Mount Cook

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park

Why hike the Hooker Valley Track?

The relatively easy Hooker Valley Track opens up to some great views of Mount Cook (also known as Aoraki in Maori), New Zealand’s tallest mountain. There are also other mountains to catch your attention, as well as three bouncy suspension bridges and the possibility of seeing kea (native New Zealand parrots) in the car park before or after the hike.

Starting the hike

We started the Hooker Valley Track at 5.45 pm and were worried that Mount Cook would be covered in shadows by the time we made it to the end. Near the start of the track you’ll see a small hill with a memorial at the top. You can see about half of Mount Cook from up there — it’s worth seeing if you have the time but not if you’re in a rush like we were.

We continued to walk at a brisk pace but still appreciated the scenery — Mount Sefton in particular is an awesome sight, especially when walking across the second suspension bridge.

Starting the Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park, New ZealandA suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track, Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

Seeing Mount Cook

A bit more power walking ensued until we finally got an unobstructed view of Mount Cook bathed in the evening sun. It was a special moment. I’m from New Zealand but couldn’t actually recall seeing Mount Cook up close (I’m sure I did as a kid though). The rest of the valley was quite dark at this point and it really made Mount Cook stand out, like an actor on stage under the spotlight.

Mount Cook seen from the Hooker Valley Track, New ZealandA close up of Mount Cook taken while hiking the Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

The final viewpoint

We powered on towards the last suspension bridge and knew we were close to the end of the track. We passed dozens of people returning back to the car park but it felt like we were the only ones heading forward.

We turned around the last bend and were greeted by a beaming Mount Cook. You can also see the Hooker Glacier and a small glacial lake featuring icebergs floating in the milky water. The lack of crowds (there was one other person there) and the golden hour glow of the mountain made for a perfect Mount Cook moment. We waited around for about 45 minutes, in awe of where we were, and were joined by a few more hikers and photographers who looked equally as content.

The final viewpoint of the Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

The walk back

We decided against staying to see the sunset colours that would potentially light up the sky, as we only had our phone torches and didn’t fancy hiking back in the dark. It was a good decision — about half an hour after we left the clouds rolled in and covered the mountain. The walk back was slightly easier and it only took us about an hour to get back to the car park.

The Hooker Valley Track FAQs

  • How long does it take? All up it took us around three hours, but we stayed at the last viewpoint for about 45 minutes. The sign says the hike takes three hours (not including time admiring Mount Cook at the end) so we did it pretty quickly.
  • Is it easy? Yes! There aren’t many steep uphill / downhill sections and there are no altitude issues to take into account. You still probably need a moderate level of fitness but we saw a few kids out there. If you want to do an even easier hike in the area you could opt for the Kea Point Track.
  • Where can you stay? There’s the Hermitage, which definitely isn’t in everyone’s budget. A cheaper option is the White Horse Hill Campground, at the end of the Hooker Valley road (where you start the hike). It’s the ideal place to stay if you have a van / campervan / car with a bed in it / tent. We have a car with a bed in the back and it was our first time sleeping in it — it was great to go to sleep surrounded by mountains (and you might get to see some kea in the car park!). It costs $13 per person (less for kids). You can also stay in nearby towns like Twizel or Tekapo, or opt for some freedom camping. On the second night of our trip we stayed at Lake Poaka — it’s free and you don’t have to be self-contained, meaning you can sleep there in a car or a tent.

READ MORE: Freedom Camping Near Mount Cook: Lake Poaka

A kea in the Hooker Valley Track parking lot

Other hikes in Mt Cook National Park (articles coming soon)

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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