By Lisa Owen

Imagine a place filled with snow capped mountains, icy glaciers melting into waterfalls down towering cliff sides, and a glacial river fringed by colourful fields and rocky hills. Now book a flight to New Zealand and see this place for yourself.

new zealand hooker valley

The Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is a few hours drive from both Queenstown and Christchurch, so take your pick. The drive is easy and incredibly scenic as you wind through mountain passes and past turquoise lakes.

As you drive to the national park, you’ll spot the beautiful blue Lake Pukaki – and I’ll bet you didn’t think a lake could be this colour blue (the colour is at its most brilliant as you approach it). The colour is due to rock flour - finely ground rock particles from the glaciers that create the blue colour when the sun hits the water.

On a good day, you’ll have views across the lake to the snow covered slopes of Mt Cook – the highest mountain in Australasia.

new zealand lake pukaki

 

The starting point for a number of hikes in the national park is the White Horse Hill campground - adjacent to the Mt Cook Village.

I opted for the Hooper’s Crossing hike – a rewarding three-hour trail that takes you into the foothills of the Southern Alps.

The trail takes you over three swing bridges crossing a cascading glacier river, past the Moraine Glacier, and then you follow the path for several kilometres with Mt Cook staring back in front of you.

new zealand hooker valley

The trail is a combination of a well maintained gravel and dirt trail and wooden boardwalks. About three quarters of the way along, there’s also bathroom facilities (you might want to have some hand sanitiser ready though) and a little hut if the weather turns and you need to get under some shelter.

As I got closer to Mt Cook, the weather did start to turn. It had started as a sunny day, then a strong head wind set in and then it started to rain – so be prepared for all sorts of weather and at a minimum, bring a wind and waterproof jacket.

But grey skies didn’t ruin the wild and beautiful scenery on the Hooper’s Crossing trail. This is a must do walk as long as it’s not pouring with rain.

hooker valley boardwalk

The trail ends at the Hooker Glacier in the shadow of the magnificent 2.3 mile Mt Cook.

You can also take the Tasman Glacier trail at the end of the Tasman Valley Road. It’s about a 10 to 15 minute walk up a whole lot of stairs to the glacier that will get your heart pumping. See it before it disappears, the glacier is gradually melting but the day I went the glacier was a lake with icebergs floating in it.

Tasman glacier

Another rewarding hike from the campground is the Kea Point track, an easy 30 minute trail that takes you closer to the Mueller Glacier. The longer Sealy Tarns hike extends from the Kea Point track and is about three hours return.

If you’re driving to or from the national park from Queenstown – here’s a couple of places you can see on the way.

Peaceful and picturesque Lake Wanaka is a much quieter version of Queenstown. It has similar attractions such as skydiving and there’s also the beautiful blue lake to relax by, but it gets you away from the main tourist crowd.

From Lake Wanaka, follow the signs to the Mount Aspiring National Park to see the Rob Roy Glacier and dip your feet in the glacier fed river.

The Rob Roy Glacier is located about an hour’s drive from Lake Wanaka. Distance wise, it’s not far but you have to drive along a gravel road for more than 12 miles to get there. The gravel road is in good condition, but it’s slow going if you don’t want to keep flicking rocks onto your car. But use the time to take in the views over the surrounding farmland, mountains and the Matukituki Valley, as well as spot the waterfalls streaming down the mountain side from the glacier.

Roy Roy Glacier

To get to the glacier, you also have to go over several stream crossings and it’s up to you if you want to take your rental car across it or be content to see if from the riverside.

If you made it to the foothills of the glacier and that still wasn’t enough for you, a 6-mile hike will get you closer. The recommended time to complete the hike is three to four hours return up and down a gradual incline.

 

Things You Should Know:

  • Be prepared for sun, strong winds and rain in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park as weather conditions can change quickly. 
  • To do this itinerary, you’ll need to hire a car. A number of car rental agencies are located at Queenstown Airport.
  • If you’re hoping to stay in accommodation at the Mt Cook Village rather than the outlying towns, you’ll need to book ahead. Accommodation is booked months in advance at this popular tourist spot.
  • Try and get an early start on the Hooker Valley trail. Tour buses ferry people here around mid-morning and the trail can get quite crowded.
  • Lake Pukaki looks best on a sunny day when the sunlight hits the rock flour particles and produces a vibrant blue colour. But keep your eyes peeled as you approach it, as the colour really stands out from afar.

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.

Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia  

 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.