Mount Cook National Park is home to some of the most stunning alpine landscapes in the world. The park covers an area of 722 square kilometers and is named after the highest peak in the country, Aoraki Mount Cook. It’s a popular destination for tourists as the park offers a wide range of outdoor activities. There are plenty of beautiful walks in Mount Cook NP ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day treks. For the more experienced mountaineers it is possible to climb Mount Cook in certain months. And another must thing to do in Mount Cook NP is to book a tour to explore the Tasman glacier.
There are plenty of heli tours in Mount Cook National Park which is a bucket list experience in New Zealand. And of course you have to explore the intense turquoise blue Lake Pukaki! Find in our complete guide many more amazing things to do in Mount Cook National Park!
About Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand standing at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) tall. The combination of collision of tectonic plates that uplifted from the surface and glacial activity formed the Southern Alps over millions of years.
During the last ice age, which ended around 11,000 years ago, glaciers covered much of the South Island, carving out valleys and leaving behind moraines and glacial lakes. The valleys and peaks of the Southern Alps bear the marks of this glacial activity, and the park’s rugged terrain is a testament to the power of the glaciers.
Mount Cook’s unique combination of tectonic and glacial activity has created a breathtaking natural wonder that draws visitors from all over the world.
Mount Cook National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers. With numerous trails that cater to all skill levels, from easy walks to challenging multi-day hikes, there are plenty of options for walks in Mt Cook National Park.
Overall, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a breathtaking natural wonder, offering visitors a chance to experience the beauty and majesty of the Southern Alps and New Zealand wilderness.
How to get to Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park is located in the South Island of New Zealand, and there are several ways to get there:
- By car: Mt Cook National Park is approximately a four-hour drive from Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. From Queenstown it’s about a three-hour drive. Along the way you will have stunning views of the Southern Alps and the surrounding countryside. Renting a car is a great way for a New Zealand road trip and highly recommended!
- By bus: Several bus companies offer regular services to Mount Cook village from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island. Some buses are tours that stop for a short while at Mt Cook. But it’s also possible to just get a one-way fare.
- By plane: The closest airport to Mount Cook village is Mount Cook Airport, which is located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the village. Several airlines offer regular flights to Mount Cook from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island.
- By tour: Plenty of tour companies offer guided tours to Mount Cook National Park from Christchurch, Queenstown, and other cities on the South Island. These tours typically include transportation and guided activities.
Once you arrive at Mount Cook National Park, there are several options to get around. The most popular one are the walks in Mt Cook National Park. However you can also go cycling or go on a guided tour. Keep in mind that the park’s terrain can be rugged and challenging. Therefore it’s important to choose activities that suit your fitness level and experience.
20 BEST THINGS TO DO IN MOUNT COOK NP
Book a helicopter flight over Mount Cook
A bucket list and must do experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over Mount Cook. The highest mountain of New Zealand (3,724 meters or 12,218 feet tall) is also called ‘the cloud piercer’ and is truly phenomenal to witness from an aerial view.
There are many different helicopter tours available in Mount Cook National Park. But the most popular one is the Mount Cook and the Glaciers Helicopter Flight. This tour not only includes seeing Mount Cook from above, but also a snow landing with views on Mount Cook and you will even cross to the West Coast to spot Fox and Franz Josef Glacier! This is the ultimate helicopter flight over New Zealand’s Glaciers and an absolute must do experience!
Hike the Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker valley track is one of the most beautiful hikes on New Zealand’s South Island, maybe even some of the best hikes in New Zealand! And the good news is, you don’t have to hike too far and there isn’t much incline.
The Hooker valley track is just a stunning, easy day hike in Mount Cook National Park along the Hooker river to the glacier lake. Along the very well maintained trail you will cross suspension bridges, walk on a boardwalk and eventually get to Hooker Lake with mesmerising views on Aoraki Mount Cook.
If you want to beat the crowds, the best time to hike Hooker Valley Track is with sunrise or sunset. Because the trail is quite popular it can get busy during the day.
Best time to hike Hooker valley track
Overall the Hooker Valley Track is fantastic to hike at any time of the day as long as it’s clear so you can see Mount Cook. However, there are some ‘best times of the day’, especially for photographers.
We went before sunset and saw how the last light gave Mount Cook that beautiful orange, golden glow. It was also very quiet on the trail, we even had Hooker Lake for ourselves.
Sunrise is also a great time to hike Hooker Valley Track. Then you will get a view of the first rays of the sun creeping over the Southern Alps. Keep in mind that there is no shade along the trail, so in peak summer with the hot sunshine I wouldn’t recommend hiking the trail in the middle of the day.
Take in the views of Mount Cook at Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki is one of the stunning blue lakes in New Zealand. It is fed by the Tasman and Hooker glaciers and is known for its stunning blue-turquoise color, which is caused by fine particles of glacial rock called “glacier flour” suspended in the water.
You will pass Lake Pukaki on the way to Mount Cook National Park, and it’s a must stop. There are several stunning viewpoints along the lakeshore where you’ll have a beautiful vantage point of Mount Cook.
In Spring and Summer from November until February you may be able to find lupins along the shore of Lake Pukaki. This is a perfect photo opportunity as the colourful lupins are such a perfect contract to the intense blue lake.
Book the unforgettable Tasman Glacier hike
For an extraordinary experience in Mount Cook National Park you should consider this guided Tasman Glacier hike. During this 5 hour tour you will first fly to 2,200 metres (7200 feet) aboard your ski plan and then explore the immense beauty of the upper snowfield of the Tasman Glacier by foot. You will get snowshoes or crampons and other gear to get yourself ready for this epic adventure exploring the ancient ice formations. This is the ultimate chance to go snowshoeing in New Zealand in some of the most beautiful alpine landscapes in the world.
Hike the Sealy Tarns Track
The Sealy Tarns track is a beautiful hike up to a viewpoint overlooking the Hooker valley, Mueller Lake and surrounding snow capped peaks including Aoraki Mount Cook. It’s also known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in New Zealand with 2,200 steps up.
Although this hike isn’t the longest with only 5.8 kilometers round trip and 547 meters of elevation gain, the stair will be tiring at some point. Luckily there are plenty of viewpoints along the way where you can catch your breath.
The Sealy Tarns hike is also the first part of the Mueller Hut track, but if you don’t plan on hiking that far, then the views from Sealy Tarns lookout are worth the effort. With a picnic table and plenty of room to sit on the rocks, the Sealy Tarns Viewpoint is a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch. Hiking this trail together with Hooker Valley Track are some of the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park.
How to get to Sealy Tarns track
The Sealy Tarns track trailhead starts from the same car park as the Hooker Valley Track. Located within Mount Cook National park, the trail starts only a couple of minutes away from Mount Cook village. You can easily find the location on Google Maps, or type in While Horse Hill campground where you will find the trailhead at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off State Highway 80.
Go stargazing in Mount Cook NP
Mount Cook National Park is the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world. The huge 4367 sq km park offers plenty of opportunities to see the Milky Way on a clear night. You can either find a scenic spot yourself to watch the starry night sky, or do a guided experience with the Hermitage hotel.
If you plan on watching the stars at night by yourself then you don’t have to go far. After watching sunset at Hooker Lake for example you can wait a bit to see all the stars appear. On even more remote places such as Mueller Hut you will even feel closer to the Milky Way which is right above you. But then you’ll have to stay the night in Mueller Hut.
Hike Mount Wakefield track
Mount Wakefield Track is a more off the beaten path adventure in Mount Cook National Park. This 12 kilometre return hike starts from the valley floor and takes you up to the tree line. You will traverse the Wakefield ridge up towards Mount Wakefield at 2058 meters with stunning views over Hooker valley, the Tasman glaciers, and the surrounding snow capped peaks. Take note that you have to be an experienced hiker to complete this track as at some parts it’s a bit of a scramble.
Go skydiving in Mount Cook National Park
The adrenaline junkies can have their thrill with this tandem skydiving experience in Mount Cook NP. First you can enjoy a 20-minute scenic flight before jumping off the plane. Then you will enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience of free-falling from the sky for up to 60 seconds. Take in the fantastic aerial views of of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the Tasman Glacier and the Lakes Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo during the 5 minute parachute flight before landing safely back on the ground by your instructor.
Photo Credit: INFLITE Mt Cook Ski Planes & Helicopters GYG
Watch sunrise at Tasman River viewpoint
If you don’t fancy a long walk to watch sunrise in Mount Cook National Park then Tasman River viewpoint is a great option. There are actually two viewpoints on Tasman Lake. One that brings you to the departure place for kayaking on Tasman Lake, and another viewpoint that brings you to the source of the Tasman river.
The first spot is signed as ‘Tasman Lake’ and the second spot as ‘ Tasman River’. You have to go to ‘Tasman River’ as here you can see stunning reflections in the lake on a calm morning. Icebergs can usually be seen floating in the lake in summer while during the winter months the lake freezes.
Take in the colourful lupins during Spring
Some of the best seasons to visit New Zealand is in our opinion during Spring. The wildflowers are in bloom and the popular (but invasive) lupin flowers are painting the lakeshores with their colours.
If you’re lucky you can spot the colourful lupins along Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the background. We found a spot with lupins close to Jan’s beach which is a freedom camping site. But it’s not guaranteed that in the next years the lupins will grow there as well. You have to see your eyes peeled to spot the photogenic places with lupins along the lakeshore as the flowers ar being sprayed cause they are invasive to New Zealand’s eco system.
Explore the Blue Lakes track
TheBlue Lakes track branches off from the Tasman Lake Viewpoint track. You can perfectly combine these two walks together, but it’s worth it to mention them separately as they offer such a different view.
The Blue Lakes track is a very short detour from the Tasman Lake viewpoint track and if you’re lucky there will be no one else around. On a calm day you might see the beautiful reflection of the mountains in this lake. It’s a great place for a little picnic as well!
Stop at the famous Mount Cook road viewpoint
One of the easiest photo spots of Mount Cook is the famous Mount Cook road viewpoint. Here you can get a stunning vantage point of the Milky blue Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook. There are actually several photo spots along the road to Mount Cook village, so you can see what works the best for you.
We personally think there are better places to photograph Mount Cook than from the ‘famous’ viewpoints. As there are almost no pine trees left, so the foreground is a bit bare. The viewpoint we found with lupins at Jan’s beach for example is way more colourful, however you have to come in the right season of course.
Nevertheless, stopping at one of the Mount Cook road viewpoints is a must on your way to Mount Cook village.
Book a ski plane flight including snow landing on Tasman Glacier
This ski plane flight in Mount Cook National Park is an exhilarating and adventurous experience. After a 45-minute scenic ski plane flight you will land on the Tasman Glacier. During the flight you will fly over the Southern Alps, Tasman Valley, Hochstetter Icefall and then get out on the snowfields of the Tasman Glacier. It’s an incredible and once in a lifetime experience!
Visit Tasman Lake viewpoint
The Tasman glacier walk is the shortest and easiest walk in Mount Cook National Park. It offers stunning views of the Tasman glacier and Tasman Lake, floating ice bergs and snow capped mountains.
From the parking lot it is only a 10 – 15 minute walk up to the viewpoint over a well maintained gravel path. Once you get to the Tasman Lake viewpoint you can see Tasman glacier in the far distance, but unfortunately it’s retreated so much that you can only see a tiny bit. Nevertheless, the Tasman Lake viewpoint track is an easy walk which can be completed by everyone and can’t be missed on your New Zealand itinerary.
Kayak to explore the icebergs of Tasman Glacier
Glacier Lake kayaking is a unique way to explore Mount Cook National Park. You can do this at Tasman Lake where you can get close to the icebergs on the lake and feel the majesty of this place with glacier-covered mountains.
Mount Cook National Park is in fact the only place in New Zealand where you can go glacier kayaking, so it’s a pretty special and unique experience! The 4-6 hour tour is suitable for beginners and advanced kayakers. However as beginner you should have some knowledge of kayaking.
Contact the tour operator here to check prices and availability
Photo credit: Glacier Kayaking Mt Cook
Hike up to Mueller Hut
The Mueller Hut route is one of the most beautiful Mount Cook National Park hikes and can even be considered some of the most beautiful hikes in New Zealand. The track takes you up along the Sealy Range to the Mueller Hut which is located at an altitude of 1,800 meters (5,905 feet). Here you’ll have breathtaking views over Aoraki Mount Cook and the surrounding snow capped peaks.
Although the Mueller hut hike isn’t the hardest in terms of distance, you will climb over 1000 meters of elevation in only 5 kilometre one way. Generally the purpose of the Mueller Hut hike is to stay overnight in the DOC hut which you have to pre book. But if you’re short in time and you’re a fit hiker, then the Mueller Hut hike is also manageable to complete in the same day. However, with clear night skies you’ll have some of the most amazing views on the starry night sky as Mount Cook NP is part of the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world!
Get wiser at Sir Edmund Hillary alpine centre
The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is located in Mount Cook Village and is a tribute to Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous mountaineer who was the first person to climb Mount Cook.
The centre is dedicated to educating visitors about the unique alpine environment of the region, as well as the history of mountaineering in New Zealand. It features a range of exhibits and interactive displays, including a planetarium, a 3D theatre, and a museum.
In the 3D theatre you can watch a range of films about the region’s natural and cultural history, as well as mountaineering and exploration. The planetarium is also a popular feature where you can learn about astronomy.
Entrance cost $20 NZD per adult and $10 NZD per child. It includes unlimited entry for a 24hr period to the museum and all shows in the theater.
Stop at Lake Ruataniwha
Lake Ruataniwha is another glacial lake closely located to the town of Twizel. You will pass it on the way to Mt Cook coming from the Wanaka Queenstown direction. If you are not in a rush it is highly recommended to stop here for a little picnic as the lake is surrounded by beautiful scenery, with views of the Southern Alps and nearby mountain ranges. It is very quiet along the lakeshore and you might not see anyone else. In comparison to the more popular Lake Pukaki, this is a perfect spot for peace seekers.
Lake Ruataniwha is also a fantastic photo spot, and especially on calm days you might see a beautiful reflection in the lake.
Visit the Omarama Clay Cliffs
On a 70 minute drive from Mount Cook Village are the Omarama Clay Cliffs located. This geological wonder of tall pinnacles separated by narrow ravines is an interesting stop on the way from Mount Cook National Park to Wanaka or Queenstown. The short 0.8-mile out-and-back walk to the 30 meters tall pinnacles are a great reason to stretch the legs and take in this unique landscape.
Take a day trip to Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is only an hour drive from Mount Cook Village and is one of the most beautiful blue lakes of New Zealand. If you don’t have time to spend a few days in Lake Tekapo village, then you can also plan a day trip from Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo.
You can easily visit the highlights around the lake in a day, or just spend a relaxing day in the Tekapo Springs and take in the views from a hot pool.
Other must things you can do in Tekapo are hiking up Mount John, booking a 4WD backcountry tour to explore the most beautiful landscapes of the Mackenzie backcountry or book a stargazing experience at The Mount John Observatory.
Weather in Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park has a high altitude and is known for its unpredictable and changeable weather. Generally, the weather in Mount Cook National Park is cool and temperate, with the temperatures ranging from about 5°C to 20°C (41°F to 68°F) in the summer months (December to February), and from about -5°C to 10°C (23°F to 50°F) in the winter months (June to August).
In the summer months, the weather is typically mild and pleasant, with occasional rain and thunderstorms. The days are longer, and the nights are shorter, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities such as hiking and mountaineering. In the winter months, the weather is much colder, and snowfall is common in the higher elevations.
It’s important to note that the weather in Mount Cook National Park can change quickly, and it’s not uncommon for sudden and severe weather events to occur. Visitors should be prepared for all types of weather and should always check the weather forecast before heading out.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
Book Your Car at Discover Cars
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
Travellers Autobahn: Our recommendation to book your camper
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Be insured during your travels!
A slip can happen during hiking before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Where to stay in Mount Cook National Park
In Mount Cook National Park are only a few accommodations available. In fact, there are only 7 lodging options in Mt Cook National Park and they book up super fast! Especially in the summer months. Therefore it is highly recommended to book your accommodation far in advance to secure a room. Here are our recommendations to stay in Mount Cook National Park.
The Hermitage is an iconic hotel in Mount Cook National Park and is some of the most famous hotels in New Zealand. And that’s because it has some of the very best views in the whole country. You will have stunning views on Aoraki Mt Cook from every angle. So because of this and the great quality and hospitality, The Hermitage is always fully booked. Especially in high season. So if you want to secure a room at The Hermitage, you have to book weeks, if not months, in advance.
Another great hotel in Mount Cook village is Aoraki Court Motel. This modern accommodation features great views of the surrounding mountains. All rooms have a patio with mountain views and a fridge with kitchenware. With an average of 9.3 on Booking you know this accommodation is a great choice, so book fast!
The best value for money hotel in Mt Cook National Park is Alpine Lodge. With stunning views on the mountain range and a communal dining area you can prepare your own food and relax at the lounge area with warming fireplace.
If all accommodations in Mount Cook National Park are fully booked, then don’t worry, because you can stay in the nearby town of Twizel. This small town is a 45 minute drive from Mount Cook NP and has more accommodation options and facilities than Mt Cook village. We stayed here for a few nights to explore the different hikes at Mount Cook and were happy to have plenty of restaurant options nearby in Twizel. Check here all Twizel accommodations, availability and prices.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight over the highest mountain of the country. During this tour you will glide over Aoraki/Mount Cook and down the Tasman glacier. You will land in pristine snow and walk around to take in the impressive views of the snow capped mountains and glacier. A once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park. Make sure to put some of these awesome activities on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides!