Roy’s Peak Track in New Zealand: The Best Sunrise in the South Island

Overview

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

Roy’s Peak is the quintessential Wanaka hike, but it’s an absolute beast. It’s 8km each way and a grind all the way to the top. With that being said though, the views from the top are absolutely unbeatable and it’s 100% worth the effort. Here’s a bit more information:

How to find Roy’s Peak Track

The Roy’s Peak Track is just minutes from the town of Wanaka (6km) on Mt. Aspiring Road. Plug it into Google maps and you’ll easily find the trailhead car park. It’s a big car park, but by the time we got down from our hike, the entire thing was completely full. The trailhead is easy to spot, and well signposted.

The Hike

As I mentioned, the hike is an absolute beast of a day hike, and considering how long it is, it’s unbelievably popular.

In Canada, it’s rare to see another soul on a 16km + hike, but there must have been well over a hundred hikers on the morning we did it (early April). It’s probably because it’s only minutes from town and easily the best spot for sunrise.

The actual hike itself winds upwards with countless switchbacks and a fairly steep, constant gradient. We set off at around 3.15am and hiked the entire way up in the dark; this is probably a good way to do it as the views are fairly constant throughout the hike and it’s nice to catch your first glimpses of the view from the top!

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

Hike Stats

Elevation gain: 1228m (much bigger than you’d think just by looking at it)

Total distance: 16km round trip

Difficulty rating: 3/5. Yes it’s long and steep but it’s also a very nice trail with almost zero exposure.

Other things to note: The track is closed for lambing from 1 October – 10 November each year. Avalanche risk above 1000m in Winter and winter equipment might be necessary (crampons etc).

Where to find the best views

As we hiked in the dark, we managed to completely breeze past the famous lookout point on our way up to the top. In hindsight, the lookout point was hard to miss, but somehow we managed it. It’s right by the upper toilets if you’re looking for it.

While the lookout has the famous view, the best place to actually watch the sun rise and get the best views of Wanaka is from the very top. We got up to the top around 6.30am (around 30 minutes before sunrise), and were one of the first groups to arrive. Over the next 30 minutes, dozens of people poured in and I’m barely exaggerating when I say that there was almost nowhere to sit for the last groups arriving.

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

I have to say, it was a breath of fresh air to see so many people coming up just to watch the sunrise. Normally, I’d expect hundreds of eager photographers and tripods, but Roy’s Peak was the complete opposite.

Best for sunrise or sunset?

For me, it’s got to be sunrise. The light was ridiculously nice, and it was nice to do the grind up the hill in the cool morning air. I think hiking up in the blazing sun and coming down in the dark would be the less enjoyable way of doing things.

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

How long does it take?

It took us around 3 hours to get up and 3 to get back down (taking lots and lots of photo breaks). It’s a quick hike considering the distance.

Is Roy’s Peak busy?

Yes. Very. As I mentioned, we started our hike around 3am and looking back down I could easily see over a dozen groups of hikers (counting the torches). It only got busier as the day went on.

I’ve heard that in peak summer there are line ups for the lookout point, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Should that stop you doing the hike? Not at all. It’s absolutely well worth the effort, and the mountain is plenty big enough for everyone.

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

There are other supposedly almost identical hikes up different mountains in the area if you’re not keen on crowds. Isthmus Peak is supposedly the next best thing, and Coromandel Peak is another (although I’m told it’s on private land, so I’d recommend doing your own research there).

When is the best time to hike Roy’s Peak

We hiked Roy’s Peak Track in early April and I think the weather was absolutely perfect for hiking (early Autumn). I definitely got a little sunburnt on the way down though (at 10am), so I dread to think how rough it must have been for those having a late start. We saw a lot of very sweaty, red face coming past us on the way up, put it that way.

In terms of time of day, again, an early start is really the only way to do it. If you start at 10am on a hot day, you’re going to be pretty miserable.

Where to stay?

Freedom Camping

We camped in some freedom camping very close to Roy’s Peak Track trailhead, and there are several sites in the Wanaka area. You can find freedom camping with Rankers Camping NZ App or Campermate.

Hotels

Budget option: The Ramada Hotel by Wyndham Wanaka is one of the cheapest and closest hotels to Roy’s Peak Track. Super convenient.

Luxury option: Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages is a luxury option that is super close to the Roy’s Peak Track trailhead and also super close to the waterfront (and #thatWanakaTree if you’re interested).

What kind of gear will you need?

To be honest, it depends on the time of year you go, but we wore extremely light hiking clothes with a couple of layers that we could throw on in different conditions. None of us brought enough layers for the 30 minutes at the top before the sun came up. Let me tell you, it was miserably cold on the top, and none of us were prepared. Bring more than you think you need if you’re planning a sunrise mission.

Grippy shoes with thick soles goes without saying, a water bladder or water bottle and a headlamp (if you’re going in the dark). You’re pretty close to civilisation so no extra survival gear is really necessary. Bring lots of snacks; you’re going to need the calories!

Roy's Peak hike New Zealand

Is it for everyone?

Roy’s Peak Track might not be for everyone, because it’s quite long and steep. With that being said, the route is very easy to follow and the path is in great condition. If you want the best views in Wanaka, then you can’t miss out on Roy’s Peak.

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