I’ve lived in Australia for over 16 months now and have visited New Zealand a couple of times (once for business in Christchurch and once
touring around the NZ north island with friends, which was mind-blowing). But doing some kind of awe-inspiring hike in Queenstown has been my ultimate fixation….And. It. Finally. Happened. I flew to QT (local shorthand for Queenstown) for a weekend getaway and some much needed connection time with mother nature. I researched in advance and decided that the Ben Lomond Track would be the perfect hike for me. This couldn’t have been more true. The only trouble was, none of the content online about Ben Lomond Track seemed to provide a walk-through. I aim to change that right now! Here’s what went down…well…actually…what went ‘up’.
In my research, I learned you could trim off an initial hour of the track by taking the Skyline Gondola from downtown Queenstown to the upper area. Given I wanted to ensure I could do the track in a single day, I took this option and started off on Saturday morning. It was $35 return for the gondola ride but ultimately, this proved to be worth every penny by the end of the day!
Here I am, all rested with clean clothes and shoes. Smiling and ready to rock Ben Lomond Track! Compare this to the return gondola pic later and my nasty shoes. 😉
Make sure and sit to the back of the Skyline Gondola on the way up (your back to the mountain), so you can enjoy one heck of a picturesque trip up. It probably took a total of 2 minutes and brings you up 450 metres.
Clearly, the Queenstown gods knew there was a gay in town and conjured the first of several rainbows I got to enjoy on this day.
When you exit the gondola, you walk outside, weave around the luge track and end up at the trailhead for Ben Lomond Track. You can’t miss it as it’s very clearly marked. At this point, it’s expected to take ~2.5 hours to get from here to the summit. I started from this point at exactly 8:00am on a Saturday according to my iPhone photo library timestamp. In my pack, I brought 2.5 litres of water, a snack and layers of clothes.
After the initial, fairly flat hike through a pine forest for about 6-10 minutes, you’ll pop out on to the real track. This section of trail weaves around beautiful forested hills and progressively gains some altitude. Unfortunately, I only had today to attempt this hike so the fact that it was a foggy day would remain a theme.
The views behind you toward Queenstown during this stage are without a doubt jaw-dropping. You should take them in…but also remember…you’ll be walking back this way on your return and looking straight at this view the whole time. So I suggest just powering ahead for now!
The Ben Lomond Track is quite easy to follow and predominantly rocky, with a mixture of muddy patches. It’s pretty much uphill the entire way and requires a reasonably intense downward focus to ensure you don’t slip on rocks or miss your footing. There will occasionally be a pole with a yellow marker reminding you to stay on the track. You’ll intermittently share the track with the mountain bike trail – be sure to stay on the hiking trail and not accidentally veer onto the bike one at a few intersections.
You’ll get to this exciting sign as you get near the Ben Lomond saddle – which is essentially the lower crest of the mountain. It took me until 8:53am (53 minutes from start) to get to this point, which seems a bit ahead of the expected pace of ~90 minutes. Please keep in mind, I really enjoy uphill climbs and tend to muscle through them. And my CrossFit training doesn’t hurt. (Sorry, I know some of you just gagged after reading that but it’s true…this track is surprisingly challenging and you should be well aware of your fitness level before you jump in. Always a wise choice!)
About 5 minutes uphill after the previous sign, you’ll make it to the iconic Ben Lomond bench at the saddle. On a clear day, the views are spectacular at this point (or so I’m told…Laugh/Cry). My research says a lot of people actually choose to stop at this point, enjoy the panoramas and then head back. A totally viable option! Just not for me. #MustKeepGoing
When I got to the saddle, I was immediately greeted by this incredible Kea bird. They are an endangered, native New Zealand species and the only known alpine parrot on Earth. I didn’t know this until after I got back down from the mountain and did some Googling – so you can imagine my surprise when I got up here and a f’n parrot popped out to say hi. It was hysterical. I hung out with him for a few minutes and tried to strike up a conversation. Keas are known to be extremely intelligent, which you totally can sense when they look at you. It felt like this guy was just as interested in me as I in him! Check out the video below for our time together…the main thing to watch for in the video is the two flashes of gorgeous red feathers that they have underneath their wings. Stunning! (Also, I think the Kea is my new spirit animal.)
Once you peel yourself away from the saddle bench (and any new alpine parrot friends), the real work begins. You will be pushing hard for the next hour to get to the peak. I did this hike in late May and it’s about this point on the track where the snow started to show up a bit more noticeably. Oh, and the ice. But don’t let that stop you! Just an element you need to factor in to your pre-hike planning.
Given that the day was so cloudy, I was managing my expectations along the way. But I happened to have one stroke of luck for which I am eternally grateful. About 15 minutes after I left the saddle bench, the sky briefly cleared and the clouds parted. I took this opportunity to quickly capture the inspiring view Ben Lomond track is known for: a perfect visual of The Remarkables mountain range. They give you the ever-important nudge in the side reminding you that you are a tiny, tiny speck. That humbling feeling is something we all need to have more often.
I read on the Internet that to prove you actually went somewhere, you’re supposed to show your huge face in the photo rather than just the amazing landscape. So here’s me, my unkempt beard and some mountains.
At 9:24am, this exact moment right here made the entire hike up to this point worth it. I could have looked at this view all day. Sadly, the clouds swirled and settled back in a few minutes later.
10 more minutes up the track and the rock scramble starts to materialize. There will be moments where you will have to use your hands – not just feet – to maneuver through this area. Again, please know this before you start the track! It’s not terrifying or anything like that but you do have to be willing to ‘dig in’ a bit and have some fun here. 🙂
And the reward. A successful climb to the summit of Ben Lomond by 9:54 am (1 hour 54 minutes in total). The clouds never fully lifted but this amazing rainbow kept trying to push its way through the haze. It was kind of spectacular. The rainbow maintained perfect arching form but never delivered any color. For me, this made the summit special. Even without famous view of The Remarkables.
In addition to the giant rainbow, there was also this small halo rainbow that was radiating as the sun played off the summit peak. My philosophy in life is that we should strive to be glass-half-full, and this was one of those moments where you could get bummed out that it wasn’t perfect conditions OR you could choose to focus on how absolutely wonderful nature is. Your choice. For me, I choose positivity.
This represents just about the clearest moment I got during my time at the summit. The quiet and calm up here coupled with the air quality…I’m relaxed just thinking about it as I write.
I spent about 30 minutes at the summit before heading back down. This is where I want to emphasize the BIGGEST CAUTION for those with less hiking experience. The initial 10 minutes climb down was tough and very slow-going – this was because of the ice. If you go in the height of summer, it’s probably less of an issue. For me in late autumn, however, I had to take it carefully and had several moments where I nearly lost footing. So take it easy on the descent, people! There’s no rush. By 10:54am I had made it past the worst of the slippery bits and beyond the rock scramble back on the main track.
Along the saddle, there is a valley to your left as you descend (on your right during ascend) that is so damn pretty. Take a moment and enjoy this. You’ll want to run down the slope and spin around and stuff, but you probably should fight that urge.
In fact, take more than a moment. Sit down and breathe it in. You can see the day started to warm up just a fraction, so I switched from winter cap to light cap and even brazenly unzipped my jacket a bit.
The valley had this gorgeous flowing mist cascading through it, which made it all the more captivating.
I definitely don’t want to deter anyone, but I took this pic to elucidate exactly how sloppy and slippery this track can get. At this point on the descent (so, imagine your body weight leaning forward and pulling you down the mountain) I was coping with a muddy ice mixture. It would have been very easy to wipe out. Make sure your shoes have grippy, textured soles. And although I’m generally against them for how idiotic and destructive people can be with them, hiking poles for sections like this would be quite useful.
Like I said earlier, once you get back further down the track (it was 12:00pm sharp when I took this), you’ll be walking straight in to this fantastic view for about 20 minutes. In this shot, a rainbow ‘chunk’ was poking through the clouds in the upper right area. I thought it was so cool! Kind of felt like big, gay high-five from those Queenstown gods and goddesses.
This photo made it to my Instagram because honestly…for me…this was the perfect blend of my favorite nature elements: pine trees, a trail, a lake, mountains, and fluffy white clouds set against a blue sky. JUST SLAY ME!
The final stretch back through the pine forest is going to feel so relieving. You’ll be appreciating the flat ground sooooooooo much. The tendons and small muscles around my ankles were definitely speaking up at this point.
And just like that – clocking in at 12:24pm with a roundtrip hike on the Ben Lomond Track of 4 hours 24 minutes, I completed it! I was sore, gross and muddy but it was worth every single step.
Definitely take a moment at the top of the Skyline area before you take the gondola back to view Queenstown from this height. It’s one heck of a perfectly positioned town.
And this is the aftermath of the hike I promised to show. Wearing my CrossFit shoes was a decent idea as I’m extremely comfortable in them and knew no blisters would form, but I would ultimately recommend a hiking boot to help with grip and avoid moisture.
Along the hike, I drank a ton of water and had a single blueberry muffin at the summit. To say I scarfed this florentine and chugged this flat white when I got back down would be a massive understatement. Anyone watching me at this point probably had to turn away. 😉
Back to my hotel and freshly showered, all I wanted to do was chill out and enjoy the view of Lake Wakatipu. Which is what I did. And then I ate again.
The next day, with the sorest calf muscles I’ve ever experienced, I made my way to the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown. This, my lovely reader, is a MUST DO. You have a perfect hot pool all to yourself, but it’s the view that really warms your soul…
…and here it is. While you soak for an hour, you also soak in this mountainous landscape and a direct view of the Shotover River. It’s next level idyllic. Check out the short video below to get the full panorama vibe.
For the rest of the afternoon on Sunday after the hot pools, I lounged around and recovered from the hike. This included drinking several glasses of New Zealand pinot and eating cheese on my own. No shame.
And after a fantastic weekend getaway to Queenstown, by Monday morning it was time to head back to Sydney. Make sure you get a window seat on your flight!!! You’ll see several minutes of this fab & unforgettable view.
So there you have it! I hope this post helps inspire you to get outside and go on a hike – of any level, be it easy or expert. And please add Queenstown and trekking the Ben Lomond track to your life list, my friends. It’s shockingly beautiful and so worth the calf pain. XOXO -JW