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The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand: An Easy Hike with Spectacular Views

The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand: An Easy Hike with Spectacular Views

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The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hike in Mount Cook National Park. This stunning hiking trail is breathtaking at every turn and is one of the best attractions in New Zealand!

I have personally hiked the Hooker Valley Track in New Zealand three times now, and I never get sick of the views both along the way and at Hooker Lake. Out of all of the national parks in New Zealand, Mount Cook just might be my favorite!

If you’re going to do one hike while you are in Mount Cook National Park, make it the Hooker Valley Track. I guarantee you’ll love it, it’s the most photographable place in Mount Cook, and simply stunning to look at!

In this blog, I’ll give you all of the information you need to complete the Hooker Valley Track, the attractions to look out for along the way, and how to best enjoy it by avoiding the crowds!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Hooker Valley Track is an easy hiking track and is an excellent way to experience Mount Cook National Park! You can spend a few days exploring the national park, or take a day trip from Queenstown which will give you enough time to hike the Hooker Valley Track and see the tallest mountain in New Zealand!

Overview of the Hooker Valley Track

Baiely standing in the shodow of Mount Cook on the Hooker Valley Trail
Just enjoying one of the many viewpoints!

Where is the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track is within Mount Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. The track itself starts only a couple of minutes outside of Mount Cook Village (the town in Mount Cook National Park) at the White Horse Hill Campground.

To find the campground, just drive to the end of Mount Cook Road or simply follow this Google Map location. If you have no service, download Google Maps prior to entering the park and download the South Island of New Zealand map. On this map, the campground is clearly marked

Once you arrive at the White Horse Hill Campsite, just follow the signs to the track starting point.

Reated Read: There’s going to be a lot of road trips if you want to discover New Zealand, check out this Christchurch to Queenstown road trip itinerary.

How Long is the Hooker Valley Track?

Bailey walking on one of the suspension bridges on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
Walking back after an epic sunset at the Hooker Lake

The Hooker Valley Track is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in each direction. You return via the same trail you hiked there.

It takes an hour and a half to hike each way, and most people spend around an hour at the viewpoint enjoying the views of the Hooker Lake. Overall, the entire 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) Hooker Valley Track can be completed within 3.5 hours including stops for photos.

How Difficult is the Hooker Valley Track?

Daniel walking along the boardwalk of the Hooker Valley Track
The boardwalk makes the hike easier but also protects the grasslands.

The Hooker Valley Track is a relatively easy hike. That being said, I have still seen people struggle on the trail.

The best way to work out whether it’s right for you or not, is to ask yourself if you can hike 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) at a park or in the city? If you can, then this trail will be no problem for you.

The path is very well maintained with little to no inclines. It is a very flat trail that often goes over wooden walkways and bridges.

In the summer months, it can get very hot on the track and there isn’t much shade. In my opinion, this could pose a risk or make the hike harder for those who are not used to or prepared for New Zealand’s harsh sun.

I highly recommend bringing at least 1 liter of water per person, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen regardless of what the weather looks like!

Related Read: The best way to experience the South Island is on a road trip! Check out everything you need to know to plan the best South Island, New Zealand road trip!

4 Highlights of the Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley Track offers some incredible views that you to see to believe. The highlights of the trail are:

1. Mt Cook / Aoraki

Bailey standing in the shodow of Mount Cook on the Hooker Valley Track
Can you spot Bailey?

Mt Cook or Aoraki (as it was first named by the Maori people) is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. It now stands at 3,724 meters (12,217 feet), 40 meters (131 feet) shorter than it was last recorded in 1991 after a few major slips and erosion caused it to lose some height. Let’s hope it doesn’t keep shrinking!

The name Aoraki comes from the Maori legend of how the South Island was born. Aoraki is actually the name of a Maori ancestor. The story behind the mountain is very interesting and you can read more about the Aoraki legend here!

You’ll see Mount Cook as you drive into the national park but from the end of the Hooker Valley Track is the best view, in my opinion!

2. Hooker Lake

A view of the Hooker Lake at the end of the Hooker Valley Track
If you get a reflection it’s really stunning!

Hooker Lake is another stunning attraction to see on the Hooker Valley Track. This lake is a very new addition to the valley and only began to form in the 1970s after the Hooker Glacier began retreating.

The lake is glacier-fed and sits directly beneath Mt Cook. In winter, the lake can freeze and in summer you’re likely to see icebergs floating on the surface. On a calm day, you can see Mt Cook’s perfect reflection in the lake. It’s the best end to the track!

3. Hooker Glacier

The Hooker Glacier sits across the Hooker Lake and can be viewed from the edge of the lake. It has retreated quite far, so you won’t get a close-up look, but you’ll still see it! In the photo above, you can just see the glacier; however it is covered in dirt and blends in with the landscape.

The glacier itself is 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) long and is only one of many that sit beneath Aoraki.

4. Mueller Glacier and Lake

The Mueller Lake, Mount Cook National Park
The Mueller Lake and Glacier (you can see it covered in dirt)

If you look to your left as you start the trail you will notice another lake. This is the Mueller Glacier and Lake. The Mueller Glacier is located at the end of this lake down the small valley but due to the fact that it’s receding, it is very hard to see.

This glacier can be hard to see as it blends in with the surrounding mountains and is often covered in snow during the winter. However, you can still spot it (especially now that you’ll be looking out for it!).

Related Read: Not only is Mount Cook highly photographable, but there are so many Instagramable spots in Queenstown for photography!

Tours to Hike the Hooker Valley Track

Mount Cook small group tour from Queenstown

Winding road to mount cook in New Zealand
So beautiful!

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.

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

View of the Southern Alps as seen from a helicopter tour in mount cook National Park
What a view!
Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre in Mount Cook
Statue of Sir Edmund Hillary!

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. 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

Views of Mount Cook from the Lake Tekapo viewpoint
Views of Mount Cook from the Lake Tekapo viewpoint

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 or take the Hooker Valley Track hike.

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.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

3 Reasons You MUST Hike the Hooker Valley Track!

What I loved most about the Hooker Valley Track was just how scenic it was from start to finish. It wasn’t one of those hikes that are only good at the end, the entire time the scenery is breathtaking!

1. The View at the End of the Track

Bailey watching the sunset behind Mount Cook and the Hooker Lake, New Zealand
Bailey watching the sunset behind Mount Cook and the Hooker Lake, New Zealand

The amazing view of Mount Cook over Hooker Lake is the view at the end of the track or the main attraction. During clear days, Mount Cook reflects off of the lake making for an amazing picture.

I could literally spend hours just enjoying this amazing view! If you’re into photography, Mount Cook National Park will be a dream!

2. You’ll cross the most beautiful suspension bridges in New Zealand!

Looking towards Mount Cook on one of the Hooker Valley suspension bridges
Looking towards Mount Cook on one of the Hooker Valley suspension bridges

I love the suspension bridges around New Zealand! But if I’m being honest, none compare to the three on the Hooker Valley Track. They cross the Hooker River along the trail in some of the most scenic locations! It’s one sure reason to add this hike to your NZ bucket list!

Because of all the suspension bridges, it also helps keep the route flat and easy to hike.

3. You’ll stand next to New Zealand’s tallest mountain

Bailey standing on a suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Trail with Mount Cook in the background
Bailey standing on a suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Trail with Mount Cook in the background

You can’t come to New Zealand and not stand as close as possible to Mount Cook! I mean, how many other countries can you walk 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to their tallest mountain? I don’t know the answer, but my guess is not many!

Related Read: Continue your New Zealand adventures by checking out the 7 must-visit South Island destinations, there’s just so much to explore!

The BEST Time to Hike the Hooker Valley Track

Another suspension bridge on the hooker Valley Track
Another suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

The best time to hike the Hooker Valley Track is in either the morning or late afternoon. This is not only a beautiful time of day but you’ll also avoid the large crowds that normally visit around midday.

Sunrise or sunset?

At sunrise, you will get an amazing glow as the sun rises behind Mt Cook. At sunset you see the last light disappear off the peak of Mt Cook. So, as for the age-old question of sunrise and sunset, I’d personally say sunset is better especially if you’re a photographer.

Day vs night?

During the day is beautiful because the entire valley is lit up and for those just enjoying the view, it’s a really nice time to be on the Hooker Valley Track. However, if you love the stars and photography be sure to hike back at night. The stars are amazing out here and you can catch the Milky Way over Mount Cook.

Summer vs winter?

When it comes to the seasons, the track is open all year round. The trail is safe to hike in winter as it doesn’t pass avalanche-risk areas nearby. So, no matter what time of year you visit, you can hike the Hooker Valley Track all year round!

With that said, if you want that amazing reflection you’ll need to visit in summer to late autumn. This is because the lake freezes in winter and that reflective water is nowhere to be seen!

Please be aware that the Hooker Lake does not freeze enough to walk on. Despite this, I have seen people risk their lives doing it but please stay safe and don’t attempt it!

The Hooker Valley at Sunrise

A sunrise over Mount Cook on the Hooker Valley Trail.
The perfect amount of cloud!

The other day we got up at 4 am to hike the track for sunrise. We wanted to be at the lake to watch the amazing sunrise and it was well worth the early wake-up call. The mountains reflected off the lake as the sun rose over the mountains. We had the whole area all to ourselves! So peaceful and beautiful.

If you too would like to do this be sure to leave at least an hour before the sun is due to rise. Oh, and don’t get scared if you see a possum run past you (like we did) they are common after dark!

Tips for Walking the Hooker Valley Track

Looking out at Mount Cook from the bench at the end of the Hooker Valley Trail
Not a bad place to relax!

How to avoid the crowds

The Hooker Valley Track is one of New Zealand’s most popular hikes. With that comes hoards of people. If you want to enjoy the view with some peace and quiet I suggest you either hike first thing in the morning or wait until the end of the day and spend sunset at the lake!

What to bring

  • Camera
  • Hat – for NZ’s crazy sun
  • Sunglasses
  • Clothes to fit the season
  • A towel – if it’s summer and you decide to jump in the lake (or winter if you’re crazy)!
  • 1 liter of water
  • Suitable footwear
  • Headlamp or flashlight – if you want to start before sunrise or come back after sunset

Accommodations Near Hooker Valley Track

Aoraki Court Hotel, Mount cook National Park
Photo Credit – Aoraki Court Hotel, Mount Cook National Park

Accommodation is very limited in Mt Cook Village (where the Hooker Valley Track starts). In fact, you only have 7 options and they book up fast (especially in the summer). For this reason, it’s best to book them ASAP!

Below are the only options you have for places to stay in Mount Cook Village:

White Horse Hill Campground– This is a DOC caravan park and campground right inside the national park. It costs $13 per person per night. However, they do have specials for students and kids. The campground caters to tents, cars, and motorhomes.

YHA Mount Cook – This is by far the best budget option in Mount Cook! It has incredible views of Mount Cook and is centrally located in town. There is a shared kitchen area and a sauna, so you’ll have everything you need! Dorms start at around $100 NZD per night.

Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park – For around $100 NZD a night this holiday park in Twizel is the most affordable option that you will find pretty much anywhere in the area. Even though it’s a 45-minute drive to Mount Cook it is only a 2-minute walk to the gorgeous Lake Ruataniwha. Note, no matter which size cabin you book all facilities here are shared.

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge – The Alpine Lodge is a medium-budget hotel that has stunning views of the surrounding mountains. This is probably the best value hotel in Mount Cook Village and as such, is almost always fully booked.

The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook – The Hermitage is a great hotel and the largest in the park. It’s also where the visitor center is located. It likely has some of the best views in the village! Their onsite restaurant is delicious and offers incredible views while you eat.

Aoraki Court Motel – Another great hotel in the village. It’s actually got the best reviews in Mount Cook Village so you know it’s a great choice!

For more detailed info about the hotels in Mount Cook Village or alternative nearby towns to stay in, check out our blog about where to stay in Mount Cook National Park!

If all of the places to stay in Mount Cook are fully booked, you can stay in the nearby town of Twizel instead. Twizel is the closest town to Mount Cook and home to budget hotels. You can search all of the Twizel options here.

Other Things to do in Mount Cook National Park

tasman river walk
The Tasman lake
  • Hike to the Mueller Hut – the Mueller Hut is one of the best alpine huts in New Zealand. It’s located in the most stunning location high above the valley in Mount Cook. To date, it’s my favorite hike in New Zealand!
  • Scenic flight – I recommend this 30-minute helicopter ride over Fox Glacier! You’ll have a gorgeous flight over Mount Cook National Park and the Southern Alps, then land on Fox Glacier for a bit of glacier trekking! This is a totally unique experience that you don’t want to miss out on!
  • Visit the Tasman River for sunrise – The short walk to the Tasman River makes it the perfect opportunity to enjoy a sunrise over the Tasman Glacier. From this viewpoint, you will have the most breathtaking views!
  • Take the famous Mount Cook road photo – It’s such an awesome photo to take home with you and in our blog, we show you exactly where and how to take it!
  • Hike the Sealy Tarn Trail – The Sealy Tarn Trail is the shorter version of the Mueller Hut. Both follow the same path but the Sealy Tarn trail ends halfway to the hut. However, the views from the top are still amazing!
  • Go Skydiving – There are three epic heights to jump from in an insanely scenic setting: 9,000 ft , 13,000 ft, or 15,000 ft.

For more amazing things to do in Mount Cook check out the blog on the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park!

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

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! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey on a suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track looking out over the Hooker River
If these photos don’t get you excited I don’t know what will!

Overall, the Hooker Valley Track was an awesome walk. I was thoroughly impressed with how beautiful it was! We will definitely hike the Hooker Valley Track again in the future, and you should too!

Don’t forget to check out all of our blogs about New Zealand, Mount Cook National Park, or a few of these other related articles below!

How to Pick the Best Mount Cook Helicopter Ride

ULTIMATE Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand

ULTIMATE Queenstown Travel Guide (2023 Essential Info!)

Bev Garmey

Friday 21st of July 2023

Hi there,I can't wait to visit and walk the Hooker Valley Track. I arrive with a tour group next week. After reading your comments and suggestions regarding the walk I am really excited about doing it. I am interested in returning during November with my granddaughter who just loves hiking and climbing mountains.

Sharon

Monday 17th of October 2022

Hi, We are visiting in december and have two boys of 3 and 5 years old. And unfortunately 10 km is way to far for them. Is it worth to walk half of the track and then return? I realize we miss Hooker Lake, but I think they like the suspension bridges and does Mueller Lake also have nice views? Hopefully you can give me some answers, since you have been there. Warm regards from Holland :-)

Sharon

Tuesday 18th of October 2022

Hi Daniel,

Thank you so much for your quick response! We keep your recommendations in mind and I already read the other blog. We can't wait untill we're there :-D!!

Regards, Sharon.

destinationlesstravel

Monday 17th of October 2022

Hey Sharon,

If the 10 kilometers is an issue, visit Mueller Lake Lookout and explore Tasman Lake. These are very short walks you can easily do. also, check out this blog for more info - https://myqueenstowndiary.com/hikes-in-mount-cook-national-park/.

As for the views on the Hoooker Valley Track, you will get to enjoy some and cross one of the suspension bridges, which I am sure the boys will love!

Hope this helps, Daniel