Mt Cook National Park is located pretty much in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island, we have been lucky to finally get the chance to visit this beautiful region. This is our 24-hour guide to Mt Cook, where we walked the Hooker Valley Track as well as having enough time to visit all the other must-see scenic sights in this small village which is only an hour’s drive from Tekapo. In this guide, we cover:
The condition of the road leading to MT Cook;
- Where to stay;
- What to bring;
- What walks and hikes are worth doing:
- How to see the peak of Mount Cook, without having to walk the whole Hooker Valley Track!
Let’s start with the logistics, how to get there, the accommodation options available to you and what to bring with you.
How to reach Mount Cook:
Mount Cook is an hour from Tekapo and just 20 minutes from Twizel therefore you will require a hire car with a starting point of either Queenstown or Christchurch. With just one road in and one road out it can seem like a daunting idea to travel all the way up just for one highlight, the peak of Mt Cook. We thought the same but we were presently surprised by how much we enjoyed our stay up here, it’s very small but with plenty to do which I will jump more into later in the post.
For some reason (and I can’t really recall why) we were under the impression that the road was hilly, windy and perhaps more like climbing a mountain, but it really wasn’t the case! The road was smooth, slightly windy but essentially it hugged to Lake Pukaki (which is so incredibly blue!) quite steadily and before we knew it we were at the village entrance, I don’t think there was a steep hill in sight – our motorhome was grateful of this!
The views were just incredible. The drive is known to be one of the most scenic in NZ and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed the drive and with only three one lane bridges to contend with it was a breeze!
Accommodation options in Mt Cook:
There are a few options to consider here when planning your trip and it all comes down to your budget. I will mention a few of our favourites that we strongly recommend in order of budget.
Mt Cook Campground: This is what we opted for but only because we were traveling with our Motorhome. Its run by the DOC so the price was the standard $15 per adult per night, fairly steep but compared to others in the region it is fairly reasonable.
It also has the added bonus on being right on the door step of the start of the Hooker Valley Track as well as other heaps of walks which was great for us, it has a toilet block if required and even a fairly large shed for shelter (we noticed the tent stayers were choosing to spend time in their because it was raining cats and dogs, and nobody likes sitting in wet cold tent!) which we found out later is also for the general public as well.
There is a mixture of flat gravel sections of all sizes as well as grassy patches ideal for a tent. One thing we did notice is that upon approach you have to cross a small ford and its quite steep, our Motorhome is quite low to the ground so we scratched our tow bar coming in and out which was a little frustrating!
The scenery is stunning, there are literally waterfalls all around you, at night the sky is so clear and it was the most peaceful night’s sleep we had all year – we literally couldn’t hear anything!
If you are not camping we suggest:
Mt Cook Lodge: This is a good quality 3-star motel option for the more budget-conscious traveller. With a good mix of motel rooms, shared rooms & lodge rooms there really is something for everyone here.
Hermitage Hotel: If you want to treat yourself we certainly recommend the Hermitage Hotel but make sure it is an Mt Cook view room or better yet one of their premium room’s it’s bloody great!
Top Tip: In regards to what to bring with you, we found it incredibly cold up there, the wind was pretty relentless so bring your winter gear it was technically summer for us (we visited in November) but we found ourselves in winter coats and thermals! Also make sure you stock up before you arrive, as there really is not much in the village, Twizel is the closest town with the largest supermarket.
There are a few excursions in the village that will try and make you dig deep into your pockets. If you visit the visitors centre (which is also an information centre and so worth the visit) you will see heaps of on offer.
Our top picks are:
Getting up high in a helicopter really is a good way to see a whole lot more, but it is very weather permitting excursion, so if you go for this option go as early in the morning as you possibly you can as the winds are a lot calmer in the morning and the weather is more friendly!
Our tips for hiking the Hooker Valley Track:
Advertised as a 3-hour return (but its more like 2.5 hours if you didn’t stop) , this is by far the best walk in the Mt Cook National Park. Our top tip is to go as early as possible to beat the crowds. We left just before 6.30 am and reached the final viewpoint of the peak by 8.00 am (just in time for breakfast with a view!) and on the way there we passed 2-4 groups of people. It felt like we had the path to ourselves. We were also only sharing the final viewpoint with 3 other people.
But as soon as we turned around to head back we were met with hoards of people and by 9 am at the start of the track we were met with coach loads of what looked like 40-50 people, you don’t want to be walking with them in the same direction I assure you!
Top Tip: If you can’t walk the whole of the track the view of Mt Cook peak appears after the 2nd swing bridge where there is look out point and a bench, please please please make the effort to do this, it is about 45 minutes into the track (so a quarter of the way) and it is so worth it and then you can say you have seen it!
Its also important to note that the terrain is not difficult and not hilly, the terrain is not difficult, the swing bridges (there is 3 of them) are actually quite sturdy , the most frustrating thing was the number of people on the track during the return journey, a lot of them had no consideration of others around them and would take photos at the most inconvenient spots!
Oh and there is a long drop toilet about half way!
The best hikes in Mt Cook:
A few other great hikes in the region in our opinion is the Tasman Lake Track (again very popular so go early or late in the day) & the Kea Point Track an easy 2-hour return walk which gives you great views of Mount Sefton & the Mueller Glacier lake. You can easily do these two walks during your 24 hours in Mt Cook National Park!
Have you been to Mt Cook National Park? Was it worth the drive for you? Let us know in the comments below!