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At the base of Mount Cook, on the Eastern side of the Mountain lies the Hooker Valley Track and the Hooker Glacier. This retreating glacier and its ever-growing glacier lake aren’t as famous as the West Coast glaciers but, for us at least, it’s far prettier and not as overrated.

Its neighbour is the Tasman Glacier and while you can’t get close to either (just like the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers), we feel that both of the Mount Cook glacier walks are worth the detour to the Aoraki Village when most people don’t go much further than the edge of Pukaki lake.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a hidden gem or an untouched destination that you’re going to have to yourself. There’s a whole tourist village here set up to cater for the traffic that these glacier walks gets, but if you time your visit right you might just find yourself enjoying these walks in relative peace. We have also realised that while it might seem busy, not everyone has heard of the Hooker Valley Track, and those people are seriously missing out.

So if you’re one of those people, here’s our guide to seeing the Tasman Glacier Lookout and why you the Hooker Valley Track needs to be on your South Island itinerary. We’ve tacked on a couple of other walks to do from Mount Cook village too if you want to spend longer at the base of New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

Views from the end of the Hooker Valley Track. The Hooker Lake at sunset with moody skies
View from the Hooker Valley Track

Jump to what you need to know about these Mount Cook Glacier Walks:

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Where is Aoraki/Mount Cook Village

Aoraki or Aorangi is the Maori name for Mount Cook. At 3,724m tall it’s New Zealand’s tallest mountain so it’s no surprise that the Maori name translates to ‘Cloud Piercer’.

The village that lies at the base of Mount Cook – creatively called Mount Cook Village – can only be reached from the Eastern side of the Mountain. Once you reach Lake Pukaki, route 80 is the only road in and out of the Village. This drive is a very scenic 45 minutes that we recommend you do even if you’re not planning to do the Hooker Valley walk.

There is NO access to Mount Cook Village from the West Coast. The fastest way from here is via Haast Pass + Twizel.

In a rush? Save this post for later!

Tasman Glacier Lake

The Tasman Glacier is currently 27km long, with ice that runs 600m deep. It’s New Zealand’s longest glacier and a sight worth seeing. There are a couple of different walks you can do to see this Glacier sitting on the edge of its spectacular ice-melt lake. Set aside at least 3 hours if you want to do both walks.

Tasman Glacier Lookout

The Tasman Glacier Lookout is the shortest option for seeing Tasman Glacier and takes you past several old glacier lakes, referred to as the blue pools. At 40 minutes return it’s an easy one to do if you don’t have much time but there are a lot of steps for this walk, so it isn’t accessible for wheelchairs or pushchairs. However, there are plenty of places to rest along the way if you’re like me and don’t deal well with constant uphill walks.

Before you reach the steps and start the 15-minute climb to the glacier viewpoint, take a moment to see the blue pools. In the ’70s and ’80s, these pools were a vibrant blue colour similar to that of the blue pools at Haast. These days that isn’t the case though as, unfortunately, the glacier is no longer tall enough to melt into these lower-level pools. They are now topped up with rain and floodwater, resulting in a not-so-pretty murky green/grey colour while the name ‘blue pools’ remains in place.

From the top of the Tasman Glacier Lookout you’ll be greeted with a beautiful aerial view of Tasman lake, the glacier and maybe even an iceberg or two depending on the season. I expected the glacier to be a vibrant white/blue colour like you see on the TV but in the summer (and most of the winter, unless you’re there after a fresh snowfall) it’s covered in a layer of dust and gravel from landslides in the valley above it. We still found it an awe-inspiring sight though as even from a distance you can appreciate its size.

If you’re lucky, you might see a slightly smaller pool on the edge of the lake that’s been caused by excess ice-melt. These are often the vivid blue colour you’d expect to see in the previous Blue Pools and make up for the disappointment they often cause.

Tasman Glacier

If you have time for a longer walk, take the track that leads to the edge of the lake. You won’t be able to see the glacier as clearly from here, but you’ll be able to get some incredible photos of the lake and its icebergs – best seen at the very start of summer when the ice first starts melting, in the winter the lake completely freezes over.

This walk is one hour each way on a relatively flat track. Along the track you’ll be able to see old Moraines – these are the rocks and debris left behind by the retreating glacier – as well as a good array of plant life and birds.

Take some time to stand at the very end of the lake. This is where the glacier used to start and shows you just how far back it has retreated over the years. It’s thought that the Tasman Glacier is also New Zealand’s fastest shrinking Glacier as this lake didn’t exist in the early ‘70s!

Landscape image from the top of the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint. Reflection in Tasman Lake with a moody sky
Photo by Ginny of the view from the Tasman Glacier Lookout

Kea Point

Another walking option from the car park is the 1-hour return walk to Kea Point. This walk raises 180m over 3km and ends at a viewing platform slightly closer to the shelf of the glacier than the previous walks. Because of its short/easy nature, it’s a little busier than the others but the views over the surrounding ranges, lake and glacier are worth the possible crowds.

All of these walks are accessed from the car park at the end of the Tasman Valley road – signposted from route 80 on your way into Mount Cook Village. The Hooker Valley walk cannot be reached from the same car park

Hooker Valley Track

This walk was at the very top of my South Island bucket list. I’d seen some incredible photos of it and was eager to see another glacier – my second ever, Tasman Glacier was my first. It didn’t disappoint.

The Hooker Valley Track is a 10km/3-hour return walk through the valley that leads away from Mount Cook. With the aid of 3 impressive suspension bridges, the track zig-zags the river and gives walkers a great opportunity to see the magnificent Southern Alps up close and, on the way back, views out to the Sealy Ranges. You might even hear the distant rumbles of a common Mount Sefton avalanche – especially in summer.

Landscape image of the boardwalk on the Hooker Valley Track. Clear blue skies over Mount Cook and brown alpine grass field
View of Mount Cook from the Hooker Valley Track

Our experience on the Hooker Valley walk

We set off for this walk 3 hours before sunset, with the hopes of reaching the Hooker Lake in time to watch the sunsets alpine glow on Mount Cook. The car park was really busy but we passed more people heading back from their walk than we saw heading towards the lake. Do you know how good that feels? Knowing the crowds are going in the opposite direction to you? Especially at sunset. It’s a rare opportunity at such a popular tourist spot.

The first suspension bridge came and went without an issue, they’re not as scary when there aren’t kids bouncing around on them and I was able to stand and admire the water below for longer than I might have been able to hours before.

The track remained super easy, not surprising given its popularity among family travellers. It was nice to be able to admire the views around us without having to worry about falling off a cliff or tripping over the uneven ground but I have to admit, while we followed the flowing river towards Mount Cook, I craved a challenge on this track. It was almost ‘too easy’ for the distance it covers. 

Be careful what you wish for.

When we reached the final suspension bridge I quickly realised this one was a lot higher and longer than the others. I don’t do well on bridges that move, especially when they have a limit to the number of people on them. Luckily we were still the only ones around so I was able to get across without too much of a panic attack, albeit sweaty palms.

By the time we reached Hooker Lake and the Hooker Glacier the sun was already starting to dip below the ridges of the Alps. Three icebergs drifted slowly towards the mouth of the river, destined to melt down and join the rest of the water as it journeyed towards the power station in Pukaki. The temperature drops quickly in the Hooker Valley when the sun has gone and I regretted not packing more layers, I think the sight of icebergs played a part in making me feel colder than it actually was though.

We spent about an hour watching the colour in the sky change from clear blue to orange, pink then deep purple. Savouring the silence. It was hard to pull ourselves away but as the sky got darker it made sense to hightail it back up the track before it got completely black. It’s safe to say, this return journey made me thankful for the simplicity of the trail as we made it back to the car in complete darkness. 

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Things to know about the Hooker Valley Track

Although it’s an easy track to follow if you’re walking this track with young children, be aware that there are sections that have more of a drop-down to the river than others. It might be a track that adults will find easy but it’s not a track where kids can freely run and enjoy the surroundings.

Pack layers. As I mentioned previously, the temperature drops significantly once the sun goes down. We did this walk in the middle of summer and even though we took coats, by the end of our walk we were wishing we had an extra layer. In winter the weather can change quickly and there’s an increased risk of avalanche. If there has been recent heavy rain the track is also at risk of flooding.

The DOC website suggests this is a 3-hour return walk. We found this to be a fair estimate, even with a gentle stroll and plenty of photo stops we managed to reach the Hooker Lake within 1.5-hours.

Take snacks! This is a must for any long walk really but given the beauty of the Hooker Valley walk, extra snacks will allow you more time to sit and enjoy the views. Just remember to pack out what you pack in; take your rubbish home with you.

Hooker valley
One of the swing bridges on the Hooker Valley Track

What is the best time to do the Hooker Valley track?

If you want to enjoy the walk with fewer people around as possible, our personal experience suggests that going later in the day is a quieter time to enjoy the walk. However, it’s also the coldest. You could partially combat this by going for sunrise instead of sunset, this way you’d be allowing your day to warm up instead of cooldown – you’d also be watching the crowds arrive instead of leave.

If you’d rather do this walk without having to worry too much about the weather, the middle of the day is as good a time as any. Only at this time, you’ll be competing with the crowds. Especially in the summer. Still pack layers as in weather can be different in the valley to what it’s like in the car park.

Is the Hooker Valley track hard?

The Hooker Valley track is a surprisingly easy walk. The only thing you have to ask yourself is are you physically able to walk 10km without any issues. If you can, then you’ll be perfectly fine to walk the Hooker Valley Track.

The track is well maintained and consists mostly of sturdy boardwalk and levelled dirt track.

One thing to note though is there is very little shade along the Hooker Valley track, which makes it a very hot walk in the summer. Pack plenty of water and wear lots of suncream!

Can you camp near the Hooker Valley Track?

In short, Yes! The car park here doubles up as a campsite for both self-contained and non-self-contained campers. There’s a fully functioning kitchen area as well as plenty of flush toilet blocks.

  • Adult (18+ years): $15 per night
  • Child (5 – 17 years): $7.50 per night
  • Infant (0 – 4 years): free

Access to the campsite and hooker valley track – 2.5 km from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village at the end of Hooker Valley Rd off SH 80.

Do you plan to do the Hooker Valley or Tasman Glacier walk while you’re in New Zealand? Or maybe you have other walks you can recommend for while we’re here? Join in the conversation on Facebook and let us know what you think!

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