Roys Peak Trek & Sunset Photoshoot - Geoff Piper

February 12, 2019

Sense of Accomplishment || Geoff Atop Roys Peak: Wanaka, New Zealand September 2018 || Shot with my Nikon D850 & Tamron 70-200mm (f/2.8) @ 70mm, f/10, 1/6, ISO 50, Lee Filter System with Circular Polarizer and 3 stop ND graduated filter 

Roys Peak Trek & Sunset Photoshoot

My Wanaka dream to make the trek up Roys Peak for a sunset photo shoot finally came true in mid-September 2018! Making this trek, especially with a full rig of professional photography gear, is not easy. In fact, to date, this was perhaps the most challenging hike I had ever attempted with gear.

I dedicate this post to the story behind the sunset images I captured that day and evening, and to tell a bit of the story behind my personal favorite called "Top of the World". I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did the tramp and shooting. I hope you make this journey too one day!


Short Story Behind this Image:

I rarely take selfies. Rarely. But, I captured the above automated selfie at Roys Peak Viewpoint & Lookout. 

To capture the above image, I chose a spot a bit different than where everyone else stands. I continued to hike just a bit higher once I reached Roys Peak Lookout. I clambered over some rocky terrain to a spot with a good vantage point over the entire scene, centered my composition based upon the main foot path that leads to the famed Viewpoint selfie spot, set up my camera on my trusty tripod and began taking test shots.

I dialed in my settings, set my camera to automatic mode (I had wanted to use my wireless trigger, even tried it but seemed to be out of range), and waited for my turn. Yes waited because there are MANY MANY MANY other folks attempting this shot and taking selfies but there is a common agreed upon courtesy and order/line, just wait your turn will come!). Please be patient here! :)

When I got the green light from others, I raced down the hill, stumbling a bit over the terrain here and there the first time, down the foot path to the Viewpoint, to the edge and struck my best pose! Haha! I took about 100-200 photos each time I tried this (in three separate attempts) and settled on this one as my favorite. I captured the photo featured above for this post with the following settings: 

Geoff Atop Roys Peak || Nikon D850 & Tamron 70-200mm (f/2.8) @ 70mm, f/10, 1/6, ISO 50, Lee Filter System with Circular Polarizer and 3 stop ND graduated filter, @ approximately 4:45 PM, September 5, 2018

As the sunset began, I focused on capturing those moments rather than racing down the hill in waning light. 

I created the gallery of images below to provide more details about the trek, its views, where I stood to take my pictures, and generally to show the incredible nature of this journey. Roys Peak is one of my favorite hikes in the world now, so I thought I would share a bunch of the images I took with my iPhone to show you why I say that.

Now for the full story!


Background & First Wanaka Trip / November 2017

I had seen images on fellow photographers' pages, Instagram feeds and other social media outlets, depicting the incredible views from atop Roys Peak in Wanaka. I vowed to make this journey and turn it into a reality. However, on my first trip to Wanaka in November of 2017, I did not have enough time to make the trek mainly because I did not have enough time and spent much of my time in the Pukaki and Tekapo areas instead. This disappointed me, but I vowed to return to Wanaka with the goal to accomplish this climb.


2nd Wanaka Trip / September 2018

My second trip to Wanaka began September 4, 2018. I drove from Queenstown to Wanaka which only takes a couple of hours, and arrived in time to shoot the famous Wanaka Tree at sunset the first evening. I went to bed early that night because I knew the following day would test me in many ways.

I woke up early, ate a very large breakfast including lots of carbs, had my coffee of course, relaxed a bit, then went back to my house to gear up and do final preparations. Because the weather rapidly changes in this area, especially atop Roys Peak, and because my goal was to capture the highest quality images I can, I needed to bring a lot of gear! Before I left, I checked everything my list multiple times. Nothing is worse than getting on top of a mountain and not being prepared. I packed up and began driving over to the Roys Peak Carpark.

For the photogs out there reading, yes--I plan to transition to Nikon's Z7 mirrorless camera for its small form factor and light body (the challenge still being the glass / lens limitations, and lack of dual card reader ports) as a direct result of the difficulty in carrying this much heavy DSLR related gear. Soon!

Making the Trek

In my opinion, and especially if you attempt to carry your full set of photography gear, this hike by no means is easy...not even moderate (and in my view, I am athletic and was in great shape at the time of this hike). I believe without gear, limited gear, or lighter weight gear of course, this hike is very doable and is probably only moderately difficult. However, with a full set of gear (bodies, lenses, accessories, tripod, and the rest of what you need) this may be difficult so get ready, prepare and persevere. Pack as light as you can.

Here are some important facts to know before attempting this climb/trek, excerpted from New Zealand's Department of Conservation:

Basic Good to Knows:

- 16 km (9.94 miles) return via same track Walking and tramping 5-6 hrs

- It took me 6.5 due to gear weight and many stops to rest)

- Easy: Walking track In my view, they call it easy because it is blazed, wide, not treacherous anywhere, easy to spot (even in the dark). But, I do not believe "Easy" is applying to the fitness level it takes to make this journey--keep that in mind.

- Seasonal restrictions: The track is closed for lambing from the 1 October - 10 November each year. In winter you will need to carry and be able to use alpine equipment such as ice axe and crampons. In addition, the top section of this track has challenging avalanche terrain above the 1000 m mark.

- No dogs allowed

- Weather can change rapidly, dramatically--be prepared for all types of weather.

- The peak is considerably colder of course than the car parking lot so it could be deceiving.

- Be realistic about your fitness level and ability to cope with extreme conditions.

What I Carried:

For the specifics as to any one piece of gear, please see my About Gear page.

On this trip, I took these things:

Cameras:

- Nikon D850

- Sony A6000 (my backup camera); and

- iPhone X

Lenses: 

- Nikon 14-24mm It turned out I did not use my wide angle, but I could have

- Tamron 24-70mm; and

- Sony 18-200mm

- NOTE--I would have LOVED to take my telefoto lens of course--so many incredible shots could have been achieved with that. But, weight is an issue and any more it really would have nearly killed me. Glad I made the right decision here and left that behind this time.

Accessories:

- Think Tank Bag

- TriPod

- Filters & Holder

- Triggers/Shutter Release

- Headlamp and flashlight---NOTE--this is CRITICAL especially if you are staying for sunset and making the trek down in the dark--DO NOT forget this! Spare batteries for the Nikon and lights.

Clothing:

- Thick hat

- Best hiking boots

- Hiking pants (that break away for shorts as well to cover the wide range of temperatures and changing conditions)

- Thick socks

- Gloves (2 pair--1 inner still warm but allows controlling cell phones as well as gear while wearing, and outer wind protecting all terrain)

- Thick jacket Nike Hyperwarm additional layer for when it got colder ---NOTE--generally be prepared, watch your season, do the research, know what you are getting into and know at the top it can be much colder, weather changes, and be ready for anything.

Water:

- At least 2 bottles (water is critical for this hike--DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT FORGET it or go without it! I could have used 4 but it was too heavy. I saw several folks become dehydrated and had to give up). 

Food:

I didn't take much, but if you plan to be up there for a period of time to really capture the right shots, enjoy it, then you really should bring snacks. I brought a few and it paid off.


My Story & Making the Trek

I began walking at 1 PM. It took me approximately 3.5 hours to walk up Roys Peak from the Car Park arriving around 4:30 PM. At least four separate times, I almost quit. This hike tested my physical abilities, my mental abilities, patience and resolve. While I had done many trails runs to date, had been running tons in advance, done many hikes prior to this, and I felt I was in pretty good shape, this hike was hard for me especially with the gear. I was not physically prepared enough in my opinion, but I still managed.

As to the near moments of quitting, I pushed through each time by chanting "you can do it" and "the views will be worth it." The pain would start in my neck, back, shoulders, and then legs, then some slight dizziness, light headed, and fatigue. I stopped to drink water often and took breaks when I needed them making sure to take off my gear and allow my body to recover.

Many folks along the way encouraged each other to reach the top and to keep going. This was a great treat. I did see several people give up even some who were fairly close to the top unfortunately. I tried to encourage those I saw, but some were beyond their capacity and limit.

I saw a man (probably in his 40s) running this trail, literally running it. I asked him a few questions as he trotted by, he answered not losing a beat, not out of breath--incredible! He was a local, a runner, and had been doing this his whole life, apparently many times a week all year through. Amazing!

The trail felt never ending at times. Many times, it appeared as if the top were just a small amount more away, but it was further still. The temperature was mild, even a bit warm, and I definitely got hot during the hike due to the physical exertion. But, September was a great time to make this hike.

I finally made it to the top, dropped my bagged, and screamed out with the others with whom I finished the hike up a huge "YES!" We made it.

I saw about 75-100 people in total along the way and during my time on the peak. It is hard to remember or judge the exact amount, but there were enough to pose challenges while shooting but they made it fun many other ways. I did see a lot of drone work here which as far as I had understood it is illegal--it doesn't stop them.

Due to the cold weather after sundown, and needing more gear to stay overnight for astro work, I chose to leave after blue hour to call it a day and a shoot. I began walking back down at about 6PM. Soon after I began walking down, it became pitch black. I worried this might cause issues with getting down the mountain, but not at all. The trail is so well blazed it is easy to see with my headlamp and flashlight, but most of the time you could make it out even without light. The light of the stars and moon helped a tiny bit as well.

I made the walk down in less time, about 3 hours. I arrived in the car park at approximately 9 PM. Therefore, for the round trip I believe I walked about 6.5 hours. I made it to the car, took off the bag, stripped down the extra clothes, and chugged an entire extra water bottle I saved in the car. I was TOTALLY exhausted. I had to drive home which was difficult. My legs were shaking, so fatigued they could fail here and there. I had trouble walking the rest of the evening and into the next day.

The sense of accomplishment I felt upon arrival back home was like none I had felt before. It was a wild combination of feelings and emotions, total fatigue but happiness and accomplishment. I had a beer to relax, boy it tasted amazingly. I went to bed and fell fast asleep. I even had a dream about the sunset!

So, thanks for reading everyone. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did but I recommend you making the trip and the hike.

I accomplished Roys Peak! I made it a reality. I persevered against difficult odds. I carried tons of gear too, but that sacrifice to the body paid off and allowed me to capture some of my best and favorite images ever! I MUST go back!


Related Links

Here is a list of links that I found helpful in preparing for my trek and general information about Roys Peak:

New Zealand Department of Parks & Recreation (Roys Peak Track)

NewZealand.com (Roys Peak Information)

TheOutbound.com (Roys Peak Hiking Information)

Earthtrekkers.com (Hiking Roys Peak with Kids)


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