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January 2011 Issue
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The throne room of the gods

Approximately 6hr from car to camp
Follow the Glenorchy-Paradise Road for approximately 15km beyond the township of Glenorchy. Just before Diamond Lake and just after crossing a creek, a signed turnout on the right side of the road signals the start of the track
Earnslaw Burn, Mt Aspiring National Park

As the sun was starting to head towards the horizon, I decided to take a step back and put on a wider lens. Leaving camp I walked through the rough tussock a few hundred metres up a little hill. At the top was a boulder the size of a bus. Scrambling onto it, I found a perch and settled in.

It had been a steady day of walking; laughing, talking and I finally had a moment to take it all in. Sitting silently atop the boulder I looked down at our camp. It wasn’t until that moment of stillness that the full impact of where we were hit me. This was as good as it gets.

We’re lucky here in ‘En-Zed’ – we’ve got more than our fair share of places to pitch a tent for the night that’ll knock your socks off. Of the countless nights I’ve bedded down in the million star hotel, few are in the league of Earnslaw Burn.

The Burn is a deep cut on the outer flanks of Mt Earnslaw – a monster of a peak that forms the crown of the Alps. Presiding high above the shores of Lake Wakatipu it’s a peak that dominates the view as you head from Queenstown to Glenorchy.

The trip starts near the confluence of the Rees and Dart rivers close to the town of Glenorchy. The route follows a track that improves a little bit every year for a staunch 11.5km. Starting in the stunted beech forest the trail climbs steadily following the Earnslaw Burn.

The track starts straightforward enough, snaking through the bush and gaining altitude at a steady pace. Hugging the creek, the trail climbs into the alpine, substituting trees for tussock.

As you break free from the trees, the golden grass and the grey of stone light the way skyward. In the distance the commanding south face of Mt Earnslaw rears into view. The tumbling glacier and hanging seracs form a veil of icy architecture. Sitting at the end of the valley, this rock wall creates a bastion of stone and snow. Striking skyward for a couple thousand meters, the relief from the valley floor is breathtaking.

Continuing up the valley, the ground levels out into a wide open expanse where the grandeur of the surroundings has room to breathe. You come around the corner and twin waterfalls thunder from summit to valley floor. The swath of white water explodes into a tiny pool and the aesthetic is complete.

We’d pitched our tents in the flats near the falls and I could see in the distance the steam of a boiling billy. Later, the stars came thick and fast and we stayed up late sipping whisky trying to take it all in.

– Scott Kennedy