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If you’re looking for a challenging hike with breathtaking views in Queenstown, then Ben Lomond Track is my top choice. Starting from right in town, the trailhead is accessible from Queenstown so it’s both convenient and completely free to do.
To some, the trail will be a breeze, but for the average hiker like myself, the trail is actually quite a challenge! With that said, I always manage to crawl over the finish line (just barely!)
Despite this, there was a lot I wish I had known before hiking Ben Lomond Track for the first time. Things like how to shorten the trail depending on your fitness level (a lifesaver for inexperienced hikers) and what to expect in the colder months.
So in this blog, I’ll share my local expertise about hiking Ben Lomond as well as much-needed hiking tips and info to help you plan your Queenstown hiking adventure. In the end, you’ll be so glad you tackled the Ben Lomond Track, as it’s one of the best hikes on the South Island!
Ben Lomond Track Overview
Distance: 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) from Queenstown / 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) from top of gondola return
Ben Lomond Elevation gain: 1,483 meters (4,865 feet) / 1,033 meters (3,389 feet)
Difficulty: Difficult / Moderate
Time Needed: 8 hours / 6 hours (total)
Type of trail: Out and back
Ben Lomond Track is my favorite day hike in Queenstown (although Queenstown Hill is a close second.) The out-and-back trail climbs 1,483 meters (4,865 feet) and crosses stunning New Zealand alpine terrain. Officially the trail starts from the top of Bob’s Peak (top of the gondola), however, part of the adventure to Ben Lomond summit involves hiking from Queenstown via one of the trails mentioned below.
Unlike shorter trails such as Mt Crichton Loop Track and Bob’s Cove Track, Ben Lomond actually requires some planning to hike the trail safely. In the winter months, avalanches are a risk and in the summer, the hike’s difficulty and exposure to the elements require the right gear.
For most people, hiking from Queenstown to Ben Lomond Summit will be a tiring day of around 8 hours of hiking (possibly more.)
For some, that might prove to be too much. Luckily though, Ben Lomond Track is actually quite flexible when it comes to choosing how much of the trail you hike. In fact, with a quick shortcut, you can wipe 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off the trail distance and almost 450 meters (1,476 feet) off of the elevation. But how?
It’s simple, Ben Lomond Track actually starts from the top of the gondola (Bob’s Peak.) This means there are several connecting hiking trails that start from different locations around Queenstown.
The 4 different hiking routes are:
1. One Mile Creek: The first way to hike the Ben Lomond Track is from the One Mile Creek Trail. This starts from the One Mile Creek parking lot in Queenstown. This route to Ben Lomond summit is not the most popular because it can be confusing. This is because the trail passes lots of other hiking trails and downhill biking tracks that aren’t signposted well. I’ve hiked this trail before and I don’t recommend it.
2. Skyline Access Road: The second way is via the Skyline Access Road. This is the road used by Skyline to transport supplies to the restaurant and services at Bob’s Peak. I personally think that this is the worst way to go. It’s not only longer, but walking along a dusty gravel road isn’t my idea of an adventure! So scrap this route!
3. Tiki Trail: The third way is via the Tiki Trail which starts from below the gondola right in Queenstown. This is considered the official way to hike Ben Lomond Track and the route 99% of people go. In total, hiking the Tiki Trail and Ben Lomond Track to Ben Lomond Summit and back down is 14 kilometers (8.7 miles). This is also the way (along with the option below) I suggest going.
4. Top of Gondola: The last option is the shortest way to hike to Ben Lomond Summit and a great option for beginner hikers. This route starts from the Tiki Trail but instead of hiking, you use the gondola to get to Ben Lomond Track trailhead at the top of Bob’s Peak. From here, the official trail length is only 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) return with an elevation gain of just over 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). That’s right, use the gondola as a shortcut!
Picking which way you want to hike is the first thing you need to decide before setting off. With that said, I personally recommend using the Tiki Trail or gondola.
Related Read: If you’re visiting Queenstown, then let me help you plan your time with my detailed Queenstown one-week itinerary!
Ben Lomond FAQs
What to Pack
Water, and lots of it – If you plan on hiking to the summit all the way from Queenstown you’re going to need at least 3 liters (1 gallon) of water! Even if you hike the shorter version, 2 liters (0.5 gallons) is necessary!
Hiking boots – Hiking boots are the recommended footwear for the Ben Lomond hike. You can get away with runners in summer, but at any other time of year, you can encounter snow and ice on the trail.
Sun protection – The New Zealand sun is so harsh. Sunscreen and a hat are a must but a long-sleeved shirt is also wise.
Hiking poles – Sore knees are a real problem for me. If that sounds like you too then hiking poles are a great idea – especially on the steep climb to and from the summit!
Snacks – You can’t buy food on the trail except at the start and end so bringing food is a great idea. I always pack a big lunch and snacks.
Related Read: Ben Lomond Track is one of the best hikes in all of New Zealand – find out what the others are in my blog!
Parking and the Ben Lomond Trailhead
The Ben Lomond trailhead via the Tiki Trail starts at the end Brecon Street in Queenstown. The trailhead is within walking distance from most hotels in central Queenstown. From my house in Queenstown, I simply get the bus to the center of town and walk from there.
If you decide to drive there is very limited parking nearby. In fact, the parking area at the bottom of the gondola is now completely closed.
Instead, park on Man Street. This street along with many others in Queenstown is residential so you can park there all day. Another great street close by is Robins Road. Lake Street is also another option but this street is steep. That’s the main reason I always find a spot here – other people are a little worried about parking on the street because of how steep it is!
Once parked simply walk to the end of Brecon Street where you’ll see the gondola. This is the start of the Ben Lomond hike regardless of whether you are taking the gondola or the Tiki Trail.
The Tiki Trail and Gondola
Before leaving your accommodation, you’ll want to have decided whether you’ll be taking the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak (where the Ben Lomond trailhead is located) or you’ll be hiking to the top via the Tiki Trail. Depending on what you decide, there are some things to know before you go…
The Tiki Trail
The Tiki Trail is not a long hike, however, over the 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) trail, you will have to hike up 450 meters (1,476 feet) in elevation. It’s a hard steep climb that takes around 1.5 hours to finish.
Once you reach the top, you can pretty much transfer straight onto Ben Lomond Track by simply walking up the hill and through the Luge Track along the small walkway. It heads up and to the left, until you reach the sign pictured under the Ben Lonond Track Overview heading above.
I personally love to hike the Tiki Trail when I take friends and family up Ben Lomond even though I have a yearly gondola pass (yep, I can take the gondola as much as I want all year!) The reason? Well, it’s actually a really beautiful hike through the forest!
For more info on hiking the Tiki Trail, read my complete guide!
The Gondola to Bob’s Peak
Taking the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak is a great way to save your legs for the hard climb to Ben Lomond Summit – trust me! With that said, it will cost more and you do need to plan for it.
The first thing to know about taking the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak is that it doesn’t open until 9:30 am daily. This means you can’t start the trail until a little later in the day.
The gondola costs $52 NZD for adults and $36 for children. If you want to get on one of the first gondolas leaving in the morning, be sure to book your ticket in advance to secure your spot. It costs no extra and will save you time! And if you’re interested in having lunch or dinner at the top you can check out dining options and grab a gondola/dinner combo ticket in advance.
Once you arrive at the top of the gondola, you’ll need to walk through the Luge Track along a small walkway. It’s all signposted but if you’re having trouble figuring out where to go, there are lots of people around and you can simply ask someone! Just know it’s a popular hike and it’s actually quite easy to find the start.
Related Read: One of the best things to do at the top of the gondola is to ride the Queenstown Luge! This is a super fun activity that you can do before or after hiking Ben Lomond Track!
Hiking to Ben Lomond Saddle
This is where the fun really starts! Once you’ve found the official Ben Lomond trailhead it’s time to finally start your journey to Ben Lomond Saddle. After hiking through more forest at the start of Ben Lomond Trail you’ll finally get the beautiful views you’ve been waiting for as you breach the trees and enter the sub-alpine area.
Quick Fact: The saddle is simply the name for the lower part of two mountains. Picture a horse’s saddle where it peaks at either end and is lower in the middle. On Ben Lomond, the saddle is exactly that and the starting place of the steep climb to the summit.
Once you breach the tree line there is no more shade or protection from the wind so you will be exposed to the elements. With that said, with good weather this part is a breeze. The trail gradually climbs up the side of the mountain heading towards the saddle.
As you get close to the saddle there are some other trails you can explore if you choose to. These head off to the right. My recommendation after hiking the trail many times is to save these for last. Although worth doing, the views from the saddle and summit are much better and you’ll want to save your energy for the last summit climb.
From the top of Bob’s Peak to the saddle it only takes around 90 minutes at a steady pace. You’ll know you’ve reached the saddle when you see the much-needed park bench to rest on and enjoy the view.
Depending on the time of year, there could be snow and ice on this section of the trail. Anywhere from May to late November, you can see snow in this area. I once hiked the trail at the start of May and with the cold temperatures and recent snowfall the trail was extremely icy and slippery. If you plan on hiking Ben Lomond Track in winter be sure to come prepared with crampons.
Hot Tip: If you want to hike Ben Lomond, the best time to visit Queenstown would be in the summer, late spring, or early fall. Winter definitely makes the hike more challenging and in some cases, impossible.
Related Read: Visiting New Zealand in winter? Learn about all of the best things to do in Queenstown in the winter months!
Saddle to Ben Lomond Summit
From the saddle, the views of the Southern Alps and Lake Wakatipu are out of this world! For some, the saddle will be the end of their journey, and if you’re worried about the conditions at the summit or your ability to hike back down then there’s nothing wrong with turning back here.
However, if you’re planning on summiting Ben Lomond then lace up your boots, this next part involves a steep grueling climb! The last climb from the saddle to the summit only takes around an hour but is straight up the entire way. If it’s icy, this part is extremely difficult and dangerous without crampons, so please be safe.
Once you reach the top though, the views are absolutely mind-blowing! Looking around you can enjoy 360-degree views of the Southern Alps. Honestly, you feel the full magnitude of your accomplishment and the views are worth the challenge. I love it!
At the summit, you can do some more exploring, but it’s best to stick to the trail as it is dangerous up here! In winter or when snow is present be very careful, people have been caught in avalanches on the summit.
After you’ve enjoyed the views (this can take a while) remember you have around a 3-hour walk back down to Queenstown.
Essential Info to Remember
Hiking in winter is dangerous – Ben Lomond Track in winter is an alpine hike that without the proper experience and gear is dangerous. Always be prepared and turn around if you don’t feel safe. Ben Lomond Track can also be slippery when it’s wet and is probably not one of the best things to do in Queenstown when it’s raining.
Check with the DOC before – If you’re worried about the trail conditions on Ben Lomond Track you can visit the DOC office in Queenstown and ask them for more info. They’ll have a detailed weather forecast and know what conditions are like at the summit.
Gondola to Saddle is a really short hike – If you’re not fit and don’t consider yourself a hiker then I have a great option for you. Hike from the top of the gondola to the saddle and back. This option only takes 3 to 4 hours and is short and easy. The best part is you still get breathtaking views!
Hit the toilets before you leave – There is one new toilet at the Saddle however, it’s a drop toilet so it’s best to only use it if you have to! This is a brand-new installation and one I am excited to see after some of the mess that used to get left behind.
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
While in Queenstown there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy… Honestly, there are so many it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites.
- Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
- TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise – This scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown is an activity great for any afternoon. The ship you will be cruising on is the Historic TSS Earnslaw and you will get to watch crew members add coal to the flames that power the vessel. Take in the mountain ranges and lush green valleys of Otago. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- Day Trip to Milford Sound With Picnic Lunch – This tour will give you the ultimate ability to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included. This small-group tour goes for $289 NZD a person and I think it’s a really great value for a more personalized experience.
- Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a thrill? Jet Boating is one of New Zealand’s most unique activities. On the tour out of Queenstown, you’ll be able to zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust, me it’s epic!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.
Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!
The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.
Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Ben Lomond Track is truly one of the best things to do in Queenstown. As a local, it’s the best place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown and enjoy that fresh New Zealand air. Of course, I always have sore legs the next day!
Thanks so much for checking out my guide to Ben Lomond Track. If you have any questions at all be sure to leave them below. Of course, if you found this blog helpful then browse the rest of my blog for a huge range of guides and tips on visiting Queenstown. Check out all of the different hikes in Queenstown, or amazing hikes on the South Island! I’ve also included some of my most popular posts below for your convenience.