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One of the most stunning roads I have had the pleasure of traveling along is the road to Mount Cook National Park. Mount Cook National Park is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand!
Whether you’re road-tripping around the South Island or just on a day trip from Christchurch, we highly recommend heading down this beautiful roadway. As you drive along this windy road, you’re welcomed with stunning views of Lake Pukaki and the giant mountains that surround it in the distance. Lake Pukaki literally shines bright blue on a sunny day, and as you approach the township of Mount Cook, the views only get better.
One view, in particular, is as spectacular as it is famous, and that’s the view of Mount Cook Road with Mount Cook (the mountain) towering above in the background. Getting this iconic shot has become one of the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park.
In my opinion, taking the time to check out this view is so worth it. However, getting the perfect photograph can be difficult if you’re not super camera savvy.
So in this post, I will not only outline the exact spot where so many people get this amazing shot but also the little trick that gets it looking so good – so you can too!
Where is the exact spot for the photo?
The famous Mount Cook photo is taken 10 kilometers outside of Mount Cook Village.
As you drive out of Mount Cook Village (leaving from the village out of the national park) you will pass the airport on your left. Keep heading towards Lake Pukaki for another few minutes and you will begin to see Mount Cook’s peak pear out from its base as you drive further away.
Then, you will come to a long stretch of road that has four small streams on it all in a row (these streams are spread apart so it’s best to use Google Maps to find them).
As you can see in the photo above, the road curves to the right so keep that in mind when looking for the correct spot.
It’s on this stretch of road that you get the perfect angle of Mount Cook and also a good view to see if cars are coming (that’s kind of important). Below are a few screenshots of the location on Maps.me (one of my favorite apps for travel). The red markers show where this photo is taken from. In my opinion, taking the photo from the last stream is the best spot.
However, please use caution when trying to get this shot. Cars drive down this road very quickly and if you aren’t paying attention, they come out of nowhere. The sightline isn’t great because of the curves, so please be aware of cars and your surroundings when you’re running into the middle of the road to take this photo! Your safety isn’t worth risking for an Instagram post!
Related Read: One of the best ways to experience Mount Cook is by taking a scenic flight. There are a lot of options, so we have sorted out the best helicopter flights in Mount Cook to make your planning easier!
Is there a place to park?
Well, not exactly but there are places with flat ground where you can pull safely off the road. You’ll find areas to park on the side of the road at each one of the streams. Be sure to pull well off the road to avoid any accidents!
It is always best to leave your hazard lights on and never shoot in the dark. Although on this stretch of road, you have plenty of time to see cars coming, it’s still important to pay attention and always use a spotter when you’re behind the camera.
So, what’s the trick to getting the Mount Cook photo?
If you line up at the exact spot mentioned above and simply click your camera or phone the photo won’t quite look like the photos above. This is especially true if you shoot with a wide-angle lens.
With the wide-angle, your view becomes too large and Mount Cook appears tiny in the background and not as huge as you see with your eyes.
The trick to making Mount Cook appear huge is using some zoom! By making the person in the photo further away and zooming in you can decrease your field of view and also make your subject appear smaller, thus making Mount Cook larger.
That’s it, no crazy complicated trick, just some plain old zoom. The great thing about this technique is you can use it in other photos. Like the one below!
Related Read: For some more great photography tips, check out our guide on how to take better travel photos!
The New Mount Cook Viewing Platform
As much as we love an iconic photo location, this spot has gotten increasingly risky over the years. There is simply more traffic which makes timing your photo a bit more challenging.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t incredible photo opportunities around here! Peter’s Lookout is a much safer way to get the famous Mount Cook photo, and I’d argue it’s even more scenic because you can see Lake Pukaki too. There is a huge parking lot on the right side of the road as you drive towards Mount Cook, so it’s easier to pull in here and take your time to find the perfect photo spot.
This also gives you time to hang out for a bit and enjoy the view without being rushed! There are a ton of scenic viewpoints and lookouts along this route, so you can find amazing photo locations all over Mount Cook National Park.
Related Read: If you’re looking for more beautiful photo locations in New Zealand, head to Queenstown! This is arguably the prettiest city in the country, so there are some fantastic photo locations in Queenstown that will take your photography to the next level.
The BEST Tours of Mount Cook National Park
If you don’t have your own transportation or prefer to take a guided tour so you can learn more about the area, there are some fantastic Mount Cook National Park tours! This way, you’ll be able to take in the views, find the absolute best photo spots from your local guide, and explore this uniquely beautiful part of New Zealand.
Mount Cook small group tour from Queenstown
You can reach Mount Cook Village in about 3 hours from Queenstown, so it’s definitely doable on a day trip! If you don’t have your own transportation, the only way to visit Mount Cook National Park is by taking a tour. I often prefer tours on these long day trips so I don’t have to drive or do any of the planning!
This small group tour is great because you’ll make stops along the way so you learn more about the area and break up the drive. You will get to see the quaint town of Cromwell and New Zealand’s bluest lake, Lake Pukaki.
Once you reach Mount Cook National Park, you’ll have four hours to explore on your own, with recommendations from your guide. This is plenty of time to enjoy the Hooker Valley Track, or even take a heli-hike so you can explore the top of Tasman Glacier and have a scenic flight! Whichever you choose, this tour is a fantastic way to experience Mount Cook and get some great photos!
This tour includes transportation from your hotel in Queenstown, your guide, and a small group of 16. It doesn’t include lunch, but there will be time to stop along the way! Be sure to pack water, snacks, and proper clothing for the weather.
The 12-hour tour can be reserved for $250 NZD per person, or you can book the heli-hike and the full-day tour for $1,005 NZD. This includes the flight and a 2-hour led glacier hike! You can check out the options and book the tour in advance here.
Mount Cook Fly Explore from Queenstown
Visiting Mount Cook is undoubtedly beautiful no matter how you see it, but taking a scenic flight is perhaps the best way to experience it! Departing from Queenstown, this full-day tour starts and ends by flying over Mount Cook National Park. As if New Zealand’s tallest mountain wasn’t spectacular enough, imagine seeing it from above!
While some scenic flight tours only last 30 minutes to an hour, this is an 8-hour experience. Your flight from Queenstown to Mount Cook gives incredible aerial views, and then you’ll land at the Mount Cook airport and have 5 hours to explore. Spend some time checking out Mount Cook Village, hike the Hooker Valley Track, and grab lunch at one of the many cute cafes around. The time is yours to spend, and then you will take another flight back to Queenstown to finish up the day.
This is a small group tour (6 people) so you get more of a personalized experience during the flight and once you’re in Mount Cook! Scenic flights are so fun, I try to take one whenever it’s within my budget because it’s such a unique perspective of an already beautiful area. And while you won’t get the iconic Mount Cook road photo, you’ll be able to get some other epic photos on this trip!
You can book this tour for $769 NZD per person and it includes a shuttle to/from Queenstown airport, both flights, and your wonderful guide- book this tour in advance here!
Mount Cook day tour from Christchurch
Mount Cook National Park is about 4 hours from Christchurch, and this full-day tour is a unique way to travel around the South Island. It takes off from Christchurch but will drop you off in Mount Cook Village or Queenstown, so if this is the first leg of your South Island itinerary, it’s a fantastic way to get around.
This tour will pick you up from a meeting point in Christchurch, and start heading towards Mount Cook National Park, making stops along the way to break up the drive. You’ll get to see Geraldine, a quaint artsy town, and Lake Tekapo, which has some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen! Once you reach Mount Cook National Park, you can spend time exploring the town, take a hike, or scout out photo locations.
If you have time in your schedule, I recommend staying a night or two in Mount Cook so you can really enjoy the area, but if you need to continue moving, this tour can take you to Queenstown. This tour is $250 NZD from Christchurch to Mount Cook (or vice versa) or $350 NZD for Christchurch to Queenstown, with a stop at Mount Cook! It includes transportation and your guide, but lunch or other activities are at your own expense. You can reserve this tour in advance here!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Other Things to do in Mount Cook
Mount Cook National Park is one of my favorite places in New Zealand! There is so much more to do other than take the legendary Mount Cook Photo, so be sure to add at least one of these thrilling activities to your South Island itinerary.
Hike the Hooker Valley Track – This easy hiking track gives the best views of Mount Cook! The Hooker Valley track is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) return and is considered an easy route so that anyone can enjoy it. The trail is open year-round and is only 5 minutes from Mount Cook Village, it’s the perfect way to see Mount Cook and spend a few hours exploring!
Skydiving – Mount Cook is the most epic place to skydive in New Zealand! Imagine seeing the tallest mountain in the country from above– crazy! You can choose between 10,000-foot, 13,000-foot, or 15,000-foot skydives, which range from 20-60 seconds of freefall time. Be sure to book this experience in advance so you don’t miss out!
Scenic Flight – Taking a flight above Mount Cook is even more scenic because it actually lands atop the Tasman Glacier! You’ll get to trek along the glacier that is millions of years old and fly all around Mount Cook National Park on this 40-minute scenic flight. Talk about a photo-worthy experience!
Stay the night at the Mueller Hut – My favorite hike in Mount Cook is an overnight hike to the Mueller Hut. While it’s a bit challenging (prepare for over 2,000 steps!), the alpine views are totally worth it! You can stay overnight in the Muller Hut, which will keep you toasty warm in the winter, or nice and cool in the summer. It’s a fantastic option year-round!
Where to Stay in Mount Cook
If you’re heading to Mount Cook then you simply must stay at least one night – I guarantee you won’t regret it! There isn’t much accommodation and it books up fast (especially in summer) but here are your options:
The YHA in Mount Cook is one of the best budget options in Mount Cook National Park. It’s a clean, perfectly located hostel with dorm rooms available for a cheap stay in Mount Cook Village. There is ample parking for guests and the kitchen is huge. Oh and did I mention it comes with included spices – so get creative!
Honestly, this is where I stay on most visits to Mount Cook. Don’t get me wrong I love a bit of luxury but I also enjoy spending my money on experiences as posed to a bed!
The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is the biggest hotel in the national park and where the visitor center is. It has some of the best views and the restaurant is amazing!
White Horse Hill Campground– This is a DOC campground and costs only $15 per person per night. They also have specials for kids and students. The campground is set up for tents, cars, and motorhomes.
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge is a mid-range budget hotel that has stunning views of the entire national park.
Aoraki Court Motel – Another beautiful hotel that has the best reviews in Mount Cook National Park.
The Alpine Chalet – This is a one of a kind chalet built for 8 guests. It has 3 bedrooms and as a fully equipped kitchen! It’s the best option for large groups or families.
Mount Cook Lodge and Motel – One of the newest hotels in the park but quickly becoming one of the most popular and highly rated.
For more detailed information on the accommodation in Mount Cook and where to stay nearby, check out our Mount Cook accommodation guide!
Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand
The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)
You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.
You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!
JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.
We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! You must act quickly, though, as this code is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before December 21, 2024!
Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.
Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Before you go…
Well, now you know where to take the famous Mount Cook photo and the “secret” to get it! You can take this knowledge to Mount Cook and take another cool shot from this iconic spot!
Thanks so much for reading our blog, if you have any questions please leave them below in the comments section and we will get back to you! If not, then be sure to check out our New Zealand page for more great travel guides!