Hiking the Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki / Mount Cook

Hooker Lake Aoraki

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track – New Zealand’s most scenic half day hike

The Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook / Aoraki National Park is by far one of the best half day hikes you can do on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a relatively easy hike so anyone who is in basic shape and doesn’t mind walking for three hours, should be able to complete this hike without too much trouble. I have hiked nearly every track in Mount Cook National Park and this is by far the most scenic. Over the past years I hiked the Hooker Valley Trail no less than three times and would gladly do so again. It does get fairly crowded at times but do not worry, below I will give you my tips on how to escape the crowds for a bit as well.
 

 

How to get to the Hooker Valley Walk?

The trailhead of the Hooker Valley Track is located about ten minutes driving from Mount Cook Village. The closest town is Twizel, which is 65 kilometers from Mount Cook Village. Mount Cook is a perfect half way point between Christchurch and Queenstown. The drive up to Mount Cook / Aoraki National Park is on Highway 8 which is a truly scenic one. If the weather is clear, you will see Mount Cook in the distance, as well as various glaciers streaming down from the peaks of the Southern Alps. It’s a popular road for stopping to take photos but please make sure you only do so in the designated areas, there are plenty of parking lots along the way to the national park entrance. Once in the park, follow the signs to Hooker Valley, just a few hundred meters ahead of the village entrance. From the exit it’s about a five minute drive to the trailhead, which is located next to the White Horse Hill Campsite.
 
Road to Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track
 

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley Track is about 11 kilometers return and will take you some 3-4 hours to complete. However keep in mind that the route is extremely scenic, especially in good weather, so you may want to add some extra time in order for taking photos or just simply soaking up the amazing views. The trail is pretty easy to follow and only gains a little bit of height along the way. Your first stop should be at the Alpine Memorial, dedicated to a number of alpinists who lost their lives on the Linda Glacier back in 1914. From here, continue the way through the meadows. After about twenty minutes you will reach the Mueller Lake viewpoint, which gives you incredible views of the lake as well as the mountains in the background.
 
Next up is the first swingbridge for you to cross. It’s not a scary nor a dangerous one, it can carry up to 20 people at a time and only moves a little bit. After crossing the Hooker River, the trail skirts further into the valley. After crossing another two swing bridges, you have come close to the Hooker Glacier viewpoint. This is the end of the trail. Here you will find a picknick table and of course an amazing view of Mount Cook and the Hooker Glacier. With a bit of luck, you may also see some icebergs in the lake. A steep and narrow trail takes you to the right side of the lake and the waterfront, whereas an easier and wider trail will take you to the left. Here you will find a small beach where you can have a picknick (it’s better than at the picknick table because it can get quite crowded there) and soak in the views. You can walk as far as the start of the Hooker River river, where it exits the lake and the trail will end.
 
As I found this spot incredibly scenic, I eventually hung out here for more than an hour, adding quite some time to my hike, which eventually took me five hours to complete, including all possible side trails and a quick toilet stop. Another stop you can’t miss it the Alpine Tarn, a small pond that may have some alpine reflections, if you are lucky. Once done enjoying the views retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
 
Hooker Valley Track swingbridge

swing bridge Hooker Valley

Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Trail
 

Avoiding the crowds on the Hooker Valley hike

As I previously mentioned, the trail gets very crowded, especially in the summer season when herds of tourists hike this trail. Luckily there is a way to beat the crowds, which is to get up super early and start walking by 07.00 am. This is what I did most recently and I had the trail mostly to myself for the way in. However, the not so good thing about this is that when you are early, the valley will still be in the shadows, as well as the lake. This is why I eventually ended up hanging out at the lake for more than an hour, to catch the sunlight on the lake and the glaciers in the distance. On the way back it was way more crowded and I actually had quite a hard time taking pictures of the landscape without other people in it. However, don’t let this put you off, hiking the Hooker Valley Track is totally worth your time. Especially on a clear day, it’s truly rewarding making the drive all the way up to the village from the main road.
 
Hooker Valley Track icebergs

Hooker Valley Track

Alpine Memorial Mount Cook
 

Useful tips for hiking the Hooker Valley Track

There is a shelter at the campsite that may be used by hikers, too. You will find running water and toilets here. Make sure to fill up your water bottles here too because there is no drinking water available throughout the hike. The shelter has no electricity.
 
Make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks because it can get pretty warm here in summer. You’re in an alpine environment though and weather may change quickly, so please also bring a raincoat just in case.
 
Keep in mind that, even when the sky seems clear, it can happen that Mount Cook is still covered by a few clouds, which was also the case when I got there. It’s the highest mountain in New Zealand after all. It was a bit of a shame and I was doubting whether I should wait or not for the clouds to clear, but eventually they never did that day. It’s a big mountain, after all …
 
Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook

Hooker Valley Track

Alpine Tarn Mount Cook National Park

Hooker Valley Track
 

Camping in Mount Cook National Park

If you want to camp overnight near the Hooker Valley Track, White Horse Hill campground is your best option. This one is managed by Department of Conservation and the nightly fee is NZD 13 per person (in 2018). You cannot pre-book this campsite and spots go by first come, first serve. When I arrived by 2.00 pm in the afternoon there were some spots left, however by 5.00 pm everything was pretty full.
 
Keep your ears open for avalanches, they can often be heard on the trail and sometimes even be seen. The ice on the glaciers is always moving and so an avalanche can occur at any time.
 
If you prefer to camp in a place with showers, electricity and wifi, your best option is to stay at Glentanner. I stayed here as well a while ago and this camp site has amazing views of Mount Cook and offers all facilities you will need, from hot showers to a cooking area and very slow wifi. Make sure to book ahead as it’s usually quite full in summer season, we got the last spot upon arrival. We actually wanted to stay in nearby Twizel but all campsites were fully booked. You can check rates and book your spot online here.
 
Make sure to also order your copy of Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand in preparation for your hiking trip to New Zealand! It has got plenty of useful information about the best known and various unknown hikes in New Zealand.
 
Camping at White Horse Hill camp ground
 

Hooker Valley Track video

I’ve hiked the Hooker Valley Track three times and will do so again without a doubt. Despite the crowds and the glaciers receding, I still love this hike so much and can’t wait to do it again one day. It’s truly one of the best hikes in New Zealand and should not be missed by anyone.
 
If you’re not as curious yet, check out this video that I made of the Hooker Valley Track:
 


 
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about hiking the Hooker Valley Track, feel free to leave a message below!
 
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Want to read more? Then check out my list with all the best hikes in New Zealand, or any of the following posts:
Angelus Hut: New Zealand’s most spectacular mountain hut hike
Hiking the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand
Travel in New Zealand: 10 tips for first timers
 

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