Zigzagging above the southern shores of scenic Lake Wanaka, Roy’s Peak Track is surprisingly steep for a short hike, but offers unbeatable views of the lake and surrounding peaks of the Southern Alps. The steady grade began the very first step onto the trail, and climbed relentlessly until reaching the summit of Roy’s Peak, at 5,177 feet. A series of switchbacks wound up an exposed, rocky hillside, covered with dry, golden grasses, sharp thistle, and indifferent sheep. What the route lacked in forests and greenery, though, it more than made up for in views, with vast panoramas of Lake Wanaka and the Wanaka township stretching before us almost immediately as we began the ascent from the trailhead.

Although beautiful, it felt a bit like an endless climb, in part because the “official” Lake Wanaka map we read ahead of time said it was an 11 km return. After returning to town after the hike, we discovered a clearly more accurate resource that listed the track as a 16-km return. I mean, it’s not really a significant difference (though if you want to get technical, they were off by about 30%), but I do enjoy an accurate hike description before setting out on a trail. But, I irritably digress…

As we trudged up the peak’s exposed hillside, the lake and its spectacular islands gradually came into sight as we rounded each ensuing switchback. About three-quarters of the way up the trail we crested a steep ridge and, to our surprise, were suddenly afforded absolutely gorgeous views to the north and west, with the Minaret Peaks, Mt. Aspiring and the glaciated peaks of the Southern Alps towering in the distance above Lake Wanaka and the Matukituki Valley. We continued another 1.5 miles to the summit, where we enjoyed a snack and the panoramic views before heading back down. While the trail itself doesn’t offer much in the way of changing scenery or peaceful forests, the views atop Roy’s Peak are spectacular. I guess one thing the bothersome map did get right was its succinct summary of the track – “hard, but worth it.”

Total distance: 9.6 miles
Elevation gain: 4,279 feet