A film & travel writer & editor, currently travelling New Zealand ~
Published January 15th 2017
Driving New Zealand - Queenstown to Glenorchy
I've spent the last seven months driving around the South Island of New Zealand. This article is part of a series focusing on these driving trips, from glaciers to hidden forests, isolated beaches and islands, this is the absolute best of the best driving trips the South Island of New Zealand has to offer.
Top tips for driving the South Island of NZ:
1 - There are A LOT of tourists, be mindful that many are driving on what they consider the wrong side of the road, and may be less confident - give them space. ALWAYS be mindful of overseas drivers.
2 - On the South Island they lay down a lot of grit when the snow starts to hit the ground - its stays around for months after, and you will cop a fair amount of it into your windscreen - stay well back when travelling behind trucks especially.
3 - Everything will cross the road in front of you... tourists, stoats, possums, porcupines, cows, chickens, sheep, dogs, kids. There are a lot of birds in NZ and unfortunately you'll probably take a few out here and there.
4 - Driving NZ needs music, and GvW recommends epic film scores to go with the epic panoramas you encounter on the drives.
This article drives the very easy, done in a morning or afternoon trip from Queenstown to Glenorchy.
If you're in Queenstown for a weekend or just a few days it's well worth making sure this short drive is part of your itinerary - it really does epitomise everything the South Island has to offer, all packed into a nice 45 minute drive. There may not be winery after winery, but the views are nothing short of spectacular.
Getting out of Queenstown is easy as the road to Glenorchy is well sign posted from the centre of town or the airport. It's a two lane pretty windy road with some short flat stretches, if you find yourself behind a slow tourist, bus or tractor, there are overtaking lanes along the way. Best to drive this before the sun starts to set so you're not driving into the western sun.
Heading out of town, the first place of real interest is Bob's Cove - this is a really pleasant, short hike (about 40mins return to the car park) around a small inlet of Wakatipu. It's known as the Lime Kiln and Lookout walking track. The water is so clear here, you can see the rocks on the bottom as if they were in your hand. There are old lime kilns you can skirt around and a little jetty where you can sit and look at the clear waters.
Hike to the little lookout (if you're a bit unsteady on your feet, go right instead of left at the bottom of the hill - it's still a little steep, but an easier way up). There's a great view of Lake Wakatipu from the top, a small seat for reflection, and if you're very still, the very tame native birds might even sit on your shoulder.
Heading on from Bob's, the road runs along Lake Wakatipu all the way to Glenorchy, with the mirror lake reflecting the mountain peaks towering on the other side - there are numerous stopping points for taking pictures.
Glenorchy is pretty small but packs a big tourist punch when it comes to the old 'what to do at the other end' question. Its main claim to fame is for The Routeburn Track, one of the most famous nature walks in the world. There are companies that will help transport you to the start and pick you up at the end. Good info can be found through Glenorchy Journeys.
Definitely stop and give yourself time at Mrs Woolly's General Store. Mrs Woolly's sells every type of local artisan pickle, jam, biscuit, and organic piece of food you can think of, as well as high quality clothes and gifts; the local jewellery and hand knitted kids toys are very beautiful. Mrs Woolly's also has a unique campground focusing on sustainability, but don't let that put you off if camping isn't your style. They have some amazing glamping tents, fully kitted out in luxury. Be sure to book ahead though, as they sell out fast.
As you come into town, you might get slowed down by the horse riding groups that are coming off the trails. There are two companies that offer this unique experience: Dart Stables and High Country Horses offering day and overnight trips for both the novice and experienced riders.
If you want something a little faster, then you can't go past the Dart River Jet company. They take you on a bus trip through the magnificent Mt Aspiring National Park (where you learn all about the local area, including how many films and television commercials have been made there), an easy 30 minute hike through a native forest, and then drop you off to your jet boat.
The boats zip you up river, deep into the National Park or offer a funyak experience where you can kayak in inflatables down river. You can book through their site or try www.bookme.co.nz. It's great place to get last minute deals on everything fun in this part of the world.
After you've gone up river, or taken a helicopter over the mountains, a horse over the hills or just filled your car with goodies from Mrs Woolly's, grab a beer and some food at the Glenorchy Hotel and some dumplings at Queenies Dumplings or try the Glenorchy Cafe.
Glenorchy is truly a great spot to visit. It's brilliant as it gets you out of Queenstown for the day to see the calmer side of NZ. If you're travelling on a weekend (the best time to do this trip is a Saturday) take an overnight bag, as when you get there, you'll want to stay the night. www.booking.com will be able to find you last minute deals, but the numerous accommodation options tend to fill up by 5pm. They're very friendly up this way though, and if you're having trouble finding somewhere ask at Mrs Woolly's and they'll surely be able to help point you towards a room for the night.
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