Queenstown, NZ to Glenorchy, NZ

29.8 mi / 8.3 mph / 2625 ft. climbing
Home: Mrs. Woolly’s Campground

For three weeks since we hit the West Coast at Greymouth, we’ve been roughly following Tour Aotearoa route, the primary north-south cycling route down the length of the country. But a few days before that, we had heard our campground neighbors in Hanmer Springs watching “The Fellowship of the Ring” one night, and they showed Rett their “Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook” and recommended we take an offshoot to Glenorchy. Around the same time, Facebook fed me an amazing drone photo, also from Glenorchy. So we’re off to ride up the shore of lightning-bolt-shaped Lake Wakatipu.

Traffic (and maybe the first traffic light we’ve seen on the entire South Island?) on the way out of busy-ass Queenstown after a grocery run (options in Glenorchy were likely to be limited).
A parkside toilet stop a mile out of town also included this giant sequoia.
Queenstown is the “adventure sports capital of New Zealand”, so here’s Rett preparing to do a Flying Backhanded Fakey 720, in front of some sort of parachute thing and some sort of racing watercraft (ok, no, she’s just putting her shirt back on, not doing any of that overamped ridiculousness).

The road to Glenorchy is essentially a 27-mile dead-end, so I hoped traffic wouldn’t be too bad, but if only a fraction of the Queenstown tourists looking to “do things” decided to drive out, it could be a nightmare, especially with the up-and-down hills that I knew filled the route. In the couple of things from previous riders I found to read, they were quite unpleasantly surprised with how hilly it was, but I hoped that the main problem was the surprise rather than the hills themselves.

Riding along Lake Wakatipu, which, like all the lakes around here, is entirely surrounded by mountains.

Well, traffic wasn’t all that bad (mostly the usual shoulderless NZ riding with the occasional tight-pass-for-no-reason asshole), but the hills were tough even when knowing about them. The headwind was probably what made it tougher than either of those things though. But its billing as “one of the most-scenic roads in New Zealand” was legit, and that certainly helped balance the downsides.

Not a bad place to reapply sunscreen.
The color of the water was even more intensely blue-green than Wanaka/Hawea Lakes from two days ago. I didn’t get any photos, but in areas where we could glimpse the water through the dark trees of a forest, it seemed literally unreal, like a bad special-effect or an overly-processed photo.
Big steep uphills at least always bring big steep downhills when following a lake, and when riding into a headwind, it’s much better to have that variation than to be pushing flat into the wind’s force for hours.

We had been riding through an incredibly beautiful landscape, one where I let Rett ride ahead a bit so that I could capture her in front of the lake and mountains the way that I see her when I’m riding behind. The idea that it could get much better was neither a possibility nor a disappointment. But now I am disappointed that I wasn’t there when Rett came around a curve where the scene that opened up literally stopped her in her tracks, and she reported that she yelled “HOLY SHIT!” I essentially did the same thing, gobsmacked by the vista, that for me included the extra feature of her looking on equally-gobsmacked.

The arresting view up to Glenorchy and the mountains behind.
An impossibly-blue lake (with islands in it) backed by a wall of sharp-toothed, snow-capped peaks.

In this land of superlatives that we’ve been riding through, while we don’t quite run the risk of becoming inured to the beauty, it can be difficult to remember that one day’s 9-out-of-10 is no less-enviable just because the next day was a 9.5-out-of-10. So it was actually a relief to learn that when a 15-out-of-10 presented itself to us, as it did here, our minds and hearts could still instantly recognize it as such. Our retinas have not yet been burned out by the searing magnificence of New Zealand.

Even better, traffic became significantly lighter the rest of the way, allowing us to keep our attention up and ahead rather than distracted by annoyances from behind. It might have been time-of-day, or just most people turning around at the Bennett’s Bluff viewpoint after walking up to get a similar view (we were proud to be able to just pull our bicycles to the guardrail on the no-space road, something a car could never do).

The same view, after we had collected ourselves and regained the ability to pedal bicycles.
Oops, but we should probably stop again to enjoy it even more-fully!
Oh, and with the road riding high above the lake level for most of the route, we can’t pass up this opportunity to see what it looks like from water-level.
It looks amazing, is what it looks like.
Hmm, but we apparently still have hills to traverse on this road to Glenorchy (and from this angle, can at least understand why the road can’t just stay flat!)
Swooping down to those snow-capped mountains.
On our side of the valley, a reminder that the peaks don’t have to be snow-covered to be badass (though these almost look like they’re made out of ice).
Some slightly-tamed ruggedness.
Just a check to see if it’s the lake that makes the mountains look so awesome. Nope, they work in front of golden fields too!

Our original plan four this fourth-and-last day of clear weather had been to head out to a DOC campground 15 miles past Glenorchy, but even before we set out we realized that yesterday’s long tough ride would make that nearly impossible today, so we were definitely glad that we’d decided to book a spot in the in-town campground. Especially since we certainly didn’t need to be out in the wilderness for great mountain views; they were surrounding us in town too!

Dinner on the patio at the Glenorchy Motel.
This dumb bird cares more about the food in front of him than the mountains behind him.

At Mrs. Woolly’s Campground, we were a little surprised to find $2-for-7-minutes showers, but I went ahead and got change in the store. Which we never used, because cold water was free, and after the long tough day (and in the already-stuffy shower building), cold showers were just fine. Mrs. Woolly’s Store has more gift items and clothing than practical items, but a scan showed that their grocery section, combined with their cafe, would allow us to stay here a week, as Rett now was now suddenly determined to do. It was then funny (and helpful!) to discover the Glenorchy Hotel has a super-tiny store that is even better-stocked than the 10x-larger Mrs. Woolly’s (except no fresh produce) that wasn’t even mentioned on Google Maps or any of our intensive research before heading this way.

Even with the tough ride (the third in a row), the beauty of this place gave Rett the energy to happily go out for a post-dinner walk around town.
Glenorchy, not a bad town to live in.
Oh, hi black swan! Just swimming around in this far-northern end of Lake Wakatipu.
Mount Alfred stands closest in the center, the one that was in the Facebook photo that partly drew us here (as expected, it’s not quite as incredible without a super-wide-angle drone photo).
Testing my theory that there is something specific about the shape of the tree growing out of Lake Wanaka that makes it beautiful by taking a picture of this tree growing out of Lake Wakatipu. And yep, even with a black swan swimming by, it’s not even close to #ThatWanakaTree.
Hmm, ok, from this angle it’s not too bad…
Not only is it a scenic spot to pitch our tent, it’s so much quieter here in Glenorchy than Queenstown.


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