Isthmus Peak Track
The 16Km (return) day hike up the Isthmus Peak Track rewards you with spectacular views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. The climb takes you up to 1385m on a well-formed, steep track to the peak, via a gorgeous skyline ridge.
The Isthmus Peak track is about a 30-minute drive North out of Wanaka, past Albert Town and Hawea, on the SH6.
I stayed at the Kidds Bush reserve DoC campsite last night about a 20-minute drive away to the North. I overslept, so I didn’t get to the car park at Stewart Creek until 8.45 am, and I got the last parking spot. In recent years Isthmus Peak has become increasingly popular with tourists who are looking for spectacular lake views but without the crowds.
Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak?
Roy’s Peak just outside Wanaka used to offer this (at least it did 12 years ago when I was there). However, from what I’ve read in the media, and heard from locals, it’s now overcrowded. At peak times you can apparently wait 30 minutes for a photo on ‘that spot’ overlooking Lake Wanaka. Don’t think you’ll escape the crowds by hiking a sunrise mission either. Everyone else thought of that too. You’ll probably be one of the masses with your head torch in a procession of lights bobbing up the mountain.
So back to Isthmus Peak. I sure wish I’d done a sunrise mission! It would certainly be easy enough. Apart from a couple of early, lightly rough sections, the track is a wide four-wheel-drive track. As it was, the sun was already baking hot on this, a 30 degree heatwave day… be warned, and take lots of water, a hat and sunscreen.
I started at 8.50 am and the trail was pretty easy elevation through a grassy, farmland setting.
That didn’t last too long, and it became a little steeper, with a couple of small, slippery rocky patches to negotiate.
After going through a small gate, the trail opened up and became progressively wider and steeper. Even at this lower elevation the views over Lake Hawea were pretty impressive.
The trail turned into a steep, switchback, four-wheel-drive track – and that’s exactly how it remained for the next two hours.
It was a beautiful, relentless workout, very steep and very hot. There wasn’t any shade at all. It was totally worth it for the incredible views of Lake Hawea and the mountains beyond.
I looked over at Breast Hill and remembered this time last year when I had hiked from Top Timaru hut via Stody’s hut and on to Paketuhi hut on one of the hardest (and best) days of Te Araroa Trail. That day was a stunner, like this one. I still get emotional thinking about arriving at the peak of Breast Hill and bursting into tears at the sight of Lake Hawea and knowing that my decision to walk the length of New Zealand was the best decision I ever made.
Almost at the Summit
By 10.40 am I had reached a turning. To the left was the Glen Dene ridge which seems to run forever, South down the mountain range (on the to-do list). To the right, another Km or so away was Isthmus Peak.
The track became undulating and it was a glorious walk to the peak. I arrived at 10.55 am. I shared the peak with a couple of European guys from Germany and the Czech Republic. They hadn’t been in the country long and had walked this track instead of Roy’s Peak. They couldn’t get over how incredible it was, nor how comparatively deserted. We chatted about NZ and I told them about my favourite hikes.
The views from the top over Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National park were as incredible as I had hoped they’d be. It made the hard, hot slog completely worthwhile.
It had taken me around 3 hours to make the summit. I chatted with the guys, ate a sandwich and headed back down and along the Glen Dene ridge for a Km or so.
I enjoyed the views from the ridge walk and vowed to come back.
I headed back down. Not surprisingly, it was much quicker coming down, and I enjoyed running some sections.
I felt sorry for the masochists who were just on their way up. The midday sun was ridiculously hot. I overtook a few people who hadn’t made it to the top and who’d wisely decided to turn around half way or so.
This was an incredible walk. I will definitely do it again if I’m in the area.. But next time I would start just on daylight 🙂