One of the things that I love about Queenstown is that you’re never too far away from a good hike. I’m not exactly sure how many there are in the region, but within minutes from town you can find yourself on a path along the lake shore or a trail venturing up into the hills. Just 4 kilometers from the city center is Ben Lomond, which rises about 1430 meters (4691 ft) above Lake Wakatipu and offers some amazing panoramic views around Queenstown. It’s a popular hike and well worth doing if you have the time!
There are a few different ways you can take to get to the track leading up to the summit. The main access point from Queenstown would starting at the bottom of the gondola and hiking up the Tiki Track to the top. You can also take the gondola up to the top (about $13 one way) to get a head start, saving about 30-60 minutes of hiking time. To save money I opted for the first option and worked my way up to the top of the gondola, where I connected with the Ben Lomond Track from there.
The weather in this part of New Zealand is fairly unpredictable year-around, especially in spring, winter, and fall. What can start out as a warm sunny day can turn into freezing snowy conditions in a matter of hours, so it’s wise to dress in layers and bring extra food and water. I left right after lunchtime and it was a beautiful blue sky day. By the time I got to the top, it was overcast and threatening to rain. I didn’t mind though since I had a good view of the scenery and it stayed dry until after I got off the mountain.
The trail starts out on a steep ascent through evergreen forests. Occasionally you can hear people screaming with excitement somewhere above in the canopy as they fly down the hill on the zip line course. There’s also a series of downhill tracks weaving through the forest and you can watch the mountain bikers race by. Eventually the trail turns into a road, which leads right to the top of the gondola ride and luge area. I got a little confused here on exactly where to go to find the trail head, but I just kept going up the hill following the luge track until I eventually saw the sign for Ben Lomond. The trail from here gently climbs out of the woods for another 10 minutes before opening up to the exposed grassy alpine environment that you normally see in this part of New Zealand. Here the summit becomes visible and it’s a long (although pretty easy) traverse along a ridge before reaching Ben Lomond Saddle.
At the saddle, more glorious views of endless mountain landscapes are revealed. There’s a bench nearby to take a rest on before making the next move. From here you can head back down the other side of the mountain to Arthur’s Point, or you can head west to begin the steep final ascent to Ben Lomond summit. Since the summit was my destination, I took the trail west. The last kilometer or so gets pretty grueling in some spots, but seeing all the smiles on the people’s faces coming down the mountain reminded me that it was all going to be worthwhile. 🙂
When I reached the top there was only a small group of hikers getting ready to head back down, so for 30 minutes I had the summit to myself!
With gravity on my side, coming back down was easy and I actually ended up running almost the entire way back to Queenstown. The Department of Conservation says this hike normally takes between 6-8 hours, but like most other walks in New Zealand I think this is overestimated. I’d say for most people it would take around 5-6 hours. So if you’re visiting Queenstown and have the time, will, and energy, take a trip up to Ben Lomond!