It’s 2:30 AM and the alarm on Simone her phone goes off. “It’s time to wake up.” she said. “We have to go”. It was a clear and dark night and millions of stars flickered in the night sky. Tired and a bit fuzzy from waking up in the middle of the night we put on our hiking shoes, rebuilt our improvised bed into a drivable car, packed our hiking bags and navigated ourselves to Roys Peak’s car park. Off to see a sunrise that we will never forget.
On our travels, we try to make a little game out of finding new ways of beating the crowds. And waking up at ludicrous times in the middle of the night to do a sunrise hike is part of that game. We had been told that Roys Peak is one of the most climbed and Instagrammed mountains in New Zealand. So we thought: ‘surely, they wouldn’t wake up this early to hike a mountain that high.’ But you probably guessed it: we were not alone.
At the car park, we found some 10 to 15 other vehicles parked and about a dozen people strapping on their boots and checking their headlamps. On the mountainside, we saw maybe another dozen little lights zigzagging upwards. A bit taken by surprise, we decided not to let this put us off and ruin our experience - and our sleep.
We started our hike 3:00 AM sharp, head down, following the illuminated ground in front of our feet. The sun didn’t rise until 6:00 AM, so that would give us a good three hours to reach the top. The first hour of the hike was quite hard, as the path started off being very steep. We climbed over several fences and walked for what felt like… well, forever. The pitch-black sky slowly turned into a more blueish tone as we went on. There were sheep sleeping near the bushes just off the path, giving us a good scare when they suddenly started to move or loudly bleat at us. In the dark, they looked like strange woolly aliens with reflective cat eyes. For a second we thought we were walking on the barren surface of a foreign planet.
In about two hours we reached the viewpoint (which is better known as Roys Peak Instagram spot). The sun was almost showing itself and the wind was catching up over the snow-peaks, making it incredibly chilly. A trail of lights showed below us, mapping the path we walked from the car park. We quickly debated whether it was worthwhile to continue to the true Roys Peak. We could also just sit here and wait for the sun to rise. Of course, that would mean we’d been joined by many others. So we continued.
Around 5:30 AM we reached the summit of Roys Peak at 1578 meter. For us, this last part of the hike was by far the most rewarding. We walked over a narrow ridge to the little weather station with incredibly steep drops on one side. It was like the earth had been shattered like wood, with rocks that looked like giant splinters sticking upwards to the sky. From here we had a brilliant 360-degree view over Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea and Mt. Aspiring. We sat here with together with perhaps 15 other people, cold and speechless and in awe, until the sun finally rose and the sky exploded into a multitude of bright colours.
It took us another 1,5 hour walking down, making a quick stop at the viewpoint to see what all the fuzz is about (yes, we also took our very own Roys Peak Instagram shot. And yes, we had to stand in line for it; waiting for someone in a long red dress(!) to have her picture taken).
The way back was beautiful, with the warm sun in our faces, showing all the scenery we couldn’t see before. Reaching the carpark, we were exhausted, happy and satisfied by our decision to wake up this early. Because we counted over a hundred (!) people going up on our way down. So we actually DID beat the crowds.
The track is very well marked
The views are absolutely spectacular
Go for sunrise and not sunset seeing you have the best views on the East side of the mountain
Don’t go during the day; it’s most likely too hot and too sunny
Bring: Enough water (no water points during the hike), fruit, granola bars, nuts and a sandwich
There is a small toilet next to the viewpoint
Explore the outer coast of Pohatu Marine Reserve and marvel at its spectacular towering cliffs, rock stacks, reefs, and deep sea caves. Observe the diverse wildlife and marine species such as penguins, seals, various sea birds and possibly the world’s smallest dolphin!