Is Roy’s Peak overrated? The most Instagrammed hike in Wanaka, New Zealand

20th August 2017

It’s plastered all over Instagram and is the must-do hike according to just about anyone who has done it.

Roy’s Peak is one of the most talked about walking tracks in New Zealand. It’s a 3 hour ascent to the summit of Mount Roy, a mere 1,578m above sea level. And it’s situated 6km from the sleepy town of Wanaka, in Otago on New Zealand’s South Island.

I don’t know if this hike was ever a secret (I mean, it’s quite an obvious mountain that looks over Lake Wanaka and the start of the track is very clearly marked), but in the past couple of years, it seems to have become a sensastion – a true #NZMustDo. Everyone seems to have got that shot of themselves at the lookout spot, gazing out into the distance over the lake (yep, me included). Some people venture further; their photos show the enormity of the landscape from the summit of Mount Roy.

So, since Roy’s Peak is so popular, has it become overrated?

The car park is always full

In the high season (December to February), the car park fills up extremely quickly. Arrive no later than 9am to ensure you get a parking space. Luckily, it’s completely free to park at the start of the track.

It’s a boring ascent

The thing about this track is that, aside from the views at the top, it’s incredibly boring. It literally just zig-zags up the side of a hill until you get to the top. There are no interesting stop off points along the way (aside from where everyone takes that photo). It’s just farmland and the occasional gate/ stile.

The track is closed for lambing in October every year

Yep, that’s right – because the track crosses private land which is in fact farmland, the owner has the right to close it at any time. The track is always closed every year for six weeks (1 October – 10 November) for lambing, no exceptions, you can’t do the hike at this time at all. So plan ahead if it’s on your must-do list!

It’s SO popular

Remember at the start of this post when I said everybody has a photo taken here? Well in order to get a lot of photos you need to have a lot of people. And a LOT of people do this hike, similar levels to the amount of people who do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – so you do seem to end up in a queue at a few points along the track. At the summit and the lookout spot, people wait and queue up to take that photo.

Some people don’t even go to the summit

The worst part is that most people don’t even bother climbing all the way to the top. They stop at the lookout spot to take some nice photos and then head back down the hill. When we were there, a couple asked us if going to the summit was worth it. If you’re gonna say you did Roy’s Peak, at least make it to the Peak. And yes – it is worth it!

The view is gorgeous from the lookout, but after this point, it’s only another 30 mins of walking to reach the summit of Mount Roy – and what better feeling is there than standing on top of a mountain? The view up there is nothing short of spectacular as well.

So, is the hike to Roy’s Peak overrated?

Of course it isn’t. Not one bit.

Everything I’ve said so far in this post doesn’t matter because the view at the top (okay yes from the lookout point but also from the actual top of Mount Roy) – makes all of it worth it.

Who cares if there’s loads of other people doing the hike? Does it matter if the ascent itself is boring? So what if there’s sheep poo all over the track? And who cares if there are a billion other photos of that exact same view on Instagram?

The secret? Seeing it at sunrise

I’ve hiked Roy’s Peak twice – once in the daytime and once for sunrise – and both are unforgettable. But starting the hike in the early hours of the morning was undoubtedly more worthwhile.

Seeing as it’s a dull track, as long as you’ve got your head torch, you won’t be missing out on much by making the ascent in the dark. In fact, it’s better to do it in the dark as it’s cooler and you won’t get sunburnt. Plus the sheep’s eyes make them look like aliens in the darkness which is quite amusing.

There aren’t anywhere near as many people who start this hike in the middle of the night – perhaps they aren’t crazy like I am? We began walking at 3am and reached the lookout spot about half an hour before the sun came up – and we were the only people there.

When you see Lake Wanaka as the sun rises over the hills behind you, nothing else matters. It has got to be one of the most beautiful views in the world, and one of the most memorable I will see in my lifetime.

I felt like I was watching a film at the cinema, with Lake Wanaka plastered on the silver screen. And we had it all to ourselves! It was like Mother Nature was putting on a show especially for us. Despite the cold and fatigue from the early wake up call, I sat munching on my peanut butter sandwich with a grin on my face.

Being out and about in nature is one of the main reasons I love hiking. Reaching a lookout or the top of a mountain is always a great feeling, but when I see views like this one, it puts everything else in perspective: the world is a beautiful place and I feel humbled to be able to travel and see things like these.

Length: 16km return | Difficulty: Hard | Time: 5-6 hours return | Footwear: Trainers/ Hiking Boots

Other hikes you can do in Wanaka

If you feel like exploring Wanaka further, you can try some of the below hikes.

Mount Iron

A quick but intense ascent up the hill that looks just like its name. Expect panoramic views over the town, the lake, and the countryside.

Length: 4.5km loop track | Difficulty: Medium | Time: 1 hour 30 mins | Footwear: Trainers

Rob Roy Glacier

A half-day walk in Mount Aspiring National Park, this is a must for any nature geeks out there. Standing at the lookout at the top, you can hear the ice falling in huge chunks down the glacier. There are also signs along the track advising where the glacier used to be, and photos to show the differences between what it looked like then and how it is now.

Length: 10km return | Difficulty: Easy/Medium| Time: 3-4 hours | Footwear: Hiking Boots/ Trainers

Blue Pools

A short, easy walk through the beech trees and across a swing-bridge. The blue pools are the name for Makarora River, a beautiful too-blue-to-be-true river in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Length: 1.5km return | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1 hour | Footwear: Flip Flops/ Trainers

Isthmus Peak

This one is so high on my wish-list but unfortunately my ankle was playing up when I was last in the area. The climb to the summit of Mount Isthmus is steep and challenging but the views from the top make it completely worthwhile.

Length: 16km return | Difficulty: Hard | Time: 5-6 hours return | Footwear: Hiking Boots

The below photos were taken by Carson Leong.

Have you climbed Roy’s Peak? What did you think of it?

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

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4 responses to “Is Roy’s Peak overrated? The most Instagrammed hike in Wanaka, New Zealand”

  1. Hey Abbi, I have been following you for a while now and absolutely love your work, you really inspire me, that is why I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, read my post to find out more 🙂

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  2. Oh man, your photos are incredible! It’s good to read about Roy’s Peak from a different perspective because you ALWAYS just see “that” photo and it’s crazy that you often have to queue for it. Good to know that the track shuts for six weeks too, I had no idea about that! Definitely on my list for next time. 🙂

  3. […] Roy’s Peak is a real hiking highlight in Wanaka (and not one bit overrated!) […]

  4. We just did this hike over the weekend and you are right – the walk is boring but the views are totally worth it!

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I’m a travel loving sustainability advocate, on a journey to live a low-impact lifestyle alongside seeing the world. I’m obsessed with my two dogs, secondhand shopping, and growing vegetables.

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