I’m Mel and welcome to my article on Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand’s South Island. I’m a lover of all things outdoors, it’s where I reconnect with myself and bring myself back into the present moment.
The outdoors is also where I connect with other creatives – I’m an avid photographer who fell in love with our night sky first before delving into the art of landscape and lifestyle photography. Meeting other people through travel, outdoor adventures and photography is what keeps me stoked!
I grew up in Marlborough and have traveled overseas and nationwide for all things noted above. Travel (sometimes solo) is fleeting, builds confidence and also keeps me sane from the hustle and bustle of today’s society.
I grew up camping in Lake Benmore with my family, it’s where we would sometimes wake to Aoraki/Mount Cook gazing over Lake Benmore in the distance. We never visited Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park until I got a vehicle (heaven help my parents, once I could travel on my own I was off)!
My first true experience visiting the park was with the ambition to hike to Mueller Hut and back in a day, followed by bunkering down in a van for the night on my first solo road trip across some of the South Island’s hotspots.
I remember starting the hike under the clouds – not sure if I would see the mountain at the top but sure enough half way through I popped up through the clouds and Aoraki was grinning at me. I was frothing! Itself and the mountains surrounding it are humbling. After a strenuous hike the views and the effort amongst giants is truly a feeling unmatched.
Why Aoraki/Mount Cook is so Special
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have been to Aoraki/Mount Cook now! I have lived near the national park for seven months and I have done everything I could think of – I love it so much! Aoraki has a magical feeling about it that one can’t fully describe until you have visited for yourself.
The mountains almost feel like home. Being below Aoraki’s gaze and being cradled in New Zealand’s tallest mountains really makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger. It’s a very healing landscape and everyone you run into is probably just as content as I have felt every time I have been.
Best Hiking Trails at Aoraki/Mount Cook
Aoraki has an abundance of epic walks! A must-do is Hooker Valley Track. This is a classic walk that is suitable for everyone and encompasses just about everything a beginner could want. It’s a three hour return walk surrounded in Hooker Valley’s mountains, pathed by boardwalks and tall swing bridges. Not to mention rewarding views of Aoraki on a good day.
More advanced walks I recommend to people – this includes inclined hiking for reference – are the classic Tarn walks. This includes the Red Tarns Track and Sealy Tarns Track. Both walks provide a different view of Aoraki. Sealy Tarns is mostly stairs to the top: 2,200 steps to be precise! But nonetheless this is a beautiful spot for lunch or even to walk the sunset.
Red Tarns Track is similar, however it’s shorter and not as hard. One of my best experiences at the national park was when I went camping at Red Tarns to celebrate my 21st birthday. It was a last minute decision but one that was empowering and refreshing! Drinking a cider after a long hike and enjoying the sunset in one of the most beautiful places in the world is invigorating, especially to bring in an epic milestone in life!
Both the Sealy Tarns Track and Red Tarns Track would be a perfect hiking adventure for a fit family with keen kids. Both of these tracks also include lengthier walks to Mueller Hut and the mountain peak of Sebastopol.
Mueller Hut is a great overnight trip, the perfect location where you are likely to meet a cheeky kea and be rewarded with views down Hooker Valley and back towards the village. And then there is the climb to the top of Aoraki/Mount Cook, which I have always dreamed of doing.
My hiking friends and I all dream of one day standing on it’s summit. However, this would require a little more alpine experience which will come with time and more mountaineering courses. I definitely aspire to one day!
For all walks mentioned, DOC has detailed descriptions of each hike. Always read up on the weather and come prepared with plenty of water, food and clothing in case of changing conditions and in case trip times take longer than expected. You can never be too prepared.
Other Amazing Ways to Experience the Mountains
Scenic flights are definitely on the list for seeing Aoraki/Mount Cook in all of its glory! There are many different options available from helicopter flights to landing on Tasman Glacier in a ski plane. All of these experiences give even better views of the national park without walking!
Stargazing is also something I would recommend if you are in the Mount Cook area. Big Sky Stargazing is an epic place to go. Otherwise take the time on a clear night to gaze upon the most beautiful skies in the world.
Where to Stay near Aoraki/Mount Cook
If you are feeling adventurous Mueller Hut provides great accommodation. However, this does involve a three hour walk to the top requiring you to carry everything you need for the night – but let me say this: you won’t be missing out on anything up here! Fresh water from the tank, a warm hut, entertainment from cheeky kea’s, and one epic sunset and sunrise!
Best Time of Year to Visit Aoraki/Mount Cook
Every month at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park provides something different! Winter means beautiful full snow capped mountains for backcountry skiing and mountaineering but also a great family midwinter getaway. Not to mention the winter skies in this area are just phenomenal.
For those who don’t know, this part of NZ is known and recognized world-wide as an International Dark Sky Reserve – meaning this is the best place to stargaze in the country (and one of the best in the world even)!
Summer at Aoraki/Mount Cook means light hiking and plenty of time to explore the national park with longer days. Autumn and Spring means less people floating around, making for a more relaxed and secluded visit.
Need to Know Before you Go
Be prepared with clothing! Out in alpine regions the weather can change quickly: good to bad, bad to good – so have something for all weather. Also, always come with fresh memory cards for cameras and plenty of battery life to capture the beauty of Aoraki! I promise that you won’t regret having some extra battery life and space on your camera to capture everything.