New Zealand’s pretty good when it comes to crowds, but when we’re talking sunrise hikes above Lake Wanaka, don’t be surprised if the whole town turns up. If you prefer to savour your vistas in solitude, Rocky Mountain is the precipice for you!
- Sweeping views of surrounding mountains and Lake Wanaka
- Quiet, less-known hike – have the mountain to yourself!
- Sunrise beauty over the landscape
Looking For A Lonely Hike
There’s no end to hiking opportunities in the Wanaka/Queenstown area. Particularly well-known and loved is Roy’s Peak, but Cedric and I wanted to attempt something quieter. Rocky Mountain was our pick – only a short drive beyond Roy’s Peak from Wanaka. We chose to do the summit, although there are shorter, flatter options which take you around the lake or up to a lookout.
We decided to go at sunrise, and passing the famous Roy’s Peak car park on the way, we were relieved we chose a more obscure walk to do. Even before 6.00am the car park was half full! I liked the loneliness of Rocky Mountain as we arrived at the trailhead, and when we began to walk, I didn’t regret the early start. Instead, I was grateful to see the landscape in a new way, all dark and hushed.
Ascending Rocky Mountain
The walk starts easily with a flat stroll around the lake through pretty forest. We were hardly aware of the mountains above us. Not far up, we paused to look at Diamond Lake reflecting the mountains in its dawn-purple water. All this time, the air was growing lighter and more golden. The path splits in two near the top, giving you the option of approaching the summit from the west or the east. We chose to go with the sun and took the eastern path.
There’s a good view of Wanaka and its lake from the summit. We even spied the snow-capped Aoraki, the great Mount Cook, in the distance. We breathed a good morning to the place, then ate our breakfast and grew warm in the sun. After a while, the place lost its golden intensity, and things began to look more familiar.
We descended on the western path and found that, strangely, we were more hesitant with our steps despite seeing the path more clearly than on the way up. Down near the car park, some other wanderers were beginning their own hike. After having had the mountain to ourselves, we felt like we were descending out of the sky from some dream.
We’d definitely recommend this hike at sunrise. It’d be beautiful regardless, but the drama of the sky was part of the hike’s allure for us.
- Sturdy footwear
- Water & snacks
- Sun protection
How To Get There
You can find Rocky Mountain and Diamond Lake about 18km (15-20mins drive) west of Wanaka on the Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road.
- Gazing in awe
Beginner-Intermediate – as this is a mountain hike, a decent amount of fitness is required. Sections of the trail (especially the western side) are a bit rough.
Duration / Distance Covered / Elevation
3hr return / 7km return / Height reached – 775m