"The Highest Peaks, Glaciers, Lakes and Icebergs" Top 5 Page for this destination Mount Cook National Park by Kakapo2
Mount Cook National Park Travel Guide: 37 reviews and 154 photos
At first glance you might think the area around New Zealand's highest peak is only a playground for real mountaineers like the late Sir Edmund Hillary, our NZ all-time hero, first man on Mount Everest with the sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. His life-sized monument stands in Mount Cook Village, and at the end of 2007 an alpine centre named after him was opened there.
But - this is absolutely not the case. Everybody can enjoy this region, and you do not have to climb at all to experience the beauty of glaciers, glacier lakes, ice-cold rivers and floating icebergs. It is absolutely fascinating! Plus, from spring to autumn you see all those giant plants along the tracks, seas of white flowers, the Mt. Cook Daisy and Lily, as well as the Spiny Spaniard, mountain flax and hebes. Also birdlife is nice, from keas (although we have always seen a lot more in the Arthur's Pass region) to New Zealand falcons, from silvereyes to yellow-breasted tomtits. In the morning you walk accompanied by the birds' chorus, later in the day it becomes more quiet.
Already the 53km long drive along turquoise-blue Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook Village is magic. (The lake's spectacular colour BTW comes from the glacier silt in the water. In winter when no melt water flows into this hydro lake the water is dark blue.) In summer flowering lupins along the access road give the trip an even more surreal touch.
On a sunny day, travelling on State Highway 8 from Lake Tekapo you already see Mt. Cook shortly after Lake Tekapo. From the carpark on SH8 at the end of Lake Pukaki (Mt. Cook Lookout) the mountain sits towering at the other end of the lake, majestically.
A very spectacular alternative of driving to Mt. Cook from Lake Tekapo is via the Bullock Wagon Trail along the hydro canal that also displays spectacular turquoise blue and greenish water on a sunny summer's day. It is just a small detour past the world's highest salmon farm, and the road leads directly back to SH 8 before you reach Lake Pukaki.
Normally I would say the rule of thumb is to drive to Mt. Cook Village only if you can see Mt. Cook from this carpark. But you can also risk it if it is not raining cats and dogs, as the weather changes so quickly that you might have totally different conditions at the village.
When we were there last year in winter the low morning clouds were just lifting during our drive to the village, and when we started our walk into the Hooker Valley the view got better and better, and soon we had perfect views of Mt. Cook. While sitting at Hooker Lake which is the lake right under the mountain, at the terminal face of Hooker Glacier, some clouds came back, and when we were back at the village Mt. Cook was totally covered in clouds - just to show up again when we came back from our next walk to Tasman Lake and its spectacular floating icebergs.
Although a lot more tourists walk the Hooker Valley track which takes 3 to 4 hours, depending from where you start and how fast you walk, you should not miss this short walk. Seeing hundreds of icebergs floating on the grey water makes you nearly speechless. (However, when it is very cold in winter the lake will freeze over. But there are still some big icebergs trapped in the frozen water.)
Several glaciers lead down to this valley, Tasman Glacier being the longest one in the whole country with 29km. But as you know, the glaciers in the whole world are melting, and these ones are no exception. Only the two glaciers leading down to the West Coast (Franz Josef and Fox) are exceptions from this rule. They are even growing at a rapid rate.
Although they say you find all kinds of accommodation at Mt. Cook Village this is not entirely true. But it is becoming better, as the new Alpine Lodge fills the gap between backpacker accommodation and very expensive accommodation. The Hermitage had everything under control until recently. Rooms cost about NZ$ 500, and motel units still $250.
But as mentioned, now there is the Alpine Lodge (http://www.aorakialpinelodge.co.nz/) as a somehow affordable alternative, compared to The Hermitage's rates. The rooms are rather basic, the rates for a double room are NZ$ 144 to 175. If you book it last minute on the internet you can get it for $ 99 if you are lucky.
There is no supermarket or other restaurant than the hotel restaurant where you could get food if you stay at the village.
Oh, nearly forgot the Old Mountaineer Café... They had legally challenged the Hermitage which had forced its guests to have breakfast and dinner deals when booking a room, and we praised them for doing it. But when we wanted to support them and reward them with a visit on the Queen's Birthday weekend 2007 they were closed! You must imagine, three days of big business! We had never seen more visitors at the car parks to the various walks, not even in the peak season, and this café was closed. Somehow unbelievable after this long-running and successful legal battle.
If you do not want to spend a fortune for accommodation and not stay at a backpackers hostel or campground, Twizel is a perfect base for a visit to the Mt. Cook National Park. It is just 10km from the start of the access road and has a lot of good motels, a big hotel and a nice selection of restaurants, from local to Thai, Chinese, Italian and Fish'n Chips, and a supermarket as well.
At Glentanner, about 8 km south of Mt. Cook Village on the access road, is the airport where you start scenic flights over the mountains, glaciers and lakes.
- Pros:Magic colours, magic shapes, magic nature
- Cons:No competition at Mt. Cook Village, rule of The Hermitage
- In a nutshell:MAGIC
This is the last flowering plant to blossom in the high country, so already in autumn. Like most New Zealand flowers... more travel advice
Also known as mountain daisy or Celmisia verbascifolia (in an old encyclopedia I found the name Celmisia petiolata),... more travel advice
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