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 Mount Cook National Park. Poised in the middle of it all is Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at an impressive 3,724m.
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.
The mountain was named "Mount Cook" after Captain James Cook, the first European to set foot in New Zealand, however, the early Maori settlers called the mountain “Aoraki”, meaning “Cloud Piercer”, and you will hear it referred to by either name.
Stray passengers stay in the small settlement of Mt Cook Village, 12 km from the summit of the mountain, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and close to the Hooker Valley hiking tracks.
Population: 250 permanent residents, with approximately 250,000 visitors each year.
Vibe: Remote and rugged paradise with iconic scenery at every turn.
Known for: Being home to New Zealand's highest mountain, great hikes and fantastic stargazing.
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 IN MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK
Hit the trails!
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to walks and hikes here:
Easy - If you want something short and easy, check out the Governors Bush Walk to one of the lookout points near the village.
Medium - By far the most popular track is the 3-4 hour return Hooker Valley Track with suspension swing bridges, and alpine terrain, that leads to the terminal glacier lake and offers iconic views of Mt Cook.
Hard - For more of a challenge, the Sealy Tarns Track requires good fitness but pays off with some seriously amazing views.
Advanced - Diehard mountain enthusiasts should look at doing the overnight tramp to Mueller Hut (note: DOC huts require bookings in advance).
Mount Cook is 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. If you are planning on doing any of the long walks or tramps in the national park, make sure you stop at the visitor centre for more information before you head off.
Get up close to the Glacier
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.
The Chamois Bar & Grill at Mt Cook Lodge (where we stay) 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 magnificent Mount 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.