Alta Lake (The Remarkables)

A return walk to the picturesque Alta Lake in The Remarkables. A rather dull ski service trail for the first half of the hike eventually becomes a charming alpine walking trail.

This is my second visit to the alpine Alta Lake, after my evening walk on the previous day to the Shadow Basin Lookout and back via Alta Lake. But I finished this walk in the dark, so I’m keen to come back and visit the lake when I can actually see it! It’s also an opportunity to play in the snow, with many snow drifts remaining along the track.

The Remarkables Road

Getting to the start of the walk means another car trip up The Remarkables Road. One of the highest roads in New Zealand, it was only sealed for most of its 13.2km length in the past couple of years. Which seems astonishing considering the many hairpin turns and huge drop-offs… The views over Queenstown are breathtaking, and we stop a few times to take photos. A short climb to a trig point provides sweeping views over Lake Wakatipu, Frankton Arm (the principal outlet of the lake) and Queenstown that sprawls along a large part of the lake and Peninsula Hill at the end of Lake Wakatipu.

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As the road heads up towards the northern end of The Remarkables, there are views over Lake Hayes and the Kawarau River, which continues downstream from Frankton Arm. It’s interesting how Kawarau River (below) is quite a different colour than the Frankton Arm (above). This is the result of the Shotover River, carrying glacial melt from the Southern Alps and being much more aqua in colour, flowing into the Kawarau River.

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The Remarkables Road winds around the back of  The Remarkables as it continues ascending, with the last few kilometres being unsealed. Ahead of us, towards the end the winding road, are some of the jagged peaks of The Remarkables. Behind us are glimpses to the north-west of the snow-covered peaks of the Mount Aspiring mountain range.

The road finishes at The Remarkables skifield carpark, at an elevation of 1,576m above sea level. It’s also the starting point of our walk to Lake Alta.

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Lake Alta trail

The very well-marked track to Lake Alta starts from The Remarkables skifield carpark. Our small group heads off, up past the ski resort and up the wide service trail. The first half is rather uninspiring, as it traverses a rather ugly resort building (under construction), past some ski lifts and machinery and along a vehicle trail that services the ski lifts.

Not far into our walk is the first patch of snow – this was one of the Hike Objectives. My niece Sienna has never experienced snow before, and is very excited about throwing a snowball.

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It’s not the whitest or nicest of snow, but we stop here to play for a while, while I do my best to avoid getting hit by too many snowballs…

I’m pleasantly surprised that both Sienna and my daughter are keen to continue to Lake Alta, so we continue along the gradually ascending service trail.

Fortunately, we eventually turn off the service trail onto a narrow walking track, and leave the chairlift pylons behind. This next section is very pleasant walking, and you soon forgot that you’re still really in the middle of a ski resort… We can’t see the lake yet, but in front of us are Single Cone (2319 metres) and Double Cone (2307 metres), the two highest peaks in the range.

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There’s another large snowpile at the start of the walking trail which necessitates a stop – it looks like it might have the remains of a large ski-jump.

The walking trail climbs gently up toward Alta Lake, at one point crossing the small stream that flows out of the lake and a traversing a few more remnant snowdrifts.

After about 2km from the start of the walk, the lake comes into view, nestled in a post-glacial cirque with Single Cone and Double Cone towering above to the left, and a lower unnamed peak to the right.

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Up close the lake is a beautiful turquoise colour and looks very inviting – although the water is freezing and it’s not a particularly warm day…  Lake Alta was the location of Dimrill Dale (or Azanulbizar) in Lord of the Rings, where the Fellowship made their way down to the Elven forest of Lothlórien.

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It’s back the same way, with the clouds clearing and the sun coming out…

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…with time for a bit more playing in the snow!

It’s been a surprisingly nice walk, especially once you get past the initial service trail from the ski carpark. You could also return by climbing the scree slope on the right-hand (north) side of the lake and following the ridge around to the Shadow Basin chairlift, which avoids some of the service-trail-walking.

0.0km The Remarkables skifield carpark (1,576m asl)
1.3km Walking track starts (from service trail)
2.2km Lake Alta (1,803m asl)
4.4km The Remarkables skifield carpark
Location Start/end at The Remarkables skifield carpark (23km / 30min drive from Queenstown)
Distance 4.4km return
Grade Easy. Total ascent is 230m.
Season/s October-March
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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