Aoraki / Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Getting a glimpse of this mighty mountain is one of the best things to do on the South Island. Top things to do at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park include hiking to viewpoints of Mount Cook and iceberg filled alpine lakes, taking a flightseeing tour, viewing the night sky, and dining with a view.
Whether you want to walk a few easy trails for views of Mount Cook or do something more extreme, such as heli-hiking or mountaineering, there are plenty of exciting adventures to choose from.
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Interesting Facts about Aoraki / Mount Cook
At 3,724 meters (12,218 feet), Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It is located in the Southern Alps on the South Island.
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 40% of this park is covered with glaciers. Nineteen of New Zealand’s 20 peaks that top 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) are located in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
Ngāi Tahu, a Māori tribe on the South Island of New Zealand, consider Aoraki a sacred mountain. They called the mountain Te Waka o Aoraki (Aoraki’s canoe). The English name for the mountain, Mount Cook, was given to honor Captain James Cook, who circumnavigated New Zealand in 1770. In 1998, the name of the mountain was officially changed to Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Only one road leads into Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. State Highway 80 runs along beautiful Lake Pukaki, ending at Aoraki / Mount Cook Village, which is the gateway town for the hiking, flightseeing, and mountaineering expeditions into the mountains.
You can also access Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park on flightseeing tours from Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, two small towns on the west side of the South Island.
In 1948, Sir Edmund Hillary summited Mount Cook, but he wasn’t the first one to stand on top of New Zealand’s tallest peak. In 1894, Tom Fyfe, John Michael Clarke, and George Graham made it to the summit. There were several other successful expeditions before Sir Edmund Hillary attempted his climb.
Following his 1948 summit of Mount Cook, Sir Edmund Hillary would go on to climb Mount Everest in 1953 and reach the South Pole in Antarctica in 1958.
Best Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook
In no particular order, here are the best things to do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. At the end of this list, you can see all of them on a map.
1. Scenic Drive along Lake Pukaki
Most likely, your first view of Aoraki / Mount Cook will be on the drive on State Highway 80, along Lake Pukaki.
This is one of the South Island’s most scenic drives. Capturing a photo of Lake Pukaki with the backdrop of Aoraki / Mount Cook and the Mount Cook Range is one of the best things to do on the South Island of New Zealand.
State Highway 80 (also called Mount Cook Road) is about 56 kilometers long. For most of this distance, it travels along the west side of Lake Pukaki.
On this drive are numerous viewpoints of Aoraki / Mount Cook. Our favorite is called the Lake Pukaki Viewpoint on Google Maps (it’s also labeled on our map below) but you can also get a nice view from the Lake Pukaki Lookout and Aoraki / Mount Cook Scenic Lookout, also on Mount Cook Road.
2. Hike the Hooker Valley Track
If you do one hike in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, this is the one we recommend.
On this trail, you will hike past views of snowcapped mountain peaks and glaciers, across three swing bridges, and by two glacial lakes (Mueller Lake and Hooker Lake). The track ends at Hooker Lake with Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak, dominating the background. You get amazing New Zealand views throughout the entire track.
These incredible mountainous views are fairly easy to obtain. The 11 km/7 mile trail is well-maintained, easy to follow, and consists of a combination of gravel paths and boardwalks. It is more of a walk than a hike, making it great for people of all ages and fitness levels. The entire walk takes between 3 to 4 hours roundtrip, including stops for photos.
Learn more in our Guide to the Hooker Valley Track.
Hooker Valley Track | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Hooker Lake | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
3. Take a Flightseeing Tour
For spectacular views of Aoraki / Mount Cook, the Tasman Glacier, and the Southern Alps, take a flightseeing tour. Helicopter tours can be expensive, but the views you get of the glaciers, Mount Tasman, and Mount Cook are priceless and very well could be one of the highlights of your trip to New Zealand.
Flightseeing tours are offered from Mount Cook Village, as well as from Wanaka and Queenstown. Sitting on the west side of the Mount Cook Range is Glacier Country and the towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Flightseeing tours from Glacier Country also include views of Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, with the option to land on a glacier and go hiking.
This 40-minute helicopter flight leaves from Mount Cook Village and flies the entire length of the Tasman Glacier.
For an even more unique experience, land on the Tasman Glacier on a ski plane, walk on the glacier, and then board a helicopter for the remainder of the flight.
This 25-minute flight is relatively budget friendly and includes an alpine landing.
If you have plans to visit Franz Josef and Fox Glacier (Glacier Country), we took this helicopter flight, a 45-minute flight with views of three glaciers and includes a snow landing.
Flightseeing tour of the Southern Alps | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
4. Go Heli Hiking
Heli-hiking adds another layer of adventure to a helicopter flight.
On a heli-hiking tour, you are flown into the mountains and are led on a multi-hour hiking tour with an experienced guide.
We did not go glacier hiking in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park but have done it in multiple places around the world and it is a lot of fun. It’s also a great activity if you are traveling with older kids or teenagers (most kids 10 and older can go heli-hiking but this depends on the company).
On this tour from Mount Cook, fly to the Tasman Glacier and take a 2-hour guided glacier hike on the Tasman Glacier.
5. Go Heli Skiing
Add even more adventure to your visit and go heli-skiing. This experience is offered from early July through late September when the mountains are snow covered.
Take a helicopter flight into the mountains and go skiing with a guide. Mount Cook Heliski offers professionally guided tours with flights operated by The Helicopter Line. Learn more here.
6. Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
For a history lesson about Mount Cook, Sir Edmund Hillary, and the Hermitage Hotel, visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre. This small museum is located inside of the Hermitage Hotel. It’s a bit basic but worthwhile for those with an interest in Sir Edmund Hillary and the history of this area. Get hours and pricing here.
Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
7. Hike the Tasman Glacier View Track
In Tasman Valley, there is a network of trails that lead to views of Tasman Lake, Tasman Glacier, and the Blue Lakes.
The view from the Tasman Glacier View Track
Tasman Viewpoint | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Of these trails, the Tasman Glacier View Track is the one we recommend the most. This trail takes you up to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking Tasman Lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop. From the viewpoint you can also see the top of Mount Cook off to the left side and the retreating Tasman Glacier in the distance.
This hike is 1.15 km/0.7 miles round trip, easy, and takes about 30 minutes. It’s a great hike for all ages and is an easy way to get to another stunning viewpoint in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
Learn more in our Guide to the Tasman Valley Tracks.
8. See the Blue Lakes
The Blue Lakes are located in Tasman Valley. To get here, it is a short detour off of the Tasman Glacier View Track, so these two experiences can easily be done together.
Blue Lakes | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
During the summer months, swimming is permitted in the Blue Lakes. When weather conditions are good, it is possible to capture a reflection of the tip of Mount Cook in the Blue Lakes.
The hike to the Blue Lakes adds on just a few minutes to the Tasman Glacier View Track.
9. Boat or Kayak Tour of Tasman Lake
Tasman Lake | Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
10. Hike to Sealy Tarns
This 5 km/3.1 mile hike takes you to a breathtaking view of Sealy Tarns, an alpine lake.
Sealy Tarns | Maridav/shutterstock.com
The trail starts near the White Horse Hill Campground and the parking lot for the Hooker Valley Track and climbs 600 meters into the mountains. On this hike, you’ll climb 2,200 steps, so it is rated as a strenuous hike.
Your reward are fantastic views of Hooker Valley from the trail, as well as views of Sealy Tarns.
This trail is the first half of the hike to Mueller Hut, mentioned next.
11. Hike to Mueller Hut
For one of the best views of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, without getting into a helicopter or airplane, hike to Mueller Hut.
This hike starts with the Sealy Tarns Track and then continues higher into the mountains. The Mueller Hut Route is 10.4 km/6.5 miles out-and-back with 1,000 meters of elevation gain. It is rated as challenging and takes 6 to 8 hours.
From Mueller Hut, you get panoramic views of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. It’s best done during the summer months when the trail is free of snow. During the winter months, mountaineering experience is necessary and you will need specialized gear.
The view from the Mueller Hut Route | Michal Zborovjan/shutterstock.com
You can spend the night in Mueller Hut (advance reservations are required). From Mueller Hut, you can rock scramble to the top Mount Ollivier for even better views of the area.
12. The Red Tarns Track
If you want to hike to a viewpoint over Mount Cook Village and Hooker Valley, but don’t want to do something as strenuous or as long as the Sealy Tarns Track or the Mueller Hut Route, the Red Tarns Track is a good option.
This 2-hour hike climbs 300 meters to a viewpoint at Red Tarns. It is a great place to watch the sunset in the summer months.
Red Tarns Track | Robert CHG/shutterstock.com
13. View the Night Sky
The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest reserve in the Southern Hemisphere. This reserve is made up of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin. It includes Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, and Godley Valley.
Big Sky Stargazing offers a stargazing tour that includes your transportation (you are driven to their Star Base, away from the light pollution of Mount Cook Village) and hot chocolate. The tour is weather dependent and if it is cancelled, you get a full refund. Learn more here.
14. Dine with a View at the Hermitage Hotel
The Hermitage Hotel has two restaurants with floor to ceiling windows. During breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you can gaze out at Mount Cook.
The view of Mount Cook from the Alpine Restaurant
At the Alpine Restaurant, have breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Food is served as a buffet. At the Panorama Room, enjoy dinner with the option to add on a wine pairing. Children 14 and under are not permitted in the Panorama Room.
You do not have to be a guest of the Hermitage Hotel to dine here. Learn more and make your reservation on the official website.
15. Climb Aoraki / Mount Cook
For the ultimate adventure, climb Aoraki / Mount Cook. Guided climbing expeditions typically take 6 days. A high level of fitness is required, to climb the 3,700 meters to the peak of the mountain.
Climbing Aoraki / Mount Cook is only recommended for experienced mountaineers. Because this mountain is covered with glaciers, it is a technical climb to the summit. The climbing season runs from October through mid-December.
Learn more on the Adventure Consultants website.
Things to Do in Aoraki / Mount Cook: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Best Time to Visit Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park can be visited all year.
From November through March, the daily high temperature ranges from 17°DC (61°F) to 20°C (70°F). This is the warmest time to visit the park but it is also the rainiest. October through January tend to be the wettest months of the year.
In the winter (June, July, and August) it gets below freezing at night and daytime temperatures are about 7°C (44°F). If you plan to visit Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park during this time, the hiking trails remain open but you will need special gear and mountaineering experience to hike the higher alpine trails such as the Mueller Hut Route and Sealy Tarns.
We have visited Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park twice, in late March and in April. On both visits, we were lucky to have clear skies.
How to Get to Aoraki / Mount Cook
There is only one road to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park: State Highway 80. Here are the driving distances from nearby destinations:
- Queenstown: 265 km, 3 hours
- Wanaka: 205 km, 2.5 hours
- Lake Tekapo: 105 km, 1.25 hours
- Franz Josef/Fox Glacier: 480 km, 8 hours
- Christchurch: 330 km, 4 hours
How Many Days Do You Need at Aoraki / Mount Cook?
At a bare minimum, plan on spending one day in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. This gives you enough time to hike the Hooker Valley Track, dine with a view at the Hermitage Hotel, take a flightseeing tour, and see the sunrise and/or sunset here.
For those who want to do more hiking, plan on spending two to three days in the park. This gives you more time to do the Mueller Hut Route and go heli-hiking. More time also gives you some contingency time, just in case you get rain or cloudy skies during your visit.
Day Trips to Aoraki / Mount Cook
Taking a day trip to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is a popular thing to do, particularly if you have limited time in New Zealand.
It is possible to day trip here from Christchurch, Lake Tekapo, Wanaka, and Queenstown, just be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car or bus.
On this day trip from Queenstown, travel by minibus to Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park and hike the Hooker Valley Track.
This tour from Queenstown travels to the park by minivan. Once here, go heli-hiking on the Tasman Glacier.
From Christchurch, visit Lake Tekapo and Aoraki / Mount Cook on this 12 hour tour.
Where to Stay in Aoraki / Mount Cook
The best place to stay is in Mount Cook Village. This village has several hotels and restaurants, as well as a few campgrounds.
The Hermitage Hotel is the premier place to stay in Mount Cook Village. This historic hotel offers standard and premium rooms, some with views of Aoraki / Mount Cook. We stayed here and agree with many of the reviews, that the hotel is dated, in need of an update, and overpriced for what you get. But it also offers a lot of amenities, such as the onsite restaurants and a great location with views of the mountains.
On our first visit we stayed at the Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge. The best part of this lodge is the common area with floor to ceiling windows with views of Aoraki / Mount Cook. Rooms range from double rooms to family rooms and one bedroom apartments, making this a good choice for families.
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge
If you are traveling on a budget, take a look at the Haka House Mt Cook.
The Aoraki Court Motel also gets good reviews.
Tours of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Go on a helicopter flight, go heli-hiking, or day trip here from Queenstown. Here are some of the best tours of Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit Aoraki / Mount Cook?
Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park can be visited all year. The summer months have the warmest temperatures but rainfall is frequent during this time of the year. Spring and fall have cooler temperatures, less rainfall, and fewer visitors than the summer months. In the winter, expect freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow.
Is Aoraki / Mount Cook worth it?
Aoraki / Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Getting a view of this mountains is one of the best things to do on the South Island, so visiting Aoraki / Mount Cook is worth it. The drive along Lake Pukaki is gorgeous, and once in the park, take your pick from a long list of hiking trails, go flightseeing and/or heli-hiking, and go stargazing.
How much time do you need at Aoraki / Mount Cook?
At a bare minimum, plan on spending one day at Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, either on a day trip or by spending one night at Mount Cook Village. This gives you enough time to go hiking and take a flightseeing tour. With more time, you can hike more trails in the park, go stargazing, and have some contingency time, just in case you have bad weather.
Can you day trip to Aoraki / Mount Cook?
Yes, it is possible to day trip to Aoraki / Mount Cook from Queenstown, Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, and Christchurch. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in your car or a bus (if you do this as a tour), but it’s a good option for those with limited time in New Zealand.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand
SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound, spend a few days in Wanaka, hike the Routeburn Track, drive the Southern Scenic Route, visit the Marlborough Wine Region, spend a day in Christchurch, and visit Franz Josef and Glacier Country. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.
HIKES IN NEW ZEALAND: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is often labeled as the best day hike in the world. The Hooker Valley Track offers awesome views of Mt. Cook, Roy’s Peak and the Rocky Mountain Track are two gorgeous hikes in Wanaka, and Abel Tasman National Park also makes a great spot to go hiking. The Routeburn Track is another fantastic hike and can be done as a big day hike or multi-day trek.
NORTH ISLAND: Top experiences on the North Island include spending a day or two in Auckland, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, visiting Cathedral Cove, touring Hobbiton, cruising the Bay of Islands from Paihia, and seeing glowworms and blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. For the full list, read our article about the Best Things to Do on the North Island.
We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.
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