I first read about hiking Roy’s Peak in Backpacker magazine several years ago, but New Zealand seemed so far away from Boston back then. But when I found myself planning a road trip through New Zealand with my fiancée recently, I knew I had to add this hike as a stop on our list.
From what I had read, I had fairly high expectations for how the hike would go and honestly, I’d say that it lived up to the hype. 👍
Roy’s Peak is a slow and steady climb that can feel monotonous at times, but it’s totally worth it once you reach the top. There’s a ridgeline section before you reach the actual summit with some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen, over Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountain ranges. Most hikers stop there for pictures before turning around and heading back down.
The hike to the ridge and back is about 8.2 miles round trip with 3200 feet of elevation gain. It’ll take most hikers between 3 and 5 hours to complete the whole thing, depending on how often you stop for breaks. Check out my Strava GPS data for the elevation profile.
Planning and Logistics
The trailhead is a well marked parking lot right off the road, about a 5-10 minute drive west of the town of Wanaka, along Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road.
This is a very popular hike, so the lot may be full when you arrive, but there’s plenty of overflow parking along the side of the road across the street. It seemed like lots of people were hitch-hiking from the town of Wanaka to the trailhead and back without much issue.
Some people really enjoy the solitude of having a hike all to themselves, but you’re unlikely to find that here. Personally, I actually found it nice to have others on the trail. Many were fellow travelers and tourists from all over the world who didn’t speak much English, but the few that did were fun to chat with.
Plus, if you’re a competitive person, having other people on the trail give you targets you can try to race or catch up to. 🚶
Gear and Food
The trail is very exposed the entire way, so make sure you bring sun protection. There was maybe one tree along the entire length of the trail that offered any real shade (more on that below).
When I was there on a sunny day in March, I saw lots of sun burnt arms and necks on the way down. I’m not a huge fan of sunscreen, but a long sleeved shirt, neck buff and a baseball cap were enough to keep the sun off for me.
I’d also recommend packing a wind breaker or light rain jacket to help stave off the wind once you’re up on the ridge, or in particularly exposed places. Something like the Patagonia Houdini packs down small and weighs practically nothing, but adds a lot of comfort and helps keep you from cooling off too much.
Make sure you bring at least 1L of water per person. There were two small trickling sections of water about half way up the hike, but I wouldn’t rely on them if it hasn’t rained recently. There are also lots of sheep in the area that might’ve contaminated the water sources with their droppings. 💩
We also stopped at Subway in town before the hike and picked up some turkey sandwiches to have along the way. The sandwich was a glorious treat at the ridgeline and several other hikers expressed their jealousy for not packing one.
I also had some chocolate Twix bars stashed in my backpack that offered an essential sugar boost a few hours into the hike, on the way down.
Trail and Scenery
The trail itself is very wide and easy to follow. The footing is pretty good in most places, although admittedly, I stumbled at one point on the way down when I was pulling out my phone to take a picture. If you’re paying attention, you shouldn’t have any issues. There’s plenty of room to pull over and have a snack or enjoy the views.
There are lots of sheep on the mountain near the trail – this is New Zealand after all! You’ll also be able to see fields of sheep down below you, which only adds to the scenery and the “New Zealand” vibe of the hike.
They won’t let you get too close as sheep are pretty skittish creatures, but they seem to be somewhat used to hikers up there. Make sure to watch out for their droppings along the trail.
In terms of cell phone access, you should have 3G or 4G service the entire way up. Since the trail is so open and exposed, it isn’t really hidden from cell phone range the way many backcountry trails are. I had no issue sending WhatsApp messages and images on my Vodaphone NZ SIM card.
It’s also important to mention that this is a challenging hike. I saw lots of people bail and turn around before getting to the top. You’ll have good views pretty much the whole way up, so there’s no shame in turning back if you’re at your limit physically.
If you’re in good hiking shape and can handle moderate and unrelenting uphill for 2-3 hours, you should be able to reach the even more incredible and rewarding views from the ridgeline at the top.
Detailed Hike Description
Starting out from the trailhead, there’s a steep section of about a dozen switchbacks right away. They’re just flat enough that they don’t look too scary, but you’ll definitely get your heart rate up quickly. If you’re nervous about your hiking ability, take it easy here.
At the top of those switchbacks, there is a set of picnic tables under a tall, shady tree. It was pretty windy at this spot when I was there, but it’s still a good place to rest, grab some water and enjoy the views you’ve earned so far.
Next up is a long, mostly straight section that cuts south across the side of the mountain. The hiking here can get pretty monotonous. There were lots of groups of people silently hiking with their heads down, trudging through the miles. 💀
There were also lots of sheep in this section, grazing near the trail. Most of them had tags on their ears and seemed to belong to someone. They had no issue scampering up and down the steep slopes looking for fresh grass to munch on.
Finally, there’s another set of switchbacks and then you can begin to see the ridge extending out above you. A few minutes later, you’ll come to a sharp left turn in the trail where it starts to ascend the ridge very steeply to the south if you want to reach the actual summit of Roy’s Peak. Most people seemed to pull over here to enjoy some food and take in the incredible views along the ridge.
You can jog out a few hundred feet to the north along the ridge to take the classic “Roy’s Peak” photo, like the one at the top of this post. There were plenty of people up there by mid-afternoon, so I had no problem finding someone to hand my phone off to, in order to snap the shot.
The way back down is obviously much quicker and less strenuous. When you make it back to the trailhead, you may be happy to find a small outhouse located just above the parking lot.
Overall, Roy’s Peak is a super rewarding hike if you’re up for the challenge of long, unrelenting uphill. There are views pretty much the whole way, but it’s worth the push to get to the top for the panoramic views you get from the ridgeline.
Check out my Strava GPS data for the hike here and follow me for more updates!