We left Wanaka and head towards Makarora on one of the most scenic drive along the blue Lake Hawea. We stopped at a dam on the lake near the small Hawea township at the southern end of the lake. Towards the north, snow peaked mountains of the Southern Alps. That was enough incentive for me to continue. The road twisted and turned with sharp hairpin turns. However, with every turn, wonderful vistas appeared. About 30 minutes, we arrived at the starting point – Stewart Creek car park. The blue Lake Hawea sparkled and mountain peaks glistened in the morning sun.
Isthmus Peak Track (16km) is in the Matatiaho Conservation Area. The track is closed from 20 November till 20 December. No booking is required for this day hike. We started the hike at 0930. The initial part of the track is climbing over a rocky terrain and passing foraging sheep and cattle. The views off Lake Hawea were stunning against the blue sky. The hike continue uphill through grassland. After 1.5 hours, the track is narrow with loose gravel cut along the slope of the mountain. The track zig zags up hugging the slope and in places with precipitous drops. Tussock grasses dominate this open landscape. It is exposed and can be very hot like today. Water (refilling) is not available and therefore it is essential to bring your own. This is an alpine area and strong wind and cold conditions can occur at any time. Some area are prone to avalanches when the mountains are covered in snow.
The strong sun was relentless and made walking harder. As the track twisted and turned, the summit seemed just there. However, upon reaching, we realised that there is another peak ahead. This continued for a while. With gain in altitude, the views across the mountains and valleys became ever panoramic and stunning. At this stage, only Lake Hawea was visible. Flowering alpine plants and shrubs appeared sporadically. We could only see a few hikers on the mountain today.
Climbing slowly from one peak to yet another seemed like the track is endless. We arrived at a sign posted junction (1386 m) – Isthmus Peak to the right and Glen Dene Ridge Track to the left. As we gained elevation along a fence, Lake Wanaka come into view with the snowy peaks of the alps in the background. The views were stunning in the bright light with deep blue sky. After several switchbacks and false peaks, we walked uphill on a grassy track. A pole was erected at the end. Finally the summit. The views of both Lakes – Wanaka and Hawea were stupendous. The pain to get here melted away by the euphoric sensation of the snowy peaks, jagged mountains and the deep blue sky and lakes.
We retraced our steps back on the same track back towards the car park. The weather was relentlessly hot. Although the sun had shifted, the views of the jagged snowy peaks and the mesmerising blue lakes were stunning. Just before we descended into the bush, we managed to spot a couple of wild deer. It was an exhausting 7 hours hike but certainly worth it. This track has been comparable to Roy’s Peak Track, closer to Wanaka. Roy Peak Track is shorter and more accessible making it popular. However, Isthmus Peak Track is certainly a wonderful hike with wonderful views of both Wanaka and Hawea lakes.
We continued on to Makarora, at the top end of Lake Wanaka along Makarora River. Stopped for a deserved lunch at Wonderland lodge. We continued towards Haast Pass to a sign posted Blue Pools car park. After the first swing bridge over the Makarora River, it was refreshing to walk under tree canopies and board walk compared to the exposed Isthmus Peak Track. In about 20 minutes, we crossed the second swing bridge over Blue River which merged with the main Makarora River just meters away. Today, the water, although clear, was green. The blue colour is derived from the glacial melt waters from the mountains. Plus, it is also determined by the light on the day. It is certainly inviting to jump into the cold fast moving river. It is one of those natural sites that is worth visiting.