LAST UPDATED – 10/13/2022 – Aoraki National Park 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. These are just a few of the treasures of the park that I cover in my Aoraki National Park guide.
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.
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 can 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|
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide 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
As you begin to start planning your trip, you must 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.
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|The Ultimate Travel Packing Check List|
|The Essential Carry-On Checklist|
|10 Packing Tips That Every Traveler Should Follow|
Top Things to See and Do
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. 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 the park for you to review in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
Stop at Viewpoints Along Lake Pukaki On Your Way
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
Take a Selfie on the Infamous Road to Mount Cook
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below for you to reference.
Hike the Hooker Valley Track
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|Distance:||6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers)|
|Elevation Gain:||652 feet (199 meters)|
|Route Type:||Out and Back|
|Difficulty:||Easy to Moderate|
Hike to the Tasman Glacier Lookout
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|Distance:||0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers)|
|Elevation Gain:||255 feet (78 meters)|
|Route Type:||Out and Back|
Hike the 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 that 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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|Distance:||3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers)|
|Elevation Gain:||1,811 feet (552 meters)|
|Route Type:||Out and Back|
Hike to Mueller Lake Overlook and 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|
Do Some Star Gazing
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
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 tour, I have included a link to my guide for you to review in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Visitor 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
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 several great skydiving locations throughout the South Island, and one of these locations is 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.
How to Get There
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.
Best Time to Visit
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 recommend building a little flexibility into your schedule during this time of year.
Where to Stay
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 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. 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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
Where to Eat
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 several 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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|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||$$$$|
Recommended Tours and Excursions
There is a seemingly endless number 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. 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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
|Snowshoe Gear Guide for Adventure Travelers|
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 in my Aoraki National Park guide below.
If you would like to view some more of my top photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!