The Hooker Valley is a level hike that takes 3 to 4-hours along a nice creek, having the magnificent Mt. Cook always in front of you. It is nevertheless hard to see it completely uncovered. The Maoris were indeed accurate when they decided to name it Aoraki or Cloud Piercer...
This walk ends by a glacier lake where you may find some pretty ice blocks floating around.
At the South end of Lake Pukaki, on Hwy #8, there is a place to park and view Mount Cook. Our boys, the Matamata Clay Bird Shooting team (on tour) found it a great place to try their hand at skimming stones on the flat, mirrorlike water. Others, not wanting to admit they were in fact impressed at the scenery, took photos of snowy mountains and Mt Cook.
Often these students from the North Island, have never seen snow before, so this was a great experience and bonus to their shooting trip.
If you are an experienced tramper and want to have the ultimate thrill, you can try to reach the summit of NZ's highest peak. But do not underestimate it. Although Mt. Cook is only 3754m high it is a very dangerous climb as it rises from nearly sea level. Every year we hear about deadly falls, and most do happen on the climb back downhill. Best to climb with a guide. More information about this, see:
Also the Copland Track, Mueller Hut Route and Ball Pass Crossing are only suitable for really experienced trampers.
For people who do not want to risk too much but get an impression about this magnificent alpine region there are 10 short to day walks on rather good tracks from Mt. Cook Village and in the Tasman Valley, from the 10 mins return Bowen Bush Walk to the 4hrs return Hooker Valley Walk. See this list, descriptions and walking times on the below listed website of the Department of Conservation (DOC).
We always come back to the Hooker Valley Walk because this leads over two swingbridges, along the Hooker River, to Mueller Lake, towered by Mueller Glacier, and finally to the terminal lake of Hooker Glacier, and throughout the walk you can see magnificent alpine flora, from Mt. Cook Lilies or Daisies, depending on the season, the Spiny Spaniard, mountain flax, a lot of hebes and other shrubs, and so on.
You should at least walk over the second swingbridge and then five more minutes, as from there you have a spectacular view on Mt. Cook high above the Hooker River.
If you start your walk at the White Horse Hill camping area what we always do it takes you only 3 to 3.5hrs return. Hooker Valley is clearly indicated at Mt. Cook Village.
The walks in the Tasman Valley start before the Village, the Red Tarns Track directly in the Village.
Whereas we had done the Hooker Valley Walk several times we somehow had always missed the Tasman Valley Walks. What a mistake!
It is a short walk which will reward you with most spectacular views of the Tasman and its adjoining glaciers, floating icebergs in the hundreds or even thousands, and the view back to Lake Pukaki.
If you are not fit at all it might take you longer than 20 minutes (one way) to the Tasman Glacier and Lake view point. We passed some people who had to stop every some metres and breathe heavily because you have to walk up an end moraine which is rather steep. From the main track and the view point you can see the Blue Lakes which in fact are deep green ponds. If you want to inspect them closely there is a short side track down the hill.
In summer the floating icebergs are at their best as they are still rather fresh and big. But when we were there in early winter before the first snowfalls there were still hundreds of them floating on the icey greenish grey water. In really cold conditions the lake freezes over. You can also walk down to the lake which takes you 50 to 60mins return from the carpark.
In summer you can swim in the lake, and operators offer kayak trips with iceberg touching ;-)
Glacier Sea Kayaking, Mt. Cook Village
Phone (03) 435 1890
Discovery Tours, 10 Jollie Road, Twizel
Phone (03) 435 0114
From the same carpark you can walk on the Ball Shelter Hut Route. this is a big hike and takes 3 to 4 hours one way. You must be cautious on this walk as the moraine wall is instable. If you intend to stay at the hut you have to pay your fees at the Visitor Centre before departing.
On a clear and sunny day this is nearly a must-to-do trip: the 53kms long drive on HW80 , leaving HW8, along Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook Village. It offers such spectacular views towards Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest peak (3754m), and its neighbouring giants of the Mt. Cook National Park, first with just the striking turquoise blue waters of the hydro lake, then - if you travel at the right time, best in December - even with lake and lupins, and then through the valley floor of the Hooker River with snow-capped mountains and glaciers right in front of you and beside you.
Do not expect Mt. Cook - the Maori call it Aoraki or: cloud piercer - to show up in its full splendour every day. One day you have no cloud in the sky and the views are perfect, the next day the whole area is covered in clouds and you see literally nothing, just a narrow stretch of the lake, even if it does not rain. Sometimes you might be lucky if you risk the long drive although you have no view from the head of the lake, and suddenly the clouds disappear. But it is, as already said, pure luck. We are often in the region, and are not always lucky to see Mt. Cook.
The rule of thumb is that if you see some of the mountains from the carpark and visitor centre at the head of the lake you should drive to Mt. Cook Village. There are some great walks to do.
Kaki (Black Stilt) are one of the world's most critically endangered birds and the world's most endangered wading bird. In 2005 there were only 55 adults left in the wild.
The Mackenzie Basin - from Lake Tekapo in the north to Omarama in the south - is the heart of Kaki country. If you are lucky you can spot kaki in the wider area around Twizel: above Glentanner in the Tasman Valley, on the way to Mt. Cook, at Lake Poaka just outside Twizel (ask at your accommodation, it is not in road maps) and in the Ben Avon Wetlands and near Birchwood Station in the Ahuriri Valley a bit further south.
Twizel is the centre of the Kaki recovery programme. As there are only eleven breeding pairs left the Department of Conservation (DOC) take eggs from the nests as those are very vulnerable to being taken by predators, and incubate them until they hatch. The chicks are hand-reared until they can fly, and then released back into the wild. Although some of the released birds die the number of black stilts has constantly increased in the past ten years.
The Mount Cook Hotel Collection - The Godley Resort at Lake Tekapo, the Mackenzie Country Inn in Twizel and Countrytime and the Heritage Gateway Hotel, both in Omarama - donate a certain percentage of every room sold to this recovery programme.
You can visit the DOC captive-breeding centre. Contact the DOC office or Visitor Information Centre in Twizel, or just your reception for details.
The centre is only open in summer. But they make tours for groups in winter as well if you contact them in advance.
Apart from its great location in the centre of the Mackenzie Country and the kaki/black stilts breeding centre Twizel has not a lot of exciting things to offer.
The town was founded in 1968 as the base for the workers who built the Lake Benmore Dam, exactly: the Upper Waitaki Power Development which was finished in 1986.
It was intended to demolish it again after the construction. But then people started to buy the houses as weekend and holiday homes, and so Twizel became a real little high-country town. To give it a nicer look a lot of trees were planted, and now Twizel calls itself the "Town of Trees". They provide the shelter needed for the strong winds sweeping over the high-country plains.
Infrastructure is quite good, with a lot of restaurants, a supermarket and plenty of accommodation. You would not guess that 24km of streets were laid in a radial pattern from a central ring road. The town was designed for a peak population of 5800 but right now it has only 1200 residents. In summer the population trebles. No wonder: The location is perfect, with Mt. Cook National Park at the doorstep and all those hydro lakes around. And you can escape the high accommodation rates of Mt. Cook Village.
Probably the best kept secret of the region is Lake Ohau. Have a look at my page! Also a trip through the Waitaki Valley (Lakes Benmore and Aviemore) is great, as those lakes and the river can be as turquoise blue as Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki.
Although you can see Mt. Cook towering over Hooker Valley and Hooker River perfectly from behind the second swingbridge of the Hooker Valley Walk it is well worth to make the whole trip. This takes 3 to 4 hours return.
After Stocking Stream Shelter you walk on a short boardwalk through fragile and wet tussock landscape, then on a narrow path along the hillside until you reach Hooker Lake which is the terminal lake of Hooker Glacier, right under Mt. Cook.
At the start of winter we saw only one iceberg on Hooker Lake. But it was sooo beautiful there as the area is not crowded as the small lookout area at Tasman Lake (where in total a lot less people walk). You can walk along the lake and find your private picnic place and enjoy the peaceful magic of the scenery.
If you want to take a perfect picture of Mt. Cook you must either walk very early or in the afternoon (best) as New Zealand's highest peak is exactly in the north, so at lunchtime the sun is right behind/above the mountain.
For this walk I highly recommend sturdy tramping/hiking boots as after the second swingbridge it can become very wet. Sometimes the track is like a little creek, you have to hop from rock to rock. People we saw in white fabric sneakers and jogging shoes got rather wet feet ;-)
BTW The White Horse Hill Campground and carpark have been updated recently (2007).
Scenic Helicopter Flights start at Glentanner Park which is located between the Mt. Cook turnoff from SH8 and Mt. Cook Village, at the end of Lake Pukaki.
The Helicopter Line New Zealand, Glentanner Park, SH80, Mt. Cook
Phone (03) 435 1801
Freephone (0800) 650 651
Guided Ascents and Instruction Courses
There is no fixed schedule, Alpine Guides will tailor the tours to your travel plans. Mt. Cook ascents normally takes 6 or more days. They also guide you on Mt. Tasman and Mt. Aspiring. Season is from November to April.
Alpine Guides, Mt. Cook Village
Phone (03) 435 1834
Alpine Recreation, Lake Tekapo
Phone (03) 680 6736, Freephone (0800) 006 096
Guided Day Walks
Aoraki Mt. Cook Encounter, Mt. Cook Village
Phone (03) 435 1899, Freephone (0800) 492 557
(BUT YOU ABSOLUTELY DO NOT NEED A GUIDE FOR THE HOOKER VALLEY WALK)
Horse Trekking from Glentanner Park
Heli Skiing, Heli Hiking, 4WD Tours/Tasman Glacier, Glacier Lake Kayaking (also see in tip about Tasman Lake) etc. can all be booked via:
Hermitage Activities Desk, Mt. Cook Village
Phone (03) 435 1809
If you do not appreciate long walks you can still get a feeling of the magic of glaciers by making a five minute stroll from the White Horse Campground and Carpark to the lookout above Mueller Lake. This lookout is the second point of interest after the Alpine Memorial on the Hooker Valley Walk.
It offers you a great view of the terminal face of Mueller Glacier, and on the rock wall you can see the lines of the original height the glacier once had before the big melting started at the mid/end of the 19th century. From here you also see the three peaks of Mt. Cook (3754m) towering over the Hooker Valley, and Mt. Sefton (3158m) and The Footstool (2764m) to your left.
At most times you will also see some icebergs floating on Mueller Lake.
The lake is the smallest of the three glacier lakes in the area. But some decades ago it did not even exist. The lakes are getting bigger and bigger due to global warming.
As you can imagine everybody wants to profit from tourists spending lots of money in their holiday mood. So new operators are shooting up by the day, offering new and of course absolutely exciting adventures ;-) One of these is Glacier Explorers who offer boat trips in the iceberg world of Tasman Lake. To make you believe that you get a lot of excitement for your money the first thing they do is to add all possible delays to the duration of the trip. To be clear: From the 3 hour trip you spend about 1 hour on the water.
The trip starts at the Hermitage Hotel where you have to check in 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time. From there you are transported to the carpark of Tasman Lake by minibus. From there you have to walk down to the lake (this takes about 20 to 25 minutes). You get life jackets and final instructions until the yellow boats arrive.
Even if you only watch the boats from the shore you get an impression of how huge those not really that huge looking icebergs are. The boats look like tiny toys, and you can be sure to be impressed and amazed and speechless by the sheer size of those rocks of ice. (Would just not be so funny if one turned over while you are close… ;-)
You will be less than impressed by the cost of this unique experience. NZ$ 120 for adults, $ 60 for children (5 to 14 years).
The tours only go from 1 October until 31 May, as the lake can freeze over in winter. Daily departures are at 8.30am, 10am, 12pm and 2pm.
Be prepared that trips are cancelled in bad weather conditions.
About 50 years ago Tasman Lake did not exist yet. Global warming and fast melting of Tasman Glacier has created the lake under the terminal face. The lake is rapidly growing. The phenonemon of the lots of icebergs floating on the water has only started some years ago when the terminal face of the Tasman Glacier changed from just a normally melting to calving and melting. The huge rocky lateral moraines on which you can walk around the lake were created by the retreating glacier, so you can imagine how much bigger and longer it was not too long ago.