Ben Lomond Summit – From Moke Lake
If you’ve seen photos showcasing the splendour of Queenstown from above with the town itself, Lake Wakitipu and some impressive-looking mountain ranges in the distance – chances are it was taken from Ben Lomond.
Ben Lomond is the big mountain directly behind Queenstown. The summit stands at a height of 1438m. It is usually accessed from town via the Tiki Trail, or by taking the gondola and walking the rest of the way – firstly to the saddle, then an hour to the summit.
I took an alternative route up to Ben Lomond. I had stayed at the fabulous DoC campground at Moke Lake the night before, and upon inspection of the topo map, saw that I could take an alternative route. The Moonlight track starts at Moke Lake and winds around the back of the mountains. From there I turned and walked up around the flank of Bowen Peak to the Ben Lomond saddle.
I left the campsite at 6.45 am and crossed the stile into the farmland area. Following the four-wheel-drive track, it wound up and down adjacent to the Moke creek. The track goes through a working station, so I came across lots of sheep and cows, which I did my best to avoid.
The mountain views in every direction were amazing. After around 5km the track plunged steeply downhill to the river and back up again. Shortly afterward, at around 8 am I was at the turning to start the climb, off to the right in a grove of poplar trees.
Moonlight track to Ben Lomond Saddle
There was no signage for the track, and as usual, I was glad I had my topo maps app to follow on my phone. There were a few farm buildings here, and according to the map I climbed up to the right of them, then headed left behind them. Within a few minutes, I found a steep four-wheel-drive track that climbed up to the right.
On the map, it looked like 5 or 6 kms to the Ben Lomond summit from here, and one heck of a big climb! The track climbed steeply to the left, then headed right up and around the mountain. The vegetation was mostly grasslands with the odd clump of tall thorny bushes here and there.
The track was still on Ben Lomond station private land, so wasn’t marked in the usual (DoC) way with orange markers. There were a few random poles en-route, mostly unmarked.
The initial climb was pretty steep. At 8.30 am I had a break and taped a couple of hot spots on my toes which were unexpectedly giving me a bit of trouble.
I started up again. The flank of the mountain was a little boggy in places, and now mostly grassy tussocks. At 8.50 am I crossed a stile with an orange marker.
Sun came out at 9.15 am, just as I turned a corner and saw the entire flank of the mountains ahead and to the left, and Ben Lomond to the right. Although it wasn’t quite as steep now, I was still climbing. By 9.50 am I could see the Ben Lomond saddle.
I was suddenly hit with a wave of an unforgettable strong, musky scent – which could only mean one thing. I was downwind of a flock of around 10 goats. They weren’t at all bothered by me, and I had to shoo them off the path. I also heard a couple of Kea (alpine parrots).
Ben Lomond Summit
I reached the saddle at 10 am and began the climb. A marker indicated that the summit climb (approximately 400m in elevation from here) would take an hour. It was almost spot on. It took 55 minutes to get to the top. The track was very steep from the mid-section and pretty rugged with some light scrambling, but nothing too bad.
I was on the 1438m summit before 11 am. The views were a spectacular panorama as far as the eye could see. Queenstown was immediately below, the Kawerau river valley, Lake Wakitipu, the Remarkables, Thomson and Humboldt ranges and the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park.
It was pretty windy up on the top, so I quickly ate a sandwich, had a chat with a couple of other people at the summit, then made my way back down.
I was back down at the saddle by 11.45 am. I almost broke into a run on the way back. It was all downhill, and it looked like some murky weather was coming in. I was back to the poplar trees by 1 pm and back at Moke Lake by 2.15 pm.
I’d guestimate the distance as being around 13Kms each way, and a serious amount of elevation. It had taken me roughly 7.5 hours there and back.
I would definitely recommend it. It was a fun day hike there and back and had the most incredible views with each step along the way. As an alternative, you could hike back down into Queenstown itself, then get a hitch back around to Moke lake.