Queenstown on the Quiet

August 2, 2023
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QUEENSTOWN is notorious for being crowded in normal times, and getting crowded once more. Yet there are quiet places that you can get away to, including really scenic backcountry tracks that aren’t so well known.

Here are five areas that you might want to explore, in addition to walks that I have mentioned in other blog posts about Queenstown.

Some of the routes further away from town are recommended as summer tramping only, and in any case, it pays to wrap up for winter. So, bear that in mind at this time of year, and consult other sources such as New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) web pages on the areas in question.

The Kelvin Peninsula Track and the Jacks Point Track

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

The Kelvin Peninsula Track and its continuation, the Jacks Point Track, give excellent views of Lake Wakatipu as you hike westward along the southern foreshore of the Frankton Arm and then southeastward through a tussocky landscape to the 474-metre hill at Jacks Point, 164 metres or about 500 feet above the level of the lake.

‘View of Queenstown and Ben Lomond from the Jacks Point Track’, by Matt Rayner via the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) page on the Jacks Point Track, CC BY 4.0.

Glenorchy and Glacier Burn

At the top of the lake — which is the subject of another of my blog posts — there is the township of Glenorchy, which has two lagoons and a walkway around them. From Glenorchy, you can head around the top of the lake to the village of Kinloch, which has a cafe and is quite a pleasant spot to camp.

Just before you get to Kinloch, there is the Glacier Burn Track. The track climbs through beech forest to the treeline and the treeless Glacier Basin, after which you can follow the Glacier Burn pretty much as high as you feel comfortable with. The Glacier Burn begins at the Bryant Glacier, whence its name I suppose. There are lots of birds and a great view of the Humboldt Mountains. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) page on Glacier Burn is here.

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

Perhaps the most spectacular views of all are from the top of Mount Alfred/Ari, which is only accessible by way of a guided tour — see this link — as getting to the top involves crossing private property. The road from Glenorchy to Kinloch hugs the base of the mountain, which towers in the form of a giant monolith or pyramid for a thousand metres above the flats of the Rees River and the Dart River/Te Awa Whakatipu.

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

Lake Alta and the Remarkables

The Remarkables Conservation Area, consisting of the incredibly rugged mountains that overlook Queenstown Airport and the lands behind them, is probably going to become New Zealand’s next national park.

Apart from the skifield, a popular place to visit in the Remarkables is the pretty little Lake Alta. It can be reached both by the short Lake Alta Track from the Remarkables skifield, and the much longer Wye Creek Route, which continues on from the Wye Creek Track, which comes off State Highway 6 at the southern end of the Remarkables.

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

Lake Alta. Photo by Chiharu Kital via the DOC page on the Lake Alta Track, CC BY 4.0.

Behind the Remarkables are the Garvie Mountains, where many strange rock formations may be seen, like the one shown in this press story about the proposed national park.

Moke Lake and the Moonlight Track

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

From scenic Moke Lake, pronounced ‘Mokeh’ and meaning ‘lonely’, the Moonlight Track forms a three-quarter loop around to Arthurs Point, near Queenstown. The track is named after a famous nineteenth-century prospector, George Fairweather Moonlight.

The author at Moke Lake

The Moonlight Track with mountains in the distance

Where the route to climb Ben Lomond branches off

Looking down on Arthurs Point and the Shotover River

The entrance to the Moonlight Track at Arthurs Point

The Arrowtown and Lake Hayes Trails

There are many trails in the vicinity of Arrowtown and the mirror-like Lake Hayes, known in Māori as Te Whaka-ata a Haki te kura, meaning the reflection of Haki te kura, a female ancestor who made a perilous swim across Lake Wakatipu.

Some of these trails follow the Arrow River on which Arrowtown stands. The Arrow River is known as Te Awa Haehaenui in Māori, meaning ‘the river of many scratchings’, a reference to the former abundance of flightless birds, and so the Arrowtown locality is also known as Haehaenui.

An easy section of trail near Arrowtown

The Arrow River / Te Awa Haehaenui

Lake Hayes / Te Whaka-ata a Haki te kura

Others are high up in the hills, with good views of the basin in which Arrowtown and Lake Hayes are located.

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

Rock Burn and the Lake Sylvan Loop

Everybody in these parts has heard of the Routeburn Track, but not so many of the Rockburn Track, on the other side of Sugarloaf Pass. The Rockburn Track comes off the Lake Sylvan loop. It also forms part of a larger loop called the Five Passes Route, which is mostly alpine and off-track. If you want to do something that is a bit like the Routeburn Track, but minus the tourists (and facilities!) this area is for you.

LINZ via NZ Topo Map (2021), CC BY 4.0

Here is a DOC webpage on the Rockburn and Sugarloaf Tracks; the last image in this post shows the view from Sugarloaf Pass.

The view from Sugarloaf Pass. Source DOC, CC BY 4.0

If you liked this post, check out my recent book about the South Island! It’s available for purchase from this website,


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