Are you visiting Queenstown and are looking for a rewarding day hike? Then, you should really consider hiking the Ben Lomond Track if you have a decent fitness level. The hike is not very easy as it follows a continuous inclined path with barely any flat areas. However, the landscapes along the way will surely keep you entertained and the beautiful 360-degree- summit view will keep you in aw.
HOW LONG IS THE HIKE?
The Department of Conservation of New Zealand (DOC) estimates 6 to 8 hours return, depending on your hiking pace and resting time. For instance, it took me about 5.5 hours to complete the walk with a 45-minute-stop at the summit. You will need about 2 hours to get to Ben Lomond Saddle and 1 more hour to reach the summit. For the return leg, you can count on similar timings if your knees are in good shape. These estimates are provided you start and end the hike at the top of the Skyline Gondola already. In case you want to forgo the return gondola ride, you will need to factor in around 45 minutes to 1 hour trek each way.
HOW TO GET TO THE START OF BEND LOMOND TRACK?
The Bend Lomond Track begins at the top of Queenstown Skyline Gondola. As soon as you disembark the gondola, you will have to walk outside and follow the indications.
If you are staying in Queenstown, you will probably not even need a car to make it to the Skyline Base. However, there is car parking available in case you need a vehicle. Just ensure you read the parking sign posts properly to avoid surpassing the allowable parking time and getting a fine, like we got!
The Skyline Gondola return ride costs 35 NZ Dollars and takes less than 10 minutes to get to the top. It opens at 9am, so I suggest taking the first rides up to have ample time for your hike and a more peaceful summit resting time.
THE HIKE LANDSCAPES AND VIEWPOINTS
The hike begins and ends at a dense beech forest providing pleasant shade. After 10-15 minutes, the forest opens up to a narrow inclined zigzagging path uphill with short bushes on the immediate sides. Be aware that a large section of the track is shared with mountain bikes. Throughout the climb, you will be able to see thick forest covering the hills of neighbouring mountains and part of Lake Wanaka.
The landscape will remain very similar until the hike reaches Ben Lomond Saddle, where you will finally get a view of other mountains. There is a wooden bench at the top of Ben Saddle, perfectly positioned for some excellent shots. There is quite a wide flat area to sit around if you are planning to picnic here or make this your highest hike point.
As the hike continues to Ben Lomond summit, its difficulty increases with a much more abrupt rocky terrain. The path gets narrower and slightly slippery at some points. Despite the strenuous steep incline, the hike is enjoyable as the view of Lake Wanaka and surrounding mountains improves. On a clear day you can see Mount Aspiring.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO TAKE WITH YOU FOR THE HIKE?
Food and Water:
There is no restaurant or shop beyond the Skyline facilities at the top. I strongly advice you to bring plenty of water, a packed lunch and snacks (sandwiches, fruit, cereal bars) to keep you hydrated and energetic throughout the hike. You might want to enjoy a bite at the summit with the breathtaking views of Queenstown and surroundings.
The weather along the hike may vary, especially at Ben Lomond´s summit. Because the hike is exposed most of the time without much shade, it is strongly advisable to carry sunscreen, sun glasses and a hat to protect you from the sun rays. Moreover, a wind proof and rain jacket might come in handy also in case the wind and rain pick up. As for shoes, I only ever hike in hiking boots that are waterproof with good grip and hold my ankles tight. However, I have seen people doing this trek on regular sneakers. Please do not attempt this trek in flip-flops or open-toe shoes as the hike to the summit can get very rocky and slippery.
Although it is definitely not necessary for this hike, a walking stick, or the complete pair, might come in very handy on the way down. This will ease the work on the knees.
Bring your photo camera (or your smartphone) for some incredible shots of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables and Mount Aspiring National Park. Although I do not see why you would need phone service throughout this hike, just note there is cellphone coverage even at the summit.