A Quick Guide to Hiking in Mount Cook National Park

mount cook national park hooker valley track

During the two months I spent traveling New Zealand, I saw a lot of gorgeous scenery. But it mostly paled in comparison to the views I enjoyed while hiking in Mount Cook National Park. The park is home to Mount Cook Aoraki, New Zealand’s highest mountain and where the first person to climb Mount Everest trained for his great feat. The park is conveniently located just a reasonable detour off the main road between Queenstown and Christchurch, so you’d be crazy to miss this gem of a place! And to help you plan your visit, I’ve put together this quick guide* to hiking in Mount Cook National Park.

Lake Punaki, South Island, New Zealand
Hooker Valley Hike Trail in Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand
Sealy Tarns Hike Trail in Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand

*Quick note on the Google maps I share below for the hiking trails. Ignore the durations shown in the maps. I provide the true durations in each summary.



Hooker Valley Track

Mt Cook Aoraki, New Zealand
New Zealand Photography
Hooker Lake and Mt Cook, New Zealand

This immediately became my favorite hike I’ve ever done. I still can’t get over how great the views are for how little effort it is! It’s a flat, out-and-back walk that crosses three swing bridges over alpine streams before ending at iceberg-studded Hooker Lake. Once at the endpoint, there are a couple picnic tables, so pack a lunch or snack and stay a while, taking in your front-row seat to the majestic Mount Cook Aoraki. 

  • Trailhead: campground
  • Elevation Gain: 330 ft (100 m)
  • Distance: 6 mi (10 km) return from trailhead / 15.5 mi (25 km) return from Mount Cook village
  • Duration: 3 hour return from trailhead / 4 – 4.5 hour return from Mount Cook village

Kea Point Track

Mount Cook National Park Hiking Trails
Mueller Hut Hike Trail, Mount Cook, New Zealand
New Zealand photography

This is a super easy walk to basically another view point of Mount Cook Aoraki. It’s a bit more of an incline than the Hooker Valley walk, but not much. Once at the Kea Point viewpoint, you get closer to the hanging Huddleston and Mueller Glaciers and can look over Mueller Glacial Lake feeding into the Hooker River. This place also has a nice bench to sit and take in the view. I’d recommend combining this hike with the above Hooker Valley hike.

  • Trailhead: Terrace Road near Hermitage Hotel, but can be started from campground
  • Elevation Gain: 590 ft (180 m)
  • Distance: 3.75 mi (6 km) return from trailhead /  2 mi (3 km) return from campground
  • Duration: 2 hour return from trailhead / 1 hour return from campground

Sealy Tarns Track

Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand (Sealy Tarns Viewpoint)
Sealy Tarns Hike in New Zealand
Sealy Tarns Hike in New Zealand

Now this one’s a toughie. If you hate stairs, keep that in mind before embarking on this one. It is, quite literally, all stairs. 2,200 very steep stairs, to be a little more specific, and they were icy from the previous day’s rainfall when I attempted them. Of course, like many difficult things, there’s a payoff. You gain elevation very quickly, so the views become spectacular right away. I really couldn’t believe how high up I got in just an hour or so, and it was amazing to look out over everything I had been exploring in the days prior. I could even see my hostel at the far end of the village, looking oh so teeny tiny in the distance!

  • Trailhead: Terrace Road near Hermitage Hotel, but can be started from campground
  • Elevation Gain: 1970 ft (600 m)
  • Distance:  5 mi (8 km) return from trailhead / 3mi (5 km) return from campground
  • Duration: 3 – 4 hours return from trailhead / 2 – 3 hours return from campground

Mueller Hut Track

The majority of this trek is the Sealy Tarns track. Then, after reaching the Sealy Tarns viewpoint, it continues further up (very steeply on a rocky, unmaintained route) for another 2 hours to Mueller Hut. After much debate as to whether I should attempt this hike or not (it goes through avalanche terrain), the decision was made for me when New Zealand announced going into extreme lockdown, and I had to catch the next bus to Christchurch ASAP. Thus, I quickly hiked Sealy Tarns during my last morning and did not continue onto the Mueller hut. It was the very last touristy thing I got to do in New Zealand (before getting stranded there two weeks, but that’s another story!), so I’m thankful to have been able to do at least that before calling my trip quits. But maybe next time, Mueller Hut!

  • Trailhead: Terrace Road outside Hermitage Hotel, but can be started from campground
  • Elevation Gain: 3410 ft (1040 m)
  • Distance: 7.5 mi (12 km return) from trailhead / 6 mi (9 km) return from campground
  • Duration*: 7 – 8 hours return from trailhead / 6 – 7 hours return from campground

*You can make reservations on the Department of Conservation site to stay overnight in the Mueller Hut.


The above hikes are the popular things to do from Mount Cook Village. But there’s actually even more to see! 

Lake Pukaiki

Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook Viewpoint, New Zealand

You’ll pass by this unreal lake (it really is that blue!) en route to Mount Cook Village. But pull over into the parking lot at Peter’s Lookout (map below) to take in that cliche view of Mount Cook Aoraki in the distance. Luckily for those of you traveling New Zealand by bus, the InterCity makes a pit stop here for photos.

Lake Tasman

I was hoping to rent a bike and head to Tasman Lake on my final day. From there, I planned to view Tasman (Haupapa) Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. Of course, that was before frantically evacuating to Christchurch in time for the nation-wide lockdown. Like Mueller Hut, I guess it’ll just have to do it next time!


If you have your own set of wheels, simply enter Mount Cook Village into your GPS and head off. If you’re using the InterCity bus like I was, the bus route between Queenstown and Christchurch includes a lunch stop in Mount Cook Village for two hours.

Mount Cook Village, New Zealand

This isn’t enough time to hike any of the above besides perhaps the Kea Point Track. So, I would recommend splitting up the 12-hour-ish journey between Queenstown and Christchurch with at least one night in Mount Cook Village. The bus returns the exact same time the next early afternoon, so you can hop off the InterCity bus, drop off your bags, hike at least the Hooker Valley Track, rest for the evening, and sleep in the next morning before getting back on the InterCity bus. (The InterCity bus for this route is the same as the Great Sights or Greyhound bus.)


Firstly, there is zero grocery shopping in Mount Cook Village. So if you plan to stay overnight and cook for yourself, keep this in mind. Below are your options for where to stay in Mount Cook Village, organized in order of furthest to nearest to the above hikes’ trailheads. The walk between the southernmost (YHA) and northernmost (campsite) options is 40 minutes.

  • YHA Mount Cook Village: The InterCity bus drops off and picks up right from the front door, so this is a pretty convenient option. As the only hostel in town, it does book out early, so don’t procrastinate. (I actually had to rearrange my own itinerary in order to stay here.)
  • Aoraki Court Motel: This is right near the YHA, so also convenient enough if taking the InterCity bus.
  • Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge: This is up the road from the previous two options.
  • Hermitage Hotel: The InterCity bus stops here for its two-hour lunch break, so it’s another convenient location. The food in this hotel’s restaurant is supposed to be very nice. 
  • Mount Cook Chalets: Self contained cottages with a kitchenette.
  • White Horse Hill Campsite: Right at the doorstep to all the hikes in this guide.


It’s entirely possible to stop at Mount Cook Village for only a few hours, enough time to walk the Hooker Valley Track and continue on your way. If that’s all you can squeeze in or have interest for, that would be perfectly enjoyable. But if you want to do more than one hike, I would recommend at least two to three nights. If you are booking ahead, consider adding an extra night to account for potential bad weather.


So, have I convinced you to visit Mount Cook National Park yet? Let me know in the comments section below if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Planning a trip to New Zealand? Don't miss a hike in Mount Cook National Park. It's one of the best South Island things to do, and this is your travel guide. Includes Hooker Valley Hike, Sealy Tarns Trail, Mueller Hut Trek, and more.


  • Boletworldwide
    November 20, 2020 at 11:15 AM

    Just by the views the hike looks totally worth it. Thank you for sharing all the details, it’s great to have all the info of the difficulty and all.

    • That Travelista
      November 21, 2020 at 9:25 PM

      Glad all the deets are helpful!

  • Patti
    November 20, 2020 at 9:04 AM

    You had me at “2 months in New Zealand.” What a DREAM!!! Mt. Cook looks so incredible! I had a 12 day itinerary put together for a Kiwi trip 2 years ago but never got to go…..yet. Le sigh.

    • That Travelista
      November 21, 2020 at 9:24 PM

      Omg I also have full itineraries planned out for trips I have no idea when I’ll do lol! I know NZ will be worth your wait!! Make sure to squeeze Mt Cook into that itinerary if it’s not already there 🙂

  • ildiko
    November 20, 2020 at 8:21 AM

    OMG, those hikes are GORGEOUS!!! Wow! I would absolutely love them. They look very easy, but the terrain is breathtaking. What kind of camera did you use for your photos? Great tips on trailheads and nice to know there are no groceries available there. So plan ahead!

    • That Travelista
      November 21, 2020 at 9:22 PM

      So gorgeous, right?!! And yes, so many of these hikes are so doable.

      For this trip I used a Nikon D3400 and the 18-55mm lens – the standard beginner Nikon camera. (I do sometimes wish I bit the bullet and paid more for a mirrorless instead of DSLR, as DSLRs are bit heavy/clunky to travel and hike with.)

  • travelmexicosolo
    November 18, 2020 at 4:04 PM

    Looks like an absolutely stunning place! I hope to be able to visit when we can safely travel 🤞 I’ve had NZ on my bucket list for what feels like forever, so thanks for the inspo to remove it once and for all.

    • That Travelista
      November 21, 2020 at 9:17 PM

      A stunning place indeed! I feel like there will be a mad rush there once borders open up!

  • pip_says
    November 18, 2020 at 9:38 AM

    I am sooo gutted I didn’t get to do Mount Cook on my last trip to NZ, it looks so beautiful. i’ve pinned your guide for my next trip as it’s so informative. x

    • That Travelista
      November 21, 2020 at 9:16 PM

      Aw that’s too bad, but at least there’s always next time! I have so much to see on my next trip to NZ as well!


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