New Zealand: Climbing Mount Alfred in Glenorchy

by | Jun 14, 2017

Mount Alfred Day Hike in Glenorchy

With the end of another week of work, and lots to still explore in New Zealand, Hilary and I loaded up our campervan again and headed off for a few days. We seem to have a never ending list of things to do and see in New Zealand so we are slowly using our days off of work to cross things off one at a time. This time, we were headed back to Glenorchy.

If you remember from an earlier post, we’ve been to Glenorchy before and on our last trip we accidentally left our lights on in our vehicle and ended up with a flat battery. The weather was also terrible and our plans for the area ended up being cast aside.

This time, however, we were hoping to tackle Mount Alfred which is a day hike near Glenorchy.

Glenorchy is at the end of Lake Wakatipu and you have to drive through the busy town of Queenstown to get there. After the craziness of Queenstown, however, Glenorchy is a completely different place. It’s literally at the end of the road and there isn’t much to do or see besides walk, hike and explore the mountains. You can go on helicopter tours and jet boat up the Dart River, but that’s doesn’t really count.

Lake Wakatipu from Bennetts Bluff

Because it’s so small and quiet in Glenorchy, however, there is a sense of peace. It’s one of my favourite places that we’ve been in New Zealand so far and every time we’re there I’m overwhelmed by the spectacular scenery. There are a few valleys that all come to a head near Glenorchy and the mountains here are really steep and dramatic.

Fog shrouded mountains in New Zealand

Because Glenorchy is at the head of Lake Wakatipu, a few rivers enter the lake here which originate at glaciers further up the valleys which means that the colour of the lake is a really pale blue when the sun hits the surface. The rivers themselves are also carrying a lot of glacial silt which means they end up being very wide and braided.

Glacial morraine and braided stream

And, right in the middle of where these valleys come to a head and all of the rivers filter out, is Mount Alfred. The mountain itself isn’t very spectacular, but it’s directly in the centre of everything and offers awesome views all around.

Climbing Mount Alfred:

Ben walking along Mount Alfred ridge above Glenorchy

After staying the night in our campervan near Glenorchy, we woke up early to a cold frosty morning and drove to the trailhead. The trailhead itself is a small parking lot on the west side of Mount Alfred, just off of the Glenorchy-Routeburn road. It’s easy to miss, so keep a keen eye out.

At the moment, there is a sign on the bottom of the trailhead that warns you about track damage from fallen trees. It also says that the estimated walking time for the track is 6 to 8 hours. While there is track damage that definitely adds time to the climb and makes it a bit slower and more frustrating, it doesn’t add that much time. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the top (going quite slow), and then 1.5 hours back down. So roundtrip (including extra time getting over fallen trees) ends up being around 4 to 5 hours.

Track damage on Mount Alfred trail

Most of the route up the mountain is in thick beech forest and near the top you break out of the trees and have a quick scramble up to the top. There is a marked route with orange stakes and it can be slippery in the wet, but overall is quite easy.

Treeline on Mount Alfred

Scramble up Mount Alfred

Once you reach the ridgeline, the views in every direction are stunning. You can see out towards the lake where Glenorchy sits on the shore. You also get a really good perspective of the Dart River flowing into the head of the lake. From time to time, you can also spot (and hear) the small dot of a jet boat slowly making it’s way up the river.

Jet Boat on Dart River

In the other direction, you can see towards Earnslaw Burn and the Rees River Valley. In this direction, just over the mountain range would drop you into the Matukituki Valley near Wanaka.

Looking down on New Zealand valley

And, to the north you can see towards the Dart River Valley. In the valley bottom in this direction is also a place called Paradise, and yes, that is it’s actual name. This was also the filming location of Isengard in Lord of the Rings, but unfortunately we didn’t see Saruman sitting in his tower.

View into Paradise from Mount Alfred summit

And lastly, to the west, you can see the Routeburn and Greenstone valleys where you can do multi-day treks which end up in the Milford Sound area.

We spent some time walking along the ridgeline in either direction, had some lunch and then made our way back down. In total, we only saw 4 other people on the hike. Part of this is probably because it was winter, part possible because of the track damage, but I also think that this hike is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s not as well known and popular as many others, but the views from the top make it worth every step.

Ben overlooking Glenorchy

Hilary through the tussock

The Glenorchy Lagoon Walkway:

The boardwalk into the lagoon Glenorchy

After climbing Mount Alfred, we stopped in Glenorchy quickly as the sun was beginning to set and quickly walked around the Glenorchy walkway. There are a couple of loops that you can do, but most of the trail takes you through a lagoon on a series of boardwalks. There are some ponds and lookout spots and a few places with tables.

Sitting on a bench at Glenorchy Lagoon walking trail

It’s definitely worth the stop and is a good way to get out for a small walk. It’s hard to beat the views from getting up high on a mountain peak, but the views of the mountains reflecting in the ponds are hard to beat.