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The Tasman Lake for Sunrise – Know Before You Go!

Last updated : November 5th, 2019

tasman river and tasman lake for sunrise

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Shadowed by Mount Cook and the Hooker Valley, the Tasman Lake is often skipped by tourists. I saw photos of it at sunrise though and I knew I just had to see it with my own eyes –  it was simply gorgeous! This blog is all about the Tasman Lake walk as well as how to best experience the view of Tasman River and Lake for sunrise. 

Watching the Sunrise at the Tasman Lake

At 5 am my cell phone alarm clock went off. I quickly turned it off hoping not to wake the 10 or so other people in my dorm room. I was staying at the YHA Hostel in Mount Cook National Park. Although we were on holidays, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the sunrise over the Tasman Lake so that unfortunately meant an early morning.

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We got ready quickly before heading to the van. It was a cold winter morning, the van had ice covering it and the windshield wipers were stuck to the windshield. We waited as the van heated up a little bit before racing down Tasman Valley Road to start our Tasman Lake Walk in the dark.

The Tasman Lake is often photographed at sunrise, the sun creates a reflection on the lake of the mountains and the icebergs in the lake add to the effect. We knew that the best time to take in the view of the Tasman Glacier and valley would be sunrise so with our camera gear in hand we head down the trail to get what we hoped would be amazing photos.

tasman lake walk
Early morning glow as the sun rises from behind the mountains!

Where is the Tasman Lake Viewpoint?

The Tasman Lake viewpoint is located just outside in Mount Cook National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. To get there leave Mount Cook Village and head to Tasman Valley Road. Drive along this road until the end where there is a car-park.

Here, there a few different trails that are all signposted. Follow the signs towards Tasman River. Yes, RIVER, not the lake, The signs that direct you to the river actually bring you to where the river meets the lake and this is the magical spot that’s perfect for catching those stunning reflections!

The walk down to the edge of the lake from the end of the path requires you to make your own path over a few rocks. However, from the bottom, you get amazing views and can even touch icebergs!

the tasman valley walk
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How Hard is the Tasman Lake Walk

The Tasman Lake Walk is easy, it is mostly flat with a clear path. The only difficult bit comes at the end. You will be on top of a hill with a great view, but if you want that perfect reflection off of the lake you will have the literally climb over huge rocks to get to the edge of the lake.

The walk from the car-park to the viewpoint only takes about 15 minutes. Since the trail is fairly easy, doing it in the dark before sunrise with just a head torch was safe.

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Don’t Make the Same Mistake We Did!

After finally reaching the Tasman Lake car park the sky started to glow and we knew our time was limited until sunrise. We started walking very fast down the trail towards the Tasman Lake viewpoint, or so we thought! When we got to the end and we looked out onto the lake we realized that this wasn’t “the spot”. What I mean by “the spot” is the viewpoint were the reflections on the lake are amazing.

The sun was coming and we were running out time. We quickly scrambled back up the hill and then took a left down a different trail. At this stage we started running, we didn’t want to miss the golden hour! We had no idea if this trail was the correct one or not, but it was worth a try.

Sure enough, five minutes later we were up on top of a hill and down below us at the lakeshore was a line of photographers. We found “the spot” we had been looking for and, just in the nick of time! 

This somewhat famous photo is taken at the lake’s edge, just to the right of where the river connects with the lake. Therefore, if you want to find this magical viewpoint for yourself you will need to follow the signs to the Tasman River, not the lake.

view of tasman glacier
No wonder so many photographers come to this location, it is simply stunning!

How Much Time do you Need to Allow

From the official sunrise time, I would allow 30 minutes in order to drive to the Tasman Glacier carpark and complete the hike. In summer this means a really early wake-up call and in winter a cold one. But trust me it’s so worth it!

Other Places to Visit and Things to do Near the Tasman Lake

After you are done checking out the mouth of the river, it is worth walking around the lake a bit for another perspective. Other places to check out are:

The Blue Lakes

From where you started the hike to the Tasman Lake viewpoint there is another trail that leads to the Blue Lakes. The Blue Lakes Are rather underwhelming in my opinion and they aren’t even very blue.

We later found out that this is because the Tasman Glacier has retreated so much that the melting ice from the glacier no longer feeds to the lakes. It is the particles in the glacier water that gives lakes their blue color as you would have seen at Lake Tekapo.

Tasman Glacier Viewpoint

tasman lake viewpoint
The viewpoint looking over Tasman Lake

The Tasman Glacier Viewpoint is well worth checking out. From here you can clearly see the Tasman Glacier. At the viewpoint, there are some signs that show you just how far the Tasman Glacier has retreated in a mere 40 years! It’s actually so crazy and scary!

Tasman Lake Kayaking Tour

If the viewpoints weren’t close enough to the Tasman Glacier for you then consider going on a kayaking adventure. On these tours, you can get extremely close to the glacier and paddle around the icebergs in the lake.

Hooker Valley Track

Hooker valley track NZ

The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hiking trail in Mount Cook National Park. The 10km trail finishes at the Hooker Lake which, on a calm day, reflects Mount cook off its surface. I personally love it and have hiked the trail many times.

Mueller Hut

The Hike to the Mueller hut is a must-do for anyone after a little more adventure. On this trail, you venture high off the valley floor and up into the mountains. The Mueller hut itself is an alpine hut that has bunk beds available for those who want to spend the night (which I highly recommend). If you do choose to complete the hike up and down in a day be sure to leave early!

Sealy Tarns Track

Mount Cook national park is one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand
The views on the way to the Sealy Tarn

The Sealy Tarns Track is actually this first part of the Mueller Hut Trail. This hike doesn’t climb as high as the Mueller hut but the views are very similar. The Sealy Tarns Trail climbs 2200 steps and takes around 3 hours to complete.

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Was it worth the 5 am alarm?

Absolutely. Watching the sunrise over Tasman Lake was mesmerizing. It was peaceful and gorgeous. We stayed for over an hour just enjoying the scenery. This is a walk we will definitely do again in the future.

Are there any hikes you have done in New Zealand at sunrise that you loved? Let us know in the comments below!


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About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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