YOUR GUIDE TO HIKING THE MT COOK HOOKER VALLEY TRAIL IN NEW ZEALAND

Located on the South Island in New Zealand, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is undeniably one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world. With Christchurch only a four hour drive east, it's no surprise Mt Cook is a must see destination for locals and tourists alike. 

I've been wanting to visit Mt Cook for ages and whilst I've been to the South Island before, I've never had enough time to get to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park and hike throughout the mountains. So when Qantas recently offered to get me over there, with the help of Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism, how could I say no! I had no idea what to expect but I had seen a tonne of photos on Instagram showing off the ever so beautiful Mt Cook from the Hooker Valley Trail. Needless to say, I was left utterly blown away. 

As with exploring somewhere new, and solo, I always feel a little trepidation - but this is never how I want you guys to feel! With this in mind, I thought I would write a complete guide to hiking the Mt Cook Hooker Valley Trail for any first timers.

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GETTING THERE

Whether you're there for a day trip or a few days, you'll see very quickly why the Hooker Valley Trail is the the most popular and stunning hiking spot. Getting there is very easy. I flew with Qantas from Brisbane to Christchurch International Airport; it was a very quick flight (a touch over three hours) and the crew were amazing and my gluten free breakfast was healthy and delicious. The view flying over the stunning Alps as we came into the airport were stunning to say the least! If you happen to have a window seat, make sure you have your cameras ready. Also when you clear customs there are many options to hire a car; you'll need one to get to Mt Cook. So think about organising this ahead if you can. Now as you'll be driving from Christchurch, follow your GPS and simply turn into Mount Cook Road from Tekapo-Twizel Road. From here, the drive to the base of the trail is about 30 minutes. Make sure you stop at Peters Lookout for incredible views across Lake Pukaki to Mt Cook. 

 

PARKING

There is loads of parking, so don't worry about not getting a spot. Campers and camper vans get their own carpark, as do day hikers. 

 

HOOKER VALLEY TRAIL

The Hooker Valley Trail is a 5km return hike, is graded as Easy and takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to complete, depending on your fitness and eagerness. It took me just over two hours walking moderately and stopping along the way to take photos, as well as enjoy a long sip of water when I reached the Hooker Glacier. There are four major stops along the trail, which I've given more detail about below, as well as how long it took me to reach each stop to give you a good indiction as to how long the walk actually takes. 

 

1. FIRST BRIDGE

From the carpark, it took me about 15 minutes to walk to the first view point. There is a platform, which is the perfect spot to take a photo of the first bridge and the valley beyond. I found this is where a lot of people stop the hike; they seem quite content to take a photo of the bridge and leave. This is totally understandable if you're time poor or on tour with limited control over what you see and do. However, since you've come this far to visit the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, make sure you leave at least three to four hours to fully experience this amazing trail. 

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2. SECOND BRIDGE

From the first bridge, it took me about 30 minutes to reach the second bridge. The trail snakes along the Hooker River, going up and down in some parts, but is never steep. If you're visiting in Spring or Summer, you will be rewarded with an array of beautiful wildflowers in various colours, including Gentian, Paper Daisy, Bush Snowberry, and the ever so popular Lupinus wildflower - also known as the Lupine or Lupin. Before you know it, you will have reached the second bridge. When you walk across, Not soon after crossing the second bridge, you'll see a viewing chair. I highly encourage taking a seat here for a few minutes to enjoy the incredible view of the Hooker Valley and of course, Mt Cook.  

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3. THIRD BRIDGE

From the second bridge you'll walk past a hiking hut and then find yourself walking along the famous boardwalk offering beautiful views of Mt Cook ahead and of course, the Hooker River rushing downstream. You would have noticed the milky colour of the water by now; this is caused by glaciers as they move through the valley, grinding and crushing the brittle sandstone, Greywacke and Schist rocks found in the national park. This creates a fine powder known as 'glacial rock flour', which is suspended in the water in high concentration and gives the water a milky appearance. I found this section of the hike the most picturesque and it took me about 20 minutes to reach the Hooker Glacier.

 

HOOKER GLACIER

The Hooker Glacier is the final resting spot on the Hooker Valley Trail, and is also the perfect spot to enjoy long sips of water and take in the view. You may even see a glacial iceberg. There are a couple of tables so bringing a packed lunch is actually an awesome idea. If you have time, I highly recommend walking around the lake to explore. Once you feel rested, it took me just over an hour to walk back to the carpark. 

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ACCOMMODATION

Good news! If you want to stay a night or two in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, you can. I highly recommend the Hermitage Hotel; it has exceptional views across the valley and front row seats of Mt Cook. If you don't want to be splashing cash at dinner every night in their two restaurants, there is a cafe which offers less expensive meals as well as a mini supermarket. If you are on a budget, there is camping at the base of the Hooker Valley Trail and is a seriously, seriously beautiful spot. 

 

IMPORTANT

The weather can change quickly in this part of the South Island - high winds are common and snow can fall any time of the year. Make sure you check the weather forecast regularly; I was checking hourly. If you happen to visit in the cooler months, understand that snow and ice conditions can be treacherous. Wear proper hiking gear, tell someone where you're going and take plenty of water/snacks. Avoid known avalanche areas as they happen all the time. I heard two when I hiked the trail and they sounded thunderous; I shudder just thinking what it would feel like getting caught up in an avalanche. And finally, the alpine areas in the park are very exposed all year round so avoid dehydration and severe sunburn by packing plenty of water and sunscreen. Even when I went, I was super thirsty along the entire hike.