It’s a fact: you can go to straight to Paradise from Queenstown. And although you might think you’re already in Paradise when you first see Queenstown, you aren’t. It’s 67 kilometres away, past Glenorchy and across the Jordan River.
Paradise is not everyone’s idea of fun. If you’re strictly the shopping/sipping latte type, go somewhere else. Unless…and it’s a significant ‘unless’…you enjoyed Lord of the Rings and are keenly awaiting The Hobbit. The area has several Rings locations, including Lothlorien Forest and The Slopes of Amon Hen, and has just been used by Peter Jackson for scenes in The Hobbit.
Queenstown to Glenorchy
Meanwhile, back to your Queenstown hotel and the start of your journey. Ideally, you’ll have a rental car at your disposal. Make sure your camera is handy, and that you’re not craving caffeine (there’s nothing available for the next 47 kilometres). Then set off on the first stage of your journey to Paradise: the Glenorchy road.
This is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand, no question. Theoretically, it takes 30-40 minutes. Realistically, with so many beautiful views to admire, it’ll take a bit longer. But who cares?
The road winds along steep hillsides by the lake’s edge and, with many twists and turns, provides constantly changing, mind-blowing views. Cecil Peak and Walter Peak, two historic sheep stations, come into view on the opposite shores just 5km along the way. A third, Mount Nicholas, is visible nearer Glenorchy.
Eleven kilometres from Queenstown is Twelve Mile Delta – Ithilien Camp in Lord of the Rings, and, 3kms on there’s a chance to test the intriguing ‘seiche’ at Bob’s Cove. This is the 20-centimetre change in lake level, and it happens more often here than anywhere else. In Queenstown, it’s something like every 27 minutes; at Bob’s Cove, it’s more like every five. Stand a stick or stake in the water, then wait and see. If you’re in no hurry, there’s a nice nature walk with resident bellbirds and tui and an old limestone kiln. You don’t hear bellbirds everywhere in this country, so listen up.
Mt Nicholas Station comes into view as you approach one of the road’s highest points, around 19km from Queenstown. Another four to five kilometres on, you’ll encounter maybe the best sight of all: the lake’s head and three islands. Magnificent.
All too soon, you’ll cruise into Glenorchy: the ‘Gateway to Paradise’ – literally. Stop for coffee or lunch in this small, friendly village; it’s the only place where anything is available. Glenorchy is a centre for outdoor activities, and the starting point for some great walking tracks.
Glenorchy to Paradise
Leave Glenorchy on the Glenorchy-Paradise Road. Now you’re just 20km from Paradise! The first eight kilometres are sealed, but the last 12 are not. After crossing the Rees River and travelling through farmland you’ll enter Mt Aspiring National Park and a stretch of hauntingly beautiful beech forest, familiar to all Rings fans as Lothlorien. Soon you’ll see jewel-like Diamond Lake and ford the little Jordan River. You are now officially in Paradise, with views of romantic Arcadia homestead (not, repeat not, open to the public) – the star of several films. The area itself appeared as Path Galen in the Rings trilogy.
So…you’ve arrived. What do you do now? Simply enjoy being in Heaven on Earth. What more could you want?
Footnote: If you don’t want to drive to Paradise, check with your Queenstown hotel for tour options.