Hiking New Zealand: Isthmus Peak

Isthmus Peak is a local, off-the-radar hike outside of  Wanaka, New Zealand. Don’t think twice, don’t question the steepness, just do it.

Only, I’d recommend *not* being hungover. I can explain.

After our trek to Mueller Hut, our foursome pointed our campervan towards Wanaka, one of the most spectacularly awesome towns I’ve ever visited. Our two friends wanted a break from both hiking and campervan living, so they stayed in town while Will and I took the van to a holiday park. It was pouring rain that evening, so we stayed home and Will cooked me a delightful dinner…complete with wine.

That’s the tricky part when you come from high altitude living. When I drop down to sea level, I can handle my alcohol like whoa. Before I realized what was happening, I had downed an entire bottle of red wine all by myself while Will looked on and laughed at me. I didn’t even feel drunk; I just felt sleepy!

Hiking Isthmus Peak

Needless to say, the next morning called for an early wakeup and I wasn’t feeling it. We had agreed to meet our friends back in town by 1 pm which meant we had to drive to the trailhead, get up and down Isthmus peak, and drive back to town pretty darn quickly. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the hiking stats, so I dawdled along, drinking my coffee and wondering why I felt so blah.

Will eventually packed up the van {thanks darling!} and shuttled my now-acknowledged hungover self to the trailhead. We pulled into the parking lot around 8:30, and he gave me a quick glance.

“Are you going to be able to do this today?”

Isthmus Peak is a steep climb!

The trail on Isthmus Peak just...keeps...climbing!

Photos are by both Will and Heather Balogh Rochfort

And that’s what so embarrassing about being hungover. Even though I felt like hell, there was absolutely no way I was going to bail on the hike because of my poor life choices. Will was so excited to tackle this local hike; how could I not join him? I assured him I felt fine, hefted my backpack on my shoulders, and focused really hard on putting one foot in front of the other.

Out of the gates, I knew I was in for a world of hurt! Like all hikes in New Zealand, Isthmus Peak was steep! The first hill was a short-but-wicked incline that left me gasping for air and searching my skin to see if wine was oozing from my pores. Of course, this could all be in my head because Will appeared to be trucking along just fine.

Switchbacks snake up Isthmus Peak

The trail was untrammeled, so much so that we frequently trekked through meadows of thick grass. I was on the struggle bus, but I could also acknowledge that the scenery was absurdly beautiful.

The summit view from Isthmus Peak

The summit view of Isthmus Peak

Jagged peaks jutted into the blue sky with the glimmering Lake Hawea behind us. Since it was early morning, we had the trail completely to ourselves to enjoy the warm morning sunlight. The trail is totally exposed so we dealt with ferocious wind gusts. The air would feel warm and calm, lulling me into a sense of comfort. Then, I’d turn the corner and be smacked in the face with what felt like hurricane-force winds. {Again, I could be exaggerating. I wasn’t actually feeling great!}

Descending Isthmus Peak

We climbed and climbed, and climbed some more. I really wanted to stop and take a break, but we were pushing the clock: we needed to get back to town by our 1 pm cutoff. So, I accepted my self-induced misery and vowed never to drink wine again.

After an eternity of climbing, we reached the summit and were rewarded with epic views. Isthmus Peak is aptly named for its location between two lakes: Lake Hawea to the east and Wanaka’s Lake Wanaka to the west. If you looked out towards the skyline, you could even see glimpses of New Zealand’s southern Alps!


Hiking Isthmus Peak

Mileage: 9.9 miles {roundtrip}

Elevation Gain: 4544 feet

Skill Level: Advanced {Not technical, just steep!}

Parking: Yes, at the base of the peak



  • Reply Suzanne at

    Ahhh so jealous! I had Isthmus Peak on my list during our trip in October. The ever-popular Roy’s Peak was closed for lambing so this one seemed like a good idea. Sadly, my husband was sick, it was raining and freezing, so we spent the day in our tent. 🙁 Guess I’ll just have to go back!!! 😉 Your pics are gorgeous.

    • Reply Heather at

      We had Rob Roy and Cascade Saddle on our list and were even down at the trailhead to pack into the park….but then a wicked storm rolled in and we had to hightail it back to Wanaka! It rained for the next 24 hours, so it was a good thing we left when we did– all those tiny streams on the road turned into raging rivers and we would’ve been stuck out there! But, like you said, gives us a reason to go back! 🙂

  • Reply Rachel @ Better LIVIN at

    Good for you for pushing through the hang over! Those photos are incredible!!! What a beautiful world we live in. 🙂

  • Reply Richard Johnson at

    I’m going up today. Sounds like most people prefer it to Roy’s, which itself is awesome. Wish me luck!

    • Reply Heather at

      Have fun, although it sound like you’re hiking a different peak. Roy’s Peak is another hike near Wanaka!

  • Reply Jessie @ Chasing Belle at

    Gosh this is stunning! And thank you for sharing what happened before the start of the hike (the night before). I know I’m not perfect and the best cure I know to kick a hangover is sweating it out in nature! Beautiful pictures 🙂

  • Reply Grainne at

    These are such beautiful photos! I absolutely love New Zealand! My biggest regret is that I wasn’t in to hiking when I visited and now I love to hike and I hate that I was in New Zealand and didn’t do any of the amazing hikes. I guess it just gives me more of a reason to go back there.

  • Reply Rita Myers at

    Hi Heather,

    Those pics got me longing to get out more! Though I could sense what a drudgery it was with all that hang over.

    Great pictures, Great narratives.

    Here’s a link to a blog post of what not to do before a hiking adventure: http://datingwithnature.com/camper-must-haves/

  • Reply Artia Simamora at

    Hi Heather,
    Do you think hiking to Isthmus Peak on the labour day on October would be safe enough for the weather and avalanches?

    • Reply Heather at

      Hi Artia,
      Unfortunately, since I”m not local, I don’t know what the conditions are like that time of year. We were there in December and there was not a spec of snow to be seen, but as I haven’t visited in October, I can’t say for sure. I’d check with the local tourism board in Wanaka!

  • Reply Margaret Stewart at

    HI Heather,
    I LOVE NZ! I’m going back in February (first time was a month in a campervan exploring both islands) to spend 2 weeks in Wanaka. I loved it there so much the first time, I had to go back! I’m putting this hike on my list. The worst part about going to New Zealand during their summer, is it ruins grocery store fruit for me! The fruit straight from the farm stands is like candy in NZ! I think 80% of my diet there was fruit! lol Can’t wait til Feb! Thanks for sharing your stories. Margaret

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