You might not have heard of Paradise, nor been there, but you will most certainly have seen it. This lush valley between Diamond Lake and the Dart River has featured in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Wolverine and Narnia – to name but a few films – and in many a TV commercial. It’s not hard to work out why. Snow-capped mountains? Tick. River flats? Ditto. Green pastures? Of course. All that and beech forests ... This is pure New Zealand at its best.
Tourists have been coming to the valley since the late 1800s when it was a horse-and-cart ride from already remote Glenorchy. But for the past 20 years, Paradise Farm has been preserved in a not-for-profit trust that runs the accommodation. Miller House, rebuilt after a fire in 2014, sleeps nine, while The Annexe, formerly staff quarters, sleeps four. Both of these have bathrooms and kitchens with all the mod cons. For those who really want to get away from it all, there’s a collection of other more rustic cribs (huts) with open fires and charm galore. At $25-$50 a head, this is sensational holidaying far from the madding crowd of glitzy Queenstown.
I went to Paradise for my book club’s Christmas party, so we took the two bigger houses and one of the cribs, and had our party in the old schoolhouse. With its big refectory table, pews, indoor wood burner and modest kitchen, this was the perfect spot for a knees-up. There’s a gorgeous flat lawn right outside too – ideal if you’re planning something bigger and need a marquee. If you do the loop walk around the property to check out the cribs, the scheelite mine and the Rees River view, you’ll also find the hilltop spot where wedding vows are made.
We passed two different lots of horse trekkers on our loop walk, so there’s that (try Dart Stables nearby) or you can book a plethora of adventure activities from Glenorchy. Dart River Safaris takes visitors up the river on a jet boat, passing many a film location, and you can come back down by inflatable “funyak”. But this part of the world is also a hiker’s dream. Walk around the farm, up the Rees or follow Diamond Creek to Reid Lake. Alternatively, on your way back to Glenorchy, you can hang a right, cross the Dart and follow the road to the first part of the Routeburn Track. This is one of my favourite walks – even if you just do the first 20 minutes, although going the extra mile (or two) to the Flats Hut is totally worth it.
You will need to take everything you want to eat or drink to Paradise – there’s no corner store here. We opted for de-constructed tacos from Taco Medic in Queenstown (yum) and made them up on the night. After our Routeburn walk, I couldn’t resist the fish and chips at the Glenorchy pub. Slimming, no. Delicious, yes. South Island blue cod should never be resisted. Another new discovery made before we flew back home was the Akarua café and cellar door, where Walnut Cottage used to be on Lake Hayes Road near Arrowtown. And don’t forget Patagonia chocolates at the airport.