The 8 Best Hikes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

person wearing yellow jacket and black backpack walks along a stony path with mountains and clouds around


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Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park lies within the Southern Alps mountain range of New Zealand's South Island. The park contains New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook (12,217 feet), as well as 18 other peaks standing over 9,800 feet tall.

But it's not just about the mountaineering in this park. Around 40 percent of the area is covered in glaciers, and there are a number of hikes that will take you into this stunning landscape. Many of these are classified as "easy" as they are short or just take a few hours, making this national park an ideal destination to visit with kids.

Most visitors to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park stay in or around Mount Cook Village or Twizel; many of the following hikes start from the village, or a short drive beyond it. Here are the eight best hikes in this mountainous national park.

01 of 08

Kea Point Track

mountain landscape with chain footbridge in foreground and glacier in mid-ground

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This easy track takes one hour round trip if you start from the White Horse Hill Campground (the main Department of Conservation-run campground in the area), or two hours from the Visitor Centre in Mount Cook Village. The path passes through grasslands leading to the Mueller Glacier moraine wall, where there's a viewing deck. From there, you can see great views of Mount Sefton, the Footstool, the Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, and Aoraki/Mount Cook itself.

02 of 08

Red Tarns Track

pond containing orange colored weed with mountains and bush in background

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Named because of the reddish-orange pond weed that colors the tarns (small mountain lakes) along the way, this 1.5-mile, out-and-back hike is another good option for families, travelers short on time, or those who don't want to walk too far. There is a stretch of steep uphill walking that can be tiring, but at the top are sweeping views of the glacial valley, Mount Cook Village, and the mighty mountain. The tarns are prettier than they sound, and the spot at the top of the climb is a great place to catch the sunset. Just don't linger too long, as you'll want to make it back to your vehicle before dark.

03 of 08

Sealy Tarns Track

snowy mountain landscape with stone staircase beside a cliff speckled with snow

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While still classified as an easy hike, the Sealy Tarns Track is significantly more challenging than the Kea Point or Red Tarns Tracks because of the 2,200 steps that lead up to the freshwater Sealy Tarns. But if you have the energy, this 3.2-mile, out-and-back hike rewards with fantastic views of the Hooker Valley and Aoraki/Mount Cook. In the summer, you'll pass through meadows of wildflowers on your way up. The stairs aren't nicknamed "the stairway to heaven" for nothing.

04 of 08

Hooker Valley Track

Wooden walkway through Hooker Valley trail

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Address
Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook National Park 7999, New Zealand

The Hooker Valley Track is sometimes called the best short hike in New Zealand—and while it does have a lot of competition, that's a good indication of just how special this hike is. The easy track is three hours round trip, or four hours if you're starting from Mount Cook Village. The trail runs through the Hooker Valley, past meadows of wildflowers, and over a couple of swing bridges. It ends at the Hooker Glacier Lake, with views of Aoraki/Mount Cook. The elevation gain on this hike is minimal, so it may be a good one to do after the Sealy Tarns Track. Many people prefer to set out for this one early in the day (around dawn) to enjoy the soft morning light and the sunrise over the mountains.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Mueller Hut Route

red hut in mid-ground with rocks covered in snow and mountains and clouds

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Good for experienced hikers, this is an advanced track that the DOC describes as strenuous and requiring care—and that's in the summer. In winter, you'd require expert snow and ice skills. The 5.8-mile, out-and-back trail is steep and unmarked in places, and gains about 3,280 feet in elevation. With the Sealy Tarns en route, the trail to the top takes about three to five hours; hikers often stay overnight in the Mueller Hut, a 28-bed serviced hut that must be booked in advance during the peak season (November to April). Despite the difficulty in getting there, the views from the hut can best be described as sweeping.

06 of 08

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Track

blue glacial lake with floating ice and surrounding mountains

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This 40-minute, round-trip hike leads to the Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand (16 miles), and the Blue Lakes. As well as the predictably excellent views of the mountains at the end of the Tasman Valley, highlights of this track include seeing icebergs in the glacial lake, and the possibility of swimming in the summer (a slight detour). While the walk is classified as easy, there are some steps leading up about 330 feet.

07 of 08

Tasman Lake Track

pale blue glacier lake surrounded by snowy mountains with mist in mid-ground

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To see sobering evidence of climate change in action, hike the 2.2-mile, out-and-back Tasman Lake Track. This lake only began forming in the mid-1970s, but it's now large enough for kayaking and boating. You can see icebergs in the lake in summer, but the lake freezes over in winter. From here, it's clear how far the Tasman Glacier has retreated in just a few decades. The trail up to the lake diverges from the Blue Lakes Track past the Blue Lakes Shelter, leading to a viewpoint across the Tasman Glacier terminal lake.

08 of 08

Ball Hut Route

Ball Hut

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The Ball Hut Route is another longer hiking option within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, this time in the Tasman Valley. Although not as challenging as the Mueller Hut Route, this 12.1-mile, out-and-back hike starts off easily but becomes more difficult. Some sections are along unstable ground and should be negotiated with care, making this hike better suited for experienced mountain trekkers. There's also high avalanche risk across the track in the winter months (between June and November). As it takes three to four hours to hike to Ball Hut, some trekkers stay overnight there. With only three bunks, it's a small one, and it cannot be booked in advance. If you need to stay overnight, bring a tent in case you don't get a bunk.

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  1. Department of Conservation. "Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park." Retrieved on September 16, 2021.

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The 8 Best Hikes in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park