The 4 Best hikes in Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook, or Aoraki, is the highest mountain in New Zealand, but the 3724 meter high behemoth with its snowy craggy peak is much more than just a majestic mountain. The mountain is part of Mount Cook National Park, which offers multiple insanely rewarding hikes of various lengths and difficulty, views for days (weeks!), and some high adrenaline activities like Heli-skiing. Even the drive to Mount Cook alone will make your jaw drop and it is widely regarded as the most scenic drive in the country. New Zealand is filled to the brim with beautiful spots, but when it comes to scenery, Mount Cook National Park takes the crown. These are the four most worthwhile Mount Cook hikes.
Mount Cook is located in the center of New Zealand’s South Island, and the only viable way of getting there is by car, or even better, by campervan. This is because there is only one 55 km long road that goes to and from Mount Cook, and the nearest towns are even further away, making public transport options very limited. But this drive is no punishment, quite the opposite actually, as it swerves through a stunning mountain valley alongside the unbelievably blue Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook already visible in the distance.
How far is Mount Cook
From Wanaka: It is 209 km from Wanaka to Mount Cook, and takes 2,5 hours.
From Queenstown: It is 262 km from Queenstown to Mount Cook, and takes 3 hours.
From Christchurch: It is 330 km from Christchurch to Mount Cook, and takes 4 hours.
From Tekapo: It is 105 km from Tekapo to Mount Cook, and takes 1,5 hours.
From Twizel: It is 64 km from Twizel to Mount Mount, and takes 45 minutes.
The road ends at Aoraki Mount Cook Village, where you’ll find a few accommodation options and a small (and very overpriced) convenience store, so stock up before you go. Instead of staying in the village, we recommend the nearby White Horse Hill Campsite, especially if you’re in a campervan, as this is the starting point for most of the Mount Cook hikes. The campsite is quite big, but works according to the first come, first serve priciple and does fill up. So if you plan on going in high season, make sure to get there early on the day to secure a spot for the night.
Pin now, read later
The first hike we’ll talk about is the one to Kea Point. Well, hike… you can’t really call it a hike as it takes less than an hour to go there and back, but fortunately the epicness of the view at the end isn’t always measured by how long the hike takes. The walk starts from the campground/parking lot and takes you through some grassland and then over a short rocky climb to the lookout on the top of a hill covered in high grass. From this hill you have a spectacular view over Mueller Lake and its moraine wall, with Mount Cook high above in the distance.
This spot is called Kea Point because of the the keas that live in the area. The kea is the only alpine parrot in the world. If you’re walking around in Mount Cook National Park or other mountain areas in New Zealand and you hear a strange, loud and high pitched noise that sounds a lot like 'keee-aaa', it is probably a kea. Not only are they loud, they’re also very smart and will try to steal almost anything. Keep you’re food and shiny items stowed away and out of their sight, cause keas have been known to peck through canvas backpacks to get to food and jewelry.
Distance: 3 km, 1 hour return
Best time to go: Sunset. The colours of Mount Cook and Lake Mueller are incredible during sunset.
Hooker valley track
Next up is the Hooker Valley Track, which is the most popular day hike in New Zealand after the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and is equally as rewarding. The track starts from the campsite and is mostly flat and quite easy. Remember to take a rainjacket with you even if you go in summer. You’ll be walking in a mountain valley where the weather is very unpredictable. The wind can suddenly pick up and in a matter of minutes rainclouds (or even snow) can come rolling in.
About 1 km (15 minutes) in you’ll get to the first point of interest; Lake Mueller lookout. This is a nice vantage point over Lake Mueller, but since the view over Lake Mueller from Kea Point is way better, you should instead look to your right where the first of the three picturesque swingbridges that the Hooker Valley track is famous for sits. Don’t worry, the bridges are well built and really don’t shake all that much. Another 1,5 km further you get to the second bridge which we think has the best view out of the three. Once you cross the bridge you step into the Hooker Valley and the path continues over a boardwalk that swerves along the meandering Hooker River through a green grassy meadow. You’re about halfway to Hooker Lake now and from this point on Mount Cook is visible as you get closer and closer to it.
After crossing the third swingbridge the final 10 minutes take you past the tall rocky morain of the Hooker Glacier and then you reach your destination; Hooker Lake, right under Mount Cook! This point is the closest any official walking track gets to Mount Cook. Admire the view for a while and see how many icebergs you can spot in the lake, then retrace your steps back to the campsite.
We absolutely loved this hike and its sweeping views, so much in fact that we did it twice in two days. The first time we dragged one of our inflatable paddleboards with us because it has been one of Zi’s lifelong dreams to paddleboard in a glacial lake, and try finding a more scenic glacial lake than Hooker Lake. The next day we went again in the early morning so we could avoid the crowds and take some photos.
Distance: 10 km, 2,5-3 hours return
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate
Best time to go: Early morning, both to avoid the crowds and to have the best chance of good weather as in the afternoon the wind usually picks up.
SEALY TARNS & Mueller hut
The Sealy Tarns track is only half the lenght of the Hooker Valley Track, but takes you just as long as it is very, very steep. The track branches of from the Kea Point track, and then takes you 2200 (!) steps zigzagging up the mountainside of Mount Sealy, and is dubbed the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The stairs become so steep at certain points that they can almost be called ladders, but we assure that it is worth it so push on. As you climb up you can see more and more of the mountain valley appear below you, and at one point the whole Hooker Valley track, including Mueller Lake and Hooker Lake are visible.
The track ends at the tarns, small freshwater mountain lakes. On a windstill day the water in the tarns is mirror-flat and shows incredible reflections of Mount Sefton and Mount Cook, but the real reward is the breathtaking view over the ridges and glaciers around you. Watch sections of ice break off from Mount Sefton and tumble down the rocky mountainside and see the wind create small snow tornadoes on the mountaintops. If you still have any strenght left, you can climb up another 1,5-2 hours to Mueller Hut where you can stay the night.
Distance: 5.8 km, 3 hours return to Sealy Tarns. 10 km, 6-7 hours return to Mueller Hut
Difficulty: Intermediate - Advanced
Best time to go: In summer go in the morning because it can get really hot during the day and in the morning most of the track is in the shade. In winter go in the afternoon so you can walk in the sun to warm you up a bit.
On the other side of the Mount Cook range, parallel to the Hooker Valley, lies the Tasman Valley with the Tasman Lake in it. Two walks go to a viewpoint with views over the lake and the glacier, and to the shore of the lake itself. These walks don’t start from the White Horse Hill Campsite, but from the Tasman Glacier Car Park a 15 minute drive away.
The first walk goes up to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint and while the track climbs up the whole way, the climb is rather short and not hard at all. From the top you have expansive view over the Tasman Lake and its surrounding mountains. Tasman Lake is a massive glacial lake formed with meltwater from the Tasman Glacier, the largest glacier in New Zealand. Unfortunately you can’t see much of the glacier itself as it has been receding fast over the past years. As a short side walk you can take the track to the Blue Lakes. This name is a bit confusing because the water in the lakes is actually green, but in the past when the glaciers were still a lot bigger, these lakes were fed with glacial water which is incridibly blue in colour. Just have another look at lake Pukaki or Lake Tekapo to see how blue.
The second walk takes about an hour and goes the shore of the Tasman Lake, at the point where it turns into the Tasman River. Just as in Hooker Lake, icebergs float around in Tasman Lake, except in Tasman Lake you’ll usually find a lot more of them, and if you want you can see them up close. From the jetty you can take a boat ride onto the lake, that takes you close to some of the bigger icebergs floating around.
Distance: 2 km, 45 minutes return to Tasman Glacier Viewpoint including Blue Lakes. 2.6 km, 1 hour return to Tasman Lake
Best time to go: Sunrise. As the sun comes up and slowly makes its light glide over the lake, the icebergs reflect this light and shine like bright diamonds.
Like it? Pin it!
Mount Cook from a different perspective
Mount Cook and its surroundings are an incredible sight no matter from where you look at it, but the impressive perspective is without a doubt from the air. There are several small airports in the area offering experiences like a helicopter flight around the mountain including a landing on the Tasman Glacier, or a scenic flight around the mountain in a ski plane. And if you’re into more adrenaline filled activities, how about a scenic flight and then skiing down the Tasman Glacier. Or if you want to take it even further, go skydiving over Mount Cook National Park!
New Zealand is an incredible country full of breathtaking views and fabulous hikes. Here you’ll be spoiled for choice with multi day hikes like the famous 9 great walks to some easier but oh-so-rewarding day hikes all over the country.
FOUND THIS ARTICLE HELPFUL?