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4 Must Do Trails in Queenstown, NZ

 4 Must Do Trails in Queenstown, NZ

Words and images: Adam Sanders

Fernhill – A classic Queenstown looper.

The start of this trail is only a few minutes from downtown Queenstown (One Mile Powerhouse), and really has it all. Steep climbs, flowing downhills, and amazing views. From the powerhouse you head straight up a forested hillside, using mountain bike switchbacks for a couple of kilometres before joining up with a well-used and rutted out track. Keep an eye out for orange markers as these will keep you on the trail you want to be on!

After a climb of about 50 minutes you pop out above the tree line and follow single track to a lonely picnic bench on the top of Fernhill proper. 4.5km and 600m of vertical gain later and you are ready for some downhill. From the picnic bench you jump back on the trail and follow it for 4km.

The trail turns into proper single track and winds in and out of gullies, through remnant beech forest and over idyllic little streams. The streams also double as perfect places to take a quick drink or refresh yourself on a hot summers day. This trail does use a lot of shared trail, so beware of mountain bikers coming up behind you!

Total: 600-700 m vert, 9-10km. This trail is great at any time of the year, but best in Summer when the trail is relatively dry.

Big Hill – This trail starts on the leafy outskirts of Arrowtown and takes you out alongside the Arrow River.

The trail weavess up and over rocky scarps, and back down to river level, where sections of single trail and bridge crossings keep it interesting. It is mostly 4WD trail for the first 10kms, and so keep your eyes peeled for these – most drivers are respectful and travel slowly! Late Summer and early Autumn is the best time for this trail as the flowers and decidous trees are showing off all their colours.

After about 10km you fork left and follow a trail past the derelict Soho homestead, a good spot to catch your breath, and get ready for the climb. Shortly after the hut you must keep an eye out for a trail that takes you left and up into the tussocked hillsides. This climb is not hard, but does take about 45 minutes of effort. Some spots are boggy and little exposed, but they don’t last long.

The view from the top of Big Hill saddle looks out over Arrowtown and the Whakatipu basin and is stunning in the early morning air. If you wish, a quick dash up to Big Hill is easy to do. The descent back down into Arrowtown is on flowy, well-padded single track and is probably my favourite part of running around Arrowtown. Dashing through beech forest, and out along the tussocked hillsides, this section of trail is one to be relished. The descent down into town is about 7km, and is easy to follow. Total for the Big Hill loop is just over 20km and about 800m vertical. This trail can be run any time of the year – some snow up on the saddle may be encountered in the middle of the winter (but


Ben Lomond – This one is for all you mountain runner types.

Ben Lomond one will test you, but let
me tell you, the views are definitely worth the strain! Note: The version I’m about to describe is different to the well-known Tiki Trail. I’ve done both and I recommend this variant. – it keeps you away from most of the crowds in the lower part. Starting from the One Mile Powerhouse the trail meanders up through pine forest, beech forest, mountain bike trails, and creek beds (having a GPS/topo map on your watch or phone for this part is recommended).

Keep a look out for signs at the major junctions! After about 3 k’s you pop out of the beech forest and join on to the Ben Lomond track proper. From here it is a sustained grunt up to the saddle, the amazing views of the lake and the mountains surrounding Queenstown keeping you motivated and engaged. After another 3 k you reach the saddle and begin your ascent up the eastern ridge of Ben Lomond.

It’s only about 1500m to the top, but it is technical, rocky and quite exposed in places – take your time and watch your step! The views are top are well worth it. Once you have basked in your summit glory, head back the way you came, either as fast as you can or at a nice, measured pace – both are sure to make your quads tired! Total is about 15km and 1400m vert.

Kelvin Heights Peninsula – This trail is a small section of the much larger Whakatipu trail network, which includes over 100km of gravel/away-from-the-road trails. The Kelvin Heights section generally starts at Frankton Beach. From there you run over the famous Kawarau outlet bridge and back down onto the shores of Lake Whakatipu.

As you pass tourists sipping cocktails at the Hilton bar, you wonder whether you should just stop here.. but hang on, it gets better. From here the trail meanders along the lake shore and up and over small bluffs, giving wonderful views of Frankton Arm, Queenstown, and Queenstown Hill. This trail has a secluded feel to it, and its easy to forget you are running right next to people’s million-dollar houses. The sounds of the lake lapping against the shore, birds playing in the trees and the mountains cast tall against the sky.

There are plenty of sights and sounds to occupy your mind as your feet do their thing. After 7km you reach a beach, a jetty, and the yacht club. This is a natural turning around point (as are many other spots along the way). On the return leg, the trail feels familiar and comfortable, and you start to wonder whether you will actually stop at the Hilton this time. This is a shared trail, but trail eqtiqueete is usually pretty good on this trail, just beware some cyclists are tourists and may not understand the rules as well as the locals.

Over 14 km it’s about 250m vert.


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