Home to 19 mountains above 3,000m, including Aoraki / Mt Cook, the highest in the country, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park offers some of the most stunning alpine scenery in New Zealand. It is also some of the most accessible, with incredible views from a number of easy part day walks in the park.
This post covers three of the most popular, the hour return walk to Kea Point, the three hour return Hooker Valley Track, and the half hour return walk to the Tasman Glacier Lookout. For those after more of a challenge / altitude gain the Mueller Hut / Sealy Tarns Track is the one to go for if you have the fitness and experience.
The 3km return walk to Kea Point is along an easy track, ascending 180m, passing by colourful foxgloves.
The lookout offers impressive views of Mueller Lake, Ngakanohi Glacier, the 3,151m high Mt Sefton, and when I was there cloud obscured views of Aoraki / Mount Cook.
The Hooker Valley Track is understandably one of most popular day walks in New Zealand, offering quite incredible views the whole way along it’s 10km return length. It isn’t always this way though, as I learnt when I first walked the track in extremely windy weather nine years ago.
At that time the track had a few tricky parts but has since been upgraded to an easy and mostly flat walk. Near the start is a memorial to the many people who have lost their lives in these mountains, home to some of the most challenging climbing routes in the country.
Mueller Lake is a frequent sighting along the track, glacial grey and surrounded by epic landscape.
The first of three suspension bridges along the track, with people happily ignoring the twenty person bridge limit. Presumably / hopefully it has been engineered to carry many more!
Large slips remind of the force of nature.
More wonderful views of Mueller Lake.
After crossing the second suspension bridge I finally got some clear views of the summit of Aoraki / Mount Cook ahead.
There is a short section of boardwalk, just about wide enough for two people to pass.
The third and final suspension bridge, all of a similar design.
After which is the majestic Hooker Lake, complete with a stray iceberg. When there I saw a brave guy swim out to it and back, a no doubt freezing experience! From here the track returns the same way back to the White Horse Hill Campground.
On the other side of a mountain range, about a fifteen minute drive, is Tasman Glacier. This is the largest in New Zealand, up to 29km long and 3km wide, though it has been shrinking worryingly fast with climate change. An at times steep but well graded and stepped track runs up from the car, passing by the blue lakes. They are now green as have changed from glacier fed to rain fed since they were named in the 19th century.
There are epic views back down the valley.
And equally epic views up the valley over the glacial lake, home to a few icebergs, and surrounded by towering mountains.