There are many things to do in Mount Cook, but the chances are that you won’t be around long enough to enjoy them all. To make it easier for you to choose what to do in Mt Cook, here’s a summary of my favourite Mt Cook hikes and other activities for nature lovers drawn from my trips to New Zealand in summer and spring.
Please note that Mt Cook hikes are in the mountains and you must always check the weather conditions before starting your walk. The information provided in this article will not apply in bad weather and during the cold seasons.
The number in front of each hike corresponds to its position on the map at the end of the post. It’s not a ranking of my favourite Mt Cook hikes. I cannot decide which one is the best!
1. Hooker Valley Hike
Easy. Three to four hours return. Leave from White Horse Hill campsite.
The Hooker Valley hike is the most popular hike in Mt Cook. It’s very accessible even for those who aren’t used to hiking. I was surprised to find such a flat and easy 10-kilometre hike in an alpine mountain area.
It may be a bit frustrating for experienced hikers to follow many people and queue to pass the bridges. But you forget everything as you get subjugated by the views of the valley and later on the Hooker Lake with Mount Cook in the background.
Although the Hooker Valley is an easy hike, I would still recommend to take it seriously. I’ve seen many people on the track without any hiking equipment at all. Keep in mind the weather can change quickly in the mountains, so you at least need extra clothes and water.
2. Sealy Tarns
A lot of steps (500m elevation). Just under two hours return. Leave from White Horse Hill campsite.
This hike is all about climbing stairs to get fantastic views of Mount Cook. Something around 2,000 stairs. Even if you’re worried about the number of stairs, don’t hesitate to try. You may not make it all the way up to the Sealy Tarns, but the views from halfway are already worth it (and an excellent excuse to take breaks).
Once you’re up there – if it’s sunny and there’s no wind – take the time to catch the reflections of the beautiful snowy mountains (Mt Sefton and Mt Cook) on the small pond.
3. Mueller Hut
I didn’t go to the top. Estimated time is four hours return. Leave from White Horse Hill campsite.
If you’re keen for a challenge, you can continue after the Sealy Tarns to reach Mueller Hut. It’s a long steep walk that only fit hikers can do in one day return.
Most people go to Mueller Hut as an overnight hike. But it means you need to carry a heavier backpack up there. We started the Sealy Tarns hike at the end of the day, so we didn’t have much time to continue to the hut. The 360-degree views of the valley and New Zealand’s highest peaks from 1,800 metres above sea level were tempting. But Sealy Tarns felt like enough stairs already! Once at Mueller Hut, you can reach the top of Mt Ollivier in about one hour return.
In summer and spring, you can book the hut online. Winter is a totally different experience.
4. Red Tarns
Many steps (300m elevation). Leave from the public shelter in town.
After hiking up Sealy Tarns, I thought Red Tarns might be a bit repetitive. But it ended up being very different. The views of Mount Cook aren’t as good as from Sealy Tarns, but the Red Tarn is surprisingly red indeed. However, my best memory up there was the bird watching opportunity. We were surrounded by keas, big and beautiful alpine parrots.
The hike is reputed for sunset. But going there at the end of the day didn’t work with our planning, so we did it early in the morning. We loved how peaceful it was. We were up there by ourselves for a while, with the keas of course.
5. Tasman Glacier Viewpoint
A few steps (100m elevation) but it goes up gradually on a very well maintained path. Most people should be able to do the return walk in one hour. It took us a lot less than that… only if you don’t count the time spent at the lookout! Leave from Blue Lakes car park.
I told every single person who hesitated in front of the stairs leading to the lookout that it was worth the effort. Indeed, I’ll never forget what I saw up there. Plus, it’s not even that hard even for those who aren’t fit as
The view from up there is unbelievable. Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, we were lucky to visit not long after a part of the glacier fell – an event that happens only every five to ten years. Although the tragic reminder of how quickly the glaciers retreat worldwide due to climate change somehow wasted the experience, the view was stunning. We could see big floating icebergs just in front of us and spread everywhere on the lake.
Responsible travel tip: Many glaciers worldwide are in a phase of quick melting that won’t get a chance to slow down if no actions are done to reduce our emissions that contribute to climate change. It’s often hard to imagine that, as small individuals, we can change something so big. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We can act by reducing our emissions, offsetting, supporting politics that want to bring positive environmental changes and spreading the word.
I also highly advise walking up to the lookout before doing the Blue Lakes hike, as you may decide to change your mind about doing this one after you see it from above.
6-7. Tasman Lake Track
Very easy: it’s short and flat. Most people can do it under one hour but, again, you’ll want to add time to admire the view.
This walk will take you to a jetty on the lake. As the glacier had just broken, no cruise or kayaking was allowed on the lake when we visited. We still had a fantastic time at the jetty to have a closer look at this unique scenery as the icebergs were hitting the
From there, we walked on the small ridge of the hill to reach the river and make a loop to go to the Tasman River. It’s another viewpoint to watch the icebergs.
The Tasman Lake Track is a stunning nearly-flat walk that no one visiting this area should miss.
If you have the budget, you can hike the glacier with a tour*. You go up there by helicopter to hike in very adventurous conditions. It looks like an incredible experience. However, it may feel weird to burn fuel and increase the pressure on the environment to check out a place that’s disappearing because of climate change.
Have you been to Mt Cook? What’s your favourite Mt Cook hike? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where are these Mt Cook hikes and how to go there?
Mount Cook is an obvious stop on a New Zealand South Island itinerary, between Christchurch and Queenstown.
Staying overnight at Mt Cook
You may hire a van or a car and drive there yourself. That was my favourite choice. The White Horse Hill campground has a perfect location at the start of a few hikes, including the famous Hooker Valley. The surrounding views of Mt Sefton are stunning. If you are sleeping in a tent, I highly recommend placing it close to the bushes to get shelter in case the wind picks up.
For those who don’t like camping, there are accommodations options in Mount Cook Village* not far at all with lovely views too. The best choice, if you’re travelling on a budget, is the YHA*. But if you’ve got the money and want more space, the Aoraki Court Motel* could be
Visiting Mt Cook as a day trip
If you choose to go to Mt Cook as a day trip, I highly recommend joining a tour. It’s a long and tiring drive, so it’s better to relax and enjoy the views. Plus, a guide will make it easier for you to keep track of the time you have available so you can fill in as much as possible during your short visit. There are many tours organising day trips, for example:
- a round trip from Christchurch
- a round trip from Queenstown*
- a one-way trip from Christchurch to Queenstown*
- a one-way trip from Queenstown to Christchurch*
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