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Hiking the Red Tarns Track, Mount Cook National Park

Hiking the Red Tarns Track, Mount Cook National Park

You’ve probably heard of the Hooker Valley Track, by far the most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park. While that hike deserves all the praise it gets, there’s heaps more to explore in the land of New Zealand’s tallest mountains. The Red Tarns Track, a steep two-hour hike (return) from the valley floor, is far more impressive than its popularity suggests. It gives you a more elevated view of the area and looks magical after some snowfall. Keep reading for more information on the Red Tarns Track!

Hiking the Red Tarns Track

The Red Tarns Track starts off sedately enough (unless you’re combining it with the Governors Bush Track like we did). You’ll soon come to a bridge crossing, and after that the climb begins. It’s basically straight uphill for an hour or so and was a lot harder than we were expecting, although that probably says more about our fitness than the difficulty of the incline.

We stopped for a snack in a tiny cave and then gathered ourselves for the final push. The views from the entire track are amazing and they keep getting better. There isn’t much shade so try and protect yourself from the sun.

The Red Tarns

You’ll eventually come to a seat and an information panel, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the end of the track. You’ll need to continue for a few minutes to see the Red Tarns (a tarn is a small alpine lake). The whole place was covered in snow when we were there (which was lucky considering it was mid-October). It’s one of the coolest places we’ve seen in New Zealand and you can see some of the country’s tallest mountains, including Mount Cook, from up there. As it only takes two hours to complete you could do it on the same day as the Hooker Valley Track (which takes around three hours). Hiking two of the best short hikes in New Zealand wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a day.

Getting to the Red Tarns Track

The Red Tarns Track is located in Mount Cook Village. The road from Twizel is incredibly scenic and is worth doing for the drive alone. From the car park in Mount Cook Village you can head straight to the Red Tarns Track or do the Governors Bush Track first. If you combine the two it’ll take around three hours, but if you’re in a rush (and don’t stop as much as we do) you could do it faster.

Other Hikes in Mount Cook National Park

Are you planning a trip to Mount Cook National Park? Will you hike the Red Tarns Track? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.