Mount Cook – The Alpines of the South
Our next stop after Queenstown was Mount Cook. The drive without stops can be a bit under 4 hours.
Why Travel to Mount Cook?
New Zealand has over 3,000 glaciers, with three of the most significant glaciers all easily accessible from Mount Cook. Mount Cook has the most picture-perfect terrains and offers great hiking, the ability to walk on glaciers, and take helicopter flights over jaw-dropping mountain ranges surrounded by turquoise lakes.
How Long to Stay in Mount Cook?
We highly recommend two days minimum. One day to enjoy the hikes and another day to take a scenic helicopter ride. Extra days can be very enjoyable to add other hike options, additional scenic rides, or cushion your trip in case there are weather issues.
Top Things to Do in Mount Cook, New Zealand
1) Enjoy a Drive from Queenstown
Roaring Meg Lookout (Lindis Pass/Omarama)
A stunning stretch of highway through valleys of golden hills are all along the route from Queenstown to Mount Cook.
A picturesque turquoise lake with views of glacier covered mountains, including New Zealand’s tallest – Mount Cook, in the background.
The gorgeous Lake Tekapo sits on the outskirts of Mount Cook, enjoy the drive as you travel to and from the town.
2) Mount Cook
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand with a peak higher than 3,700 meters (12,139 ft). This mountain will be the center of all your attractions, whether you are hiking or taking a plane ride, you’ll be able to soak in a great view.
Interesting fact: The famous Sir Edmund Hillary (first man to summit Mount Everest) summited Mt. Cook before his quest of Mt. Everest.
3) Take a Helicopter Ride (or a couple)
We did two helicopter tours with The Helicopter Line. The helicopter experiences were a couple of the most extraordinary adventures we took – flying over ice rivers, forests, and through incredible mountains and valleys.
Helicopter Adventure # 1: Tasman Glacier Heli-Hike
Our first trip was the Tasman Glacier Heli-Hike. After a quick scenic helicopter ride we were dropped off on the Tasman Glacier (the longest glacier in New Zealand) for an epic two hour hiking adventure.
Equipped with glacier boots and crampons we explored the ice formations atop the glacier.
While hiking, our guide chiseled out steps with an axe into an ice-cavern and allowed us to repel into the cavern using a rope.
Sitting inside a glacial cavity was pretty COOL.
HELICOPTER ADVENTURE # 2: Apline explorer
Our second helicopter adventure was the Alpine Explorer, which we were lucky enough to be able to get for free (awesome, as these trips are expensive!). This ride took us past the Hochstetter Icefall, the Upper Tasman Glacier, before an alpine landing with incredible views.
After enjoying the jaw-dropping views for a short while, we flew home through the Burnett Mountains with views of the Mackenzie Basin.
4) Hikes & Stop-offs
Hooker Valley Hike
Three hour return
Enjoy a five-kilometer (just over three-miles) casual walk through Aoraki Mount Cook’s National Park.
Mount Cook 101: This hike is best experienced at sunrise.
We thoroughly enjoyed this hike which included great stops such as the Lake Muller Lookout and Hooker Lake (both shown below).
We finally reached this incredible viewpoint – the idyllic Hooker Lake, and regal Mt. Cook rising in the background. We sat and took it all in.
Red Tarns HIKE
Two hour return
This steep hike is primarily on man-made steps through a rocky terrain that leads to the Red Tarns. A tarn is a mountain lake, pond or pool, formed by glacial erosion.
You can see why they call them the red tarns in the photo below.
Where to Stay in Mount Cook, New Zealand
Glentanner Park Centre
Mount Cook’s only fully equipped campground that is nice for various groups, from couples, to families, to backpackers (yay). We prepared our meals here in the kitchen as there are not many options around for food.
Mount Cook 101: At night, stargazing is some of the best you will ever see.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Mueller Hut – One of the most remarkable day hikes or overnight trek in the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. A steep hike of 1,000 meters (over half a mile). You can hike and return in the same day (estimated at eight-ten hours) or book a stay in the Mueller hut at the top. Check out this link for some excellent background on this option: Mueller Hut
- Franz Josef Glacier: The Franz Josef Glacier is not something you’d want to drive to (many hour drive) while in Mt. Cook, but you can take a scenic helicopter ride to the western glacier from Mt. Cook.
- Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Hike – Enjoy a quick hour long hike around the Tasman Lake. For a shorter 40 minute hike, or a swim (in the summer season), hike the Blue Lakes Track.
Questions For You
- Where was your favorite helicopter ride?
- Have you ever walked on glaciers?
- What is the best stargazing spot you have been to?