The inspiring Otago landscape around Glenorchy was made for soaring over, leaping off and jumping into, writes Stacey Hunt.
I sit on the edge of a rockface in the heart of Lord of the Rings country surrounded by the snow-capped mountains and lush native bush, bracing myself to plunge into the icy water below and wondering if I've lost my mind.
Who would willingly get into a South Island river as snow lightly falls? Me, it turns out.
A born-and-bred North Islander, I find my South Island education has been embarrassingly slow so I jumped at the chance explore the small settlement of Glenorchy and its surroundings. Apparently one of the best ways to do this is canyoning.
A gateway to the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland national parks, Glenorchy is surrounded by incredible mountains, crystal-clear lakes and rivers, and ancient beech forests. Known for its untouched beauty, it's provided the backdrop for a number of films, notably The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Glenorchy may seem like a tiny remote town, tucked away from civilisation but it couldn't be better placed. It is at the start of some of the finest tramping opportunities New Zealand offers, including the Routeburn Track,so you could base yourself here and find a new adventure every day. Alternatively, if you're just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, there are few more perfect places.
As I was visiting just shy of the Great Walks season, I decided to check out the famous Routeburn Valley from a different perspective: the canyon.
Canyon Explorers, based out of Queenstown, is the only company permitted to operate in the valley, meaning you and your small group have this piece of paradise to yourself for the day. A 30-minute trek through the stunning native forest clad in full wetsuit, helmet and safety harness means strange looks from walkers, but it's a great way to get the blood pumping before dropping into the canyon.
From here it's a few hours of adrenalin-inducing fun. You abseil, zipline, clamber around rock faces, slide down chutes and jump into freezing cold pools as you descend about 150m. A lot of the thrill lies in the fact you're largely responsible for your own adventure. It's up to you to ensure you're attached to the guide lines, to figure out where to put your feet while abseiling, and to decide if you want to climb higher and take on the big jumps.
Considering it was the start of October, temperature wasn't an issue. Supplied with amazing wetsuits and being constantly on the move, the only grin-and-bear-it moments come when you are fully immersed. Plunging 5m into the white water below, you pop up with an expression of shock as your breath catches in your chest. It takes a few minutes before the brain freeze dissipates and you're back on the rocks to do it all over again.
If you're keen to take in the scenery without getting quite so wet, the other option is to take to the skies.
Heli Glenorchy offers the opportunity to see the incredible landscape from a perspective like no other.
As you fly over the shingle-edged tributaries of the Dart and Rees rivers, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the domineering Mt Earnslaw ahead of you. Soaring alongside these breathtaking mountains you see the electric blue of glaciers peeking through as the winter snow begins to melt.
Eric Scott, piloting a new AS355 F1 twin-engine helicopter, was born and raised on a local station where we landed for the world's most scenic picnic. Scott made it feel like a visit to a friend's backyard and that's the best part of Heli Glenorchy; despite the luxury of the experience, it doesn't feel pretentious.
If you're looking to stay grounded, Rippled Earth can whisk you out over the water in kayaks or take you on a gentle guided walk to the pristine Lake Sylvan. The two-hour return walk takes you through the beautiful beech forest for afternoon tea at the edge of the glacier-fed lake.
If you're coming from Queenstown and can check out the area for only part of the day, Altitude tours offer half-day scenic tours into Glenorchy and the beautiful Paradise Valley. The tour takes in several film locations, including many famous scenes from The Lord of the Rings.
There are accommodation options for visitors wanting to stay in the area but for those conscious of their environmental impact Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat is perfect.
Founded by Paul and Debbi Brainerd, Americans who fell in love with Glenorchy, the lodge was named in Time Magazine's list of The World's Greatest Places of 2019.
New Zealand's first and only zero net energy accommodation provider, Camp Glenorchy offers a range of options including individual cabins, bunkhuts, campervan spots and tent sites.
Built using the Living Building Challenge criteria, the camp uses 50 per cent less energy and water than similar facilities and was made from local recycled materials. Local artists helped create much of the camp, from light fittings to floor paving. Designed to merge with the surroundings, it has a rustic charm that reflects the alpine region.
The no-flush composting toilets take a bit of getting used to. An air extraction system to draw away odours is breezy on the behind but kills all notions of the classic long drop. It saves water and the nutrient-rich compost is used in the landscaped gardens. Rainwater is collected and filtered and greywater passes through the wetlands to be reused for irrigation.
Shower times are automatically set to the maximum seven minutes but guests are encouraged to challenge themselves and decrease this. Body wash and shampoo is provided in each bathroom and it's recommended guests use these rather than their own products which could affect the balance of the water system.
All profits benefit the Glenorchy Community Trust, designed to give back to the district.
Perhaps the best part this region is that there's something for everyone. You don't have to be in a helicopter or throw yourself into a river to appreciate the magnificent landscape. You can curl up on a comfy chair with a book, surrounded by some of the most stunning mountains in the world for an equally incredible experience.
From the tranquil to the adventurous, Glenorchy provides the perfect getaway.