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Long before I decided to make the permanent move to Queenstown, I was an excited traveler ticking off all my New Zealand bucket-list experiences. One of the highest things to do on that list was to hike Roy’s Peak!
I love hiking and to me, there was no doubt that Roy’s Peak was going to be one of my favorite hikes on the South Island of New Zealand. I was right! Despite some of the traveler reviews of overcrowding on the trail, I really loved the experience. I actually enjoyed much of the trail to myself and witnessed an epic sunrise over Lake Wanaka with very few others.
In this blog, I’ll not only tell you how to enjoy this magnificent hike without the crowds but, I’ll also share everything you need to know about hiking Roy’s Peak. This includes parking, the new shuttle service, how hard the trail is, and other info I’ve learned from hiking the trail countless times.
Roy’s Peak Overview
Distance: 16 kilometers (10 miles) return
Elevation gain: 1,258 (4,127 feet) meters
Time needed: 6 to 7 hours
Type of trail: Out and back
Roy’s Peak is a difficult hiking trail located just outside the town of Wanaka near the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park. Known as one of New Zealand’s most popular trails, it’s high on every visitor’s South Island bucket list. Think of Roy’s Peak to Wanaka, like Ben Lomond is to Queenstown!
Although stunningly beautiful, hiking the trail is definitely a challenge. Over 8 kilometers (5 miles) you’ll climb a whopping 1,258 meters (4,127 feet) to the summit of Roy’s Peak. This journey is fairly steep with plenty of switchbacks – for most people this takes around 3 hours to complete. Once you’ve snapped your shots at the top, you’ll head back down the same way.
Many hikers opt to simply hike as far as the famous Roy’s Peak viewpoint. This is often confused as “Roy’s Peak”, but this first viewpoint (which has been made famous on Instagram) isn’t the official summit! Instead, if you continue on for another 30 minutes you’ll reach the true Roy’s Peak.
Regardless of whether you head up to the very top or stick to the famous viewpoint, the views are nothing less than stunning. There’s no doubt in my mind that Roy’s Peak is one of my favorite hikes around the Queenstown area!
Related Read: If you’re new to hiking, be sure to read my blog about essential hiking tips for beginners!
Roy’s Peak FAQ
Roy’s Peak Parking, Shuttle, and Trailhead (Important!)
There’s a lot to know about the parking situation at Roy’s Peak, so bear with me!
The Roy’s Peak parking lot is located 6 kilometers (3.7 mi) from Wanaka on Wanaka Mount Aspiring Road. It takes just 5 minutes to get there from Wanaka and around an hour from Queenstown. Because of its location, Roy’s Peak is one of the most popular things to do in Wanaka and a popular stop for anybody driving from Queenstown to Franz Josef.
Although there are 100 spaces available, the parking lot is usually full by 9 am!
You may be tempted to park on the street, and although in the past, no fines have been handed out as far as I’ve heard, this has become a hot topic in the Otago region. Basically, you not only risk a hefty fine (as it’s illegal), but it’s also dangerous.
Instead, you should aim to be at the parking lot well before 9 am. In fact, if you follow my recommendation in this blog, that shouldn’t be a problem.
However, not everyone’s an early riser. In that case, you have two options. The first is to try and snag a parking spot as someone’s leaving. With Roy’s Peak taking at least 6 hours, I’d say the first hikers will be coming down at around 10 or 11 am from a sunrise hike. Of course, this involves a little bit of luck.
If you’re heading over from Queenstown, it would actually be cheaper to rent a car for the day (I always use Discover Cars for this) if you’re more than two people other than trying to take shuttles/taxis! Driving from Queenstown to Wanaka is also a fun road trip, and one of the best things to do in Queenstown.
I live in Queenstown, so when I hike Roy’s Peak I leave at around 3 am to begin the hike in the dark. Hiking Roy’s Peak for sunrise really is the only way to do it, in my opinion! And as a side bonus, parking isn’t an issue at this time.
Related Read: If you’re visiting Queenstown, check out my blog which is a detailed Queenstown itinerary, including where to eat each day and the absolute best activities and attractions!
Hiking to the Famous Roy’s Peak Viewpoint
Okay, so now that we’ve got some of the most common questions and info surrounding Roy’s Peak out the way, it’s time to hike the trail!
From the parking lot, you’ll climb a small ladder over a fence to officially start the trail. This first section of the trail is actually private land, but the owner allows access through. Here, you’ll likely encounter some friendly New Zealand sheep. I remember the first time I hiked Roy’s Peak, it was dark, and I almost bumped into one… I got a huge fright!
This part of the trail is a climb (like the rest) but is a little steeper than the upper section of the trail. Eventually, you’ll reach another sign and fence. Here, you’ll climb another ladder and leave the private land area.
Important: Because the first section of the trail is private land and used for sheep farming, this is the part of the trail that closes annually for lambing season from the 1st of October to the 10th of November. During this time, you can’t hike to Roy’s Peak.
Once you cross the last fence, you’ll reach a series of switchbacks. These continue until you reach the famous Roy’s Peak viewpoint. It’s definitely no easy feat!
The first time I hiked Roy’s Peak it took me a little under 2 hours to reach the viewpoint. I was excited as hell and also racing up so that I didn’t miss the sunrise. At a steady pace, it usually takes me around 2.5 hours.
This viewpoint is considered to be the most Instagrammable place in all of New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why! In recent years, Instagram has made Roy’s Peak incredibly popular, and it has sadly a few negative impacts on the trail. In fact, sometimes there is a line that forms at the famous viewpoint for photos. But to me, the views are stunning and worth the wait.
If you arrive at this viewpoint sometime during the day, then you’re definitely going to have to line up to get a photo. I know it’s crazy, but this is the reality of the hike now. To avoid this, hike up at sunrise!
Also, at the viewpoint, there is a toilet. So if you need to go, now is your chance!
Now for the Real Summit
I don’t judge anyone. If hiking to the famous Roy’s Peak viewpoint is all you came for, then that’s totally fine. You’re still a champion in my eyes for getting that far – it’s a hard climb!
But if you’re like me and just have to see the summit too, then keep on hiking, you’ve got a long way to go… Just kidding – it’s only another 30 minutes of walking from here!
Seriously though, this last bit isn’t hard, but I do recommend stopping along the way to see some other great views of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. As you can see in the picture above, you don’t have to line up at the famous viewpoint to get a great snap!
Depending on the time of year you visit Roy’s Peak, you can encounter snow – even in early summer! You can easily get away without bringing crampons, but you may get wet feet and it will be slippery.
At the summit, you can sit back and enjoy the magnificent view. From here you can really see just how far you hiked up!
Hiking Back Down
After enjoying the views from the top, the inevitable hike back down to the parking lot is all that’s left of your Roy’s Peak adventure. I’d like to say that this is the easy part, but I’d be lying! The reason?
It’s much less exciting and my knees struggle with long downhill hikes.
Normally, it takes me about 1.5-2 hours to get down. I have to take more breaks on the way down because of my knees than on the way up! Strange I know, but I hate steep downhill hiking.
Hiking Roy’s Peak always tuckers me out. After a 3 am wake-up call and 6 to 7 hours of hiking, I am always more than ready for a beer back in Queenstown!
Related Read: Roy’s Peak is one of the best hikes in Wanaka – find out what the others are in my blog!
Hiking Roy’s Peak at Sunrise or Sunset
I mentioned above that hiking Roy’s Peak for sunrise is the only way to do it. It’s true, but sunset is another great option.
Hiking in the morning and evening helps you avoid the big crowds, especially at a place as picturesque as Roy’s Peak. At sunrise it’s also cooler, you’ll avoid the sun on the way up, and it’s so breathtakingly beautiful!
I’ve hiked Roy’s Peak for sunrise a few times but never at sunset. I suppose I love early mornings. With that said, I will make it up there for sunset one day. I can imagine that it would be a peaceful time of the day!
What to Pack
Water, and lots of it – There is nowhere to fill up a water bottle on Roy’s Peak. It’s a hard hike, and I’d recommend at least 2 liters (0.5 gallons) of water per person.
Pack for all seasons – Roy’s Peak can get really windy! A windbreaker is a great idea and bring some warm clothes no matter the weather. You’re also dealing with a fairly big change in elevation, which will affect the overal temperature too! On the flip side, the sun in New Zealand is very harsh and on a bluebird day, you’ll want to strip down. So definitely make sure to bring layers.
Sun protection – If you’ve never been to New Zealand, this can be a little hard to fathom. However, the sun here is harsh and you can burn easily. I guess it’s got to do with the hole in the ozone layer!
Hiking boots or runners – In summer, you can hike Roy’s Peak in runners without any issues. In winter, spring, or when it’s been raining, hiking boots are best.
Snacks and/or lunch – There’s nowhere to buy food on the trail, so bringing some with you is a great idea. I actually had my packed breakfast at Roy’s Peak. Pretty nice spot to eat if you ask me!
Hiking poles – The climb to the top of Roy’s Peak is relentless and hiking poles will save your knees!
Our Favorite Tour to Roy’s Peak
I have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to scenic guided tours – sometimes there’s nothing better than following a pre-planned itinerary without all the hassle of figuring it out on your own. That said, my favorite part about these types of tours has to be the fact that you’re joined by an expert local guide, who knows the area like, well, the back of their hand.
This private Roy’s Peak sunrise helicopter safari has to be the ultimate way to experience the mountain, without having to walk up it yourself!
The entire experience is one of the best tours from Wanaka and lasts around 5 hours. You’ll get to fly to the summit of Roy’s Peak for sunrise, so you can get all the best views without feeling tuckered out at all. Plus, you can skip the 3 am wake-up call, too!
Joined by your professional guide, this is the perfect time to pick their brains and ask them all kinds of questions about the mountain, its flora and fauna, and whatever you can think of really! After taking in the fantastic views, you’ll then head out on a second flight to your next step, a 4WD tour of the gorgeous nearby valleys and mountains – talk about an adventure!
Now this experience certainly isn’t the cheapest tour, with tickets costing $3,380 NZD per person, this is definitely one of those “trip-defining” types of tours. But if walking up the mountain isn’t possible for you (or you’re just looking for the most memorable way to experience the summit), then your very own helicopter ride definitely won’t disappoint. This is a private tour for 1-2 people.
So if this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can check out available dates and book your spot on the tour online here.
Important Info to Remember
- Get there early to secure a parking space, otherwise consider using a taxi service like Yello
- Roy’s Peak is closed for the lambing season from the 1st of October to the 10th of November annually
- You’ll need layers for all weather conditions, especially at the summit
- There are toilets at the famous viewpoint
- Don’t forget to bring lots of water
Related Read: After a long day of hiking Roy’s Peak you’re going to want a delicious meal. Check out the best restaurants in Wanaka to take care of your appetite!
The “Other” Roy’s Peak
If you’re reading this thinking a hugely popular hike filled with people doesn’t sound like you, then you need to check out Isthmus Peak, also known as the “other Roy’s Peak”! It’s a stunning trail that starts just outside of Wanaka near Lake Hawea. Although it doesn’t have that famous peak, the views over Lake Wanaka are still out of this world!
The trail is also slightly easier, and better yet, you’ll only see a tenth of the people.
Visiting Isthmus Peak and Roy’s Peak are without a doubt two of the best free things to do in Wanaka. If in doubt, you could always hike both!
Other Things to do in Wanaka
- Cardrona Valley Mountain Quad – Zip up into the mountains on a quad bike! This tour makes sightseeing a little bit more thrilling as you’ll follow your guide through winding dirt tracks past lush farmland. Look to spot sheep and cattle and learn from your local guide about the area! You’ll stop to take in the panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains of the Cardrona Valley. It’s only a 2-hour tour so you will still have a lot of time for other activities.
- Wine and Maori Culture Tour – You’ll get to taste wine right from the land of the indigenous Maori people in Wanaka. This tour is a half-day experience that includes round-trip transport so you don’t have to worry about driving! Just focus on the wine and beautiful landscapes as you visit the different wineries and enjoy the provided cheese platter.
- Horse Riding Trek – This is the perfect leisurely sightseeing activity that takes you up into the countryside and past historical gold-mining locals for some fabulous views and information from your local guide about this area’s past. You’ll navigate through cattle farms and across a river and end the day with a free beer from the Cardrona Pub on the way back to base.
- Jet Boat, Hike, and Raft Adventure – This tour is for thrill seekers! It’s a full day of activities including a jet boat and rafting ride on the Matukituki River and a nature trek to take in the beautiful landscapes of Mount Aspiring National Park where you’ll stop for lunch at the base of a glacier! It costs $379 NZD but it is more cost-effective than booking these activities separately.
Where to Stay in Wanaka
There are tons of places to stay in Wanaka. Seriously, you’ll have so many options that it can be overwhelming. Luckily, I’ve stayed in Wanaka countless times and can recommend the below accommodation options:
Hawea Hotel – $
The Hawea Hotel is the perfect budget option for anybody looking to save a few dollars. That said, the rooms are really comfortable, clean, and offer incredible lake views! It is likely the best value for money hotel in Wanaka, with all rooms including a flat-screen television, a private bathroom, and a balcony too.
A one-night stay here starts from around $180 NZD per night, with budget dorm rooms as well as double rooms and family rooms available. You can check your dates and reserve your room here on Booking.com.
Archway Motel & Chalets – $$
When I travel, I often like to stay in apartment-style hotels so that I can cook my own meals. The Archway Motels & Chalets offers studio apartments, one-bedroom apartments, as well as two and threebedroom apartments for really reasonable prices! These are great for families or people traveling in groups (I stayed here last time I traveled with friends).
The motel is located only a short drive from town in a peaceful area – talk about holiday bliss! Room rates start at around $200 NZD per night, averaging around $350 NZD in the high season. You can check availability and book your stay online on Booking.com here, on Expedia here, or on Hotels.com here!
Club Wyndham Wanaka – $$$
If you’re visiting Wanaka to relax and spoil yourself, then there’s no question that you should stay at Club Wyndham! This hotel is located right in town only minutes from Lake Wanaka and features an outdoor heated pool, waterslide, hot tub, sauna, and an onsite bar and café.
All rooms here come with a kitchenette or full kitchen, and many also offer lake views. You’ll also have access to their fitness center too if you fancy working up a sweat before hitting the sauna! Rooms here at Club Wyndham start at around $300 NZD and can be booked here on Booking.com, on Hotels.com here, and on Expedia here!
You can also choose from a huge selection of Airbnbs and holiday home rentals in Wanaka. These are typically better for groups or a family traveling together. Or, simply anybody who wants to have their own kitchen!
For more detailed information, check out my blog all about where to stay in Wanaka! It includes different areas to stay in and the best hotels for all budgets!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
- JUCY – JUCY is one of our favorite rental companies in New Zealand! They have a huge inventory and offer regular cars, small campervans, larger campervans, and even motorhomes! The prices are also super competitive and their multiple offices around NZ make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. You can check availability, prices, and book with JUCY online here.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
Roy’s Peak really is one of the best hiking trails in New Zealand, and I’m sure the photos above prove that. Despite the crowds and a little negative publicity, Roy’s Peak really is worth the hype.
I hope this guide to this very special hiking trail has helped you plan your upcoming visit. As a Queenstown local, I love sharing this magnificent place with others.
Thanks so much for reading! If you loved this blog, then browse around, I have so many great articles on Queenstown and nearby towns to help you plan your visit to the region. You can also check out a few of my favorite blogs below.