Climbing Ben Lomond – The best day hike in Queenstown

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By Kim Mackay-Wallace

5 minute read

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Ben Lomond is one of Queenstown’s most popular day hikes, and the panoramic views from the summit over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables and the surrounding mountain ranges live up to the hype! The track is very popular with both locals and visitors, and can be quite busy in the peak of summer. Many hikers make the climb in the early hours of the morning in order to be at the top in time to watch the sun rising over The Remarkables mountain range – a truly spectacular sight on a clear morning. If you’re looking for a full day walk in Queenstown, Ben Lomond should be at the top of your bucket list!

The Ben Lomond Track

Starting from the centre of Queenstown township, the Ben Lomond track is very easily accessible. The track  begins in the forest, zig zagging its way upwards through Douglas fir trees for the first 500m of elevation gain to an altitude of about 800m. It then leaves the treeline and continues through alpine tussocks and shrubs until reaching the Ben Lomond Saddle at 1326m. The final section from the saddle to the summit is the steepest and roughest part of the track, and is slower going than the initial portion. You will begin to get great views of the Wakatipu Basin as soon as you leave the treeline, and these get more expansive and impressive the higher you climb. A return trip to the Ben Lomond Saddle makes for a good half-day option if you don’t have the time (or energy) for the full trip to the summit.

Ben Lomond 1

How do I get to the Ben Lomond Track?

The Ben Lomond Track is located in the heart of Queenstown. The first section of the track (called the Tiki Trail) begins next to the Skyline Gondola, which is an easy 5-minute walk from Queenstown township. 

Can I take the gondola up Ben Lomond?

You can shorten the Ben Lomond hike by taking the gondola up the first section. This will deliver you to the top of the Tiki Trail, saving about 1 hour of walking, and 500m of elevation gain. It is also a quintessential Queenstown experience that provides stunning views of town, Lake Wakatipu and the mountains. And most importantly, it makes the walk a bit easier and you can save your energy for the rest of the climb!

How hard is the walk up Ben Lomond?

While the track is well-maintained and not technical, it is a long day with a lot of elevation gain. To embark on a day walk to the Ben Lomond Summit you need to be comfortable hiking on uneven ground for roughly 8 hours whilst carrying a backpack with plenty of water, food for the day, and spare clothes. You can shorten this by taking the gondola, or by only walking as far as the Ben Lomond saddle, where the views are also spectacular. The return walk to the saddle takes 3-4 hours (and an hour less if you take the gondola) and is a very achievable walk for anyone comfortable walking uphill for a couple of hours. If you’re unsure about the difficulty of the hike and your fitness/abilities, plan to only walk as far as the saddle and assess how you’re feeling at that point, and make a decision from there whether to continue to the summit. Remember that making it to the summit is only halfway and you need to leave some energy for the long descent as well!

Hiking Ben Lomond

How long does the Ben Lomond walk take?

A walk to the summit of Ben Lomond and back takes a full day and between 6-8 hours of walking. You will want to allow more time to ensure you have plenty of time to stop for photos, rest breaks, and for lunch at the top. A return trip to the Ben Lomond saddle and back takes about 3-4 hours.

Are there facilities on the track?

A long drop toilet is due to be installed by DOC at the Ben Lomond Saddle in early 2022. Until this is put in place, there are no facilities after you leave the Skyline Gondola. Make sure you have filled up your water bottle and used the bathroom at the Gondola before heading up Ben Lomond.

When is the best time of year to climb Ben Lomond?

During the winter months Ben Lomond is covered in snow, and this usually doesn’t melt until late in the spring. When there is snow on the track, ice axes and crampons (and the skills to use them) are required to safely ascend and descend the mountain. The recommended time of year to climb Ben Lomond is during the summer months, between November and April, when snow should no longer be present.

L497 Lake Wakatipu Queenstown Tourism New Zealand

What do I need to take on the Ben Lomond hike?

Once you leave the top of the gondola there is nowhere to get food or drinks along the way. Make sure you pack plenty of water and food to last you the full day – the climb is thirsty work and you’ll be ready for a good lunch by the time you make it to the top! The Ben Lomond Track will take you into an exposed alpine environment, and the weather in the mountains in New Zealand can be very unpredictable and change quickly. It is very important to make sure you are adequately prepared for all weather so you will need to bring some spare warm clothes and a rain jacket. Even in the middle of summer it can get quite cold in the alpine so a warm hat and gloves is recommended. The New Zealand sun is very strong so sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are must haves. You will need to descend the 1438m you have climbed, so walking poles are highly recommended and will take a lot of pressure off your knees.

Here’s a handy packing list to make sure you’ve got all the essentials you will need for a day walk on the Ben Lomond Track:

  • Water (we recommend bringing 2L)
  • Food (lunch and snacks to last you 8 hours)
  • Warm clothes (thermal top, fleece or down puffy jacket, hat and gloves)
  • Rain jacket
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat
  • Hiking poles
  • Camera

Our Kiwi Classic Tour includes a day walk to the summit of Ben Lomond on the first day of the trip – a fantastic way to start your New Zealand walking experience with a bang! For more information on the Kiwi Classic or our other small-group New Zealand tours, REQUEST A FREE COPY OF OUR BROCHURE HERE!

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