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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!)
Despite this, there was a lot I wish I knew 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.
Ben Lomond Track Overview
Distance: 14 kilometers from Queenstown / 11 kilometers from top of gondola return
Ben Lomond Elevation gain: 1,483 meters / 1,033 meters
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 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 off the trail distance and almost 450 meters 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 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. 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 return with an elevation gain of just over 1,000 meters. Thats 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 of water! Even if you hike the shorter version, 2 liters is necessary!
Hiking boots – Hiking boots are the recommended footwear for the Ben Lomond hike. You can get away with runners in summer, but 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 is a must but a long sleeve 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.
Parking and the Ben Lomond Trailhead
The Ben Lomond trailhead via the Tiki Trail starts at the end Brecon Street in Queenstown. From most hotels in central Queenstown, it’s within walking distance. 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 some parking at the end of the cul-de-sac where the gondola leaves from. However, this parking is only for 4 hours maximum. If you plan on hiking all the way to the summit and back without using the gondola, then you’ll need much more time.
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 or on the far end Brecon Street (on the end located on the steep hill closest to the lake.)
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 trail, you will have to hike up 450 meters 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 for around 50 meters before you see the sign (don’t walk towards the restaurant or gondola to your right.)
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 10 am on weekdays and 9:30 am on weekends. This means you can’t start the trail until a little later in the day.
The gondola costs $44 NZD for adults and $26 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!
Once you arrive at the top of the gondola, Ben Lomond Track is to your left (facing away from the lake.) Simply walk to your left and up the hill a little bit until you see a sign for the trailhead. If you hit the ziplining platform you’re really close and just need to walk up the hill away from the lake. If you have trouble finding it, just ask the staff, they all know where it is!
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 Queenstown 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 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 are no toilets once you pass the Skyline building at the top of the gondola. So go before you go!
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!