Things to do in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
If there’s one place in New Zealand where I’d easily spend all my time, it would definitely be Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. Over the past decade I’ve been here three times and I would go back again without hesitation. To me, Mt Cook National Park is one of the prettiest places in New Zealand and yet despite the number of tourists increasing each year, it’s a must if you are traveling in New Zealand.
[Note that this article was first called 24 hrs in Mt Cook and published in 2014. I recently updated it with new information, activities and more after my last visit in 2018]
About Mount Cook National Park
How tall is Mount Cook? Well, it’s the highest mountain in New Zealand and it measures 3.724 meters above sea level. Now I know that in the Himalayas they call anything under 4.000 meters a hill but trust me when I say that Mount Cook is one hell of a beautiful mountain. In total, the national park has 19 peaks over 3.000 meters and large parts, more or less 40%, of it are covered by glaciers.
Where is Mt Cook located in New Zealand and how to get to Mount Cook?
Mount Cook is located in the central South Island, near the town of Twizel. From here it’s a 65 km drive on Highway 80 to Mount Cook Village, where the main road ends. From the Village, you can continue onwards to the Hooker Valley or the Tasman Valley, both roads ending eventually. Some driving distances are:
Twizel to Mt Cook: 65 km
Christchurch to Mt Cook: 332 km
Queenstown to Mt Cook: 265 km
Tekapo to Mt Cook: 107 km
It’s best if you drive you own vehicle as that’s the easiest way to get around in New Zealand anyway. Alternatively you can for example join an organized Mt Cook tour from Christchurch or a one way tour from Queenstown to Mt Cook. There are also various bus companies who have included Mount Cook Village in their bus schedules.
The drive to Mount Cook is absolutely stunning and make sure to take your time. Coming from Tekapo you will have awesome views from far away already on Lake Pukaki and the snow capped mountains in the distance. The final part of the drive, from Glentanner to the Village is stunning as well as you can see below!
Things to do in Mount Cook National Park
Depending on the amount of time you have and of course the Mt Cook weather, there are plenty of things do see and do in this national park. Most people will decide to go hiking but if you think that hiking is not for you, you may also find plenty of other things to see. After all the options given below, I’ve also created a 24 hours in Mount Cook itinerary for you, in order to help you planning your trip.
Before you set off on any adventure, make sure to head to the Mt Cook information center in Mt Cook Village. This is definitely one of the best information centers in the country and you can easily spend hours walking around here and visiting the exhibition about climbing Mt Cook and its history. It’s a great alternative on a rainy day in case the weather doesn’t allow you to go outside!
Mt Cook hikes – which to choose
One of the best things to do at Mount Cook is definitely hiking. Even if you aren’t much of a hiker, you will still enjoy some easy trails that give you access to some of the most amazing places in the national park. If you just have a couple of hours, you can easily enjoy the short Kea Point Track or the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Track. If you have half a day, a great option is the Hooker Valley Track, it’s the best Mount Cook hike for sure! Note though that at the time of writing this article (August 2019) the trail is closed due to flood damage at the first swing bridge. However, it’s still worth walking up until there.
Those having a bit more time can hike up to Sealy Tarns or even further up to Mueller Hut. This last one is demanding and only for fit hikers free of a fear of heights.
Make sure to also check out my full blog about hiking in Mount Cook National Park where I’ve written longer descriptions of all hikes mentioned.
Other Mount Cook activities that are not hiking
As previously mentioned the exhibition at the Mount Cook information center is awesome and you can easily spend a few hours checking it out. Also worth a visit is The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center at The Hermitage, the fancy and big hotel in Mt Cook Village. However, only do this if the weather isn’t good, it’s way much better to get outdoors if the sun is out.
If you’d like to hit the water, you can join a boat tour on Tasman Lake with Glacier Explorers. I’ve not done this one myself (did something better instead) but I’ve heard really good stories about it. Depending on the number of icebergs in the water, it can be pretty exciting. The thing I did however was kayak on Tasman Lake, right between the icebergs. Note that this is only for people have previous experience in kayaking (you’ll have to demonstrate before you set off) and it’s quite an adventure!
For those of us who have a little more to spend, hop on board a helicopter for glacier tour with alpine landing or on a SkiPlane Experience.
24 Hours at Mount Cook National Park itinerary
05.00 am – sunrise
It was my dream was to see sunrise on Mount Cook and therefor I picked a GlenTanner campsite for this. Seeing the sunrise at Mount Cook from here is awesome! Waking up is actually one of the most exciting moments of the day when traveling. Will it be sunny, will it be cloudy, will we get to see something today? Upon zipping our tent open we knew we had a winner!
07.00 am – hiking to Kea Point
After a quick breakfast and packing up for the day, it’s time to head to Kea Point Track. A very short one, just about 30 minutes from the parking lot (or 1 hour from the village), but such a stunning place we spent hours there to take pictures, see glaciers and spot birds. And as we were extremely early, we were the only ones!
09.30 am – sea kayaking adventure!
Time to get some adventure! We paddled for about 2 hours right between the bergs that came off the face of the glacier. We try to turn one over but without success and upon getting back on shore, we get some whiskey with ancient ice. There’s just one company doing this trip and you need previous sea kayaking experience in order to come along on this particular paddle!
14.00 – Hooker Valley Hike
After lunch, drive over to Hooker Valley for another hike, the one I definitely recommend doing when you happen to be there. Hooker Valley is simply stunning and you feel like walking inside a postcard all the time. You can read all you need to know about the Hooker Valley Track here.
19.00 – BBQ time!
We bought lamb and also salmon at the Mount Cook salmon farm which you’ll come across when driving in from Twizel. Along with beer and wine we try not to be too sad that we have to leave the day after tomorrow. After one last view on Mount Cook, it’s time to go to bed. The next morning we wake up and the mountain is in the clouds again. We just happened to have picked the perfect day for our stay!
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park accommodation
If you want to camp in the national park, then the best option is White Horse Hill Camp Ground. I camped here and it’s a first come, first serve campground maintained by DOC. The fee per night is NZD 13 and there are spaces for campervans as well as grassy spots for tents. Other than a shelter with running water and toilets, there are no facilities at this camp site.
If you’d like to stay in a bit more civilized camp site then I can recommend staying at Glentanner. I also stayed here a couple of times and this camp site has amazing views of Mount Cook. It 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.
If you are not camping, you can stay in a hotel or motel in Mount Cook Village but prices can be quite high as Mt Cook Village accommodation is limited. Alternatively, you’ll find cheaper options in nearby Twizel or Lake Tekapo. Note that these are quite popular spots too and when I stayed here (March) everything was fully booked well in advance, so make sure to book well ahead!
Other things to know about Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park New Zealand
Mount Cook is quite isolated so it’s smart to bring all you need before you drive off to Mt Cook Village and beyond. This includes gas, groceries and cash. The White Horse Hill Campsite does not have electricity but you can leave your electronics at the tourist office in the village and charge them there for a small fee. The DOC office can provide you with all necessary information regarding the hikes, campsites and more. Looking for a Mount Cook map? You can download the online Mount Cook hiking brochure here which also has a map included.
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Want to read more about my New Zealand adventures? Then also make sure to check out my blog with some 8.000 words about travel to New Zealand for beginners. This travel guide basically contains all the information about New Zealand you’d need to know as a tourist. From where to rent or buy your vehicle to your best accommodation options, safety, day-to-day itineraries and more.
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. If you plan to make more hikes in New Zealand, also see this blog with my favorite hikes in New Zealand.
PS And when leaving, make sure to have a look in your rearview mirror every now and then as well!
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you enjoyed this blog post with the best Mt Cook hikes. If you have any questions or recommendations on how to improve this article, feel free to leave a comment below. Please note that this blog contains affiliate links and that I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through any of these links.