Earnslaw Burn New Zealand is a hidden gem of an overnight hike from Glenorchy. Flowing glacial rivers, valley waterfalls and spectacular glacier views await.
The Earnslaw Burn hike is an unforgettable overnight hike near Glenorchy. If you’re up for an accessible, yet off-the-beaten-path track with incredible views, then you’ve come to the right place.
While the trails of the Routeburn and Kepler can get crowded in the peak season, hikers heading to the Earnslaw Burn will probably have the trail all to themselves! I found it mind-boggling that this track wasn’t more popular since the views at times easily rival some of the great walks.
- Where is Earnslaw Burn?
- How to get to the Earnslaw Burn Track
- What to Expect on the Earnslaw Burn Track
- Earnslaw Burn GPX File
- Overnight Camping Spots Near the Earnslaw Burn
- Earnslaw Burn Falls
- Earnslaw Burn Glacier View
- More Photos of Earnslaw Burn New Zealand
Where is Earnslaw Burn?
The Earnslaw Burn and glacier are part of Mount Earnslaw, located in the Mt Aspiring National Park. Access to the track is near the town of Glenorchy, approximately one hour's drive from Queenstown.
How to get to the Earnslaw Burn Track
The start of the Earnslaw Burn track is located on a bend on Lover's Leap Road. There are no obvious signs to this hike, so finding it without a bit of research can prove difficult.
GPS coordinates: 44°44'25.3"S 168°24'37.7"E
From Glenorchy, follow Glenorchy-Paradise Rd for approximately 15 minutes before turning right onto Lover's Leap Road. From here, keep driving until you see the obvious "right-angle" bend. Just before this bend is a flat area where there may or may not be cars parked. This is where you'll begin the hike.
These roads are mostly gravel. However, any 2WD can make the drive in good conditions.
Finding the Trailhead
Even once you arrive at the makeshift "car park" you have to jump a farmer's gate and walk along the obvious track until you can finally spot the trailhead signage.
From here, the track is relatively easy to follow.
For Hobbit Fans: Did you know that Earnslaw Burn New Zealand was featured in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit". Walking the track, you'll be following in the footsteps of Bilbo and the dwarves as they continue on from Rivendell.
What to Expect on the Earnslaw Burn Track
The Earnslaw Burn is a geological watercourse carved through the mountainside by the run-off from the Earnslaw Glacier. The track follows the "burn" or glacial river, within the forest and along slopes of the ridge before breaking out into a tussock valley with incredible views of the Earnslaw Burn Glacier.
- Earnslaw Burn Track Distance: 22 km Return to the Tussock valley & 30 km return to Glacier
- Hike Difficulty: Fairly strenuous with lots of uneven ground
- Total Elevation Gain: 1350 m (return)
First Section: Beech Forest
The track begins with an incremental climb through the beech forest on private land before hopping over another fence.
From here, it's a long, rocky and muddy track through the forest for 11 KM. The majority of this hike is within the forest, which is beautiful but can get a little bit repetitive.
There is also a lot of windfall and mud/rock slides along the track. Make sure to check the DOC for updates and to follow the orange markers which mark the route.
This section took us approximately 4 hours, with many dips and climbs along the way.
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Tussock Valley, Waterfalls and Glacier Views
After finally breaking through trees, we were immediately awarded with incredible views of Mt Earnslaw and the glacier from afar. Soon after, we had to hop over rocks cross the river, which I could imagine would be fairly dangerous after heavy downpours.
From here, the marked track ends. However, you can follow the tracks all the way along the river to the base of the glacier. We decided to cross a shallow section of the freezing river, which flowed gently at around knee-height on this occasion.
From here, we climbed a small bushy hill for incredible glacial views. This part isn't exactly a track, but you can see where we went for the viewpoint on the GPX file below.
You might notice some helicopters flying over the valley and over to the glacier. This is the alternative and much easier way to reach the Earnslaw Burn. I'd imagine the views from up there would be absolutely incredible if you have a sneaky $900 to spare for an Earnslaw Burn helicopter flight.
Earnslaw Burn GPX File
The below GPX file follows our return route and elevation data as recorded on my Garmin. You can also download this GPX map to upload to your phone or GPS watch by clicking the link below.
GPX File: Download
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Overnight Camping Spots Near the Earnslaw Burn
It's possible to camp in the tussock valley beside the burn for free. The best camping spot in my opinion is found shortly after breaking out of the forest, just beside the track.
This is the levelest ground you'll find, complete with a large rock for a table and a campfire setup. This spot is quite a bit far from the glacier though, so it might be a good idea to set up your tent, chuck your bags in and make your way to the glacier for the afternoon before returning.
If you'd prefer, there are also several level areas along the track to the glacier where you can pitch a tent, including right near the glacier itself. You'll have great views at these spots, and the ground is flat enough to have a decent sleep.
The Earnslaw Burn Bivvy
If you didn't bring a tent, then it's possible to get some shelter at the Earnslaw burn bivvy. This is a large rock bivvy formed by overhanging rocks. This is located on your right, just past the first camping spot I mentioned.
Earnslaw Burn Falls
The Earnslaw Burn hike was in my opinion one of the most scenic hikes in New Zealand. Along the track to the glacier, there are an array of endless waterfalls on either side. The most noteable was the large, multi-leveled plungers on the west of the valley.
If you make it as far as the Earnslaw Burn glacier, you'll also see dozens of epic waterfalls cascading down the cliff from the melting glacier.
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Earnslaw Burn Glacier View
The further you walk up the burn, the better the views of the glacier seem to become. Here are some photos that I took on the way and from the viewpoint mentioned above.
More Photos of Earnslaw Burn New Zealand
I hope that you found this guide to the Earnslaw Burn New Zealand hike useful. If you're attempting the trip, remember to assess conditions and to be prepared for a long walk with a chance of cold river crossings. For more South Island hikes and adventures in New Zealand's, check out the related articles below.