A good reason to stop in ... Glenorchy

Looking up the Dart River valley from Paradise to the Cosmos Peaks. Photo by John Fridd.
Looking up the Dart River valley from Paradise to the Cosmos Peaks. Photo by John Fridd.
I'd always wanted to go to Paradise, so I wangled a week off last summer, threw a tent into my 4WD and headed west.

When I hit the tourist madhouse of Queenstown, I paused only long enough to stock up on some essential supplies - food for dishes easily rustled up in a crowded camping ground kitchen, a packet of decent coffee, some good cheese and crackers and the obligatory amber fluids and Central Otago pinot which make a good game of camping ground petanque great.

The drive alongside Lake Wakatipu is a great way to ease into your Glenorchy experience, offering spectacular views across to the Thomson and Humboldt mountains.

Glenorchy is 40km and about 50 years away from Queenstown. It exudes a laid-back charm similar to West Coast towns like Hokitika.

Most visitors either pause in Glenorchy for a cuppa or to stay a night on their way through to the Great Walks or climbing peaks, but my plan was to camp for four nights and chill out.

When I arrived and looked about, I discovered Glenorchy is surrounded by a 360deg mountain vista - this is my kind of town!

I claimed a secluded tent site at the Glenorchy Holiday Park, transformed the patch of grass into my home away from home (minus the rhododendrons and Dudley the cat) and wandered over to the kitchen to whip up a meal of something and rice.

Camping ground kitchens and the accompanying dining areas (usually outdoor) are a great place to meet people and I ate dinner with an Israeli couple who told me I was living in Paradise.

"I'm going there tomorrow," I said, drawing puzzled looks.

Day 1 in Glenorchy: Today I'm going to Paradise.

But I didn't.

Instead I had a Glenorchy day, exploring the township, marvelling at the incongruous New Zealand Railways goods shed down at the wharf (a throwback from the days when the steamer Earnslaw was part of the NZR network), enjoying a tasty lunch and coffee at the rustic Glenorchy Café, riding my bike along the lakefront and out of town and wandering with my camera around the bird-packed Glenorchy lagoon, which offers splendid views to hulking, snow-covered Mt Earnslaw to the north.

When the waters are still, the mountain reflections are out of this world.

Day 2: Today I'm going to Paradise.

Nope again.

I got sidetracked after reading about mysterious Lake Sylvan, which is reached via a forest trail near the start of the Routeburn Track.

This is real Lord of the Rings country and I half-expected an orc to spring from behind a moss-cloaked tree.

I found the lake, which was worth the 30 minute hike. Oh well, might as well have a look at the Routeburn, seeing I'm so close.

I drove up the road a few kilometres and parked at the impressive new shelter, which appears designed more to maximise the views than shelter anyone.

An hour's walk on the famous track yielded some satisfying photos and spurred a desire to drive down the Dart River and experience the Greenstone Track, another famous walk.

Kinloch Lodge popped up along the way where the river meets Lake Wakatipu and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee enticed me in for lunch.

I walked off lunch with another bush trek, this time on the Greenstone.

Another day nicely filled, capped off with petanque and a discussion about the state of the world with a young Arab and a Czech engineer back at the camp.

Day 3: Today I'm going to Paradise.

And I did! I woke late to discover the Arab chap had folded his tent and departed and my Czech mate had done likewise.

I headed out over the Rees River bridge again, and this time followed the signs to Paradise. The road led into a beautiful valley, with Diamond Lake sparkling to my left.

The road wound through a stand of native forest then emerged into the bright sunlight and there it was - Paradise.

I recognised the impressive Arcadia guest house, built by reclusive Englishman Joseph Fenn 101 years ago. I drove to the end of the road (and the start of the Dart River track) and discovered the sandflies in this area are vicious.

However, despite the fact they tried to eat me alive I reckon mountain-ringed Paradise is well-named.

At peace with the world and very chilled out, I slept well that night.

-John Fridd


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