Queenstown’s smaller sibling, Wanaka, has long been attractive for the backpacker tourist market. With champagne tastes and beer budgets, many of these younger visitors look for walks as a way to discover New Zealand. Roys Peak, only 5km from Wanaka, has become a parade. But head 32 km north of Wanaka on SH6 and Isthmus Peak Track offers the same majestic views, but with less people.
The track is closed for fawning between 20th November and 20th December.
From Wanaka, follow SH6 32 km north. The parking area is signposted on the right just before the road leaves the shores of Lake Hawea.
Take care crossing the road as this is a hotspot for oblivious drivers, concentrating more on the scenery than the road.
The track is marked through farmland and forest owned by Glen Dene Station.There are fences and stiles to clamber over and through. This is a working station, so expect livestock including merino, cattle and stags.
It’s a constant steady climb through paddocks in the lee of jagged schist cliffs. On nearing the tops you enter tussock country.
Keep right and traverse the summit ridge to the marked peak (1386m). Big views stretch over Lakes Hawea and Wanaka, with the characteristic profiles of glaciated valleys filled with deep blue glacier-fed waters.
The Otago schist started forming around 500 million years ago, as sedimentation on the eastern edge of Gondwanaland laid down multiple layers at the coastal margin. From around 200 to 160 million years ago, heating to temperatures of over 300 degrees Celsius at depths of over 10 km metamorphosed these layers. Later post-metamorphic processes sometimes split these layers and intruded wedges of superheated water saturated with silica. These inter-bedded quartz layers today form striking patterns like mille feuille.
From the summit, the previous courses of the Hawea and Wanaka glaciers were evident. Near the zenith of the last Hawea advance, terminal moraines built up, which now form the southern dam at the end of the lake. The glaciers scoured the valley floors to below sea level (making today’s lakes nearly 400 metres deep) and sculpted the characteristic U-shaped valley walls. At the Neck, the two glaciers joined.
Merinos graze in the shadows of the schist cliffs taking advantage of the dry climate, akin to their native homeland in southwest Spain.
Crickets, cicadas and a plethora of other insect life hum in the background. Many Otago ranges contain storehouses of biodiversity, often unique to those particular mountains.
The Waitaha ancestor Rakaihautu left many descendants, of whom Rokotewhatu is said to have conferred the name ‘Hawea’, meaning ‘doubt’ - a reference to his forebear’s indecision about which way to travel when he visited.
South Island ▷ Wanaka Region ▷ Wanaka Township
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍