Top 5 Walks in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Most people fall in love with Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park as soon as they drive in – the road is famous for its stunning views of the Southern Alps and Lake Pukaki. Stray passengers are also lucky enough to stay right in the heart of Mount Cook village, waking up to some of the most breathtaking scenes imaginable from their hostel window.

It’s always so exciting when you catch your first glimpse of the mountains
The view from Mt Cook Backpacker Lodge

Whilst it’s easy to pass a day just sitting on the balcony, reading your book and soaking up the atmosphere, I would highly recommend that you get out and experience one (or more) of the walking tracks.

Here are my top 5 picks and what to expect:

Hooker Valley Track

Time: 3 hour return from White Horse Hill carpark (4 hour return from the village)
Difficulty level: Easy/Medium
Track conditions: Exposed, but mostly flat

Undoubtedly the most popular trail in the area, and there’s a very good reason why! Hooker Valley provides the backdrop for those iconic Mt Cook photos you will see plastered all over social media. Come cloud or shine, the views are always phenomenal. You’ll cross not one, but THREE large swing bridges before reaching the gorgeous glacier lake, where you’ll be surrounded by the Southern Alps (it’s also an awesome place for a picnic).

One of the three swing bridges
The iconic Mt Cook photo
Icebergs on the glacier lake

I recommend doing the Hooker Valley walk earlier in the day if possible. Here’s why:

1) The sun will be shining directly onto the glacier lake and you’ll see a reflection of Mt Cook in the water. Don’t worry, it’s still a sight to behold in the afternoon/evening, but the majority of the glacier lake will be in the shadows.

2) It’s a very exposed track and during summer the sun can be very strong during the afternoon, making a mere 3 hour walk feel like a 7 hour hike.

No shortage of great Instagram backdrops

Sealy Tarns Track

Time: 3-4 hour return from White Horse Hill carpark
Difficulty level: Medium/Hard
Track conditions: Exposed and uphill

This track starts from the same car park as the Hooker Valley track, but it is important that you choose wisely between the two! Whilst you may be deceived by the first 15 minutes of flat terrain, with Sealy Tarns you need to be prepared for a much tougher trail that is composed of 2200 steps and a 450m elevation gain. Don’t say we didn’t warn you! The views up there are pretty incredible though, so I’d say it’s well worth it if you’re in good shape.

One last tip: Don’t go up there unless it’s a clear day – you don’t want to invest all of that energy to see nothing but clouds!

Sealy Tarns scenes

Mueller Hut Track

Time: 7-8 hour return from White Horse Hill carpark (most people split this between 2 days)
Difficulty level: Hard

For all the diehard hikers out there, this track is for you! It’s a continuation of the Sealy Tarns track up to the very top of the mountain. You’ll definitely need to hop off the Stray bus for this one as it’s not possible to complete in just one afternoon. A lot of people choose to split the walk between two days and camp overnight in Mueller Hut (bookings required), but you could choose to do a round trip in one day. I think it’s worth staying overnight if there are spaces available though – there’s nothing quite like watching the sun set and rise again over the valley.

The sun setting on Mueller Hut

Unless you are extremely experienced and carry crampons, avalanche gear and an ice axe with you on your travels (yes, it’s that hardcore), then you’ll need to do the Mueller Hut walk in summer. Make sure you are fully equipped with enough food, water and safety equipment with plenty of removable layers so that you can adjust to the constant temperature changes. Good luck!

Which track will you choose?

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier lookout tracks

Time: 1 hour from Tasman Valley carpark
Difficulty level: Easy/Medium
Track conditions: Uphill, but not steep

I did this walk on a cloudy day and still thought everything looked majestic, so it’s definitely one to consider if the weather isn’t in your favour. Your first stop will be the Blue Lakes (they’re actually green) and then you’ll meander up the stairs to the lookout over the glacier lake. It’s a short track and has nowhere near as many steps as the Sealy Tarns, so it’s great for a quick morning/afternoon adventure.

There’s another blue (green) lake just around the corner from this one
The view makes the stair climbing worth it
Your reward for reaching the top!

Tasman Glacier river and jetty tracks

Time: 1 hour from Tasman Valley carpark
Difficulty level: Easy
Track conditions: Exposed, but completely flat

Easily my favourite walk in the entire national park, which also happens to be one of the quickest/easiest. If you just plan on sticking to minimum time on the Stray bus and don’t fancy walking for hours on end, then this is the track for you! You won’t see Mt Cook as clearly here, but you will still see a beautiful glacier lake surrounded by snowcapped mountains. Unlike the Hooker Valley, these walks are best experienced later on in the day as the sun shines on the Tasman Glacier lake during the afternoon. It also tends to be much quieter than the lake at Hooker Valley, which means you can take photos and eat your picnic in peace.

View of the jetty
An easy, flat trail
Skimming stones on the glacier lake

For anyone who wants a more glamorous experience of Mt Cook then you can always catch a scenic flight over the glaciers or hop on a boat to get up close and personal with the icebergs on the lakes. You can even explore the area on a 4WD tour and if you’re more of a night owl then there’s always stargazing to consider! Long story short, this is a Stray stop not to be missed.

For more info about the area, read Stray’s Mt Cook destination guide.

The unforgettable Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

Tara Manjunath is a 22 year old, trilingual Brit residing in Auckland, NZ. Despite studying politics, the creative world is where she feels most at home. When she’s not working at Stray HQ, you can find her hula hooping, perfecting her yoga poses or stocking up on peanut butter supplies. She’s lived in Spain and Russia, backpacked through Latin America and road tripped through NZ… just to name a few things! Follow her adventures at sojourneywithme.com.

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