New Zealand Oceania

Spectacular Sunrise at Roys Peak: One of the Best Day Hikes in Wanaka, New Zealand


Pink and purple hues greeted us as we conquered the top of one of New Zealand’s most famous hikes, Roys Peak. How lucky are we to see such magnificent sunrise over the stunning views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and the surrounding peaks! This has got to be one of the most beautiful and most memorable day hikes we’ve done in New Zealand

An Early Start: Hiking in the Dark

There is something to be said for people who are up and about at a wee hours of the morning to see the sunrise. Is it really worth it ? Yes, this thought usually runs through my head as my sleepy brain attempts to go back to dreamworld. Having done a few sunrise hikes in the past, the answer is usually a resounding “of course it’s worth it, so wake up and get ready”. Fortunately for me, I only had to be fully awake once we got to the start of the track, Jon (who is usually the more motivated one in our team to do these early walks) had to drive about an hour from Alexandra to Wanaka so we can get an early start of 4:30 am to make it to the 7:40 am sunrise at the top (in March).

It was cold and dark. With nothing but the lights from our head torches to lead the way, we ventured onto one of the most popular tracks in Wanaka, if not New Zealand. The start of the walk was uphill all the way but it was easy enough since the first sections of the track are along what used to be a wide 4WD track.

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Most of the track goes through private farmland, the terrain itself is not exciting for the first sections of the track so mostly we focused on the stars and the city lights we could vaguely see as we continued along the steep zigzag track. There were times we thought we’re close, it’s right at the next turnoff. But we weren’t – it was still a long way ahead.

As we progressed farther, the trail started to change. Finally, we reached the tussocks, which meant we were already in high elevation. Before we knew it, faint orange light started to shine through the clouds. Knowing the prize we longed for was close, excitement filled us. Adrenaline started to kick in and we took advantage of it, pushing farther forward. Higher and higher along the uneven and narrow terrain.

The Summit: Sunrise at Roys Peak

After three hours of continuous uphill hiking we finally made it to the summit. The challenging last few minutes of the ascent were quickly forgotten as we stopped and took in the enchanting colours of the sky over breathtaking views of Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring and the surrounding peaks. What a beauty! The hike to Roys Peak is easily one of the best day hikes in New Zealand and truly spectacular at sunrise. We hung around at the peak for about half an hour to enjoy the beautiful scenery and witness the sun travel completely over the horizon.


The Iconic Instagram Spot at Roys Peak

On the way back, with the sun fully out, we appreciated the track we had just struggled up. One of the sections of the track that we went back to see was the iconic viewpoint for Instagram photos. Apparently people queue and wait for their turn for a photo here! Luckily, we were early enough that we didn’t have to queue for one photo and we came across a couple we met at the peak and helped each other out to get some shots. The views from this section are pretty amazing too but not necessarily better than the view from the peak. So if you find yourselves having to queue here, I guess it’s all up to you to make the call whether having a photo at the iconic spot is worth the wait.


The Return Journey

One of the upsides to a steep, continuous uphill track is that the return journey is mostly downhill. It wasn’t so bad – walking sticks not required. It must have been the adrenaline rush, we even ran parts of the way down! As we started the hike really early, it was great to see everything in a new light – to see the places that had been covered in darkness on our way up.

We were so pumped after we finished the hike we even thought of doing another hike, Mount Iron, after our hike to Roys Peak but we gave our sore muscles a much deserved break. We went to town instead and treated ourselves to some well-earned gelato.

Travel Tips for Your Hike to Roys Peak

Roys Peak Track Details:

  • We did the hike to Roys Peak in March (summer in New Zealand). The hike to Roys Peak (Elevation of 1,578masl) took us under 6 hours return including taking lots of photos along the way and 30 minutes at the peak to watch the sunrise. The Department of Conservation (DOC) website notes the hike takes about 5 to 6 hours return.
  • How close it it to the main town? The Roys Peak Car park is 6 km outside of Wanaka. Ideally, it’s best if you drive to the track with your own car and come early. Albeit there are tour options available from Wanaka too.
  • Is it difficult? It’s actually not too bad. It’s quite hard on the legs as the trail is mostly uphill and steep in parts but with a few breaks here and there, it’s doable even if you haven’t done many hikes before. Note that there is an elevation gain of 1228m so some hiking endurance is required.

When to Do the Roys Peak Hike:

  • Time your hike right. Do it early, better yet do it for sunrise. You can check the time for sunrise at MetService. The light is amazing at this time of day and hiking uphill is easier while its cool in the morning. The track also gets very busy so it’s best to do this hike early.
  • Choose your season wisely. The terrain here is pretty all year round even without snow on the mountains. Note though that track is closed for lambing from the 1 October – 10 November each year. While it is an easy walking track. In winter, conditions are quite different, you will need to carry and be able to use alpine equipment and have some avalanche knowledge as the top section, above the 1000m mark is a challenging avalanche terrain. Find out more about this on the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory website or check with the Mt Aspiring National Park Visitor Centre in town.
  • Check the weather before you go. For weather updates across New Zealand, MetService is the most reliable website.

What to Wear:

  • Wear appropriate clothes and footwear. The trail is exposed to the elements so make sure to wear appropriate clothes to keep you warm and dry (a waterproof / windproof jacket is a must when you reach the top). The weather changes rapidly in this region. Hypothermia is said to be real risk even in summer. Gloves and a hat will come pretty handy too to keep you warm. Wear sturdy footwear as parts of the track are quite rough and uneven.

What to Bring:

  • Protect yourself from the harsh sun. Wear sunscreen or bring one along with you as the track is exposed (New Zealand sun is quite extreme so it’s easy to get sun burnt).
  • Bring a head torch (choose one with high lumens).
  • Bring enough food and water with you. There is nowhere to fill the water along the whole track.

Other Travel Tips:

  • Be smart about your toilet breaks. There is one at the start of the track and close to the end of the track
  • Want to stay a little longer? You can camp on Roys Peak.  We saw a few people camping and it’d be the good way to do it as you’ll be there for both sunset and sunrise.
  • What if it’s too busy? There are other nearby hikes that you can do including Isthmus Peak, the Diamond Lake / Rocky Mountain Track or other walks in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Do you have plans to do the hike to Roys Peak in Wanaka? Let us know.

About the author

Gia Kristel Algie

Currently based in New Zealand, Gia grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly two years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her husband, Jon.

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