well worth the time. Sam is the face of Rippled Earth, a local boy with a wealth of knowledge about the environment, history, flora, and fauna. During the peaceful kayak from the shore to the island on the tranquil, pristine lake, he will regale you with quirky facts and legends. Pigeon Island, now predator-free, is home to a host of native birds, you will have the opportunity to explore on foot on a bushwalk around the island.
Having come this far, you may as well continue to the end of the road to reach Paradise!
The Paradise road sign is one of the most photographed in New Zealand. Paradise Trust is an historic property, open to day visitors and offering a range of accommodation options, from rustic cabins to boutique luxury in one of their historic houses. There is no cell phone or Wifi coverage so it’s a great opportunity to unplug and unwind, after all, you are in Paradise, why would you need to be distracted by the outside world!
Diamond Lake is just a short stroll away, home to some decent sized brown trout, you can cast a line or go for a kayak or a refreshing swim. There are a variety of walking tracks to explore the native bush and take in the impressive scenery of Fiordland and Aspiring National Park.
When you get back to the real world and turn your mobile phone back on will be able to share your new memories of spending time in Paradise. It truly lives up to its name!
The Routeburn Track
Glenorchy is the gateway for the Routeburn Track which is one of the nine great walks of New Zealand. It's 33km long, takes between 2-4 days to complete and is absolutely stunning. You can either begin this adventure from Glenorchy or from the divide on the Milford highway. From the Glenorchy to Paradise road, ignore the signs for Paradise and head further around the lake following signs to Lake Lake Sylvan.
Don't have time to do all the Great Walks? Check out the Great Walks of New Zealand tour and explore the best sections of the Routeburn, Kepler, and Milford Tracks all on one trip.
Mt Crichton Loop Track
The Mt Crichton Loop Track is a hidden gem between Queenstown and Glenorchy. This well-formed track will take you along a river, past a historic hut, a waterfall and an old gold mining tunnel. It takes between 2-4 hours to complete and our insider tip would be to tackle the track anti-clockwise!
12 Mile Delta to Bob's Cove
Bob’s Cove is a magical little spot along the shores of Lake Wakatipu as you head out to Glenorchy. The little slice of heaven features a picture-perfect jetty surrounded by deep blue waters and mountains for a backdrop. It takes between 2-4 hours to compete on a return track and it's an easy-going walk with big view rewards. If you need any more convincing it was one of the filming spots for Lord of the Rings' Ithilien Camp and during Spring the red rata flowers are in full bloom!
Lake Sylvan Loop Track
The Lake Sylvan Loop is nestled in Mount Aspiring National Park and will take you between 1-2 hours to complete. It's a well-defined track that will lead you through tall beech trees and native birds until you reach the spectacular lookout point on the edge of the lake. On a still day, the mountains are perfectly reflected on the water's surface, which makes for a top-notch photo! It's also one of the lesser-known tracks in the area, so you'll have no trouble listening to the birds sing out and the river run by as you meander through the forest.
From the Glenorchy to Paradise road, ignore the signs for Paradise and head further around the lake following signs to Lake Sylvan.
Looking for things to do from Queenstown? Want to experience Glenorchy and the Routeburn? Discover the best of New Zealand on a small-group, fully-guided adventure tour with Active Adventures.