We headed out from Queenstown, the five of us, on a beautiful Tuesday morning. John drove us along Skippers Rd through a most spectacular gorge out to the Skippers Lodge. From there we alighted, grabbed our daypacks, and headed out for a two day guided walk. This walk would take us through tussock high country, along pristine creeks that are safe to drink from, through soft carpeted beech forest, across saddles, atop ridges with views to die for and this would be the first day. Apart from a Swiss couple we would be the only people we would see, throughout the 18 kilometers that day. This is in the middle of hiking season less than 30ks out of Queenstown! We started out from Skippers lodge, over the cable bridge and along the Shotover River. Through mounds of tailings, past massive forgotten gold mining machinery and along the riverbank, we learnt about the history of the area and the scope of the gold rush in the 1800s. The scale of the work was enormous and it gave me an appreciation of the amount of effort man made for the yellow stuff. From the river bank we headed up a ridge next to sluiced terrace, of which we would see plenty more, until we reached the top. The water races we followed that would guide us through the first half of the day really highlighted the engineering and sheer hard work that shaped the gold rush of the 1850s. We continued along the terrace through tussocky land until we reached "the Siphon" for lunch. Sitting 300 or 400 meters above the river, watching wild goats, falcons and the odd fallow deer whilst munching through a well deserved sammy, this would be a lunch I would not forget for a very long time. That afternoon we followed more water races that crossed over creeks with water so fresh and clean that we filled our water bottles without fear of gardia or any such nasties. Then we ducked into a cool shady copse of beech trees and followed Murphys creek, fording it many times, allowing us to cool our heads and feet for the next few kilometers. I imagined that we were the only people to have followed this creek for a while and the valley that we followed with it high escarpments and stunning rock formations on either side was as it would have been for thousands of years. We took afternoon tea under a large rock formation, sitting on a mattress of long grass near the bubbling stream; surely this must be one of the greatest walks I have experienced over the past 15 years. Perfection.
After we had left the valley behind our location for the night came into view in the distance. First we would have to walk through a mini beech forest in the cool shade with a soft carpet underfoot of beech leaves, it was a very pleasant walk.
Out of the forest and along a high ridge with wide vistas of South Island high country until we reached a dirt road on a gentle decline to our resting place for the night, Ben Lomond Lodge.
The lodge is nestled on a high terrace and was built in the fifties. It consists of a main building that contains the Kitchen, dining and lounge area in the main body with abolition block on the wing. It has 5 stand alone A frame chalets that can cater for up to 35 people. After a long day walking it is a most welcome sight. The showers were clean and powerful and the food that night consisted of fresh game and fish and was as good as any restaurant meal that I have tasted. (I particularly enjoyed the deer liver.) An early night for all as we were all tired but well contented and needed our sleep to prepare for the next days walk.
After a big breakfast and a short 4WD lift we arrived at the Moonlight track to Ben Lomond. The beginning of the walk is a consistent upward march that soon worked our breakfast off. The track then levelled off at about 800metres and we journeyed at a pleasant rambling pace to the saddle of Ben Lomond. It was here that we first encountered other traveling parties, coming from Queenstown heading toward the peak of the mighty mountain. Another hour of steep incline and we were rewarded with an incredible view of the Wakitipu basin and the lake. We had our lunch and headed back down.
Another hour and a half of gentle decline and we reached our journeys end. The Gondola. Civilization as we know it.
I would like to thank our hosts and guides John, Ginny and Megan Foster for an exceptional two days. I learned more about NZ high country life first hand than I thought possible in two days. I saw more and traveled through varied landscapes in those two days than I have in some 5-day treks. All in all I enjoyed myself immensely and would have no hesitation in recommending Ben Lomond Guided tours to any one wanted to experience "the real" New Zealand high country.