Kia ora: Glenorchy

It's no wonder people rave about the beauty of this place, writes Elisabeth Easther.
Dart River Jet Safaris can transport tourists into the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Dart River Jet Safaris can transport tourists into the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park.

Where is it? Glenorchy is at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu, in Otago, about 45 kilometres by road from Queenstown.

Origin of name: It's named after the place of the same name in Argyll Scotland, possibly by a homesick Scot.

Population: 370 permanent residents.

The town slogan: Glenorchy - Head of the Lake, Heart of the Mountains.

Town icon: The Glenorchy Goods Shed that sits on the lakefront by the wharf; back in the day, the steamship Earnslaw used to come up here on the regular mail run.

Lost his mine: The area has a chequered history, filled with gold and scheelite mining, farming and logging stories. Arawata Bill was one of the well-known figures who used to visit Glenorchy, using it as his base on his way through to the West Coast. His mission was to look for the ruby mine he was certain he'd lost.

Notable local: Iris Scott came to the area in the early 70s as a veterinary student to work on a High Country station. During that time she met and married her husband. He died early in their marriage, leaving her with three small children. Her book, High Country Woman, is a wonderful read all about her time as the local vet and running the station, which she still does with two of her children. She's heavily involved in conservation and is herself a force of nature.

Best websites: glenorchycommunity.co.nz is run by the locals and filled with local stories and photos about community events and activities; glenorchyinfocentre.co.nz is also excellent.

Biggest employers: Tourism, notably Dart River Jet Safaris, Blanket Bay Luxury Lodge and Aro H?, a health and wellness retreat that opened in January of this year.

Source of pride: Mount Aspiring National Park - part of Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. The area's natural beauty and pristine scenery draws people in, plus it's the doorstep to several great walks including the Routeburn Track.

Town festivals: What started as a high country picnic day, the Glenorchy Races is held the first Saturday every year and has been running for 52 years. The flower show is blooming marvellous; the harvest festival is a growing concern, ending with a big shared long lunch. There's a wild food challenge where entrants have to gather, catch and grow the goods locally. Magpie pie anyone? There are quite a few fishing competitions, too.

Best reason to stop: Because it's the end of the road. And when you get to Glenorchy you'll be compelled to get outdoors, swimming, fishing, kayaking, jetboating, walking. You don't come here for malls or multiplexes - this is a fresh-air sort of place.

Best place to take the kids: To the lakefront or the skateboard park. The Glenorchy Walkway is also great for kids, with its boardwalks and birdlife.

Wet your whistle: The Glenorchy Hotel is a traditional country pub where you can meet the locals. The Lodge Glenorchy (Cnr Mull and Argyle Streets) is where locals go for functions, including their popular Cosy Talks, where the community gets together to hear someone speak while enjoying home-made soup.

Best food: Glenorchy Cafe on Mull Street has the best all-day breakfast in town and also puts on dinner two nights a week.

Tops for coffee: Everyone does coffee, but Glenorchy Cafe is said to be the most popular.

Best bakery: The Lodge Glenorchy and Glenorchy Cafe do delicious baked goods.

Art gallery: Eclectic at 19 Mull Street sells the wares of local artists from photography to needlecraft, scarves to oil paintings, the environment inspiring their work.

Best walks: The Glenorchy Walkway was recently extended, thanks to locals and DoC, to commemorate 150 years of settlement, and now it's a circular public walkway passing through the Glenorchy Lagoon that's popular with tourists and locals.

Then there's the Routeburn, Greenstone-Caples and Rees-Dart tracks, all of them multi-day walks.

Making it easy: Glenorchy Journeys does the most wonderful scenic tours and guided walks, sharing the beauty of the backcountry safely.

Best view: The most spectacular thing you can do is to take the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. The lake views and mountains look different every day it's always stunning, whatever the weather.

Best place to pull over: Bennett's Bluff. This is probably the most photographed view in New Zealand, and has been Tourism New Zealand's poster child for some time.

Best park: The waterfront, the whole area is park-like with picnic tables. There's even a public lakefront barbecue where you can light a real wood fire to cook your snags. Classy.

Best playground: The local playgroup has a playground beside the swimming pool with swings and slides.

Here for a short time: Take a walk in the native beech forest. There are lots of full-day and half-day walks. Check out Lake Sylvan, a relatively flat track in the Routeburn Valley with a swing bridge that's easy enough for kids to tackle. You can't get lost, and when you get to the lake, there's a splendid viewing platform

Best kept secret: Glenorchy itself is Queenstown's best kept secret, just 48km away, it's one of the world's top 10 scenic routes, says National Geographic.

Best swim: There's a pontoon in the lake. But be warned: the water is cold.

Sheep thrills: The local kids created and published a book called The Wrinkly Merino as a fundraiser - cute as a button.

Wildlife: Being located on the edge of a national park, birds are plentiful. Longtail bats breed in the Routeburn Valley and you can see them flitting around the lamposts at the lakefront as dusk falls. The mohua (yellowhead) has its breeding ground round here, too, and it was voted Forest and Bird's Bird of the Year in 2013.

Where do locals take visitors? They drive them up to Paradise - gobsmacking.

Safety warnings: Be prepared, you never know what the weather will do, so be ready for anything.

Locals say: Bet you wish you lived here.

Visitors say: Too right we do.

Thank you so much to a lovely local for sharing some of Glenorchy's secrets.

- NZ Herald

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