If you’re going to walk uphill in the dark for 3 hours the view at the top had better be worth it. Hiking Roys Peak for sunrise certainly isn’t easy, but when those first rays of light hit Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. I’m sure it’s an incredible place at any time of day, but being there for sunrise is worth stumbling out of bed at 3 am for. Roys Peak is widely regarded as New Zealand’s best viewpoint (or the best viewpoint you can reach in a few hours) – in this post I’ll let you know exactly what’s involved in hiking to the top.
Walking in the Dark
I’d read that it takes 2-3 hours to hike to the top of Roys Peak, so after checking the MetService website for weather conditions and the sunrise time we decided to start hiking at 4.30 am (the sun was due to rise at 7.40am). We hiked in March, so if you’re doing it in the middle of summer you’ll have to leave even earlier.
The track starts off on a steep gradient and doesn’t relent too often. It’s hard on the legs, but walking in the dark means you won’t get too hot. The path is wide (it used to be a 4WD track) and fairly easy to walk on. Wanaka can be scorching in the summer months and I wouldn’t fancy hiking this track in the midday heat. There’s a bathroom close to the start of the track (it’s very easy to miss in the dark though) and another one at the viewpoint around 30 minutes from the top.
After a couple of hours the black sky began to wake up. The thin band of bright orange light slowly expanded as we neared the top. A short distance from the summit you’ll see a narrow trail heading directly up. It’s a shortcut I’m glad we took as the incredible light show would have been mostly hidden had we continued on the main track.
Sunrise at Roys Peak
Three hours after we started the hike we arrived at the summit. We were joined by around 20 other people and the general consensus was that this place is amazing and seeing it at sunrise is a special experience. The sun eventually appeared in full, lighting up the hills and making for perfect photo conditions. It can get very cold at the top of Roys Peak but luckily you can easily escape the wind for some respite. We hung around for about 30 minutes and then a started the long descent back to the car park, eager to see the places that had been covered in darkness when we hiked up.
READ MORE: If Roys Peak is closed for lambing (1st Oct – Nov 10) there is a great alternative nearby — check out our post about Isthmus Peak!
The Return Journey
The descent can be hard on the knees, but it makes a nice change from hiking uphill. The views of Lake Wanaka on the way down are really beautiful. People say the track is kind of boring but there is a lot to see, and if you’re only seeing it once it definitely isn’t boring. We crossed paths with heaps of people hiking up and I was glad I wasn’t one of them as it was already getting hot at 9 am. All up it took us just under 6 hours to do the Roys Peak hike and that included lots of waiting around at the summit and plenty of stops for photos (and tired legs). It’s easily one of the best day hikes in New Zealand and I can’t recommend it enough.
READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wanaka
Tips for Hiking Roys Peak
- Go for sunrise. You’ll see the area at its best and hiking uphill is easier in the dark. It also won’t be as busy.
- Bring warm clothes as it can get very cold, even in summer.
- Bring plenty of water as it’s a demanding hike and there is nowhere to fill up your bottle along the way.
- Wear good shoes. The track is fairly straight forward but there are some steep bits (especially towards the end where you can take the shortcut I mentioned earlier).
- Try camping on Roys Peak. We saw a few people camping and it’d be the best way to do it as you’ll be there for both sunset and sunrise.
- Check the weather conditions before you go (MetService is the most reliable website). It’d be horrible to do this hike in the rain and the views wouldn’t be great either. A clear day is best (a few clouds are fine) as you really want to see a place like this when it’s looking its best.
- Roys Peak is closed for lambing every year from October 1st – November 10th
Getting to Roys Peak
The Roys Peak car park is 6 km outside of Wanaka on the road to Glendhu Bay. You could probably walk it if you were desperate (or take a tour), but having your own transport is the best way to do it. A little further around that road you’ll find the Diamond Lake / Rocky Mountain Track — it’s a slightly easier alternative to Roys Peak.
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