No visit to New Zealand’s South Island would be complete without visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, home to 19 peaks over 3000m including New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook (Aoraki being the mountain’s historic Māori name). Nestled in the Hooker Valley at the foot of the Sealy Range, Aoraki/Mount Cook Village is a good base from which to explore the area’s many scenic walks. Of those walks, the 10 km (6 miles return) Hooker Valley Track is by far the most popular.

This well-defined, family-friendly track is a real treat for the senses, complete with views of two glacier lakes (with a good chance of mini icebergs), beautiful alpine flowers in the summer months (December to February), three suspension bridges (all solidly built) and of course, incredible mountain views, with Aoraki/Mount Cook taking centre stage. In fact, the end of the Hooker Valley Track is the closest you can get to Aoraki/Mount Cook without a challenging climb or a helicopter. If you’re lucky you may even get to hear some ‘mountain thunder’ (this caught us by surprise) as avalanches occasionally roll down the sheer slopes of Mt Sefton high above the Mueller Glacier.

It’s no surprise then that the Hooker Valley Track is high on New Zealand visitor to-do lists and as much as that’s a good thing, one of the consequences is that this track gets really busy. So if you’re hoping to experience the untouched beauty of New Zealand in solitude, this track is probably not for you. That said, if like us, you’re prepared to start your walk early, you won’t be disappointed. Just bear in mind that because of the surrounding mountains, the sun doesn’t reach the valley floor until later in the day so early mornings can be quite crisp. 😉

Getting There

Twizel on Highway 8 is the nearest town to Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. From Twizel it’s a 45-minute drive (65 km / 40 miles) to Mount Cook along Highway 80 which follows the western shore of Lake Pukaki. That said, allow more time for this journey as we guarantee you that you will stop several times along the way to marvel at the incredible blue waters of the lake and distant views of Mount Cook. Keep an eye out for Peter’s Lookout on the right about 20 km from Twizel. And once you pass Glentanner and head further into the valley, the view just keeps getting better, giving you a good taste of what’s to come.

Welcome to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

It’s worth mentioning that, as at the time of writing, there are no grocery stores in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village. Also, while there is a self-service petrol station in the village, you are probably better off stocking up on fuel and provisions in Twizel.

If you’re travelling to Mount Cook from Christchurch, Twizel is close to 4 hours drive from Christchurch (285 km / 177 miles). From Wanaka, it’s approximately 2 hours to Twizel (144 km / 89 miles) and from Queenstown, it’s closer to 3 hours drive (200 km / 124 miles). Don’t forget you’ll need another 45 minutes to get from Twizel to Mount Cook Village. Also bear in mind that from both Queenstown and Wanaka you’ll drive through Lindis Pass. While this is a scenic stretch of road, it can become impassable in the winter months (June to August). It’s always worth keeping an eye on road snowfall warnings and road conditions when travelling over this period.

DOC Visitor Centre & White Horse Hill Campground

The official start of the Hooker Valley Track is from the White Horse Hill campground and carpark. Alternatively you can start at the DOC visitor centre in the village which will add another 3.5 km and approximately 1 hour to your walk. There’s nothing particularly interesting about this connecting walk but even if you do choose to start at White Horse Hill we would definitely recommend visiting the DOC visitor centre at least once. It’s a stunning building inside, almost an artwork in itself, with lots of interesting information and displays and there’s no entrance fee. Our personal preference would be to park at White Horse Hill, especially when it’s busier in the village as there’s more parking available. And in case you are wondering, there are toilet facilities at both the campground and the visitor centre and you’ll most probably prefer them to the self-composting toilet along the track itself.

Mueller Glacier Lake

Mueller Glacier Lake Lookout

From the White Horse Hill carpark, the track climbs gradually towards the Mueller Glacier Lake lookout. Along the way, you’ll pass Freda’s Rock as well as a branch off to the Alpine Memorial, erected as a tribute to the over 200 climbers that have lost their lives on the surrounding peaks. It’s a scenic although somewhat sobering spot.

As for Freda, the signposted rock marks the spot where this pioneering mountaineer posed for a photo following her ascent of Mount Cook in 1910. She was the first woman to reach the summit and what’s more, she did it in a skirt! You can read more about Freda Du Faur over here.

The Mueller Glacier Lake lookout offers a spectacular view of the glacier lake with Mount Sefton as a backdrop. Unfortunately, the glacier itself is a distant view, having receded significantly over the past decades despite being fed by the numerous hanging glaciers that surround it. The steep, stratified moraine ridges on either side of the valley give a real sense of the size of this glacier in years gone by.

Hooker Valley Bridge

From the Mueller Glacier Lake lookout, the track drops relatively quickly down to the Hooker River and the first of the walk’s three suspension bridges. Don’t worry, this is about as steep as the track gets. Crossing over the river for the first time you’ll notice the bluish grey colour of the water. This is due to ‘rock flour’ suspended in the water, basically a fine dust that’s created as the glacier grinds its way through the valley.

From the first bridge, the track undulates gradually up the valley, parallel to the moraine ridge before reaching the Hooker River for the second time and the second suspension bridge.

Moraine Diversions

After crossing the second suspension bridge the track follows the western bank of the Hooker River, making its way up the valley. However, being the inquisitive type we noticed, just after the bridge, a path heading left up onto the moraine ridge. While not part of the official Hooker Valley Track, this well-worn path does allow you to walk a little way along the moraine for better views of Mueller Glacier. But don’t be tempted to go too far. The moraine is unstable and we found this out when the path suddenly ended at a massive slip.

Having explored the moraine, we continued along the main track as it heads north into the valley which gradually opens up for an unobscured view of Aoraki/Mount Cook. From this point, your camera will be clicking non-stop if it wasn’t already.

Hooker Valley Track
Mueller Glacier moraine
Hooker Valley Bridge

Stocking Stream Shelter

At around the 3.5 km (2.2 miles) mark the track reaches a small wooden bridge that crosses a stream to what’s called the Stocking Stream Shelter. Unfortunately, it’s no longer a shelter, or at least wasn’t when we last visited. All that remains now is the foundation and some low rock walls. There are however toilets situated nearby.

Shortly after Stocking Stream, the track turns from gravel into a well-constructed boardwalk where, once again, your camera will be working overtime to capture the iconic Mount Cook boardwalk photo that will have all your friends and family green with envy. That’s assuming, of course, it’s not too late in the day in which case the boardwalk starts to look a bit like a travelator in a busy airport.

The iconic Hooker Valley boardwalk

The Final Approach

Shortly after the boardwalk, you’ll reach the third and final suspension bridge. Previously, the Hooker Valley Track continued straight up the valley from here, ending on the western shore of the lake. Since this new bridge was built, the track now heads east which ultimately offers better views of Mount Cook and the glacier itself.

Hooker Valley Bridge

From the third bridge, there’s only another kilometre to go and the track climbs gradually to the top of the moraine ridge before reaching a lookout point with picnic tables. And so you’ve arrived, the lake stretches out below and Mount Cook towers above you but where is the glacier you might ask? Well, if you’re expecting to see a pure white glacier snaking off up the valley you will be disappointed, especially if you’ve just come from visiting Fox or Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately, rock from the constantly crumbling moraine walls covers the top of the glacier making it a little less dramatic but hey, that’s just geology in action in an ever changing environment. It still beats sitting at home on the couch in front of the TV. 😉

Hooker Glacier Lake

Top Tips:

  • How much time should you allow for this walk? At a leisurely pace and allowing lots of time for photos expect to spend 3 to 4 hours if starting from the White Horse Hill carpark. You’ll need to add another hour if you start from the DOC visitor centre in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.
  • The total walking distance of this track (return) is 10 km (6.2 miles) and the total elevation gain is 124m (407 feet). For more details have a look at our Hooker Valley Track topographic route map and elevation profile page.
  • This track is definitely family-friendly but you most probably won’t go beyond the Mueller Glacier lookout with a baby-buggy or stroller.
  • There are toilets at both White Horse Hill and the DOC visitor centre as well as a self-composting toilet at the 3.5 km point along the track.
  • There is no water available along the track so make sure you take plenty with you, particularly in Summer.
  • There is no shade along the track and even in the cooler months you can easily get sunburnt so sunscreen and hats are a must.
  • Being so close to the mountains means that weather conditions can change quickly so always be prepared with some extra layers.
  • While this track can be walked all year round, snow and ice conditions can be treacherous if you’re not properly equipped. It’s always worth checking track conditions at the visitor centre before you head out.
  • Start you walk early to avoid the crowds.

Hooker Valley Track Weather

Prior to doing this walk we’d spent three days in the area, waiting for the weather to clear. The forecast on the day we walked was for some morning cloud which was scheduled to lift later in the day, which it did. We always keep an eye on the weather a few days out from our activities and rely on a number of sources of information. In the case of Aoraki/Mount Cook weather conditions check the following:

  • The New Zealand Metservice report for Mount Cook.
  • For a general weather outlook of the wider area, Metservice’s National Park forecasts are handy. In the case of the Hooker Valley, that falls within the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park forecast area.
  • While Metservice does provide rain forecast maps, these cover the entire country. We prefer Metvuw’s 3 day and 5 day wind, rain and pressure maps which are specific to each island so provide a little more detail.

As with all things weather related, the usual caveats and common sense should apply as no forecast is 100% accurate.

Have you walked the Hooker Valley Track? Share your experience with us.

The final approach to Hooker Glacier Lake