NZ2020: Day 13, Ben Lomond hike

February 6, 2020

After two days of being sidetracked by flooding, heavy rain and road damage, the road north was opening for limited time windows while being repaired. We departed from Te Anau at 5:30 am to drive to Queenstown. We waited in the dawn at Five Rivers for the 7 am opening.

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Queue waiting for the partially flooded road to open

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Sunrise with llamas

We arrived at the Queenstown Skyline Gondola on schedule for the 9 am opening.

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A ten minute gondola ride took us up the first 1500 feet of the Ben Lomond trail.

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Great views from the Upper Gondola complex.

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Views below to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

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We still had about 4 miles, and 3400 feet to hike to the top of Ben Lomond. We started up, through sun, mist, and a little rain. The weather got better through the day, but many of the surrounding mountains retained a high cloud cover. The cooler temperature was perfect though, as it gets warm hiking continually up. This was a challenging hike for me! We took a steady pace, with rests.

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Lower trail. Ben Lomond is the high peak on the skyline.

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Looking back toward Lake Wakatipu.

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Getting closer to our destination.

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First we have to get to the saddle,

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then up the rocky and steeper ridge.

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Looking back down at the saddle.

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Up the rocky section, with mist wafting in and out.

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A feral goat below on the rocky crags.

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The last steep pitch…

At the top, my relief of making it to the peak was almost completely sidetracked by the surprise of finding mountain parrots at the summit!

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Kea, or mountain parrot, perched on the summit cliff of Ben Lomond.

There were five or six of these large birds (about 18 inches tall), flying around, undaunted by the people, and fairly aggressively scrounging for hiker lunch crumbs. I am accustomed to seeing marauding chipmunks where I come from, so this was an unexpected reward for the last three hours of steady upward effort.

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Kea and hikers on summit of Ben Lomond

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Kea, metamorphic rocks

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Kea, flashing orange back feathers while flying.

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Face close up

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Mists rolling in

I watched the keas for a while, and rested, while clouds rolled in and out from the steep southern cliffs. We looked around as much as possible before beginning the hike down. I would have liked to stay longer, but it was very cold and windy.

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Lake Wakatipu

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Clouds wafting across

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The view!

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Southern alps to the west

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Starting down – view back to The Remarkables and Queenstown, with our trail in view.

(Geology interlude) As we looked back toward Queenstown on our return hike, I noticed the effects of the rain on the rivers downstream from Lake Wakatipu. The very brown and muddy Shotover River flows into the deep blue Kawarau River (the Lake Wakatipu outlet). Downstream farther, the Kawarau River is muddier in color.  (I saw this happen a long time ago at the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers in the Grand Canyon, on a once in a lifetime river trip.)

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Confluence of Shotover and Kawarau Rivers

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Wider view, muddier Kawarau downstream.

We continued down the mountain, on tired and satisfied legs.

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Resting, Southern Alps beyond.

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Clouds have lifted, this peak finally exposed.

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Last look at Ben Lomond

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and the tiny people enjoying the summit.

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The down trail crosses over the luge track at the Gondola Complex.

We took the gondola back down to town, then checked back into the Crowne Plaza Hotel. We had a group dinner in town, and said goodbye to our additional tour members and guide. We still had two more days with our guide Kaleb, and we were going north toward Aoraki/Mt Cook.

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