Isthmus Peak Track

Lake Hawea

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 20 minutes drive away to the North. I overslept, so I didn’t get to the car park at Stewart Creek until 8.45am, and I got the last parking spot. In recent years Isthmus Peak has become increasingly popular with tourists who are looking for the spectacular lake views, but without the crowds.

Sunset over lake Hawea from Kidds Bush
Sunset over lake Hawea from Kidds Bush

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 over crowded. 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.

Get there early to get a park
Get there early to get a park

Isthmus Peak

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.

An easy start to the trail
An easy start to the trail

I started at 8.50am 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.

A taste of the amazing views to come
A taste of the amazing views to come

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.

Some of this...
Some of this…
A whole lot of this
A whole lot of this…!

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.

Lake Hawea1
Lake Hawea

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.

Lake Hawea to Breast Hill
Lake Hawea to Breast Hill

Almost at the summit

By 10.40am 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.

Nearly at the summit
Nearly at the summit
The turnoff to the summit
The turnoff to the summit

The track became undulating and it was a glorious walk to the peak. I arrived at 10.55am. 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.

Tinytramper overlooking Lake Wanaka from Isthmus Peak
Tinytramper overooking Lake Wanaka from Isthmus Peak

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.

Isthmus Peak towards Wanaka
Isthmus Peak towards Wanaka

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.

Glen Dene ridge
Glen Dene ridge

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.

Across the Southern Alps
Across the Southern Alps

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 🙂

Tinytramper enjoying the views over Lake Wanaka
Enjoying the views over Lake Wanaka

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