Aoraki Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand is an extraordinary place to visit for those looking for a wilderness escape like no other. It is a place you can go to fully appreciate the magnificence of nature in so many different ways. With so much to discover and so many things to see and do, we thought we’d create a guide to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park that will hopefully inspire you to plan your next trip there!

Where in New Zealand is Mount Cook?

Starting with the basics, Aoraki Mount Cook is in the South Island of New Zealand in an area called the Southern Alps. The Southern Alps are an extensive 500km mountain range that has a total of 22 peaks with an elevation of over 10,000ft. It has a diverse range of natural features that include lakes, rivers, glaciers, beech forests, alpine plants, native birds, wildlife and more.

If you’re arriving at Queenstown Airport the drive from there will take around 3 hours (in one of our great Queenstown car rentals of course).

Why is Mount Cook Famous?

Aoraki Mount Cook is famous for a lot of reasons but the main one is the fact that it is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3,724 metres (12,218 ft). It’s also an important mountain in Maori legend with Aoraki being one of four brothers whose canoe was capsized and turned to stone, forming the South Island and its peaks.

One of New Zealand’s most famous people, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, also climbed Mount Cook and other peaks in the region. As a matter of fact, he was the first to ascend the South Ridge to the Low Peak of the mountain with the South Ridge later renamed the Hillary Ridge in honour of his achievements.

It is also in an area that’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks (among many things) to its superlative landscapes and its high degree of geo and biodiversity.

Can you climb Mount Cook?

Given we’ve already talked about Sir Edmund Hillary’s efforts, the answer to whether you can climb Mount Cook is obviously yes. However, with most high peaks, it is not one to be taken lightly.

Aoraki Mount Cook is known for being a challenging and physically demanding climb for even the most experienced climbers. Unfortunately, around 80 people have died attempting the summit in the 100+ years people have been climbing the mountain. However, if you are an experienced and skilled climber there are a number of great local guides like Alpine Guides and Adventure Consultants who offer excellent packages to get you to the top.

For the rest of us, there are plenty of other areas and walks, in and around the mountain, that we can enjoy freely and safely.

Things to do in Mount Cook

Now you’ve got the fascinating background, it’s time to talk about all the amazing things there are to do in Aoraki Mount Cook. As you’ll soon find out, there’s quite a wide range of attractions and activities to choose from. The problem isn’t often what to do but what not to do with your time there.

1. Mount Cook Walks


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If you’re thinking about visiting Aoraki Mount Cook then chances are you’re probably a fan of walks. It’s a very good thing to be a fan of for a trip like this as there are some spectacular trails to experience all around the national park.

One of the most popular is the Hooker Valley Track, a 10km return walk that takes about 3 hours to complete. This well-maintained track with paths, boardwalks and swing bridges takes you to the base of Aoraki Mount Cook giving you one of the best seats in the house. Before it, lies the incredible glacial lake, Lake Tasman, which often has fallen icebergs from the Tasman Glacier floating on its surface. It’s all as breathtaking as it sounds.

Another great choice is the Kea Point Walk which has both 1 hour and 2 hour options. Named after the world’s only alpine parrot, this stroll takes you on a path through grassland and scrub, to an awesome viewing platform. From here, you’ll see glorious the Hooker Valley and Mueller Glacier Lake as well as the peaks of Mount Sefton and Aoraki Mount Cook.

The Sealy Tarns Track, known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is a great one to work the legs and be rewarded for the effort. This 3 – 4 hour return walk has over 2,200 steps that need to be climbed to get to the top at a height of 600m (as tough as it sounds). Once conquered, however, you’ll enjoy the glorious views of the unique Sealy Tarns freshwater lakes as well as the surrounding vistas from high.

You can also continue on from the Sealy Tarns Track for another 2 hours on the Mueller Hut Route. This is a little more challenging, going from a maintained track to an alpine route so requires a bit more skill and climbing nous. The added bonus to this is that you can book to stay in the Mueller Hut itself with bunk beds and cooking/toilet facilities for a comfortable and memorable stay.

There are lots of options in and around Mount Cook when it comes to walking whether you are looking for a short walk to stretch your legs or something a bit more challenging.

2. Glacier Kayaking


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How many opportunities in your life do you have to do Glacier Kayaking? Not that many but on your trip to Aoraki National Park, you’ll be able to do exactly that. The aforementioned Tasman Lake is one of the places you can do this, in and around the floating icebergs.

The other is the Mueller Glacier Lake via an exclusive track that only you and your group will be on. This adventure takes you to the south side of Mount Cook to the foot of the impressive Mount Sefton. You then switch from kayaking to hiking for a short stroll around the glacier moraines, exploring all the glacier ice remnants.

Both tours are operated by the great team at Mt Cook Glacier Sea Kayaking.

3. Scenic Flight

After all that walking and kayaking, your legs might feel a little weary. A good way to relax and give them a rest is to take a scenic flight around the national park.

There’s no beating the immersion you get when walking on foot around Aoraki Mount Cook but the view from the air gives you a whole different perspective. Here, you’ll realise just how vast and tremendous the entire region is, seeing the snow-capped peaks and huge glaciers from up in the clouds. It’s a great opportunity to see New Zealand’s tallest peaks from the air but also to see the vast scale of New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier from above.

Again, it’s not an experience you’ll do every day but if you are going to give it a go, it’s hard to think of anywhere better. There are a number of experienced operators in this area including Inflight Experiences and Air Safaris.

4. Skydiving


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If a scenic flight sounds great then how about one where you get to jump out of the plane too?

Sounds crazy at first but we’re of course talking about skydiving, the heart-stopping adrenaline activity that is hugely popular in this country and around the world. What makes it even more special in an area like this is you’ll not only get the thrill of the dive but you’ll also get the beautiful canvas of the Southern Alps to look at while you do.

It makes the experience quite soothing actually and the top team at Skydive Mt Cook will gladly chat to you about their options up to 15,000ft.

5. Stargazing


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The great thing about being in Aoraki Mount Cook is that its natural features aren’t only on show during the day but at night as well.

Stargazing is incredible in this region on a clear night with little to no light pollution. It’s known as such a great spot for it that it’s officially recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve. As soon as the sun goes down, you’ll see hundreds of stars lit up in the night sky – a spectacle that is nothing short of magical.

A great bonus for all those budding astrophotographers as well (the photos on Instagram are absolutely unbelievable).

Looking for more inspiration? Make sure you check out our awesome post – 11 things to do in Mount Cook and make sure you don’t miss a thing on your next visit to this magical destination.

Mount Cook Accommodation

Despite Aoraki Mount Cook Village being a relatively small place, there are a number of options to choose from with regards to accommodation.

Lodges are popular here with the Mount Cook Lodge and the Aoraki Alpine Lodge offering very comfortable room choices (the latter including bunks for groups) – both with some nice, social communal facilities.

For the ultimate experience, you can’t go past the historic and iconic Hermitage Hotel with its premium rooms and facilities. You’ll have absolutely no trouble unwinding here at the end of the day but maybe some trouble getting yourself out of bed in the morning. It also has a great restaurant with magnificent views out towards Mount Cook to enjoy as you dine.

There’s also the highly rated YHA Aoraki Mt Cook Backpacker Accommodation for those who enjoy a slightly more modest and social experience. It’s kept in exceptional order and you’ll get to meet people from all walks of life too which is great.

Lots of people also choose to travel to Mount Cook from nearby tourist hotspots including Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

Is Aoraki Mount Cook National Park worth visiting?

Now that you’ve reached the end of this guide we hope your answer is an emphatic yes! Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a national treasure and a place you simply have to include on your New Zealand bucket list. As well as all the info we’ve given you here, be sure to check out the National Park Visitor Centre when you arrive for some great local advice.

If this article has tempted you, then take a look at our Tekapo Guide, another great place to visit and only an hour’s drive away from Aoraki Mount Cook!