Feel the Earnslaw Burn

At the end of a long and winding road from Queenstown, at the head of Lake Wakatipu, lies Glenorchy. This pretty town is the gateway to many wonderful walks, including local favourite: the Earnslaw Burn Track.

This challenging track requires a good pair of walking boots (and a good pair of walking legs). It’s a one-way track through native bush to jaw-dropping views of an icefall on Mt Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi.

After a short slog uphill, you’ll plunge into native bush which covers most of the track – this walk is great for a hot weather weekend as you’ll be shaded from the worst of the heat until the afternoon. Significant treefall in 2016 has altered the track, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for orange arrow markers and you’ll need to limbo underneath or straddle and slide over the top of big trees which cover the track. Be prepared to get your feet wet too, springs of fresh water cross the track and getting muddy is all part of the fun. Cheeky South Island robins, fantails and other native birds will hop alongside and follow your progress; watching them easily flit from branch to branch seems comical when compared to the hiker’s slow pace.

Eventually, the trees give way to tussock and a glimpse of the icefall. There’s a few different places to camp, complete with stone fire circles, but the closer you get to Pikirakatahi, the more rewarding the views.

I highly recommend pitching a tent here for the night. The impressive icefall is popular with local sight-seeing helicopter companies, but by late afternoon the area is yours to enjoy. Towering waterfalls crash down from the icefall, offering a very, very refreshing plunge pool. The sun sets behind the peaks and the top of the icefall is magically illuminated by the last of the sun. On a clear night, the stars shine brightly and in summer, the quiet nights are punctuated by the boom of small, distant avalanches. Pack plenty of warm clothes as it gets cold after dark (my tent has iced over in early autumn).

As challenging as it is rewarding, the Earnslaw Burn Track offers a very special experience for the keen adventurer. Leave the chopper at home and pull on those hiking boots. 

Trail notes: 8 – 12 hours return. The track starts on the true left bank of the Earnslaw Burn, partway along Lovers Leap Road, about 20 minutes’ drive from Glenorchy.

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