9 Tips for Hiking in the Mount Cook - Aoraki National Park

9 Tips for Hiking in the Mount Cook - Aoraki National Park

New Zealand
New Zealand

When Is the Best Time

Mount Cook - Aoraki in Maori, one of the most famous places in New Zealand, is exceptional in all types of weather. It is the highest mountain in NZ at the height of 3.724 m/12217 ft.

Mount Cook and NZ flag
Aoraki view from the hotel

The summit of Mount Cook is covered in snow the entire year. Forty percent of the National Park is covered by the largest glaciers. Nineteen of the peaks are more than 3.000 m high. This park has lots of superlatives. Weather Forecast Aoraki summit; almost always minus degrees.

Hooker Glacier and Hooker Lake
The Hooker Glacier at the end of the trail.

Mount Cook is a marvellous destination throughout the year. The best times are from October to April if you wish to hike some of the tracks. The crowds thin out as soon as you start hiking one of my recommended trails.

View to Mount Cook from State Hwy 80
The view from a lookout at Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook is already promising. Goggle Maps

The winter is a little drier but freezing cold with fewer sunshine hours. The summer is pleasant but wetter, busier during the school holidays, and it's even worse around Eastern. If you plan to travel in the summer, you have to deal with crowds and probably days of rain. We went to the Mount Cook Aoraki Village for four nights end of March; we experienced excellent weather and snowfall.

The Sealy Tarns Track to Mueller Hut
The picnic area at the end of the Sealy Tarns Track

Be prepared for four seasons in one day, and you get rewarded with spectacular hikes and views in one of the most spectacular national parks of New Zealand. Read my season guide below, my advice on why Aoraki/Mount Cook is worth visiting and my 5 Must-Do Walks and Hikes, as well as my 9 Tips for Mount Cook

Weather and Crowds Mount Cook

Mount Cook view from Hooker Lake

Rain and snow can occur throughout the year; however, the summer is the sunniest time. The weather is changing quickly in the South Alps of NZ. So even if the forecast is excellent, be prepared for strong winds, rain, and snow. The mentioned temps for each season are for Mount Cook Village on 760 m elevations. Weather Forecast Mount Cook Village

Spring (September - November)
Suspension Bridge Mount Cook
The suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

In spring, the Mount Cook Village can still experience minus degrees in the night and day temps are pleasant on average between 15-18°C degrees. Nowadays, with climate change, temps in the high 20 can occur. Rain is increasing; showers are likely to happen, but it doesn’t mean it’s raining the entire day.

Summer (December-February)

Aoraki - Mount Cook in summer view from Sealy Tarns Track

December and January are the wettest and warmest months of the year. Rain is already decreasing in February. During summer, day temps are, on average, around 20°C degrees. On a clear and sunny day, temps can climb up to 35°C. Night temps are, on average, around 10°C. Summer is the busiest time of the year. The limited accommodation options are usually fully booked far in advance. 

Autumn (March-May)
Mount Cook during sunset
The summit of Mount Cook is always covered in snow.

There is less precipitation during autumn. March is still pleasant, with day temps around 20°C on average. It gets colder in April and May with day temps around 15°C, but one-digit temps can also occur. Nights are cold, and minus degrees can happen. It’ a little quieter already and again packed with tourists during Easter. We spent three nights here on Easter and experienced all-weather, blue sunny skies, rain, snow, and hail on the day we left.

Winter (June - August)

Mount Cook summit covered in snow

It’s chilly here during winter on average 10°C and colder, however, 20° C can happen, but that’s rare to experience. Nights are pretty cold, especially if you plan to camp. Expect minus degrees during the night. Winter is a little drier than the summer months. Some huts and trails on higher elevations may be closed, but the most popular ones are less busy.

Accommodations and Camping in the Aoraki – Mount Cook N. P.

Campground in the 'Aoraki - Mount Cook Village

Mount Cook village is easy to reach but there is just one long road the State Hwy 80 leading along Lake Pukaki to the village and out. If you don’t stay in the village it is quite a journey. You need at least three hours from Queenstown and four from Christchurch.

The view to the huge Tasman River bed
The hotels and village are located to the right.

There are very few accommodations the reason that advanced booking is utterly necessary throughout the year. Lodges, Chalet, and Motel for Aoraki (Bookmark the Link for price guarantee at booking.com). Stay at least 3 better 4 days in case of poor weather.

Making a picnic in the Mount Cook Village
Our lunch after our arrival - Mount Sefton in the back.

The weather can change very quickly here in the NZ Alps. We experienced sunny blue skies, rain, hail, and, snow on our last day.

The Doc campground in the Mount Cook village
Usually, you always get a place to pitch your tent.

The doc campground is huge - 60 non-powered sites. You can pitch your tent wherever you want. It's first come first serve. One public shelter for cooking is relatively small during rain or hail in the peak season.  Hot showers are only in the village available.

A tarp for sleeping only instead of a tent
This guy was tough sleeping under a tarp in April.

However, nights are cold; temps can drop below zero. I know what I am talking about. The price is $15 per adult and children half for years already also in 2021. Bookings are required throughout the year. Tent site booking

Is it Worth Visiting Mount Cook?

The view from the Mueller Hut trail down into the valley and Tasman River bed
Me, on the Sealy Tarns Hiking Trail enjoying the breathtaking scenery.

In my opinion, it’s a Must-Do. Honestly, a camera cannot capture all the spectacular views, the stunning landscape. I recommend visiting Aoraki at least on a day trip. Start as early as possible and stay until sunset. There is one very well-organized day tour from Christchurch. It is a long journey, but there is so much to see on the way to Aoraki. The most stunning months for this guided tour in a small group are November to January when the picturesque lupin fields at Lake Tekapo are in full bloom. This is such magical scenery on the South Island. Another stop is the famous Church of the Good Shepherd.

 

 

The most exceptional tour is the 3 h heli hike to the Tasman Glacier. You will love the fantastic view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the hike on the glacier for 2 h. No worries rented gear like boots, crampons, and a waterproof jacket is included. Wanna you walk on the glacier? Do it as long as it is possible. The Tasman Glacier's retreat from the early '70s to today it is more than 7 km. More facts about the Tasman Glacier at the end of the article.

Information board of the shrinking Tasman Glacier
The glacier is far in the distance nowadays.

If you don't want to hike on a glacier, enjoy a 25 minutes scenic heli flight with spectacular views to Mount Cook - Aoraki, which you will never forget. Included is an alpine landing with a direct view of Aoraki.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Mount Cook
New Zealand
New Zealand

The more than 700 km2 big National Park is a hikers and photographers' dream. You get blown away in this beautiful scenery. Even if it is busy here, start hiking, and you escape the crowds. The area was already declared a National Park in 1953. According to the legend of the Maori, Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks emerged when a boy named Aoraki and his three brothers took a canoe to ride from heaven to mother earth.

A memorial in the Mount Cook Aoraki National Park
Alpine Memorial for those who perished in this National Park.

The canoe capsized, and while the boys climbed on the back of the boat, they turned into stone. There are many things to do in the Aoraki National Park. The most popular activities are hiking, helicopter scenic flights and hikes, and guided kayak tours on Tasman Lake. And don't miss the exhibition in the Information Centre.

Information Centre

A saying of Sir Edmund Hillary shown in the Aoraki information centre

Usually, I don’t spend much time in an Information centre, but this one is different. You get everything you need, helpful advice, a trail booklet for day hikes in the National Park; hut fees are paid here as well.

A board in the information centre showing the left beds and bunks in each hut.
For overnight hikes perfect to check out how busy the huts are.

Plan some time for the exhibition about the mountaineering history of Mount Cook including stories of the Aoraki climbers, first of all, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first women on Mount Cook, the first Maori, the remembrance books of those who died here, and the climbing gear of the early pioneers.

 

5 Must-Do Walks and Hikes in Mount Cook National Park

Suspension Bridge Mount Cook from the distance

There are different tracks for people of all fitness levels. All walks are well marked. Restrooms can be found in the village and often at the trailhead but not along the trails. The trails start at the village or campground for the following hikes:

  1. Hooker Valley Track

    Hooker Valley Track first swing bridge


    Parking and Trailhead: The White Horse Hill Campground Google Maps
    This spectacular hike always towards Mount Aoraki takes a good 3 hours return to properly enjoy it. It’s a flat 10 km hike. There are awe-inspiring views and landscapes on this trail to Hooker Lake and Glacier. It’s an easy walk, therefore, more trafficked but utterly worth doing. The walk passes almost the Alpine Memorial before you come to Mueller Glacier Outlook and the first of three swing bridges. If you are not able to walk the entire trail hike at least to the first swing bridge which takes 15 minutes and another 15 to the second. The trail ends at the Hooker Lake and Glacier with unforgettable views of the famous Mount Cook. 
     
  2. Sealy Tarns Track - Sunset Spot

    View to Mount Cook from Sealy Tarns Track


    Parking and Trailhead: The White Horse Hill Campground
    Famous for magnificent sunsets during summer. It’s a steep leg burner trail with endless steps to protect the path from destroying during poor weather.

    Steep leg burner trail with endless steps - hikers on it
    It’s almost halfway to Mueller Hut and takes 3-4 hours return. An elevation gain of 600 m climbing up to the picnic area and trail end. You get rewarded with jaw-dropping views to Mount Cook the higher you get. At the end of the track is a huge picnic table. Google Maps Location of the Sealy Tarns Viewpoint.

    A kea at the picnic area
    Carry a picnic in your backpack and enjoy the sheer majestic Aoraki Mount Cook. Keas, the alpine parrot, is often around. If you are an experienced hiker, start early afternoon and wait for the sunset. Bring a torch for the way back. Don't rush the track - take your time!
     
  3. Governors Bush

    The easy Governors Bush walk

    Parking and Trailhead: Aoraki Mount Cook Village
    This is a short circular trail that takes a maximum of an hour. You get a glimpse of the silver beech and forest of this National Park. If it's quiet, you may spot birds here. An easy climb leads to an outlook with a great view of Mount Cook.
     
  4. Red Tarns Track

    Spectacular views to Mount Cook from the Red Tarns Track


    Parking and Trailhead: Aoraki Mount Cook Village
    This is another terrific hike with magnificent views of the valley, village, and Aoraki Mount Cook. It is also an excellent spot to watch the sunset. Another advantage of this 2 h return hike; if Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains are covered in clouds, or it is raining, this trail has some distance. You still may have a good view without rain. The trail is steep and also equipped with lots of steps like the Sealy Tarns Track, but this trail is just a 300 m climb up.  
     
  5. Tasman Glacier Track

    Tasman Glacier and Lake


    Parking and Trailhead: Blue Lakes - Tasman Lake
    The trail leads to the right close to Tasman Lake. Depending on the season, icebergs are swimming in the lake. You get shown how long the glacier was and how fast it is shrinking. It is a flat walk which takes a maximum of an hour. It is a fantastic view from here. The Blue Lakes close to the car park are not any longer blue. They are green nowadays because the lakes are not any longer fed by turquoise glacier water. Rainwater supports green algae.
     
Helpful Links
 

9 Tips for Mount Cook 

Tramping overnight in Mount Cook National Park

The weather can change quickly. Therefore, some advice for hiking one of the day trails.

  1. Weather: First of all, check the weather forecast or have a quick look at the information centre.
  2. Hiking Fitness: Know your limits and choose your hikes wisely.
  3. Shoes: Wear proper hiking shoes, at least trainers for easy hikes.
  4. Head: Protection for your head during summer and winter.
  5. Warm Clothing: Pack additional warm clothes and a waterproof jacket in your backpack.
  6. Sun Protection: Sunscreen and sunglasses are necessary throughout the year.
  7. Insect Protection: Insect repellent but only during the short summer.
  8. Water and Snacks: Plenty of food and water; avoid dehydration. Don’t hike without it! (You think this advice isn’t necessary, but unfortunately, we often see people hiking without anything for hours)
  9. Be Careful and consider carrying a beacon: Depending on your chosen track, you may walk over snow and ice. Avalanches occur along some trails, usually in winter and spring, especially along the Ball Hut and Mueller Hut Route. There was a rescue in November 21 on the summit ridge of Aoraki - Mount Cook. The hikers carried a personal locator beacon in the backpack so they were easily found. It may saved their lives. 

 

Quick Facts About Tasman Glacier

Ice chunk in Mount Cook National Park
  • It’s the largest glacier in New Zealand – twice the size of Franz Josef Glacier
  • Starting on an elevation of 3000 m
  • Glacier length roughly 14.500 years ago 85 km
  • 1990 = 26 km
  • 2011 = 24 km
  • Length nowadays roughly 23 km
  • The glacier is shrinking fast; estimated length by 2027 only 20 km
  • Tasman Glacier is monitored since the early 1970s, estimated retreat unbelievable more than 7 km
  • Chunks of ice which are calving off are always getting bigger. In February 2019 occurred one of the biggest events
  • Global warming is real!!
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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I love adventurous trips and my husband…