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One door down from paradise

There are plentiful campsites surrounded by waterfalls, ice and mountains at the head of Earnslaw Burn. Photo: Dennis Radermacher
5-7hr one way
On Glenorchy Paradise Road turn right into Lovers Leap Road. Earnslaw Burn track starts on the left
CB10, CA10
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Earnslaw Burn Valley, Mt Aspiring National Park

The tramp along Earnslaw Burn offers the most impressive scenery I have seen during my more than 10 years travelling New Zealand.

Words and pictures can’t do justice to the majestic view at the end of the valley, where Mt Earnslaw towers nearly 2000m above and feeds dozens of waterfalls. The sheer scale of the peak, its glacier and waterfalls overwhelmed us when our party of three set up camp.

The walk up the valley was technically easy, but physically challenging with overnight packs. The first few hours of travel took us through dense bush on a well-marked and, for most parts, easily visible trail. Climbing over toppled trees kept us engaged until we made it to the tree line at Rock Bivouac.

The last 5km are through a beautiful, open valley. There is a faint trail in places but for most part trampers are left to their own devices. We made sure to stay on the true left of the stream and had no issues finding our way. The last section, through some low scrub, is marked with the occasional cairn.

Our biggest challenge in the upper valley was not to trip over our own feet. The ragged rock features and towering cliffs with their myriads of waterfalls would be a worthy destination in their own right. But the grand prize was waiting at the end of the valley. With every corner rounded, the glaciers and waterfalls of Mt Earnslaw were exposed a little more.

We arrived on the evening of my birthday and I considered the free choice of campsites as my gift. There were sites high up on a few little mounds or right beside the stream and waterfalls. It was a nice, warm evening with a pleasant breeze and no sandflies. Tour operators are known to fly guests in via helicopter, but our streak of luck held and we had the basin to ourselves.

During the evening, a group of rowdy kea contributed to our experience in their own way. We had to post guards while our feathered friends made a point of pulling out our tent pegs. We admired their strategy of small groups distracting us with their cackling, while individuals were circling us to come up from behind. Eventually, they tired of the game and we all went to bed to the soundtrack of cracking ice and avalanches under a star-spangled night-sky.

If someone asked me to recommend a must-do tramp, it would be this one.

Walking in the upper Earnslaw Valley. Photo: Dennis Radermacher

Camping near the waterfalls at the head of the Earnslaw Valley. Photo: Dennis Radermacher

How many waterfalls can one valley have? Photo: Dennis Radermacher

– Dennis is a commercial photographer and teaches photography at Hero Workshops.