I’ve never been an avid hiker; I have attempted a few short and long hikes over the years, but it wasn’t until I got to New Zealand that I realized how much I enjoy hiking. The South Island is known for its incredible trails with captivating scenery. Wanaka in particular has many must-do hikes, one of which is the popular Roy’s Peak, a rigorous uphill climb with breathtaking views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and the surrounding mountain peaks. The exertion and pain is rewarded when you’re standing on a trail overlooking the the best views in New Zealand.
On the day of the hike, I set alarms for sunrise, aiming to get an early start. The track starts at the Roy’s Peak Track car park about 6 km from the Wanaka township on Mt Aspiring Road. When we got there at 8:30 am, the car park was still relatively empty. There is parking on both sides of the road, but be warned – the lot fills up quickly.
The day was clear with little clouds on the horizon – perfect conditions to see the beautiful views of the lakes and surrounding mountains. It was only 14 degrees Celsius, but the sun was so powerful that it actually felt warmer after a few minutes of vigorous walking. The entire trail is exposed and provides little to no shade. It’s recommended that you bring sunscreen and lots of water to prevent burns and dehydration.
This very popular and challenging track winds along a 4 wheel drive track going from the car park to the 1578m summit, with a total elevation gain of 1300 m. According to the DoCNZ, the track covers 16 km and takes 5-6 hours for the return journey. Alternately, you can take a more direct path straight up the hill, which will decrease the total distance down to 11 km. Obviously the steeper climb is more treacherous and taxing on your body. We opted for the longer zig-zagging route.
Note: The track is closed in Spring from October 1 to November 10 for lambing season.
There are two sections to this walk – the first section crosses over private land, while the second goes through The Stack Conservation Area. Remember to be respectful of the landowner’s property and adhere to the rules. The first section starts at the parking lot where you climb over a stile onto a grassy paddock. On the this part of the walk, you’ll find a lot of thistle and thorn bushes along with grazing sheep. Be careful where you step, because there is sheep and cow poo everywhere. You will eventually cross over four stiles before reaching the conservation area which is managed by the DoCNZ. The second half of the trail is rockier and sheep-free. Up here the vegetation changes from grassland to alpine tussock.
The wide path winds itself around the mountain in a constant zigzag. The monotonous uphill climb instantly took a toll on my lungs. Within the first 5 minutes I was already exhausted, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. There are only a handful of times where the trail flattens out, but that does not last long. This hike is not technically hard like the Tongariro Alpine Crossing because there are no rock scrambles, no steep slippery slopes, and no rope assisted climbs, but the unrelenting uphill trek still pushed me to my limits. For the next two and a half hours, I slowly pushed myself up that mountain one step at a time. On the way up, I saw an old guy literally running up the side of the mountain, putting me to shame – New Zealanders are hardcore. I might have been hallucinating at the end, but each sheep that I passed seemed to be laughing at my struggle.
Even though the climb was hard, the views were also amazing right from the start, and got increasingly better as you climbed. The panoramic views of the mountains, lakes, and Wanaka town will leave you breathless, if the climb doesn’t. You’ll be tempted to stop every 5 to 10 minutes for photos, or use that as an excuse to catch your breath, like me. From the fourth stile, it is another 2 km to get to the famous lookout where you can see most of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding peaks of Mount Aspiring.
After 3 hours from the start, we turned the corner and finally made it to the ridge, the highly photogenic spot that can be seen all over Instagram and travel blogs. The view was stunning, and the place was crowded, full of people taking turns running out onto the ledge to strike the classic Roys Peak pose. Even though it’s cliché, we patiently waited for our turn to get our own epic shot.
The path onto the ridge is narrow and precariously perched over the steep drops on either side. It’s even scarier when the wind is blowing hard, making me sway like a drunk person. I had many moments of vertigo when I realized just how high up I was and there was nothing to stop me should I fall! I’m not going to lie, I prayed pretty hard to not get blown off the mountain. The things we do for a photo right? Once I reached the end of the path there is a tiny platform where you can pause to admire the views and pose for pictures. It took all of my courage, to just stand up for a quick photo, I don’t know how some people were jumping around out there. After we finished, we decided to take a break and have our lunch by a grassy knoll, while watching people do all kinds of silly poses. As the afternoon wore on, more and more people came, waiting to take the iconic photo causing quite a backlog.
It’s worth noting that this is not the actual Roy’s Peak. From here you can opt to hike for another 45 minutes to reach the actual summit. This part is even steeper and harder to get to, so if you’re tired, you can choose to turn back after the ridge, like most people. After lunch, we decided to keep climbing, but after another 30 minutes, we didn’t think the views were that different, so decided to turn back around.
The way down was a lot faster than I expected, taking us about two hours to get to the bottom. Even though it was faster, the constant downhill was still pretty hard on our knees and feet. We got to the bottom at 2:30 pm, the whole trip taking a total of 6 hours including time for rest stops and lunch. To be honest, I was actually quite impressed considering that we took forever to get to the top. Overall, I think this is a great day-hike, especially for the iconic views of the Wanaka region.