Mt. Cook village is a good base to explore the Aoraki/Mt. Cook national park. Accommodation is generally expensive, but the local YHA has normal prices and is a very relaxed place to stay. In the warmer months you can also use the excellent campsite close to the village, where some of the walks start. There is a lot to do, like heliskiing, a boat on a glacier lake or a helicopter ride. For those on a lower budget it is still worth coming though, since there is a lot to see for free on the area’s beautiful walks.
Breathtaking, gorgeous and fabulous
Aoraki/Mt. Cook national park has several glaciers you can view from the walking tracks. The most popular of all is the Hooker Valley track. This 4 hour return track takes you through the Hooker Valley across three swing bridges to the Hooker Lake. That the track is very popular has a reason: it is amazing! At first it might not be as spectacular as you thought it would be, but wait till you cross the second swing bridge. Suddenly you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful mountains with snow on top. There is a well maintained track that is fairly flat. While walking I uttered the word ‘wow’ many times, only to gasp at the very end when I got excited as a kid at Christmas at the sight of icebergs. Icebergs! This is one walk you simply cannot miss.
Another popular glacier track is the Tasman glacier. This one is an upper leg killer as it goes up some steep steps. It’s just a 40 minute walk, but one you will feel. After doing the Hooker Valley track I was slightly disappointed. You get a great view over the grey Tasman lake, with the dirty, black glacier in the background. Seeing the glacier from afar is disappointing since you only see the dirt that it has pushed down. It does get me excited to walk on a glacier, something you can do here, but also at Fox and Franz Joseph on the other side of the mountains. There is also a boat that can show you around Tasman lake. Since there are no icebergs, just ice cubes at this time of year, it would be a waste of money. However, I can imagine it must be spectacular in spring, when fresh, new icebergs float in the water.
The shorter option
Kea Point is a walk that takes about 2 hours from the village, but can easily be done after the Hooker Valley track to save some time. Basically the walk takes you to a viewing platform close to the Mueller glacier lake. You cannot really see the Mueller glacier, but you have a pretty good view of Mt. Cook. My advise would be to do this walk first, and then continue on the Hooker Valley track if you think you can handle the extra walk. Kea Point gives a good impression, but is not nearly as impressive as the views on the Hooker Valley track. Although it’s called Kea Point, don’t expect to see any birds.
Only if you want the extra exercise
There is a small detour to see the Blue lakes. The lakes, that have turned green since their naming, look much more spectacular from above than from up close. Since the walk towards the glacier view-point passes a good viewing point, the detour to the lakes can be skipped if you are on a tight schedule. Another side track goes to the Tasman river. The end of this track gives you a good overview of the lake, but isn’t much different from the glacier view-point. However, if there are icebergs floating around, this might get you a closer shot.
The easy village view
For seeing some bush you can take either the Bowen bush walk or the Governors bush walk. The first is just a nice detour on your way through the village, since it’s quite central and only 10 minutes long. The second is an hour-long track that takes you up the side of the hill, offers some nice views of the village, and then takes you back down. These walks are great if you’re staying in the village for a few days and have some time to spare.
Go for goat views
If you feel like a mountain goat, you can opt for the less popular Red Tarns track. This one is not for people with a fear of heights. The walk takes about two hours return and consists of hundreds of steps. Going up you don’t even realise how high you are, until you look over your shoulder. You’ll ascend about 300m, all in rocky steps. Imagine taking the stairs in a 75 story building. It’s time to test your stamina. So what do you get in return? Besides feeling awesome because for once you’ve actually exercised on your travels, you get an incredible view over the village and surrounding mountains. Up top there’s a 200m track (fairly flat) that takes you to some small alpine pools. The track is named after the copper-colored pondweed that eats insects and is uncommon to find at this elevation.