Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain at 12,218 feet. It sits in Aoraki Mount Cook National park, and its elevation is low by world standards (Mt. Everest is over 29,000 feet.) It is still, though, one of the most imposing and intimidating peaks for climbers in the world.
You really need weeks to see the park well, but if you only have one day, may we make a suggestion. We suggest hiking the Hooker Valley Trail.
We visited Aoraki Mount Cook National Park in the heart of the Southern Alps to get a closer look at Mount Cook. Here there are 18 more peaks over 10,000 feet high.
What Makes Mount Cook So Difficult to Climb
It’s the weather which is usually horrible–that is the weather up there on its peak. Massive amounts of snow fall year round. Its glaciers and snowfields are extensive with frequent avalanches. Its rugged terrain is rocks and ice.
Mount Cook’s vertical rise is about 10,000 feet on either side of its range, a long and tiring approach.
Mt Cook helped Sir Edmund Hillary, New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer, hone his climbing skills in preparation for his conquest of Mount Everest. He tackled Mount Cook in 1949.
Our Personal Experience
We spent two days in New Zealand’s Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Our hotel was on one side of the McKenzie Basin and on every side of the basin the Southern Alps scraped the sky.
We had these landscape views in every direction from our hotel room.
On the second day we took a day hike up the Hooker Valley Trail, a six mile (round trip) trail, though we didn’t realize it at the time. All we knew at the time was that the pamphlet said it was a three hour trail. We thought, “a piece of cake.”
We think they meant it was three hours return from the trail head and not from the hotel because it took us over six hours to make the entire hike, but what a glorious walk it was. When we added to the trail the walk between the trailhead and our hotel, this was an additional two miles one way.
On the Hooker Trail itself we walked on a well groomed path over basically flat terrain, past alpine streams, through desert terrain, and below glaciers in the shadow of Mount Cook. The mountain is called Aoraki by the Maori and the park is called the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. The Maori are New Zealand’s native or earliest people.
We had views of the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake, and Mount Cook all the way.
We crossed over three suspension bridges with glorious views in all directions.
This was a walker’s paradise, and I thought several times of my walks with my father over the earlier years of my life. The two of us walked trails all over America, usually in the early morning hours before my Mom and sister awakened. We were campers, and we stayed a lot in national parks. What a great tradition he left me.
The scenery here is alpine in the purest sense with its skyscraper peaks, spectacular glacier views, and permanent snow fields. At night this valley is also a magnificent place to star gaze, a Dark Sky Reserve.
The park sits beside Lake Pukaki. Within the park is the kea, the only alpine parrot, which we failed to see here but would see later in another part of New Zealand.
Later on the Hooker Trail we hiked past the surreal streams and milky lakes, whose suspended, glacier-ground rock sediment makes the water opaque, a surreal greenish turquoise color.
We went all the way to the end of the trail overlooking a closer view of Mount Cook and the glacial Hooker Lake with its floating ice.
Of course, the walk back was equally scenic but we really felt the miles about mile ten near the White Horse Hill Camp Ground. My dogs were barking, and we both felt bereft when we realized that there was no shuttle back from the campground to our hotel. We still had two miles to go, the sun was going down, and it was beginning to get cold.
A word of caution about clothing, food, and water, though. Take a packed lunch. We did, and the rest break turned out to be perfect. We also took a small bottle of wine and some cheese. We stopped about 4 p.m. for another good break.
In addition, we layered our clothing. I got chilly especially on the way back as the sun went down, but had a lined rain jacket to layer over my thin sweater. So check your weather before leaving. Finally, take enough water. We stayed hydrated.
This turned out to be Chuck’s favorite part of the entire trip. It was my second favorite, right up there with the Great Barrier Reef. If you only have one day here. Park at the campground and take this trail. What a wonderful walk!