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10 Must-Do Hikes Around Mt Cook

Tourism NZ

Aoraki Mt Cook and surrounds’ best hikes!

As the highest mountain in New Zealand, Aoraki Mt Cook provides the backdrop to many super stunning hikes in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Because not many of us backpackers and working holidaymakers are going to be mountaineering on Aoraki Mt Cook any time soon, we’ll just stick to the must-do hikes around this epic mountain.

Snowcapped peaks, tussock lands, glaciers and not to mention the unbelievably blue lakes, the landscape surrounding Aoraki Mt Cook is a pretty special place to be hiking or taking a leisurely stroll.

While you’re here, exploring all there is to know about Aoraki Mt Cook, take a look at our full guide to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Plus, stick around for nightfall. With a clear night, you can get some beautiful night skies as shown in our 5 Stargazing Sits in New Zealand.

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1. Governors Bush Walk

The short loop walk should take just under 45 minutes. Taking you through beech forest up to a lookout point of the Southern Alps. Keep an eye out for native birds such as kea, the alpine parrot, and the cute fantail. After the lookout, the walk will take you back to the village where you started.

Location: Starts at the public shelter or Aoraki/Mt Cook village, Mt Cook.
Krzysztof Golik on Wikipedia

2. Hooker Valley Track

Starting in the White Horse Hill camping area, the Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular hikes in the valley. The 3-hour track will take you to the best of the alpine scenery including the Hooker River and two swingbridges, including one of the most scenic bridges in the country, to finally reach the Hooker Glacier terminal lake. “What is the best time of the year to take on this hike,” you ask? November, of course, if you want those Mt Cook lilies are blossoming in your pics!

Location: Starts at the White Horse Hill camping area, Mt Cook
Tourism NZ

3. Tasman Glacier View Track

Frozen in winter, the Tasman Glacier lake is best visited in summer where giant icebergs break away and can be seen floating in the lake. To reach the lake, take the short Tasman Glacier View Track starting in the Blue Lakes car park. This is a simple pit stop in your journey as the track is only 1-hour return.

Location: Starts at the Blue Lakes car park, Mt Cook.

4. Red Tarns Track

If you like stairs, you’ll be served! For about 2 hours the steep climb to the Red Tarn will test your endurance. Once you reach the summit, you will find a small lake overrun by red pondweed that gives the water an amazing colour. Also take the time to enjoy the view from up there: the whole valley unveiled before your eyes with Aoraki/Mt Cook in the background.

Location: Starts at the public shelter or Aoraki/Mt Cook village, Mt Cook.
 Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia

5. Domain to Mt John Lookout

Climbing from the bottom of Mt John to the top, the track offers a rare true 360-degree view of the surroundings as the track circles the summit. From there you will be able to spot Mt Cook, as expected, but also the whole Mackenzie Basin and the stunning Lake Tekapo. Spend 2h30min to tackle this hike – it is well worth it!

Location: Starts at the Domain at the bottom of Mt John, Lake Tekapo. For more things to do in Lake Tekapo check out our Tekapo Backpacker Guide.

6. Cowans Hill Track

The track follows the Tekapo River that is now mostly dry. The river flowed from the southern end of Lake Tekapo before joining in with the Pukaki River. Cowans Hill Track will take you through an open wetland with tussock grass beaten by the wind and thick pine cone forest offering a unique rare contrast of landscapes.

Location: Starts near Tekapo Road Bridge, Lake Tekapo

7. Peninsula Walk

For an easy-going walk with great views of the Southern Alps, Lake Tekapo and Motuariki Island, the lake’s biggest island, take on the 1h30min Peninsula Walk. The views are breathtaking and the loop is as easy as it gets. If you are not tired, pair this hike with the Domain to Mt John Lookout walk mentioned above – they go hand and hand.

Location: Starts at the pine plantation near Mt John, Lake Tekapo.
Krzysztof Golik on Wikipedia

8. Twizel Walkway

Another very easy walk, this 3-hour loop will take you all around the small town of Twizel, circling it and offering great views of the town and its surroundings. The walk is part through thick pine forest and a part through typical New Zealand farmland. That’s a true South Island experience.

Location: Starts from almost anywhere in Twizel, Twizel.
 Bernard Spragg. NZ on Flickr

9. Kettlehole Track

Any reason to visit Lake Pukaki is good enough for us and the Kettlehole Track is just one more reason! The Kettlehole Track is a 1-hour walk that will take you through native New Zealand bush to a unique kettlehole (shallow body of water created by retreating glaciers and now filled with sediment) with great views over the stunningly blue Lake Pukaki.

Location: Starts at the Pukaki River spillway, Twizel.
Tourism NZ

10. Fairlie River Walk

Starting over the Opihi River, the 1h30min return walk is a journey through history. Following the riverbed, you will find remains of the great 1994 flood, a huge historical event in the little settlement. You will also pass through the Fairlie Domain which is one of the landmarks of Fairlie. If you have extra time consider the Burkes Pass Heritage Walk starting at the St Patrick Church.

Location: Starts at the Allandale Bridge, Fairlie. For towns to visit in the region, check out 10 Essential Pitstops for Your South Canterbury Road Trip.

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