For many travellers New Zealand is a must-visit destination. Personally, I’ve wanted to visit the country since I was a kid. Why? At some point during my childhood, I came across an old newspaper insert, The Mini-Page, titled Let’s Visit New Zealand. On the fourth page, there was a section that read ‘No Snakes’. I was sold.
Over the years, I tried to make my way over. For the longest time I really wanted to live there and I almost applied for a Masters program at Otago (UCL came calling though!). While moving to New Zealand didn’t happen, my husband knew it was a place I dying to see. So when the topic of a honeymoon location came up, he immediately suggested that we go. Yeah, he’s a keeper.
Like many places that we have waited so long to see, our imagination brews fantastical images and expectations. Aside from no snakes, I expected to see stunning and diverse natural beauty that I have never seen before. For me, New Zealand lived up to the hype I created for it.
One town that I heard a lot about was Queenstown. People raved that it had everything — hip places to eat, loads of adrenaline-fueled adventure experiences, cool people, gorgeous mountainous surroundings, and the list goes on. While this was all true, Queenstown was a bit overwhelming, especially after the Catlins.
The best eateries always had a long queue, adventurous experiences came with a hefty price tag, and all the cool people meant huge crowds everywhere. Perhaps Queenstown was also a bit overwhelming because we were accidentally booked into a bustling hostel as opposed to a quieter abode. After years of travelling around and working on excavations where you room with 6 other people, I’m a bit over the hostel scene. Nonetheless, I have funny and fond memories of Queenstown.
Funny memory: Being booked into a room in which the sliding bathroom door didn’t close, thus, giving you a prime view of the person on the toilet if you tried to leave the room. Talk about getting closer during your honeymoon!
Another funny memory: Getting stalked by ducks who wanted to eat our Fergburgers and fries. They were persistent!
Fondest memory: Hiking the Ben Lomond Track.
The Basics of Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond is a mountain. There is one in Scotland, which the New Zealand one was named after. If you do this hike, you will be walking up a mountain (or at least part of it). The saddle is 1,326m high and the summit is 1,748m high. The hike is what New Zealand’s Department of Conservation calls a ‘return via same track’ walk. This means you hike and then at some point you turn around and come back. The Department of Conservation labels this hike as ‘Easy: Walking Track’. If you’re a bit out of shape (like I was), the incline will be challenging. It’s totally doable, but I wouldn’t say it’s super easy.
There are a couple options on how to do the track and your total hiking time (anywhere from 3-8 hours) depends on which options you choose. No matter what you choose, remember the following:
- Wear layers: The weather can change quickly so be sure you can shed or add clothing. It was super windy when I hiked it and layers were key.
- Pack food: You will get hungry. Trust me.
- Pack a filled water bottle or plan to fill it before starting: The only opportunity I had to fill my water bottle was by asking a friendly barista at the Skyline Gondola center at Bob’s Peak. Once you start the core of the hike, there won’t be other places.
- Make sure you have enough daylight: If you’re not sure about your fitness level, start early. 10am or earlier is a safe bet during the spring/summer months. The rest of post will give you estimated times, which is based on a moderate fitness level.
Fortunately, you can start the Ben Lomond Track right in Queenstown. No extra driving required!
There are two options for starting your hike.
Option 1: Hike Up A Douglas Fir Forest
You can start your hike by ascending a forest of introduced Douglas Fir trees. There are a number of access points, which are listed on the Department of Conservation’s website. I also found the Hiking Project’s mapped access path quite helpful here. This portion of your hike will take about an 1 hour one-way.
Option 2: Take the Gondola
There is a gondola (32NZD round-trip) you can take to up to a place called Bob’s Peak. Here, there is a well-built center called the Skyline Gondola filled with bars, restaurants, toilets, and adventure activities (luging was super tempting). You can also take in some great panoramic views of Queenstown. Taking the gondola reduces your overall hike time and we took this option since we had a slightly late start.
Hiking to the Saddle
After making your way up, either through the Douglas fir forest or by gondola, you will start your ascent to the Ben Lomond Saddle. The views are pretty great and the path is well-kept.
Reaching the Saddle takes about 2 hours one-way. Once there, you will be greeted by a solitary wooden bench. Here, you can sit and take in the views.
Hiking to the Summit
Once at the Saddle, you can make your way to the Summit. This is roughly a 1-hour walk one-way. On windy days, both the Saddle and Summit can be challenging. Still the views are totally worth it.
Hiking the Ben Lomond Track was my fondest Queenstown memory and one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand. The track is challenging, yet, totally doable. Reaching the Summit felt like I had conquered the day (more like the month!). After descending and inhaling a Fergburger (you get quite hungry!), I was ready to tackle more mountains after.