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18 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook

18 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook

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Are you ready to make the incredible drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook? Let me tell you, you’re in for such a treat!

The journey from Queenstown to Mount Cook is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever undertaken. After driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook and back again countless times myself, I’ve stopped off pretty much everywhere along the way, which inspired me to put together this guide detailing the very best spots.

However, there are a couple of routes you can take, and there’s some important information you should know before you make the drive. I’ve included all this and more in this blog, so let’s kick things into gear with this complete guide to making the epic drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook!

About the Drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook

It’s safe to say that driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook National Park makes for one epic road trip! Along the way, you’ll pass fun and interesting towns, as well as plenty of amazing viewpoints. Since the fast route is about 261 kilometers (162 miles) long, you can technically finish this drive in as little as 3.5 hours.

However, with so many amazing places to stop and check out along the way, be sure to give yourself an entire day (or even two or three!), to truly enjoy it to the fullest.

There are two different routes you can choose between when driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook. The first is the fastest, and that’s via State Highway 8 through Cromwell. While this is a great route if you’re simply trying to get from point A to point B, in terms of a scenic road trip, I’d recommend the next option.

The second option, and my personal favorite, is to drive through Wanaka, which is a little longer at around 268 km (167 mi) long. The drive through Wanaka is scenic in itself, with lots of viewpoints to offer. Plus, there are lots of things to do and see in Wanaka too! The stops mentioned in this blog cover this route in particular, as I think it is the best way to go.

It’s important to know that while driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook is all on a paved highway, it can sometimes be a little slippery in the winter months. If you’re visiting in the winter and planning to drive to Mount Cook, check the road conditions before you depart on both Crown Range Road and Lindis Pass. Also, be sure to carry snow chains just in case!

If you want to make the most of this road trip and turn it into a multi-day adventure (which I highly recommend!), then that is totally possible too. You can always spend a couple of nights in Wanaka (be sure to hike Roy’s Peak), and then also spend a night in Omarama or Twizel too.

18 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook

1. Queenstown 

Queenstown is FULL of so many great places to eat!
A beer on the deck at 1876 in Queenstown, New Zealand
A beer on the deck at 1876 in Queenstown, New Zealand

Let’s kick this epic road trip off with my favorite place in the country (no bias here), Queenstown! I fell in love with this mountain town the minute I arrived, and every day I fall a little more.

Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by huge mountain peaks, including The Remarkables Mountain Range. Within a short drive or walk, you can head out onto amazing hiking trails and explore remote lakes to do some epic sightseeing.

What I love so much about Queenstown is the variety of attractions. These include nearby wineries, epic road trips, free hikes, bike trails, and more. Oh, and if you’re into high-action adventure, then there are some amazing jet boating activities nearby, as well as this half-day skydiving experience, which has received over 1,000 glowing 5-star reviews!

The Spirit of Queenstown scenic cruise in Queenstown docked on Lake Wakatipu for boarding
All aboard!

If you’re traveling with the family, then I highly recommend a Lake Wakatipu scenic cruise for an enjoyable and relaxing activity. Speaking of scenic cruises, this evening dinner and cruise experience aboard a vintage steamship is a smash hit among travelers.

After a scenic trip cruising Lake Wakatipu on the historic TSS Earnslaw, you’ll arrive at Walter Peak High Country Farm, where you’ll then enjoy a gorgeous BBQ feast! Tickets for this experience cost $189 NZD per person, but this is a popular experience that sells out quickly, so don’t forget to check your dates and book online in advance.

After getting stuck into all the amazing things to do in Queenstown, it’s now time to head out on our epic journey to Mount Cook!

2. Lake Hayes

A lady stands on the hsores of Lake Hayes and admires the view at sunset
What a beautiful view!

As you say goodbye to Queenstown, the first attraction you’ll pass only 15 minutes out of town is Lake Hayes.

Lake Hayes is a favorite of mine, and I have spent many evenings and sunny days enjoying the views here. With such a long drive ahead of you, this can either be a quick stop to admire the views or you can even walk the Lake Hayes Track!

The Lake Hayes Track is an 8-kilometer (5-mile) loop track that follows the edge of the lake. At a slow pace, it takes just over 2 hours to complete, and for the most part, the trail is flat. For those with less time, simply park up at this spot and take a short walk alongside the lake. This is often considered one of the best hikes in Queenstown!

3. Arrow Junction Lookout 

Bailey at Arrow Junction Lookout near Queenstown, New Zealand
What a view!

The Arrow Junction Lookout is a very popular stop on the Crown Range route, it is especially popular with photography lovers because the views here are stunning! You can leave your car in the small car park and get out to enjoy the beautiful views.

This stop only takes around 5 to 10 minutes, but is totally worth it. From this viewpoint, you will have an awesome vantage point over the Wakatipu Basin and down to the valley, where you’ll see the gorgeous Lake Hayes and the iconic Remarkables Mountain Range.

If you’re traveling in the winter months, be careful as the lookout can get pretty icy and there is a steep drop near the edge onto the road. Also, be careful pulling your car over here, as the lookout is right on a corner.

 4. Crown Range Summit 

Crown Range Road near Queenstown, New Zealand
Crown Range Road, near Queenstown, New Zealand

The journey from Queenstown to Mount Cook really doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to incredible views! Just over half an hour into this trip, you’ll already be driving along the Crown Range Road to the Summit viewpoint, which is where rugged tussock and rock cover the landscape, and dramatic mountains loom in the background. To put it simply, it’s a fantastic spot for a photo!

Reaching an altitude of over 1,100 meters (3,609 feet), this high-altitude lookout point offers a fantastic opportunity to spot the native Kea parrots. These clever birds are said to be as smart as a 4-year-old child. Just make sure to hold on to your belongings, though, as Keas are known to swipe whatever they can get their cheek beaks on! There’s a good reason they’re called “the clever clowns of the Southern Alps.”

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you find the bronze plaque at the summit, which claims that the Crown Range is the highest road in New Zealand. There is a car park here so you can safely pull off the road and admire the scenery. 

If the weather permits, you can even take a short 10-minute walk to the official Crown Range Summit. You can find the trail on Google Maps, and it leaves right from the parking lot.

 5. Cardrona Hotel 

Bailey enjoys a glass of wine at the Cardrona Hotel
The beer garden at the Cardrona Hotel!
Ice cold beer at the Cardrona Hotel
Oh, how I love you, summer!

This cream and bright red building is one of the most famous stops on the drive from Queenstown to Wanaka. It lies at the end of the Crown Range highway – which, if you’ve driven this road before, you’ll know it can be a tiring drive. It’s the highest highway in New Zealand, after all, with lots of sharp twists and turns!

So, this makes the Cardrona Hotel a fantastic place to stop and refuel (both yourself and the car), before continuing on your journey to Mount Cook.

Established way back in 1863, it’s one of only two remaining buildings from the gold rush era (the other is the Cardrona Hall and Church next door). Today, Cardrona Hotel is an award-winning restaurant with an awesome beer garden. I highly recommend the Pulled Pork Cheeseburger, which was very filling and tasted delicious to the last bite.

Or if you’re short on time, why not have a coffee in the beer garden (or a beer if you’re not the driver!). You can check their diverse menus online here.

Serving food from 8 am until late, the Cardrona Hotel is said to be the most photographed building in all of New Zealand! So, it wouldn’t hurt to snap a photo for yourself…

 6. Bradrona 

Two people at Bradrona near Wanaka, New Zealand
There are so many bras!

Three-quarters of the way from Queenstown to Wanaka and at the end of the Crown Range Road is one of the quirkiest attractions in New Zealand. As the name suggests, Bradrona is simply a ton of bras hanging from a fence on the side of the road, just a few minutes walk from Cardrona Hotel. Hence the name! 

Bradrona is definitely a talking point among tourists, and it’s safe to say it’s quite controversial to the locals! It’s believed that the first bras appeared here back in late 1998, and since then, Cardrona’s population of bras has grown to well over 1,000.

Just around the corner from the infamous bra fence, you’ll find the meeting point for one of the best horse riding experiences on the South Island, this 3.5-hour high country horse riding trek! With over 200 5-star reviews, if riding across the stunning plains surrounding Cardrona sounds like a dream come true, then this is the tour for you.

You do not have to have any horse riding experience prior to this trek, as the horses are allocated to you based on your skill level. And instead of just walking, you’ll get to do some trotting and cantering too, which makes for quite a cool ride!

At $529 NZD per person, this tour isn’t the cheapest, but if you have a passion for horse riding or simply fancy a super unique experience out in the New Zealand countryside, then this might just be it. You can check availability and book your spot online here.

 7. Wanaka 

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary stands by the Wanaka Tree
At the Wanaka Tree!

The gorgeous town of Wanaka sits at the base of Lake Wanaka and has the Southern Alps painting a beautiful backdrop. It’s often compared with neighboring Queenstown, however Wanaka is smaller, less busy, and in my opinion, quirkier, than Queenstown.

Wanaka is filled with boutique shops, excellent cafés and restaurants, and lots of fun activities to fill a few hours. While there are tons of things to do in Wanaka, if you’re a hiker like me (or just appreciate some incredible scenery), then I highly recommend hiking Roy’s Peak. Not only is it an epic sight for sunrise, but it’s easily one of the best hikes on the South Island.

Other fun activities to try out here include paddleboarding on the lake, and relaxing on a boat cruise! This 1-hour Lake Wanaka cruise is ideal for fitting into a busy schedule, and it’s also very affordable, too. Departing from the Lake Wanaka waterfront, you’ll get to enjoy a tasty cheeseboard and watch the sights go by across the lake. In my opinion, the best views of the lake are the ones you get while you’re on it!

Tickets for this experience cost just $61 NZD per person, and you can book your spot online here.

If you’re traveling with kids, then there are lots of family-friendly activities in Wanaka too. We loved spending half a day at Puzzling World, or alternatively, you can rent a pedal boat from the lakefront and take in the gorgeous views from the water. 

Just like in Queenstown, there are also some great adventure activities to try in Wanaka, including one of the most thrilling of them all, skydiving! My partner loves to skydive in his free time, so you can bet that he sniffed out this 3-hour Wanaka skydiving experience in a heartbeat. Although I’m not quite so hot on it, I can definitely see the appeal – this is one epic way to see some awesome views in Wanaka.

If jumping out of a plane sounds a little too intense (I don’t blame you!), then how about channeling your inner action-movie star on this 1.5-hour jet boat adventure down the Clutha River? Speaking from experience, there’s nothing quite like rocketing down a scenic river, doing the kind of stunts that would make Tom Cruise blush!

Road winds its way along Lake Wanaka between Franz Josef and Queenstown
Just look at those views!

Stay Overnight in Wanaka

You could easily turn the drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook into a multi-day trip (and I highly recommend it!) with overnight stops in Wanaka, Omarama, and Twizel being my personal picks. As for accommodation in Wanaka, there are loads of great choices! Here are a few hotels that I love:

For those who want to take their road trip to the next level, Club Wyndham is a great luxury option. With a heated pool, a café and bar, as well as a fully-equipped fitness center, this is the ultimate place to stop and unwind after a long drive.

For budget travelers, you can’t miss out on staying at YHA Wanaka. For a budget-friendly hostel, it definitely packs some pretty impressive views. There’s a movie room, laundry facilities, and several other rooms where you can relax and make new friends.

Last but not least, I have often stayed at the Clearbrook Motel and find it to be a good middle-ground in terms of comfort and price. All apartments here also feature a balcony or a patio to admire the stunning mountain views… You don’t even have to leave your accommodation to take some amazing pictures!

Read my blog about where to stay in Wanaka for detailed info on the best areas and hotels!

8. Wanaka Lavender Farm

Bailey walks down a row of lavender at the Wanaka Lavender Farm
In summer the colors are amazing!

Just a short 5-minute drive from Wanaka, The Wanaka Lavender Farm is definitely worth a stop! Summer is the best time to visit as the lavender begins to flower, and the entire farm transforms into a sea of purple and with a mountain backdrop – it’s picture-perfect. That said, the farm is open year-round (except from Christmas Day)!

However, you don’t just come here for the beautiful views.

The Wanaka Lavender Farm is also home to a small petting zoo, where kids (and big kids like us) can feed miniature horses, pigs, and even sheep and lambs. On top of that, the Wanaka Lavender Farm produces a range of lavender products including face creams, masks, soaps, and even manuka honey.

My favorite product they sell has to be the lavender-flavored ice cream – definitely try this one for yourself! All are available for purchase on the property in their boutique shop.

The farm does attract a lot of bees, so if you’re allergic (like my partner) be careful! Aside from that, it’s a really cool place to visit and one of the best things to do in Wanaka.

Entrance to the Wanaka Lavender Farm is $15 NZD in summer for adults, $7.50 NZD for children over 5, and kids under 5 go free, making it a really cheap activity in Wanaka. In the off-season (April to November), it’s only $7 NZD for adults and $3.50 NZD for children.

The best time to go to see the lavender is in January, but I’ve been in early December and there’s still plenty to see (that’s when the photo above was taken).

9. The Red Bridge

The Red Bridge in Wanaka
The Red Bridge in Wanaka

Leaving behind the (amazing) lavender farm, our next stop is right around the corner! The Red Bridge is home to breathtaking views down the colorful Clutha River, transforming what is otherwise a pretty normal stop into a stunning viewpoint.

Built back in 1918, this bridge is also one of the most historic monuments in the area, and its steel trusses are over 100 meters (328 feet) long. You will have to cross the bridge on your road trip, so you may as well stop for a few minutes to enjoy the views.

If you want to enjoy even better views, you can actually enjoy two short hikes from the bridge. The first is the Upper Clutha River Track. Although the trail is 18.5 kilometers long (11.5 miles) you can just walk for a few minutes to enjoy the edge of the river.

The second is the Luggate Creek Track. It’s much shorter at around 1.93 km (1.2 mi) out and back. All in all, this is a great place to get out and stretch your legs, you’ve got plenty of driving ahead of you!

 10. Lindis Pass Lookout 

Bailey at Lindis Pass Viewpoint on the way to Mount Cook, NZ
Lindis Pass!
Windy road through Lindis Pass, New Zealand
Windy road through Lindis Pass, New Zealand

Once you’ve managed to peel yourself away from all the epic things to do in Wanaka, it’s time to continue our journey toward Mount Cook, and up next we have the gorgeous Lindis Pass.

Leaving the urban world behind, driving through Lindis Pass is truly a unique experience – the landscape and scenery here are unlike anywhere else in New Zealand! At Lindis Pass, huge tussock-covered mountains surround you at every turn of your journey, with every valley calling out for its own photo.

The Lindis Pass road is 63 kilometers (39 miles) long in total and is similar to the Crown Range Road in that it has lots of sharp twists and turns. So, I recommend being an experienced driver to drive this road.

Driving through Lindis Pass in winter is particularly special, as the mountains enjoy a light and picturesque dusting of snow. That said, the road conditions can be treacherous during this season, so be careful while driving. Be sure to carry snow chains just in case!

At the highest point on the Lindis Pass, you’ll spot a sign for ‘Lookout’. From here, you can swing into the car park and take the short trail to the lookout point. The platform at the lookout point is 971 meters (3,186 feet) above sea level and gives an astounding vantage point of the unusual landscape of the Lindis Conservation Area.

You will also spot the Longslip Mountain range here, standing tall at just under 1,500 meters (4,921 feet).

A little tip from me! For an even better view, you can duck under the animal fence and walk up the hill a little.

Did You Know – This lookout is actually right next to the state border between Otago and Canterbury!

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

 11. Omarama Hot Tubs 

Bailey relaxes in the Hot Tubs Omarama, New Zealand
Such a beautiful spot!
Bailey enjoys a soak in the Hot Tubs Omarama
So dreamy!

If I had to choose my favorite stop on the road from Queenstown to Mount Cook, the Omarama Hot Tubs would right up towards the top of the list! I mean, what could be better than treating yourself to a soak in your own personal hot tub? With stunning views of the Omarama landscape, it’s the perfect way to break up a long drive. 

You’ll warm up first in the sauna before venturing out to your private cedar hot tub. If you fancy an extra treat, why not indulge in a massage – available in their private treatment rooms. Oh boy, I want to transport myself to the hot tubs right now!

Once you’re in the tub, you can control the temperature yourself and relax with the river and mountain views. I even ordered a glass of wine to enjoy with my soak (yes, they have a fully licensed bar!).

A soak at the Omarama Hot Tubs lasts 90 minutes and starts from $60 NZD based per person on two people sharing. However, even large groups of 8 can enjoy this activity, and the prices get cheaper per person the more who join you!

Stay Overnight in Omarama

For an extra special treat, stay the night in Omarama on your road trip to Christchurch and soak in the tubs at night. You’ll be able to see the stars in a dark sky reserve over the Southern Alps!

Although the small town is somewhat limited in terms of accommodation, the Omarama TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great option with various rooms and apartments available as well as campsites. Better yet, this accommodation is just a 5-minute walk from the hot tubs!

 12. Omarama Clay Cliffs 

The Omarama Clay Cliffs near the town of Omarama, New Zealand
Don’t just stick to the outside of the cliffs, go exploring!

I think it’s fair to say the road from Queenstown to Mount Cook is filled with unique stops, and the Omarama Clay Cliffs may just be the most unique of them all. An otherworldly collection of tall pinnacles, each separated by a narrow ravine. When I first laid eyes on the Clay Cliffs, I couldn’t help but think that they looked like a scene straight from Mars. 

Thankfully, they’re not, which means you can visit them for yourself without joining Elon Musk on a one-way trip to the actual planet. The Clay Cliffs are just a 10-minute drive from the town of Omarama on Henburn Road (turn left onto Qualburn Road off State Highway 8, then left onto Henburn).

Reaching them is pretty easy, but you will have to drive on a gravel road. Any vehicle can manage though if you just take it slow.

The Clay Cliffs were formed over a million years ago by gushing glacier waters, which eroded the clay into what you see today. There is a small trail that leads around the cliffs, and you can also safely venture into them for a closer look. It only takes around 45 minutes to explore the cliffs.

It’s also important to note that these cliffs are located on private land, so a $5 NZD vehicle admission fee is to be paid at the donation box at the gate. It’s used to maintain the gravel road to the cliffs and must be paid in the correct change at the gate.

13. High Country Salmon

The High Country Salmon Farm near Twizel, New Zealand
Its not hard to catch a fish when there’s so many!

Located off State Highway 8, just South of Twizel is High Country Salmon – a salmon farm, café, and shop all in one convenient location. 100% of the salmon from here is sold in New Zealand, with half of it going to the on-site shop and floating café and the other half to local restaurants and stores. That’s pretty impressive!

The floating café serves up everything from sushi to salmon breakfasts from 9 am to 11 am and an immense lunch menu from 11 am until 4 pm. For the young kids (or big kids) you can throw fish feed pellets into the salmon pen for free and watch them go crazy!

If you want to buy fresh salmon but want the thrill of catching it yourself, they actually offer a catch-a-fish experience for only $10 NZD, plus $35 NZD per kg of salmon caught. As an added bonus, they’ll even gut and clean it for you, nice!

It’s a good idea to book this catch-a-fish experience online in advance, as they occasionally don’t run it due to short staff.

14. Twizel 

Lake Ruataniwha in twizel
The beautiful Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel

The alpine town of Twizel, surrounded by the Southern Alps, is a very popular stop on the road from Queenstown to Mount Cook. Especially in the summer months, when this small town’s population almost triples in size. 

The landscape surrounding Twizel has a very ‘Lord of the Rings vibe’. In fact, nearby Ben Ohau Station is where the Battle Of Pelennor Fields scene in The Return Of The King was filmed. With that in mind, Ben Ohau is actually privately owned, which means you can only visit it by booking a Lord of the Rings tour with a local tour operator while in Twizel.

Twizel is also a popular destination for those interested in rock and mountain climbing, cycling, and fishing. There are also a few great cafés and restaurants in town, including the awesome Poppies Café on Benmore Place. Open 10 am to 8 pm Sunday to Tuesday, and 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday and Saturday, their menu is bursting with creative flavor – I loved their signature Poppies burger!

Stay Overnight in Twizel

Twizel is also a really nice place to spend the night, especially if the nearby towns of Mount Cook Village and Lake Tekapo are fully booked (which happens a lot in the summer months!).

If you do stay, you’ll have the chance to explore the area even better. My favorite thing to do is to head to Ruataniwha Lake to watch the sunset. On a calm day, you get amazing reflections and the sky turns into cotton candy!

For a great midrange option, the Mountain Chalets Motel would be my personal pick. Their cozy chalets can sleep up to 5 people, so it’s perfect whether you’re traveling as a couple or as a family! All of the chalets also come with a kitchenette and have unlimited free Wi-Fi.

If epic views are what you’re after, then the Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park really can’t be beaten. As its name suggests, this holiday park sits directly on the shores of Lake Ruataniwha. If you get the chance, I really recommend going fishing or canoeing here on the lake – don’t forget to snap a few shots while you’re at it!

 15. Lake Pukaki 

Bailey looks over at Mount Cook National Park from Lake Pukaki Viewpoint
What a beautiful country!

You may recognize Lake Pukaki from your Instagram feed – the bright blue lake with Mount Cook as a backdrop. Honestly, if you’re a photography fan, you must stop here! But even if you’re not, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy this view?!

There are lots of different places you can pull over to enjoy the view, with a few unmarked spots on the road into Mount Cook National Park. However, one place that’s perfect for a short walk and picnic is located at the end of the lake. Here at this picnic and freedom camping spot, you can enjoy the Lake Pukaki Shoreline Walk and enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and Mount Cook.

Another popular spot to check out Lake Pukaki is at this viewpoint. Here, there is a large parking lot and even toilets. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Cook all the way across the lake.

You will, of course, get plenty more views of Lake Pukaki in Mount Cook National Park, which is the next stop on this road trip from Queenstown to Christchurch!

16. Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat

one of the provate hot tubs at Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat
Every villa has a private hot tub! Photo credit: Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat

This stop is perfect for anybody looking for a little luxury! The Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is a beautiful place to spend a night (or two), surrounded by the serenity and scenery of Lake Pukaki. It’s the kind of place that has you thinking, “man, if only I could live here all the time!”

The retreat itself is seriously gorgeous and offers private villas with lake views and out-of-this-world private hot tubs. It’s probably the most luxurious place to stay near Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki and is well worth it if you’re looking to spoil yourself a little.

Not up for an overnight stay? No problem! You can just stop here at their highly-rated restaurant for a bite to eat and a glass of wine with a view before hitting the road again. You’ll find Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat located on Highway 80 as you make your way toward Mount Cook National Park.

Worth noting is that Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat often hosts ticketed events. So keep an eye on their calendar in case one of them interests you!

 17. Mount Cook Road Photo

Two people run down the road at the famous Mount Cook Road photo location
I love this photo! Just be careful of cars!

No visit to Mount Cook is complete without an obligatory photo on Mount Cook Road. A favorite stop for Instagram lovers, this is a must-do on your journey from Queenstown to Mount Cook.

This stop is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Mount Cook village, before the airport. When you start to see Mount Cook’s peak in the distance, slow down as you’re nearly there. You will come to a long stretch of road that has four small streams in a row on it. It will be difficult to spot the streams from the car so use Maps.me to find them. After the first stream, you will see the road curve to the right with Mount Cook in the background. This is your spot! 

This is a quick stop, of course, pull your car safely off the side of the road. Watch out for cars and turn your hazards on. The speed limit on this road is 60km/h (37 mph) so the cars can come upon you pretty quick.

 18. Explore Mount Cook! 

Bailey hikes up to the Mueller Hut in New Zealand
On the way up!
Flying past Mount Cook on a scenic flight in New Zealand
Mount Cook is even bigger up close!

After an epic road trip full of many awesome stops, we’ve now arrived at our final destination, Mount Cook National Park!

Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, standing tall at a whopping 3,724 meters (12,218 feet). It is, of course, a must-see on any New Zealand itinerary, and probably the main reason you decided to do this road trip in the first place! There is lots to do in Mount Cook, from undertaking one of the famous walks in the area to indulging in stunning scenic flights.

If you love getting outdoors and stretching your legs on a scenic trail (and I mean, who doesn’t?), then you’ll want to check out the Hooker Valley Track. It’s easy and flat, and at just a 10-kilometer (6.2-miles) round-trip, it takes around 3 hours to complete the return trip. The track provides gorgeous views of Mueller Lake, Mount Sefton, and Mueller Glacier.

But if that sounds too long, there are also some much shorter walks in Mount Cook too, including the Bowen Bush Walk, Glencoe Walk, and Governors Bush Walk. Perfect if you’re traveling with the little ones who might not enjoy a long hike!

That said, I don’t think anyone can deny that the best views of Mount Cook are those you get from up in the sky. There are lots of fantastic helicopter tours that operate in the area, but my favorite has to be this 20-minute scenic helicopter flight, thanks to its flexible flight times. It also includes an alpine landing – how neat is that!?

At $337 NZD per person, it’s not the cheapest experience, but if you’re looking to take your road trip from epic to truly unforgettable, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of soaring above the epic scenery below. Plus, you’ll land with a pocket full of incredible photos! You can check availability for this tour and book your spot online here.

Now that you’ve arrived, why not spend the night at Mount Cook so that you can experience more of the awesome activities on offer – like that helicopter tour or kayaking on Tasman or Mueller Lake? As one of the most popular destinations on this list, you can bet that this incredible area has a lot to offer!

Read on to learn more about the best places to stay in Mount Cook!

Related Read: Continuing on the Lake Tekapo? Read my blog about the drive from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook for the best stops on this epic road trip!

Queenstown to Mount Cook Tours

The Hooker River in Mount Cook National Park
The Hooker River in Mount Cook National Park

While I love the flexibility that comes with driving yourself from Queenstown to Mount Cook, I can see the appeal of taking a guided tour, where the itinerary is taken care of, and all you need to worry about is getting the perfect angle on your next photo shot! I’ve come to learn quite a lot about the best tours from Queenstown to Mount Cook, and here are a few of my personal picks:

Queenstown to Mount Cook Guided Day Trip

If you only want to visit Mount Cook on a day trip from Queenstown, then this full-day Mt Cook tour ticks all the boxes! Although a long day, this small-group tour is in a comfortable luxury minivan, which will allow you some time to relax on the drive there and back.

The tour also includes plenty of time exploring Mount Cook National Park with a knowledgeable guide, as well as time spent stopping at some of the best attractions along the way, like Cromwell, Lindis Pass, and so much more!

I would not recommend this tour to anyone who does not want to be in a vehicle for a significant amount of time. It takes 4 hours to drive there, and then another four hours back – it’s a long day!

That said, if you’re looking to get out of Queenstown for a short break, this could be just right for you. With tickets costing $250 NZD per person, you can check available dates and book your spot online here.

Bus from Queenstown to Mount Cook One-Way

Just looking for transport to get you to Mount Cook Village? In this case, getting a one-way bus, like this bus service from GreatSights, might be what you’re looking for. Personally, I think that the bus shuttles tend to be a bit expensive for what you get – I much prefer the flexibility that comes with having your own vehicle!

That said, this bus service does come with a guide on board who does a great job of telling you all about the attractions you pass on your way to Mount Cook Village. Since it is just a one-way bus, you need accommodation booked in Mount Cook Village in advance. From there, you can also book the bus to return to Queenstown in a few days’ time, or head on to Christchurch.

Tickets for this service start at $250 NZD per person and can be booked online here.

Scenic flight from Queenstown to Mount Cook Guided Day Trip

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most iconic and scenic way to see Mount Cook from Queenstown on a day trip is with a scenic flight! While this does cut visiting the fun stops along the way, it also cuts down on the travel time to get to Mount Cook Village, and you’ll enjoy epic views all the way there.

That’s right, the flight on this full-day flight to Mount Cook is only an hour long, but you also get to experience the same flight on the return journey, along with 5 hours to explore Mount Cook National Park!

Of course, a scenic flight will be the most expensive way to tour Mount Cook, but in my eyes, it might just be the most unique way too. If you’re planning on celebrating a special occasion, or simply want to enjoy a seriously memorable experience, then this flight is well worth considering.

You can book tickets for this scenic flight for $769 NZD per person.

Essential Info To Know Before You Go

Vies of Mount cook National Park from the Sealy Tarns Track
The views from the Sealy Tarns Track
  • There is no public transport between Queenstown and Mount Cook – only organized tours, so I recommend renting a car in Queenstown (I use Discover Cars for the best deals).
  • The scenic route is 268 km (167 miles) in total, which should take you 4 hours if you drive direct. Considering all the stops I recommend taking, this is likely to be a whole-day affair.
  • During the winter months (May to September) you will need to carry snow chains for the Crown Range and Lindis Pass.
  • Take lots of snacks – besides the towns of Wanaka, Omarama, and Twizel there aren’t a lot of restaurants, cafés, and stores on this route. 
  • The same goes for gas, make sure you’re fuelled up as there are limited gas stations on the route. You will find gas stations in Queenstown, Wanaka, Omarama, Twizel, and a small gas station in Mount Cook itself (although it is usually more expensive).
  • Bring a camera – as mentioned, the photography opportunities are epic on the Queenstown to Mount Cook route. 

Queenstown to Mount Cook FAQs

Lindis Pass, new Zealand
Lindis Pass, New Zealand

Must-do Things in Mount Cook

an iceberg on Tasman Lake
When you go kayaking, you can get up close to icebergs!

Once you arrive at Mount Cook, there are a few different activities you can do to see the full beauty of Aoraki/Mount Cook! Check out my favorites below.

  • Mount Cook Helicopter Flight Explorer – This bucket list experience over Mount Cook lasts for 35 minutes and stops on top of a snowfield above Richardson Glacier and showcases some incredible views of the Tasman Valley. Priced around $505 NZD per person, it is not cheap, but if you have the money it’s something you shouldn’t leave New Zealand without doing!
  • Skydiving from 15,000 feet – What better of a location could you choose to jump out of a plane? If you want to face your fear or are always seeking an adrenaline rush, this is the opportunity for you! After your 45-second freefall, you can gaze out at the mountains, lakes, and glaciers as you gradually descend with your parachute.
  • Glacier Kayaking – This is the only place in New Zealand where you can go glacier kayaking, so it’s definitely a unique thing to do in Mount Cook. You’ll get the chance to get up close to the glaciers floating on the lake and stop halfway for a serene lunch on shore. For this 4-6 hour tour, you can expect to pay from $295 NZD per person.

Where to Stay in Mount Cook

A room at the Hermitage hotel in Mount Cook National Park
The Heritage is absolutely beautiful!

There aren’t a ton of places to stay in Mount Cook if I’m being honest. All of the accommodation is in Mount Cook Village, and in the summer months, the best places to stay are fully booked.

Glentanner Park Center – $

The Glentanner Park Center is my go-to choice for traveling on a budget. Although it’s a 17 km (10.6 mi) drive out of town, the dorm rooms here are clean and cheap, plus there’s also a communal kitchen area which is perfect for meeting new friends.

A bed in a mixed dorm here starts as low as $45 NZD per night, not a bad deal considering you’re on the doorstep of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful national parks! You can check availability and book your stay here on Booking.com.

Another budget-friendly option is to camp! You can stay at White Horse Hill Campground in Mount Cook Village, which is operated by the DOC and requires bookings in advance. It costs $15 NZD per adult per night or $7.50 NZD per child in the off-peak period between the 9th of February and the 25th of December. For the remainder of the year, it costs $18 NZD per adult, and $9 NZD per child.

Aoraki Court Motel – $$

If you’re looking for something a little more mid-range, then the Aoraki Court Motel is definitely worth a look. All of the rooms here are spacious and modern, with fantastic mountain views, all just a 3-minute walk from Mount Cook Village.

Rooms here at the Aoraki Court Motel do sell out months in advance, so it’s a good idea to reserve your room as far as possible in advance as you can! If you do, you can snag some great early-bird deals from just $350 NZD per night.

Hermitage Hotel – $$$

The most popular (and luxurious) place to stay in Mount Cook is the Hermitage Hotel. With its stunning rooms, ranging from twin rooms all the way up to premium king suites, it’s not hard to see how this hotel gets its reputation as the height of luxury in Mount Cook Village!

The friendly staff here go above and beyond to help you with any requests you have, whether you’re looking to arrange a tour, or book in at their fantastic on-site restaurant. Rooms here at the Hermitage Hotel start as low as $467 NZD per night, but like the Aoraki Court Motel, they do book up far in advance. So make sure to check your dates and reserve your room online here.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera while on the Sealy Tarns Trail in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand
Thanks for reading, now get out there and explore!

A road trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook, in my opinion, should be added to every New Zealand itinerary. Whether you stop at just a few or all of the above stops, it’s certain to be a road trip to remember. 

I hope my blog has helped you prepare for your journey from Queenstown to Mount Cook (or vice versa!) I have tons more info to share about road trips from Queenstown, as well as just general blogs about enjoying different places on the South Island – so browse around! Or check through these guides I have personally selected for you here:

25 Most BEAUTIFUL Places to Visit in New Zealand

20 FUN Things to do in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

21 BEST Beaches in New Zealand (that you don’t want to miss!)

Natalie

Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

I never really comment on blogs like these but I'm planning my semester break solo hiking trip and this has been a tremendous help!! Thank you for sharing!!

Perry

Monday 1st of January 2024

@Bailey, This is a VERY impressive amount of insight. Thank you Bailey

Bailey

Friday 1st of September 2023

Hey Natalie!

Thanks so much!

Bailey

George Dostal

Monday 12th of April 2021

Thanks , have just booked an early December 2021 trip in South Island for 2 weeks , I have also booked the Mt Cook glacier flight / heli flight.. On my Bucket list as is the Milford sound cruise etc. So the info and drive is well received. have hired car . Qantas points and cash is good now , lots of opportunities. Tip for you Aussies note school holidays and book outside of that. Prices and availibilty go higher than Mt Cook Booking.com gives free cancellation . Hope the virus doesn't interfere with my plans . have had my first AstZ shot . George Aka Clooney. Adelaide SA 74 and not dead yet , got there by being a little astute