The Roys Peak track near Wanaka is among the most popular hikes in all of New Zealand… and for good reason! Those willing to endure an 8km (<5 miles) ascent in direct sunlight are rewarded with what we consider to be the best view in all of New Zealand!
I have created this guide to provide a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know about hiking Roys Peak. This includes times, distances, seasonal closures, camping, and other considerations.
In addition, as a professional landscape photographer, I will be providing you with our best photography and compositional tips. You may want to bookmark and/or print this guide for future use if you’re planning a visit!
Every person visiting Wanaka (who is physically able) should include the Roys Peak track on their itinerary. I loved the photos we took home from our hike to Roys Peak so much that one of them is featured as our home page banner for this very website!
⚠️ Before you Visit: Roys Peak Crucial Information
Before we get into the details of the hike, there are some crucial bits of information that you need to know before planning your trip.
🐑 Roys Peak Track Seasonal Closure
The trail for the Roys Peak hike is closed every year from October 1st through November 10th for lambing season.
It is generally open the rest of the year, though the trail crosses through private farmland and the farmer who owns it can technically close it at any time.
If you are planning a visit to Roys Peak, be sure to avoid lambing season. If this is unavoidable, we have prepared a list of alternatives to the Roys Peak Hike that are also near Wanaka and remain open year-round.
⭐️ Pro Tip: I recommend reading about these hikes regardless, as they are much less popular and equally beautiful.
🚗 Parking at Roys Peak Track
Free parking is available at Roy’s Peak Trailhead. However, it is typically full within 1-2 hours of sunrise.
Most visitors are surprised by the number of people willing and able to hike the Roys Peak track each day. As a result, the parking spaces at the Roys Peak trailhead fill up very fast on most days, especially during peak season.
To make matters worse, many people are trying to park camper vans and larger self-contained vehicles. Van life is such a popular way to explore New Zealand, and these oversized vehicles fill up the space available that much faster.
To compound matter slightly further, due to the amount of time the hike takes the average person, there is not much in-and-out traffic that would allow you to snag a parking space!
Accordingly, peak-season visitors should try to arrive either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
⭐️ Pro Tip: There is a restroom at the Roys Peak track parking and also one at the lookout.
🌄 Roys Peak Hike Overview
Hopefully, you have read and considered the crucial information for Roys Peak and are now ready to learn about the specifics of this hike.
This section will outline all the details and need-to-know information for hiking the Roys Peak track.
📍 Where is Roys Peak?
Hiking Roys Peak track is one of the best things to do in Wanaka. The parking area is located just 6.6km from Wanaka city centre. By car, the drive from the town to the trailhead is a mere 7 minutes.
The parking area for the Roys Peak track can be found by simply driving alongside Lake Wanaka on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Rd. If in doubt, it is easy to find on Google Maps.
🕰 How much time does it take to hike Roys Peak?
The average hiker should expect to spend 5-7 hours hiking the Roys Peak track, including some time for photography.
Depending on the number of people at the popular lookout, you may need to allow even more time to get your turn for a photo. This popular hike often has a long line to get “the shot,” even in off-peak seasons.
🏃♀️ How long is the Roys Peak track Hike?
The full Roys Peak Track is a 16km (~10 mile) return hike, with a 1300m (~1 mile) elevation gain. However, most people chose to end their hike at the popular lookout which is only 6.5km (4 miles) each way.
Eliminating the final 1.5km up and back shaves the average time needed to hike the Roys Peak track down to 4-6 hours.
🧗 What is the elevation gain of the Roys Peak Hike?
The hike to the pinnacle of Roys Peak requires a 1300-meter elevation gain (about 1 vertical mile) starting from the parking area.
Inexperienced hikers may think this sounds reasonable. However, you should know that this is actually very steep! The hike itself is extremely grueling for all but the most experienced hikers.
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📝 Preparing for the Roys Peak Track
It is important to be adequately prepared to hike the Roys Peak Track. Many visitors to New Zealand underestimate its difficulty and/or overestimate their physical condition and end up in a lot of trouble.
Accordingly, be sure you browse this section and are prepared for your visit.
🤔 What to expect On the Roys Peak Track
The average hiker will spend about 3.5 hours getting to the top of Roys Peak and another 2.5-3 hours returning. The ascent is extremely steep and physically exerting, while the journey back down is less grueling but much harder on the joints.
The actual trail to Roys Peak is extremely easy to follow. In fact, we would go so far as to say that it is all but impossible to lose. This means that hikers wanting to photograph sunrise at Roys Peak or return after sunset should have no difficulty making the climb in the dark (though a flashlight would be recommended.)
In addition to a steep climb, be aware that the entire trail is completely exposed. If you are hiking in the summer, expect the sun to be beating down on you throughout your trek. In the winter, you should expect some snow along the trail and at the top, and even ice in some stretches.
🥾 How to dress for hiking Roys Peak
The most important article of clothing for your trip up Roys Peak is appropriate shoes. This is a difficult hike and those wearing uncomfortable shoes will regret that decision.
If you are hiking in the summer, consider wearing long layers to protect your skin from the relentless sun. Otherwise, be sure to apply a lot of sunscreen before and throughout your hike. The sun is particularly strong in New Zealand as there is almost no ozone left and you will burn faster than in other countries.
In the winter months, it can get very cold, especially at the peak of the mountain. While you will undoubtedly be sweating during the hike, that sweat will soak your clothes and cause you to freeze when you get to the top.
Accordingly, bring a warm jacket that you leave off for the hike but are ready to put on at the top. Also, consider bringing an extra dry layer to change into once you’ve ascended.
💧 What to bring for the Roys Peak hike
The most important thing you will need to bring to hike the Roys Peak track is plenty of water! This is an exhausting climb and nothing will be available at the top, so being unprepared can be disastrous.
In addition to food and water, also consider bringing the following items on your hike:
- Sunscreen – You will be exposed to the sun throughout the hike and the New Zealand sun is no joke.
- Mosquito Repellent – They can be pretty aggressive in New Zealand!
- Camera – You didn’t hike all this way NOT to take photos!
- Tripod – Don’t trust a stranger to get it right, bring a tripod and set up your shot to ensure you come home with the perfect photo!
- Flashlight – While the track is really easy to follow, it’s worth packing a flashlight if you’ll be be hiking at sunrise or sunset.
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🌅 When is the best time to visit Roys Peak
Extremely early summer mornings are the best time to hike Roy’s Peak. This gives you the best chance at finding parking and reasonable temperatures for the hike, as well as shorter waits for “the shot.”
Each season and time of day brings its own list of pros and cons for visiting Roys Peak. More important than when to visit Roys Peak is when NOT to visit Roys Peak. As previously discussed, the Roys Peak Track is closed from October 1st – November 10th for lambing season. Therefore, you will be unable to do the hike during that time.
In addition, the track can get very difficult and even dangerous in the winter. It is best avoided during, or immediately following, heavy snow.
We will discuss the pros and cons of hiking the Roys Peak track during each season below, as well as the best times of day to consider.
⛅️ What season is best to hike Roys Peak?
Each season brings different advantages and disadvantages for hiking the Roys Peak track.
Pros: Reliable weather, longer days.
Cons: Large crowds, longer waits, hottest temperatures.
We did the hike once in the summer before it had been made so famous by Instagram. At that time, we were able to get to the popular lookout and take photos without lines, but that is no longer possible. However, going in the summer did allow us to stay and photograph overnight without worrying about the weather. In addition, the colors in the landscape had a bit more pop without snow.
Pros: Moderate temperatures, slightly smaller crowds.
Cons: Still very busy, unpredictable weather.
Autumn is probably the best time to do the Roys Peak Track. The temperatures are not as extreme, the crowds have thinned, and the locals have returned to work and school from holidays. However, you can still expect a high volume of backpackers and tourists to contend with for parking spaces.
Pros: Smallest crowds, snow adds some interest, not so hot.
Cons: Weather must be carefully monitored, trail can be very muddy and slippery.
Our second trip to Roys Peak was on the edge of winter as the season turned to Spring. This was almost two years after our first hike and the difference in the popularity was astonishing. Even in off season, we had to wait in line 40 minutes for a shot!
We did enjoy hiking in the cooler temperatures though. Plus, a fresh snow dusting made the scenery look very different from our first visit.
Pros: Smaller crowds, moderate temperatures, potentially amazing sunsets.
Cons: Track is closed from Oct 1st – Nov 10th, lots of rain, muddy trails.
Spring is probably the worst time to hike Roys Peak as a rule, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get lucky! The weather can be very wet and unpredictable this time of year, and you even face the possibility of freak snow storms. The worst part, of course, is that the track is closed for a big chunk of the season.
That said, if you visit while the track is open and get good conditions, springtime tends to get some of the most dramatic sunrises and sunsets. If everything aligns, that unpredictable weather could be a blessing rather than a curse!
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🌅 When is the best time of day to hike Roys Peak?
Being at Roys Peak for sunrise is a very special thing, and is the best time to be there overall.
However, much like choosing the right season, there are pros and cons to doing the Roys Peak hike at different times of day. These mostly come down to crowd sizes, temperatures, and conditions.
Roys Peak Sunrise Hike
In our opinion, the best time to hike the Roys Peak track is for sunrise. Of course, this means waking up extremely early or staying up very late. It also potentially means hiking up in the dark.
That said, the rewards for hiking Roys Peak at sunrise are many. You will not need to worry about crowds, lines, or parking, nor being exposed to the blistering sun.
Even getting here this early, do not expect to have the place to yourself during peak season! People will literally be hiking the track day and night in the summer!
Roys Peak Daytime Hike
While we won’t say it is the best time, simply heading up in the afternoon is certainly the easiest time to hike the Roys Peak track. You avoid waking up at an unreasonable hour for sunrise, have time to prepare for the hike, and the light tends to be very nice on the scenery in the late afternoon.
The downside, of course, is that you may have more trouble finding parking and you will also may be dealing with crowds.
In the summer season, I would strongly recommend avoiding a midday hike and opting for the late afternoon or sunrise. The track is incredibly easy to follow so even if you descend after sunset, you’ll have no problem finding your way back down.
Roys Peak Sunset Hike
In the summer, a few hours before sunset is the best time to begin hiking the Roys Peak Track. There are many advantages to getting this late start. The crowds will be thinning as you’re arriving, the temperatures will be cooling, and the golden hour lighting is fantastic for photography.
The downsides are that you will be hiking back in the dark and the actual sunset lighting at Roys Peak is not as photogenic. The problem with sunset is that the landscape is cast in shadow as soon as the sun goes behind the mountain, but the colors don’t come on for quite some time to follow.
Conversely, sunrise at Roys Peak is when the first golden light will flood the scene, creating far more enchanting photographs.
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⛺️ Camping at Roys Peak
Our first trip to Roys Peak, we planned on camping at the top to photograph sunset, night skies, and sunrise. Upon arriving, however, we learned that camping was prohibited.
With that said, it is common for people to attempt the Roys Peak hike even at night, especially in the summer. While setting up a campsite is prohibited, there is no rule against being there overnight so long as you leave no trace.
We elected to do this as we wanted to be there for all the best times of day and knew we could sleep in the morning after sunrise.
🏕 Can you camp at Roys Peak?
Camping at Roys Peak is prohibited. While you cannot legally set up a campsite, the trail is open 24/7 and there is nothing preventing you from staying overnight to enjoy the stars and the following sunrise.
The key here is to be respectful and leave absolutely no trace. This means no litter, no toilet paper, no campfires, nothing! New Zealand officials have become intolerant of freedom campers and have made an effort to enforce restrictions more thoroughly.
On our visit, we hiked up in time for golden hour and sunset, then stayed up shooting night photography. At the top, we did see one camper who was a New Zealand local, and kindly let us use his tent as a prop for some astrophotography.
As we always point out in this blog, we consider our job not to condemn nor condone but to educate. If you do decide to camp at Roys Peak despite the restrictions, do the right thing and make sure EVERYTHING you pack in is packed out.
🏆 Is the Roys Peak Hike worth it?
The Roys Peak Hike provides the most picturesque views in all of New Zealand. It is absolutely worth making time for on any visit to South Island.
While the Roys Peak hike itself is exhausting and even a bit boring as the views seldom change along the way, the reward from the top is definitely worth it!! It is easily one of the best things to do in Wanaka.
With that said, as the crowds continue to grow and the wait times continue to increase, the experience will continue to diminish.
If you only have time for one day hike in New Zealand, you may instead want to consider the Rocky Peak Hike that is also in Wanaka. While the final viewpoint from Roys Peak is basically unbeatable, the Rocky Mountain Peak provides a lot more diversity in scenery and was absolutely stunning from the peak as well.
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📸 Roys Peak Track Photography Tips
Whether you are shooting with a proper DSLR or mirrorless camera, or simply using your phone, we wanted to provide you with some tips for photographing the Roys Peak track.
After all, you didn’t hike all that way to go home without photographic souvenirs!
Check out our post on travel photography camera gear to see what we used to take the photos in this post. If you are looking to invest in a camera, then you may also be interested in this blog post about the best cameras.
🏞 Photography tips and compositions
First things first, the viewpoint you see most often photographed is not the actual Roys Peak. However, it undoubtedly provides the best composition available.
The reason this composition works so well when photographing Roys Peak is that the ridge acts as a wonderful leading line out to a distinct edge. When you place a human subject there, they appear to be standing on the edge of the world!
You will want to position your camera and tripod in the flat space where people wait and congregate and align your composition so that you are looking directly down the leading line.
This will also ensure that your subject is surrounded by the water of Lake Wanaka, giving them a more defined shape. If they overlap with the mountain behind, they may blend in and get lost.
Regarding zoom, we shot some with a very wide angle to feature the landscape more prominently and some zoomed in to create more focus on the subject(s).
We also employed a number of different poses to emote different feelings. For example, in the photo above, we had Sophie jump and hold a more action-packed pose to create a sense of adventure!
To give yourself the best chance at capturing the feeling of being there through photography, try a combination of poses, zooms, and, if possible, alternate outfits. The opportunities for photography at Roys Peak are plentiful, and they go well beyond this one viewpoint.
🌅 Roys Peak Sunrise Photography
Photographing a Roys Peak sunrise was one of the most memorable experiences of our entire trip to New Zealand. It was amazing to have the place so quiet, the color in the sky was insane, and the way the first light kisses the landscape here is breathtaking.
As previously mentioned, we consider sunrise to be the best time to visit Roys Peak. If you were standing at the popular viewpoint, expect the sun to rise to the right. Be there early in case you are fortunate enough to get some color in the sky.
While waking up early or staying up late enough to watch sunrise at Roys Peak is challenging, the beauty and serenity you will discover is well worth it!
🌄 Roys Peak Sunset Photography
Although photographing sunset at Roys Peak is a lot easier to manage than sunrise, we must say that it was not the best time to photograph. This primarily comes down to the location where the sun sets.
As it goes down below distant mountain ranges, most of your landscape and foreground will be in shadow well before the sky catches color.
This also means that the viewpoint will be in shadow long before the sky gets dark, creating a very difficult contrast to work with.
With that said, if you hike to the actual top of Roys Peak, you will discover some beautiful compositions along the way that feature some of the mountains and scenery that are not photographed as often.
If you decide to photograph sunset at Roys Peak, get your shots from the popular viewpoint first while the light is balanced. Once you’ve got these, head up the mountain to photograph golden hour and sunset from higher up.
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🏞 Nearby Alternatives to Roys Peak Track
If you have arrived to hike the Roys Peak only to discover its lambing season, or would simply prefer to explore somewhere less crowded, these are the best alternatives to the Roys Peak track near Wanaka.
🚶♀️ 1. Rocky Peak Track
Honestly, this hidden gem might just be the best hike in all of New Zealand’s south island… but that is a tough award to give out.
The hike up the Rocky Peak track is a moderate climb, but is significantly easier and shorter than the Roys Peak track. The views are also far more diverse throughout your journey.
The Rocky Mountain Peak hike is 7km roundtrip (4+ miles) and takes about 3 hours in total. However, we spent a LOT more time here because the light and scenery was seriously incredible for landscape photography.
This is hands down our favorite alternative to the Roys Peak track. It should be strongly considered by anyone who has time for a day hike, even if you also intend on hiking Roys Peak.
If you would like to see more photos from our hike up Rocky Peak Track, we have included it at the number 5 spot for our favorite New Zealand landscape photography destinations. This guide also provides a lot of hidden gems around the South Island and is worth browsing.
❄️ 2. Rob Roy Glacier Hike
Not only is the Rob Roy Glacier Track only 10km (6km shorter than the Roys Peak track), but there is almost no elevation gain. The shorter distance and flatter terrain make the Rob Roy Glacier hike a far easier trek. Honestly, the most difficult part is getting there!
Most vehicles without high clearance will struggle to reach the trailhead. Additionally, the track can be entirely unreachable throughout much of the year due to the high water areas you must overcome to get there.
If you are able to visit, however, it is a very beautiful and unique alternative to the Roys Peak track. The scenery is obviously very different as you are not up high looking down on the landscape, but rather looking up at a wall of ice!
We did this hike on our first visit to New Zealand and are positive there are some amazing photo opportunities to be had. However, we found the lighting very harsh and didn’t come home with anything that rivaled the photos taken at Rocky Peak or Roys Peak.
🧗 3. Isthmus Peak Trail
Full disclosure, this is one of the hikes that we have not yet personally done. However, it is the most famous alternative to the Roys Peak hike and is quickly becoming an equally popular option.
The Isthmus Peak track is similar to the Roys Peak track, in that it overlooks Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea after ascending very high in elevation. Like the Roys Peak hike, it requires a 16km return trip with a similar elevation gain. You should expect to take 5-7 hours for this hike as well.
In my opinion, the views may be similar but the composition at Roys Peak makes for a better photograph than those I’ve seen at Isthmus Peak. For the non-photographers who prefer a quiet experience over the popular one, this is as close as you can get to the Roys Peak views while avoiding the backpacker mayhem.
🇳🇿 Planning for your Trip to New Zealand
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
Those of you planning a trip to the South Island will also want to queue up a few of our NZ travel guides. In particular, I promise you will want to bookmark our ULTIMATE South Island New Zealand map, featuring EVERY point of interest that we photographed over months of travel.
We highly recommend exploring by campvervan and have written a comprehensive guide to campervanning New Zealand. It is the perfect country to explore this way and is particularly ideal if you’re traveling with photography in mind.
Be sure to explore our New Zealand South Island 7 day itinerary (even if your visit is longer) to get an idea of effective route options and help maximize your time. This itinerary provides important travel insight and plenty more photographic inspiration for your trip!
And on that note… photographers and explorers will also be interested in this guide to our favorite New Zealand landscape photography destinations and hidden gems!
Last, we have also created this guide to help you answer the most common question, “when is the best time to visit New Zealand?“.
📜 More New Zealand Travel Guides
We have a variety of guides for New Zealand that you may also find helpful:
- Ultimate 7 Day South Island Itinerary
- South Island New Zealand Map
- Campervanning New Zealand: A Complete Guide
- Best Time to Visit New Zealand
- New Zealand Landscape Photography Locations
- Queenstown to Milford Sound
- Overnight Cruise to Doubtful Sound
💬 Final Thoughts on Hiking the Roys Peak Track
The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂
We hope you have found this travel guide to hiking the Roys Peak track both informative and inspiring! Feel free to print or bookmark it for future use!
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Were all of your questions answered? Does anything need updating? Let us know in the comments below!
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