So you have seen the summit pictures, you have heard about the brutal ascent, and it is now time to venture out yourself to one of New Zealand’s most epic hikes - Roys Peak. Located in the heart of Wanaka, the Roys Peak hike is by far the most popular hiking option for those visiting the area. And believe me it is for good reason! The views during the ascent/descent of Lake Wanaka, alongside the incredible summit views, makes Roys Peak a must do in my book. This post will be your go to guide for all you need to know to take part of this one of a kind climb as well as go a bit into how to avoid the crowds.
1) Roys Peak Hike Overview
The Roys Peak hike is no easy hiking trail. It is a near continuous snake like ascent for 3+ hours towards the summit and it can get quite steep at times. Below are some quick facts about the trail that are good to know before you go:
Length: 16KM (8KM each way) / 10 Miles (5 Miles each way)
Duration: 4-6 hours but can be even longer depending on fitness
Trail Surface: Dirt / Rocky Path
Trail Type: One Way Up / Same Way Down
Elevation Gain: 1,228 Meters / 4,029 Feet
Summit Elevation: 1,578 Meters / 5,177 Feet
Note: there is a $2 entrance fee
2) Where is Roys Peak
The Roys Peak hike is conveniently located just 5 minutes away from the town center of Wanaka. Having your own car would be the easiest option to get to the starting point. If you don’t have one, hostels/hotels can arrange either a taxi or group van to the beginning of the track. You may also have some luck with catching a ride with others as many people head out for the trail on a daily basis.
To get there yourself though, simply type in “Roys Peak Track Parking” into Google Maps and you should be directed right towards the base of the trail. There is a pretty large parking lot area on the left hand side of the road (if coming from Wanaka) but beware it can fill up during peak times.
Once you are all set at the parking lot, simply follow the path towards the left hand side facing the mountain and start making your way up.
3) When to Hike
When I plan my hikes during a trip I usually like to plan them around the best possible weather window and Roys Peak is no exception. Of course that cannot always be the case if you only have a certain amount of time in a city, but the more flexibility you have the better. Since Roys Peak is at 1,578 meters in elevation, there can be clouds that surround the peak at time.
You will want to head up on a day/time when rain and cloud coverage is at the lowest. By doing so you not only will have clear weather on the mountain, but you will also have clear weather around the lake and surrounding mountains. Having that clear view will make all the difference.
4) What to Bring to the Roys Peak Hike
If you are wondering what to bring along when taking part of hikes in general take a look at the comprehensive Hiking Packing List that I put together. It includes everything I bring along on day hikes, and it will have you better prepared when taking part of trails all over New Zealand. The list includes several different essentials such as:
Hiking Shoes | Keen Targhee
Water Bottle | CamelBak Chute
Action Camera | GoPro Hero 9
Rain Jacket | Columbia Watertight II
Backpack Rain Cover | Joy Walker Cover
Portable Charger | Anker Powercore
Hiking Backpack | Osprey Talon 22
Note About Clothing Layers: With hikes like Roys Peak, you will definitely be sweating and using all your energy during the ascent. Having a t shirt and shorts will be a good option to not overheat. However, once you get to the top and you stop moving, you will start to feel that cool mountain air hit you.
At that point you will most likely want to bundle up and keep warm with some pants and a sweater / light jacket. This will of course depend on the weather for the day as well as what time of year you go but just be prepared either way!
5) The Ascent
The toughest part of the Roys Peak hike is no doubt the ascent up. As you face the mountain you can see the zig zagging trail making its way towards the peak. During most of the hike you can actually see the summit so you always have a good idea how close you are getting.
The trail is pretty standard for New Zealand. It’s made up of dirt and rock with a pretty consistent inclines and it can get a bit steep at times.
I do hear a lot of people complaining about the ascent, and although it is difficult, I don’t hear too much about the beautiful views of Lake Wanaka. For me, walking up the path was not as difficult when you are able to distract yourself with the consistent views of Lake Wanaka, the various surrounding mountains, and the town itself.
As you get higher and higher, the views just get more and more impressive. So even though it is a tough climb, I would say the views going up the trail more than make up for it.
6) Viewpoint #1 – The Picture
The first viewpoint is about 30 minutes away from the true summit. But this is the viewpoint that has became so famous over the years. You will need to make your way along the ridge and toward the end of the rock, where you can take in some amazing views and get that iconic photo taken.
After finishing up with the viewpoint, follow the path up to the second viewpoint and continue to take in the amazing landscape in every direction.
Beware here: I have heard at times the lines here to get the solo shot can be 30+ minutes long. So just brace yourself for a wait if you are headed there during a busier time.
7) Viewpoint 2 – The Peak
After taking in the first viewpoint, continue the last 30 minute ascent towards the top. Your goal here is to get to the big poles that you have been staring at for the last 3+ hours.
This marks the top of Roys Peak and you will be able to take in the entirety of Lake Wanaka down below. On a clear day you can even get a straight shot of Mt. Aspiring with plenty of other mountain peaks out in the distance.
8) The Descent
Just because you made it all the way to the top, does not mean the hard work is over just yet. After spending some time enjoying the viewpoints, it is time to make your way down the same way you came.
You will zig zag your way back down the mountain and towards the parking lot. As with many descents, it can get quite hard on your knees as it is a near constant downhill. So just take it easy and go down at your own pace to avoid any injury.
9) How to Avoid the Crowds at Roys Peak
The final question you may be wondering is how to avoid the crowds on such a popular trail. Since Roys Peak is the one hike that nearly everyone wants to do during their time in Wanaka, it can get quite crowded on the mountain. So with that said, here was my thought process to avoid the crowded ascent and enjoy the peak with few people around:
Sunrise is one of the most popular times to visit the summit. This means a very early morning wakeup call, followed by a dark climb to the summit, and then watching the sunrise over Lake Wanaka with the rest of your fellow climbers. It can get quite crowded up top during this time but the sunrise views are probably the best you can ask for on a clear day.
The other time you see the crowds would be during the mid morning – early afternoon. Since many people don’t care so much for sunrise, you will see the crowds begin their ascent around the 9AM – 11AM timeframe.
Since it is a 6+ hour day, starting any later than that may end up with you hiking back down in the dark. On top of that, the sun is strongest in the early afternoon, so avoiding that time during the ascent is another reason not to start too late.
So then, when is the best time to avoid the crowds?
I came up with the hypothesis that starting an HOUR BEFORE SUNRISE would be the optimal time to avoid the crowds. I mean who else would want to wake up early and NOT see sunrise at the peak? I did not care too much about being at the top for sunrise and knew if I started later in the morning, the non-sunrise hikers will begin to hit the trail.
Well, I ended up being pretty spot on, as when I got to the parking lot, there was no one that I could see on their way up or arriving at that time. While the lot was full of cars, those people were already near the top of the mountain waiting for sunrise.
The first hour of the hike was in the dark but not dark enough to use a flashlight. I soon was able to see the beautiful view of Lake Wanaka and I enjoyed the sunrise during my ascent.
I think during my time up the trail, I must have only saw a handful of other people going up. As I got closer to the top, most of those people who were up there for sunrise were already on their way down back to their cars.
The first viewpoint had just a few people waiting for pictures – I just had to wait about 5 minutes or so, and when I got to the peak with one other guy I met on the trail, we were the ONLY two people up there.
We thought we may have been at the wrong place initially! It was a surreal experience being at the top and enjoying the view without the craziness of the crowds. Just spending the 30 minutes up top in complete peace and quiet, taking in the surroundings will be a memory I won’t forget.
So, is that the solution to avoid the crowds or did I just get super lucky? Comment down below if you decide to give it a try yourself!
10) Where to Stay in Wanaka
Wanaka was one of my favorite spots in New Zealand. It is a small lakeside town with plenty of small restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops. There are several accommodation options to choose from at various price points. Below are some recommended options to browse through:
1. YHA Wanaka
3. Wanaka Kiwi
Mid Tier / Luxury
3. The Moorings
Now that you have read through this guide to the Roys Peak hike, I sure hope you are better prepared for the climb and have a better idea of what to expect along the way. If you have any questions or comments, write them in below! Also feel free to check out the other New Zealand itineraries and guides up on the site. Have fun out there and safe travels!
Some of the guides currently up on the site include: