Ben Lomond, Queenstown, day hike
Posted by Patrick Melon
1 day hike
Travelling in a campervan around the south island of New Zealand. Because of the island’s fickle weather we checked the weather forecast and followed the sun. If it rained in the south we headed north and vice-versa. The second week found us in Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu. This is the adventure capital of the country attracting thousands of visitors looking for thrills and spills, of which there are far too many. For those of you who know the area, it is set among some of the best scenery of the south island and affords easy access to a range of hikes (called “tramps” if you are local). The best view of the township and its surrounds is made by paying $30 for a round trip on the Gondola from where the photographs below were taken.
Skyline Gondola above Queenstown
Ben Lomond is the main peak that overlooks Queenstown but its heights are not visible from the town itself until you scale its steep lower slopes. Even from the Gondola it remains hidden until a short steep climb through a dark, dense forest of Douglas Firs brings it into view.
The peak rises to 1,748 m (5,735 ft) and is reached by the purist up a steep zig zag track. But for the lazy or time poor tourist you can get a 450 metre leg up by taking the Gondola ride. Having had a long sleep in I didn’t get to the Gondola until 11:30am and then had to wait in the queue (start of school holidays) for 20 minutes before I got going. It might have been almost as quick to do the right thing and walk. Once at the Gondola head to the restaurant and exit outside. The start of the path is signed and crosses the luge track before plunging into the forest where the sun disappears and the temperature immediately drops 5 degrees. There is really only one path to follow which is well signed and well formed. A map is hardly necessary in good weather but the one below shows the line of the main track.
There’s nothing subtle or varied about this walk. It is a brutal, relentless climb from start to finish with very little relief. The sign placed where the Gondola track joins the track from the lakside suggests one and a half hours to the saddle between Ben Lomond and Bowen Peak, and an additional one hour from there to the summit. The times are generous and a guide only; 50 minutes got me to the saddle and another 50 minutes the summit, but then I wanted to do it quickly. The campsite gave us a deadline for parking the campervan til 4:00pm. After a short downhill section the climb begins and leads through a small section of Beech trees before ascending to the ridge line. Here the views begin and just get better. The ridge path led up through red tussock grass to the first of the snow at the saddle.
It was early spring, even so most of the snow had gone from the northern side of the peak. The sheltered southern side still retained a good covering. At the saddle someone has provided a seat for weary travellers. I don’t think it would be well patronised except on a warm sunny day like today.
From the saddle there is a path that continues on down and around to Arthurs point. In that direction someone had lit a fire and the smoke was rising over the lower ridge.
The summit path heads west climbing steadily through a series of crags to just below the top. From here the path skirts around to the west before ascending to the peak. The photo below looks back down the snow covered southern side of the summit ridge with Bowen Peak on the other side of the saddle.
At the summit the views are spectacular in every direction. You can see the Remarkables with Queenstown below on one side.
This was a very enjoyable walk and thoroughly recommended in good weather to those with half a day to spare in Queenstown, though a full day is preferable.