Isthmus Peak Track Wanaka: The ultimate guide to the Isthmus Peak Walk

Last Updated on July 5, 2022 by ashleighsatlas

Are you thinking of hiking the Isthmus Peak Track near Wanaka?

Everyone has heard of Roys Peak in Wanaka (thanks Instagram), but not many people have heard of the Isthmus Peak walk. 

If you ask any Wanaka local what they think of Roys Peak, they’ll probably all tell you the same thing: it’s overrated and too touristy. Do the Isthmus Peak hike instead – it’s the “new” Roys Peak with less crowds and better views.

So when I moved to Wanaka last year, the Isthmus Peak Track was one of the first places I added to my bucket list. Did it live up to the hype? 

Keep reading for my complete guide to Isthmus Peak, including:

  • My honest Isthmus Peak track review
  • How long does it take to climb Isthmus Peak? 
  • How difficult is Isthmus Peak?
  • And all my other tips + everything you need to know about Isthmus Peak. 

RELATED: Read my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide and 11 Best Wanaka Walks

Wanaka-Travel-Guide

TOP TIPS + FAQ

Key stats

Distance: 16km return 

Time: 5-7 hours return   

Round track or one way: Round trip (out and back track) 

Elevation gain: 1385 

Difficulty: Moderate/difficult 

Isthmus Peak Track review: Is it worth doing?

The Isthmus Peak Track is one of the best walks I’ve ever done. Not just in Wanaka, but in New Zealand (and probably also the world). 

I didn’t love the walk itself – it’s long and steep. I like fairly easy short day walks, but this was probably a bit harder than what I typically enjoy. 

But the views on the Isthmus Peak walk are incredible. Without a doubt the best views in Wanaka

The views are amazing from the moment you start the track all the way to the top. I started taking photos within a few minutes of starting the track – and they just got better as you got higher. 

For most of the Isthmus Peak hike you have views looking over Lake Hawea (which I think is actually prettier than Lake Wanaka), and then in the last 5 minutes when you get to the summit you have views over Lake Wanaka. 

It’s one of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life. I sat at the top for about 20 minutes just looking at the beautiful view (which is unlike me – I normally stay for 5 minutes then keep going).   

If you’re visiting Wanaka or Queenstown, I would 100% recommend the Isthmus Peak Track. 

If you’re looking for other things to do in Wanaka and Queenstown, check out my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide and Ultimate Queenstown Travel Guide for a list of the best things to do (and the things you should skip).

Isthmus Peak track time: How long does it take to climb Isthmus Peak?

The DOC website says the Isthmus Peak Track takes 5-7 hours return. I’d heard it was around 2-3 hours up, and around 2 hours down. 

I was a bit slower than this. It took me around 3.5 hours up, and 2.5 hours down. 

I am reasonably fit and I’ve done quite a few short day hikes, so I thought I’d be a bit faster. But the Isthmus Peak walk was longer and steeper than what I was used to, which is why I think I was slower than I expected. 

If you want to make it up for sunrise and you’re a similar level of experience to me, I would allow 3.5 hours up so you make it in time. 

I originally planned to do the Isthmus Peak hike at sunrise and was only going to allow 2.5 hours up – so would have missed sunrise. (Although I ended up sleeping in instead so it didn’t matter). 

How difficult is Isthmus Peak?

The DOC website says the Isthmus Peak Track is an advanced track. 

I found the track itself was not “difficult” or “advanced”. It’s a very well-formed and well-maintained track. You walk up a well-maintained 4WD track for most of it. There is a very small section (only a couple of minutes) where you have to scramble up some rocks. 

But overall, I found the Isthmus Peak Track quite difficult. This was simply because it was long, steep in places, and you climbed quite a high elevation. Basically, you’re walking up a fairly steep hill for 3 hours straight (and then have to walk down it again – which I always find worse). 

I wouldn’t stay any sections were super steep – it was more just a gradual climb the whole way. The best way to describe the Isthmus Peak Track is relentless.

There were also a lot of fake peaks. You finally think you’re at the top, then you turn the corner and see another hill. And then again. And again. 

I wouldn’t say you have to be an advanced or expert hiker. I certainly am not. You just need reasonable fitness – it’s long and tiring, but not technically difficult. It’s very similar in difficulty to Roys Peak

If you’re very inexperienced with walking though, you may want to choose something easier like Diamond Lake Wanaka or Mt Iron – which still have lovely (although not as good) views of Lake Wanaka. 

Isthmus Peak sunrise + best time to go?

Best time of year. 

The best time of year to do the Isthmus Peak Track is January to April. 

Try to go on a clear day so you can see the beautiful views. I wouldn’t bother going on a rainy/foggy/cloudy day. It is not worth all that effort if you have limited views. 

The Isthmus Peak Track is closed between 20 November and 20 December. If you want a good alternative which is open then, you could do the Roys Peak Track or Diamond Lake Track which have similar views. 

There is an avalanche risk between May and November, so make sure to check with DOC before doing the Isthmus Peak Track then. 

Best time of day. 

I know a few people that have walked up to Isthmus Peak for sunrise and sunset – they said it was a beautiful spot for both sunrise and sunset.

I was originally going to go for sunrise, but couldn’t face getting up that early in the morning. Instead, I left at about 10am and got up to the summit around 1.30pm. 

I was worried I’d be disappointed I missed sunrise, but I’m actually really glad I did the Isthmus Peak Track during the day. It was a perfect sunny day – the lakes looked so blue with the sun reflecting on them, which I wouldn’t have seen if I went at sunrise. 

When I was walking back down, the hills cast a beautiful reflection on Lake Wanaka. 

The only thing I’d change if I was to do it again is go earlier in the morning (around 8am) so I didn’t have to walk up a giant hill in the heat of the day. It was very hot and there is no shade most of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty in my life. 

(Obviously the weather can be very changeable so this will depend on the day you go. It can also be freezing. If it’s a cold day, I’d avoid going super early in the morning, unless you want to see sunrise. Also make sure to take lots of warm clothes if it’s cold.)  

Can you do the Isthmus Peak Walk in Winter?

It’s generally not recommended to do the Isthmus Peak Track in Winter because of snow and ice. There’s also an avalanche risk between May and November. Call the DOC office before doing the Isthmus Peak Track in Winter to check the track conditions. 

Looking for other things to do in Wanaka in Winter? Read my post on the 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.

Can you take dogs on the Isthmus Peak hike?

No, you can’t take dogs on the Isthmus Peak Track. 

Can you mountain bike at Isthmus Peak Wanaka?

Yes, you can mountain bike on the Isthmus Peak Track. It’s a difficult (Grade 5) track and you’ll need to get off and walk at places. 

WANT MORE WANAKA SUGGESTIONS?

Wondering what else you should do in Wanaka? Download my Wanaka Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Wanaka.

Female travel blogger standing on rock on Isthmus Peak with mountains reflected on Lake Hawea in background

HOW TO GET TO THE ISTHMUS PEAK TRACK

The Isthmus Peak Track starts near Lake Hawea. It’s a 25-minute drive from Wanaka, in the South Island of New Zealand. The nearest town with an airport is Queenstown, which is around one and a half hours away. 

There’s no public transport so the easiest way to get there is driving. If you need to rent a car, I recommend using rentalcars.com – it’s like the Skyscanner or booking.com for rental cars and what I always use.

The Isthmus Peak Track is on the drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef. If you’re looking for other things to do on the Haast Pass, read my guide on the best things to do on the Franz Josef to Wanaka drive here.

Looking for other things to do in Wanaka, Queenstown and New Zealand? Read my Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide, Ultimate Queenstown Travel Guide and Ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide.

How to get to Isthmus Peak Track from Wanaka

  • Drive: The easiest way to get to the Isthmus Peak Track is driving. It’s a 25-minute drive from Wanaka. Search “Isthmus Peak Parking” or on Google maps – there are two carparks and it will show you both options which are close by. Basically, follow SH6 from Wanaka towards Lake Hawea/the West Coast. Once you get to the turnoff to Hawea, keep going straight. The carparks are on the right side of the road on SH6 near the end of Lake Hawea. If you need a rental car, rentalcars.com is the best search tool which compares cars from all rental car companies.
  • Taxi/uber: There are two taxi companies in Wanaka – Yello Cabs and Wana Taxi.  (There’s no Uber). The start of the Isthmus Peak Track is far out of town and it’s difficult to predict how long the walk will take you, so I wouldn’t recommend getting there by taxi. 
  • Public transport: There is no public transport to the start of the Isthmus Peak Track. 

Isthmus Peak Track carpark

There are two small free carparks, which are not well-sign posted and easy to miss. I overshot the carparks even though I live in Wanaka and I’ve driven past the carparks so many times. 

Search “Isthmus Peak Parking” on Google maps which will bring up both carparks. Keep an eye out for the small sign when you get near it. 

From the carparks, it’s also not the easiest to find the start of the track. If you’re standing in the “Isthmus Peak Small Carpark” (as it’s called on Google maps) facing away from the lake, cross the road, then turn left and walk for a few minutes (ie. towards Wanaka/Hawea). You’ll then find the small sign for the start of the track. 

Once you get off the main road and onto the track it’s very easy to follow and well-marked. 

Map of the Isthmus Peak Track 

There’s a map of the Isthmus Peak Track on the DOC website. It’s a bit tricky to find the start of the track from the carpark, but once you’re on the track it’s really well-marked and easy to follow so you don’t really need a map. 

The Lake Wanaka Tourism website also has more details about the track. 

Wanaka-Travel-Guide

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK 

On the track. There’s no cafes or restaurants on the track. 

Hawea. The Isthmus Peak Track is a 10-15 minute drive from Haewa. Stop at Mo’s Cafe which is a local’s favourite and has really nice smoothies and raw treats (aka healthy carrot cake). 

Wanaka. These are some of my favourite places to eat and drink in Wanaka. 

WHERE TO STAY

Wanaka

The best place to stay is Wanaka. It’s only a 25 minute drive and there’s lots of amazing things to do in Wanaka and good restaurants and cafes.

Most of the hotels in Wanaka are quite dated, generic, and overpriced. Wanaka is small so location isn’t important. Prioritise finding a nice hotel over location – everything is in close distance and there’s lots of free parking.

Looking for the best luxury hotels and cute B&Bs in Wanaka? Add these to your bucket list:

  1. Mahu Whenua (The most luxurious hotel in Wanaka. It’s outside town near Glendhu Bay – one of the most beautiful areas in Wanaka.)
  2. Wanaka Haven (A beautiful bnb. Just out of town near the Wanaka Lavender Farm).
  3. Distinction Wanaka Serviced Apartments (A resort made up of around 30 private apartments. I lived in an apartment here for six months. Pros: two hot tubs/pools with beautiful views, sauna, tennis court, large apartments with full kitchens, good location. Cons: decor was a bit modern for me, nice but not 5 star luxury. Would def recommend for families and large groups.)
  4. Wanaka Homestead Lodge & Cottages (Gorgeous bnb. Amazing location in walking distance to the Wanaka Tree, main township, and Wanaka lakefront).
  5. Cross Hill Glamping (I’ve never been a fan of glamping (it sounds too much like camping), but these domes look very luxurious and I’d love to stay. I’ve had friends who stayed here and loved them. They overlook Lake Hawea – a prettier lake than Lake Wanaka and only a 15 minute drive from Wanaka.)
  6. Cardrona Hotel (Beautiful historic building, charming rooms with cute interiors, and good food. A great base if you’re skiing at Cardrona).
  7. The Lindis (This hotel has been on my bucket list for years – the architecture and interiors are incredibly beautiful and it’s very luxurious. It’s between Lake Tekapo and Wanaka. I wouldn’t use this for a Wanaka base, but it would be amazing for a weekend away or if you can work it into your road trip itinerary.)
  8. Minaret Station (Only accessible by helicopter and very luxurious. One for the bucket list.)

Queenstown

You could also stay in Queenstown (it’s a 1.5 hour drive each way), but you’d probably only have time to do the Isthmus Peak walk. You could maybe briefly stop in to see Wanaka, but you wouldn’t really have time to do anything else there.

Looking for the best luxury hotels in Queenstown? Add these to your bucket list:

  1. Hulbert House   
  2. Dairy Private Hotel
  3. Eichardt’s Private Hotel
  4. The Spire Hotel
  5. Stoneridge Estate
  6. Gibbston Valley Lodge and Spa

WHAT ELSE TO DO NEARBY

The best things to do in Wanaka  

These are my other favourite things to do in Wanaka.

  1. Blue Pools Wanaka – Beautiful and easy short walk to a bright blue lake you shouldn’t miss. Make sure to stop at the Lake Hawea Lookout on the way. Read my ultimate guide to the Blue Pools here and Lake Hawea Lookout here.
  2. Roys Peak – Famous and busy walk in Wanaka with beautiful lake views.  
  3. Diamond Lake Track – Fairly easy walk with beautiful lake views. Much easier than Roys Peak and a local’s favourite.  
  4. Rob Roy Glacier walk  – Beautiful glacier views and one of the best walks I’ve ever done. Read my ultimate guide to the Rob Roy Glacier Track here.
  5. Millennium Walkway – One of my favourite walks in Wanaka with beautiful. Most tourists have never heard of it.  Read my complete guide to the Millennium Walkway here.
  6. Wanaka Lavender Farm – Beautiful lavender field you shouldn’t miss if you visit in Summer. Read my ultimate guide to the Wanaka Lavender Farm here.
  7. Mou Waho Island: Boat cruise to a tiny island on Lake Wanaka (it has an island on a lake, on an island on a lake). You can also do a boat cruise to Ruby Island, another popular island on Lake Wanaka.
  8. Skiing at Cardrona or Treble Cone: The best place to go skiing in New Zealand. Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
  9. Winery tour: Go on a winery tour to explore the local vineyards. Read my Guide to the 5 Best Bannockburn Wineries.
  10. Shop at local boutiques: Wanaka has no large chain stores. Instead, there’s lots of lovely locally owned small boutiques.
  11. Cardrona Distillery and Cardrona Hotel: There’s always lots of tourists taking photos of the Cardrona Hotel, but it’s a really cute building and the food is good. The Cardrona Distillery is just across the road and does a great whisky and gin tour.

Other hikes you shouldn’t miss in New Zealand  

These are some of my other favourite hikes in New Zealand you shouldn’t miss. 

  1. Kepler Track – If you fancy doing one of the Great Walks in Fiordland, this is a four-day hike with incredible alpine and fiord views. Read my ultimate guide to the Kepler Track here.
  2. Tongariro Crossing – If there’s one hike you do in New Zealand, do this. One minute you’re walking on the moon, the next a forest, and then you’re at the top of a volcano looking down on emerald crater lakes. 
  3. Abel Tasman – Four-day hike weaving along golden sandy beaches and the bright blue ocean (and, if you’re feeling lazy, you can stay in hotels and a boat will carry your bags between them). You can also do a day trip boat cruise if you’d rather not walk the whole thing.
  4. Mount Cook – There are so many amazing hikes around Mount Cook. Hooker Valley Track is an easy walk which goes to a milky blue glacier lake. You can also do a glacier heli-hike.
Wanaka-Travel-Guide

WHY YOU SHOULD DO THE ISTHMUS PEAK TRACK

If you want to do the best hike in Wanaka with the best views – do the Isthmus Peak Track.

It’s long and steep, but it’s a million times worth it for the beautiful views. 

(Just make sure you go on a clear day so you can actually see them). 

It’s also much quieter and less touristy than Roys Peak. The Isthmus Peak Track is getting more popular now though, so do it before it’s overtaken by people trying to get Instagram shots. 

Looking for other things to do in Wanaka and New Zealand? Read my Ultimate Guide to Wanaka and Ultimate Guide to New Zealand to find the best things to add to your bucket list. 

If you have any questions about the Isthmus Peak Track I’d love to help so send me a message on Instagram or Facebook or ask below. 

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