Recently, Frank and I sat down in a local coffee shop – because: free power and wifi 🙂 – and started mapping out our plans for the next week or so. We had some time before our Working Holiday Visa application would be processed and wanted to do some hiking. When traveling with my mom in the weeks before, we’d done relatively few longer walking tracks. There was just so much to show her in such little time, that we’d had no time (or energy) to stop for those kinds of hikes. But now she’d left us to explore the North Island and we could slow down a bit again. It was the perfect opportunity to revisit some of the places we’d raced through before.
One of the tracks we found is called the Ben Lomond track. It’s a 6-8 hour walk which takes you up to the summit of the mountain Ben Lomond, 1438m above Queenstown. ‘Should be doable’, we thought. After all, we’ve done long walks before. So, upon arriving in Queenstown, we visited the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office for advice and packed our bags, ready for hiking Ben Lomond the next day. Luckily, the bad weather of the prior week had made way for a clear and sunny sky. We were excited to go. Oh, if only we knew what lay ahead.
We’d decided to cheat a little bit and take the gondola up to the Skyline complex. That takes an hour off of the total time. Hands-down best decision of the day. (By the way: the worst decision of the day was me forgetting my sandwiches in the car). We took some photos of the amazing view of Queenstown and headed to the start of the track.
Up to the saddle
We started our hike in a dark bit of forest. Quickly, though, an open pathway replaced the cool shade, stretching far across hills. Within the first 50 meters we noticed a steep incline in the path, a little (okay a lot) steeper than we’d anticipated. In the distance before us, we saw mountains and wondered where the summit would be. Well, actually, we wondered how we’d ever make it to the summit, because by that time we’d already needed to take our first break. We’d thought that our fitness level was pretty OK – at least average. But perhaps the four months of travel and lack of regular exercise had left its mark on us. The view definitely made up for our struggles however, and we continued in good spirits.
As we approached the first major checkpoint, the Ben Lomond Saddle, our energy levels had definitely changed. Since the forest, there hadn’t been any more shade and the sun was burning high in the sky. Our legs had started to hurt and I’d already realized I’d forgotten my oh-so-carefully-made sandwiches. Meanwhile, we continuously saw people approaching us on their way back and they were smiling. What? How was that possible?
We finally reached the saddle and at once we forgot how exhausted we already were: the views were stunning. We had a little break and ate some food. I was powering through on energy balls and cashews. Frank had kindly offered to share, but unfortunately there was cheese on his. While we were eating, we could clearly see the mountain we’d had to climb to reach the summit. I knew we were both thinking the same: were we going to go up there? Although neither of us probably really wanted to even get up off the ground, we knew we couldn’t stop there.
Love to hike but looking for a track that’s a little bit easier? Check out the gorgeous views at the Roys Peak track in Wanaka!
The final climb
Let me tell you: the struggle was real. At this point, my legs were trembling and aching non-stop. The hill was incredibly steep and seemed to never end. We’d definitely underestimated the walk; later, we heard that some avid hiker had described hiking Ben Lomond as one of the hardest tracks he’d ever done. Finally, we could stop blaming our fitness levels 😉 . The climb up the final part of the mountain was incredibly tough. It made the relief of finally reaching the top only bigger, though. And it did not disappoint. The most stunning, velvety mountains in an array of incredible colors surrounded us. Far beneath us, Queenstown looked like a tiny, miniature city. In the distance, you could see a few snow-covered mountain tops. The immensity of the view took my breath away.
We stayed up there for a while to enjoy the view and refuel for the way down. Taking the same path back, although tricky because of all of the loose stones and rocks, was a breeze. Finally, we understood why everyone passing us was smiling the whole time. This time, we smiled at those struggling to make it to the top, speaking words of encouragement.
As I’m writing this, the day after, our legs are sorer than ever and we have definitely been complaining every time we’ve had to walk up a flight of stairs. But in my head it’s only the stunning views that remain – OK, mostly. 😉 Are you considering hiking Ben Lomond or have you done the track before? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Preparing for the Ben Lomond hike? Don’t forget to check out the official DOC website on the track.