One of the best hikes in Queenstown (and my personal favourite) has to be the Ben Lomond Summit trail. The hike is a challenging track through some of New Zealand’s incredible vegetation with a steep climb to the top.
The Ben Lomond hike gives off a false sense of ease – and this truly tricked me. After waiting for Winter to pass, I saw that finally the peak was accessible (this via a few local Instagram stories). And after so many stories, and so many pictures I figured – if they can do it, I know I can. And boy oh boy, the pictures always make it look SO EASY. So what do I wish I’d known beforehand? Here’s my guide to the Ben Lomond Hike, Queenstown.
- 5-6hour return
- 14km distance (11km from the top of the Gondola)
- Good level of fitness required
- Gradient: steep
- Change in elevation: 1,228m
- There are multiple starting points to the walk; mentioned below.
- There are no toilets along the trail but at some starting points; mentioned below.
The walk can start pretty much wherever you want it to. Starting right from town, the various trailheads are accessible from Queenstown so it’s both convenient and completely free to do.
The Tiki trail is the most popular. It’s not a long hike, but over the 1.5kms you do still have to hike up to 450metres in elevation. It’s a hard, steep climb which generally takes about an hour.
Alternatively you can take the Gondola up to Bob’s Peak. While it cuts out 1-2hours of your walk, it does add a cost. It’s roughly NZD$44 for an adult return trip (unluckily for us with the recent COVID-19 lockdown, the gondola wasn’t an option for us). At Bob’s Peak there are public toilets, a cafe, and restaurant within the Skyline building.
You can also get to the top of the gondola via the access road. You can’t drive of course, so I don’t recommend this walk – it’s just a long, dusty and windy road. It’s no adventure in any sense of the word.
The One Mile Track is the most scenic of the walks. The track is currently not maintained, so although the path is relatively easy to follow, there are orange markers along the way to ensure you stay on track. This walk can either start at the end of Thompson Street, or down by the Fernhill roundabout. There is one public bathroom there.
Though there are many different starting points to the hike, my flatmates and I decided to start on the One Mile Track. We took off at about 4:30am to reach the summit for sunrise. For anyone who hasn’t done this walk before I wouldn’t recommend doing it for the first time in the dark. It’s hard to follow as it crosses paths with various bike trails. The benefit though – glowworms! As we wandered beside the cascading waterfalls, we turned off our torches only to spot those tiny blue glows from within the crevices of the walls.
You can read more about this walk here: The One Mile Creek Track & Waterfall, Queenstown
As you get closer to the top of the One Mile Track you’ll cross the service road, and then as you continue up you’ll reach the main track up to Ben Lomond. To the right, you’ll find Bob’s Peak – where you’ll find the Gondola and Tiki trail. And to the left, you’ll see the signposting for the saddle and summit.
To the Saddle;
To some, the Ben Lomond trail will be a breeze, but for the average hiker like myself, the trail was very challenging. Especially so early in the morning, ha!
From here it’s about a 1hour walk up to the Saddle, and then an additional 1-1.5hrs up to the Summit. The journey to the saddle is relatively easy, and although the walk appears fairly flat the elevation continues up the entire way. You’ll start to feel it on your calves, and on the walk down – your knees. Once you’ve reached the saddle you’ll spot the iconic green bench. Iconic mostly because it is the only place to sit down on the entire walk. From here you’ll get a great view out over the Mount Aspiring range.
For our hike, we reached the saddle around 6:30am. So it took us almost exactly 2hours. We were keeping a pretty good pace, and at this time of day we’d barely seen another person. About half way towards the saddle we started spotting snowy blotches on either side of the walk. Though the trail looked muddy and covered in deep footprints, it was actually frozen, and just made an uneven ground to walk on.
To the Summit;
Though the walk so far has been quite constant, the last part up to the summit is very steep. The saddle is only just past half way in terms of elevation. This section of the hike is steeper and rockier so it’s quite a climb. Depending on the season, it can be snowy and slippery.
I reached the summit by about 7:30am – JUST in time for the sunrise. We sat back with some hot tea, sandwiches and a very fluffy blanket.
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On a clear day, the views go on forever! On one side you have the Mount Aspiring Range, and on the other you have the Lake Wakatipu basin and Queenstown area. If you’ve ever done the Queenstown Hill hike, you’ll never see it looking so small then from up here!
You can read more about this walk here: Hiking the Queenstown Hill Track, New Zealand
After a long relaxing break at the summit, it’s time for the descent. Like most hikes, the way down is always faster than the ascent. Though the entire walk took us about 3hours up, it took us just an hour to get back down to our starting point.
Though it only took an hour to get back down, we did still have to pace ourselves. By 8:30am the patches of snow we’d seen earlier had melted. The path which was once frozen, was now covered in mud and it did cause a few slips.
When to Go;
Though my Ben Lomond experience was quite muddy and snowy, the experience in the warmer months would be completely different. Anywhere from May to late November you would likely find snow.
We did the walk in early September. The saddle had snow equally over the shadier side of the ridge. The peak was covered. Some people opted not to climb up to the top – and those that did, had to slide down on their butts to make it down safely. I recommend only going as far as you are comfortable with. Either way, the views are incredible!
What to Bring;
- Water & snacks – it’ll be a long day!
- Warm clothing – though you’ll be sweating on the way up, it can be freezing and windy at the top! Once you start the saddle trail the walk has very little to no coverage from the elements
- Hat & sunscreen; as above^
- Hiking shoes – I’ve known people to do the walk in vans, but for muddier & snowier seasons it’s worth having that extra grip