Roys Peak is one of the most amazing day walks in New Zealand. If you’re a keen hiker and you’re planning a trip to the South Island, it will undoubtedly be on your bucket list. If it isn’t, you’ll soon find out why it should be!
This incredible track attracts tourists and locals daily for its perfect sunrise, sunset, and incredibly famous viewpoint. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most instagrammable places in Aotearoa, but don’t make the mistake to think it’s celebrated just for its well-known backdrop. As one of the best things to do in the South Island, it is genuinely worth visiting.
An in-and-out track, Roys Peak is steep and unrelenting with seemingly-endless switchbacks. During the warmer months, you won’t need any specific gear or skills to walk the track, but if there’s snow around (as is often the case in the wintertime), you’ll need additional equipment. We cover what to expect in each season in this article.
The track itself is challenging due to the elevation gain, but if you’re willing to take your time, it is manageable for most people.
Though most hikes (or as we say ‘tramps’) in New Zealand are free, Roys Peak is a little different. Though, at only $2 each, this walk is an absolute bargain – be sure to have a few coins ready to drop in the honesty box as you make your way from the car park to the trail.
Find out why we consider Roys Peak is one of the best things to do in Wānaka…
Hiking Roys Peak Track – Everything You Need to Know
|Time||5-7 hours return (though some people run it in much less).|
|Distance||16 kilometres return (10 miles).|
|Elevation gain||1,258 meters (4,127 feet)|
|Difficulty||Moderate to difficult.|
|Season||Open all year, apart from 1 October to 10 November, during lambing season.|
|Cost||$2 each in the honesty box – take some coins with you.|
|Closest town||Wānaka in the South Island, not far from Queenstown.|
|What to pack||Water, snacks, sun protection and a warm/waterproof layer in the cooler seasons.|
What to Expect from this World-Class Walk
Roys Peak is a moderate to difficult day hike in Wānaka, New Zealand. As mentioned before, it does not require any special skills or techniques if you hike during the warmer seasons, though with snow, it’s a different story.
The track is exposed to the elements throughout the whole walk, so we suggest you take a jacket regardless of the season you do the hike as – it gets particularly windy at the top! Also, remember to wear layers, so you easily take some off if you’re too hot, or put more on if you’re feeling chilly. The New Zealand sun is very strong, so we also suggest you wear sunscreen and pack a cap and glasses – again, regardless of the season. Sturdy, comfortable shoes are also important. The track can be done in trainers, but well-worn hiking boots are an even better choice.
The track itself is steep and requires a good level of fitness and persistence to reach the summit. The walk can get a bit mundane halfway through, as the whole hike up is quite similar with very little variety. With that said, it’s not the track itself that you’re there for – it’s those world-famous views.
You need to be ready to walk steep hills for 3 hours straight. There is not much flat area as you make your way up to the famous viewpoint but there are lots of opportunities to stop and catch your breath. The track cuts back on itself countless times, creating shortcuts that are much steeper than the track itself. Though it’s possible to make use of them, you’ll want to be very careful. If you’re an inexperienced tramper, or your fitness isn’t amazing, we really recommend sticking to the main track – it will be challenging enough.
From about halfway you’ll start overlooking Lake Wānaka and its nearby peaks. These glorious views behind you will make you forget about all the steep hill you’re in the middle of climbing – well almost.
Keep your eyes peeled for lambs and sheep too, as this is working farmland, and for alpine flora and fauna.
The Top of Roys Peak
The Roys Peak track is made famous for its instagrammable viewpoint that looks out over Lake Wānaka. From there, you’ll be able to walk out to a little ledge. This spot is perfect for taking photos and is also where most people decide to end their hike.
It is actually possible to head further up to the very top of Roys Peak. Unsurprisingly, the higher vantage point offers amazing scenic views and tranquillity.
From the famous viewpoint to the actual summit, it takes around another 30 minutes. During the winter season, this part of the track is often blanketed in snow. Though you’ll be tired, the extra effort to climb to the summit (assuming it is safe to do so) is worth it. You really will get the whole place to yourself, allowing you to admire the breathtaking view in peace.
How Difficult is the Walk? Will I Manage it?
Roys Peak is a challenge for many, but with plenty of opportunities to catch your breath, it’s more about endurance than anything else.
If you’re able to keep plugging away at an unrelenting hill, you should be fine to walk the Roys Peak Track.
Sure, it might take you longer than others, but it’ll be worth it in the end!
How to Get to Roys Peak
The Roys Peak Track is located just outside of Wānaka. It takes 5-10 minutes to drive to the car park from the Wānaka town centre, or just over an hour if departing from Queenstown.
You will see a car park on the left hand side of the road once you arrive at the track. Conveniently, the start of the track is right there.
Try to get there as early as possible, or carpool as there is limited parking available. Summer is especially busy, as it is peak tourist season in the South Island.
When is the Best Time to Hike the Track?
This question is hard to answer as everyone has different preferences when it comes to the conditions of their hike, and in this case, there really isn’t a right or wrong time to make the trip.
Let’s compare your different options…
Roys Peak at Sunrise/Sunset
A lot of people choose to walk Roys Peak for sunrise or sunset.
If you do decide to hike up to Roys Peak to catch the first or last light of the day, you will either be hiking up in the dark or coming down in the dark. A head torch is essential kit for either of these options, as is warm clothing.
Check the sunrise/sunset time in advance and allow yourself some extra breathing time, otherwise you will either be rushing your way up or miss the best moment. Consider the speed at which you walk too – some people make the climb to the lookout in less than two hours but the vast majority take much longer.
Summer on the Track: December to February
Temperature: Average 24°C (75°F)
Summer is peak season in Aotearoa. From in December and January, many New Zealanders are travelling (as this is when our longest school holidays are), and February sees many other kiwis travel (to avoid the ‘school holiday rush’ while still making the most of the sun). Unsprprisingly, this is also when many overseas tourists choose to visit – either to escape winter in the Northern Hemisphere, or to make the most of the settled weather in NZ.
If you don’t like crowds when hiking, avoid this time – both to travel in New Zealand, and to tramp Roys Peak.
Summer is the hottest time to do this hike. Though 24+ degrees might not sound too bad compared to many other countries, our sun is harsh and the track is exposed and steep – it does take a toll on you.
Remember to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated; this is especially important for the summer months.
Summer is, however, a great time to hike if you’d like the best chance of meeting people on your way up. You also won’t need to content with ice or snow and you’ll likely have beautiful clear skies to enjoy the view.
Autumn and Spring at Roys Peak: March to May
Temperature: Average 15°C (59°F)
Autumn is the shoulder season for New Zealand travel. It is right after the peak travel season in Summer and is a favourite time for many to travel.
The weather starts to cool down and fewer tourists come to the country, allowing for a more relaxed pace of travel.
We consider this the best time of year to take on Roys Peak as the temperatures aren’t as extreme as in winter or summer, and you’ll get to enjoy the scenery with less chatter around you.
Though springtime sees slightly warmer temperatures, Autumn weather tends to be more predictable which we prefer.
Don’t be tempted to go up unprepared though – you’ll still need plenty of water, snacks, sun protection and warm clothing.
Winter Walking: June to August
Temperature: Average 10°C (50°F), reaching sub-0°C (32°F) on occasion.
As a general rule, the further south you travel in New Zealand, the colder it gets – particularly in the wintertime. In Wānaka the temperature often drops below 10°C, sometimes going under freezing.
In the mountains it gets colder still, so expect a walk up Roys Peak in the winter season to be cold, windy and possibly snowy.
Earlier in the winter season you won’t necessarily need any special equipment (beyond what we recommend at any time of year), but always check the weather report and talk to locals to understand the conditions at the time. Alternatively, you’re welcome to ask for an update in NZTT.
From mid to late winter, you may require alpine hiking experience and some special equipment, such as crampons and an ice axe. At this time of year, the track can be covered in deep snow, making it hard to navigate and to keep your footing.
Be careful tramping at this time of year. Safety always comes first.
With all of that said, on a nice winter’s day, you’ll enjoy plenty of sunshine and clear views across the lake, plus you’ll be able to enjoy looking out over snowy mountain tops.
Springtime: September to November
Temperature: Average 17°C (62.6°F), but unpredictable.
Roys Peak is closed for almost half of the spring season each year. From the 1st of October until the 10th of November, the track is closed for lambing.
The start of spring can bring winter-like conditions, including snow, and even later spring can come with variable weather.
Preparing for Your Tramp
What to Pack
- Water (at least 1 litre, even more if you’re planning to walk in the summer, or you’re unfit). There is no water on the track.
- Snacks – protein bars, dried fruit and chocolates/lollies to keep sugar level up
- A packed lunch
- First aid kit or key items including plasters (in case you get a blister)
- Crampons and an ice axe (if you plan to walk in the winter)
- A rubbish bag – leave no trace on the hike.
Put everything in a comfortable day bag.
What to Wear
- Layers – these are easy to take on or off depending on the temperature. We particularly like merino wool.
- Thermal shirt as a base layer (in the cooler months)
- Windproof, waterproof jacket
- Comfortable pants – exercise tights, track pants etc. Ensure you’ll be comfortable walking long distances in them and that they’ll be ok in a range of temperatures. Jeans are not a good choice.
- Good hiking shoes – sturdy and waterproof if possible. Ankle support is a bonus, as is a good, grippy undersole. This is not the walk to break your new shoes in on.
- Warm hat/cap
Roys Peak is an incredible walk. Though it is challenging, it rewards with amazing views, making it a must-do in our eyes.
Have you hiked Roys Peak before? If so, we’d love to hear what you thought of it.
Guest post: Angel Chang.