Hiking

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Guide

New Zealand has an abundance of breathtaking national parklands, especially on the country’s South Island.  This is what has made the South Island of New Zealand one of the top destinations for travel photographers and travel adventurers from around the world.  Out of all of the beautiful parklands the country has, the most well-known may be the stunning Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park.  In addition to being the home of Mount Cook, which is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, it is also home to the Tasman Glacier, which is the largest glacier in New Zealand.

In addition to these large landmarks, the park also has a reputation for having some of the South Island’s most scenic and challenging hiking tracks and climbing routes.  With tracks and routes of varying degrees of difficulty accessible to visitors within the park, Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park attracts avid hikers and climbers from all parts of the globe.  So if you are looking for your next adventure destination, New Zealand’s South Island might be just what you are looking for.  If you do decide to visit, one of the destinations that should be near the top of your list is Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park.

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In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island.  I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip.  In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are.  With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At A Glance
Top Things to See
How to Get There
Best Time to Visit
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Recommended Tours and Excursions
Photo Gallery

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure all of the passport, VISA, and immunization tasks for your trip are taken care of.  In addition, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what language they speak in New Zealand and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official languages in New Zealand are English and Māori.
The official currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar.

Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements

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As you begin to start planning your trip, it is important that you review the passport, VISA, customs, and immunizations requirements for New Zealand to make sure you are eligible to visit.  To help make sure that you are prepared, I have included a link to my New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors guide below.  It is critically important that you review this document right away.  You will not want to wait until the last minute to review this information as that will allow you very little time to sort out any issues should they arise.

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Travel-Pic
New Zealand Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors

Packing Tips

Before you start packing for your trip to New Zealand, you will want to make sure you have all of the gear that will keep you organized, comfortable, and safe on your trip.  To help you out, I have included links to some comprehensive packing resources I created for you to review below.

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Luggage Luggage Overhead Compartment
10 Packing Tips That Every Traveler Should Follow The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List The Essential Carry-On Checklist

Top Things to See and Do

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If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you will have little trouble finding fun and exciting things to do inside Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park.  Whether you are into hiking, climbing, or just taking a scenic drive along Mount Cook Road, there are many different ways to enjoy this beautiful landscape.  In order to assist you in putting together an itinerary for your trip to the park, I have included my list of the top things to see and do in Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park for you to review below.

Stop at Viewpoints Along Lake Pukaki On Your Way

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The beautiful views begin even before you step foot inside Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park.  Located just to the south of the park, the drive along Lake Pukaki could not be more beautiful with the Southern Alps and Mount Cook as a backdrop.  As you drive along the lake on your way to the park, there are several wonderful viewpoints that I would recommend visiting to enjoy the views and take pictures.  I have included a map, along with a list of GPS coordinate links, of the viewpoints for you to review below.

Lake Pukaki Scenic Viewpoints Map

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Lake Pukaki viewing point
Peter’s Lookout
Scenic Lookout
Harlan’s Gate View
Glentanner Stream

Take a Selfie on the Infamous Road to Mount Cook

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One of the most popular photo spots in the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park area is actually located just outside of the park.  Mount Cook Road, which is the main road that leads to the park, has a long and straight stretch just before you get to the park.  If you stop at one of the designated pull-outs along this stretch of road, you can get some really epic Instagram photos of yourself with Mount Cook in the background.  In case you are wondering where this stretch of road is, I have included a map below for you to reference.

Mount Cook Road Selfie Map

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Hike the Hooker Valley Track

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One of the most popular hiking tracks in Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is also one of the easiest hikes in the park.  While the Hooker Valley Track isn’t an overly difficult or strenuous hike, it is an absolutely beautiful hike.  If you are a beginning hiker or don’t think you are in the best of shape, I would recommend this hike.  It is fairly long if you do the entire hike, but you can always turn around at a point you feel comfortable with to make the hike as short as you would like.

One of my favorite features of this hike is the numerous suspension bridges that you cross.  Not only are they incredibly fun to cross (as they sway as you make your way across them), but they also give you some really good angles to view some of the most breathtaking vistas in the valley.  For those of you who are contemplating doing this hike, I have included a map and some general hiking stats for this track for you to review below.

Distance: 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 652 feet (199 meters)
Route Type: Out and Back
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Hooker Valley Track Trail Map

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Hike to the Tasman Glacier Lookout

Tasman Glacier

One of the more spectacular landmarks inside of Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is the Tasman Glacier, which is New Zealand’s largest glacier.  If you haven’t seen one of the world’s large glaciers before, I would definitely recommend checking out the Tasman Glacier on your trip.  The walk to the Tasman Glacier Lookout point is an easy walk of less than a mile.  It is an easy enough hike that anyone of any hiking ability should be able to complete the hike.  If you would like to know a little bit more about the hike to this lookout, I have included some stats and a map of the hike for you to review below.

Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 255 feet (78 meters)
Route Type: Out and Back
Difficulty: Easy

Tasman Glacier Overlook Trail Map

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Hike the Sealy Tarns Track

Sealy Tarns Track

When it comes to hiking inside of Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park, one of the most popular tracks is the Sealy Tarns Track.  Considerably more difficult than the Hooker Valley Track, the Sealy Tarns Track is a favorite amongst die-hard hikers that visit the park.  While the hike itself isn’t incredibly long, it is very steep and requires a good deal of fitness and hiking experience to complete.  In fact, some sections of the trail require you to almost step up and climb the path is so steep.  If you would like to learn more about this amazing and challenging hike, I have included some stats and a map of the track for you to review below.

Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 1,811 feet (552 meters)
Route Type: Out and Back
Difficulty: Difficult

Sealy Tarns Track Trail Map

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Hike to Mueller Lake Overlook and Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

If you are looking to do some back-country hiking while you are in New Zealand, then you are in luck because the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park has some outstanding back-country hiking tracks.  Arguably the best of these back-country hikes is the Mueller Hut Track.  This track follows much of the same trail as the Sealy Tarns track, but then continues up and beyond, further up in the mountains, to the Mueller Hut.

The Mueller Hut was updated in 2003, so it is a really nice back-country building.  If you are looking to hike out to the hut and back, I would strongly suggest starting out early in the morning.  It may not be the longest hike, but there is a lot of elevation gain.  If you would like to reserve a bunk to stay overnight in the Mueller Hut, I would recommend doing so well in advance.

Distance: 4.9 miles (7.9 kilometers)
Elevation Gain: 3,405 feet (1,038 meters)
Route Type: Out and Back
Difficulty: Difficult

Mueller Hut Track Trail Map

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Do Some Star Gazing

Stars

One of the nice things about the South Island of New Zealand is that there aren’t many big cities, which means there isn’t a lot of unnatural light.  This makes the South Island one of the best places in the world to do some stargazing.  With miles-upon-miles of wilderness and no big cities around, Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is no exception.  After a busy day exploring the park, the evenings are great for enjoying the beautiful star-filled skies.

Take a Scenic Helicopter Ride

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If you are looking to see more of Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park and add a little adventure to your trip, one of the best ways that I can think of to do that is to take a scenic helicopter ride.  The Southern Alps may look stunningly beautiful from the ground, but wait until you see how breathtaking they look from the air.  There is a wide range of helicopter tours available in the Mount Cook area, including some helicopter glacier hiking tours in the nearby villages of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.  If you are interested in learning more about this helicopter glacier hiking tours, I have included a link to my guide for you to review below.

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Acadia
Guide to Franz Josef and Fox Glacier Helicopter Sightseeing and Hikes

Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Visitor Center

Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center

For those who want to learn a little bit about the history of the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park area, the Sir Edmund Hillary Visitor Center is the place to do that.  The visitor center has a 126-seat custom-designed theatre, which shows 2D and 3D movies about the area and also has a 360-degree Dome Planetarium for some of the most spectacular star gazing shows you will ever see.  If you are in the Mount Cook Village area, the visitor center is a must-stop destination.

Go on a Skydiving Adventure

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If all of the activities on my list of the top things to see and do in the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park seem like fun, but just not adrenaline-filled enough for you, then you will love the last recommendation on my list of the top things to see and do in the area.  The South Island of New Zealand is known as the adventure capital of the world, and one of the most popular adventures on the island is skydiving.

There are a number of great skydiving locations throughout the South Island, and one of this locations is at Mount Cook.  If you are an adrenaline junkie, you will absolutely love skydiving on the South Island.  There are very few places that I can think of that are more beautiful locations to do so.  If you are interested in learning more about skydiving on the South Island, I have included a link to my New Zealand Skydiving Guide for you to review below.

READ MORE:
New Zealand Sky Dive
Everything You Need to Know About Skydiving in New Zealand

How to Get There

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If you are visiting Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park from outside of New Zealand’s South Island, there are two international airports on the island that you can fly into.  If you fly into Christchurch International Airport (CHC), it is a 4-hour drive from the airport to the park.  If you would like to split up the drive, I would recommend stopping at Lake Tekapo for a night or a few days and then proceeding on to Mount Cook.  If you plan on flying into Queenstown Airport (ZQN), it is a shorter 3-hour drive to the park.  If you plan on flying into or out of Queenstown, I would definitely set aside some time to explore that city.  It is one of the most amazing cities I have ever visited.

Getting to Mount Cook National Park Map

Best Time to Visit

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Average Temperature (°F)

When you visit Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park will depend a great deal on what you are planning on doing while visiting New Zealand’s South Island.  If you are visiting New Zealand to do some skiing, then visiting during the winter months of June thru August will probably be the ideal months to visit.  During these months you can expect high temperatures to be in the mid-40’s to the lower-50’s Fahrenheit (7-12 degrees Celsius).

However, if you are visiting to do some hiking, bike riding, kayaking, or other warm-weather activities, then the summer months of December thru February will probably be ideal for you.  During these months you can expect high temperatures to reach the mid-60’s to lower-70’s Fahrenheit (18-23 degrees Celsius).

The autumn and fall seasons are characterized by very mild temperatures.  The lows are typically just above freezing while the high temperatures don’t usually get much above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius).  If you are planning on doing winter activities like skiing, then finding availability in the late autumn or early spring can be a good way to save money.  The same can be said for targeting late spring or early autumn if you are visiting to do warm-weather activities.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

The winter months of July and August are far-and-away the driest months of the year in the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park area.  Those months typically see very little precipitation.  However, if you are visiting to go skiing in New Zealand, then the lack of snow may not be an advantage to you.  If you are visiting during the summer months of December thru February, you should be aware that these are typically the wettest months of the year in the Mount Cook area.  If you plan on doing some hiking in the area, I would recommend building a little flexibility into your schedule during this time of year.

Where to Stay

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One of the most important decisions that you will have to make when planning your trip to Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is where you will stay during your visit.  The most convenient location to look for accommodations while in the Mount Cook area is the Mount Cook Village.  There are very nice hotel and motel options at various price points, as well as a very nice hostel, in the village.  If you would like to expand your search outside of Mount Cook Village, I would recommend looking in the area around the town of Twizel.  It is a very nice area and is only a short drive from the park.  In order to assist you in finding the right accommodations for your trip, I have included a list of some recommended accommodations at various price points for you to review below.

Mount Cook National Park Hotels and Accommodations Map

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Glentanner Holiday Park Mount Cook ($)
YHA Aoraki Mt Cook Backpacker Accommodation ($)
Mt Cook Lodge and Motel ($$)
Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge ($$)
Aoraki Court Motel ($$)
Pukaki Air Lodge ($$)
The Hermitage Hotel ($$$)
Heartland Lodge ($$$)
Matuka Lodge ($$$$)
Lakestone Lodge ($$$$$)

Where to Eat

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One of the biggest challenges in traveling to any national park or wilderness area is finding quality restaurants to eat at during your trip.  Typically, there just aren’t very many good quality restaurants in these remote places.  However, in the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park area there happens to be a number of really good restaurant options for you to choose from.  If you would like to make note of some of my recommendations for your trip, I have included a list for you to review below.

Mount Cook Village Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
The Alpine Restaurant New Zealand, Veggie $$-$$$
Chamois Bar & Grill Quick Bites, Bar, Pub $$-$$$
Old Mountaineers’ Cafe, Bar and Restaurant Cafe, European, New Zealand $$-$$$
The Panorama Restaurant European, New Zealand, International $$$$

 

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There is a seemingly endless amount of outdoor activities for you to enjoy in the Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park.  In fact, if you are limited in time, it may be difficult to decide which activities you want to do and which you will have to forgo.  In an effort to help you fill out your trip itinerary with recommended tours and excursions, I have included links to some of the more popular excursion categories for you to review below.

Air, Helicopter & Balloon Tours
Outdoor Activities
Tours & Sightseeing
Private & Custom Tours

Photography Tips

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The Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is one of the most beautiful locations in New Zealand.  In fact, it is so popular with landscape and travel photographers that it attracts hundreds of thousands of professionals and amateurs each year.  If you are an aspiring travel photographer who will be visiting New Zealand for the first time, I have included some resources below that will help you get the best pictures while on your trip.

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Mount Cook National Park-3578 Mount Cook National Park-3505 Door County-Photo Winter Shots-2004
New Zealand Photography Guide Photography Planning Guide for Aoraki/Mount Cook Ten Important Tips for Avoiding Photography Issues When Traveling Photography Tips For Shooting in Winter and Snow

Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park is one of those places where it is really hard to visit with a camera and not leave with some amazing photographs.  I was certainly lucky enough to get some spectacular pictures when I visited.  In case you are interested, I have included a gallery of just some of the great pictures I took at Aoraki\Mount Cook National Park for you to review below.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

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2 replies »

  1. That suspension bridge DOES look fun! By the way, did you choose that blue North Face sweatshirt specifically for that photo, or was it just by chance, because the color is perfect for that shot. Very nice guide and beautiful pictures.

    • hahaha….. Totally wore that sweatshirt by chance, but thanks for the super kind compliment! Now I am going to consciously think about coordinating for my shots 😃

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