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Isthmus Peak

Having spent a few days in Wanaka, skiing up at Treble Cone and along the backcountry trails at Snow Farm NZ, we were looking forward to spending our last day taking in one of the many beautiful hikes in the area. Our friend Carla from Lake Wanaka Tourism recommended we check out the day hike up to Isthmus Peak just outside Lake Hawea. So we took her advice and got an early start just as the sun was coming up over the mountains.

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The track started off along the road before venturing through the bush, requiring a few climbs over sheep fences before opening up at the bottom of the mountain into the grazing fields. As we walked along the path, a few sheep stared us down as we were clearly walking through their territory. In typical New Zealand fashion, many trails cut through sheep fields, requiring a constant concentration of where you’re stepping in hopes of avoiding any messes along the way.

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As we climbed higher, the path turned to a gravel farm road, making several switch backs towards the top. It was sooooo nice to be hiking again! It had been a long winter filled with many rainy weekends, so it had been over 4 months since our last hike in New Zealand. My legs were feeling it too but it was great to be outside enjoying the beautiful morning in the mountains. The view of Lake Hawea behind us got even more stunning the higher we climbed, so we made sure to stop and enjoy the view as we made our way to the summit.

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Since it was the last official day of winter, most of the snow had melted away, but we did manage to find a few patches along the path that had survived in the shadows, leaving a hint of winter still behind.

After reaching what I initially thought was the summit, the path continued upwards, before veering off to the right along the ridgeline where the sign post pointed us towards Isthmus Peak. The last stretch was a bit steep and icy, so the final few hundred metres made us earn our lunch at the top. After just over 3hrs we reached the 1385m Isthmus Peak and were rewarded with the most incredible 360 degree views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka surrounding us.

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Seriously one of the most incredible views I’ve seen in New Zealand, so we sat down to eat our lunch and take in the beauty around us. The clear snow line along the mountains still amazes me as it’s almost like someone took a paint brush and drew a perfect straight snow line along the tops of the mountains. Such an amazing, yet odd sight with so much brown tussock around us.

With such an incredible view, it was pretty easy to take about a million photos – felt like we were on top of the world up there!

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Although we could have spent all day there, just relaxing and exploring the area, we had to make our way back down towards the car park as we wanted to still check out the famous Hawea Wave just down the road. On our way back down, there were several stops to take in the view a few more times (and give the knees a break as it was a constant 2hrs of steep downhill)

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Nearly 6hrs and 16km later we returned to our Jucy van and headed towards the Hawea River. The awesome folks at Wanaka Kayaks let Jordan borrow a wetsuit, gear and a sawed off surfboard for him to tackle the purpose-made Hawea Wave.

Located on the Hawea River, the Hawea Whitewater Park was built to provide the community two standing waves used for whitewater kayaking and surfing alike. The Hawea Dam regulates the river’s water levels, providing two perfect standing waves for whitewater enthusiasts to enjoy.

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The first one is the larger of the two and damn right intimidating to say the least! With a bridge about 50m away and huge cement pillars, you wouldn’t want to get swept down river only to smash into one of those! After reconsidering that wave, we walked up river to the other wave – one that looks much more manageable for a first go. A kayaker was having a play in the wave, ducking under the water and flipping back up. Seeing someone else in the wave made it a lot less scary so Jordan decided to jump in once the kayaker was done.

After a few attempts trying to come at the wave from behind, Jordan decided to walk up river and enter it by floating downstream. This was much more successful and he was quickly surfing on his stomach on the powerful standing wave. Despite a few attempts to stand up (resulting in him going under with legs flailing in the air), we didn’t have enough time to stay for him to master his skills. With the sun starting to set, we called it a day after a few rounds and made a decision to come back again someday soon!

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Check out Episode 39 – Weekend in Wanaka

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