This challenging hike rewards with you breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Wanaka, Mt Aspiring and the surrounding peaks. It is a must-do for any Kiwi or traveller alike; especially if you’re an early bird, keen photographer or sunrise lover. It is best enjoyed whilst watching the sunrise over this incredible landscape.
Elevation: 1578m (starting elevation 200m)
Return Distance: 16km
Time: 5-6 hours return
Track: Very well maintained track. There are side tracks/shortcuts that have been unofficially created by other walkers. They can be hard to navigate in the dark. Stick to the main track if you aren’t a confident hiker.
Difficulty: Medium. A reasonable level of fitness is required. It’s a constant uphill walk to the top. If you are worried about your fitness leave early and take breaks!
Facilities: Two well-maintained toilets, one at the car park and one the beside viewpoint, byo ‘loo paper’! There is nowhere to fill your water bottles on this track so remember to bring your own.
When to go: The track is closed from the 1st of Oct to the 10th of Nov for lambing. During the winter months, only experienced hikers should attempt in snowy/ice conditions.
Trail Start: At Roy’s peak car park, located on the Mt. Aspiring Rd. 6km from Wanaka.
Getting there: Although there is a car park it fills up quick during high season. Consider cycling, organising a taxi or rideshare. Many of the hostels offer a bus service for a reasonable price. Hitchhiking is also a popular way to get back to Wanaka after finishing the hike.
Parking: Parking at the main Roy’s Peak car park and at an overflow car park nearby. During high season try to get there as early as possible as the car park fills up early!
What to wear: Bring lots of layers (and a hat and windbreaker)! You’ll be hot and sweaty on the way up but will quickly cool down (freeze!) at the top if it’s windy while you wait for the sun to rise!
Other gear: If you are planning on getting to the top for sunrise you’re going to need to bring some sort of light! The hike can be navigated with the torch on your phone but if you have a torch or headlamp bring it with you. It’ll save your phone battery to take pictures with. If you have weak knees or enjoy using hiking poles take them along. Always remember to bring sunscreen.
Food & Water: Bring lots of water! There is nowhere to fill up so its essential to bring plenty with you! Pack your breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on what time of the day you tackle this hike and enjoy while taking in the view! Bring plenty of snacks!
Other information to note: Roy’s Peak is the most Instagrammed hike in New Zealand, people have started to suggest that it’s overrated! While this hike can get very busy (I’ve heard stories of people queuing for over an hour at the viewpoint for a photo!) It is by no means overrated and has gain popularity for good reason! It is one of the most breathtaking views in New Zealand and should be on every traveller’s itinerary! If there is a massive queue at the viewpoint fear not, there are countless photo opportunities at the summit and on the way back down. Also, consider attempting for sunset to avoid the crowds!
My Roy’s Peak experience
I was backpacking through Asia when I first saw a picture of Roy’s Peak for sunrise on a friend’s Instagram. Believe it or not, it was that picture that made me decide to come to New Zealand! I remember looking at it and thinking that place looks insane, I’ve gotta go!
I first attempted to hike Roy’s Peak a year before I finally made it to the top. Our first attempt was made during my first trip to the south island, whilst travelling through the south island we were hit by a nasty sub-zero cold snap (not ideal when you’re sleeping in the back of a van that has no heating!) and my girlfriend ended up sick the night before we were set to hike. Unfortunately, we couldn’t wait around to do it another time and had to fly back to Wellington with our camera’s lacking some great photos.
Skip forward a year and we have booked flights to Queenstown with the sole intention to hike Roy’s Peak, rain hail or shine!
We arrived in Queenstown in the morning and went to The Bespoke Kitchen for brunch. The weather was amazing and we made a quick decision to do the Ben Lomond hike that day before driving to Wanaka to do Roy’s Peak the next morning. Ben Lomond was more than impressive (you can read about it here) and really got us excited for Roy’s Peak, although I don’t think it did our legs any favours!
After finishing the hike we drove to Wanaka and arrived late in the evening, grabbed a falafel kebab, went to New World for some supplies, made some sandwiches for the hike and hit the bed to catch a couple of hours sleep before we were up again to catch the sunrise!
We woke pretty tiredly but when we walked out to the car and seen a sky lit with stars we were pretty excited to get going. We left what we thought was a little early to make sure we’d get parking and luckily we did, we managed to nab one of the last spots in the main car park! While we were driving to the car park we could see a trail of lights making their way up the mountain. Some people were already pretty far up, our definitions of early must differ somewhat from others.
We parked the car, grabbed our backpacks and set off. We didn’t have torches or headlamps but instead navigated with the torches on our phones. The moon was still pretty full which also brightened the track a little. The trail was quite busy on the way up and we passed a lot of people stopping to take breaks.
As we were ascending up the mountain some clouds started to roll in and I was a little worried that we mightn’t get the sunrise we had hoped for! After about two hours of pretty intense walking, we made it to the famous Roy’s Peak viewpoint which sits about 25-30 minutes of uphill climbing below the summit. It was still a good hour or so until sunrise so we stopped and had our breakfast sandwiches. Other hikers had the same idea and there was a good atmosphere! One group of hikers had even brought a gas stove and were making fresh coffee, now that’s commitment!
After a quick feed, we set off again to complete the final stage of the hike to the summit. We left the main track which seemed to loop around the back and instead walked up a pretty steep ridge that overlooked the lake. We made it to the summit with about half an hour to spare. The winds at the top were strong and bitter and the wait for the sun to rise seemed long!
While waiting there were plenty of opportunities to get some great snaps of the lake covered by a bright intense red sky. The clouds had cleared somewhat and the views were even better in real life than the photos. It was a surreal moment watching the sunrise over what could be argued to be some of New Zealand’s best views and was definitely worth the two-year wait to witness in real life.
It was pretty busy when we arrived at the summit and by the time the sun was about to rise there was a lot of people there. You might have to wait for a little to get your perfect Insta pic but I promise it’ll be a picture that you’ll cherish for life. You can alternatively walk a little further past the summit or back towards the viewpoint and find your own quiet spot.
After the sun rose we made our way back down to the viewpoint! This was really busy and you had to queue to get a picture. The famous Roys Peak picture is taken from a distance with a good lens. People were queuing pretty much on the viewpoint and were way to close to replicate it. There are lots of good photos opportunities on the way back down so don’t stress or wait too long to get on the viewpoint!
We enjoyed the walk back down with great views of Lake Wanaka. The hike lived up to all expectations and while it was busy it was not too busy to spoil it! If you’re undecided about whether or not to do it I say go for it! You won’t regret it:)