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 most good views, there’s a price to be paid and that price is a 15 km (9 miles) return walk on a track that climbs just over 1,240m to the 1,578m summit of Roys Peak. So is it worth the climb? Without a doubt, yes!
The Roys Peak Track starts at a carpark on the left hand side of Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road, about 6.5 km 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 15 km’ 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 3,000km (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 12 km 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 your way to the start of the track. ?
Roys Peak shuttle services & taxis
Ritchies run regular shuttle services from their Wanaka depot but you will have to stick to their schedule unless there are enough of you to justify a special charter. You can check their schedule and get up-to-date pricing here.
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 Yello! Cabs.
The above operators also provide shuttle services from Queenstown.
Track Details and Top Tips
|Distance:||15.6km (9.7 miles) return, via the same track|
|Walking time:||5 – 6 hours return|
|Fitness level:||Moderate to High|
|Elevation gain:||1,242m (4,074 feet)|
|Track type:||Dirt farm road/track becoming single gravel track. Well formed and easy to follow.|
|Track start coordinates:||44°40’24.5″S 169°04’18.4″E|
NTZM: 5045810N 1288640E
Google Maps: -44.6734826,169.0717873
- 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.
- When is the best time to do the Roys Peak hike? 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.
On the day that we chose to hike 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 website for the most up to date information about this when planning your walk.
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 6 km. 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.
Final Push to the Summit
From the first ridge lookout point the track continues upwards for another 1.5 km, 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.
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 3,000m, 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.
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. For the latest Roys Peak Track weather forecast 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. To check more detailed local weather conditions and forecasts including wind, rain, temperature and cloud cover we use, and highly recommend, Windy.com.
As with all things weather related, the usual caveats and common sense should apply as no forecast is 100% accurate.
Hiking the Roys Peak Track in winter
The Roys Peak track is possibly even more beautiful with a dusting of snow. But the more snow there is, unsurprisingly, the more challenging this track becomes with whiteouts and even avalanches possible. Winter is officially from June to August but there can be snow any time from late May to early November. Avalanche warnings are usually posted at the start of affected tracks, but it also pays to visit the official avalanche advisory website before climbing, not just for Wanaka, but for any alpine climb in New Zealand.
Roys Peak crowds
Ok, so we’ve told you lot’s of good stuff about the Roys Peak Track but here’s a bit of a reality check. Remember how at the beginning of this article we were saying how the parking area can fill up in summer? Well, like many places in the world that have become ‘Insta-famous’, you’re going to have to deal with crowds. So if the thought of standing in a queue on Roys Peak fills you with dread, you may want to give this hike a miss. Or start walking in the dark like we did.
Roys Peak or Ben Lomond, which is harder?
If you’re exploring the Queenstown and Wanaka area and interested in climbing Roys Peak, you might also be interested to climb Ben Lomond. While Ben Lomond does offer some spectacular views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, it’s important to note that this climb is significantly harder than Roys Peak. While Roys Peak does climb steadily, it’s not particularly steep or dangerous if you stick to the main track.
The Ben Lomond Track on the over hand starts out relatively easily until you reach the Ben Lomond saddle where the track splits. From here, this climb becomes increasingly steep and the track is rough and rocky. Caution is advised. It is however worth the effort if you’re fit and well equipped for both the climb and the weather, which can be very different on the summit compared to the lake shore.
Also, for comparison, assuming you start walking the Ben Lomond Track from the gondola base station on Brecon Street (marked as the Tiki Trail), the total elevation gain to the summit is 1,398m (4,587 feet) compared to Roys Peak which is 1,242m (4,074 feet).
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 Aspiring Helicopters.
More Adventures Near Here
Roys Peak may be the most popular walking track close to Wanaka but a 15 km climb may not be for everyone. A good alternative is the Mount Iron Track. This 4.5 km loop track is a lot shorter and easier and while the summit is only 548m, it still has some pretty spectacular views.
Looking for more ideas on things to do and places to see when visiting the Wanaka region? Have a look at our guide, Top things to do in Wanaka.
Best of New Zealand
If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration for your next holiday, you should definitely check out our New Zealand Travel Guide. We’ve got practical advice to help you plan your trip and region guides to help you decide where to go and what to do. We also share some of our favourite experiences from our own travels around the country. Click below to find out more.