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The Scenic Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive: 16 Epic Stops!

queenstown-to-glenorchy-drive

The Queenstown to Glenorchy drive is easily one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads. 

Officially known as the Glenorchy-Queenstown Highway, this incredible road skirts alongside beautiful Lake Wakatipu. Towering mountains provide the most epic backdrop for the drive. You’ll find swimming spots, hiking trails, Lord of the Rings filming sites, and lots of photo ops along the way.

In short, don’t miss this drive on your visit to Queenstown!

Technically, the Glenorchy-Queenstown Highway is only around 46kms (29 miles) long and takes just 45 minutes from point to point. However, there are lots of great stops along the way, so you’ll want to take your time. You can also continue on past Glenorchy to Paradise (that is seriously the name of the place!) or Kinloch, if you’re feeling extra adventurous.

In this guide, we’re sharing all of the best stops along the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. We’ve also included some awesome detours if you feel like exploring even more. We do this drive a LOT (we live in Queenstown) so consider this your insiders’ guide!

So let’s get to it. Read on to discover the best things to do on the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy (and beyond).

Some FAQs for the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive

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The peaceful Glenorchy lagoon is one of the many stunning spots around Glenorchy!
Is Glenorchy worth visiting?

Yes, Glenorchy is 100% worth visiting! While the township itself is super small, it’s located in one of the most beautiful backdrops in all of New Zealand. If you enjoy scenic, natural places, you won’t want to miss Glenorchy. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit on the South Island, and the drive to get there is simply stunning.

What is there to see between Glenorchy and Queenstown?

There is SO much to see on the road between Glenorchy and Queenstown—that’s why we’ve written this guide, to help you decide where to stop along the way! There are lakeside beaches, forested hikes, and non-stop amazing views along the drive.

What is the road like between Queenstown and Glenorchy?

The Glenorchy-Queenstown Road is fully paved (sealed) and you can drive any vehicle on it, whether you’re in a car, campervan, or RV—you don’t need 4WD to do this drive. Do note that it can get quite narrow and windy in spots, so you’ll want to take care. 

However, the Glenorchy-Queenstown Highway can occasionally get washed out after a major storm, so check up on the road conditions before heading out.

If you plan to drive past Glenorchy, note that the roads become gravel (unsealed). Most vehicles can make it just fine to Paradise, the Routeburn Track trailhead, and Kinloch (all locations past Glenorchy), but again—check the road conditions before you start driving.

One other thing to note: There is only one road in (and the same road out!) of Glenorchy: the Glenorchy-Queenstown Highway. So, if you miss some spots on the drive in, you can consider stopping at them on the drive back. 

Is it safe to drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy in winter?

Yes, you can usually do this drive in winter without issues. However, if you’re planning to drive in winter (June through August), make sure you’re on the road between 10am and 5pm so you can best avoid black ice. 

Don’t do this drive outside of those hours in winter, especially when it’s dark outside; anyways, driving in the dark would defeat the purpose of this drive, which is to see all of the epic views and sights along the way! Take it slow and be cautious, as it can be icy on the road.

In the winter months, you may not be able to access all of the stops mentioned in this guide, particularly some of the hikes. When we’ve suggested a hike, we’ve tried to note which ones are okay to do (or not) in winter. That being said, check on the DOC website for updates on hikes before you head out. And make sure you wear plenty of warm layers, as it will be cold out there!

Is there a bus from Queenstown to Glenorchy?

There is no public bus service from Queenstown to Glenorchy. We really think that the best way to experience this road is to drive yourself. If you’d prefer to take a bus, you can book a ride with Glenorchy Journeys, but note that they won’t stop at all of the places mentioned in this guide.

What to Expect in this Guide to the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive

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  • We’ve listed out 16 of the best stops on this drive. However, know that you won’t have time to do everything on the list in a day or even two days. You’ll want to pick and choose what stops sound best to you before you hit the road. We’ve noted the stops we think are “must-dos.” That being said, there are lots of adventures for people who want to get off the beaten track, too.

  • To help you with your planning, we’ve included some suggested itineraries towards the end of this guide.
  • If you’re pressed for time, you can of course just do the drive and not stop along the way. But…we hope you can take some time for at least a couple of stops—it’ll be worth it!

Map of the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive

The 16 Best Stops Along the Drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy (and Beyond!)

1. Sunshine Bay 

sunshine-bay-beach-queenstown

Sunshine Bay is a picturesque, secluded beach on Lake Wakatipu. It’s just a few minutes’ drive from Queenstown near the start of the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road.

You can easily park at Sunshine Bay—but don’t let the road signs confuse you. Instead of heading up to the neighborhood of Sunshine Bay, you’ll want to stay on the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road and park at Sunshine Bay itself.

It’s often too cold to swim in Lake Wakatipu. On a hot day, though, you just may be tempted to swim at Sunshine Bay. It has crystal-clear water and is much less crowded than the main Queenstown Beach. 

It’s worth noting that you can also walk to Sunshine Bay from Queenstown by taking the Sunshine Bay Track. So, if you have limited time to drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy but are staying in Queenstown for a few days, you could always walk to Sunshine Bay on another day during your trip.

2. Moke Lake 

moke-lake-campground-queenstown
Moke Lake is home to a great DOC campground. Photo by About Maps on Unsplash.

While it’s not technically on the Glenorchy-Queenstown road, the short (15-minute one-way) detour to Moke Lake is worth it if you’re after a beautiful campsite. The lake is home to a beautiful DOC campground with walking tracks and amazing stargazing opportunities.

Head to Moke Lake if you want a peaceful campsite close to Queenstown—when you get there, you’ll never believe that bustling Queenstown is only 20 minutes away. The Moke Lake Campsite is really one of the best campsites on the South Island.

When you visit Moke Lake, consider walking along the Moke Lake Loop Track, or scramble your way up to the Moke Lake Secret Viewpoint. Or simply go for a swim in the lake on a hot day!

If you’re not planning to camp out at Moke Lake, it’s probably not worth a stop on your drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. It’s beautiful out at Moke Lake, but skip it if you’re pressed for time. Also, avoid a visit to Moke Lake in winter unless you have a 4WD vehicle, as access can be difficult in the winter months.

3. Wilson Bay 

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For a quick swimming stop on a hot summer’s day, park up at Wilson Bay. This is a popular spot for boaties and families, with a nice stretch of pebbled beach and easy access from the road.

If you have more time to spare, though, we recommend swimming at Bob’s Cove instead, which is further down the road. See #6 below for more on Bob’s Cove!

4. Twelve Mile Delta 

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The Twelve Mile Delta DOC campground is a great place to camp along the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy!

Twelve Mile Delta is home to a lakefront DOC campground, nice walks and swimming spots, and a Lord of the Rings filming site!

Just a few minutes up from the campground is the spot where the Ithilien Camp was filmed for The Two Towers. This was the scene where Gollum asks Sam, “What’s taters, precious?” and Sam replies. “Po-TAY-toes! Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew” (iykyk…). 

Anyways, now that we’ve divulged our full level of LOTR nerdiness…here’s how to get there.

To get to the filming site, you’ll want to walk on the first part of the track towards Bob’s Cove. There are clearly-marked signs to Bob’s Cove, but the filming site isn’t signed. You may want to re-watch the films before heading here if you need to refresh your memory 😉

Speaking of Bob’s Cove—it’s a must-visit spot along the Queenstown to Glenorchy drive! We’ve written more about it in #6 below. While you can park closer to Bob’s Cove, you can also hike there from Twelve-Mile Delta along a lovely, easy track. The hike takes about 1 hour each way.

5. Mt Crichton Loop Track

7.6 km (4.7 miles) return | 2.5 hours | Moderate | Trail Guide

mt-crichton-loop-track-views

The Mt Crichton Loop Track is a locals’-favorite hiking trail. Beech forest, a waterfall, and a historic gold miners’ hut are just some of its awesome features. This is one of the best short hikes in Queenstown, although not many visitors know to come here! 

All in all, the Mt Crichton Loop Track is 7.6kms (4.7 miles) and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. The hike isn’t too hard, but it also isn’t super easy as there is some elevation gain. All-in-all, we rate this one as a moderate hike.

Lots of reviews will tell you to do this hike clockwise; however, we like to go counter-clockwise on this track. That way, you’ll get most of the uphill sections over with at the beginning of the hike, and then you can descend to the historic Sam Summers hut before looping back to the start/end of the trail. 

If it’s a drizzly day in Queenstown but you want to get outside, this track is a nice option; the beech forest offers some protection from the elements. That being said, it really is a great little hike rain or shine.

In winter, you can usually still do this hike but be careful, as there can be ice on the track.

6. Bob’s Cove

*A Must-Do!

Approx. 2km (1.2 miles) return | 30-40 minutes | Easy | Trail Guide

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The view from Picnic Point at Bob’s Cove

If you make just one stop along the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy, make it Bob’s Cove!

At Bob’s Cove, you’ll find great hiking trails, beech forest, turquoise lake coves, and gorgeous sandy beaches. On a sunny summer’s day, you absolutely must go for a swim at Bob’s Cove—it’s glorious.

One of the best things to do at Bob’s Cove—besides swimming and relaxing—is to hike up to Picnic Point for stunning views over Lake Wakatipu. The walk to Picnic Point is steep, but it takes just 5-10 minutes to get to the top—although you’ll likely want to take longer so you can stop and enjoy the amazing views.

We recommend packing a picnic to enjoy at Bob’s Cove; before you leave Queenstown, grab some sandwiches at Fergbaker to take with you! Trust us, once you get to Bob’s Cove, you won’t want to leave for a while.

Note: If the Bob’s Cove parking area is full, or if you just want a longer walk, you can also hike there from Twelve Mile Delta. See #4 above for more details.

7. Bennett’s Bluff Lookout

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The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is so incredibly beautiful that you’ll want to stop and get photos the whole time. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to find a safe place to pull over.

That’s where Bennett’s Bluff Lookout comes in—it’s a great place to stop to stretch your legs and get a photo of the area. There’s a big off-road parking area and it’s just a 5-minute walk up to the lookout.

8. Mrs. Woolley’s General Store

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You’ll spot this cute general store alongside the road as you enter Glenorchy. It’s located right next to Mrs. Wollley’s Campground and is a great spot to grab a coffee or snack—or pick up a souvenir from their gift shop to bring home with you.

9. The Glenorchy Red Shed

*A Must-Do!

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The historic red Glenorchy shed is one of New Zealand’s most-photographed landmarks. While it was once a storage shed for NZ Railways, it’s now a super popular spot for photo ops. The shed sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu with mountains behind it and looks straight out of a Wes Anderson movie

After visiting the Glenorchy Shed, we like to wander over to the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway for an easy, peaceful walk away from the crowds—see more in #10 below!

10. Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway

Approx. 3.4km (2.1 miles) return | 40-60 minutes | Easy | Trail Guide

glenorchy-lagoon-walkway

For a relaxed, peaceful walk in Glenorchy, don’t miss the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway! The walk takes about an hour (with opportunities for a longer walk) and goes through beautiful wetlands filled with birdlife.

This lovely trail is almost completely flat, so walkers of most abilities will enjoy it. Part of the trail is on a dirt path, while other sections are on boardwalks that are raised up off the wetlands.

On a calm, windless day, you can often see the surrounding mountains reflected in the lagoon waters. There’s a lot of birdlife in the area, including ducks and black swans, and it feels so meditative and relaxing here.

Make sure to sit at one of the benches along the lagoon to watch the birds and mountain reflections for a while. It’ll feel like a little slice of calm after the hustle and bustle of Queenstown.

Want to Keep Exploring? Here Are Some Awesome Stops Beyond Glenorchy:

11. Paradise 

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You’ll cross over the Rees River on the Paradise-Glenorchy road. Can you spot the fish in the river?!

With a name like “Paradise,” how could you not be tempted to visit this scenic area past Glenorchy?

Paradise is a small settlement (if you could even call it that!) about a 25-minute drive from Glenorchy. To get there, you simply need to take the Paradise-Glenorchy Road (deemed the “Road to Paradise”), which is partially unpaved but doable for most vehicles.

Before you get to Paradise, you could make a quick stop at Diamond Lake for a short walk. There’s also a low-cost DOC campsite at Diamond Lake (for campervans/RVs only).

You won’t find much out in Paradise besides a photo-op of the famous “Paradise” road sign and nice scenery from the car, but for some it’s worth the short drive just for the experience of taking the “Road to Paradise”! 

12. The Isengard Lookout

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Photo by Michael on Unsplash

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, then you’ll love this viewpoint over the Dart River Valley. This spot was a filming site for Isengard in the LOTR films. It’s a beautiful viewpoint of the Dart River and surrounding mountains that really does make you feel like you’re in Middle Earth.

To get to the viewpoint, you’ll drive for about 15 minutes past Glenorchy and take the Glenorchy-Routeburn Road. When you reach a one-lane bridge that crosses that Dart River, you’ve reached the spot. 

Just before the one-lane bridge, there should be a pullout area on the lefthand side of the road. If you can safely pull over your car and park here, then you can walk down to the riverbed to try and snap some photos. Otherwise, you’ll just need to admire the views as you drive over the bridge.

The GPS coordinates for this spot are as follows: 44° 46′ 23.5744″ S 168° 19′ 23.5481″ E

(Click on the coordinates above and you’ll be able to access directions via Google Maps).

13. Lake Sylvan Loop Track (and Campsite)

5.3km (3.3 miles) return | 1 hour 40 minutes | Easy | Trail Guide

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Lovely Lake Sylvan is a hidden gem in the Glenorchy area. 

To get to this pristine, peaceful alpine lake, you’ll follow an easy loop track in a mystical beech forest. The hike is a pleasure, with lots of birdsong and plenty of shade on a hot day. 

We recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy along the shores of Lake Sylvan. 

If you’re planning to camp, there’s a great DOC campsite at the trailhead—the Sylvan Campsite. This is a basic, no-frills campground but it’s in an absolutely stunning setting! Do bring insect repellent though, as sandflies can be present.

We’d skip this hike in the winter months, as the trail can get quite muddy.

14. Routeburn Track Day Hikes (to Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls)

Routeburn Flats Hut: Approx. 15km (9.3 miles) return | 4 hours | Moderate | Trail Guide

Routeburn Falls Hut: Approx. 18.2km (11.3 miles) return | 6 hours | Hard | Trail Guide

routeburn-falls-day-hike

One of New Zealand’s best hiking trails—the Routeburn Track—is located near Glenorchy in Mount Aspiring National Park. The Routeburn Track is one of NZ’s Great Walks, and hikers usually complete the trail over 3 days, staying in mountain huts or tent camping sites along the way.

The thing is, you don’t actually have to do all of the Routeburn Track to enjoy it. You can do a day hike on the Routeburn Track instead! 

How to get to the start of the Routeburn Track

From Glenorchy, you’ll need to drive for about 30 minutes to reach the Routeburn Shelter, where you can hop on the Routeburn Track. 

The drive from Glenorchy to the Routeburn Shelter is so incredibly beautiful. In spring and early summer, waterfalls pour down from the mountains all around you, but it’s absolutely gorgeous year-round.

After driving over a bridge above the Dart River, you’ll turn right onto Routeburn Road, an unpaved (but well-maintained) road. You’ll follow this road until you reach the Routeburn Shelter, which has a large parking area right at the start of the Routeburn Track.

How to Day Hike the Routeburn Track

To hike the Routeburn Track as a day walk, you’ll have two main options: you can either hike to 1) Routeburn Flats (4 hours round-trip; moderate) or continue on to Routeburn Falls (6 hours round-trip; hard). There are DOC huts at both the Flats and the Falls for people staying overnight, but if you’re day hiking you can simply use the toilet facilities at the huts if you need to. 

Both hike options are awesome, so it’s really just up to you to decide how long you want to hike!

Make sure you bring plenty of drinking water and lunch/snacks for the trail before starting your hike; Queenstown is the best place to pick up supplies beforehand.

Important note: If you’re planning to visit in winter, you should NOT hike to Routeburn Falls. The avalanche risk is too high, and there will be dangerous snow and ice on the track. You can usually still hike to the Routeburn Flats Hut in the winter, but check on the DOC website before you go (and be extra careful, as the trail might be icy). 

And another note: If you want to stay at either the Routeburn Flats Hut or Routeburn Falls Hut, you need to book in advance via the DOC website. Spaces fill up months in advance. However, if you’re just doing a day hike to either hut, there’s no need to book or pay for anything. 

15. Kinloch 

Kinloch is a tiny township on the opposite side of Lake Wakatipu from Glenorchy. It takes about 25 minutes to drive from Glenorchy to Kinloch, but the entire drive is so, so scenic! 

There’s not much in Kinloch besides a lakeside DOC campground and the Kinloch Wilderness Retreat, which has historic rooms and eco-cabins to stay in, and a fantastic on-site restaurant.

If you’re looking for a good base to explore the area from, you may want to consider camping or staying a couple of nights in Kinloch. If you like hiking, then you’ll love spending some time out this way. This peaceful place is only about an hour from bustling Queenstown but feels a whole world away!

For a good 2-day hiker’s itinerary around Kinloch, consider the following: one day, do a day hike on the Routeburn Track one day (see #14 above); the next day, do a day hike on the Lake Rere Loop Track (see #16 below). 

16. Lake Rere Loop Track Day Hike

14.2km (8.8 miles) return | 4-6 hours | Moderate | Trail Guide

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You’ll find Elfin Bay along the Lake Rere Loop Track—perfect for a mid-hike swim!

For a super underrated day hike in the area, head to the Greenstone-Lake Rere Loop Track.

The trailhead is 12kms from Kinloch, along an unpaved road with a couple of fords to cross if it’s been raining lately. Don’t let that deter you, though—if you’re an adventurous traveler who wants to get away from the crowds, you will love it out here. Just check up on the road conditions before heading out (and we’d avoid driving there in the winter months, or after a big rain storm).

We recommend doing this loop hike counter-clockwise. You’ll walk under beech forest along an emerald river (the Greenstone), wander through alpine meadows, and eventually reach Lake Rere, which is a great spot to have lunch.

After Lake Rere, you’ll make your way back to your car, eventually skirting alongside Lake Wakatipu. Make sure to go for a swim at Elfin Bay if it’s a hot day—it feels glorious after hiking!

From Elfin Bay, it’ll take about another hour to walk back to your car. This section goes through private farmland, so ensure you’re respectful and don’t disturb the livestock.

Further Tips for the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive

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Pack a swimsuit in summer, as you’ll definitely want to swim in spots like this! (This is at Bob’s Cove)
  • We recommend filling up your car with petrol in Queenstown before heading out to Glenorchy. Queenstown isn’t exactly a cheap place for petrol, but you’ll have more options than in Glenorchy.
  • If you’re planning to camp along the drive, make sure you’ve stocked up on food and drinking water in Queenstown. Pak ‘n Save in Frankton is our top choice for getting groceries in Queenstown.
  • Bring layers! Even if you’re just day-tripping to Glenorchy, the weather can change dramatically from morning to afternoon. We recommend wearing layers (a t-shirt, mid-layer, and warm jacket) so you can take off or add clothes as needed throughout the day.  
  • Also…pack a swimsuit, insect repellent (for sandflies) and sunblock. You just never know what the day may bring! 
  • Note that food options are limited in Glenorchy. If you’re planning to get lunch in Glenorchy, we recommend the following places, but make sure you check online before going to make sure they’re open when you plan to visit!
    • Queenie’s Dumplings: Who would’ve thought there’d be a delicious dumpling spot in Glenorchy? Grab some freshly-made dumplings or a steamed pork bun for takeaway to enjoy by the lake.
    • The Trading Post: Get a sandwich and coffee here, and maybe also a scoop of Patagonia ice cream!

Some Itineraries for the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive

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For the Perfect Day Trip Itinerary

After leaving Queenstown, stop at Bob’s Cove and Bennet’s Bluff on the drive to Glenorchy. Once you’re in Glenorchy, pick up picnic supplies at Mrs. Wooley’s General Store, then head to the Glenorchy waterfront. Enjoy your picnic by the lake, check out the Glenorchy Red Shed, and maybe do the Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway for a nice, easy walk!


For the Avid Day Hiker

Head straight to the Routeburn Track trailhead and do a day hike to either Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls. Make sure you pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water and sun protection! This is a popular trail, so plan to get to the trailhead early-ish in the morning to beat some of the crowds.

Alternatively, if you’re after an off-the-beaten-path day hike, then we recommend doing the Lake Rere Loop Track. 

After your hike, if you have the energy, consider popping into Bob’s Cove for a refreshing swim in Lake Wakatipu on your drive back to Queenstown.

For a Short Hike

It’s going to be hard to choose, but take your pick between Bob’s Cove, the Mt. Crichton Loop Track, or the Lake Sylvan Loop Track.

To help you pick a hike, consider this: Bob’s Cove is magic on a warm, sunny day, whereas Lake Sylvan & the Mt. Crichton loop are good even on drizzly days. The Mt. Crichton Loop will be the hardest workout of the three, whereas the other two walks are really quite easy. We’d skip Lake Sylvan in winter, as the trail can get muddy.

For Lord of the Rings Fans

Stop by the Twelve Mile Delta Campsite to see the filming site for Ithilien Camp (see #4 above) then continue on past Glenorchy to view the Isengard filming site along the Dart River (see #12 above).

For a 2-4 Day Camping & Hiking Trip

Spend a night or two at either Twelve Mile Delta Campsite or Moke Lake. Explore the hikes and swimming spots nearby (Bob’s Cove, the Mt. Crichton Loop Track, and/or the Moke Lake Loop Track). 

If you have even more days to spare, continue on past Glenorchy to the Lake Sylvan Campsite, and do more hikes around there (the Lake Sylvan Loop Track, the Routeburn Flats or Falls Track, and/or the Greenstone-Lake Rere Loop).


Thanks for Reading our Guide to the Queenstown to Glenorchy Drive!

We hope this guide has helped you plan an epic drive, whether you’re day tripping from Queenstown or spending several days camping and hiking in the area. 

If you have any questions about this drive (or NZ travel in general), feel free to reach out to us in the comments or send us an email, and we’ll be happy to try and help!


Want More New Zealand Adventures?

christchurch-to-queenstown-road-trip-itinerary
If you like scenic road trips, don’t miss the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown!

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