The guardian of the southern lakes
Like a watchman, Sentinel Peak stands tall and proud over two of New Zealand’s best-known lakes: Wanaka and Hāwea. The 1814m peak is a custodian of a unique perspective on the area, which it guards with a challenging and rewarding climb.
Located at ‘The Neck’ between the two lakes, climbing the peak provides a more remote alternative to popular tracks such as Roy’s Peak and Isthmus Peak.
From Kidd’s Bush, follow the well-formed track which zigzags through the beech forest. The gradient is consistent but never too taxing, and before long the trees begin to thin out, allowing the first view over magnificent Lake Hāwea. Catch this on a sunny day and the water literally sparkles, hundreds of metres below.
The trail climbs above the trees for the first taste of what the rest of the trip will entail: brilliant ridge-top travel.
Just above the treeline, the track forks. The official track continues to Sawyer Burn Hut, a quirky Forest Service-style hut that provides an inviting way to break up what is otherwise a long day. It’s well worth a visit. To reach Sentinel Peak though, follow the ridgeline trail.
The track disappears not long after this junction, but a well-worn foot trail and the odd cairn guide the way. Follow the main ridgeline higher and appreciate the opening views of lakes Wanaka and Hāwea. A sidle to the right of Pt1370 is required to avoid bluffs on the ridge. Make sure to re-join the ridge by ascending the steep gully just beyond this point.
There is now a real sense of being on top of the world as the broad ridge towards the peak is ascended. Being so high above the two lakes is a giddy feeling, but higher are views to the big peaks of the Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park. Travel is straightforward but stimulating, hopping over and around bumps in the ridgeline.
Closing in on Sentinel Peak, the task begins to look daunting, but there is a good route through the final section. Sidle to the left around a rocky outcrop and make a diagonal towards the scree slope directly beneath the peak. From here, there are three possible scree chutes giving access to the summit ridge. The second from the right is the easiest, and, before long, you will be on the final summit scramble.
Directly below, Lakes Wanaka and Hāwea look enticing with their deep, clear blue waters. To the west, the peaks of Mt Aspiring National Park allow for some serious dreaming and to the east the rugged interior of Hāwea Conservation Park opens up.
– Tess Hindle-Daniels
- 6.86km to Sentinel Peak
- Total Ascent
- Carpark to Sawyer Burn Hut, 1.5-2hr; To Sentinel Peak, 4-5hr; To car park 4-5hr
- Sawyer Burn Hut (free, two bunks)
- From ‘The Neck’ on SH6, turn right onto Meads Road for 6km to Kidds Bush Campsite
- CA12, CA13