Driving into the beautiful town of Wanaka with it’s bustling lakefront bars and cafes it’s very easy to miss Roys Peak. Your eyes will almost certainly be drawn to the distant snow-covered peaks of the southern alps and Mount Aspiring National Park, but an unassuming ridge to the west of the town offers some of the best panoramic views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding area. Of course, as with all good views, there’s a price to be paid and that price is a 15km (9 miles) return walk on a track that climbs just over 1240m to the 1578m summit of Roys Peak. So is it worth the climb? Without a doubt, yes!

Getting There

The Roys Peak Track starts at a gravel carpark on the left hand side of Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road, about 6.5km outside of Wanaka. It’s worth mentioning that this parking area is fairly small and we can see how it would fill up quickly in the peak summer season (December to February) so you may want to consider getting there via a shuttle or taxi depending on when you intend to climb.

Alternatively, if you’re in no rush and a ‘mere 15km’ is not challenging enough, you could walk to the Roys Peak carpark via Waterfall Creek Track. This easy walk, actually a tiny section of New Zealand’s 3000km (that’s not a typo) Te Araroa Trail, starts in Roys Bay and follows the western shore of Lake Wanaka. Along the way there’s an opportunity to catch a photo of That Wanaka Tree as well as a chance for some wine tasting although you may want to save that for the walk back. Bear in mind that this option will add another 12km return from the carpark at the western end of Roys Bay. You may want to consider arranging a shuttle back, possibly via the cellar door you would have passed on the walk out. 😉

Sunrise over Wanaka

Chasing Dawn

On the day that we chose to climb Roys Peak we weren’t really too concerned about parking or crowds considering that a) we were aiming to be on the summit for sunrise and b) it was late March and supposedly a ‘quieter’ time of the year. So imagine our surprise when we got to the carpark in the dark at around 5am to find about a dozen cars there already, and based on the procession of fairy lights way up on the mountain, some of them had been there for several hours. ‘So much for being the first on the mountain today’ we said to ourselves as we strapped on our headlamps and started our race to be on the summit before dawn.

Dances with Sheep

One of the advantages (or perhaps disadvantages depending on how you look at it) of walking in the dark is that you can’t see just how far you have to go. All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other as you chase a small pool of light on the ground ahead of you, the sound of your breath and the crunch of gravel underfoot both calming and peaceful. Peaceful that is until you unexpectedly encounter your first sheep in the dark with it’s rather scary looking reflective eyes. Yes, we’re city folk, so coming face to face with sheep on the track was a little unnerving, but they simply looked at us and then carried on doing whatever it is that sheep do under the cover of darkness – most likely the same thing they do the rest of the time, eat and crap.

So yes, like us you may encounter sheep on the first section of the track as it passes through a working farm. What this means is that besides the staring reflective eyes and occasional sheep-nugget surprise along the track, you’ll need to bear in mind that the track is closed in October and into November for lambing. It’s always worth checking on the DOC site for the most up to date information about this when planning your walk.

Roys Peak Track

Zigs & Zags

The track itself is easy in the sense that it is well defined and not technically challenging, but you’re going to want to be reasonably fit for this walk as it climbs with little respite in a seemingly endless series of zig zags for the first 6km. At this point you’ll reach the top of the undulating ridge for the first time where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Wanaka to the southeast and Mount Aspiring to the northwest as you look over Glendhu Bay.

For us, this first lookout was our undoing, certainly in terms of trying to reach the summit before dawn. We were so enthralled by the view that we couldn’t stop taking photos as the sky gradually came alive with oranges and yellows in the east, incredible pinks to the north and the sight of first light on Mount Aspiring.

First light on Mount Aspiring

Final Push to the Summit

From the first ridge lookout point the track continues upwards for another 1.5km, first zigzagging along the eastern side of the ridge before crossing over to the western side where the track makes its final approach to the summit. If you have a head for heights and are reasonably surefooted, you may prefer to head straight up along the ridge itself. That’s certainly the more exciting option, and we chose to come down this way, but on the way up we took the main track.

Roys Peak Track
Roys Peak ridge route

There’s a last little push as you make your way up towards the communications tower and then… the view, and what a spectacular view it is. Lake Wanaka spreads out in every direction below you, disappearing northwards between distant jagged peaks. In the northeast, nearby Lake Hawea just makes an appearance and of course to the northwest, at just over 3000m, Mount Aspiring stands tall. So yes, you may arrive on the summit a little worse for wear as this is quite a tough climb, but trust us, it’s well worth it.

Top Tips

  • There is not much in the way of shade along the track apart from low scrub. Start early if you can and hats and sunscreen are a must.
  • There is no water along the track.
  • There is a toilet near the carpark.
  • How much time should you allow for this walk? Expect to spend 5 – 6 hours on the mountain allowing time for all the photos you’re going to take.
  • The total walking distance of this track (return) is 15.6km (9.7 miles) and the total elevation gain is 1242m (4074 feet). For more details have a look at our Roys Peak topographic route map and elevation profile page.
  • When is the best time to climb Roys Peak? For those incredible magic light moments you really want to start early in the morning or late afternoon. Mornings, which is when we climbed, are best in the Spring, Winter and Autumn months while in Summer you can take advantage of the late evening light as the sun sets around 9pm in December and January.
  • The track is closed in October and into November each year. If you’re planning on doing the walk around this time, check the DOC website beforehand to confirm the exact dates.

Roys Peak Weather

One of the things we’ve learnt in our time around New Zealand is how quickly conditions can change on any given day and on the South Island, even in summer, it gets cold at altitude so take a warm, windproof layer. It was a clear day with little wind when we climbed but we ended up using all our layers on the summit. Maybe we’re just soft 😉

We always keep an eye on the weather a few days out from our activities and rely on a number of sources of information. In the case of Roys Peak weather conditions check the following:

  • The New Zealand Metservice report for Wanaka.
  • For a general weather outlook of the wider area, Metservice’s National Park forecasts are handy. In the case of Roys Peak, that falls within the Southern Lakes forecast area.
  • While Metservice does provide rain forecast maps, these cover the entire country. We prefer Metvuw’s 3 day and 5 day wind, rain and pressure maps which are specific to each island so provide a little more detail.

As with all things weather related, the usual caveats and common sense should apply as no forecast is 100% accurate.

Roys Peak Shuttle Services and Taxis

As parking at the start of the Roys Peak Track is fairly limited, particularly in peak season (Dec – Feb), you may want to consider catching a shuttle bus or taxi from Wanaka. There are a few options to choose from depending on budget and flexibility.

Ritchies (formerly Alpine Connexions) run regular shuttle services from their Wanaka depot but you will have to stick to their schedule. You can check their schedule and get up-to-date pricing here. Alternatively, you could consider their private transfer service.

Private hire shuttles or taxis are the way to go if you want more flexibility and can be quite affordable if there is a group of you. Check out:

All of the above operators also provide shuttle services from Queenstown.

Roys Peak Helicopter Flights

Let’s face it, a 15 km hike isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to enjoy the scenery in other ways, like a helicopter flight. Heading back down from our climb we saw two helicopters landing on the ridge above us and at that point, with weary legs we thought, ‘wouldn’t that be nice’. If a helicopter flight around Wanaka and the Southern Alps is more your style then check out these guys:

Have you walked the Roys Peak Track and climbed to the summit of Roys Peak? Share your experience with us.

The iconic view of Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak

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