An iconic hike in Wanaka, and cover photo mecca, Roys Peak is a challenging hike up 4000+ feet to expansive views of Lake Wanaka and the Wanaka townships. While it isn’t a fjord, the views are fjord like with the lake stretching on 27 miles into the distance. The mountains surrounding it reach upwards of 6500 feet (2000 m) and form the iconic u-shape of the lake’s valley. This hike is wonderfully graded but is definitely challenging and hikers should be in good shape if attempting.
Distance: 10 miles/16 km round trip
Elevation gain: 4265 feet/1300 m
Time: 6-8 hours
When to hike Roys Peak:
** The trail is CLOSED October 1-Nov 10 for lambing season. You will not be able to hike this area at all during those dates. **
Nov- Dec is spring and the trail will be more green and less busy, but there is greater potential for foul weather. Jan-Feb are the best months weather wise but also VERY popular. The car park very frequently fills by 9AM in the morning. Fall, Mar- Apr will be less crowded but again- you risk a rainy day. If you are visiting in the winter May-September, the NZ DOC recommends you have alpine equipment (ice axe/ crampons) to attempt this hike.
The trailhead is a large parking area on the leftside of the road 6.6 km/ outside of Wanaka center and will only take around 7 minutes to get there. There are porta potties just past the start of the track and again about 6.5km up at the lookout but no toilet paper is supplied- pack your own.
The track as mentioned is well graded and at a constant incline switch backing up the hill. There are a few places people have cut across the switchbacks creating shortcuts but these are often VERY steep and slippery- taking just as long and are more fatiguing than just staying on the trail. To protect the environment- please stay on the track and quit adding to the slope erosion. The view doesn’t change much (depending on the weather) as you have largely the same view the whole time. The sheep however are so cute and entertaining so it still makes for an interesting hike. We loved all the little lambs running around first week of December.
The Roy’s Peak lookout
The lookout is about 6.5 km/ 4 miles and is a great goal if you don’t think you can make it to the very top. It’s still about 3700-4000 feet of gain meaning it is still hard, but it will shave off 1-1.5 hours of your hiking time to stop here. This is also where the iconic “gram” photos happen.
Our hike experience:
We were visiting the first week of December during a horrible rainy week. We’d gotten rained out of our plans of camping in Mt Cook National Park for 2 nights and ended up in Wanaka for 3 nights/ 3 days instead. It rained… every. Single. Day. Luckily we heard about a pretty great weather reporting site for NZ called YR.No And on our 1st full day we noticed the rain was supposed to lighten around 2 PM. So 2 PM is when we started up the mountain with moments of dry weather but still raining. The views were mostly clear at least so we had a view as we climbed up.
We reached the lookout after 2.5 hours of climbing and the entire lake, trail, and most of the iconic ridges were completely hidden in clouds. We hiked down the ridge a little ways to make sure we’d notice if it cleared enough to grab some photos. We sat out there for a miserable 30 minutes, with arctic wind gusts, hail, rain, and a constant cold wind as a companion. I didn’t want to give up on the clouds clearing from the view though! There was only 1 other couple at the time and they left after about 15 minutes. Just as Braden was giving up himself (and threatening to leave me up there) the wind picked up indicating the clouds would likely shift more.
Shift they did- WOW we got the view AND the peak to ourselves for 10+ minutes before another couple who started after us made it to the lookout with much better timing. Considering it was still very windy and cold, we hiked back down the trail to a more sheltered area for even more photos in the glorious sun. Then it was on down the trail to the end. With the constant downhill- my knees thanked me for packing my hiking poles.
While we were pretty disappointed to miss out on all the hikes we’d planned in Mount Cook National Park, being able to hike to Roys Peak and get the iconic view plus a wild hiking experience semi made up for it. They actually closed the track along with many others the next day due to the rain making the trails so muddy. (Wanaka itself flooded as well) Just another example of why you should be flexible with your travel plans and look on the bright side. While we missed Mount Cook, we were still able to do this truly incredible hike.
See nearby posts:
Guide to Wanaka
Complete Guide to Milford Sound