That image you’ve seen all over Instagram of someone standing on a mountain edge overlooking lakes and hills in all directions? Yep, that’s Roy’s Peak. The towering peak with a panoramic view over Lake Wanaka is arguably one of the coolest views in the Southern Hemisphere. However, in this day and age, a view this good comes with a downside. This stunning view has put Wanaka on the map and tourists are all flocking to replicate the same photo at the edge of Roy’s Peak. Because of the popularity, the 9 hour hike up the back-and-forth track to Roy’s Peak means an ant-trail of walkers and a lengthy line up the top to take that photo.
When we were in Wanaka we were weighing up whether to do the Roy’s Peak track. It is undeniably breathtaking and, as a blogger, it seemed weird turning my back on a photo op which is the backbone of NZ Instagram content. But the reason we came to NZ was to escape, get back to nature, and do things based on what we enjoy rather than Instagram. So the decision was made for us and we sought out alternatives.
Although the view at the top of Roy’s Peak is jaw dropping, the walk itself is back and forth up a hillside so it’s not terribly interesting. One of the things we wanted to seek in the alternatives was a walk which was interesting throughout. These Wanaka Walks are great alternatives if you’re looking for fewer people, beautiful views, and nothing insanely challenging.
ROB ROY GLACIER TRACK
Although Rob Roy Glacier is one of the most well-known day walks in the Wanaka region, it was hardly crowded at all. The track is a 40 minute drive from the centre of Wanaka through rolling green fields, past waterfalls, and amongst several thousand sheep. The walk itself starts from a small carpark and follows an icy blue river hugging the side of the mountain towards Rob Roy Glacier. Through luscious green forests, the track winds up to the first glacier viewpoint, past towering waterfalls, up to the plateau where the full beauty of Rob Roy is seen.
3 hours return | Moderate
LAKE WANAKA CIRCUIT
The walk around Lake Wanaka is a must-do when visiting the town. This low-impact walk can take as long as you like, and walks around Lake Wanaka through greenery and past #thatwanakatree. As a loop, you can go as far or as close as you like.
Loop – depends how far you would like to go | Easy
GRANDVIEW MOUNTAIN TRACK
When we were looking for Roy’s Peak alternatives, Grandview Mountain Track is what came closest to the real thing for us. This walk is not spoken about much and there was barely any information online, all we had to go off was a comment on a forum and decided to check it out. Luckily, we were not disappointed. We saw a total of two other people for the entire walk which is my idea of heaven.
The walk began on the flat and required splashing through several streams and a fair bit of mud. We began to meander up the side of the mountain and that is when the views really started to kick off. Winding through a dramatic valley with sharp peaks, it was impossible to ignore the perspective.
Eventually, the walk moved from back of the mountain towards the front, and the vista over the lake made its first appearance. The panoramic view over both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka was breathtaking and rivalled the vista from Roy’s Peak, but most notably, the stillness with which we got to enjoy it was unparalleled. We had a break is the weather and were able to see Mount Aspiring in the distance which was stunning.
There are two versions of this track: Grandview Ridge Track and Grandview Mountain Track. Grandview Ridge has some more dramatic scenery but is a much longer walk (9-12 hours).
7 hours return | Medium – Hard
THE OUTLET TRACK
This is a gentle walk along a trail commonly used by local walkers and cyclists. The walk meanders alongside Clutha River from Lake Wanaka through to Albert Town. The waterway is wonderfully peaceful, with icy blue waters lapping gently on the stones with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop. Although this walk doesn’t have the same punch as Roy’s Peak or Grandview Mountain Track in terms of views, if you are looking for a peaceful walk around Wanaka, this is our favourite and is not as crowded as the Lake Wanaka Circuit.
2 hours return | Easy
MEG HUT AND PISA RANGES
A little further out from Wanaka is Cardrona. Home to the famous Cardrona Hotel (which is well worth a visit if you can), this small township transforms into a skiing haven during the winter. In the warmer months, the out-of-this world rolling mountains are covered in uniquely toned tussock-style grass. From Cardrona, there are several walks but none are quite as good as Meg Hut.
4 hours return | Medium – Hard
The views from Isthmus Peak are nearly identical to those at Roy’s Peak without the crowds. You will not have to wait in a lengthy queue to get your dream photo here. Getting to Isthmus Peak requires steady walking and often steep sections, but you are rewarded with panoramic views over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea at 1385m. Although a similar difficulty and distance as Roy’s Peak, this walk is a bit more visually interesting on the way up.
6 hours return | Medium – Hard
DIAMOND LAKE AND ROCKY MOUNTAIN
This walk comes with plenty of options to suit your hiking desires: Diamond Lake Circuit (45mins), Diamond Lake Lookout (1 hour return), Lake Wanaka Lookout (2 hours return), and Rocky Mountain Summit (3 hours return). The higher you go, the better the views. Rocky Mountain is nowhere near as high as Roy’s Peak, Grandview, or Isthmus Peak, but at 775m, there is still a decent amount of elevation. On good days, you will easily be able to see Mount Aspiring in the skyline and look over beautiful Lake Wanaka.
Depends on track | Easy – Medium
TIPS FOR HIKING AROUND WANAKA
- Good hiking shoes are essential, a lot of walking trails have muddy sections and streams to cross
- Pack for all conditions, weather changes quickly in New Zealand. In most of these walks we had a mix of sunshine and heavy rain.
- Make sure you know the distances you are actually going to be hiking because a lot of signs/online information does not specify whether times/distances are return or one way, we found this to be sporadic
- A lot of walks in the Wanaka area require transport to the starting points of the track which aren’t always accessible by public transport, so make sure you have planned ways of getting to them (bicycle, hire car etc.)
- You can check official walking advice from the Wanaka Tourism board here