Shadow Basin Lookout (The Remarkables)

A steep and mostly off-track hike in The Remarkables to Shadow Basin Lookout, returning via Alta Lake. Stunning views over Queenstown from the ridge-top lookout.

This is my first walk on a two-week family holiday in New Zealand: I’m taking advantage of the very long days to sneak in an evening walk in The Remarkables after dinner. Formed by tectonic plate movement that resulted in angular and near-vertical rock faces, the mountains rise up behind Queenstown. According to Wikipedia but unverified, the mountain range was named “The Remarkables” by Alexander Garvie in 1857-58, as they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world which run directly north to south (the other one being the Andes/Rockies). Getting to the starting point of the walk is half the fun, with the road ascending steeply from near Lake Wakatipu (310m asl) up to the skifield carpark at 1576m asl.

My plan is to follow the Shadow Basin chairlift directly up the ridge, and then return via Alta Lake. Although I later discover a few references to the “Shadow Basin Lookout” (and also “Remarkables Ultimate View Point” in Google Maps) which can be accessed in winter via the chairlift, there’s no track up to the lookout or across to Alta Lake. And the chairlift is not in operation. So it’s mostly an off-track walk. Navigation is easy but it’s surprisingly steep as I follow the line of the chairlift directly up the grassy slope.

As I gain altitude there’s views down the valley to the south over Lakes Hayes and Mount Aspiring in the distance, to the south.

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About halfway up the slope, the grass is replaced by rocky terrain (which is a bit easier to walk on) as my route takes me past a small, unnamed lake.

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From the top of the chairlift I continue up the slope to the top of the ridge. There’s now some patches of snow and larger boulders that I need to navigate for the last part of the ascent.

It’s worth the effort: through a gap in the ridge is a stunning view over Lake Wakatipu (the third largest lake by surface area in New Zealand) and Queenstown, nearly 2000m below.

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I’m there just in time to watch the sun setting behind the lake.

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To the south-west is Queenstown, Frankton Arm (the lake’s northeastern bend and principal outflow) and the Kawarau River.

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With the light starting to fade (it’s now about 9:30pm), I descend back towards the top of the chairlift and head along the ridge to the east,

Rather than returning the same way, I’m skirting around the broad basin and toward Alta Lake, which is over the other side of the low ridge. Below me, stretching back down the middle of the basin, is the chairlift and the small lake I went past on the way up.

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With the light starting to fade, I reach the top of the ridge and can see Lake Alta below. From here there doesn’t seem to be an easy descent. After considering a few options, I decide the best bet is to go directly down the scree slope on the northern side of the lake. I figure if it’s possible to ski down (the route I’m taking is the “Alta Chute” black run in winter) it must be possible to walk down…

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With a few near-falls on the slippery gravel slope, I finally reach the edge of the lake. It’s now dark, so the rest of the hike is done by torch-light. The cloud has really closed in and visibility is only a few metres, so I’m glad I have an on-line topographic map as I follow the rough track down from the lake.

The circuit has taken me just over two hours – on a clear day this hike offers a fantastic combination of spectacular views and alpine scenery, and is much more interesting than the standard out-and-back walk to Alta Lake.

0.0km The Remarkables skifield carpark (1,576m asl)
0.6km Start of the Shadow Basin chairlift (1,622m asl)
1.9km Top of Shadow Basin chairlift (1,943m asl)
3.8km Shadow Basin Lookout / top of ridge (1,966m asl)
3.7km Alta Lake (1,809m asl)
5.8km The Remarkables skifield carpark
Location Start/end at The Remarkables skifield carpark (23km / 30min drive from Queenstown)
Distance 5.8km circuit
Grade Moderate. Total ascent is 420m. Mostly off-track.
Season/s October-April. Can be done in winter using Shadow Basin chairlift.
Map/s Interactive topographical map [AllTrails]
Download topographical map (A4, 1:18K) [PDF]
NZTopo50-CC11 Queenstown (1:50K) – buy online or from DOC office in Queenstown
GPS Route PlotaRoute map with option to download GPX / KML file
Resources

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