The Isthmus Peak hike is a stunning alternative to the Instagram superstar Roy’s Peak.

As a challenging out and back hike, you’ll be rewarded with stellar views over Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea (I’ve added photos from different times I’ve hiked up).

Let it be known the Isthmus Peak Track is no slouch and doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because of its superstar alternative. That’s not necessarily bad news as it means there aren’t so many people on the Isthmus Peak Track.

IMPORTANT: The track is closed from November 20th to December 20th for fawning. There are lots of other hikes in the area so it’s not the end of the world.

a selfie I took from the summit of Isthmus Peak Track. You can see Lake Wanaka in the background and I seem to have some banana in my beard.

This is the only photo I have of myself on the hike and there appears to be some banana in the beard???

TABLE OF CONTENTS


1. Details About The Isthmus Peak Track
2. Isthmus Peak Track Map
3. How To Get To The Trailhead
4. My Isthmus Peak Hike Experience


1. DETAILS ABOUT THE ISTHMUS PEAK TRACK

lake hawea view on isthmus peak

I was stoked with my experience on the Isthmus Peak Track and loved it more than Roys Peak Track I think?

Particularly the views of Lake Hawea. The only reason it doesn’t get the full 5-stars from me is because of the lack of public transport access to the trail.

When1: Several times, most recently in 2021.

Hike Distance2:
My Strava recording: 15.4km
Maps.me: 15.6km return
Google Maps: 14km return
DOC website: 16km return

Difficulty3: Hard. With 1000 metres of elevation the Isthmus Peak walk is not easy.

Isthmus Peak Elevation4: 1011 metres according to Maps.me and 979 metres on Google Maps. Given Lake Hawea is at 348 metres above sea level and the summit is at 1385 metres the Maps.me number seems more accurate. There is minimal downhill sections on the way up.

Hike Duration5: 2 hours 20 minutes to reach the summit and about 1 hour 40 minutes to get down. I would say it’ll take 2-4 hours for 95%+ people to reach the summit.

2. ISTHMUS PEAK TRACK MAP


isthmus peak map

The map above is a topo map you can click on to open in a new window (you can see my watch took a little while to start tracking).

Once you’re on the trailhead you really can’t get lost. But anyway you can see the Google Map here and as expected the trail is on Maps.me.

3. HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD

isthmus peak track car park

The main Isthmus Peak car park

The easiest way to get to the Isthmus Peak trailhead is by car with two parking areas right by the trailhead (you can see them here).

While people don’t go up Isthmus Peak for the sunrise that often, it’s worth getting there earlier in the morning during the summer to secure a parking spot.

There’s no public transport, so your next best option is hitchhiking as the nearest town is Lake Hawea which is nearly 20km away.

Hitchhiking in New Zealand is easy enough in most cases, and that was how I got to the trailhead (I started hitching from Cromwell).

4. MY ISTHMUS PEAK HIKE EXPERIENCE

a view of lake hawea surrounded by fields

It doesn’t take long until you get awesome views of Lake Hawea

Having been dropped off at the trailhead it wasn’t long before the calf muscles were put to work. The start of the track takes you along a dirt/rocky track up and into a forested area before you get out into the open where you’ll be walking along a wide track most of the way.

a part of the trail that is rocky

A rock part of the trail towards the start

The track is wide enough for a car, but it’s super rocky so you’ll find yourself weaving your way up the constant incline thinking you’re nearly there only to encounter another false peak.

Bring sunscreen and lots of water as there’s no shade above the tree line. Nor are there any huts to escape the sun temporarily.

The views of Lake Hawea early on are amazing and they’ll keep your spirits high as you continue on.

You might come across sheep hanging out on the trail, but they’re nothing to worry about and should run away as you approach. Watch out for their poop!

two sheep eating grass on farmland next to the hiking trail with lake hawea in the background

Sheep!

isthmus peak track

Eventually, you’ll come across a junction with a sign pointing right to Isthmus Peak. This is where the incline flattens off and before long you’ll finally get to see the amazing panoramic views of Lake Wanaka.

sign saying to turn right for Isthmus peak

Following the sign isn’t rocket science.

trail and shrubs

The final section to the summit after turning right.

You’ll know when you’re at the Isthmus Peak summit when you reach the big pole in the photo below. There’s a bunch of spots you can sit and take it all in over lunch if that’s what you want.

I didn’t spend long at the summit (only two others were there) and made my way back the way I came to hitchhike back to Cromwell.

a pole in the ground marking the summit of isthmus peak with clouds in the background

You’ve made it to the summit!

view looking south towards roys peak over lake wanaka

Hey there Lake Wanaka

isthmus peak track summit views

Coming down wasn’t so bad as it’s not crazy steep most of the way. But if it was wet and windy that’d make things interesting.

Obviously, I got a stunning day for the Isthmus Peak Hike and that makes the climb worth it with the consistently spectacular views (spectacular as in best views in New Zealand quality).

ridgelines while hiking isthmus peak

If there’s lots of cloud in the forecast, and potentially rain, I’d probably postpone the Isthmus Peak track if an alternative day is possible and do another one of the Wanaka hikes instead.


Is the Isthmus Peak hike better than the popular Roy’s Peak?

That’s too hard to answer in most cases from those who have hiked both. One thing is for sure, Isthmus Peak is a lot less touristy.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you out (or email jub@churnewzealand.com ).

Alternatively, I would love to hear your thoughts on the Isthmus Peak hike!

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