You’ve probably seen the photos, but have you heard about what it’s actually like to hike Roy’s Peak in Wanaka, New Zealand? I’ll share my experiences, tips, and just a few of the many photos taken on our day hike in Wanaka!
Arguably one of the most famous hikes in New Zealand, Roy’s Peak offers incredible panoramic views across Lake Wanaka with mountains stretching as far as you can see. For outdoor nature lovers and keen fitness fans alike, it’s the perfect way to experience the epitome of New Zealand’s landscape in just a day, and ease yourself into New Zealand hiking. Here are my top tips, day hike itinerary, and inspirations for completing the Roy’s Peak track in winter!
Where is Roy’s Peak?
Roy’s Peak is less than a 10 minute drive along the lakefront in Wanaka, New Zealand. There is a car park at the base of the mountain where the track begins, with a toilet just 2 minutes walk away. Due to the track’s popularity, the car park can be busy so leave plenty of time to find a space.
How long does the Roy’s Peak hike take?
It’s suggested that the Roy’s Peak hike takes up to 6 hours as a return track. If you’re of a reasonable fitness level, you should be able to complete the hike in the lower bracket of 4 – 5 hours on a fine day.
Check ahead the day before and morning you plan to hike for any weather warnings or closures. If you’re hiking Roy’s Peak in winter there is an ongoing alert for snow and ice with advice to bring sufficient equipment for the weather, as well as winter alpine experience.
We completed the Roy’s Peak track in around 5 hours (we did break for around 30 minutes at the top, of course!). For us this was taking a fairly steady pace in good weather, reaching all the way to the summit which is an additional 30 minutes from the viewpoint.
Is there parking at Roy’s Peak track?
Yes, there is a car park at the start of the Roy’s Peak track. However, as this is a popular and busy day hike, parking spaces are limited and you may need to find alternative parking on particularly busy days of the peak season.
What do I need to know about hiking Roy’s Peak?
- The track is consistently steep and zig zags up the mountainside. While this has the benefit of being an efficient and speedy way to ascend, it can be physically demanding. Bring trekking poles if you feel like they will help you protect from heavy impact on your body and avoid injury.
- Most people don’t actually realise that the iconic viewpoint overlooking the lake is NOT the summit. An additional steep 30 minutes of a looser terrain and icy conditions (in colder months) leads you to the actual summit. This extra phase is entirely worth it; it’s less crowded, the views are phenomenal, and the sense of achievement is like nothing else.
- It can be very busy. Not in the traditional sense of a packed path in the centre of London, but in the sense that there is more chattering, waiting for people to pass in narrow places, nodding the odd “hello”, and generally more movement than one might expect. I anticipated a busy track because the weather was so darn perfect, and the hike has been increasingly gaining popularity recently. However, we were there mid-season (between autumn and winter), so in the peak seasons I can imagine the track is even busier. You might like to choose another track or pick a time that might be less crowded (such as early morning or for sunset) if you prefer peace and quiet, or the view to yourself! I’m not kidding when I say there was a literal queue waiting for the coveted Roy’s Peak Shot… and yes I waited my damn turn.
- People like to stray from the path. Due to the nature of the track’s sharp incline, people have formed their own paths cutting the corners (which in my opinion makes life a lot harder!) and going off-piste. It’s your own decision to veer off the route, but bear in mind it might be more slippery or even steeper – make sensible decisions as to whether it’s worth the risk!
What should I bring for hiking Roy’s Peak?
Common hiking essentials are a must, plus a few items relevant to an NZ hike. Items to remember for a day hike include:
- Water – no matter the season staying hydrated is essential.
- Sun screen – even in the cooler months the sun is very strong in NZ.
- Snacks – it’s a long day so keep up your energy!
- Sensible clothing – comfort and flexibility is key for any hike.
- A rain jacket – NZ weather can be unpredictable especially around the mountains.
- A warm jumper – The peak itself is very exposed and chilly, particularly in cooler months.
- Sturdy shoes – some of the track is slippery in winter weather due to ice, and with loose rocks it’s important to protect yourself from injury.
- Trekking poles – the descent can be hard on weaker knees so know your fitness level before setting out.
- Head phones – don’t impose your music choices, regardless of how great you think it is, on everyone else. We’re here for the views not for a concert!
- Camera – the views are unmissable and you’ll want to capture your achievement!
Of course for a shorter hike such as this, overpacking is only going to slow you down so only bring what you need and keep safe!
Hiking Roy’s Peak – Return Day Hike Itinerary
We started our hike having arrived at the car park around mid-morning. The Roy’s Peak car park was already fairly full, but we luckily found a convenient spot right near the entrance – one panic over!
The beginning of the hike is a sharp incline, which although does not feel like much distance covered, the height gained is quickly realised with the views presented of Wanaka behind!
We continued on the winding path, grateful for the occasional breeze but even more grateful for this cloudless day. Time to apply another bit of sun screen and rehydrate!
Around an hour in and I was beginning to get cranky. The views and consistently incredible, however the nature of the hike means you don’t get much variety. After the first hour it felt like we were slowing down and struggling to make progress. The path thankfully became slightly flatter which meant a chance to capture some of the landscape laid out before us and rest for a snack to keep our energy (and morale!) up. That makes it all worthwhile!
Getting to the view point
Before we knew it, we were at the viewpoint at a little under 2 hours in. Hooray! The last hour of incline whizzed by, with more hikers heading down than seemed to be going up, and the terrain quickly changed to be muddy and in some patches icy.
We paused at the viewpoint for a pat on the back and a quick guzzle of water before heading up towards the summit, marked as a further 30 minutes to go. This part of the track was heading away from the viewpoint and bending around the mountains’ other side, so we were treated to yet more indescribable mountain views!
Reaching the summit
A little over the expected time, but 40 minutes later and a real struggle for my poor knees and hip we made it to the summit of Roy’s Peak! We were thrilled, if also a little overwhelmed and cold. The very top and final stretch was layered with snow and ice, the track clearly less beaten, and the path narrow. It made for a scary adventure at times, but at this point I knew I just wanted to persevere to the end.
Enjoying every angle of the view we could, we didn’t linger at the top due to frosty fingers and an eagerness to get to the viewpoint and enjoy a well-deserved lunch!
Beginning the descent
With the relief of finally moving our legs in a different direction, we revelled in the views and snapped away along the descent back to the viewpoint.
Once back to the busier area with plenty of fellow hikers taking a rest, we had lunch and facilities breaks (there is a basic toilet at the viewpoint) before attempting to capture The Roy’s Peak Photo. We made it thankfully, but the wind and narrow path made a combination that didn’t make us want to stick around for too long! While most visitors relish the chance to capture the shot that is seen so often, I actually found myself drawn westward towards the mountains with an incredible hue and texture – I was enthralled!
We continued on, satisfied with our haul of memories and photos to prove that yes, we made it! The descent was expectedly tiring, the elevation was difficult on our knees and legs but as the sun was beginning to fade behind the mountains we were cooler and the path was quieter.
We paused only occasionally on the way down, to give our toes a rest and to drink as often as we could. I was very aware of feeling dehydrated by this point, it’s always crucial to overcompensate on the amount of water needed. Even in this cooler climate and season the walk is tiring and you WILL sweat, it’s physical excursion after all! Bring as much water as possible, you’ll thank yourself for it I promise.
The return trip for us was a chance to feel reflective and accomplished, enjoy each others’ company and simply be in the moment. Fewer people and the fact we’d seen the landscape on the ascent really helped this, and we were glad for a break from feeling like we had to capture new vantage points at every turn.
Making it to the car park & celebrating!
Before we knew it we’d completed the hike! Day treks are sometimes strange in that they come and go so fast but while you’re doing the hiking they seem endless – so here we were with a full evening to enjoy and relax! We grabbed a pizza and headed to our Airbnb to completely relax, shower, and go through our photos – the perfect end to an amazing day.
And there we have it, one Roy’s Peak day hike completed! It really was an awesome day, despite my constant toddler style complaining and sore knees, we were so glad to have done such an iconic New Zealand day hike.
When I compare Roy’s Peak to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, they are two very different day hikes. Roy’s Peak is certainly an easier, shorter, and more efficiently rewarding hike which makes it ideal for beginners or those casually looking to gain some elevation to see New Zealand from a new perspective. I truly believe that one of the best ways to see NZ is from above, and this will certainly get you started!
What are your favourite day hikes? Have you taken the Roy’s Peak track? Share your stories and tips, I’d love to hear them!
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