How to hike the Ben Lomond track - Queenstown
The Ben Lomond Track in Queenstown is arguably one of the most rewarding day hikes in New Zealand. Well, after the Tongariro Crossing of course. It has almost everything you want in a day hike; different landscapes, a mountaintop to climb and incredible, and I mean INCREDIBLE views.
However, climbing Ben Lomond is not a joke and should not be underestimated, but the reward is well worth the effort.
The Ben Lomond track
The Ben Lomond hike takes you from Queenstown town, up the Tiki trail, via the Ben Lomond Saddle up to Ben Lomond Summit. The hike is challenging and takes 6-8 hours.
One of the great things about the Ben Lomond Track is that it is so easily accessible. The start of the track lies just outside of Queenstown’s centre, so you don’t have to go out of your way to do this hike like with some of New Zealand’s Great Walks for example.
The full hike takes 6-8 hours and has an incline practically the whole way So one thing is for sure; it certainly counts as leg day!
Distance: 11 km return
Elevation: 1748m or 1403m climb
Duration: 6-8 h to Ben Lomond Summit
Best time of year to go: October - May
Getting up to Queenstown Skyline
The starting point of the Ben Lomond Track is next to the base of the gondola on Brecon Street. Your first goal is to get to the top of the gondola and there are three ways to get up:
A. Take the skyline gondola up
The first option is to take the gondola up and skip walking 400m of elevation, an hour of walking each way, and you can combine your gondola ticket with luge rides that are awesome.
B. Walk up the Tiki trail - find the location of the tiki trail here
The second is to walk up via a path called the Tiki Trail. The Tiki Trail and Skyline Access Road do meet about halfway up, so you can combine parts of both too.
At the start of the Tiki Trail there is free parking but it is limited to 4 hours and that won’t be enough time to complete the hike.
C. Skyline access road - find the location of the skyline access road here
The Skyline Access Road is an alternate access a little bit outside of town. This is a long and windy gravel road for machinery and maintenance crew to get up to the infrastructure at the top of the gondola. You can’t drive up without permission but it is a less steep alternative to the Tiki Trail and it later intersects with the Tiki Trail.
There is free roadside parking at the bottom of the Skyline Access Road.
The Skyline Access Road
I consider taking the gondola to be cheating and gondola tickets are quite expensive so I chose to walk up. I started from the bottom of the Skyline Access Road because it has free roadside parking. As mentioned before, the Skyline Access Road and Tiki Trail do meet about halfway up, so my plan was to switch over to the Tiki Trail as soon as I could.
The Skyline Access Road is basically just a long and windy gravel road for machinery and maintenance crew to get up to the gondola. It is not that interesting in terms of scenery compared to the Tiki Trail, and also a bit longer, but not nearly as steep to a good option if you don’t feel like exhausting yourself before the real hike even starts.
Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve & Bike Park
A very important detail about Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve, is that is is also home to a world-class mountain biking park. The top of the Skyline is the starting point for most of the mountain biking trails, and a lot of them cross the Tiki Trail and the Skyline Access Road.
Be very careful when you cross these intersections, mountainbikers can come down at high speeds and are often so focussed on racing down that they might not even notice you. Roadside markers indicate which path is yours and which is a mountain biking trail, so keep an eye out for those.
I missed a marker and ended up on a grade 6 double black mountain biking trail. Not only was this so steep that climbing up was a serious challenge, you also really don’t hear mountainbikers coming until they are basically about to hit you. So if you think you can use a mountainbiking trail as a shortcut; bad idea.
To give you an idea of how extreme some of these trails are; at one point during my ill-advised scramble up that mountain biking trail I encountered a 4 meter high vertical wall with a sign at the top saying “Rollable as, bro”, basically telling mountainbikers that the best way to make it down this 4 meter drop is by doing a frontflip. You gotta have some serious skill to land that I’d say!
The Tiki Trail
When I finally found a way to get off the mountain biking trail it turned out I did in fact manage to get on the Tiki Trail, just way further up than intended.
As you walk up the Tiki Trail you can already see more and more of Lake Wakatipu under you and the views open up more and more the higher up you climb.
When you get to the top of the gondola you should definitely check out the view from the Skyline Viewpoint to give you a taste of the kind of views you’ll get from the Ben Lomond peak.
Apart from the gondola, luge and mountain biking park there is also a restaurant called Stratosfare at Skyline, a startgazing site, and a paragliding center. Plenty of reasons to go back here another day after you’ve conquered Ben Lomond.
Hiking to the Ben Lomond Saddle
From the gondola follow the signs for the Ben Lomond Track. The path intersects with the Moonlight Track and you detour onto the Moonlight track you’ll end up at Arthur’s Point or Moke Lake.
As you start the Ben Lomond Track from the gondola, the first part is through the woods and still shaded. Then once you walk out of the woods you get out in the open and this is where the track starts to go up through grassland.
For about half an hour your views are limited to the surrounding hills. The incline here is still pretty minimal, so enjoy the sun on your face before it gets hot and sweaty.
Then the view opens up with Ben Lomond’s rocky peak appearing in the distance and you can already see the steep and exposed path to the top that awaits you.
Soon you’ll get to a resting area with a couple of benches. This is the Ben Lomond Saddle where wide vistas on either side reward you for coming this far. A stunning view over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to the South-East, and flowing green hillsides and impressive mountain ranges to the North-West. Rest up here, because from here on forward the real challenge starts.
While it looks like the peak is right there in front of you, it will take you another hour to reach it. This part is no joke - the incline is serious and the track gets really technical, but hopefully the ever expending views can motivate you enough to keep going. If you still feel energetic when you reach the saddle, continue all the way up to the peak, but if you don’t then maybe it is best to turn around here. Remember that after reaching the peak, you still have to go the same length back.
Reaching the Ben Lomond Summit
After you’ve set off from the saddle with determination to conquer Ben Lomond’s peak, the first half of the way up will still be over a dirt track with patches of grass sticking out.
This is where the track becomes very uneven, so be careful of where you place your feet so you don’t twist an ankle. The second part is where you leave the last bits of vegetation behind and climb up over barren rocks until you finally reach the top.
Take some time to take it all in. When you’re on the top you’re standing at 1748 meters above sea level and just climbed a total elevation elevation of 1403 meters.
The views are truly epic, no matter which direction you look. Beautiful Queenstown down below, Lake Wakatipu winding in front of you, the Remarkables and Bayonet Peaks across the lake in the distance, Moke Lake far below on the other side and the Southern Alps stretching behind it.
You’ll wanna sit there and just stare at the view for hours, but you still need to get back and the way down takes almost as long as the way up.
Ben Lomond Track FAQ
Where is the starting point for the Ben Lomond walk?
The official starting point of the Ben Lomond track is from the top of the gondola. There are three ways of getting up to the starting point:
1. Take the skyline gondola
2. Walk up the Tiki trail
3. Walk up Skyline access road
How long does it take to walk up and down Ben Lomond?
It takes 6 to 8 hours to walk up and down Ben Lomond if you start walking from the Tiki Trail or Skyline access road. If you skip the first part and start walking from the top of the gondola, it takes 4-6 hours.
How long is the Ben Lomond Track?
Combined with the Tiki Trail, the Ben Lomond Track is 14 km long. From the top of the gondola the track is 11 km long.
How difficult is the Ben Lomond hike?
The Ben Lomond Track is of medium - advanced difficulty and requires being reasonably fit. Even though the official New Zealand DOC website lists it as easy, everyone that has done the hike strongly disagrees.
Can you hike up Ben Lomond in winter?
In winter and spring the top half of the track gets covered in snow and ice. There is risk of avalanches and the icy rocks on the track become very slippery. Therefore, it is not recommended to hike up Ben Lomond outside of summer and autumn unless you have experience hiking with alpine gear over snow and ice.
Not too long ago a guy slipped and slid down 100 meters. Fortunately he got home without any serious injuries, but this could have ended much much worse.
What is the best time to hike the Ben Lomond Track?
If you want to avoid a crowd at the top, set off before 8am. This way you’ll also avoid the hottest part of the day during the tough climb up.
Is there parking at the bottom of the Ben Lomond Track?
Yes, there is free parking at the bottom of the Tiki Trail, but this parking lot has a maximum parking time of 4 hours. Along Lomond Crescent, which is where the Skyline Access Road starts, there is free roadside parking all day long.
What to pack for the Ben Lomond hike
This is what you should bring with you for the Ben Lomond Track, both for comfort and for safety.
Food and water: Count on the hike taking 6-8 hours, depending on your level of fitness and how many photo stops you take. Again, don’t underestimate this hike. Even if you think you’re a seasoned hiker, still add another hour on top of your regular pace. Take at least 1,5 liters of water as there is nowhere to fill up on the trail after the top of the gondola, and pack a lunch and some high-energy snacks.
Camera: Don’t forget it, because you’ll really regret it.
Good footwear: hiking shoes are a must here as you’ll be walking over steep, uneven terrain and have to climb up rough and sharp rocks. Don’t think you can do this hike on your comfy sneakers, because you’ll come home with your feet covered in nasty blisters.
Sunscreen: The sun in New Zealand is always harsh, even in winter or on overcast days you can easily get sunburnt, so always wear sunscreen.
Hat and sunglasses: You should wear a hat and sunglasses for the same reason you should wear sunscreen; to protect yourself from the sun.
Extra layer of clothing and an extra shirt: You’ll be sweating buckets on the way up, but the top gets quite windy, so a dry shirt and an extra layer of clothing will save you from catching a cold.
Headtorch: Make sure you have enough daylight hours to go up and back down when you start the hike, but as the hike can easily take longer than expected, take a headtorch with you just in case.
Rainjacket: The weather can change quickly in the mountains. What looks to be a sunny day with perfect clear skies can change into dark clouds and showers in no-time.
Where to stay in Queenstown
When it comes to accommodation in Queenstown you’ll be spoilt for choice, this lively town has so much to offer!
What to do in Queenstown
Queenstown is a young and touristy town with a great choice of restaurants and bars. Here you can spend days, even weeks just taking in the views, doing excursions, jumping off bridges and dancing you nights away. Book some of our favourite activities in Queenstown below.
Off to you!
The Ben Lomond Track really has it all when it comes to great day hikes. The views are out of this world, I can honestly say that I haven’t found a hike in New Zealand that beats Ben Lomond’s epic views. And the best thing is, you can head out straight from your Queenstown accommodation without the hassle of organising transport or paying for a guide.
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