Spend an hour or so on the wildly popular Instagram app, browsing various hashtags in the search for photographic ideas for places you are about to travel to (I can highly recommend this method), and you are invariably going to come across at least one or two shots that immediately resonate with, or even inspire you.
When I was doing some research on our honeymoon getaway to Queenstown and surrounding areas, I was stopped in my tracks by an image that just screamed everything I love about the outdoors. Mountains, beautiful reflective lakes and air so clear you can see for hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers into the distance. One shot had it all!
It seemed like the odd adventurous soul, here and there, was finding their way to a place, high atop a mountain that came to a peak and then plunged away to a magnificent vista of shiny glacial water and snowcapped mountains. How were we going to find this place?!?! To be fair, and anyone who has actually travelled to the Queenstown/Southern Alps area before will no doubt back me up on this one, stunning outlooks like the one described, can be found literally everywhere, but my guess was that not all would be mortally accessible.
With the image etched in my mind, I went off and did some research, and eventually found a trail just a few short kilometers outside the picturesque lakeside town of Wanaka that sounded exactly like what I was looking for!
But before I launch into our very rewarding hike earlier today, let me first talk a little about how we got here. After all, everyone will tell you over here in New Zealand that in the "Land of the Long White Cloud" it's never about the destination, it's ALWAYS about the journey!
Queenstown to Wanaka via Crown Range Road
After an obligatory repeat visit to Queenstown's famous Fergbaker for a quick bit of freshly-baked brekky, we jumped in our so-far-very-trustworthy RAV4 hire car (thanks again Omega), and headed north-east out of town through Arrow Junction and upwards into the Crown Range mountains.
As with most road trips anywhere within New Zealand, it doesn't take long for the stunning scenery to present itself and the sharp switchback road leading us up the saddle to the top of the Range delivered pretty early on.
At the top of the Crown Saddle, which is actually the highest sealed pass in all of New Zealand, topping out at 1,076m (3,530 ft), you soon catch your first glimpses of Cardrona Creek which you follow as you descend into the village of Cardrona, most known for its nearby Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort.
Cardrona is one of those places where, if you blink as you are passing through, you'd probably miss it, but there's no missing the iconic, 152-year-old Cardrona Hotel. The heritage listed hotel is an enduring, striking nod to Central Otago's gold-mining past, and is today said to be, understandably, the most photographed pub in New Zealand.
Another 20-30 minutes of very pretty country driving down the Crown Range Road and you arrive on the breathtaking shoreline of Lake Wanaka. Try as I might, there is simply no way to capture, in a photo, the beauty and the peacfulness we felt standing on the edge of this pure body of water, looking out towards the snow capped peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park in the distance.
One thing is for sure - the town planners in Wanaka definitely got things right when it came to positioning their main tourist business area. You can't see it, but the increasingly popular vacation town's main bar and restaurant strip, complete with multiple, intelligently positioned patios and rooftop terraces all set to reap maximum benefit from "that view", was right behind us in the photos below.
As much as we would have loved to throw a rug down on the beach and just sit and soak it all in, we had a mountain to climb - a snow-capped peak that we could already see across the bay, to our left.
We stopped in briefly at the tourism information office to make sure we knew where we were going to get access to the mountain, and we headed off with the goal of being on the trail, under beautiful blue skies, by 11am.
"Roys Peak" Track
A short 6km drive north-west from Wanaka, along the shores of Roys Bay, we found a well sign-posted carpark that acts as the trailhead for the "Roys Peak Track", an 11km trail that zig-zags its way up the eastern face of Mount Roy, through gorgeous sheep-littered farmland and, eventually, alpine tussock.
The ridiculously scenic hike follows a wide, well-defined, but steep grassy tractor trail through private farming land initially accessed over a stile which is flanked by a number of information signs warning about the need to be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions, especially in the more elevated alpine sections.
As per usual we were well-prepared with backup wet-weather gear, sunscreen and plenty of water, so we took off as soon as we locked up the car.
Don't let the stunning panoramic views and nicely groomed, wide track fool you, however. It's still a bit of a slog zig-zagging your way up the slope through the pristine farmland.
At no stage at all did we feel guilty about pulling up and taking a breather on the multiple bends along the way.
About 30 minutes hiking time from the actual snow line, for this time of the year anyway, you come to the last of the stiles that mark the border between the private farming land and the marked Department of Conservation area known as "The Stack".
From here it's a little more challenging 2km stretch along a narrower gravel path, covered in a layer of semi-packed snow to a saddle that you almost instantly recognise as the vantage point from which the photos that led us to be where we were at that very moment, were taken.
With uninterrupted, sweeping views of Lake Wanaka and the seemingly endless peaks of the Mt Aspiring National Park, playing out before us, we had the perfect opportunity to rest our legs.
After putting in a solid 2.5 hours to get to this point, we were in need of refuelling with some snacks and more water. It also gave us the opportunity to consider making the final push to the summit, a further 1km away, through deeper snow and a less decipherable trail.
It was a pretty simple decision to forget about the peak and just spend the rest time we had, soaking in the views we already had afforded to us.
To give you a bit of a sense of how high up we had traveled, from the saddle, which was a short distance from the 1,578m peak, we were able to watch with some amusement as multiple sight-seeing helicopters buzzed around over Lake Wanaka, below us.
Although it appears like we had the place to ourselves in these photos, we did have to bide our time to get out onto the saddle points to get our own opportunity to snap some of our own iconic photos.
So when our time did come around, we had some fun with it!
The following image is one that I posted to Instagram soon after we made it back down into town. Yes, it borrows heavily from the concept made famous by Instagram user Murad Osmann's "Follow Me" traveller series, but I still really like it as it sums up our experience on the Roys Peak Trail, beautifully.
As is usually the case, you can take hundreds of shots in any given location, but one single frame will always stick out and become the "champion" of your experience. For me, on this occasion, it's the shot below, for which 100% of the photography credit must go to my lovely, better half, Kirsten.
Dozens of pictures taken and bodies refuelled once again, the time regrettably came, for us to point our noses back down the hill and make the no-less scenic descent back down to the carpark.
Call me odd, but the descent of any hike is probably my least favourite part. The stress it puts on your body, especially your knees, far outweighs the percevied stress on your lungs and overall stamina when you're battling gravity on the way up.
But, as was the case earlier in the morning, there were plenty of "woolly ushers" there, just off the fringes of the trail, to guide us back down again.
The Wanaka Tree
You'd think our day's hiking adventures would have been enough to retire to one of Wanaka's multiple cosy bars on, and there's no doubt that we did just that without too much delay. But first, no visit to Wanaka is complete without a sunset visit to the town's unlikley hero - The Wanaka Tree.
Nestled at the edge of Roy's Bay at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, the breathtaking panorama of the Mount Aspiring National Park at the far end of the large freshwater lake, would be fodder enough for all levels of photographer.
But you need only walk the lake's shoreline at either sunrise or sunset to quickly realise that it's Wanaka's "Lone Tree in the Lake" that receives the bulk of shutterbug attention.
On a still day, the healthy, solitary willow casts a beautiful reflection, framed by the snow-capped mountain range in the distance. On my one chance to shoot this majestic scene, however, the wind was a blowin', the water was a ripplin', and any chance of reflection was lost in the need for a long exposure.
Regardless, it was an iconic and bloody cold, but beautiful way to end a memorable day in this gorgeous part of New Zealand.
Links & Credits
- All images // Rob Masefield
- Masey on Instagram // instagram.com
- Queenstown, New Zealand // queenstownnz.co.nz
- Lake Wanaka, New Zealand // lakewanaka.co.nz
- Fergbaker // tripadvisor.com.au
- Omega Car Rental, Queenstown // omegarentalcars.com
- Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort // cardrona.com
- Cardrona Hotel // cardronahotel.co.nz
- "Roys Peak" Track // govt.nz
- Mt Aspiring National Park // govt.nz
- Murad Osman's "Follow Me" series // instagram.com
- The Wanaka Tree // stuff.co.nz