Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand: the ultimate travel guide

Mount Cook National Park is literally and figuratively an absolute highlight of your tour of New Zealand. Named after New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook National Park or the Aoraki National Park not only offers you beautiful scenery but is a destination full of hiking trails and other activities. Thus, this area of New Zealand’s South Island is perfect for both the adventurous traveler and the quiet hiker. In this travel guide, you will find everything you need to know about Mount Cook National Park and why it is an unmissable stop on your tour of New Zealand!

Mount Cook National Park: what to do

New Zealand’s Mount Cook National park, also called Aoraki National Park, is a destination perfect for adventure travelers and hikers. The area has 19 mountain peaks over 3,000 meters high. At 3764 meters, Mount Cook (or Aoraki) is New Zealand’s highest mountain and an absolute highlight. Not surprisingly, several hiking trails start here. But besides hiking, there are lots of other fun activities you can do here! As such, we recommend you stay here for at least 2 nights.

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1) Hiking

Mount Cook National Park on the South Island is a true hiking paradise. You have several hikes in the area for every hiking level. In our opinion, the following hikes are not to be missed when visiting this area of New Zealand! If you are short on time or like an easy hike, we especially recommend the Hooker Valley Track.

Hooker Valley Track

Level: Easy Duration: 3 hours Distance: 10 .6 km Altimeters: 191 m

This is the most famous hiking trail in the area that gives you great views of Mount Cook. A one-way trail takes you to Hooker Lake where Mount Cook looms in the background. For three hours you traverse a beautiful landscape surrounded by mountains, with the Hooker River always nearby. Thanks to the limited elevation gain and well-trodden route, this is an easy hike suitable for any hiking level. The 10-kilometer hike starts at the White Horse Campground parking lot and is well marked so you can’t miss it.

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Sealy Tarns & Mueller Hut Track

Level: Difficult Duration: 7 to 8 hours Distance: 10 .4 km Altimeters: 1038 m

If you fancy a more challenging hike, this hike is for you. Indeed, here you have the choice of making it a day hike or as part of a multi-day hut tour.

Compared to the Hooker Valley track, this hike is more difficult. But you will then be rewarded with breathtaking views of Mount Cook National Park. The trek starts with a tough climb of more than 1,800 steps to Sealy Tarns, which is also called the Stairway to Heaven. Then you can continue the hike toward the Mueller Hut where you can spend the night. The starting point for this hike is the same as the Hooker Valley track, which is from the White Horse Hill campground. This hike is only available between November and March, but be sure to check conditions at the visitor center before you start the hike to make sure there is no more snow on the trail.

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Tasman Lake Track

Level: Easy Duration: 1 hour Distance: 3 .5 km Elevation: 113 m

Just outside Mount Cook Village, a hike through the Tasman Valley begins. This hike will take you to Tasman Glacier Lake. Along the way, you can make a few stops at various small lakes such as the Blue Lakes along the hiking trail. During the hike you will have a view of Tasmanian Glacier, the country’s largest glacier a length of 23 km. This trail also very accessible and you should count on about 1 hour to walk all the way out. We recommend doing this hike in Mount Cook park at sunrise. In fact, when the weather is clear you get to see a beautiful reflection of the mountains in the lake here.

TRAVEL TIP: If you’re planning a full tour of the South Island, discover here the 7 most beautiful hikes on the island.

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2) Mount Cook from the air

Mount Cook National Park is beautiful from the ground, but even more impressive from the air! Depending on the weather, you can inquire at Mount Cook Village for different heli-hikes. Admire the impressive mountains from above and take a mountain landing in the snow. Do be flexible as weather conditions can cause your flight to shift in time. If you like even more of a challenge, you can even skydive. First you can enjoy a sightseeing flight in the area, followed by a free fall and a few more minutes on the parachute over Aoraki National Park. Adrenaline rush included!

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3) Glacier kayaking

Believe it or not, but you also have the opportunity to kayak on beautiful Tasman Glacier Lake. Paddle across the still surface and admire the floating icebergs in the lake facing the Tasmanian Glacier. Kayaking season runs from October to the end of April and can only be done with a guided tour. You can book a tour at the park’s visitor center.

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4) Stargazing

If you still have energy left at the end of the day, definitely try to stay awake for a while. In fact, Mount Cook National Park is one of the best places in the world for stargazing! Consequently, the park is internationally known as a “Dark Sky Reserve” and you hardly have any light pollution there. It can get incredibly dark and with clear weather you can see brilliant things. Even more interesting is to do this under guidance where an expert tells you all about our beautiful starry sky. You can book such an activity at the Hermitage Hotel.

5) Winter sports

Mount Cook National park is not New Zealand’s most famous ski resort but it is certainly possible here. In fact, you can ski off the Tasman Glacier. It is an adventurous experience as this can only be done via heli-skiing. Instead of taking a ski elevator, reach the top of the mountain by helicopter! This activity can only be done in winter.

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Where to stay in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

The best way to explore New Zealand is by campervan! If you plan to do this, you have two nice campsites near Mount Cook National Park.

Discover the best travel itineraries through New Zealand’s South Island and North Island here in advance!

1) Campgrounds

White Horse Hill campground

The White Horse Hill campground is located at the base of Mount Cook, near Mount Cook Village. Waking up with Mount Cook in your backyard, so to speak, is an experience in itself! Other than a covered common area and some toilets, there are no further luxuries here, but the beautiful surroundings make it an unforgettable experience. The campground falls under the Department of Conservation and for $15 NZD you can spend the night here. Be sure to bring exact cash as it is a self-service campground and you have to put the money in a mailbox. They come regularly to check if you have paid.

Glentanner camping

Located next to Lake Pukaki, this campground has all the facilities you need to be a little more comfortable. There is a cozy living space, communal kitchen, wifi and hot showers. There is also the opportunity to recharge and refill your camper with potable water. From this campground, it takes another 20 minutes to reach Mount Cook village and the start of the hikes. Per night, you pay $56 NZD.

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2) Hotels

Not much of a camper anyway? No problem. In Mount Cook Village, you can’t miss the Hermitage Hotel. This luxurious hotel is already on the more expensive side, but you get value for money. Another advantage is that this hotel is home to the only restaurant in the area. Furthermore, you will find some motels and lodges in the area but they are scarce. Our suggestion here is YHA Mt Cook. Timely booking is the message when traveling towards Mount Cook!

How to get there.

From Christchurch, the capital of the South Island, it takes about 4 hours to reach Mount Cook National Park. From Queenstown you’ll be there in about 3.5 hours, but fortunately there are plenty of great places to stop along the way. You’ll eventually follow State Highway 80 from Twizel to Mount Cook Village, driving along beautiful Lake Pukaki for much of the way.

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand is during the summer months, from November to February. This period offers beautiful weather, with mild daytime temperatures and long sunny days. Also, the hiking trails are then free of snow. Ideal for exploring one of the most beautiful national parks in New Zealand! However, if you like winter and snow, the period from June to September is ideal. During the winter months, you can ski and snowboard in this snowy landscape.

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Have you been to New Zealand before? Let us know in a comment below what your experience was with this amazing country! Looking for more information for your next trip? Please do not hesitate to contact us contact or send an email to snoezelsontheroad@gmail.com

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