The mountains around Mt Cook Village sparkle like polished diamonds and the best way to see them is to pick up a day pack, lace up your shoes, and mosey along some of the most scenic walks New Zealand has to offer. Whether you’re a fitness fanatic or straight out of the armchair, there’s a trail to suit your style.
Kea Point Track – an easy amble
From flat to gently rising, this pretty trail through subalpine grasses and native scrubland is as undemanding as you care to make it. And better still, it gets you up close to true glacier country. Billed as a 2 hour return walk from Mt Cook Village, the time can be halved if you begin from White Horse campground just a few minutes drive away. Much of the trail is board walked, making for super-easy strolling while you gaze around at towering, snow-covered bluffs or listen to the crashing of ice-falls peeling off glaciers at the head of the valley. Remember to pack a water bottle and sunscreen – and if you want some fun along the way, swot up on foreign language greetings and try them out on the many spell-bound tourists you’ll meet on the trail!
Hooker Glacier – flat and fantastic
If you thought ice bergs belonged in Antarctica, think again! This 3 hour, 10km walk is a virtually flat trek, and with all the excitement of a hike into the alps (think awesome swing bridges, avalanches and lots of ice) it’s a gateway to a landscape usually available only to mountaineers. The trail leaves from White Horse campground 2km from Mt Cook Village and meanders through wiry shrubland and across tussock peppered with speargrass (watch your ankles!). In summer, the world’s largest buttercup (a native of the Aoraki/Mt Cook Region) fills the gaps between glacial rocks with its frothy, snow-white blooms. If the day is hot, leave early, pack a lunch, and allow plenty of time for ice-berg and Aoraki/Mt Cook gazing once you reach Hooker Lake at the head of the trail.
Red Tarns – photo opportunity!
On a clear day, the sky reflected in the dainty Red Tarns above the Hooker Valley is a photographer’s dream. While the first half of the 2 hour return trail is all uphill, the track itself is well formed and the footing easy. Bird calls, grass hoppers and the possibility of sighting a native falcon help pass the time on your way up, and once at the top, the sight of lofty mountains reflected in the still water of tarns surrounded red tussock is unforgettable. Make time to sit on the seat beside the water before you get down to the real business of snapping the scenery.
Mueller tarns – must see
Fitness gurus will zip up this challenging trail but that doesn’t mean the rest of us need rule it out! A 3-4 hour return hike, there is plenty of opportunity for rests and sight seeing en route if you want to take your time and make it a full day walk. Forming part of the tramping track to Mueller Hut, the trail is dotted with wildflowers in summer and offers stunning views of Hooker Valley and surrounding mountains. While you take a break from the zig zags and steps, watch out for distant puffs of white – the tell tale signs of ice-falls carving off the mountains. The trick is to spot them before you hear the accompanying thunderous crash.
Whether you’re taking it easy or up for a challenge, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a destination not to be missed. And at the end of the day, there’s always the reward of a luxury cocktail at the Hermitage Hotel in Mt Cook Village!