No Place Like Home – Glenorchy, Aotearoa

I have lived outside of New Zealand most of my adult life.  At no point did I decide to live ‘overseas’ it just sort of happened.  First, to try a couple of years working in Australia.  Then I thought it would be sensible to do my MBA in the US.  And then I met a lovely french guy on a bus in Peru and he wasn’t wild about living in NZ.  19 years later, here we are in London, and I only managed to live at ‘home’ for one year in 2004.   It doesn’t matter how long I stay away, Aotearoa is home.  I still  get a thrill when I fly over the Auckland harbour on my way in, and shed a tear when I fly out over the Manukau harbour.  Feelings I never get when I land at Heathrow.  There really is no place like home…..   In spite of having the amazing opportunity to travel the world, and loving my life in London, I still make sure I spend at least a month a year in NZ, ideally in the glorious outdoors.    I can’t do justice in NZ in just one post, so forgive me if this is a multipart series covering my favourite places to be and things to do in Aotearoa……
First post of the series – Go to Glenorchy!
I know most people recommend Queenstown as one of NZ’s highlights.  I can’t deny that it is a town of great restaurants, stunning views, nice hotels and good burgers.  However, it is wildly overcrowded, traffic is slower than London, and I don’t come to NZ for nice restaurants (plenty of those in London and Paris)!  So, I always recommend that people head up to Glenorchy instead.  Glenorchy is a very quiet little town after 4pm and before 10 am.  In between these times there is a bit of hustle and bustle as jet boaters and kayakers come to town, but if you are heading off to the bush during the day you don’t see any of these people.    My favourite things to do in Glenorchy are….(note if you think trail runners and hikers are bonkers, then probably not worth reading any further….)
Run the Routeburn up to Harris Saddle/TarahakaWhakatipu or further up to Signal Hill if have the stamina
This is one of my favourite 4-5 hour runs in NZ.  And you don’t have to run all the uphills.  On a fine day you can see out towards Milford and down into the Hollyford Valley.  While the track is more overcrowded than I like, it is deservedly so given the views.  And running it is a good way of avoiding the crowds, as you can run past them, and you don’t have to sleep with them snoring in the huts next to you at night.  Take plenty of clothes to change into if the weather turns, and you can stop in at Harris Shelter for somewhere warm to eat lunch.  If you want to walk it, that is entirely do-able to from the Routeburn Road end in 8-9 hours return
The Routeburn from the Harris Saddle
The Routeburn from the Harris Saddle
Hike/Tramp overnight up to Earnslaw Burn
This track isn’t particularly runable – it is very rocky and rooty, and even with my hardcore kiwi mates we didn’t go much faster than 2-3km per hour.   Once you get to the tree line, you have amazing views to the glacier and icefall on Mount Earnslaw.  Plan on 2-3 hours to get up there.  I would recommend taking a tent and spending the night
Above the treelike at the Earnslaw Burn
Above the treelike at the Earnslaw Burn
Climb Mount Earnslaw/PIKIRAKATAHI
So, I haven’t done this one recently, but it is a great climb.  You need crampons, rope and ice axes, and if you don’t know what to do with those things, then either skip it or hire a guide.  This climb has one of my favourite bush huts in NZ, made with corrugated iron, and bunks made out of wood and hessian sacks.  It also wins my award for the most energetic mice – they ran across my legs all night, to take running jumps to try and jump out to the feedbags hanging from the ceiling…. then you would hear them slide down the side of the bag, hit the floor, squeak, and then run up the bunks again.   Mice aside, it is a great climb – it can be done in a full day from the hut, with the hut being a few hours walk in from the Rees Valley (best if you have a landrover so you don’t have to walk from Muddy Creek carpark)
Run up the Greenstone and back down the Caples
This is possible as one very long day, or with an overnight stop in one of the huts.   I didn’t quite have the energy to do the loop this year as had beaten up legs after weeks of running –  so I ran up and back the Caples one day (about 50k return) and a decent amount up the Greenstone the next day (about 30k return).    Both are beautiful and different.  The trails are eminently runable, there are plenty of huts and lots of fresh water.
The Greenstone Valley
The Greenstone Valley
My good looking running companions!
My good looking running companions!
Run up the Rees Valley
Without question my favourite hike/run in the area is up the Rees Valley.   If you have a couple of days head up to the Dart hut and if weather permits head up the Cascade saddle to see the glacier.  Fingers crossed the Dart Valley will be open sometime soon, and then you will be able to hike out down that valley, otherwise you will need to exit back the way you came.   If you don’t have tonnes of time, the Rees Valley is a most excellent day run to get to Shelter Rock hut and come back down (about 40k return).  Totally stunning!
Running back down the Rees after a stunning day
Running back down the Rees after a stunning day
There are lots and lots more terrific walks in the area, I have just highlighted my favourites.  The doc guys are amazing so will guide you to something that is in your capability range if you ask them
Go funyaking and jet boating!!!
Yes, its cheesy, but its a lot of fun.   Our friends at Ngai Tahu Tourism run a slick and deservedly profitable operation sending tourists up the river in jet boats and then making you paddle your way back down again in inflatable kayaks.  It is way more fun than it sounds.   And it stops at beautiful Cockburn for lunch, where you can paddle up the side stream to see the stunning rock formations.  Insiders tip – go for a walk before lunch up to the look out.
My 'stolen' whanau (family) and I ready to go funyakking
My ‘stolen’ whanau (family) and I ready to go funyakking
Heading through the narrow rock chasms up the side stream
Heading through the narrow rock chasms up the side stream
Additional tips
  • If you are going off trail or to less used trails, please register with the local Dept of Conservation office in case you get lost.
  • Best coffee is at the GYC, but annoyingly they won’t make skinny coffees – they have decided their customers are wrong.  Their scones are good though
  • There is a perfectly acceptable and enormous burger and chips on offer at the local pub.  It ain’t flash but it is pretty good
  • There are a few places to stay.  If you are on a budget the Doc camping grounds are super cheap.  Last time we rented a nice house on bookabach with a hot tub! Otherwise further around the lake you can stay at Kinloch Lodge.
  • Wherever you stay, make sure to stock up on food and everything you need before heading up to Glenorchy – while you can find everything you need in town it is expensive.

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