Roys Peak Track | Is It Really Worth It?

It almost seems like a right of passage to hike Roys Peak when you visit Wanaka in New Zealand’s South Island, but is it worth the mass of crowds that flock to this iconic Instagram location every day?

Located a short 5 – 10 minute drive west of Wanaka’s town centre, Roys Peak is a popular hike that will challenge your fitness and lead you to one of the most iconic viewpoints in New Zealand. 

There’s no denying that your hard work is rewarded with breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka and the dominating Southern Alps, but we strongly disagree that it’s the best hike you’ll find in Wanaka…

You’re likely to find mixed reviews on this topic, with many claiming the crowds are worth the views. But after hiking many trails around Wanaka, we’re not so sure. For this reason, we’ve created a detailed guide that will shed some light on the pros and cons of Roys Peak – and offer several alternative trail options.

Surprisingly, we managed to hike Roys Peak at a time when there were barely any crowds. So if you’re set on witnessing the views from Roys Peak Lookout yourself, then continue reading to learn all you need to know to make the most of your hike to Roys Peak.

Standing on the Roys Peak lookout at Sunrise admiring Lake Wanaka in Wanaka

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Essential Information About Summiting Roys Peak In Wanaka

Quick Statistics For The Roys Peak Track

Distance
16 km return

Time
4 – 6 hrs

Navigation Difficulty
Easy – See details below

Trail Difficulty
Easy – Moderate – See Track Notes for more detail

Physical Effort
Hard

Elevation Gain
1,301 m

Highest Elevation
1,578 m 

Entrance Fees
None

Facilities
Trailhead: car park
On The Trail: toilet near the start and another at the Roys Peak Lookout

Is Roys Peak Worth It?

In our personal opinion, we believe that the hype and the crowds have caused Roys Peak to become one of the most overrated hikes in New Zealand. You’ll not only share the trail with countless others, but the trail itself almost completely consists of a relentlessly steep, zigzagging farm road.

If you’re visiting Wanaka for a limited period of time, we would strongly advise you to choose other trails that offer a better experience and fewer crowds. But if you’re deadset on hiking Roys Peak, or you’ve got endless time in Wanaka, then here are a few pros and cons to consider before setting off.

Hiking Roys Peak Track during sunrise

Negatives For Roys Peak

The Environmental Impact

With so many people visiting a single destination, there is always going to be an environmental impact. The main issue with Roys Peak is the fact that many of the visitors aren’t educated on the principles of leave no trace.

When we hiked Roys Peak, we found an alarming amount of rubbish around the toilet at Roys Peak Lookout. Typically, we’ve noticed that the trails around Wanaka are very clean, which increased our surprise to find Roys Peak in such a state.

The Crowds

You won’t believe the crowds until you witness the line of ants trailing up and down the dirt road leading to Roys Peak for yourself! We spent three weeks in Wanaka in December and every time we drove past Roys Peak Car Park, it was overflowing.

Now, crowds are most certainly not our thing and we understand that this might not be as much of an issue for others. But we just want you to be well aware of what you’re getting yourself into!

The Trail

Honestly, the biggest letdown for Roys Peak was the monotonous climb. It’s true, we love to seek out challenging trails and thrive in rough and rugged terrain, but to walk up a steep paddock on a farm road for 2 – 3 hours is not our idea of fun!

The only exciting part about the Roys Peak Track is the section above Roys Peak Lookout, which many people don’t even bother completing!

Positives For Roys Peak

Easily Accessible

Part of the reason that Roys Peak is so popular is the ease of access from Wanaka. A short 5 – 10 minute drive will lead you to the trailhead and from there, it’s an easily navigational walk to the peak.

Roys Peak Lookout Is Incredible

No matter what we say about Roys Peak, there is no denying that the vistas from Roys Peak Lookout and the summit are breathtaking. If you somehow manage to score a sunrise without the crowds as we did, you’ll forget instantly about the mediocre climb once you’re staring out across the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka.

The Trail Is Easy

While the physical effort is challenging, the trail to Roys Peak is super easy and attainable for beginner hikers. There is no mandatory scrambling or navigation needed, just a simple walk along a farm road and a wide rocky track.

Alternative Hikes In Wanaka

If the negatives outweigh the positives of hiking Roys Peak for you, then we’ve got plenty of alternative hiking suggestions that will leave you equally in awe.

Isthmus Peak
Beautiful views over Lake Hawea on the Isthmus Peak Track in Wanaka
Isthmus Peak Track

The most popular alternative to Roys Peak is Isthmus Peak. However, it is still far less crowded and offers a slightly more exciting ascent in comparison. The views once you reach the ridgeline are second to none, allowing you to glimpse both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea on either side.

Diamond Lake & Rocky Mountain Summit
View over Lake Wanaka from the Rocky Mountain Summit Track in Wanaka
Rocky Mountain Track

The Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain Summit Track is still quite crowded, but it is a fantastic alternative for those who are worried Roys Peak will be too physically challenging. The smaller summit offers comparable vistas of Lake Wanaka and even offers a peak into the magnificent Matukituki Valley.

Corner Peak
Hiking up the summit of COrner Peak looking over Lake Hawea
Corner Peak Summit

If you’re searching for a true challenge, then Corner Peak is the answer! This is our favourite day hike in Wanaka (outside of Mt Aspiring National Park) with even better views than Roys Peak and Isthmus Peak and a much more exciting trail. But be warned, this one is not for the faint of heart!

Where Does The Roys Peak Track Start?

Roys Peak Trailhead

Roys Peak stands boldly on the western outskirts of Wanaka, offering a magnificent backdrop from Wanaka’s lakefront. A large car park is located at the base of the peak, 8 minutes west of Wanaka off Wanaka Mt Aspiring Rd.

The car park has an overflow to the side for especially busy days and a toilet at the beginning of the trail. A small fee of $2 can be paid into the honesty box at the trailhead to help with the upkeep of the track and the car park.

Can I Freedom Camp At Roys Peak Car Park?

No, you cannot camp in your car at Roys Peak Car Park – even if you have a self-contained sticker. The council has cracked down on freedom camping in car parks around Wanaka – especially popular ones like this. If you choose to sleep here, you’re risking a $200 fine and/or wheel clamping.

The closest freedom camping spot to Roys Peak is Red Bridge Campground near Luggate.

How To Get To The Trailhead

Map or directions from Wanaka to Roys Peak

Thanks to its incredible popularity, you can easily get a taxi or a shuttle to Roys Peak Car Park from Wanaka. Wanaka Transfers even offers a private shuttle service from Queenstown to Roys Peak!

There are several taxi and shuttle services operating from Wanaka, which are listed here. We didn’t use a taxi service so we can’t comment on the price, but the most common taxi we saw at Roys Peak Car Park was Yello Taxis.

Driving From Wanaka To Roys Peak Car Park

The drive from Wanaka to Roys Peak Car Park is super straightforward. All you need to do is drive west from Wanaka on Wanaka Mt Aspiring Rd towards Glendhu Bay and Matukituki Valley.

After roughly 7 km, you’ll see a large car park on the left and a brown information sign labelled Roys Peak Track.

Click Here For Directions To Roys Peak Car Park

How Hard Is The Roys Peak Track In Wanaka?

Hiking up Roys Peak Track in Wanaka on an overcast day

The Roys Peak Track follows a dirt farm road for the majority of the hike, making it an easy walk in terms of trail difficulty. However, you’ll ascend a whopping 1,301 m in elevation over an 8 km distance – yep, that’s steep!

But the silver lining is that as you climb, the magnificent landscape unravels around you. This means that even if you don’t make it to the peak, you’ll still gain sensational vistas along the way.

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Navigation On The Roys Peak Track

As we’ve mentioned above, the trail to Roys Peak is very straightforward and requires very little navigation skills, which is beneficial if you plan to hike Roys Peak for sunrise. From the car park to Roys Peak Lookout, you’ll simply follow the farm road – jumping over a stile and entering The Stack Conservation Park 1.5 km before the lookout.

From Roys Peak Lookout, you’ll see two possible routes to the peak. The easiest is a slightly rocky track that continues winding its way around the mountain, but there is also a trail carved into the ridgeline that shoots straight towards the summit. We only recommend choosing the ridgeline track if you’re comfortable with exposed and steep terrain.

Best Time To Hike The Roys Peak Track

Looking over Wanaka from Roys Peak Track

The best time to hike Roys Peak is early spring or late autumn. In spring, lupins line the track, creating a pretty foreground for the continuously growing vistas. In Autumn, the trees lining the lake and many of the farmlands surrounding Wanaka have turned a brilliant shade of orange and red.

During these times, the sun won’t be as fierce on the exposed trail, plus the nearby peaks are likely to be covered in an enchanting dusting of snow.

It is possible to hike the Roys Peak Track in winter, but you’ll most likely be walking through snow once you near the summit. This is the ultimate time to hike Roys Peak in our opinion, but it does require a little more skill and knowledge about how to hike in the snow.

Note: The Department of Conservation states that a winter ascent of Roys Peak requires the use of ice axes and crampons, but this would only be the case in extreme weather conditions. If you’re choosing to summit in the snow, remember to turn back if you start to feel uncomfortable. The trail becomes increasingly steep and prone to avalanches above 1000 m.

Best Time Of Day To Hike The Roys Peak Track

Roys Peak Track Sunrise from lookout over Lake Wanaka

The best time of day to summit Roys Peak is for sunrise, which will also allow you to avoid the majority of the crowds that flock to this trail. If you want to make the summit by sunrise, you’ll want to start walking roughly 3 hours before sunrise. It took us just over two hours to reach the summit, but we always like to allow a little extra time just in case.

If you’re not keen on waking up in the wee hours of the night, then we still suggest starting as early as possible to avoid the hottest part of the day. There is no shade whatsoever on the trail and the sun can be brutal!

Roys Peak also offers an incredible vantage point for sunset, however, this will be far more crowded compared to sunrise as it doesn’t require such a huge commitment.

Tips To Beat The Crowds At Roys Peak

Hiking Roys Peak in solitude is as likely as spotting a giraffe at the summit. However, there are ways that you can avoid the majority of the crowds and even catch a few minutes at the famous Roys Peak Lookout to yourself.

Here are our top tips for beating the worst of the crowds at Roys Peak:

  • Plan to reach the summit for sunrise – while this is a very popular thing to do, it’s still less popular than starting the hike at dawn.
  • Choose an overcast or drizzly morning – we hiked to the summit of Roys Peak on a rainy morning in May and encountered barely anybody else, but the views we witnessed were still amazing!
  • Hike Roys Peak in winter – this isn’t possible for everyone because it requires a little extra skill, but you’ll likely have far fewer crowds and the views will be even more impressive.
  • Hike in the shoulder seasons – If hiking in winter (and possibly snow) is not possible for you, try to plan your hike for the quieter months of May or September.

Roys Peak Seasonal Trail Closures

Roys Peak Track is closed from October 1st to the 10th of November every year for lambing. There is no alternative access during this time. The track re-opens on the 11th of November.

Can I Camp On Roys Peaks?

This is a tricky question with no definitive answer. The facts are that you cannot camp on private land (the first two-thirds of the track) or within 200 m of a hiking trail. Technically, there are no rules against pitching a tent in national parks or conservation land in New Zealand. However, this is subject to DOC’s discretion.

If you want to camp on top of Roys Peak, we suggest checking in at the DOC Visitor Centre in Wanaka to ask permission first. Furthermore, to avoid ruining the experience for others, wait until the crowds have dispersed before setting up your tent.

The best place to set up your tent is further south along the track that leads past Roys Peak summit, towards Mt Alpha.

What To Pack For Roys Peak

HIking on the summit of Roys Peak in Wanaka

The Roys Peak Track can take the better part of a day to complete and if you’re summiting in summer, you’ll need more water than you may expect. There are no reliable water sources along the trail to refill your water bottles, so we recommend carrying at least 2 – 3 litres each.

Here is a list of the essentials that we suggest packing for Roys Peak:

  • Trail runners or hiking shoes – we only recommend wearing hiking boots if there is snow or deep mud on the trail
  • Hiking daypack – we recommend at least 28 to 32 litres for full-day hikes, my favourite is my Osprey 32 Mira daypack
  • 2 – 3 litres of water in a reusable water bottle or water bladder
  • High-energy snacks – high protein muesli bars or a mix of nuts and dried fruit are our go-to snacks for hiking
  • First aid kit – we never go anywhere without our basic hiking first aid kit
  • Warm layer – it can get extremely windy and cold at the summit, we recommend packing a fleece jacket in summer and a down jacket in winter
  • Rain jacket – it’s very common to be caught in a surprise rainstorm in the mountains around Wanaka

Roys Peak Track Notes

Roys Peak Car Park To The Picnic Table

Hiking over a stile on Roys Peak Track

A stile leads you over the first fence and into private land, where you’ll meet many cows and perhaps even a handful of sheep. The track begins to ascend as soon as you leave the car park, with a toilet located just 50m from the car park along the trail

Continuing to climb, the 4wd farm road zigzags up the eastern face of Roys Peak, allowing for varying vistas as you switch from facing northwest to southeast. After a short while, you’ll come across a second stile and continue to walk between the cow poo land mines. 

Cows crowding the trail on Roys Peak Track during sunrise

After 1.5km, the track looks to go either straight ahead or to the left, this is the beginning of a couple of shortcuts that have been tracked into the field. To avoid adding unnecessary environmental impact, stick to the farm road.

Shortly after the first shortcut, you’ll come to a picnic table beneath a giant pine tree which looks to be a small graveyard. This marks the 1.8km mark – only 6.2km to go…!

The Picnic Table To Roys Peak Lookout

Roys Peak Picnic Table

Just past the picnic table, another stile is found beside a gate – which is sometimes open. From here, the track steepens yet again while continuing to zigzag up the monstrous hill. Aside from the beautiful views, there isn’t much to keep you from concentrating on your burning legs. We strongly suggest bringing a set of hiking poles with you to alleviate some of the pressure on your quads and calves!

Steep trail of Roys Peak in Wanaka

Eventually, after 5km, you’ll leave the private land and enter The Stack Conservation Area. From here, the trail becomes a little rockier, but barely any change happens until after you pass the Insta-famous Roys Peak Lookout.

You’ll arrive at the iconic viewpoint after 6.5 km, where you’ll find a toilet and a clearing that’s perfect for a rest while you wait your turn for the iconic shot on the point. If you’d rather not line up for the same shot as everybody else, continue on to the summit.

Roys Peak Lookout overlooking Lake Wanaka

Roys Peak Lookout To The Summit

Many people stop at the lookout and don’t even bother with the summit, but we highly recommend continuing on.

Steep ridge up to the summit of Roys Peak

Leaving the viewpoint, the slightly rocky trail wraps around the western side of the peak. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can test your fear of heights and charge straight up the ridgeline. It’s incredibly steep along the ridgeline, with not much earth on either side, but if you’re a confident walker and can battle against the wind comfortably, it’s the most exciting way to walk.

Roys Peak Ridgeline at the true summit of Roys Peak

Rocks cross the narrowing path more consistently from the viewpoint and the wind hammers from all sides. But eventually, after 8 km and 1,301 m elevation, you’ll reach the peak and experience the full 360-degree view of Wanaka, Mt Aspiring National Park and Cardrona.

Exploring Roys Peak

Looking over Wanaka from Roys Peak

Standing at the summit, you’re surrounded by formidable mountains that slice a jagged line across the horizon and drape across the landscape with sharp cuts and bony ridgelines that plummet 1000 m to the valley floor.

The trail actually continues on from the summit of Roys Peak to Mount Alpha and offers an alternative route down. However, this requires a car shuffle as you’ll end halfway to Cardrona!

Returning To The Trailhead

Standing on the fireroad at the top of Roys Peak

Once you’ve had enough time in the wind and trying to name the endless amount of peaks surrounding you, start the arduous descent back towards Roys Peak Car Park.

The descent is a menace on your knees so take it easy and bring hiking poles if you have them – they make a world of difference!

We took 4 hours moving time and 5 hours 20 minutes total time to complete this walk – including plenty of stops for water, snacks and photos. 

Be prepared for all weather conditions on this hike. While there was a light drizzle when we set off, it was rather warm and calm at the base of Roys Peak. But once we reached the ridgeline we were hammered by strong icy winds!

Other Information For Summiting Roys Peak In Wanaka

FAQs About Roys Peak In Wanaka

Is Roys Peak Or Isthmus Peak Better?

In our personal opinion, we found Isthmus Peak to be a way better experience than Roys Peak. First of all, the crowds were far smaller, though still apparent. Secondly, the views are even better and thirdly, the trail offers a little more excitement compared to the monotonous farm road of Roys Peak.

Is Roys Peak Easy?

In terms of trail difficulty, Roys Peak is easy. However, it requires a great deal of physical effort and many walkers turn back before they reach the peak. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks to refuel and take lots of small breaks to catch your breath.

Can You Mountain Bike Roys Peak?

No, mountain biking is prohibited on the Roys Peak Track. If you want to ride your bike to a summit, you can take mountain bikes on Isthmus Peak.

How Long Does It Take To Walk Up Roys Peak?

On average, the climb to Roys Peak’s summit takes between 2 – 3 hours. We recommend allowing 3 hours to be safe.

Can You Hike Roys Peak In Winter?

The short answer is yes, you can hike Roys Peak in winter. However, check in with at DOC visitor centre before departing the learn about the current snow and avalanche conditions.

Is There A Toilet At Roys Peak?

Yes, there are two toilets along the Roys Peak Track. You’ll find one at the beginning of the trail and another at the famous Roys Peak Lookout.

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What Time Should You Start Roys Peak For Sunrise?

If you want to be on the summit of Roys Peak when the sun begins to rise over the distant mountain tops, we recommend starting 3 hours before sunrise. If you want to catch the magical colours that paint the sky during blue hour, add an extra half an hour to be safe.

Will There Really Be A Queue At Roys Peak Lookout?

While we were lucky enough to avoid a queue at Roys Peak Lookout, it is highly common to wait in line to capture that iconic photograph. However, if you simply walk on for an extra 30 minutes to the summit, you’re likely to have better luck at capturing the landscape with fewer people photobombing you.

Is Roys Peak better at sunrise or sunset?

The difference between sunrise and sunset at Roys Peak is marginal. But sunrise is slightly better, offering a beautiful glow on the mountain peaks surrounding Lake Wanaka. Plus, due to an added commitment of starting the hike at an ungodly hour of the morning, you’re likely to experience fewer crowds at sunrise.

Leave No Trace

When we hiked Roys Peak, we were extremely saddened to see a surprising amount of rubbish at Roys Peak Lookout and loads of tissues along the trail. If you pack it in, please pack it out with you.

There are plenty of public rubbish bins throughout Wanaka and two toilets along the trail. Please follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when you’re hiking Roys Peak – or anywhere for that matter – and if you’re unfamiliar with this term, you can learn about the principles here.

It’s up to each and every one of us to keep our natural places free of harm and thriving.

Where To Stay Near Roys Peak

Sun coming into the Hidden Spring accommodation in Wanaka
The Hidden Spring

Roys Peak is a short 5 – 10 minute drive from Wanaka, one of our absolute favourite towns in New Zealand. We highly recommend spending a few days at least here to experience the myriad of things to do in Wanaka.

You’ll find plenty of accommodation options in Wanaka that range from hostels and holiday parks to beautiful holiday homes and hotels.

Here is a list of our top 4 suggested places to stay in Wanaka for a range of budgets:

  • The Hidden Spring – We stayed at this budget-friendly studio for a week while exploring Wanaka and loved it
  • Adventure Wanaka Hostel – This centrally located budget-friendly hostel offers private and shared rooms and a fully-equipped shared kitchen
  • Edgewater Hotel – Located on the waterfont, within walking distance to town, this mid-range hotel offers a selection of rooms and suites to suit a variety of budgets
  • Ashgrove Lane – A stunning mid-high range holiday home within walking distance to town, a perfect option for two couples or a family

Camping Near Roys Peak

Sunrise at Albert Town Campground in Wanaka
Albert Town Campground sunrise

There are several campsites in Wanaka that cater to a range of travelling styles. Our go-to is the Red Bridge Freedom Campsite, located 15 minutes east of Wanaka. However, you must have a self-contained sticker on your campervan to stay here.

Here is a list of our top 3 suggestions for camping near Roys Peak:

Final Thoughts

The answer to whether Roys Peak is worth it isn’t black or white. For us, the negatives far outweigh the positives and we would rather return to Corner Peak or Isthmus Peak than Roys Peak any day.

However, for beginner hikers who are looking for an incredible view, then there’s no denying that Roys Peak is an easy option – disregarding the physical effort! But if you’re an experienced hiker then we highly recommend broadening your horizons and checking out our list of must-do hikes in Wanaka for more options.

We hope that this guide to Roys Peak has helped you decide whether the hike is worth your time and effort. If you have further questions about Roys Peak – or Wanaka in general – please don’t hesitate to reach out by leaving a comment or contacting us on Instagram.

Happy Hiking 🙂