Roys Peak – Hiking in Wanaka

We aren’t hikers. We don’t even pretend to be fit. We do however enjoy a challenge, and like to push our limits. We think of ourselves as adventurers, and what kind of explorer wouldn’t be prepared to strap camping gear to their back and scale a mountain?

Roys Peak was never on our list, in fact I was even oblivious to its existence! That is until I saw a friend’s photo on Instagram. This is probably a good point to admit that we plan a lot of our travels and food according to things we have seen online. This technique, combined with chatting to fellow travellers proves to be a more satisfactory way to travel than following the suggestions of guide books! As I always say, combine the names of two popular travel guides and you get the perfect balance: ‘Roughly Plan It’. Enough of this tangent; we are off to climb a mountain.

Roys Peak overlooking Lake Wanaka

After further research, the hike up Roys Peak climbed rapidly up to the top of Plane Sailing’s Kiwi Bucket List (despite not featuring on the original), but a decision needed to be made; should we aim to be at the summit for sunset, or sunrise? The former would mean a descent in rapidly fading light, whereas the latter would be the opposite. Neither seemed too appealing, so we settled for both.
We started looking into the regulations on camping in the area, and I can tell you now, the information is not easy to find, so if you are looking at spending the night atop Roys Peak, let me help you out: (skip this part if you are only interested in our expedition)
– Yes, you can camp there. It is public land and therefore camping cannot be prohibited.
– However… the track starts out on PRIVATE land. There is no reason to stop and camp there, but you should be aware of this fact.
– The track is closed from 1st October to 10th November for lambing season. Remember this to avoid disappointment!
– It will get cold, even in the height of Summer, and is known for its high speed winds. Keep a close eye on the weather and if in doubt, visit the local Department of Conservation office in Wanaka.
– Be equipped accordingly. We camped in Summer and the overnight temperatures dropped to 2°C. I would recommend thermals or multiple layers of clothing, especially if you do not have a warm sleeping bag.
– Water. It is heavy, it takes up space, you will be kicking yourself if you don’t have enough of it! It is a tough trek without a pack, but with one, it becomes a long, grueling ascent. We carried 3.25L for the two of us for our overnight stay. In 26° heat, rationing it required a huge amount of self-control.
– If you do not have a tent, you can rent one from Outdoor Sports in Wanaka for $10/day
– Take enough food, but prioritize things that are easy to carry. No need to make it harder on yourself!
– If you have any questions, doubts, or need more tips, talk to DOC. They are friendly and helpful!

We camped just outside Wanaka in preparation for our climb the next day. The forecast was not looking ideal, but we have full faith in how wrong the New Zealand meteorological service generally is. It is an ongoing joke that being a weatherman here would be the best job ever. Alas, we awoke to rain, and although we probably should have expected it, it was still enough to dampen the spirits. Never mind, just means we could allow ourselves a lie-in, waiting for the drizzle to pass.

We aimed to start our hike by 2pm. We made a quick stop in Wanaka, then headed to the base of the mountain for a spot of lunch. The summit wore a layer of white clouds like a cape, and we glanced frequently up at it in apprehension. We needn’t have been so fearful – as we donned our packs and bid farewell to Casper and Nuni, the cloud cape lifted, and the summit was revealed! And so it was, with the sun beating down on us, we set off up the steep winding path. Up, and up, and up!

Roys Peak view

The views are phenomenal, right from the start. Lake Wanaka sprawls out below you; a twisting, shimmering carpet of blue flanked by the emerald green hills. Don’t whip out the camera too soon, the views will only improve! At every bend in the path, at every short breather we took, I was all too tempted to snap a quick shot. Had I given in to this impulse, we would be sifting through half a million photos of Lake Wanaka right about now. Take my advice, drink in the views, save the pics for the top.

Although the view does improve, it doesn’t change so much as grow. To your left, you can see further and further over the rolling hills, to your right, Wanaka sprawls out lazily in the sunshine, dead ahead, that typical, blue, New Zealand haze.

Take breaks, don’t be ashamed. You will soon get to know those hiking around you as you keep crossing paths, each overtaking the other at intervals, like slow, quiet rally cars on an infinite track. Then the path plateaus. Before you, that iconic Roys Peak Instagram photo: the short winding track along a ridge, the lake and mountains in the background, some tourists leaping in their cheesy pose in the foreground. Breathe. Rest. Drink some of your precious water. You deserve it. But don’t get too comfortable, you aren’t there yet.

We stopped for a good hour in this spot; chatting, relaxing, taking some cheesy photos ourselves. We still had a 45 minute climb ahead of us before we would reach the very top – 45 minutes of pain, sweat, and dirt until we could say we had conquered Roys Peak. It was tough, we skidded and slid as we attempted to take the shortcut to the top – but we made it. Hell, yes, we made it!

We took some time to ourselves before scouting out a sheltered and reasonably flat spot for our tent. We ate our dinner, quietly contemplating what we had just been through, and admiring the sight of the path below us, then joined the few other campers who arrived shortly after us. Brits, an American, a Swede, some French, and of course a few local boys – these world citizens gathered together in a moment of silence to appreciate the natural beauty of the sinking sun. We assembled once more, later, and lay on the concrete slab that marks the summit to observe the night skies above us. Some snapping eerily beautiful photographs of the stars, others counting the shooting variety. All was calm, and peaceful… and cold. After deciding that stars are after all, just stars (and that they can be seen from warmer places too), we retired to the (slight) warmth of the tent. Exhausted and aching, we fell asleep quickly, despite the hard ground.

View from tent up Roys Peak

When we awoke early the following morning, we were met by the hushed voices of hikers who had set off in the middle of the night in order to reach the top by sunrise. “Lunatics” I muttered to Dev under my breath as we layered up against the chill to join the throng on the ‘viewing platform’. Clearly those who start hiking at 3am are far more touched in the head than those who hike in daylight – even with 10kg of gear strapped to their backs! The sunrise was rewarding, and had us running from one direction to the other, as colours flared up on varying horizons. One second the lake would be the star, the next it would be the soft pink glow reflecting off the snowcapped mountains. It was the kind of sunrise that you could breath in, then sigh out, holding its essence inside of you. The raw, natural beauty of life.

Once the show was over, we ate a brief breakfast, packed up the tent, and started our descent with a spring in our step (thanks to our accomplishment, coupled with our lightened packs). We made it down easily, galumphing down the steeper parts, and offering encouraging words to those undertaking the arduous climb.

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A great couple of days, forged into our memories and aching muscles; an achievement we are proud of. Would we do it again? Hum – one to think about – as a day trip, most certainly, with all that added weight? Perhaps not. But there is no questioning the fact that it was 100% worth it!

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