There’s no doubt that Mount Cook is one of the most popular and beautiful places in New Zealand. Not only is it home to the tallest mountain in New Zealand (also named Mount Cook or Aoraki to use its Maori name), but there are also lots of amazing activities on offer in this tiny mountain town.
From heli-skiing on unspoiled ski runs on the aforementioned tallest mountain in New Zealand to the unique sport of glacier kayaking, which, yep, you guessed it – gets you up close to some pretty impressive glaciers and icebergs, there’s plenty of adventure to be had in Mount Cook!
Interestingly, there are more relaxing activities on offer here too, like visiting the informative Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center to learn about the history of the area and having dinner at one of the most scenic restaurants in New Zealand. There are certainly lots of fun things to fill your days in Mount Cook.
In fact, in this blog, I’ll tell you about 21 of my favorite things to do in Mount Cook National Park!
21 EPIC Things to do in Mount Cook
1. Soar above Mount Cook in a helicopter
One of the best ways to see Mount Cook, also known as “the cloud piercer” because of its height (it’s a whopping 3,724 meters or 12,218 feet tall), is on a scenic helicopter tour. It’s a great option for those who aren’t into hiking but still want to get as close as possible to New Zealand’s tallest mountain. It’s also ideal for photographers because the photos from this angle (high up above) are truly epic!
This 50-minute helicopter tour is a great way to see Mount Cook in all its glory and avoid the crowds! You’ll fly over Mount Cook, the Tasman glacier, and over to the West Coast to see Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. You even get to land in a secluded snowy alpine spot.
On the 50-minute ride, your pilot will tell you all about the history and geography of this unique national park as well as information on the other sights on the flight.
Prices for this tour start from $677 NZD per adult, but shorter scenic flights are also available and are much cheaper.
2. Hike the Mueller Hut Route
The Mueller Hut Route is easily one of the best things to do, and most popular hikes in Mount Cook. Fair warning, it is rated difficult, and be sure to bring appropriate hiking boots, a rain jacket, and plenty of water.
You’ll start at the White Horse Hill campsite for this trail, and then follow the steep uphill track to Sealy Tarns. At the top, you’ll get a wonderful view of the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook.
If you choose to continue through the second half of the trail, you have about another 2 hours to go. Orange markers are your sign you’re on the right path from Sealy Tarns Track. You’re going to encounter loose gravel and an uphill climb for about 50 meters (164 feet) up to the skyline ridge. In the winter, this ridge is likely to be covered in snow so some alpine hiking experience is recommended.
The majority of this hike is uphill, which adds to its difficulty. Not to mention, if you haven’t reserved a bed at Mueller Hut (more on that below), you’re going to have to turn right back around and hike the same route down. Beware of the loose gravel that may cause slightly more of an issue when going down. This hike can be very tiring! But the views are stunning.
Related Read: If you aren’t an experienced hiker, be sure to read my blog about essential hiking tips for beginners! It includes a few important tips to know before you start any hike in Mount Cook.
3. Stay the night at the Mueller Hut
If you’re already planning on hiking the Mueller Hut Route, you might as well turn this hike into an overnight adventure and spend a night at the famous Mueller Hut. The Mueller Hut is the perfect place to sleep for the night with quite possibly the best views you could ever imagine. When you stay up here, you can also witness sunset and sunrise easily (my favorite part.)
The Mueller Hut isn’t luxurious by any means, but it does offer 28-bunk beds (bring your own bedding) as well as a toilet and kitchen area with gas cookers. During the peak hiking season from November to April you must reserve your space in the hut in advance. During other months, bookings should be made on the day of your hike at the visitor center. You should also check with the visitor center before you go regarding the safety of the trail and current avalanche risks.
It costs $45 NZD per adult to spend the night in the hut, and $22.50 NZD per child.
4. Kayak to Tasman Glacier
Glacier kayaking is truly a unique way to see Mount Cook and explore some lesser-explored parts of this gorgeous National Park. Kayak beneath huge glacier-covered mountains and spy on Mount Cook in the distance. You’ll even get to kayak super close to the icebergs on the lake and also get to stop halfway through at a secluded glacier bay to have lunch.
This is in fact, the only place in New Zealand where you can do glacier kayaking, so it’s definitely an activity that should be added to your Mount Cook itinerary! It has also been awarded Lonely Planet’s top Ultimate Adventures in the World!
What’s great about this tour is that it’s an eco-tourism experience that supports conservation and sustainable travel.
The tour is suitable for beginners up to advanced kayakers, although a small knowledge of kayaking is required as the tour is 4-6 hours in duration (it’s a long kayaking session for those who may not be confident in a kayak!) This 4-6 hour tour starts from $275 NZD per person, although group discounts are available.
5. Hooker Valley Track
Another one of the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park is to hike the Hooker Valley Track. You’ll begin at the same spot as the Mueller Hut at the White Horse Hill campground. Unlike the last hike, this one is flat, easy, and great for the whole family! There’s even a boardwalk over the marshy parts of the trail.
Swing bridges are throughout this track, there are three to be exact. The first swing bridge is one of the best spots to get a photo of Mount Cook, so be sure to stop! It’ll take you around 1.5 hours to get to the end of this trail. But once you get there, you’re rewarded with sights of Hooker Lake. In the winter you will even most likely see numerous icebergs floating in the lake.
There is also a guided tour option for Hooker Valley that departs from Queenstown that spends 3 hours hiking and the rest of the day visiting several spots in the area including Mt Cook Village, High Country Salmon Farm, and Mrs. Jones Fruit Orchard.
This is one of the top hikes in all of New Zealand, in my opinion. If possible, wake up early and watch the sunrise over the Southern Alps! But the sunset is also extremely beautiful!
6. Land in the mountains on a ski plane
Another way to see Mount Cook from high above is on a ski plane. This 45-minute tour takes you over and through the Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier, and the lesser-explored Hochstetter Icefall. It includes a short landing on the Tasman glacier so that you can get out and explore the glacier briefly and take some photos.
If you’ve never seen snow before, this is some spot for your first time! Away from the crowds and feel the crunch of the crisp white snow under your feet. During the flight, you will be treated to an informative commentary from your pilot on the area and how the natural phenomena you’re seeing were formed.
On top of that, you’re in a ski plane! You literally land in the snow, which is one daunting experience at first that really gets the adrenaline pumping.
Tickets for this ski plane tour start at $499 NZD per adult.
7. Sealy Tarns Track
Together with the Mueller Hut Track, the Sealy Tarns Track is considered one of the must-do hikes on the South Island. This trail also starts on the Kea Point Track at the White Horse Hill campground. Follow the trail until you see the sign for Sealy Tarns Track.
It takes 2,200 steps to reach the Sealy Tarns lake at the top, which is why this track is nicknamed locally as the “stairway to heaven”. This is an uphill track with a 600-meter (1,969 feet) elevation gain. Even so, it’s considered an easy to moderate track.
You can do this hike year-round, but in the winter you won’t be able to see the tarn as it freezes and becomes covered in snow. The views are still epic and be on the lookout for stunning views of the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook throughout this trek.
8. Go Skydiving
Now here’s something for the more adventurous traveler – how about jumping up to 15,000 feet from a plane with views of New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Easily one of the most stunning locations in the world to skydive, this activity is one of the best and most popular things to do in Mount Cook.
From the plane (before you jump), you’ll spot bright-blue Lake Pukaki, huge glaciers, and of course, the many mountains that make up this National Park. It’s basically a scenic flight too (if you aren’t too nervous to focus)!
When you finally climb out the door and jump, you probably won’t see a whole lot because on a 9,000-foot jump, you will be freefalling for 20 seconds. The 9,000 feet option is the smallest jump and is suitable for those on a budget.
Once the parachute opens, you’ll have time to enjoy the views once again for a few minutes before landing.
Tours start from the nearby town of Twizel, and prices are $429 NZD for the 15,000 feet jump. The smaller jumps are cheaper. Allow 2-3 hours for the whole experience.
9. Blue Lakes Loop Track
This loop is more of a short walk than a hike. But it’s considered one of the best short walks in Mount Cook! Blue Lakes Loop Track provides a vantage point over the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake. Take a quick detour from the track and walk to the shores of Blue Lakes. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with views and sights of magnificent reflections like the ones shown in the picture above.
You even have the opportunity to spot the Rifleman bird on this track. The Rifleman bird is considered New Zealand’s smallest bird! Keep your eyes peeled, it’s very small!
Because this hike is so short, it’s one of the better things to do in Mount Cook National Park for families or those with kids. There are a few stairs to get up to the viewpoint, but it’s totally worth it!
10. Go stargazing in a Dark Sky Reserve
The largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world is located right here in Mount Cook National Park – it’s a huge 4367 sq km in area, so that’s a whole lot of opportunities for stargazing.
Book this hour-long tour which introduces you to the southern lights using Astro-binoculars and large astronomy telescopes. Your experienced guide will be on-hand to tell you what you’re seeing, where to look, and all about the skies in this unique part of the world.
Worth noting is this particular tour only operates on a clear night, and departure is from close to the historic Hermitage Hotel. You will be transported to the base, where you will warm up with delicious hot chocolate and other yummy goodies before wrapping up and going outside to witness the starry skies above Mount Cook. This sure is one of the most romantic things to do in Mount Cook!
The tour will take 90 minutes total and includes a transfer to the star base. Prices start from $109 NZD per adult and $45 NZD per child – great value if you ask me!
11. Tasman River Viewpoint
This trail is another short one, but it leads to a spectacular viewpoint on Tasman Lake near the river mouth! And, it branches off of the Blue Lakes Track (mentioned above). Just follow the Tasman River signposts after the viewpoint on the Blue Lakes Track.
You’ll need to climb over a few rocks to reach the edge of the lake, so be careful. This is a very popular trail for tourists and photographers. I recommend coming for sunrise, it’s my favorite place for the occasion. Witness the sunrise reflections in the icebergs if you visit in the warmer months (in the winter the lake may be frozen over).
12. Soak up some knowledge at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
The Sir Edmund Hilary Center is a great place to escape the weather and learn all about the history of the area. And of course about its climbing past, hence the museum’s name – Sir Edmund Hillary is one of the world’s greatest climbers and mountaineers.
The center also houses a 126-seat theater (for viewing some interesting documentaries). It is the only one of its kind in the world with 2D, 3D, and a digital dome planetarium all in one place. This digital planetarium is the most southern in the world.
Also here, is the Hillary Gallery and a cafe and bar which has both indoor and outdoor seating. Inside has floor-to-ceiling windows to admire the stunning views. There’s also an exhibit on the Hermitage Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in the country, and is over 140 years old.
Explorer Passes cost $20 NZD per adult and $10 NZD per child. It includes unlimited entry for a 24hr period to the museum and all shows in the theater.
13. Bowen Bush Walk
The Bowen Bush Walk is just a 10-minute stroll and is suitable for the whole family. The trail is mostly gravel-covered and flat, aside from a small number of steps. You’ll wander through native totara trees and hear beautiful birdsong as you walk.
This track starts opposite the petrol pumps in Mount Cook Village. The starting point is well signposted and easy to access from all hotels in Mount Cook Village.
14. Have dinner at the Hermitage Hotel
An iconic hotel in New Zealand, the Hermitage Hotel is full of history and opened its doors back in 1884. It was used as a base for climbers then and had just 35 rooms. Now, it has been rebuilt and now has 164 rooms. I highly recommend staying the night here – make sure to book a room with a view of Mount Cook!
If you can’t spend the night, why not enjoy a delicious dinner at their on-site Alpine Restaurant, which boasts stunning views of the mountain scenery and features floor-to-ceiling windows to admire the views throughout your meal.
Two and three-course set menus are on offer, and the menu is seasonal and uses only New Zealand produce where possible. Reservations are recommended for the Alpine Restaurant as it sells out quickly, especially in busier months like November to February.
There’s also the more casual Snowline Bar where you can enjoy drinks (I loved their cocktails!) and some lighter food options. During the day, a coffee at the Sir Edmund Hilary Cafe is a great place to relax after a long day of hiking or adventures. The views from here are especially stunning on a clear day!
15. Glencoe Walk
Zigzag through native trees before coming to a lookout point close to the large water tanks above the Hermitage Hotel. Go a little further uphill and you’ll be brought to another lovely viewpoint over Mount Cook Village as well as the Hooker Glacier and of course gigantic Mount Cook.
I suggest walking this track about an hour before sunrise or sunset so you can enjoy the sun rising or falling over the village and Mount Cook.
16. Spend the night at the White Horse Hill Campsite
White Horse Hill Campsite is one of the most popular campsites in the region and has 60 non-powered sites and some basic facilities like toilets and a shelter. There’s also treated water available, however, I still advise filtering the water. There are showers available 2.5 km (1.6 miles) away at the public shelter in Mount Cook Village.
Its popularity lies in the fact it is very close to many of Mount Cook’s best trails, like the Hooker Valley, which starts from the campsite. It’s also an incredibly scenic place to spend the night with the glacier-covered Mount Sefton in prime view from the campsite.
To get to White Horse Hill campsite, follow to the end of Hooker Valley Rd, just off State Highway 80. It’s only a couple-minute drive from Mount Cook Village, so a super convenient location to access amenities as well.
As mentioned, booking is required as it’s very popular with hikers, particularly those who want to get up early for a sunrise hike. A non-powered site costs $15 NZD per adult and $7.50 NZD per child per night.
17. Governors Bush Walk
To do the Governor’s Bush Walk you’ll start at the public shelter in Mount Cook Village. This short and easy bush walk connects with the Bowen Bush Walk described above. You’ll walk through a forest of silver beech/tawai trees, it’s one of the few within the National Park. There are plenty of fantail and kea birds you can usually spot on this track.
A gradual climb will lead you to a lovely viewpoint that shows you Wakefield Ridge and Mount Cook. This trail is pretty well-shaded and sheltered, making it doable even on days the weather isn’t the best.
The public shelter at this trail even has toilets, hot water showers, and a picnic area.
18. Go Heli Skiing
A Mount Cook activity that must be added to your bucket list is heli-skiing on New Zealand’s tallest mountain. It is worth noting that a moderate level of skiing ability is required because the runs can be pretty intense!
Choose from 200 runs across six mountains, where the average run is 800 vertical meters! The highest vertical drop is a huge 1200 meters (3,900 ft), so it’s definitely not an activity for the faint-hearted or those who lack confidence in their skiing ability. The snow varies from run to run.
The helicopter ride to get to the runs is, as you can imagine, incredibly scenic – see ancient glaciers and Gatorade-blue lakes, and where you land is on some of the highest terrains a helicopter can land.
Mount Cook HeliSki has been in operation since 1974 and has a big focus on safety. Flights depart from Bowen Drive near Mount Cook Village, and small groups are only allowed to ensure maximum safety.
Tours start from $1,190 NZD per person.
19. Kea Point Track
The Kea Point Track is another hugely popular thing to do in Mount Cook National Park. It’s another trail that begins at the White Horse Hill campground at the end of Hooker Valley Road. The start of this trail is also the start of the Sealy Tarns Track and Mueller Hut Route.
The climb is somewhat subtle as you complete this 3.2 km (2-mile) round-trip hike. Once you reach the viewpoint there’s a viewing deck giving you sights of Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, Mount Sefton, The Footstool, and of course, Mount Cook.
In the spring and summer months, you’ll even spot colorful mountain wildflowers! This is a great hike suitable for the whole family.
20. Day trip to Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is just over an hour’s drive from Mount Cook Village and is one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand. It is famous for being the bluest lake in New Zealand. It’s especially popular with photographers who come from all over the world to photograph its cloudy blue waters. Lupin season, bright colorful wildflowers, runs from mid-November to the end of December.
On the edge of Lake Tekapo is the town, also called “Lake Tekapo.” Here, there are plenty of great restaurant options including my personal favorites Dark Sky Diner on Neil Anderson Way, and Kohan Japanese restaurant on 6 Rapuwai Lane for a more casual dining option.
As for things to do in Lake Tekapo, visit the Tekapo Springs Hot Pools for a day of relaxing. There are 3 different hot pools here which are named after popular areas in the region because they are shaped like these areas. Firstly, there’s Ohau at 36.5º C (97.5º F), second is Pukaki at 37.5º C (99.5º F), and Tekapo which is adults only at 38 º C (100.4º F). There’s also an Aqua Play Area with two cooler pools that are great for kids.
Visit the Church of the Good Shepherd for one of the best views of the lake and Mount Cook. My advice is to get here for sunrise or sunset or after dark for the best photo op.
Or, drive up to Mount John Observatory for some epic views of Lake Tekapo. One of the most scenic cafes I’ve ever visited is also located here. This is the ultimate mountaintop stargazing experience at night and is run by the University of Canterbury.
Related Read: Want to spend more time in Lake Tekapo town? Luckily there are lots of great hotels in Lake Tekapo where you stay a few nights!
21. Red Tarns Hike
As you can tell, some of the best things to do in Mount Cook are the amazing hikes and tracks that give you different viewpoints! For the Red Tarns Hike, you’ll begin at the Bowen Drive public shelter in the village.
Wear appropriate footwear, because this hike is quite the workout. Not to mention it can also get wet and muddy if there has been recent rainfall.
The trail leads you downhill to a small bridge taking you over Black Birch Stream before a steep climb up several steps up to the Red Tarns. Once you get to the Red Tarns enjoy breathing in the views of Mount Cook and the village below.
If you complete the hike on a clear day, you’ll be lucky enough to see Mount Cook reflecting in the waters of the lake. This trail got its name because of the red pond weed that grows in the tarns.
Related Read: Heading to Mount Cook on a road trip? Check out my guide to driving from Queenstown to Mount Cook, Wanaka to Mount Cook, or even Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook for all the best road trip stops along each route!
Where to Stay in Mount Cook
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.
The most popular (and luxurious) place to stay is the Hermitage Hotel. For something a little more budget-friendly consider Aoraki Court Motel, or for the budget backpacker you can drive 17 minutes outside of Mt Cook Village and stay at the Glentanner Park Center, it’s a must with dorm rooms and a communal space to cook (and they have an on-site cafe!)
If you want to camp, you can stay at White Horse Hill Campground in Mount Cook Village. Bookings in advance are now required for this DOC-operated campground and it costs $15 NZD per adult per night or $7.50 NZD per child.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
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 book 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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog has given you some inspiration for your visit to Mount Cook, as you can see there’s lots to do here (I’ve only touched the surface in this blog). I recommend spending a few nights in Mount Cook to really experience the best it has to offer!
If you found this blog helpful, then be sure to check out some of my other favorite articles including the best things to do in other popular South Island destinations such as Milford Sound, Queenstown, and Wanaka! Also, here are some other useful guides from my site: