Earnslaw Burn Glacier Hike

Queenstown, New Zealand (map)
Earnslaw Burn, New Zealand (map)

(Old title – Extreme Tramping)
Queenstown is the extreme sports capitol of New Zealand with every crazy sport from bungee jumping, skydiving, pendulum swinging, speed boating, and so on.  I call these type of tourist attractions cheap or fake, not because they are either but it’s these types of attractions you usually find in a city that has nothing to offer.

Queenstown on the other hand is nestled between a ski mountain and a beautiful lake that has tons of natural attractions to offer.  In the summer months it’s transformed into a bike mecca with downhill mountain biking, off season pro road bike training, cross country cycling, and a BMX  jump park.

We arrived just in time to catch the Red Bull Roast It, a BMX jump track competition.  I love bikes and I love jumping, but compared to these guys I am wearing training wheels and falling off curbs.  It was EXTREME ;).

Now onto the Tramping.  No we weren’t working the streets or hitching rides cross country, the only definitions of tramping I know.  Tramping in New Zealand simply means hiking or trekking and we were looking for something unique and off the tourist track.  Luckily we got our answer after sending out a message on our facebook page on what to see in New Zealand.  Mom came to the rescue knowing we enjoy waterfalls and found the most spectacular waterfalls picture we had ever seen.

The problem was other than a $700 per person helicopter flight no one knew how to get to it.  Sure the DOC had it published as the Earnslaw Burn Track, but talking to every park ranger we could find no one had actually done it.  Also our internet searches of trying to find people who had completed the hike only turned up with results of those who had attempted it but turned back after they lost the trail multiple times.

It was perfect!  A 4-6 hour one way hike (8-12 hour round trip) that few had completed was the perfect type of memorable trip that would top our New Zealand visit.

Don’t let the picture fool you, Queenstown is overrun with backpacker tourists like us
Free Entertainment
The best type of fun for travelers on a budget, free!
Red Bull Roast It
How many bikes can you get in the air at once?
Drone GoPro
Cool aerial video technology using a drone remote control and GoPro

Red Bull Roast It

Paradise Found
Welcome to Paradise, No Entry – Typical
Earnslaw Burn Track
30 minutes into the Earnslaw Burn hike has you trail finding across the brush
Earnslaw Burn Track
We found the trail well marked, but not well footed
Earnslaw Burn Trek
Still under the tree line you will find a rain forest atmosphere
Earnslaw Burn Trek
But breaking out of the tree line we get our first glimpse of the Earnslaw Burn Glacier
Earnslaw Burn Valley
Doing the sound of music happy dance as we know we had found our way
Earnslaw Burn Glacier
4.5 hours in where most turn back at this point, but we wanted to see the falls up close
Earnslaw Burn Waterfalls
5 hours in we break for lunch and just enjoy the amazing surroundings
Earnslaw Burn Gilikson Falls
Another 20 minutes closer to see an up close look at the most spectacular Gilikson Falls
Men who stare with Cows
Well it took a total 11 hours 18 minutes but we earned the respect from the Cows

23 thoughts on “Earnslaw Burn Glacier Hike

  1. Wow. Amazing falls! Unbelievable scenery. You must be stunned by God’s glorious beauty all around! He has been so good to protect you all along the way. I so admire your adventuresome spirits! And energy and stamina! Yay for you guys!

    1. God’s creation is beyond mind boggling! Sadly though I don’t think our stamina is what it used to be when we started out, but slowing down and recharging helps. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Beautiful photos (and definitely some extreme biking there). I can’t wait to get hiking again!

    1. We are looking forward to reading about your hiking adventures, though I am sure it will make us miss it more

  3. Hello,

    I’m doing some research on the Earnslaw Burn Track in NZ and I came across your wonderful blog. Thought I might ask you guys a few questions (if you have the time to answer).

    1. Can the track be completed in one day (driving from and to Queenstown) ?
    Found one blog post that says you need 2 days (http://vivahoyvivalotuyo.blogspot.ro/2013/06/the-roadtrip-earnslaw-burn-glenorchy.html)

    2. Do I need to sign up with DOC or get some sort of a permit ? What about the “No entry” sign ?

    3. Is this map of the track more or less accurate : http://nzwalksinfo.co.nz/tracks/916-earnslaw-burn-track ? Do we need to walk on the right side of the river ?

    Thanks in advance for your help,

    1. Hey Alexandra, thanks for the question and the Earnslaw Burn trek is a must do so glad you asked. I will be brief in response, but please feel free to ask more if you have questions.

      1. One day is doable but a really early start would be necessary
      2. At the time we hiked a permit was not required
      3. Here is our actual GPS map of the trail hike that you can download, but the trailhead starts on the left hand side of the river and then crosses right away (we choose to start on the right hand side to stay dry – http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=2070741

      Good Luck!

      1. Thanks so much for your answer. I’ll double check with DOC to make sure that no special permits are required.

      2. Also just fair warning the GPS track above, just goes until the end of the trail, but we continued to hike much further past it (sort of make your own trail), but it added significantly to the overall hike time.

      3. Also, would you suggest bringing camping gear and just staying the night out there? Obviously depending on the time of year but I was thinking it may be easier to do that if I head out there during the summer months

      4. Yeah we stayed at unoffical spot marked at the “End” on the GPS map in a tent behind the car on the side of the road. Or you can stay at the DOC site at the official start if you have a self-contained campervan.

        You can sleep at the rock bivy as they have rustic bunk beds (no padding) or like these girls that Alexandra sent link to their blog they camped right out in the open field, it’s obvious to find the place – http://vivahoyvivalotuyo.blogspot.ro/2013/06/the-roadtrip-earnslaw-burn-glenorchy.html

        In hindsight more time out there would of been fun as we rushed and to get to the very end it was still 6 hours one way (if you can trail find a bit better you may be able to save an hour).

      5. Excellent. I am considering making a 2-day tramp out of it and just bringing the necessary supplies. As well as going in the summer so it isn’t too cold at night. It looks absolutely beautiful! Thank you for the post, some great pictures as well

      6. I am thinking of going to NZ for a year after college and Earnslaw Burn is one of my top priorities! I wouldn’t be able to afford the chopper flight so thank you for this blog and GPS map! They will come in handy 🙂

  4. My name is JR and I am from Chicago. While doing some research on New Zealand, specifically Earnslaw Burn glacier, I came across your Blog. (thanks Google) We are a family of 5 (my gf and I and her 3 teenage kids) traveling to Australia and New Zealand, the last two weeks of March 2014. We are very athletic and adventurous and are trying to determine if an ALL day hike to the base of Earnslaw Burn glacier and back makes sense. The helicopter would be cool but I would rather hike.

    I read your Blog including comments and had a couple of questions.

    1. what was the weather like when you were there?
    2. how much water did you bring?
    3. Is there much of a trail to follow? (seems like it’s easy to get off trail)
    4. What was the most dangerous part? getting lost? wild animals? etc?
    5. would you do anything different if you hiked it again?
    6. I assume that you started at daybreak, how long was daylight at that time of year? (march)
    7. what was the most important item that you brought with on the hike?

    it’s really cool that you guys can LIVE your dreams and share them in a Great Blog. good job, well done! I like the YouTube vids as well.

    1. Just curious how did you became infatuated with the Earnslaw Burn Glacier? We were surprised to learn about it while we were there and that more people hadn’t heard about it. Sadly we haven’t made it to Alaska yet, but looking forward to it and will keep your recommendation on our list of to see.

      To the questions…
      1. We had good weather; overnight lows in the 30’s and highs in the 50-60’s; we too also went in March
      2. We took about a 1L of water each plus food and refilled water at the glacier (no real reason to treat it)
      3. We worried about the trail being hard to follow after reading other blogs, but found it very well marked until you get toward the end and then it just dumps you into grass fields where you sort of make your own trail. The footing of the marked trail was the more difficult part as the hike doesn’t get much foot traffic
      4. I think the most dangerous part if there was one, is getting caught long on the hike after dark and cold without proper clothing or enough food. But really there was not much of any danger; you don’t have to worry about large animals in New Zealand (they don’t exist).
      5. I think next time I would like to spend more time out there, take a couple days to enjoy it, catch the view at sunset and sunrise. They have a rock bivy you can sleep overnight at
      6. Most important item(s): Backpack to hold our snack, food, water, layers of clothing

      Thanks for checking out the blog and videos, hopefully I will get around to posting more as I have several from Earnslaw burn and other highlights. Feel free to send any more questions, happy to help, and hope you don’t mind but I will repost them to the blog so others can benefit.

  5. What an amazing location! I have found all of the information you have provided to be quite helpful. My question falls along the lines of how experienced you need to be for this tramp. My husband and I will be in the Glenorchy area the beginning of March. We have gone on long hikes before (12 miles) and are in great shape but we have never needed markers since the trails were well enough travelled. Any insight that you can provide on the experience level needed? We would love to see the location. Thanks!

    1. Hey Brittany,

      If you have been on 12 mile hikes before you should have no problem at all. The trail markings are simple enough to find and you can download the GPS (GPX) file and even follow along on your phone if you need to. It’s fairly straight forward as you are hiking up a valley keeping the river on your left the whole time (unless you start from the left bank at the beginning, which then you have to cross the river at the start).

      I would say in hindsight I wish we slept overnight at the Bivy camp and made it a two day trip, just so we could of enjoyed more time out there, but than again that would require carrying even more food and sleeping gear. Happy to answer whatever I can so ask away!

      1. Thanks, Dustin. That definitely helps. I am unfamiliar with the GPX technology, so I will definitely look into it as a “back-up”. Here are a few other questions that I thought of in the meantime:
        1) When did you start your hike? I am thinking we would like to start as soon as it is light enough. Any ideas when that would be the beginning of March (and when you would start to lose light)?
        2) When you turn right onto the road off of Glenorchy-Paradise Road, right after going over the Earnslaw Burn, where did you park? Looking at Google Maps I see a short dirt road, leading into the trees. Did you just park off of that road somewhere or is there a lot? Then, did you walk back to cross the bridge so that you would start on the right side?

        I think those are the questions I have for now. I am sure I will think of more later. I am very appreciate of your insight!

      2. The short dirt road leading into the trees is the correct starting place, but we actually didn’t start in the official parking lot because it has you crossing the river to start, which is doable, but we didn’t want wet feet to start the day.

        It takes 4-4.5 hours one way, but if you want to get really close it’s like 5-6 hours; we are talking a full 9-12 hour day. We did it in March shortly after sunrise and got back before sunset, which in March if I remember right (because that is when we did it) it was long days 6am – 7pm, may want to google search that though.

        To get a better idea of time take a look at this link which we recorded on the hike back and not even from the very end near the glacier so it only recorded about 4.5 hours. This will also show where we parked and entered the trail from, make sure to turn on the satellite and statistics view – http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=2070741

      3. Hey Brittnay, in the latest post made this morning you may want to check about 4 minutes into the video, some footage of the Earnslaw Burn hike – http://www.wegortw.com/we-are-moving-to-new-zealand/

      4. Thanks! That definitely does help to see what the more open part of the track looks like. How beautiful!

  6. I just completed the earnslaw burn track today. Although it was beautiful in some areas of the forest and especially at the glacier at the end, it was very very very tiring. Don’t expect this hike(tramp) to be so easy, the reason why it was so much harder than I expected it to be was because of the obstacles (such as a fallen down trees blocking the path, multiple streams/rivers to cross e.t.c), this meant that the path was never straight and flat for more than 5 metres. The whole time you are weaving your way around trees and climbing up steep banks, not easy. The track is very bendy and because you go up and down so much you can easily add a few kilometres to the distance of the tramp. It actually took me 1 hour and 10 minutes to find the start of the hike. I never saw a sign that said earnslaw burn track, I looked for ages. All I saw was a slightly bigger orange marker than the others where I started which was just after a field of sheep.
    Directions: to find the first tree with the bigger orange triangle marker, on the glenorchy-paradise road, look out for a track called lovers leap road it will be on your right when heading towards paradise. Drive or walk down there, after about a 10-15 min walk there will be 2 metal gates, take the furthest one away, the second one. Walk towards the valley with the fence on your left after climbing over the gate, in 2 mins you will see the Orange marker on the tree. Follow the path. It is well marked at the beggining but after about 1:30 mins – 2 hours, the markers are less frequent, some have fallen off. If you find there is a massive tree blocking your path, either climb over it, go under it or go around, remember which way the track was heading and then find the footpath again. There will be a couple of very large streams along the way, you could call them rivers really, before crossing try and look for a marker, if you can’t see one, look for a trail, if neither cross anyway and try and find the track afterwards, just don’t panic, it shouldn’t take too long to find it, 2-3 mins maximum. If you have not found it go back to the stream and start again, it if you are confident continue. Once you have reached the end of the forest you will se the left hand side of the glacier, I would recommend finding a suitable place to camp ASAP, set up camp and then decide if you want to walk further and see the glacier up close. My mistake was that I bought all my gear with me and went right up to camp next to gilikson falls, I didn’t bring a roll mat so I only got like 1 hour sleep, it was very uncomfortable and the waterfall was quite loud, but you kind of get used to it. I camped there on the 20th February which is summer, it still gets pretty cold In the night though, the stats were incredible though. They filmed a bit of the hobbit an unexpected journey at gilikson falls, they also filmed another bit of the hobbit on the left of the mountain, the scene is where the dwarves a walking down the slope overlooking earnslaw burn glacier. FYI, on the same mountain is cahadras in LOTR the fellowship of the ring, where boromir picks up the ring after frodo drops it. Also when you exit the forest and see the glacier, it will appear to look close, trust me, it’s not. Comparatively, walking through the forest was about 2-3 times easier than walking through the marshy tussock after leaving the forest. I think the track actually ends at the forest so that’s probably why I found it so hard. As it is really marsh there will be many maby streams hidden by the tussock, be quite careful as you may end up spraining your ankle or breaking something. Definently don’t bring your gear through this but unless you really want to camp closer to the glacier. Just set up camp as soon as you leave the forest and then make about a 2-3 hour round trip to get closer to the glacier. If you are a massive hobbit fan and want to get up on the moutain to where the dwarves were walking down, don’t bother, you will die!!
    I will show my times below, nb I jogged/ran down hilly sections to get there ASAP. If you are walking the whole way it will take about 5-7 hours to get to the glacier.

    (((1:11:00 time spent finding the start of the track.)))
    3:07:00 (out of woods, this is what the doc thinks will take 4-6 hours, I did it in 1 hour less than the minimum time due to a bit of jogging down hills and fast paced walking)
    3:17:00 (full view of glacier)
    4:10:00 (found a spot to put up my tent next to gilikson falls)
    4:20:00 (tent set up)

    3:49:14 (time taken to get back, I really did a lot of running down the hill towards the end)

    NB, the first 45 mins of the track on the way there will be going up the hill pretty steeply, this is quite tiring, don’t think you have done the hard part yet, just wait until you get to the marshy tussock after leaving the woods.

    Enjoy, and don’t do it in one day, there will be no time to enjoy the views properly.

    1. Thanks Freddie for the comment and sorry to take so long to approve. I found it buried in our spam folder amongst all the spam (ah the Internet). I agree if you have proper camping gear take the time to enjoy an overnight stay.

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