Aoraki/Mount Cook Zealand Travel Guide

Saturday, December 5, 2020

mount cook new zealand travel guide

My family is from New Zealand so I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of this beautiful country in my lifetime. I even bungee jumped near Queenstown! One of the coolest destinations on my most recent trip was Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. This blog post will detail everything you need to know before you visiting Mount Cook - New Zealand’s tallest mountain. 

About Aoraki/Mount Cook

Located in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, peaking at 12,316 feet (3,754 metres). It is surrounded by 22 other peaks with elevations over 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). This sounds intimidating, but I promise you don’t need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park! Other nearby natural landmarks include Tasman Glacier and Hooker Glacier.

Fun fact: A landslide in 1991 reduced the height of Mount Cook by 30 feet (10m).

Aoraki is the Maori name for this mountain and comes from Ngāi Tahu legend. In this story, Aoraki and his brothers were on a voyage when their canoe was overturned. The brothers climbed on top of the canoe but freezing southern wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island of New Zealand and the brothers became the mountains of the Southern Alps.

sir edmund hilary visitors center guide

Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre

For an educational and historical experience, be sure to stop at the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre. The centre features the southernmost Digital Dome Planetarium in the world. You’ll also find a museum dedicated to the Mount Cook region and Sir Edmund Hillary. The centre is named after Sir Edmund Hilary, a New Zealand native who climbed Mount Cook in 1939 in preparation to summit Mount Everest. He is regarded as one of the most famous New Zealanders of all time. 

best hikes in mount cook national park      hiking near mount cook new zealand

Best Hiking Trails at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

There are quite a few fun trails in the area surrounding Mount Cook. From relatively flat and populated to climbs that can last overnight, there is truly something for everyone.

Fun fact: Backpacking is known as "tramping" in New Zealand

  • Hooker Valley Track: 6.5 miles, 652 ft elevation gain
    This is by far the most popular trail at Mount Cook. It is mostly flat but is known for breathtaking views. Get there early to avoid the crowds and allow for a few hours.
  • Tasman Lake Track: 2.2 miles, 347 ft elevation gain
    For views of Tasman Glacier and the Blue Lakes, head up this (mostly stairs) trail. It’s a short walk with some stunning views at the top.
  • Mueller Lake Lookout: 1.2 miles, 124 ft elevation gain
    An easy trail with suspension bridges and some stairs conveniently located near Mount Cook Village. Flat terrain makes this a good trail for any skill level.
  • Sealy Tarns Track: 3.5 miles, 1,811 ft elevation gain
    This trail is recommended for individuals that are used to hiking uphill and up a lot of stairs. It’ll definitely feel like a workout but the views are the perfect reward.
  • Mueller Hut: 6 miles, 3,451 ft elevation gain
    If you want stunning views and have an entire day or overnight to hike, this is the trail for you. It is definitely a challenge, with some scrambling and plenty of stairs. 

helicopter rides at mount cook

Adventurous Things to do at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

If hiking or tramping is not your thing, you can still experience the beauty of Mount Cook. It is a popular destination in New Zealand, so there are a few amazing experiences offered.

Helicopter Tour

Taking a helicopter ride into the mountains was the highlight of my trip to the Southern Alps. The views are absolutely unbeatable and we were able to land in snow! The Helicopter Line has several flight options, with the shortest flight at 20 minutes and $280 per person and the longest flight at 55 minutes and $660 per person. There are also options that offer a guided hike or ski experience. 

Glacier Kayaking

Kayaking is such a unique way to experience the glaciers around Mount Cook. If you are an experienced kayaker, you’ll enjoy this unique way to see the glaciers. Glen Tanner offers two trips that depart from Mount Cook Village. One takes you to see icebergs around Tasman Glacier and the other takes out to Hooker Valley for a hike and kayak trip.

Star Gazing at Hermitage Hotel

Mount Cook is surrounded by the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world, which is public or private land with exceptional starry nights due to minimal light pollution. Hermitage Hotel offers a one hour guided tour with access to high powered telescopes so you can truly embrace the night sky. Travelers from the northern hemisphere will experience a new set of constellations.

Lake Pukaki

This lake is known for stunning turquoise water, caused by fine rock particles in glacier melt. There are a couple lookout points where you can try to capture the brilliant blue hue of the lake. Lake Pukaki is the largest alpine lake in the region. It is absolutely worth a stop to see the gorgeous water on your way up to Mount Cook. Peter's Lookout is where you'll get the most instagrammable shot (like the photo at the top of this post!)

aoraki/mount cook national park guide

Where to Stay at Mount Cook

The Hermitage Hotel

Located in Mount Cook Village, a popular place to stay is the Hermitage Hotel. It first opened in 1884 and boasts unbeatable views of the mountains. Accommodations range from standard rooms to premium suites. The hotel also offers adventure packages so you can plan your trip with ease. 

If you are lucky enough to visit Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand, you are sure to fall in love with the alpine landscape. There is so much to see and do in the region! Experienced and novice hikers alike will find appropriate trails with incredibly rewarding views. There are seriously gorgeous landscapes around every corner. You could easily spend a couple days exploring the park and there's plenty more to do in the Mackenzie region of New Zealand.


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1 comment

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