Hiking in Wanaka, New Zealand: Roys Peak, Isthmus Peak, Rocky Mountain and Rob Roy Glacier
The only way to truly appreciate Wanaka and its immediate surrounds is to see it from above. There are several world-class hikes close to Wanaka, including Roys Peak, Isthmus Peak and Diamond Lake / Rocky Mountain (with Rob Roy Glacier being a little further afield). Do you want to go hiking in Wanaka but aren’t sure which option to choose? Keep reading and maybe I’ll tell you!
Load up Instagram, type in Wanaka and you’ll be flooded with images taken at the top of Roys Peak. It’s by far the most famous hike in Wanaka, but is it the best? I should be keeping you in suspense so you’ll keep reading my post, but yes it is. We hiked the Roys Peak Track for sunrise recently and it was a great (but very exhausting) experience. It’s pretty much three hours of constant uphill hiking, but as soon as the sun wakes up and lights up the sky all the hardships fade away.
You’d have to travel a long way to see a better view than what’s on offer at the Roys Peak summit. Lake Wanaka, surrounded by mountains, spreads out before you while the foreground is filled with golden hills. The walk back down isn’t bad either, especially if you walked up in the dark. The best time to hike the Roys Peak Track is very early in the morning — start around three hours before sunrise and you should time it right. We did it in March and the weather was great (but bring warm clothes though as it gets cold at the top).
Roys Peak is closed from October 1 to November 10 each year due to lambing.
FURTHER READING: I’ve written full posts about these hikes on my New Zealand focused blog. Check out my post about Roys Peak for more information!
We also hiked Isthmus Peak at sunrise; the only difference was that we were the only ones doing it (as opposed to a couple of dozen people at Roys Peak). The Isthmus Peak Track winds its way above Lake Hawea and eventually takes you to the summit where you can also see Lake Wanaka.
The views are pretty amazing and it was awesome to be the only people for miles. We did in September and it was really cold at the top — we even had to walk through some snow! It’s a similar hike to Roys Peak in terms of time and effort — we did it in about six hours and obviously it’s almost all uphill on the way up.
Isthmus Peak is closed for fawning between November 20 and December 20.
FURTHER READING: Hiking Isthmus Peak at Sunrise
Diamond Lake / Rocky Mountain
A slightly easier hike in Wanaka (it took us three hours) is the track to Diamond Lake and then further up to the summit of Rocky Mountain. There is still a lot of uphill hiking involved though, so don’t expect it to be easy!
The first part of the track takes you to the shores of the tiny Diamond Lake, then to a viewpoint which overlooks it. From there you head steadily uphill until you reach the “Lake Wanaka Viewpoint” and then further still to the top of Rocky Mountain. The views from various points on the track are stunning. You’ll see sweeping views of Lake Wanaka and even Mount Aspiring in the distance. The track gets a bit muddy in places so make sure you wear decent shoes.
Rob Roy Glacier
This one is a little further from town, but it’s well worth the journey. The drive itself has to be one of the most scenic in New Zealand and the hike to Rob Roy Glacier features some incredible natural features, including snow-capped mountains, massive waterfalls streaming down cliffs and obviously the glacier. You might also see some kea (a native New Zealand parrot) along the way.
We did the Rob Roy Glacier hike at the end of autumn and the light wasn’t great — I’m guessing summer or spring is a better time to do it. It takes around three hours to complete and quite a lot of it is uphill. It’s the easiest of the four hikes I’ve mentioned though so it could be a good option for those with limited time (and/or fitness).
FURTHER READING: Hiking to Rob Roy Glacier
Other Hikes in Wanaka
There are several other hikes in and around Wanaka. The most well-known is probably Mount Iron, the highest point in Wanaka itself. It takes around 90 minutes to complete the hike and is another good sunrise option. There’s also a track running from town (near the famous Wanaka Tree) to Glendhu Bay. I’ve been to each end — I imagine it’s better to do it on a bike as it’s over 10 km each way.
Hiking in Wanaka Tips
- Bring warm clothes: Mountains are often cold!
- Wear good shoes: You’ll either be walking uphill or downhill and the tracks are sometimes slippery.
- Some Tracks are closed for lambing (September – November): Check the DOC website for more information.
- See at least one sunrise: If you get a clear morning it’s the best time to go’
FURTHER READING: 4 Short and Easy Hikes Near Queenstown, New Zealand
Are you thinking of hiking in Wanaka? Which one will you choose (or will you try to do them all)? Let me know in the comments below!