I’m cheating a little on this hike… I’m having a family Christmas lunch at the Skyline Queenstown restaurant. So rather than starting the Ben Lomond hike at the bottom, I’ve taken the Skyline cablecar up. Not that I’m missing much, as the trail up through the fir trees doesn’t seem particularly interesting.
I’m ready after a big lunch to stretch the legs, with the start of the walk clearly marked as it heads into dense fir forest just past the luge track. I’m starting the walk at 2pm, but it doesn’t get dark until very late. I’m more concerned with the weather, which is quite overcast.
The track rises steadily from Skyline Queenstown, soon emerging from the thick forest and following the long ridge through tussock grass towards the Ben Lomond saddle.
Looking back along the Ben Lomond Walkway, there’s nice views over Lake Wakatipu and of Cecil Peak (1,978m asl) on the other side. (Cecil Peak is on a pastoral lease: you can hike to the summit with permission from the owner, but there are no marked tracks and you’ll need a boat or water-taxi to cross the lake. You can also take a helicopter to a ledge near the summit.)
The rain has held off so far, but there’s a lot of cloud around all of the peaks – my optimism is buoyed by the fact the Ben Lomond peak is still peaking (sorry!) out of the clouds…
The track eventually reaches the top of the ridge, which continues up to the saddle in the distance.
There’s some great views of the track snaking along the ridge-top, with the lake in the background – would be just stunning on a clear day!
Once the track reaches the saddle there are views to the north and down Moonlight Valley (a marked track continues down the other side of the ridge from the saddle to Moonlight Creek, and onto the Shotover River – this would make a great overnight one-way hike.)
Up to the saddle it’s been a constant but gradual climb – the last part is steep! And the saddle is only just past the halfway mark in terms of elevation (about 520m vertical ascent from the top of the cablecar to the saddle and 430m from the saddle to the peak). The track now swings to the west as it goes up a steeper ridge to the Ben Lomond summit – which is still free of cloud 🙂
The track initially goes straight up the ridge, before veering to the right (northern side) and circling the summit and coming up the back of the mountain.
Unfortunately, my optimism about the cloud was a little misplaced… as I reach the summit, there is just about zero visibility in most directions.
I sit for a while near the summit cairn, in the rain, hoping my effort of getting to the top will eventually be rewarded by some views! And eventually, some of the lower clouds lift providing a view over Lake Wakatipu. On a clear day I imagine the view would be outstanding, and you should be able to see as far as Mount Earnslaw (Pikirakatahi) and Mt Aspiring (Tititea). But today, this is about as good as it will get.
I head back down after half an hour, as these clouds are not going anywhere…
Although the less-than-spectacular view from the top was a little disappointing, the upside was that the clouds streaming over the ridges was quite photogenic. At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.
Near the saddle, I’m visited by a kea, the world’s only alpine parrot that lives in forested and alpine regions of the South Island. Called “the clown of the mountains”, keas are known for their intelligence and curiosity. It stays for a while on the track marker watching me intently, before flying a short distance away.
There’s better views over Lake Wakatipu and the cloud-shrouded surrounding mountains on the way down than from the summit, and now a lot less people on the track.. (It’s a fairly popular track both for hiking/tramping, and mountain biking.)
Rather than continuing the same way back, I take the (marked) Skyline Track which branches off the Ben Lomond track about half-way down. It follows the top of the ridge, while the main track veers down the side of the ridge. It’s not as well marked as the main track, but is still fairly easy to follow – although I did meet one solo hiker coming up who had slightly lost the path.
It’s a much more varied and dramatic track, passing through sections of forest and hugging the edge of the jagged and at times dramatic ridgeline.
There’s some great views over the lake, despite the cloud – I’d definitely recommend this route on a clear day.
Near the end of the ridge, there’s a great view over the lake, Queenstown and Cecil Peak, before the Skyline Track drops down into the forest and past a paragliding launching platform (that would be an even quicker way down!).
Despite the cloudy weather, it’s been a great walk and I’m not at all surprised that it’s one of the most popular walks around Queenstown. On a clear day, I reckon this walk offers some of the best views around.
0.0km Skyline Queenstown (795m asl) 2.4km Junction with Skyline Track (alterative route) 4.2km Ben Lomond saddle (1,329m asl) 5.7km Ben Lomond summit (1,648m asl) 8.8km Skyline Track 11.8km Skyline Queenstown