Isthmus Peak, Wanaka: An alternative to Roys Peak

Isthmus Peak Track Wanaka

The Isthmus Peak Track is an incredible Wanaka hike in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.  Less famous than the Instagram favourite Roys Peak, but with similarly spectacular views, this is a good track for those who love a lung burner and an incline.

What makes Isthmus Peak unique is that you can see both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea from the summit.  The twin lake views are incredible so make sure you have a camera or phone on you.

Amazing views of Lake Hawea, just before the Isthmus Peak summit

How to get to the Isthmus Peak Track

The Isthmus Peak Track is just over 20 minutes from Lake Wanaka township and 12 minutes from Lake Hawea.  Coming from Wanaka you will drive a beautiful section of the Lake Hawea lakeside road before stopping in a pull off area on the right hand side of the road.  

The Isthmus Peak car park is less of an actual car park and more of a big shoulder, but it is safe for a small number of cars.  Head just a few minutes back up the hill on the side of the road and there is signage for the Isthmus Peak track

This track is in the Matatiaho Conservation Area.  The Isthmus Peak Track also crosses private property so is actually closed between 20 November and 20 December each year for fawning (cute baby deers 🙂

Table of Contents

three children tramp through the bush, up a rocky tree root section of the Isthmus Peak hike
There's a short section near the beginning that runs through bush, then its all out in the open beyond this

What is the Isthmus Peak track like?

In terms of navigation, it is an easy trail.  The track is well marked with orange markers.  At the start you will head across farmland with a more gentle climb before you hit the steep wide trail that leads to the top.

The majority of the track is wide and similar to a 4WD track.  In some sections it is even in grass which provides some nice cushioning for your knees on the way down.

You will have lake views the entire way which provides some breathtaking moments.  Seeing both lakes from the top is quite special indeed.  You won’t be disappointed with the views on this trip.

3 sections to the Isthmus Peak Track: A rundown of the details

There are three main sections to the Isthmus Peak Track.  The first, heading across the farmland, with some up and across sections amongst the sheep.  Plenty of poo about, so be careful with your feet if that bothers you.

The second section is the steep switchback uphill.  This is quite a trudge up and does feel relentless at times.  The good thing is you now how beautiful views over Lake Hawea, so when you stop and pant (which we all do), it will be with an incredible view.

The end of this main section is where you hit the false summit.  All this up effort makes it feel like you are almost at the top, with alas, there is still plenty more.  In fairness though, you have just completed the steepest of the sections overall.  There is a toilet not too far from here (byo toilet paper)

The third section is the final push.  This last section is still uphill, but think of this part as heading over towards Lake Wanaka.  You can’t see it until you are right near the end.  When you see a flattening section heading across to your right, just know that the summit is right at the end.  You have made it!!

2 children walk up a grassy 4wd section of the Isthmus Peak track, mountains towering in behind
4wd style track, with large sections of grass, and later on just a dirt track. This felt steeper than it looked

How tall is Isthmus Peak Wanaka?

Isthmus Peak is 1385m above sea level.


How much elevation gain is there on the Isthmus Peak Track

The Isthmus Peak summit is at 1385m, giving you around 1000m of elevation gain on this track.  In candid terms, it’s an uphill trail with barely any flat/reprieve from the incline.  You will need a decent amount of fitness for this one


How far is the Isthmus Peak Track?

The Isthmus Peak track is 8km one way, so 16km return.

Beautiful views of Lake Hawea can be seen the whole way up. You can't see Lake Wanaka until the summit

How long does it take to climb Isthmus Peak?


The Department of Conservation recommends allowing 3-4 hours to walk to trail one way.  I walked this trail with a 3 year old in a backpack, and a 6 and 8 year old and it took them 3 hours and 50 minutes to walk this on the way up and 3 hours on the way down.  Adults would walk this far more quickly downhill.  They’ve only got little legs.

Up, up up. Thank goodness there are good views of Lake Hawea to the left to keep us company

How difficult is Isthmus Peak?


Isthmus Peak is of moderate difficulty.  It’s a tough climb for the Joe Bloggs who likes to does a few walks a year and has reasonable fitness.  For regular trampers who hike a lot on a range of terrain, this will be far easier, but it is still a consistent uphill climb of 8km.

It is not a technical trail and navigation is easy, but it’s still a full 16km hike, so it’s a goodie.

Looking down at the False summit. When you are think you are almost there, but really, its still quite a long way to go

Hiking Isthmus Peak with kids


I walked this track with a 3 year old on my back and a 6 and 8 year old.  This track was pretty tough for them.  It was relentless and uphill but they made it.  It is totally doable but will require a ton of mental strength.

The track is not unsafe and the terrain itself is easy.  With the majority of the track being a 4wd style surface, there was not a lot of rock scrambling or anything to make it technically difficult.

It will just be an uphill battle but kids can totally do it if they put their minds to it.  (It’s worth noting if you are new to our website or Instagram, that the kids have been hiking decent distances for a few years now and have built up stamina over time)

Incredible viewpoint overlooking the blue Lake Hawea, with snow capped mountains in the distance. 2 children have their hands in the air, stoked to have made it so far on the Isthmus Peak track
A cool viewpoint on the way up. Don' forget to turn around and enjoy the views on the way up.

Roys Peak vs Isthmus Peak walk

There is a lot of comparison between the Roys Peak Track and Isthmus Peak.  They are both a similar length track, up over 1000m in elevation to some incredible views.


Which track is the easiest?

Isthmus Peak by a smidge.  A very small smidge, but don’t choose it just for that.  Isthmus Peak has a little more variety.  You cross farmland for the first section which breaks up the switchbacks.  So for that reason, it was mentally a little easier.

Both trails have a large switchback section where you can see the long boring trail ahead.  I say boring, as compared to other tracks where they might be bush sections, alpine sections, waterfalls and more fun things to look out, these trails really are about putting your head down and getting to the top.


Which track has the best views

Roys Peak if you are looking for an Instagram moment or more aesthetically pleasing photos.  Both have amazing lake views and you won’t be disappointed in either (unless you hit bad weather or you get clouded in)

Did I think Lake Hawea on the Isthmus Peak hike looked incredible and did I find some great viewpoints, yes, I totally did.  But if I had to choose, Roys Peak takes this one

Kids hike up Roys Peak on a sunny summers day, overlooking Lake Wanaka NZ
Heading up to Roys Peak summit
Jen and 2.5 year old Emilia stand on top of the Roys Peak viewpoint with blue lake views and mountain ranges in behind
Roys Peak Viewpoint (not the summit yet)

Isthmus Peak vs Roys Peak: The details

Isthmus Peak Summit Height: 1385m

Roys Peak Summit Height: 1578m (reminder that Instagram viewpoint is not the actual summit)


Total distance walked

Isthmus Peak return distance: 16km

Roys Peak return distance: 16km


Dates when the track is shut

Isthmus Peak is closed between 20 November and 20 December for fawning

Roys Peak is closed between 1 October and 10 November for lambing.  You cannot climb during this time

This means that you can always complete at least one of the tracks when you are visiting Wanaka.

Kipton from Backyard Travel Family walks along a flat section of the ridgeline with the trig marker for Ishtmus Peak on a hill in the background
The only flat section of the hike, you can see the Isthmus Peak summit on the hill to the left

Weather on Isthmus Peak


With an altitude of 1365m at the summit, it’s worth noting that the weather is more volatile up this high.  Wind chill is a big concern and weather can change from fine to rainy quickly.  

In winter, there can be snow on this trail, so wear appropriate footwear and even crampons if required.  Always carry a waterproof rain jacket and warm layers as 8km is a long way home in the cold.

So be smart, use a weather app and keep safe 🙂

Top tip for weather is have a chat to the awesome DOC team at Tititea / Mount Aspiring National Park Visitor Centre

Important thing to note for the Isthmus Peak Track

    • There are toilets just a few minutes into the trail at the base of the mountain and one about ⅔ of the way to the top.  Bring your own toilet paper
    • 95% of the trail is completely exposed to the elements with nowhere to shelter.  In summer it is blisteringly hot and I can imagine that wind and rain would batter you on this exposed track.  Choose your weather window wisely
    • You will get super thirsty and sweaty on this track so bring enough water.  There is nowhere really to fill up.  We saw a little inner hill trickle but that was about all.  We drank way more than we thought on this trip.
Looking for more things to do in Wanaka?  You might like these articles
Jen stands high up in the mountains on rocks overlooking Lake Hawea in the distance below on the Breast Hill track
Breast Hill Hike, Lake Hawea. You can see across to the Isthmus Peak Track from here. Great if you are looking for a more technically challenging hike, or theres a hut on this trail too


Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 8 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

Backyard Travel Family New Zealand. Lets share these articles and spread the love

what you need to know


- Isthmus Peak carpark at the bottom of the trail is 15 minutes from Lake Hawea and 25 minutes from Wanaka

The trail

- mostly a 4wd style track, wide and grassy in some sections, rocky and dirt trail in others
- Easy to navigate trail
- 16km return track
- 5-7 hours return

Suitable for kids?

Suitable for kids who could walk 16kms and be on their feet up to 8 hours
If you are carrying a baby or a toddler, its technically an easy trail since its a 4wd style track for the most part. It's just a long slog, but if you are used to carrying for a good number of hours and are fit, its a good trail for backpacking a baby.


- No real carpark, just a pull off area on the side of the lake
- Toilet at the beginning of the trail, just a few minutes in, as well as 3/4 of the way up. BYO toilet paper
- No shade on this trail
- No water on the track

What to bring

- Lots of food and water
- Plenty of layers including thermals and waterproof jacket (decent elevation so can get cold)
- Warm hat and/or sun hat
- Sunscreen

Food options

- closest food is at the small corner store at Lake Hawea or Hawea Hotel
- Main stop for food is in Wanaka

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