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A Comparison Of Roy’s Peak Vs. Isthmus Peak In Wanaka


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Dolores Mcginley



Wanaka, a serene town nestled in the heart of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, is a haven for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. It boasts of two popular hiking destinations – Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak, each offering unique experiences and breathtaking views. If you’re planning a visit to Wanaka and can’t decide which peak to conquer, this comparison guide will help you make an informed decision.


Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak are both known for their challenging yet rewarding trails, allowing hikers to immerse themselves in the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. While each peak has its own charm, understanding their differences in terms of location, difficulty level, scenic views, trail conditions, hiking time, elevation gain, facilities, accessibility, wildlife, and crowds will help you choose the one that best suits your preferences and abilities.


Whether you seek panoramic vistas, rugged terrains, or a peaceful escape into nature, this guide will provide you with all the essential information you need to choose between Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak. Let’s delve into the details and discover the highlights, challenges, and unique features of each peak.



Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak are both located in Wanaka, a picturesque town on the South Island of New Zealand. Roy’s Peak is situated on the eastern side of Lake Wanaka, while Isthmus Peak is situated on the western side. Being in close proximity to each other, both peaks offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys.


Roy’s Peak, with its iconic triangular shape, rises to an elevation of 1,578 meters (5,177 feet) above sea level. It is easily accessible from Wanaka and attracts a larger number of visitors due to its popularity on social media platforms. On the other hand, Isthmus Peak stands at an elevation of 1,385 meters (4,544 feet) and is slightly less crowded, providing a more secluded hiking experience.


Not only are these peaks known for their scenic beauty, but they also offer a glimpse into the diverse landscapes of Wanaka. From atop Roy’s Peak, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of Lake Wanaka, Matukituki Valley, and the Southern Alps. Isthmus Peak, on the other hand, rewards hikers with panoramic vistas of Lake Hawea, Mount Aspiring, and the surrounding farmland.


No matter which peak you choose, you’ll be surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Southern Alps and the splendor of New Zealand’s natural landscapes. Just be prepared for the steep climbs and challenging terrains that await you on the trails of Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.


Difficulty Level

Both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak offer rewarding but challenging hiking experiences. It’s important to consider your fitness level and hiking experience before embarking on either of these trails.


Roy’s Peak is known for its steep and relentless uphill climb. The trail starts gently, but as you ascend, the gradient becomes more demanding. The total distance from the car park to the peak and back is approximately 16 kilometers (10 miles), with an elevation gain of around 1,250 meters (4,100 feet). This makes it a strenuous hike that requires a good level of fitness and endurance.


On the other hand, Isthmus Peak offers a slightly less challenging hike. While the trail is still steep in sections, it is generally less steep and more gradual than Roy’s Peak. The total distance is approximately 16 kilometers (10 miles) as well, with an elevation gain of around 1,135 meters (3,724 feet). This makes it a moderately difficult hike, suitable for those with a moderate fitness level.


Both trails are well-maintained and clearly marked, but it’s important to come prepared with proper hiking gear, including sturdy footwear, breathable clothing, and plenty of water and snacks. It’s also advisable to check the weather conditions before heading out, as the weather in Wanaka can change rapidly, and strong winds are common at higher elevations.


Regardless of which peak you choose, it’s important to pace yourself, take regular breaks, and listen to your body. Remember to hike responsibly and be aware of your own limitations. It’s always better to be well-prepared and slightly overestimate the difficulty level than to push yourself beyond your capabilities.


Scenic Views

One of the main attractions of hiking Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak is the spectacular scenery that awaits you at the summit. Both peaks offer breathtaking panoramic views that make the arduous climb well worth it.


At the summit of Roy’s Peak, hikers are rewarded with sweeping vistas of Lake Wanaka and its sparkling turquoise waters. The majestic Southern Alps, with their snow-capped peaks, provide a stunning backdrop. On a clear day, you can even spot Mount Aspiring, one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, standing proudly in the distance. The beauty of this iconic view has made it a popular spot for sunrise and sunset photography.


Isthmus Peak, while lesser-known, offers equally mesmerizing views. From the top, you’ll have an uninterrupted view of Lake Hawea, a glacial lake known for its deep blue hue. The surrounding farmland, framed by mountains, creates a picturesque scene that feels like it’s straight out of a postcard. Whether you visit at sunrise or sunset, the changing colors of the sky against the tranquil lake make for an unforgettable experience.


Both peaks offer different perspectives of Wanaka’s natural beauty. Roy’s Peak provides a view overlooking Lake Wanaka, while Isthmus Peak offers a view overlooking Lake Hawea. Choosing which scenic view you prefer will depend on your personal preference and what you want to capture in your memories or photographs.


No matter which peak you choose, be sure to allocate enough time at the summit to soak in the views and appreciate the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Consider bringing a picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy while marveling at the panoramic vistas. And don’t forget your camera to capture these awe-inspiring moments.


Trail Conditions

The trail conditions of Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak play a crucial role in determining the hiking experience. Understanding the terrain and trail conditions will help you prepare accordingly and ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.


The trail to Roy’s Peak is well-maintained and clearly marked. It starts with a gentle incline but gradually becomes steeper and more challenging as you ascend. The initial gravel path eventually gives way to a well-defined dirt trail. While the trail is generally wide enough for hikers to pass each other comfortably, it can become narrow at certain points, especially during peak season. It’s important to exercise caution, especially on steep sections and when encountering other hikers.


Isthmus Peak follows a similar pattern, with a well-marked and maintained trail. The first section of the trail is a steady climb through farmland, with breathtaking views teasing you along the way. As you ascend further, the trail becomes steeper and narrower, with more challenging rocky terrain. It’s important to watch your step and stay on the designated path to avoid any potential hazards.


During the spring and summer months, both trails can become dry and dusty, so be prepared with sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun. Additionally, during the winter months, the trails can be covered in snow and ice, making them more slippery and treacherous. It’s essential to have proper footwear with good traction and consider using hiking poles for added stability.


Regardless of the season, it’s important to check the weather conditions before embarking on either trail. Both peaks are exposed and can be subject to strong winds and rapidly changing weather. Be prepared for sudden shifts in temperature, and bring layers of clothing to adjust accordingly. It’s advisable to start early in the day to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day and to allow for ample time to complete the hike.


By being aware of the trail conditions and adequately preparing, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable hiking experience on both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.


Hiking Time

The estimated hiking time for both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak depends on various factors, including your fitness level, pace, and the weather and trail conditions. It’s important to plan your hike accordingly and allocate enough time to complete the trails comfortably.


Roy’s Peak is a longer and more demanding hike, typically taking around 5 to 6 hours to complete. This estimate includes time for breaks, rest stops, and enjoying the scenic views at the summit. The trail is well-defined, but the steep ascent requires a steady pace and endurance. It’s important to start early in the day to allow for sufficient daylight and to avoid hiking during the busiest times.


In comparison, Isthmus Peak usually takes around 4 to 5 hours to complete. The slightly shorter duration is due to the less steep nature of the trail. However, the rocky terrain and constant uphill sections still require a moderate level of fitness and stamina. Similarly, starting early in the day is recommended to ensure enough time for the hike and to witness the stunning sunrise or sunset from the summit.


It’s worth noting that both peak trails are out-and-back hikes, meaning you will need to backtrack along the same route. As such, it’s important to factor in the return journey while planning your hiking time. If you prefer a more leisurely pace or want to spend extra time at the summit, it may be wise to allocate additional time for the hike.


While these estimated hiking times are a general guideline, it’s essential to listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Remember to take breaks, pace yourself, and stay hydrated throughout the hike. Always allow for some flexibility in your schedule to account for unexpected circumstances or changes in the weather.


By allowing enough time for the hike and being mindful of your own limitations, you can enjoy the journey to the summit of Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.


Elevation Gain

The elevation gain of a hike is an important factor to consider when determining the level of difficulty and physical exertion required. Both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak present significant elevation gains that add to the challenge and reward of reaching their summits.


Roy’s Peak has a total elevation gain of approximately 1,250 meters (4,100 feet). Starting from the car park, the ascent is gradual at first but becomes progressively steeper as you climb higher. The sharp inclines can be physically demanding, requiring endurance and strength. The reward, however, comes in the form of breathtaking panoramic views that make the elevation gain well worth the effort.


In comparison, Isthmus Peak has a slightly lower elevation gain of around 1,135 meters (3,724 feet). While it may not be as steep as Roy’s Peak, it still presents a significant challenge. The trail gradually gains elevation as you traverse through farmland, and the incline becomes more noticeable as you ascend further towards the summit. The sense of achievement and the sweeping vistas from the top make the elevation gain a rewarding aspect of hiking Isthmus Peak.


It’s important to be prepared for the elevation gain by ensuring your fitness level is suitable for the hike. Regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help improve your endurance and make the climb more manageable. Take breaks as needed, and listen to your body to avoid overexertion. It’s also advisable to acclimatize to the altitude, especially if you’re not accustomed to hiking at higher elevations.


By understanding the elevation gain of each peak and being physically prepared, you can tackle the challenges with confidence and fully appreciate the remarkable views awaiting you at the summits of Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.


Facilities and Amenities

While both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak offer incredible natural beauty, it’s important to consider the availability of facilities and amenities along the trails to ensure a comfortable and well-prepared hiking experience.


Roy’s Peak has more established facilities compared to Isthmus Peak. At the base of Roy’s Peak, there is a car park that can accommodate a large number of vehicles. However, due to its popularity, the car park can fill up quickly during peak times, so it’s advisable to arrive early or consider alternative transportation. Additionally, there are toilet facilities at the car park, providing a convenient place for a final pitstop before starting the hike.


On the other hand, Isthmus Peak has more limited facilities. There is a small car park available near the trailhead, but it has a more limited capacity compared to Roy’s Peak. As for toilet facilities, they are not directly available at the trailhead of Isthmus Peak, so it’s recommended to use facilities in nearby towns or accommodations before starting the hike.


Both trails do not have easy access to water sources along the way, so it’s important to bring an ample supply of water to stay hydrated. Additionally, packing some snacks, a packed lunch, and extra layers of clothing is advisable to sustain your energy and be prepared for changing weather conditions.


After completing the hike, Wanaka offers a range of amenities to unwind and replenish. The town is home to several cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores, providing opportunities to grab a meal or purchase refreshments. The stunning lakefront area in Wanaka also offers a tranquil setting to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.


Regardless of the facilities available, it’s essential to practice Leave No Trace principles while hiking. Respect the environment, take your rubbish with you, and leave the trails as you found them. By doing so, you contribute to the preservation of these natural wonders for future hikers to enjoy.


Overall, while Roy’s Peak offers more developed facilities, both peaks require hikers to come well-prepared with their own water, snacks, and necessary supplies to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable hiking experience.



Accessibility plays a significant role when considering which peak to tackle, as it determines how easily and conveniently you can reach the trailheads of Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.


Roy’s Peak is more accessible compared to Isthmus Peak. It is located approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the town center of Wanaka, and you can easily drive to the car park at the base of the peak. There are clear signs directing you to the trailhead, making it relatively straightforward to find. Additionally, there are options for shuttle services available from Wanaka for those who prefer not to drive.


In contrast, Isthmus Peak is located on the western side of Lake Wanaka and is slightly more remote. It is approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Wanaka town center, and there is a smaller car park available near the trailhead. Getting to Isthmus Peak requires a bit more planning and transportation, and having your own vehicle is recommended for ease of access.


Both peaks are accessible year-round, but it’s important to consider the seasonal variations. During the winter months, the trails can be covered in snow and ice, making them more challenging and potentially dangerous. It’s essential to have the appropriate gear, such as crampons and ice axes, and have experience in hiking snowy conditions if attempting the trails during this time.


For those with mobility limitations, it’s important to note that both trails have steep and challenging sections. While efforts have been made to maintain the trails, they may not be suitable for wheelchair users or individuals with significant difficulty in walking. However, there are alternative viewpoints and shorter walks available in the area that offer stunning views and are more accessible to a wider range of people.


When planning your visit to Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak, consider your transportation options, whether it’s driving to the trailheads, utilizing shuttle services, or considering other means of transportation. Having a clear plan for accessibility will ensure a smoother and more enjoyable experience.


Regardless of the accessibility challenges, both peaks offer remarkable natural beauty that is worth exploring, provided you are prepared and able to navigate the journey to the trailheads.


Wildlife and Flora

The hiking trails of Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak not only offer stunning vistas but also provide opportunities to encounter unique wildlife and admire the diverse flora of the region. As you traverse through these picturesque landscapes, keep an eye out for the fascinating creatures that call these areas home and appreciate the beautiful plant life that thrives in this environment.


Both peaks are known for their abundant birdlife. As you ascend the trails, you may spot native New Zealand birds, such as the bellbird, tui, and fantail, flitting among the trees. The melodious songs and vibrant plumage of these avian species add to the overall enchantment of the hiking experience. Keep your ears open for their distinctive calls and don’t forget to bring your binoculars for a closer look.


In addition to birds, you may also encounter other wildlife on these hikes. The Southern Alps region is home to a variety of creatures, including rabbits, hares, and the elusive mountain goat – the chamois. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of these animals as they roam the hillsides or graze in the open spaces. Remember to maintain a respectful distance and observe from a safe vantage point to minimize disturbance to their natural habitats.


The flora of both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak is equally captivating. The lower sections of the trails feature shrubs, tussock grasses, and native wildflowers, including the iconic New Zealand mountain daisy. As you gain elevation, the vegetation shifts to hardy alpine plants, such as the mountain buttercup and snow gentian, that can withstand the harsh alpine conditions. Take a moment to appreciate the resilience and beauty of these plants that thrive in such rugged environments.


While it’s important to admire the wildlife and flora, it’s equally crucial to adhere to strict conservation practices. Stay on the designated trails to avoid trampling delicate plant life, refrain from feeding or approaching wildlife, and leave no trace of your visit. By being mindful of your impact, you contribute to the preservation of these precious ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.


As you embark on your journey to Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak, keep your senses tuned to the sights and sounds of the natural world around you. There is a hidden beauty waiting to be discovered with every step you take.


Crowds and Popular Times

As two of Wanaka’s most popular hiking destinations, Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak can attract a considerable number of visitors, especially during peak times. It’s important to consider the crowds and choose the best time to hike based on your preferences and desire for a more peaceful experience.


Roy’s Peak is known for its popularity, thanks in part to its fame on social media platforms. During the peak season and weekends, the trail can get quite busy, with a steady stream of hikers making their way up and down. If you prefer a quieter experience, it’s advisable to hike Roy’s Peak during weekdays or during off-peak hours, such as early morning or late afternoon. Starting early not only allows you to beat the crowds but also provides opportunities to witness stunning sunrises or sunsets from the summit.


In contrast, Isthmus Peak is generally less crowded compared to Roy’s Peak. While it still sees a good number of hikers, particularly during weekends and holidays, it provides a slightly more serene experience. If you’re seeking a more secluded and tranquil hike, consider visiting Isthmus Peak on weekdays or during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. These times offer the chance to enjoy the beauty of the trail with fewer fellow hikers around.


Regardless of the time you choose to hike, it’s important to be respectful of other hikers and the natural environment. Maintain proper trail etiquette, yield to faster hikers if needed, and pack out any trash you bring with you. By practicing considerate and responsible behavior, you contribute to preserving the hiking experience for everyone.


It’s also worth noting that both peaks can experience crowded conditions at the summit, particularly during peak times. To enjoy the views and have some space to yourself, consider taking breaks at viewpoints along the trail or venture slightly off the main path to find a quieter spot. This way, you can fully appreciate the beauty of the surroundings without feeling overwhelmed by the crowds.


By choosing the right time to hike and being mindful of the crowds, you can have a more enjoyable and immersive experience on both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.


Recommended Preparations

Proper preparation is key to ensuring a safe and enjoyable hiking experience on both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak. Here are some recommendations to consider before embarking on these challenging trails:


1. Check the weather: Before setting out, it’s crucial to check the weather conditions and forecast for the duration of your hike. New Zealand’s weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for rapid changes and pack accordingly. Choose a clear day with suitable conditions for hiking, and avoid hiking during severe weather events.


2. Bring essential gear: Make sure to pack the necessary gear to ensure your safety and comfort. Sturdy hiking boots with good traction are essential, as well as appropriate clothing layers for changing weather conditions. Bring sun protection, including sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat, to shield yourself from the strong New Zealand sun.


3. Carry enough water and snacks: Both trails can be demanding, so it’s crucial to stay hydrated and maintain your energy levels throughout the hike. Carry enough water (at least 2 liters per person) and pack lightweight, high-energy snacks to fuel your body. Consider bringing a packed lunch or snacks to enjoy at the summit while taking in the breathtaking views.


4. Plan your timing: Start your hike early in the day to allow ample time for the journey and enjoy the cooler temperatures. Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day, especially during summer, to minimize the risk of heat exhaustion. Additionally, starting early allows you to beat the crowds and potentially witness stunning sunrises or sunsets.


5. Be aware of your fitness level: Both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak require a moderate to high level of fitness. Be realistic about your abilities and choose a trail that aligns with your fitness level. If you’re a beginner or have health concerns, it’s advisable to start with less demanding hikes and build up your fitness gradually before attempting these more challenging peaks.


6. Stay on the designated trails: To protect the fragile ecosystems and local wildlife, it’s essential to stick to the designated trails and avoid shortcutting. Deviating from the trails can cause erosion and damage the natural habitat. Follow signage and respect any closures or restrictions in place for conservation purposes.


7. Inform someone of your hiking plans: It’s a good idea to inform someone, whether it’s a friend, family member, or accommodation provider, of your hiking plans. Share your expected start and finish times, as well as the trail you will be hiking. This way, someone will be aware of your whereabouts and can take action if needed.


By following these recommended preparations, you can ensure a safer and more enjoyable hiking experience on both Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak. Remember to always prioritize your safety, respect the environment, and leave no trace as you venture into the natural wonders of Wanaka.



In conclusion, choosing between Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak in Wanaka ultimately comes down to personal preferences, fitness level, and the type of hiking experience you seek. Both peaks offer stunning panoramic views, challenging trails, and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Southern Alps.


Roy’s Peak stands out for its iconic triangular shape, popularity on social media, and the breathtaking views of Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps from its summit. However, it can be more crowded, especially during peak times. The steep and demanding trail requires good fitness and endurance.


On the other hand, Isthmus Peak offers a slightly less challenging hike with equally breathtaking vistas of Lake Hawea, Mount Aspiring, and the surrounding farmland. It provides a more serene atmosphere and attracts fewer crowds compared to Roy’s Peak.


Regardless of which peak you choose, it’s essential to be well-prepared, respecting the environment, and hiking responsibly. Checking the weather, bringing suitable gear, carrying enough water and food, and being aware of your fitness level are crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience. Additionally, starting early in the day and choosing weekdays or off-peak times can help avoid crowds and enhance your overall hiking experience.


Wanaka’s natural beauty and the opportunity to conquer either of these remarkable peaks should not be missed. Whether you seek the famous views of Roy’s Peak or prefer the quieter ambiance of Isthmus Peak, you are guaranteed to create lasting memories and be rewarded with the wonders of New Zealand’s outdoor splendor.


So lace up your hiking boots, pack your essentials, and embark on a memorable adventure to Roy’s Peak or Isthmus Peak. Embrace the challenges, marvel at the panoramic vistas, and immerse yourself in the unspoiled natural beauty of Wanaka.