Hiking up Isthmus Peak

After spending some time on the west coast of the south island, exploring caves, cool rocks, and hiking on a glacier, we headed inland towards Queenstown and the Fiordlands. Before getting to the resort town of Queenstown we decided to camp a night near Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. There are a number of good day hikes in the area, and we lucked out with nice weather so we had a few options to choose from. Originally, we wanted to hike up the popular Roy’s Peak Track, but we got unlucky with the timing as it was closed for a few months due to lambing. We read about another similar track, with equally nice views, the Isthmus Peak Track.

Isthmus Peak
As with many hikes in the country, there is poison in the area to kill rodents.

The start of the track is just after getting to Lake Hawea on the highway SH6 coming from the coast or about 30 minutes from Wanaka. We parked our car and set off on the hike, which according to the sign would take 5-7 hours round trip. The track started with a steep climb from the beginning through some forest. After 15 minutes we cleared the forest and the path lead through a field full of cows and sheep with cute little baby lambs everywhere. From there we admired a nice view over Lake Hawea, which would only get better the further up we climbed. After we crossed the field we hiked along a 4-wheel drive road, winding up its way towards the peak.

Isthmus Peak
A few of the many sheep on the Isthmus Peak trail.

The road was pretty steep in some sections and it was starting to get more exposed and windy. Luckily, the weather was pretty good that day, so the sun kept us warm. The higher we climbed, the better the views got over the lake and the surrounding peaks of the Southern Alps.

Isthmus Peak
Looking out over Lake Hawea on the way up the trail.

After about two hours of relatively constant uphill, we reached the saddle of  the mountain and the peak itself wasn’t far off, just two more little hills up and we were there. From the peak we got some pretty amazing views over Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka as well. We enjoyed the views for a little while, but as it was super windy, we headed back down again relatively quickly.

Isthmus Peak
The view from the summit over Lake Wanaka.

The way down on the same track was easy, as it was basically all downhill from the peak. We got back to the parking area after and hour and a half and the whole Isthmus Peak Track had taken us 5 hours total without pushing the pace very hard. The hike is a semi-challenging but fun day hike and on a clear day you’ll get rewarded with nice views over both lakes and the surrounding peaks of the Southern Alps. Hiking Roy’s Peak as well would have been ideal, however Isthmus Peak ended up being a good alternative with views that didn’t disappoint.