If you’re eager to see New Zealand’s Southern Alps in all their glory, a visit to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is an absolute must. Composed of a compelling combination of jagged peaks and glacial beauty, this is a place to discover a treasure trove of natural attractions. Here are some of them.
The lupin fields
The Mackenzie Country, where you’ll find Aoraki/Mt Cook, is blanketed by a stream of violet hues between the months of November and February – all thanks to the Russell lupins that flower by the shores of its lakes and rivers.
Swimming with the icebergs
If you’re travelling in summer, you might want to walk along the Hooker Valley Track to access the swimmable, iceberg-speckled waters. The day hike traverses three different swing bridges, offering a glimpse of the stunning Mueller Lake and Glacier before reaching the Hooker Lake and Glacier.
And if you’re not game enough to plunge into those crisp waters, you can simply spend some time admiring the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook from a not-too-faraway distance.
The great thing about Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is that it comprises loads of hiking opportunities for all fitness levels. Those with a low-moderate level of fitness are spoiled for choice when it comes to short walks. There are several trails around Mt Cook Village as well as easy hikes that will bring you nice and close to the park’s Tasman Glacier.
For the highly experienced there’s the unmarked multi-day Ball Pass Crossing alpine trek, which provides incredible views of Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Sefton, the Copland Pass and the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. If that proves too much, don’t fret – there are plenty of 3-8 hour return journeys to keep you busy.
Climbing New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, is a mountaineer’s rite of passage – so much so, Sir Edmund Hillary himself made it his mission to scale the mountain before making history on Mt Everest. It’s fair to say this feat is not for the inexperienced: Aoraki/Mt Cook’s heavy glaciation and turbulent weather conditions definitely call for previous mountaineering training and knowledge. If you’ve got all the right prerequisites but don’t want to do things solo, there are local guides available for mountain and rock climbing expeditions across those unforgiving terrains.
If you want to explore the wider Mackenzie Basin, a horseback trek will make for a memorable experience. Depending on your chosen riding tour, you might get to see more of those stunning lupins we mentioned – as well as viewing the exquisite Southern Alps from a whole new perspective. For something closer to Mt Cook, try hitting up the Glentanner Park Centre – it typically hosts guided horse treks for 1-5 persons from November through to April.
Drive around the mountain
The South Island is quite famous for its incredibly scenic roads, so it’s no wonder that Mt Cook is surrounded by postcard-worthy stopovers. State Highway 80 is the main entrance point for drivers heading to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and Village, with Lake Tekapo being the main township that leads people into the area. Besides having a stunning turquoise lake at its disposal, Tekapo is also a fantastic place to do some stargazing. Twizel is another township nearby that will enable you to see some stunning lakes and mountainous vistas as you drive through it.
A boat tour of the magnificent Tasman Glacier
Stretching across 27 kilometres (16.8 miles), the Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s longest. Its terminal lake is famous for being one of a handful in the world to contain a cluster of floating icebergs – a phenomenon that has been brought about by the ice shelves naturally tearing from the glacier itself. With such a vast distance and interesting formations on show, it’s fair to say that boat tour is the perfect way to soak up this spectacular glacier and the opaque blue waters that surround it.
Look out for the flora and fauna
While it’s true that there are no forests within its rugged terrains, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is home to a number of nationally significant plant and wildlife – that’s what made it part of Te Waipounamu – South Westland UNESCO World Heritage Area in the first place. Highlights include the famous Mt Cook lily, which is the largest buttercup in the world…
As well as an abundance of birds. Many of these are found in higher areas, though the lower slopes are known to house a number of small insectivores and introduced species.
Whether you find yourself on low or higher ground, you should always stay vigilant. After all, you never what might be hiding in plain sight.
Watch the sunset
At the end of the day, it’s the national park’s scenery that will make the trip one to cherish forever. So sit yourself by the jagged shores and finish things off by watching the sun as it tucks itself away from the awe-inspiring alpine ranges you’ve been so diligently exploring on your travels.