Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park – Ultimate Guide

Mt Cook National Park is one of the most famous national parks in New Zealand. It is loved by adventure enthusiasts, families, hikers, and travellers who just love to immerse themselves in nature.  

As soon as I saw the incredible views of Mt Cook on my drive in, I fell in love instantly. This very quickly became my favourite national park in New Zealand. The hikes have some of the most beautiful views, and a lot of them are very easily accessible. Another feature I love about this national park, is if you are staying in the campgrounds, you can walk to every hike. No need to move the campervan or tent!

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Where is it?

Mt Cook National Park is roughly a 3hr drive from Queenstown or 4hr drive from Christchurch. The best way to get here is via driving or there are some tours which take you into the national park for a few nights. 

Where to stay?

There are only two options for accommodation at this national park; White Horse Hills campgrounds or in the Mt Cook Village. 

If you are in a campervan, tent or sleeping in your car, White Horse Hills campgrounds is your best option. Staying here will cost $15NZD pp/pn, and its best if you book online during peak periods. You can pay in person on the day of arrival, but as this is the only campground in the national park, it books out quickly. Make sure you book in advance for peak periods! There are public showers the village, which will cost you $2NZD for 3 or 4 mins of hot water. 

TIP: the best camping spot is located at the end of the campgrounds. Follow the road around until you see the bathrooms, on your left there are two individual spots that have some bushes which will give you privacy. 

If you are looking for accommodation options, you are best to stay in the Mt Cook Village. The accommodation is limited, and like the campgrounds, books out quickly. Here are a few options 

What to do?

I spent 3 days in Mt Cook National Park, which gave me plenty of time to explore the region. I completed almost every hike, with one not being accessible due to the track conditions. Every walk in this national park is well worth doing, and well worth the time. Each track requires a different level of fitness or skill, but I’m here to help you decided which ones will be best for yourself. 

Here is a list of the places I recommend you visit with your time in Mt Cook. 

1. Hooker Valley Track

Distance: 10km return 

Difficulty: Easy

Time needed: 2-4hrs 

Without a doubt, the most popular day hike in all of Mt Cook National Park. This track is relatively flat, with only a few stairs. The track consists of swing bridges, dirt track and boardwalks. 

During this hike you will cross 3 of the most beautiful swing bridges in all New Zealand. Pass by and over multiple streams and lakes. If you are lucky, and it’s a clear day, you will also receive incredible views of Mt Cook and the surrounding mountain landscapes. The track ends at Hooker Lake, which is an incredible glacier lake. 

You can find out more information about the Hooker Valley Track here.

2. Sealy Tarns

Distance: 5.8km return 

Difficulty: Medium (Hard if you don’t have any fitness) 

Time needed: 2-3 hrs 

The Sealy Tarns track offers epic views over alpine lakes and the surrounding mountain ranges. At the end of the walk, on a clear day, you will see a tarn which perfectly reflected the surrounding mountains. 

This track consists of over 2000 steep steps, with an elevation of 600m. The first section follows a dirt path, with over 2/3 of the track being steps. Although it can be a strenuous hike, it is well worth doing, because the views from the top are incredible! 

You can find out more about the Sealy Tarns Track here.

3. Muller Hut Route

Imagine: Department of Conservation New Zealand

Distance: 10.4km return from Campgrounds 

Difficulty: Hard 

Time needed: 4-6hrs 

The Muller Hut follows the same route as the Sealy Tarns track above but veers off from the tarn’s lookout to the left. You will have to climb up a very steep section, which involves some rock scrambling. In winter this track would be extremely difficult and have avalanche dangers. You can also opt to stay in the Muller hut for a night, making this hike only 5.2km. 

This was the hike I attempted but had to turn around about 1hr outside of the hut due to track conditions. I hiked in December, and the top of the mountain you ascend was covered in snow. I passed a few hikers coming down from the hut, and they told me I shouldn’t attempt, as it was slippery, and the snow was deep in some sections. In all fairness I could have completed this hike if I was properly equipped. But I didn’t have an ice axe, crampons or walking pole with me. Make sure you check the track conditions before commencing!

You can book the Muller hut and find out information here. 

4. Kea Point Track 

Distance: 2.8km return from campground

Difficulty: Easy 

Time needed: 1 hr from campground, 2hr from Village

This is one of the easy hikes in Mt Cook National Park. This hike starts off on the same track as the Sealy Tarns and Muller route track, but veers to the right at the junction. The walk is relatively flat and quite pleasant. The hike ends at Mueller Glacier, and the viewing deck gives stunning views of Mount Sefton, Hooker valley and Mount Cook. 

5. Tasman Glacier Viewpoint 

Distance: 1.3km return 

Difficulty: Easy

Time needed: 1 hr 

This walk starts at the Tasman Glacier carpark, which is about 15mins outside of the campgrounds, or 10min from the Village. The walk has a slight ascent, following some steps. The views at the top are epic. Offering 360 views of the Tasman Glacier and surrounding mountains. You can complete the slight detour to the Blue Lakes (which are no longer blue), from this trail as well. 

Another easy track is the Tasman Glacier Lake, which will take you roughly 1 hr to complete. It leaves from the same spot as the Tasman Glacier viewpoint, but the track veers to the right. I recommend you arrive here in the morning, when the glacier is calm and still. 

6. Mt Cook road photos

There are plenty of places to stop along the road into Mt Cook National Park, which offer beautiful views of Mt Cook. The most popular spot is called ‘Mt Cook Scenic View’ on google maps. There is a designated spot to pull over here, making it safe to get out of your vehicle to take photos. This is where majority of the Mt Cook Road photos you see are taken. 

There are several other spots along the road. When pulling off, make sure your car is completely off the road and you have left plenty of room for people to get around you. This is a 100km/hr road, so wheels being left on the road can be extremely dangerous for traffic. If you are taking photos on the road, like the ones above, make sure to keep an eye and ear out for traffic. 

The cars are pretty good at the Mt Cook scenic view and beep when coming. However, you should always still be careful. To avoid traffic as best as possible, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

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