Hiking the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park

The Hooker Valley Track is without a doubt one of the most rewarding hikes in all of New Zealand. Some would even argue this is the single most rewarding half-day hike in the country!

It should come as little surprise then that we strongly believe that the Hooker Valley Track should be included in every New Zealand South Island itinerary.

The following guide will walk you through exactly what to expect on the Hooker Valley Track, along with information regarding to weather, clothing, directions and accommodation suggestions.

Accessible from many points in the South Island (including Queenstown, Christchurch and Tekapo), this track is easy enough for the vast majority of travellers and is absolutely stunning.

Whether you drive yourself there or join a guided tour, this really is a New Zealand must-do!

Your Complete Guide to the Hooker Valley Track

This incredible track leads you through the mesmerizing Hooker Valley, across gently swaying suspension bridges and over wooden boardwalks winding through green meadows, to the Hooker glacial lake.

From this lake, the Hooker Glacier rises up towards the impressive Mount Cook. Also known as Aoraki, this mountain is the largest in New Zealand.

Above all else, the craziest thing about this stunning hike are the icebergs floating in the final lake.

Yes, icebergs in New Zealand! 

Paddleboarding on Hooker Lake – complete with icebergs!

How to Get to the Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley Track is located in Mount Cook National Park, in the centre of New Zealand’s South Island.

The best way to get there is by road. This is because there is only one 55 kilometre long road leading in and out of Mount Cook National Park Village and options for public transport are very limited.

Self-Drive to Mt Cook

Fortunately, driving there is no punishment at all, as the road swerves alongside the incredibly blue Lake Pukaki amidst a gorgeous mountain valley.

For most of the drive from Twizel onward, Mount Cook is visible at the end of the road, slowly getting bigger and bigger as you move closer.

The roads in this region are safe and well-used, making a hire car (or rented campervan) a great option.

Join a Small-Group Tour to the Hooker Valley Track

Tours are a great way to enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving. They also come with the added bonus of fantastic local commentary.

There are guided day tours to Mount Cook available from both Queenstown and Christchurch, but they are not all made equal. Many only take you to see Mount Cook and don’t actually include enough time to hike the Hooker Valley Track.

To guarantee enough time to hike Hooker Valley, we recommend booking with Cheeky Kiwi. This fantastic small-group tour company is our favourite in the South Island and has tours leaving from Queenstown that include 4 hours in Mt Cook. This is plenty of time to hike the Hooker Valley Track at a leisurely pace.

Mt Cook from the road as your drive into the national park

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley Track is a return track that starts and ends at the White Horse Hill Campsite. This is also a great place to stay if you’re looking to spend a few days in the area to do some additional hikes in Mount Cook National Park. 

There is also a walking path from the nearby Mount Cook Village to the start of the Hooker Valley Track. If you’d prefer to stay here, you’ll want to add about 30 minutes each way to your walk time.  

The start of the Hooker Valley track is clearly signposted and easy to follow.

For the duration of the walk, you’ll find that the track goes over either a clearly visible gravel path or over boardwalks. There are no real sidetracks that could lead you astray, making this a fabulous walk even for less confident travellers.

The first part of the hike takes you through green meadows and other low vegetation. If you start in the early morning you can often see some cute bunnies hopping away in the tall grass.

After about 15-20 minutes you’ll reach the first point of interest – Lake Mueller Lookout. From this lookout, you have a sweeping view over this glacial lake, with its moraine wall and the mountains in the background.

If you look to your right from the viewpoint, you’ll see the first of the iconic suspension bridges the track is known for. Don’t worry about safety, the bridges are very well built and hardly shake at all.

From the bridge, take a few seconds to watch the mesmerising milky-coloured water of the Hooker River rush underneath you as you cross.

The first of three suspension bridges on this incredible tramp

The walk to the second suspension bridge takes 20-30 minutes. This part of the track comes with some elevation change. The track remains very manageable though and steps have been created to make things easier.

The second suspension bridge is the longest and has the best view out of the three on the track. It looks straight onto the massive Mount Sefton where you can usually hear and see small avalanches rolling down its steep slopes.

The second suspension bridge

As soon as you cross the second suspension bridge the landscape opens up wide and the track changes from gravel to wooden boardwalk.

At this point, you’ll be about halfway to the Hooker Lake. You’ll also notice that Mount Cook is visible in the distance, standing imposing as ever.

The boardwalk leads you through a lush green valley and swerves its way alongside the Hooker River, offering plenty of beautiful sights and photo opportunities. 

You’ll find incredible landscape all around you on this tramp

After crossing the third suspension bridge it is only another 10 minutes to the track’s infamous destination – Hooker Lake, at the foot of Mount Cook. New Zealand’s tallest mountain surely is an impressive sight, but what will draw your attention even more are the mini icebergs that float in Hooker Lake. 

From the viewpoint where the official track ends, a small path leads to the shore of the lake. This is the perfect spot for a little picnic – just be careful not to fall into the water as it is freezing. It’s a glacial lake after all!

Or, if you’re up for an adventure, grab your swimsuit and jump in for a very refreshing dip. Just be sure to have plenty of warm clothes to pile on after your swim.

When you’re done taking in the stunning views, trace your steps back the way you came to the White Horse Hill Campsite.

Though this track is an in-and-out trail, it’s anything but boring retracing your steps. The views on the hike out are just as stunning so be sure to have your camera at the ready.

We Love the Hooker Valley Trail!

We love this hike for its diversity in landscapes, the many incredible views and the suspension bridges that make it even more unique.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a half-day hike in New Zealand that is as rewarding as the Hooker Valley Track.

We loved it so much that we did it twice in 24 hours!

It had been a dream of ours to paddleboard on a glacial lake, so the first time we did the hike we carried one of our inflatable SUPS to Hooker Lake. Upon arriving, we pumped it up and went for a paddle in between the icebergs.

The second day we went again in the early morning to avoid the crowds and took our time to really enjoy all that this track has to offer.

One of the wooden boardwalks on the trail

Practical Information About the Hooker Valley Track

Track Distance

10 kilometres return. It is 5 kilometres from the trailhead to Hooker Lake, and then the same way back.

Elevation Change

124 metres. 

Walking Time

We suggest allowing between 3 and 3.5 hours. This is based on a relatively slow pace, leaving plenty of time for rest stops and photos. It can easily be done in less time too.

Track Difficulty

Easy to moderate. The track is well maintained and mostly flat.

Because of the odd set of stairs, it isn’t suitable for wheelchairs (or prams – unless you’re able to carry them up).

Easily achievable, the Hooker Valley Trail really is a New Zealand highlight

When is the Best Time of Day to do the Hike?

The best time of the day to walk the Hooker Valley Track is in the early morning.

This track is one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand and can get quite busy, especially in summer.

By going in the early morning you will avoid the crowds and get better pictures because of the favourable morning light.

On top of that, it usually gets quite windy later in the day, with fast-changing weather conditions as a result.

Really though, this incredible tramp is a winner at any time of day and in every season!

Weather Conditions and What to Wear

Whatever time of the day you choose to go, wear light clothing but take an extra layer and a rain jacket with you.

New Zealand is known for its changeable weather (‘four seasons in one day’ is a popular term here), and Mt Cook is no different.

The weather there can change from clear blue skies to grey clouds and rain inside of five minutes so you need to be prepared for that.

However, when the sun hits the track it gets really warm very quickly too so wearing light clothing will keep you from overheating.

We also suggest you wear a cap/hat and sunscreen. 

The New Zealand sun is incredibly strong and if you don’t wear sun protection you will get sunburnt – even when it is cloudy. 

And finally, as for any hike, take plenty of water and some snacks with you. 

Where to Stay in Mt Cook

There are a few options to stay overnight near the Hooker Valley Track. Exactly where you choose will depend on how close and comfortable you want to be and how much you want to spend.

The Closest Accommodation to Mt Cook

The closest option is one we already mentioned – the White Horse Hill Campsite.

This campsite is located right at the start of the track and costs $13 per person per night. You do however need either a campervan or a tent to be able to stay here, and it is far from luxurious. 

Alternative Accommodation Nearby

Alternatively, you can stay in the nearby Mount Cook Village. There are 5 options for accommodation here, although (thanks to the incredible location), you don’t find any particularly budget-friendly options.

The most affordable option here is YHA Mount Cook, that offers shared dorms as well as private rooms.

A little bit more expensive, but offering gorgeous views of Mount Cook is Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge.

If you’re willing to splurge for some luxury, then go for The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook. There, you’ll find the breakfast buffet and prime views are worth every cent you pay.

Booking.com

Or You Can Stay at the Beautiful Lake Tekapo

If you’re keen to stay near Mt Cook but don’t mind a little drive, you’ll find lots of options at Lake Tekapo. Only an hour and 15 minutes away, this lakeside town is a beautiful place to spend the night.

Booking.com

The Hooker Valley is one of the best tramping tracks in Aotearoa.

Not only is it located in one of the most beautiful national parks in the country but the track is diverse, exciting and incredibly manageable.

Be sure to include a stop on your South Island travels!

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Guest Post: Thanks to Tom and Zi of Craving Adventure for contributing this post and their gorgeous photos. This adventurous duo met whilst travelling solo through South East Asia. They’re now on the road full-time, sharing insights on a life of travel, exploration and adventure.

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