Sentinel Peak is a strenuous hike offering epic views over the sounding landscapes. This was a hike that I didn’t even know about, until a friend from Wanaka recommended it to me. I had one extra day in Wanaka, so I thought why not go and check it out!
I wasn’t warned about the trail I was about to walk; it was nothing like I expected. Full disclosure, I didn’t end up summiting Sentinel Peak, as the hike took a lot longer than I expected. The track conditions were also not what I was expecting. Nevertheless, the views I got on the track were spectacular, and maybe some of the best from all the hikes I did while in New Zealand.
Before you continue reading about what this hike entails, I just want to warn you that this is not a hike that should be taken on by the inexperienced, people afraid of heights/steep drop offs and proper safety equipment should be carried.
Table of Contents
Where is it?
Sentinel Peak is not a marked trail, like every other trail in New Zealand. The trail on this hike is incredibly easy to lose, in fact I got lost several times. The Sentinel Peak trail veers off the Sawyer Burn Hut trail. This trail starts in from the Kidds Bush reserve, about 40mins outside of Wanaka.
You can also camp at the Kidd Nature reserve for a low cost.
This track starts on the Sawyer Burn hut trail, follow this trail for about an hour till you reach the ridge. At the ridge you will get to a point which has two goat trails, one leading up to the ridge and one leading around. You want to follow the one leading up the ridge.
The section following the Sawyer Burn hut trail is a series of switch backs, with some steep sections. When I completed this hike, there were a few fallen trees and branches blocking the path. You will get some beautiful views of Lake Hawea while ascending and reach a viewpoint which offers 180 views over the lake.
From here you continue ascending, till you reach the fork mentioned above. The hike gets steep from here, while you ascend to the top of the ridge. Continue following the goat trail on the ridge until you can see a rocky mountain face in front of you. The worst section of the hike is coming up.
The path in this section is very easy to lose, in fact I am not sure there even is a real path. You will want to go around the back of this rock face, or to the right of it. Once you get closer to the back of it, you will see a small goat trail which is what you will follow from here. Do not go around the front of the rock face!
The goat trail leads behind the rock face, where you will have to do some rock scrambling over some very question sections with steep drop offs and rock shards that have not grip. Make sure you have all hands free, and watch the edge, because this trail is only made for 1 person and 1 foot at a time.
The trail continues up the back of the rock face, until you reach the ridge again. The path becomes easy to follow here. After walking up the ridge from the rock face for about 5 mins you will come to an incredible viewpoint, this is where I decided to stop the hike and turn back. It’s well worth spending some time here to take some photos and have a rest!
The trail continues following the ridge until you can see Sentinel Peak, it’s the mountain with 3 very distinctive points. The path follows around the front of the peak before you will have to complete a short rock scramble to the summit.
You return the same way you came.
I started off this hike with no knowledge of what I was about to walk into but was happy to be out and exploring! The trail following the Sawyer Burn hut walk was easy enough but not hard. Once I got to the viewpoint of the lakes, some travellers asked where I was walking to and I told them Sentinel Peak, which they had never heard of before. They wished me luck and off I went.
Everything went smoothly while walking on the ridge, on the way I ran into another traveller who overheard me talking about the peak and wanted to try it too. We ended up hiking the rest of the trail together, which I am very thankful we did!
After a bit of messing about at the bottom of the rock face, trying to find the trail (and making trails of our own), we found the trail. This is where things took a turn for the worst. We saw the official trail leading around the rock face, but as it wasn’t clear we weren’t sure if that was the way we were meant to go. We saw another trail leading up the rock face, and for some unknown reason we decided to take this one. DO NOT take this one.
After a very steep and slippery climb up to the top we realised there was no way around the rocks, unless we wanted to rock climb. Which was not happening, so we had to make the very steep descent back down the way we came. I didn’t have hiking poles, but my new friend did, so she offered me one which literally saved me. The rock shards made the trail so slippery that we were essentially skiing down the path. There was one section while ascending this path when I could not get any grip on my feet, so I was holding on for dear life by my fingertips. I had to dig my hand into the dirt to get myself up and stop myself from falling. Again, DO not take this path!
After a few scary moments and questioning my choices we continued the correct path. This section was scary, even for me. It was one wrong foot, and you will slide down scary. After 2 hours of getting lost, taking the wrong trail, and having near death experiences, we reach the viewpoint.
We saw two other travellers who decided this was the end of their walk as well and we decided on the same. We sat up here for about an hour before heading back down. Coming down was much worse than going up, because again, there were sections where you had no grip on your shoes.
The whole hike took us 6hrs and we only made it to that viewpoint. That was a total of 11km. I would recommend giving yourself anywhere between 6-8hrs to complete this hike.
Make sure you take hiking poles, and you go with someone experienced. This hike is not for the fainthearted.
- If you can find a GPS map of this hike online, use it!
- If you are inexperienced, scared of heights or can’t follow goat trails, do not attempt this hike
- Take hiking poles and tell someone where you are hiking
- Expect this hike to take you anywhere between 6-8hrs to complete
- I wouldn’t attempt this hike in bad weather conditions or in Winter
- Bring 2-3 litres of water with you
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