Earnslaw Burn Overnight Hike

Earnslaw Burn

The Earnslaw Burn should be on anyone's bucket list, but maybe its good because its not - ssshhhh lets keep it a secret! The 'well-heeled' will take a short cut and helicopter in - but for a an overnight hiking experience to remember or a lifetime - make it this one!

Earnslaw Burn

A planned visit to Queenstown turned into a spontaneous trip to Earnslaw Burn. The glacier has created several waterfalls that cascade over the ridges of the mountains which were featured in the Hobbit movies. The breath-taking views of the Earnslaw glacier and waterfalls make the hike on the Earnslaw track so worth it. 

I took a long weekend to visit a friend in Queenstown and little did I know what she had in store for me. Having already visited Queenstown before with my family only a couple of years ago, my friend did not want to take me to the usual spots that most tourists would visit. It was the second weekend in summer and with more and more tourists visiting Queenstown for the summer season there was less availability for activities. If visiting Queenstown, it pays to book activities in advance to avoid disappointment during the busy season.

Map of Earnslaw Burn

I flew down from Auckland early on Friday morning, to then pick up the hire car from Queenstown airport and set off to collect my friend. Having a car made it super easy to get to and from the airport and to the start of the track. We wanted to hire walking boots, and for anyone thinking of doing the route I strongly recommend walking boots (However one of our party completed it in trainers, though she did get wet feet). We popped to Small Planet Sports Rentals, I was amazed at what you could rent from boots, bags, and stoves to crampons, gaiters, and poles. Two pairs of boots cost us $40 for two days. We decided we didn’t need to rent a second bag and to only take one big rucksack between us and the other person to carry a day sack. This worked surprisingly well for us. 

After getting everything sorted, we packed a 2-man tent, our sleeping bags, mugs and bowls and raincoats (just in case) all into the big rucksack. Other items such as food, water and sun cream (and don’t forget your swimsuit) we wanted easy access to so carried them in the day bag. A day trek is feasible however it is a 10 to 12-hour return journey. For advanced walkers, it is possible to complete the track in 8 hours but I strongly recommend spending a night under the stars either by the river or the glacier. 

We set off to collect the other members of the group and then headed towards Glenorchy. Mrs Woolly’s General Store is the last shop before you reach the carpark. About 20 minutes out of Glenorchy down Glenorchy – Paradise Road, turn right onto Lovers Leap Road at the end of the gravel road is the start of the track.  

It all began with the 7 of us at the carpark with our walking boots laced, our bags full to the brim and being caked in sun cream. The start of the track wasn’t signed posted until you jumped the gate and crossed the paddock to begin the climb. As you pass the sign you start a small hill with a gorgeous view over Paradise from the top. 

Earnslaw Burn Carpark

From the top of the hill, the journey continues through the woodlands. The path is well signposted with orange triangular markers placed on the trees. The route is fairly easy to follow but with quite a few fallen trees that do require a leg up to be able to get over them and there are a couple that have a diverted path around them. 

Forest Hiking

On that hot summers day, the delightful 6 1/2-hour hike through the trees offered us cover from the heat of the beating sun. The trek through the woods was definitely a challenge hiking downhill to come straight back up again. However, it was all worth it, when we broke the tree line and caught a glimpse of Earnslaw Burn Glacier.

Arriving at Earnslaw Burn

After another half an hour we reached a flat bit of land close to the river. We made a group decision to settle here for the night as in a few hours it would be beginning to get dark. We set up the three trangias and began to make dinner. I unpacked the plastic mugs and bowls however these were made redundant because we ate out of the pans – so a handy tip would be to only take things you know you will use. 

During the evening it was a little windy which made it a bit chilly but as long as you have warm clothes it was bearable. It would be wise if these clothes were long and covered your body. This will help protect you from sand-flies as they can cause nasty bites. However, you tend to ignore all the bad things when you look up to the night sky and see the stars shining so bright. I was lucky enough to be accompanied on the hike by a person who studies astronomy, who gave us an insight into star gazing. Even without the expertise spotting shooting stars and listening to the river run by is a magical feeling. 

Waking up to the view of the valley was breath–taking, I had to keep pinching myself that this was real. We decided to leave our bags in a tent and walk the length of the valley to the glacier. It was only an hour and a half and so stunning we were all in high spirits to reach the glacier. 
We stumbled out of the shrubbery fields and came across a little waterfall just off the path. It was not deep enough to swim in but with its crystal-clear waters and beautiful surroundings, it was a wonderful spot to cool down, fill up our drink’s bottles and a definite snack stop. 

Beyhold the Waterfall

The next hour flew by with excitement and astonishment at the natural New Zealand beauty. We got back to the shrubby field and continued past huge boulders that looked rather out of place in the middle of the valley. These boulders are extremely fun to climb and are flat on top it would give you a spectacular view of the glacier. 

Huge Boulders

After the boulders, it was a short walk to the base of the glacier. This walk was over the open valley floor and you are surrounded by Earnslaw glacier, the mountainsides, and the Gilkison Waterfall.

On that hot and muggy day there was nothing better than seeing the Gilkison waterfall and the pool of water underneath it. I ran ahead of the others and within seconds I had changed into my swimsuit and ran towards the glacial waterfall. 

The girls caught up and quickly changed. I had already had a refreshing dip in the freezing cold water, but it was such a warm day I was willing to go in again. I would say it was a once in the lifetime experience. To be able to say I have swum in a glacial waterfall at the base of the glacier it came from, is exhilarating. We were all on a high after our swim that when we set off back, we powered through and returned to the car park in 6 and half hours. We knew what to expect from the route, there are less scenic views to stop for because you have your back to the valley. Until you break the treeline at the other end and you see Paradise again. 

First Light Travel's New Zealand Hiking Tours

Final Word: Would I say it was a challenge? Yes, but would I say that it was all worth it? Most definitely! I highly recommend hiking in New Zealand, the scenery will blow you away and its such an experience I want everyone to experience. 

For Further Reading & Information

Great Walks in New Zealand
Best Day Hikes in the South Island
Best New Zealand Day Hikes – North Island
New Zealand National Parks – North Island

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Ruth Peaden
Ruth Peaden
: 1 Nov 2018 (Last updated: 23 Sep 2021)

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