Hiking in New Zealand – an overview of the best Mt Cook hikes
Welcome to my atricle about one of my favorite places in New Zealand: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. As an avid hiker I went to Mt Cook National Park no less than three times over the past couple of years and despite the number of tourists increasing and the glaciers receding, to me this will always be a magical place. In this article I’ll first share the best Mt Cook hikes with you, followed by my favorite Mt Cook camping sites, other places to stay in Mount Cook Village and basically anything else you need to know before you go. So sit down, relax and enjoy this read about magical Mount Cook New Zealand.
Hooker Valley Track
My favorite Mount Cook hike is definitely the Hooker Valley Track. I’ve done this hike all three times and I just can’t believe how gorgeous it is. Don’t let the crowds disturb you by the way as even though it may seem busy, I found a way to avoid the crowds – how to do this you can read in my Hooker Valley track blog. The Hooker Valley hike starts at the White Horse Hill Campsite so if you want to make an early start, make sure to pitch your tent up right over there, just like I did!
The Hooker Valley Track is a wide gravel trail, leading you through an alpine valley and across swing bridges. Your final destination is Hooker Lake at the bottom of Mount Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand. By foot you cannot get any closer than this if you don’t plan on climbing Mount Cook. The return trip will take some 3-4 hours, depending on how fast you walk and how many photos you take. I sure took my time and spent several hours on the trail every single time I hiked it.
Kea Point Track
If you have little time but still would like a taste of what to do in Mount Cook, then you will definitely enjoy the Kea Point Track. This short hike is on a well maintained trail and you can either walk it from White Horse Hill camp site (1 hr return) or Mount Cook Village (2 hrs return). Eventually you will arrive to a viewing deck which was made for your convenience, looking out over Mount Sefton, The Footstool, Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake and Aoraki / Mount Cook.
The Sealy Tarns track is also called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as it has numerous steps and will make your calves burn without a doubt. You can hike this trail as a part of the hike to Mueller Hut (more on that one below) or as a half day tramp up into the mountains.
The trail leaves from White Horse Hill Camp site and at first you’ll follow the Kea Point Track, when you will eventually find a sign towards Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. As mentioned, the majority of the trail is made of stairs, sometimes even and sometimes uneven. Those who easily have painful knees may definitely need a pair of trekking poles!
You gain some 600 meters in altitude and the way up will take you about two hours. Just when you are wondering if the effort is worth it, do continue and walk up, up and even more up! Eventually you’ll reach the beautiful Sealy Tarns and with a bit of luck you can see the glaciers in the back ground reflecting in them. If you’ll look behind you, you’ll see the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook in the distance.
Mueller Hut Track
My oh my – it’s a hard choice between the Mueller Hut hike and the Tongariro Crossing which is the most beautiful in the country and I honestly cannot pick one. My Mueller Hut adventure went a little different than planned because for this hike, you are quite dependent on the weather. In poor weather don’t even attempt this hike as it will be dangerous and foolish to head into the alpine part of this hike in foul weather. The Mount Cook weather can be horrendous (trust me!) and so always check with DOC before setting off. In winter you’ll need an ice axe and crampons in order to make this hike!
Having said that, I planned on staying overnight (must book ahead!) but the weather was about to change and so I decided to head out one day early and make it a day hike – a FULL day hike that is. The Mueller Hut Track is a long way up through alpine terrain and is not for those with a fear of heights nor for untrained ones. You’ll need to scramble in some points, will cross various steep scree slopes and need to be extremely careful.
Do you still want to do this now? If yes, then you will be rewarded. A full blog on the Mueller Hut Route is still in the making but as you can see below from my pictures, it’s gorgeous and a must-do if you have enough time (a full day) and the courage to do it.
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View
The Tasman walks depart from the parking lot at the end of the road into Tasman Valley – another scenic valley a bit further away from Mount Cook Village. Before you get very excited about the name Blue Lakes – don’t be! The Blue Lakes are anything but blue, they used to be in the past though and the name remained even though they are far from blue at this time.
There are various small lakes to check out and eventually you’ll climb up to a moraine wall from where you’ll have stunning views of Tasman Glacier in the distance. Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand but is receding fast, it already seemed a whole lot shorter than my last visit in 2011. The way back is on the same trail.
Tasman Glacier Lake
If you want to see icebergs then make this hike a priority. It’s not guaranteed you can see icebergs from nearby however there is a fair chance. The track veers off the Tasman Glacier View at some point and will add about an hour to your hike. If you want to hike the whole bit here at Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake, plan some 2-3 hours including time for pictures.
Mount Cook Village walks
As I haven’t stayed in Mt Cook Village personally, I haven’t done all the village walks since most of them are quite short. I’ve done the Kea Point Track from here though which connects Mt Cook Village with White Horse Hill Camp Ground (30 minutes one way) and the short 10 minute Bowen Bush Walk. Alternatively, there are the Red Tarns Track, the Governors Bush Track and the Glen Coe walk that can be done from the village.
Where to stay in Mount Cook
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 Mt Cook Village but prices can be quite high as 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
Mount Cook is quite isolated so it’s smart to bring all you need before you drive off to Mount 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 DOC office and charge them there for a small fee. The DOC office can provide you with all necessary information regarding the hikes, campsites and more. Their visitors center is one of the best in New Zealand and on a rainy day you can easily spend a few hours there looking around. Looking for a hiking map of Mount Cook? You can download the online Mount Cook hikes brochure here.
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.
Also make sure to check out my video of the best Mount Cook hikes below!
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.