Ben Lomond is mountain right on the edge of Queenstown city center. Luckily, the trailhead is right near the center of Queenstown. The trail itself is divided into three sections, from town to the top of the Skyline Gondola, from the gondola to the saddle, and from the saddle to the summit. I believe the trail is 13km rountrip, though that’s an estimate. Queenstown is 310 meters above sea level, Ben Lomond summit is 1748m, so it’s approximately a 1438 meter elevation gain.
Part I: Town to top of the Skyline Gondola
The trailhead is at the base of the Skyline Gondola, which is a 5 minute walk from my hostel.
(Not Shown: The trail continues up and to the left to the Summit. I followed the Tiki Track Up to the Gondola)
For $25 you can take the gondola up and down the first part of the trail. I, of course, opted not to do this. It was a lovely hike up (I think it’s about 400m elevation gain) and took me 55 minutes. The trail is through the forest, thick New England type forest, with lots of rocks, big trees and roots to trip you up. Concentrating on your foot placement makes the time go much faster. I think this is my favorite type of hiking, actually.
At the top, there’s multiple view points, picnic tables, a luge track, restaurant, store etc. I rested on a picnic table for a few minutes before starting the second part of the track.
Part II: From Gondola to the Saddle
When I read about the track, most said the trail flattens out in this section. Lies. The track is for sure not as steep as the first part, but it is still uphill the entire way, with some sections being quite steep. The terrain is very different, though. After about 15 minutes you emerge from the forest above the treeline, and as such the track has no more roots to trip you up.
It was still quite rocky, but a lot was dirt as well. I find this type of track a bit boring. On the plus side, the view!
And here is Ben Lomond summit.
This section took about 90 minutes. As you approach the saddle you can finally see over the ridge to get a stunning view of (I believe) the Southern Alps. From the saddle, you also get a good view of the track up to the summit.
Part III: Saddle to Summit
This part was tough. It is possibly the steepest track I’ve ever hiked. Estimated time was 1 hr and it took me 55 minutes. It is very rocky, both loose rocks and huge rocks. I was often using my hands for balance and to help scale parts of the track. It was strange, I felt tired- like I needed to stop and rest every 30 seconds- however, I wasn’t moving that fast, my heart rate was not that high and my legs weren’t burning. Perhaps it was a mix of being out on the trail for over 2.5 hours already, hungry, in full sun and not properly hydrated. Okay, when I put it like that it makes sense why I needed to rest every 50 steps. Regardless, eventually I made it to the summit. It was gorgeous.
I ate lunch, took some photos and relaxed for about 30 minutes before I started my descent.
From the summit back down to the saddle took me 30 minutes, a lot of it spent jogging as it was less work than walking.
The trek from the saddle back to the top of the gondola felt like forever. The sun was out with virtually no clouds and no wind. It was hot. Plus, descending is much harder on my body, my toes jam into the front of my boots and catching myself on each step causes my knees to ache and my quads to get tired. Going down is what really does me in, physically. At the summit, I felt okay, my legs were a little tired but generally all right. When I got back to the top of the gondola, 90 minutes after I left the summit, I felt exhausted.
Luckily, I could refill my water bottle there. I immediately drank 700mL of water, filled up my water bottle again and dumped half of it over my head and down my shirt. That felt remarkably good (minus my sweat stinging my eyes and getting into my mouth). I stayed at the top of the gondola for close to 40 minutes, drinking water and sitting in the shade. After that I felt a lot better.
The final descent to the base of the gondola and then back to my hostel was uneventful. It took me about 45 minutes to complete.
When I was finally done, I felt tired. And dirty. First things first, a shower. Then some coffee and conversation with a couple from Minnesota. They were mid 50s, semi-retired and have traveled all over the world.
After that, dinner. Specifically, a Fergburger. Fergburger is a landmark in Queenstown. They serve burgers and fries, beef, lamb, vension, chicken and veggie burgers. There’s always a line and virtually no seating. I got the classic burger to go and ate it on a wall at the beach.
Now, many claim this is the best burger they’ve ever had. I thought it was good, and for $11 reasonably priced. After hiking for 6 hours it hit the spot. It did not however, change my life. I could have made my own burger and it likely would have tested better. But I did not want to make my own, so this was perfect.
The best thing about the burger was the bun. It was the perfect combination of crusty without being too hard, and soft without getting mushing while holding it. Bonus point for cracked peppercorns in the burger, too. That was a lovely surprise.
After that I went back to my hostel, read a bit, watched a movie then went to bed.