If you’re an avid hiker visiting the Queenstown / Wanaka region the three best hikes you’ll want to put at the top of your list are Roys Peak, Isthmus Peak, and the Ben Lomond Track.
Unfortunately, time constraints often mean you can only do one, maybe two of the hikes. But which one should you do?
If you look at photos from each, they all look stunning. And asking the opinion of those who have done them all usually ends with a reply of ‘it depends’. So let’s attempt to stick to the facts in this article. We’ll address the common factors to help you decide which is the best hike for you.
Roys Peak: It’s a 16km return trip to the summit of Roys Peak. However the majority of people will turn around at the Instagram famous Roys Peak viewpoint which makes for a 12.5km return hike.
Isthmus Peak: It’s a 15-16km return hike.
Ben Lomond: If you take the gondola to/from the Skyline to start the hike, it’s 11km return. If you want to save money and walk up to the Skyline via the Tiki Trail, it’s ~16km hike return.
View of Roys Peak
This is not easy to answer as there are many variables but the Department of Conservation website says:
Roys Peak: 5 to 6 hours return.
Isthmus Peak: 5 to 7 hours return.
Ben Lomond: 7 to 9 hours return (from the Tiki Trail).
As the author, I can give you the time it took me to reach each summit. But again, my fitness levels would have varied each time I completed the hikes so they should be taken with a grain of salt really.
Roys Peak: 1 hour 35 minutes.
Isthmus Peak: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Ben Lomond: 2 hours 50 minutes.
Roys Peak: The track is closed from October 1st to November 10th each year for lambing. In winter, the track can be slippery, and it is avalanche terrain above the 1000 metre mark.
Isthmus Peak: The track is closed from November 20th to December 20th each year for fawning.
Ben Lomond: Ben Lomond is open all year round, although in the winter you likely will need to carry and use crampons and an ice axe.
Saddle at Ben Lomond
Roys Peak: The summit is 1378 metres above sea level (the viewpoint is ~1300 metres above sea level).
Isthmus Peak: The summit is 1386 metres above sea level.
Ben Lomond: The summit is 1748 metres above sea level.
Isthmus Peak track overlooking Lake Hawea
All three of the hikes have 95%+ of the elevation gain on the way up to the summit.
Roys Peak: The return trip has about 1000 metres of elevation gain (to the viewpoint).There’s another 200 metres or so of elevation to the summit.
Isthmus Peak: The return trip has about 1000 metres of elevation gain.
Ben Lomond: The return trip has about 1600 metres of elevation gain.
All of these hikes contain a significant amount of incline, with minimal sections of flat track.
That said Roys Peak is considered to be the easiest of the three, particularly if you are turning around at the viewpoint.
Isthmus Peak is slightly more difficult with the terrain.
The Ben Lomond Track has the most technical terrain, particularly the last 1.5km from the saddle to the summit.
These stats are collected from WildThings.club. The numbers aren’t precise, but give you an idea of what kind of terrain you can expect.
100% Easy Single Track
Technical Single Track: 5%
Moderate Single Track: 15%
Easy Single Track: 25%
Farm Road / 4WD Track: 55%
Technical Single Track: 20%
Moderate Single Track: 20%
Easy Single Track: 60%
Roys Peak is the best option for sunrise. While it’s the most touristy track, you’ll have the benefit of beating the majority of the crowds with an early start.
The sunrise from Ben Lomond is great, but it’s a longer walk meaning you’ll need to wake up that much earlier. Ugh.
Roys Peak: The car park is ~7km from Wanaka. The car park can get full, but you should be okay with a good parking spot with a somewhat early start.
Isthmus Peak: The car park is ~31km from Wanaka, and ~17km from Lake Hawea. This is no problem if you’ve got a vehicle, but otherwise it’s a little inconvenient.
Ben Lomond Track: Via the Tiki Trail, the trailhead is literally on your doorstep. There’s some parking nearby, but often will have a time limit so you might need to park a little further away where there’s residential parking such as on Isle Street, or Malaghan Street.
With Roys Peak and Isthmus Peak there are various shuttle companies that can take you to/from the trail head.
Roys Peak: There’s a toilet at the bottom of the track (50 metres beyond the trailhead). One available at the viewpoint.
Isthmus Peak: There are no facilities available on the track.
Ben Lomond: Once you get past the Skyline, there are no toilets, or rubbish bins. There’s one picnic seat at the saddle.
Roys Peak Track: 4.8/5 stars after 200+ reviews.
Isthmus Peak: 4.9/5 after 30+ reviews.
Ben Lomond: 4.9/5 after 130+ reviews.
They all rate highly on Google Maps which is a good sign that you can’t go wrong with any of the three.
So Roys Peak Track vs. Isthmus Peak Track vs. Ben Lomond Track. Is there a clear winner?
As I mentioned earlier, it depends. If you’re going on a trail with people who aren’t avid hikers, you can’t go wrong with Roys Peak which is the easiest of the three.
Personally, I love Ben Lomond the most as it’s the highest of the summits, and I love working hard for the views. I do like Isthmus Peak as it feels like a bit of the unknown, being the least frequented of the three.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to consider the weather conditions as well. The DOC visitor centres are a good resource in getting the latest weather information in the coming days. In terms of online weather sites, yr.no is one of the most popular options for locals.
Have a look at the map below:
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