The highest mountain peak in New Zealand, Mount Cook stands at 12,349 ft, is a delight to gaze at. You look up to the ice covered summit from one of the popular Mount Cook National Park walking trails. No climbing experience is required to experience the presence of this colossal mountain.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park  is a great choice for your South Island New Zealand itinerary. It provides a logical stop on the route between Christchurch and Queenstown. Apart from the sight of the Mt Cook Summit, this National Park is home to the spectacular and accessible Tasman Glacier, a perfect example of beautiful New Zealand scenery.

Mt Cook National Park and Tasman Glacier

A multitude of outdoor activities are available from the hub of Mt Cook Village; Boat trips, Glacier Flights, Climbing and Stargazing. Accommodation offerings around Mt Cook are limited to the Mt Cook Village.  Here you can find the Hermitage Hotel or more budget friendly option of Mt Cook Lodge. Use our Interactive map of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to explore the sights.

Lake Pukaki

On your journey to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park be sure to stop off at the Lake Pukaki viewpoint located just off the Route 80.

Lake Pukaki at Mount Cook National Park, Aoraki, south island new zealand itinerary

Yes, Lake Pukaki really is this blue, no filter required! If your’re lucky with a clear sky, the blue of the lake merges into the blue of the sky. But that’s nothing compared to the distant views of the Mt Cook Summit, which can only be viewed on a cloudless day.

Views of Mount Cook and the road to Aoraki next to Lake Pukak, south island new zealand itinerary

The road to Mt Cook navigates around the northern shore line of Lake Pukaki and provides many stunning viewpoints along the way. From this northern edge of the valley you begin to appreciate that this Lake was once the home to the Tasman Glacier, having since retreated over thousands of years. The Glacier currently feeds into Lake Pukaki from the Tasman River. The silts and sediments deposited from the Glacier outflow cause the pronounced blue colour of the Lake.

Tasman Glacier

Tasman Glacier Icebergs, Tsmand Lake, Mount Cook National Park, Aoraki

Tasman Glacier meanders through the Southern Alps like a river of ice, carving itself through rock and arriving with a splash at Lake Tasman. The Terminal Face is the technical term for the cliff-face of ice which marks the end of the Tasman Glacier’s tongue of ice. And this Terminal face is camouflaged under the piles of rock which were deposited from the ablation zone. Perhaps not the picturesque of  Glaciers in New Zealand, the sight of this mammoth wonder of nature retreating back to the mountains should be enough evidence for visitors to appreciate the scale and speed at which the planet is changing with the effects of climate change.

Tasman Glacier Icebergs, Mount Cook National Park, Aoraki

Icebergs from the Tasman Glacier float in the Tasman Lake and give you a very accessible insight from the nearby Tasman Glacier lookout which is a short walk from the car park. It’s possible to book a Tasman Lake boat tour in small speedboats should you wish to view these floating islands of ice.

Mt Cook National Park

At 12,349ft Mt Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. The best views of the summit can only be found within the vicinity of Mount Cook Village because of the undulating terrain which obscures views from further back in the valley. Clear views to the summit require luck and a little patience. Once the cloud settles in the valley its sure to obscure all summit viewing opportunities.

Mount Cook Village, Mt Cook Summit, Aoraki, South Island New Zeland itinerary

There are a number of short walks in the Mount Cook Village area which give access to the best Mt Cook views. The Hooker Valley carpark is the closest drop off point for commencing these trails if you want to avoid the extra distance from the Mount Cook Village.

Kea Point is a short, sharp ascent up the Hooker Valley slopes next to the Mueller Lake and gives the best valley overlook without much effort. It’s a 30 minute walk one way from the car park which makes it the best option for viewing sunset. As the sun retreats behind the towering Southern Alps, orange and red light reflects from the mirrored surface of the snow capped Mt Cook summit. From Kea Point you can see the more popular Hooker Valley Trail which crosses the Hooker River at a suspension bridge (see below).

Mount Cook Village, Mt Cook Summit, Aoraki, South Island New Zeland itinerary

Mt Cook Walks: Hooker Valley Trail

Hooker Valley is the most popular trail in the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Setting off from the Valley carpark, it makes a lofty crossing over the Hooker River across a suspension bridge with views over Mueller Lake.

Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook Village Aoraki, South Island New Zealand

The Hooker Valley trail will take you one hour to walk from the car park to Hooker Lake, which is the trail end.  There is a small storm shelter and bathrooms about two-thirds of the way along this trail. The mostly flat trail is an easy walk for all ages and abilities.

Hooker Lake is your closest pass to Mount Cook. Looking into the distance you can see the rock covered Hooker Glacier which submerges into the Lake at the Terminal Face. Icebergs litter the lake and flow towards the out-flowing river located in the south east corner which has large rocks to clamber over and explore on foot.

Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook Village Aoraki, South Island New Zealand

Southern Alps Glacier Flight

Without doubt, experiencing the wonder of New Zealand’s Glaciers from above is an opportunity not to be missed on your South Island New Zealand itinerary. Soaring amongst these icy summits from a helicopter or aeroplane is only half the adventure.

Flying to the Fox glacier with Glacier Helicopters, south island new zealand itinerary

As your pilot hovers the helicopter over the vast snow covered ice field you land and open the doors for a chance to explore this wonder of nature on foot. If you’ve chosen to fly by aeroplane, then  you’ve chosen the ski plane which allows snow landings! Read more about flying over New Zealand’s glaciers.

Glacier Helicopters New Zealand Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, South Island Itinerary

It’s only from the air that you can view the intricacies and natural structures that are formed on the glaciers including; turquoise blue pools of water and crevasses which slicing deep and the fracturing of rock and ice in the ablation zones.

Mt Cook Astronomy Tour

Mt Cook National Park is home to a very dark night sky, which is perfect for stargazing with no light pollution from urban areas. In fact it’s so dark here, that just the smallest slither of moon light can blotch out the faint light of distant stars. Which is therefore another reason to come for star gazing in the summer or autumn as less snow on the ground means less light can be reflected back into the dark sky.

Stargazing in a dark sky away from light pollution and urban areas. Best dark sky viewed when the moon is set. Sky view of the Milkyway galaxy.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, also known as the “Hermitage” is  home to a full dome planetarium which organises stargazing tours. The evening begins at the centre with a 3D tour of the night sky in the Planetarium. The show gives an insight into the correct star constellations and planets available to view later. Then you are driven by bus to the airfield where the Planetarium guides give an interactive talk on the night sky and setup telescopes for viewing planets, star clusters and nearby galaxies.

South Island New Zealand Itinerary

Planning a trip to the South Island? Then read my 11 Day South Island Itinerary Road Trip, with full driving details, interactive maps and unbiased accommodation listings. Let me help you to travel; Saving you Time and Money!

Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Map


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