Roy’s Peak Hike: The Most Instagrammable Spot in New Zealand
New Zealand is a beautiful country with many amazing spots. Roy’s Peak is perhaps one of the most popular and beautiful hikes in the South Island of New Zealand. This guide tells you everything you need to know to hike Roy’s Peak in Wanaka.
Everyone knows that New Zealand is full of natural beauty but to me, the best way to really see how beautiful New Zealand is is through hiking. There is no better view than the view from the top of the mountain and Roy’s Peak is the prime example of this.
Located in Wanaka in South Island of New Zealand, Roy’s Peak became one of the most popular hiking trails in New Zealand almost overnight, thanks to the social media marketing success.
Roy’s Peak had always been unnoticed by travelers because it is not a particularly interesting hike (there I said it!). But once the photo of Roy’s Peak became viral on Social Media, this hike suddenly became extremely popular and crowded. Having said that, I must admit that the only reason I wanted to hike Roy’s Peak was for that Instagram photo.
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Where is Roy’s Peak?
Roy’s Peak is one of the peaks near the town of Wanaka, about 1 hour away from Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. From Wanaka, it is about a 7 minute drive to the car park at the bottom of Roy’s Peak. You can also bike to the Roy’s Peak trail head from Wanaka town center to avoid having to deal with parking (more on that later).
Checking the Weather Before You Hike Roy’s Peak
Like most other hikes in New Zealand, Roy’s Peak track is best done during the summer months of mid November to April when there is no snow on the hiking trail.
Every October to mid November, Roy’s Peak track is closed for lambing. Part of the hiking trail actually is on private land so it is not surprising the trails can be closed for this purpose.
Even in the summer, you should bring layers when hiking Roy’s Peak because weather can change rapidly especially at the peak. I have seen stories where it suddenly stormed at the view point (where everyone takes the Instagram photo of Roy’s Peak) and hikers have to rush down to gain warmth. When I was at Roy’s Peak mid December, it was quite windy and cold on top even though I was wearing a t-shirt while hiking up.
You can still hike Roy’s Peak in the winter but you will need to bring and use alpine equipment such as ice axe and crampons. There is also avalanche risk in the winter.
One thing you should note is that you can actually see Roy’s Peak from Wanaka. If you can’t see the peak because of clouds or rain, then you shouldn’t bother hiking Roy’s Peak because you won’t be able to see anything let alone take photos at the famous view point. While I was in Wanaka, I was obsessively checking the weather and cloud coverage because I wasn’t sure if it was going to stop raining.
One of the best website I found for Wanaka weather is a Norwegian weather service because it provided hour by hour cloud coverage information. If it’s 100% low cloud coverage then you might want to use common sense and see if it’s worth hiking Roy’s Peak. This weather service was a real life saver otherwise I would’ve tried to hike up to Roy’s Peak before sunrise and not be able to see anything! It works better than the official Metservice from New Zealand.
Parking at Roy’s Peak
The Roy’s Peak parking lot is at the base of the hike, about 7 minute drive from the town of Wanaka on Mt. Aspiring Road. The Parking lot actually fits about 100 cars and it’s not a small car park. However due to the crazy popularity of Roy’s Peak hike, even 100 car park is not enough.
The parking lot sometimes fills up by 7am on a nice day so if you plan to hike Roy’s Peak early in the morning you should aim to get there before then. If you can wake up for sunrise and start hiking at 3 or 4am that’s even better. For this very reason, the DOC website recommends hikers to actually bike to Roy’s Peak parking lot from Wanaka to avoid congesting the parking lot.
In case the Roy’s Peak parking lot is full when you get there, you can always park on the side of the road as most people do. But it’s very important that you park inside the yellow lines or you will get a hefty NZ$60 fine.
Even if you park inside the parking lot, make sure you park at actual spaces. When I was at Roy’s Peak early afternoon I saw the parking people giving out tickets to people parked at the edge of the parking lot (not in an actual space) even though it looked like a real space. They are very strict about parking at Roy’s Peak so make sure you follow the rules.
Details of Roy’s Peak Hike in Wanaka
Length of Roy’s Peak Hike: 11km round trip
Time it takes to hike Roy’s Peak: ~6-7 hours round trip
Elevation of Roy’s Peak Hike: 1578m
Difficulty: Strenuous and requires good fitness level
Roy’s Peak is a very steep and tiring hike. You need to be of decent physical fitness level to survive hiking to Roy’s Peak. Immediately after you exit the Roy’s Peak parking lot you begin the steep climb.
The first 30 minutes of the Roy’s Peak hike is really steep and within 5 minutes you can look back to see how far you’ve gotten from the parking lot. You will also be passing through private farmlands during the first part of the hike so you may see a lot of sheep and little gates and wires to keep the sheep in.
The trail gets slightly better for about 10 minutes after the initial steep ascend but it picks up again soon after. By better I mean it’s less steep but it’s still uphill so I guess it’s all relative. There is not any flat part of the trail, it’s just steep versus really steep.
After about the first 30 minutes you might occasionally see a “short cut”, which is a very steep path that you can go up. You don’t have to hike up the short cut because it probably will just save you 1 minute at most, you can always just follow the regular path to hike up.
There is no shade at all on the Roy’s Peak trail, so make sure you bring a hat, and re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours. There is a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand so the sun is very strong and deadly there. I actually re-applied my sunscreen every 30 minutes while hiking in New Zealand especially on a sunny day to avoid getting burned and it worked well! Since the entire Roy’s Peak trail is exposed with absolutely no cover, be prepared for a sweaty and hot climb.
There is no water on the Roy’s Peak trail, you need to bring adequate amount of water especially if it’s a hot day. We brought 1.5L-2L per person and it was enough. But since it’s a very steep hike, balance the amount of water you need to bring and the weight of the water.
The Roy’s Peak trail is not only long and steep but also very boring. You continue climbing up on the same side of the mountain so the view never changes except you just go higher and higher until you hit the Instagram spot aka the official view point.
During the hike, you will see the town of Wanaka, Wanaka Lake and as you go higher you will start to see the islands, snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps including Mount Aspiring.
However, the Roy’s Peak trail is pretty wide and safe as it’s on a dirt path so it’s not slippery at all. You will see tons of other hikers on this trail, some prepared, some not so prepared. When I was hiking Roy’s Peak I saw a couple carrying flowers and teddy bear up the mountain….
The Famous Instagram Spot on Roy’s Peak
The famous Instagram spot on Roy’s Peak is about 2 hours to 2.5 hours from the start of the hike. You will start seeing a line of people waiting as you hike up so you will definitely not miss it. The line for a photo at this spot can be quite long during the popular December and January month.
Personally I decided to hike up to the peak first and not bother with this line until I come back down from the summit an hour or two later. By then the line died down 🙂
Photo Tip To Take the Famous Instagram Photo at Roy’s Peak
Most people will start lining up on the actual path of the view point at Roy’s Peak. But if you are standing on the path and waiting, you will not be able to take photo with the path in it (like the one below).
Maybe you do not care, but personally I think the whole appeal of Roy’s Peak Instagram photo spot is that path leading to the end because you will not find it anywhere else. If you want a photo of just the view, you can continue hiking up after the Instagram photo spot and you will see plenty more view points for you to take photos like that. Therefore don’t be a noob and wait at the end of path.
Some behind the scene story… while I was there, I saw that everyone was lining up on the path and the line was quite long. I decided to hike up to the Roy’s Peak summit and wait for the line to die down later in the day. After I came back down from the summit, there was only 2 people in front of me (one was the couple that brought teddy bear and flowers…).
Instead of waiting right behind them, I decided to stand at the start of the “path” and told newcomers I was the line. Good thing everyone was very understanding and decided to wait behind me. So after the couple finished taking their proposal photo, I had the entire place to myself and got the photo I wanted (and the most famous shot on social media). Sometimes you just have to be shameless!
Hiking to Roy’s Peak Summit
Many people will turn around after they take the Instagram photo at Roy’s Peak view point since they hike up just for that one shot. But in reality, that Instagram photo spot is not the peak. The actual peak of Roy’s Peak hike is about another 30 minutes uphill.
Is it worth the hike to the Roy’s Peak summit? I personally really liked the summit of Roy’s Peak because it is much quieter and you get the 360 view of the surrounding area instead of the view that you’ve been seeing the entire hike up.
In addition, the hike between the Roy’s Peak Instagram spot and the summit has plenty more view points with higher elevation, and most importantly without any people. So if you only care about the view (and not showing the path leading to it) then you are better off climbing a bit higher for that photo.
Bathrooms on Roy’s Peak Hike
There are 3 bathrooms on the Roy’s Peak trail: 1 by the car park, 1 by the Instagram spot, and 1 at the peak. The bathroom by the summit is the newest one. The peak is also a very small area but it’s not a problem as not many people actually make it to the top.
Either Hike Roy’s Peak Really Early or Really Late
If you are visiting Roy’s Peak during peak season (December – February), there will be a lot of people hiking this. This ultimately means the line to take the most famous Roy’s Peak photo will be LONG. I suggest that you either go really early (be up there before sunrise) or go really late.
When I was there around Christmas time, around 4pm the place pretty much clears out. Sunset during summer in New Zealand is really late, around 9:30pm when I was there. So if you start hiking around 1-2pm, you still have plenty of time to come back down before dark. You will practically have the place to yourself (or with very few other people). If you start hiking between the hour of 7am to 12pm, you will be with the crowd.
Best Way To Prepare for Roy’s Peak
Since Roy’s Peak is a strenuous uphill battle, I recommend doing Stair Master with a backpack to prepare for this hike. I consider myself relatively fit (works out 3-4 times a week, but mostly weights) and I was sore for 3 days after hiking Roy’s Peak. In retrospect, doing a ton of Stair Master would have helped tremendously (or anything that works out your butt).
Final Thoughts on Hiking Roy’s Peak
Roy’s Peak is one of the most instagrammable places in New Zealand and I don’t blame you for wanting to go. Make sure to bring a zoom lens if you want to take the Insta-famous photo with the path leading to the end since the actual spot is quite far so you need to really zoom in. In addition, there is no drone allowed on Roy’s Peak in case you are wondering. Wear layers, a hat, bring sunscreen and water and you should be good to go!
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