You’ll get a sense of the vastness and majesty of the Southern Alps as you drive along the electric blue waters of Lake Pukaki towards the mountains and straight into a valley in the heart of the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. Poised in the middle of it all is Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, named after Captain James Cook, the first European to set foot in New Zealand.
The area was made a National Park in 1953, consisting of 140 peaks and 72 glaciers, which cover 40% of its land. Along with the Westland, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks, it makes up a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Te Wahipounamu.
Stray passengers are lucky enough to stay in the small settlement of Mt Cook Village, 12km from the summit of the mountain, surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.
Population: 250 permanent residents, with approximately 250,000 visitors each year.
Vibe: Remote outdoors paradise. With iconic mountain views around every turn, you’ll be drawn outside to soak it all in.
Known for: Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at an impressive 3,724m. The early Maori settlers called the mountain “Aoraki”, meaning “Cloud Piercer”, and you will hear it referred to by either name throughout the country.
Must Do: Hike your heart out! No matter your age or ability, you will find the perfect walk or hike for you in Mt Cook National Park.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Hit the trails
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to walks and hikes here. By far the most popular track is the 3-4 hour return Hooker Valley Track that leads to the terminal glacier lake and offers some of those iconic Mt Cook views you see in all the photos. If you want something shorter and easier, check out the Governors Bush Walk to one of the lookout points near the village. For more of a challenge, the Sealy Tarns Track requires good fitness but pays off with some seriously amazing views. Diehard mountain enthusiasts should look at doing the overnight tramp to Mueller Hut (note: DOC huts require bookings in advance).
Search for the stars
As part of a designated International Dark Sky Reserve (the largest reserve of its kind in the world) the lack of light pollution means you can see the Milky Way, planets and constellations with the naked eye. Head outside after nightfall and lie on the ground looking for shooting stars! If you want help making sense of all the stars, planets and galaxies, you can book a Big Sky Stargazing astronomy tour with a guide to show you how to use a telescope and point out notable constellations and heavenly bodies.
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park visitor centre
In the heart of the village lies the visitor centre, which is operated by the Department of Conservation. Open daily with free entry, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes taking in the information exhibits and artwork at this spectacular visitor centre, but the highlight is the picture window looking out on Mt Cook itself. If you are planning on doing any of the walks or tramps in the national park, make sure you stop at the visitor centre for more information.
After tackling the hiking trails, you’ll no doubt have worked up a serious appetite. Fortunately, Mt Cook Village has some great options to satisfy even the hungriest hiker. Added bonus: all feature stunning views of the mountains.
To start, look no further than the spacious kitchen at the Mt Cook Lodge if you’re keen to self-cater. There’s plenty of room for a group to cook without tripping over each other. Why not pick up some Aoraki salmon, a local specialty, and prepare a feast with your mates?
If you’re too tired to cook, the Chamois Bar & Grill at Mt Cook Lodge is your go-to for a selection of tasty pub-style fare. They offer an assortment of burgers, fish and chips, pizza and grilled favourites, as well as a full service bar to wash it all down.
If you venture up to the visitor centre, right next door you’ll find the Old Mountaineers Café with a generous menu featuring locally sourced organic and free-range produce. It also holds the distinction of being the only establishment within Mt Cook Village opened by Sir Edmund Hillary himself.
If you’re after something more upscale, head inside The Hermitage Hotel for a wide variety of excellent dining options to suit any occasion, including a café, bar, set menu restaurant, and buffet that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Get to Mt Cook!
Regardless of experience, fitness level, or how much time you have to explore, there is a wonderful walk for you in Mt Cook National Park!
Explore New Zealand's largest glacier, the Tasman Glacier, as well as Terminal Lake and Ic...
Get amongst the mountain scenery of Mount Cook National Park on a 4WD and Argo Tour.
A popular 3 hour hike through the Hooker Valley to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake.
This short, easy bush walk takes you through a silver beech (tawhai) forest to a lookout p...
Identify and explore different elements of the spectacular southern sky with the Big Sky Stargazing in Mt Cook.