Last Updated: 21st Sep 2023

Intermediate - Experienced

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I've done it Done

Earnslaw Burn Circuit

Glenorchy, Otago

Submitted by Mike Steel

Last Updated: 21st Sep 2023

Intermediate - Experienced

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I've done it Done


Grunt Factor: 65 ?

Gnarl Factor: 82 ?








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Trail Map

Type of Run

Back country - remote



Native bush


Open tussock/grasslands

Open ridges/tops

Run Makeup


Moderate Single Track

Technical Single Track

Untracked / Route only

Average Uphill Gradient: +13.2%

Average Downhill Gradient: -13.3%


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Estimated Times to Run

Not suitable






A remote mountain run with superb views very close to Glenorchy. It's a circuit back to the start, combining a runable track through bush, open alpine terrain, and a steep section to gain the high ridge for the airy return.

From the car park follow orange markers that lead you onto the Earnslaw Burn track. Run up the well-marked track (7km) which is mostly through the bush above the river to the upper valley (500m climb). There is a a marked but easily missed large rock biv across the river near bushline (indicated on the topomap). Continue on up the true left of the river for about 3 kilometers on faint trails to amazing views of the falling glaciers and waterfalls off Mt Earnslaw.

Return and rejoin the main track and about 500 metres below the rock biv the first main stream is encountered coming down on your left (east). Fill up with water here, and head up this stream, gaining height quickly for 500 metres, then as it steepens escape onto the true left (vegetated) side and head straight up to an obvious col (steep). Don't be put off by the intimidating looking bluffs above - the ridge is fast travel once you break through onto it.

Once on the ridge (pictured) head along the long, undulating ridge - mostly tussocky with faint trails, but with occasional short rock sections thrown in - all the way back to the point where it drops steeply down back to the mouth of the valley (avoiding most of the bush, and also the sheer bluff at the end!).

Spectacular cirque of hanging glaciers at the head of the valley, and awesome views from the ridge.

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No issues

13 km

15 minutes




Attempt the high-ridge return only in clear weather (and take a map and compass anyway) - you can always run back the way you ran in if in doubt. Also, have a look at the descent route as you're setting off.


Thermal leggings, Long-sleeved thermal top, Seam-sealed waterproof jacket, Gloves, Beanie/thermal headwear, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), First aid kit, Extra food for emergencies, Survival blanket, Cellphone, Compass, Map

Plenty of water in the valley; none on the ridge.

Probably best in summer/early autumn - could be snow/ice in winter.

You are in big mountain country where conditions can change fast. Only attempt this route if you have the necessary backcountry experience and are properly equipped.

Trail Legend


Nelson Pearson

has completed Earnslaw Burn Circuit once in the last year.

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Trail Reviews

Used the ridge route described by Gareth, and had a great day out. My time was also much longer longer than the suggested - about a 9 - 10 hour day out including going to about 1km from the Earnslaw Burn glacier face.

Jo Steven

February 2, 2021

This is a great "trail" with amazing views of Earnslaw, Aspiring, the Rees, Glenorchy, and Diamond Lake. It's an awesome adventure if you love tussock, route-finding, and climbing up steep, loose scree.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about where to go and the state of the trail. The first thing to note is that once you leave the main trail there is no route whatsoever. You go up a stream to a ridgeline that is constantly eroding, up active slips. It's steep and always changing, there are no poles, markers, footprints, or even a single cairn to mark the way. You have to pick your own path.

Mike's route goes straight up the stream and then climbs a scree gut. At the start following the stream is easy in normal flows, after a while windfall starts to block the way but it's straightforward to skirt around the scree slopes on the true left. This gets tougher as the slopes get steeper and narrower further up. The scree here is very loose, wafer-thin schist on a bed of mud - at times it's like trying to walk up on a pile of skateboards.

I chose to leave the stream at the top edge of the large slip around the 970m contour. Travel is relatively easy up the slip edge, with large rocks and trees for grip. At the top of the slip there's a short bash through open beech and then into tussock. From there it's much easier, just pick a line going uphill through the tussock / scree, and when you see the bluffs head for the right. There's some spaniard but it's spaced far enough apart that it's not a problem. Care would be needed if it was wet.

Very important to fill up with water before you leave the stream as there is no water on the ridge, and it's not a quick run down.

This will take you to a saddle just SE of pt 1580 (rather than the NW saddle in Mike's route). Climb to pt 1580 for views and try not to think too hard about the overhang while you pose for photos.

Next is the ridge and if you (like me) thought that you're getting a nice runnable ridgeline to fly down as a reward for all your effort, you're wrong. It's mostly lumpy tussock with a few deer trails, and those trails more often than not led me straight into bluffs and rockfields. Pick your own lines and don't trust the trails. When the ridge narrows there are rock fields and outcrops, most can be crossed over the top but a couple need to be traversed around the western (less steep) slope. Unless you have a sixth sense for this or have been before you'll either need to do some rockclimbing or some backtracking.

The large bluff at the end of ridge is worth going to for the views of the Rees, don't worry just follow the deer trails and they will lead you straight to the bluff. Again try not to think too much about overhang while you take photos. After that I tried to follow Mike's straight line route down to the finish but it kept taking me into scrub, bluffs, and rock fields so ended up picking a much less straight line down. Maybe Mike can fly? Your results may vary. It's all open grass and tussock and not difficult to navigate.

When you hit the fenceline near the bottom you can turn right and rejoin the main track instead of going down to the road.

In terms of timing this took me
- 2 hours to reach the stream
- 1.5 hours to reach the ridge, and .5 hours up to pt 1580 & down (incl. stopping at the top)
- 3 hours return down the ridge

Total 7 hours without going to the head of the valley (2 hours) so this whole route would have been 9 hours. I usually run better than "moderate" pace so the times above are maybe a little optimistic unless you have been before.

Overall this is an excellent full day technical off-track route for clear & dry conditions, with no marked trail and amazing views :)

Gareth Jenkins

January 24, 2021

Ran today. The track is really quite brutal. It's almost constant bogs, climbing over fallen trees and scaling down streamy cliffs. It's definitely not suitable for inexperienced runners or hikers. I also couldn't get up to the ridge via the method suggested in the description, perhaps it would be better to have this route as a simple out and back, without the ridge. I wouldn't have loved to get up to the ridge, those views would have been stunning. 4 stars for the views (maybe 5 if you get up to the ridge) and 2 stars for the enjoyment of the track.

Matt Rayner

October 28, 2020

Ran this route 27/12/18, route up to the falls was okay quite a few fallen trees but generally clear. Ran into problems trying to gain the ridge via the creek gully on the way down. Must have followed the creek line too far or major wash out has occurred as the upper part had steep unstable screes on both sides which eventually led to very heavy tussocks and way too many spaniards. Never managed to reach the ridge. After 2-3 hrs battling away chose instead to retreat via straight line through the forest and back to the main track. A good testing day out on the first day of our two week holiday on the South Island...

Brendan Walsh

January 11, 2019

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