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Queen’s Drive, Remarkables

Duration: Full day from Queenstown
Distance: 5km, 4-6 hours with some off piste
Rating: Moderate
Available: Once snow has melted, usually Dec-April

The Queen’s Drive at the top of Remarkables is — hands down — my favourite Queenstown day hike. It’s a fun and very rewarding challenge for less experienced hikers, yet there’s plenty here for more experienced trekkers to sink their teeth into. The ever-changing textures underfoot lead to a feast of dramatic panoramas around each bend and nothing else compares in terms of alpine scenery.

We’ll start by driving 13km up the scenic Remarkables Ski field road and quickly gain 1600m without even breaking a sweat. Although there’s convenient access, the loop I’ll take you on is not marked, so we don’t often encounter other hikers until the last section when it meets up with the more popular Lake Alta trail. It’s a steady walk uphill on a gravel maintenance road for the first 45 minutes or so to reach the ridge on the western side of the Remarkables. Or if you’re up for a longer walk, we can start lower and pick our way up through the tussocks first.

Up on the ridge line, the views open up quite dramatically as the terrain drops away sharply. It’s hard to believe we only left Queenstown a short while ago and yet the hustle and bustle now feel as far away as it looks from way up here. If that climb didn’t get your heart pumping, the uninterrupted view of Lake Wakatipu on our right — 1700m below the exposed ledge we’re carefully negotiating now — should do the trick. Above us, the clouds scrape along the tops of jagged peaks just beyond reach.

This was the best tramp in New Zealand for me… it clearly outperforms the Abel Tasman! THANK YOU for that experience MARK!!!!! (read full review)
– Josephine from Germany, January 2013

The rocky trail fades out at the edge of a vast boulder field. It’s natural to tense up as the uneven terrain tests your balance, but take a deep breath and relax into it; your boots have more grip than you may think. Once you get the hang of rolling and jumping from edge to edge, it becomes a sort of moving meditation. Don’t think and simply allow your legs to keep moving forward fluidly across the tops of the broken slabs in your own rhythm.

As there’s no set track, the Queen’s Drive hike is slightly different each time, which is part of its appeal. We’ll cut across to the left once we spot a large rocky outcropping and then it’s only a bit further to the picnic spot. We’ll enjoy lunch with yet another jaw-dropping view down the glacier-carved Wakatipu Basin dotted with tarns. We have plenty of time to soak in the views of Ben Lomond, Coronet Peak, Mount Earnslaw, and even the peaks of Fiordland beyond and have a closer look at the sub-alpine plants.

After a rejuvenating rest, it’s not far to scramble up to our highest point of the day, a flat spot on the ridge at 2200m that’s sometimes used as a helipad. From here we can see Lake Alta, a picturesque alpine lake below us. It’s time to switch muscles as we wind our way downhill through the tussocks back to where we started.

Walking the Queen’s Drive is always a day to remember. Now each time you look up at the Remarkables, you’ll see a trace of our route like a scar just below the ridgeline and marvel at its rugged beauty with a deeper appreciation and sense of pride. Can’t wait to get back up there again.

Queen’s Drive, Remarkables