New Zealand Road trip – Glenorchy to Queenstown

In the morning we woke up to the views of Mt Earnshaw out of our bunker’s windows. We were looking at the mountain that was used as a filming location for the crossing of the Pass of Karadrass in the Lord of the Rings movie from the window of the bunker that was used on the set of the Vertical Limit. Glenorchy was certainly living up to its fame of New Zealand’s film industry capital.

Movie set bunker, Glenorchy
Movie set bunker, Glenorchy
Rustic bunker from the set of the Vertical Limit
The rustic bunker

Before the sun was fully up I took a walk along the mangrove walkway. The walkway begins at the jetty and as the sun was rising I watched the morning mist lift off the lake.

Morning mist rising from Lake Wakatipu
Morning mist lifting off Lake Wakatipu
Reflection of Mt Earnslaw, Glenorchy, New Zealand
Reflection of Mt Earnslaw

There was nobody on the trail so early and I felt like I had the entire place to myself. The trail itself wasn’t as spectacular as most places that we visited in New Zealand in the past week, but the tranquillity of the early morning, the chirping of the birds and the reflection of the snow-capped Mt Earnslaw in the still surface of the lake  more than compensated for the lack of the ‘wow’ sights.

When I returned from the walk, I finally had the chance to see the bunkers in daylight. On the outside, devoid of any creature comforts they looked even more rudimentary than they did on the inside. But somehow it only added to their charm.


Once we packed up we went for a drive to Kinloch – a small village that sits at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. The water here, at the shallow end of the lake was crystal clear and it had a turquoise tint to it.

Glenorchy to Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu
Lake Wakatipu

Apart from the lake itself, there wasn’t much else to do at Kinloch, so after a brief stop, we continued on our final road trip from Glenorchy to Queenstown.  We have driven that road so many times over the past week that it was sad realizing that we won’t be back on it for quite some time.

Glenorchy to Queenstown - Lake Wakatipu in morning light
Lake Wakatipu in morning light

In all our driving across New Zealand, we noticed how sparsely populated the country was in comparison to Australia. It was not uncommon not to see another vehicle on the road for an hour. The landscapes that the roads travelled through didn’t look as tired and overgrazed as they often do in the Australian countryside.

Victims of the roads

Another thing we noticed while driving in NZ is the staggering amount of road-killed brushtail possums. The possums were introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s to develop the fur trade, and as most such introductions it turned into a disaster. In the absence of natural predators, brushtail possums have spread throughout most parts of NZ and now number in their tens of millions.

Apart from playing a role in the spread of bovine tuberculosis and causing economic damage, the exploded population of possums is altering the composition of New Zealand’s forests by selectively browsing some of the native species as well as putting additional pressure on populations of native birds through egg and chick predation.

While New Zealand Conservation department is attempting to control possum population through poisoning champagnes, total eradication of the unwanted invaders doesn’t seem to be feasible.

Road from Glenorchy to Queenstown
Road from Glenorchy to Queenstown

And in an unexpected twist, high possum mortality on the roads turned out to have a gruesome side effect on New Zealand’s birds of prey. New Zealand falcon and Australian harrier hawk, both species common in the countryside, are opportunistic scavengers that are often attracted to road kill.

Unfortunately, as they feed, their talons lock on the body of their prey, effectively anchoring them to the highway. When the bird is spooked by an approaching vehicle its immediate reaction is to lift off but the possum that it was feeding on is just too heavy for the bird to lift and the car is approaching too fast for the bird to realize it and so the bird itself gets mowed down on the highway right next to its dinner.

We spent the rest of the day in Queenstown dining, shopping, watching street musicians and picking up last minute souvenirs. Seven days wasn’t anywhere near enough to properly explore the island, but it was enough to get a good sense of the place, which in reality is all that most of us – modern-day travellers get from our short trips away.

Southern Alps from the air
The Southern Alps from the air

Previous stop: Lake Pukaki  to Glenorchy

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