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The Tasman Glacier, New Zealand is a must-visit! This blog is all about the Tasman Lake walk as well as how to best experience the view of Tasman Glacier and Lake for sunrise.
At 5 am my alarm clock went off. I quickly turned it off and hopped out of bed. I was staying at the Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge in Mount Cook National Park.
Although we were on holiday, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the sunrise over the Tasman Lake and Tasman Glacier so that unfortunately meant an early morning wake-up call.
Of course, most people thought we were crazy, but after enjoying an epic sunrise at the Tasman Glacier and lake, I have to say if you can brave one early morning on your trip make it here you should! But why?
Well, you see, Tasman Lake is perfectly located to enjoy the first light of the day ahead. This makes it one of the most beautiful places to visit at sunrise and the views of the mountains, icebergs, and the Tasman Glacier are breathtaking!
Just in case you’re not sold on the idea, here’s our guide to visiting Tasman Lake and some photos to prove a visit at sunrise is a must!
About the Tasman Glacier
From the Tasman Lake viewpoint, it’s hard to imagine that the Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s largest glacier. The Tasman Glacier is over 25 kilometers (14.6 miles) in length, up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide, and at its thickest part, 600 meters (2,000 feet) deep!
Unfortunately though, the glacier was much larger only a few decades ago and since it began retreating the viewpoint from the Tasman Lake has become much further away from the face of the glacier. In fact, between 2000 & 2008 the Tasman Glacier retreated 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles.)
This has made visiting the Tasman Glacier more about the amazing views of Tasman Lake, the surrounding mountains, and the icebergs that remind us this glacier is still retreating.
Despite this, a visit to the Tasman Lake and Glacier is a must and is still considered one of the most beautiful glacier viewpoints in New Zealand.
Where is the Tasman Lake Viewpoint?
The Tasman Lake viewpoint is located just outside in Mount Cook Village 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 parking lot.
Here, there are a few different trails that are all signposted. Follow the signs towards the 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!
To me, this is one activity that should be on everyone’s Mount Cook bucket list!
Related Read: Do you know where and how to take the famous road photo of Mount Cook? Read here!
How Hard is the Tasman Lake Walk?
The Tasman Lake Walk is easy! And that’s what makes it so good for sunrise. The trail itself is mostly flat and the path is large and clear. From the parking lot to the viewpoint of the Tasman Glacier it only takes around 10 to 15 minutes to reach.
The only difficult point on the Tasman Lake viewpoint trail comes at the end. Here, 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 to climb down over some rocks to get to the edge of the lake.
The walk from the parking lot to the viewpoint is very safe. Since the trail is fairly easy, doing it in the dark before sunrise with just a head torch was fine.
Don’t Take the Wrong Trail to Tasman Lake!
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 where the reflections on the lake are amazing.
The sun was coming and we were running out of 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.
Of course, if you aren’t visiting during sunrise you can explore the entire area and the different viewpoints around without any rush.
Related Read: There are endless amounts of NZ activites, find out the most unique things to do in New Zealand!
How much time do you need to allow for sunrise?
From the official sunrise time, I would allow 30 minutes in order to drive to the Tasman Glacier parking lot 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:
1. 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 very small lakes that although they aren’t that impressive or blue, do give off amazing reflections of the surrounding mountains.
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.
2. Tasman Glacier Viewpoint
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!
3. 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.
Related Read: Weather an infrequent or frequent kayaker, kayaking in Milford Sound will be an experience for the memory books.
4. Hooker Valley Track
After visiting the Tasman Lake and the glacier you can easily make the 5-minute drive to the Hooker Valley Track and hike the trail.
The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hiking trail in Mount Cook National Park. The 10km (6.2mi) 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.
5. 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!
6. Sealy Tarns Track
The Sealy Tarns Track is actually the 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 2,200 steps and takes around 3 hours to complete.
7. Helicopter Ride and Tasman Glacier Landing
If you want an experience on Tasman Glacier that will be impossible to forget and something you’ll talk about for years to come then you must go on a helicopter and Tasman Glacier landing tour.
While an investment, it will get your heart pumping as you pass over the epic snow-covered mountains of Mount Cook National Park before it swoops in for a landing on Tasman Glacier where you can get out and walk around untouched natural beauty. You can book the specific tour that lands on Tasman Glacier here or read our blog which compares all of the different scenic helicopter flight options in Mount Cook.
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.
As I said above, if you can do one early morning on your trip make it at the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint. The 15-minute easy walk makes it accessible to almost anyone and a much easier sunrise mission than the hike to Roy’s Peak (another sunrise you should do!)
This is a walk we will definitely do again in the future.
Related Read: There’s a lot to see on the road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown, see our itinerary!
Where to Stay Near Tasman Lake
There are only a handful of places to stay in Mount Cook Village so if you want to hike the Tasman Lake viewpoint it’s best to book them ASAP as they book up fast (especially in the summer)! Here are your only choices for places to stat in Mount Cook:
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.
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 hotels in Mount Cook are already booked up, consider staying in Twizel instead. Twizel is the closest town to Mount Cook and is home to budget hotels. You can search all of the Twizel options here.
Other Things to do in Mount Cook
There are PLENTY of other things to do in Mount Cook but here are a few more ideas to look into!
- Go Stargazing – Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve inside of Mount Cook is the perfect place to see the sky lit up with stars because it is so dark!
- 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.
- Backcountry Ski Experience – This tour will transport you by helicopter to your first run on Tasman Glacier.
- Dinner with a View – The Hermitage Hotel is serving up delicious food with one of the best views in Mount Cook Village.
- Take a day trip from Mount Cook to Lake Tekapo.
Thanks for reading!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read our Tasman Glacier and viewpoint guide! I really hope it answered all your questions about the trail and visiting at sunrise.
If not, leave us a comment below in the comments section and we will get back to you!
Also if you loved this article then be sure to check out all our Mount Cook blogs or our New Zealand guides page. Alternatively, I’ll leave some related articles below!
The best Mount cook helicopter flight
Two week New Zealand South Island Itinerary
Where to take the best photos in Mount Cook National Park