Short Hikes in Queenstown, New Zealand
Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Queenstown is one of our favorite towns in New Zealand. I can understand why it is an international destination, and one of the busiest little towns in New Zealand. There are plenty of things to do here, especially for outdoor enthusiasts and adrenaline rush seekers (bungy jumping, ski and snowboarding, paragliding, jet-boating, white water rafting, skydiving, para-gliding, and many more). This town earned the title of “Adventure Capital of the World.” The town is surrounded by natural beauty - a vast lake, breathtaking and awe-inspiring mountains.
While in Queenstown you can do a lot of easy touristy things such as riding the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak. Although the view is incredibly fantastic up there, the crowd vying for space to take “selfies” will spoil it for you. But then of course taking the gondola is the best choice if you are not a hiker, or don't have the time.
For hikers we discovered an even better view of Queenstown with almost no people - much fewer than at Bob’s Peak, by hiking to Queenstown Hill. Even better, you don't have to pay to see the view. This hike is short and easy, even casual hikers can do this, if you are willing.
QUEENSTOWN HILL WALKWAY
From Queenstown Hill you will get to see an amazing panoramic view of Queenstown if you are willing to hike the 2.5-mile (one way) uphill trail, or track, to the top. The Queenstown Hill was once called Te Tapu-nui which means “mountain of intense sacredness” - the mountain has much significance to the Māori. The trailhead is within walking distance from the center of town, but it's an uphill walk to get there. The Queenstown Hill Walkway trail is managed by the Queenstown Lakes District Council and parts of it traverse private land.
Just past the beginning of the trail, there is a beautiful iron gate. Along the trail you will pass a big boulder with a metal plaque on top. Some words of wisdom were inscribed on it, a gentle way of telling people to take care of the trail and maintain its beauty for the next generation to enjoy.
“This pathway leads to our future.
With each step, we seek the guidance
and wisdom of those who have gone before us;
we walk with a sense of hope,
that those who follow in our footsteps
beyond the year 2000 can do so
with the same sense of pride in,
and protection for, this beautiful place.”
Don’t hurry to reach the top, this is an interesting trail. There are some interpretative panels, each describing a brief history of the Wakatipu region, from the early Māori settlements to the intervening years after colonization by the English.
There was a brief history of the early Māori’s expedition to find pounamu (greenstone), the moa (a now extinct giant bird even bigger than an ostrich) and other resources found in the area. There was also a brief history of the pastoralism after Europeans arrived, the discovery of gold and the arrival of tourism. It’s very informative - take time to read it.
The canopy of forest shading the track eventually transitioned into an open field. Beside the track was a small pond occupied by a family of ducks. Past the pond - off the track to the left - was a sculpture called the “Basket of Dreams,” a dish-shaped spiral of steel reinforcing bars overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. The plaque says the sculpture was erected to commemorate the millennium.
Nearby was another sign about protecting the area’s natural heritage, and the threat from wilding trees (an exotic species introduced to the area to establish forestry). These trees unfortunately are overtaking tussock grasslands and invading beech forests. A group is working with the community, businesses and local government to eradicate these trees from the hills, to save native plants as well as insects and birds. The sign even encourages anyone who wishes to pull out any seedlings.
Some hikers just do the loop, they turn around at the Basket of Dream's sculpture, but you will miss the best view on this trail if you do. Up on the top there was an amazing 360 degree view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding rugged mountains. The immensity of the lake and its deep blue color is quite incredible from up there.
Th impressive Lake Wakatipu was carved by glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years. It is New Zealand’s longest lake, about 46 miles long, and the third largest with an area of 112 square miles. It is also one of the deepest lakes in the country. The lake played a major role in the settlement and development of the area. The early Māori and European explorers to the region used the lake to access the many bays around its shores.
The Queenstown Hill Walkway trail offers a vast, open view for such a short hike. You will see the peak of Ben Lomond (5,734 feet), named by an early shepherd, Duncan McAusland, after Ben Lomond in Scotland. You can hike to Ben Lomond, if you have the time. The seven-mile (round trip) track begins at the upper Skyline Gondola terminal at Bob's Peak. You can follow the route by starting near the Luge.
Other prominent mountains nearby are Cecil Peak (5,931 feet), Double Cone (7,609 feet) and Bayonet Peaks (5,173 feet).
A short and easy hike is never enough for Hermann, besides we still had the whole afternoon. There is a lake about a thirty-minute drive from town. Moke Lake is an out-of-the-way place, away from the crowds, yet not far from town.
To get there from the Glenorchy- Queenstown Road, which follows along the eastern shore of the north arm of Lake Wakatipu, follow the Moke Lake Road. The road is very steep but paved most of the way. The final two or three miles it became a rough gravel road, but easily passable even by camper. As you drive, you will see sheep scattered around the valley like white balls of confetti. About over a mile to Moke Lake is a small lake on the left side of the road called Lake Kirkpatrick.
There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot, but I bet it is full in summer. Moke Lake is a popular recreation spot; I can understand why, it is a beautiful lake in a beautiful setting. There are camping sites here with water and rest rooms on site. Fishing and kayaking are also allowed.
There is a track encircling the lake, a four-mile loop, requiring 2.5 hours to complete according to the sign at the trailhead. This track also connects to Lake Dispute, two hours and forty-five minutes one way from the trailhead, if taken by itself. Moke Lake is small but has spectacular views of the mountains all the way around. It sits in the valley below Ben Lomond.