I’m all about day hikes. So, no, I did not climb Aoraki Mt Cook in New Zealand. That’s a multi-day commitment without a warm shower in between!
I did, however, take full advantage of the day hikes around it. The mountain is amazing – I was lucky enough for it to be ‘out’ one of the three days I was there (which is about its average ‘show’ rate).
On all of these hikes, you’re close enough to hear the awesome sounds of the Tasman glacier:
Hooker Valley Track
This is the first place I realized New Zealand has a ton of suspension bridges. Hooker Valley Track is a 10K out-and-back flat walk. It’s got amazing views of the Tasman glacier and Tasman Glacier Lake as the ultimate payoff.
The track starts at the White Horse Hill campground and car park—and many people roll out of their tents to start the walk early. I arrived about 9:30 a.m. and while the campground was full, I found that I had most of the trail to myself.
Sealy Tarns Track
This is a steep one: they call it the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. So, what do you call it when you’re heading back down??
It’s only 3.5 miles round trip, but the elevation gain is about 1,800 feet. So . . . there are stairs. 2,300 of them. If your knees can handle it, the views are worth it!
It starts at the same car park as the Hooker Valley Track.
Governors Bush Walk
This is a great 45 minute (ish) walk through the bush. A modest climb makes it a great way to start the morning. There are great plant markers along the way, so you can learn a thing or two while you’re at it. Start at the public shelter (which is a great place for indoor or outdoor lunch) next to the Aoraki Alpine Lodge.
Aoraki Mt Cook Village offers an odd mix of lodging. If you stay where I did (Aoraki Alpine Lodge – a rustic feel and family owned) it feels small and quaint. You may not even realize that there are 300 employees living in the village during peak season. If you stay just a ¼ mile up the road at the Hermitage Hotel, you’ll feel like you’re in a different place altogether (think massive hotel lobby, huge buffet breakfasts and big gift shops).
Glacier Explorers Boat Tour takes you on the lake for about an hour. Their guides are super knowledgeable and they get you up close to touch the icebergs – it’s worth checking out if you’ve not done a lot of glacier exploring.
Aoraki is its Maori name – it means ‘cloud piercer’. In 1851 the mountain was named for Captain James Cook—someone who didn’t even sight the mountain when he first came across New Zealand. A bit presumptuous perhaps? Many Kiwis think so. They’re reclaiming the mountain and all of the signage and new maps refer to it as Aoraki Mt Cook.