Visit & Hike Mount Cook National Park
The Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful sites you will visit during your campervan road trip itinerary. Mount Cook is the highest mountain of New Zealand, impressively standing at 3724 m above the sublime surroundings. The scenery is encircled by majestic, ice-clad peaks, cut by glacial-blue rivers and lakes. The National Park contains some of country’s most magical and awe-inspiring landscape. Follow this guide and learn everything to visit Mount Cook and hike the Hooker Valley.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
State Highway 80 leads along the scenic, creamy-turquoise blue waters of Lake Pukaki directly to Aoraki/Mt Cook Village. It’s a great base for alpine activities.
According to Ngāi Tahu legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage, their canoe overturned on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island (Te Waka o Aoraki); Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.
Hike The Hooker Valley
To hike the Hooker Valley is by far the most popular activity if you visit Mount Cook National Park. A beautiful, 10km return walk leads through breathtaking landscape. The valley is at all times surrounded by high mountain peaks and the tall Mount Cook proudly overlooking the lands lower.
↬ Note : Allow 3H return to complete the hike.
The path starts at the White Horse Hill Campground and parking lot. It is a comfortable mix of flat ground and wooden path. The walk is very pleasant and insanely beautiful. There are three picturesque swingbridges along the track.
We were not lucky with the weather, as it was cloudy and drizzling pretty much all the way. We hiked in the late afternoon, hoping for less crowds, but remained surprised by how many people did this 10km walk.
↬ TIP : If we could do the hike again, we would set out for the walk at sunrise. There are surely way less people at that time and the light must be stunning.
The track finishes at the Hooker Lake and Glacier. There are few tables, perfect for a picnic on a sunny day and benches for those needing to take a rest. A lot of people gather along the tip of the lake, admiring the glacier and Mt. Cook from a far.
If you would like to get away from the crowds, walk further, climbing some broken rocks along the right site of the lake of the glacier. After 50 meters you will be all by yourself and have a perfect picture opportunity.
The best way to fully enjoy your visit & hike Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, is to stay overnight at the DOC campground. The campground is huge and hosts a mix of campervans, regular cars and tents. The best places are at the furthest end, right by the entrance to the Hooker Valley.
There are flush toilets and sinks with running (although freezing cold) water.
We stayed only 1 night and wish we had time to stay at least one more. The morning views of the surrounding mountains are hard to beat.
↬ TIP : There are hot showers in a shelter in the Village. It’s 2km from the campground so it’s easiest to stop by on your way out from the National Park. Have 2 $ coins for the machine.
The Tasman Glacier
Tasman Glacier is often overlooked by tourists heading to the Hooker Valley and back. It’s roughly 10 km out of the main road and definitely worth a visit. In fact the Tasman Glacier and Lake are far more impressive than the Hooker Lake and Glacier.
There is very little hiking involved. From the parking lot you have to climb up about 150 steps to the view point. It takes 5-10 min. From there the 360° views are simply awe-inspiring. The ice-blue glacier in front, the glacial-blue rivers behind and majestic mountains all around.
The Climate Change Impact
Traveling in New Zealand and visiting places like Tasman Glacier really makes you realise the tragical impact climate change has on our planet. 14000 years ago, the whole Tasman Valley was covered in ice. The glacier began decreasing, but only slowly. In 1890, the ice was still reaching the top of the valley and in 1990 half of the Valley remained covered. Since then and in just 30 years, the ice is almost completely gone and a sad glacier remains, visible only far in the distance. The ice melts now 400m a year- the fastest in history.
The measures of stopping climate change need to be taken immediately. We know that this responsibility lies mostly on the shoulders of politics and countries’ rulers. But we are the ones picking them and giving them power. The change starts from you. You have a voice and it matters. Reduce your carbon footprint, use less plastic, travel and live sustainably and vote for those who can save our planet and us.
Getting to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
This park is located in the central part of the South Island, deep in the heart of the Southern Alps. State Highway 80 leads from Twizel, along the Pukaki Lake all the way to Aoraki/Mount Cook village. It takes approximately 45 min drive to the heath of the park.
The best way without a doubt is by a campervan following your South Island’s New Zealand itinerary, or by a car. There are also coach buses taking tourists to the park as day trips.
If you travel in a campervan we highly suggest staying at the White Horse Hill Campground overnight.
The campsite is DOC run, therefor the price for the night is 7 NZD (3,9 EUR) per person. If you already have a DOC campervan pass, you still have to fill in the form at the booth at the entrance to the campground. Instead of “amount paid’ write your pass number. Drop in one part of the form into the box, the second put behind your windshield.
There are 5 hotels and lodges in the Aoraki/Mount Cook village. If you would like to stay overnight at one of them, make sure to book in advance. The prices range from 90 EUR to 200 EUR per night.
Best Time to Visit & Hike in Mount Cook
There are two way of answering this question: best time during a year and best time of the day.
Best time of the year is during the summer months that in New Zealand fall between December and February. The chances of a good weather and a sunny day are the highest. During the winter months expect very low temperatures and a large layer of snow.
When it comes to the time of the day we would suggest to visit as early as possible. The Hooker Valley is the most popular hike in New Zealand and hundreds of people complete this walk daily. At sunrise you will have a chance to experience the valley with calm, empty surroundings.
Otherwise choose late afternoon- start the hike between 3-4 PM. It will be busy on the way there, but the way back should get more quiet.
What to take
For 10 km, 3H return hike in Hooker Valley you should be well prepared. The walk is relatively easy without much inclination and flat track. However it still is a long way, so make sure you are physically fit for this adventure.
- take 1,5 L of water per person. Don’t carry it all at once- have reusable bottles and the Grayl bottle to filter more.
- wear layers and take extra jacket with you. Weather can change quickly in alpine environments so you have to be prepared.
- take light rain jacket