On a clear day, Mount Cook Village has some of the best views on South Island. The Southern Alps frame the picture postcard vista from the road alongside Lake Pukaki. This glacial ribbon lake glows a vivid shade of turquoise in the sunshine, colour which melts away to the palest of pastels on a misty winter’s day. Across the lake stands the Tasman Downs station, a farm chosen as one of the filming locations for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. In the same family for a century, the farm has a herd of Angus cattle and runs home stays for those wishing to spend time getting down and dirty in the countryside.
The perfect training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park contains twenty three peaks standing over 3000 metres above sea level. Mount Cook is the jewel in the area’s crown, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3724 metres above sea level. Unsurprisingly, the region is popular with climbers, who scale peaks such as Tasman, Malte Brun, Elie de Beaumont, Sefton and La Perouse. Sir Edmund Hillary, himself a Kiwi, did a lot of his training in this area before going on to summit Mount Everest in 1953 with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. There’s a statue of him outside the Hermitage Hotel which also plays host to the museum which tells his story.
Things to do in Mount Cook National Park
Take a hike
Hiking is definitely one of the best things to do in Mount Cook. Experienced alpine hikers can enjoy guided hiking tours through three mountain pass routes, over the Ball, Mueller and Copland passes. For beginners to intermediate hikers, there are three shorter trails, each taking about two hours: the Red Tarns Track, Kea Point and Hooker Valley Track. Kea Point affords clear views of the snout of the Mueller Glacier while Hooker Valley in season leads you to the herb fields.
Going on scenic flights are also one of the things to do in Mount Cook. These flights offer stunning views of the Tasman Glacier, a 27km long body of ice that has carved the landscape for centuries. In summer, boat trips ferry tourists out onto Tasman’s glacial lake, while in winter, the area’s glaciers offer a range of runs for intermediate and advanced skiers, with helicopters and ski planes providing transport up onto the glaciers themselves.
A dark sky for stargazing
Assuming the skies are clear, and that’s not a given as storms can roll in quickly from the Tasman Sea, this remote spot . New Zealand has just one dark sky reserve – and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park occupies a large part of it. It’s the Southern Hemisphere’s first and largest dark sky reserve, perfect for viewing the Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. They’re only visible in the Southern Hemisphere and if you’re a star gazing beginner, there are several specialist tour companies that can take you out into the countryside and explain the wonders of astronomical science.
This is a great activity and if you’re travelling with children, this should be in your list of things to do in Mount Cook.
Getting there is simple
. Several bus operators run sightseeing day tours beginning in Queenstown and finishing in Christchurch. They call at Mount Cook for a couple of hours around lunchtime, giving you the option to buy lunch at the Hermitage Hotel, or head down one of the short trails for a hike and a much needed chance to stretch your legs. It’s also possible to break your journey and stay overnight; as the bus stops right outside the hotel and also at the nearby YHA hostel, it’s almost as convenient as hiring your own car.