5 Aoraki Mt Cook Must-Dos
5 Aoraki Mt Cook Must-Dos

20 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook 🏔️ [2022]

© Pexels

The Must-Dos in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Mt Cook Village sits in the heart of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. While small, the village is the start of many adventures to explore New Zealand’s most extreme and most beautiful alpine environment. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, braided rivers, valleys, snow… It’s all here. Question is, how are you going to make the most of it? We’ll help you out with this list of the best things to do in Aoraki Mt Cook.

1. Walk the Hooker Valley Track

It’s stunning, it takes about three hours, and it’s free. That’s why the Hooker Valley Track tops our list of Aoraki Mt Cook must-dos. No matter what your budget is, you can enjoy this easy-going three-hour return walk through the Hooker Valley toward the vibrant and glacial Hooker Lake. Soak up the views of several impressive glaciers and New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook. If you have more time, check out some of the other walks listed in the 10 Best Hikes Around Mt Cook.

Location: Start the Hooker Valley Track from the White Horse Hill Campground car park at the end of the Hooker Valley Road, 2km (1.2 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

5 Aoraki Mt Cook Must-Dos© Fraser Gunn - Tourism New Zealand

2. Enjoy a Stroll on the Governors Bush Walk

Another fantastic little walk available from within Mt Cook Village, the Governors Bush Walk takes you through picturesque beech forest. The walk features a lookout where you can get spectacular views of the Tasman Valley. Keep an eye out for New Zealand’s alpine parrot called a kea. As one of the family-friendly walks, the Governors Bush Walk also features in the 7 Things to Do in Mt Cook with Kids.

Location: Mt Cook Village Public Shelter, 59 Bowen Drive, Mt Cook Village.

© Krzysztof Golik on Wikipedia

3. Land on the Tasman Glacier in a Ski Plane

For a unique flying experience in New Zealand, fly in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park in a ski plane! The 35-minute flight with INFLITE Experiences takes in the highlights of the national park including New Zealand’s longest glacier and highest mountain. Then, the ski plane will land on the Tasman Glacier where you’ll get about 10 minutes to play in the snow and take in the scenery before taking off back to the Mt Cook Airport.

Location: Mt Cook Airport, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

11 Unmissable Things to Do in Mt Cook© NZPocketGuide.com

4. Soar the Skies Around Aoraki Mt Cook

Want to see it all in one scenic flight? The Mt Cook 360 flight with INFLITE Experiences does just that. Take to the skies in an all-encompassing 35-minute flight in a ski plane. The flight literally does a 360 around Aoraki Mt Cook, including views of the Tasman Glacier, crossing the Southern Alps to see the tops of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, before circling over the Hooker Valley back to where the flight began. See more experiences like this in the 10 Best Luxury Experiences in Mt Cook.

Location: Mt Cook Airport, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

10 Unmissable Things to Do in Mt Cook© INFLITE Experiences

5. Heli-Hike on the Tasman Glacier

Explore the ice caves and walk on top of New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier! Heli-hike or ice-climb with Mt Cook Glacier Guiding (INFLITE Experiences) or The Helicopter Line (on KKday and Tripadvisor). After reaching a remote area of the Tasman Glacier by helicopter, you’ll get to walk on the glacier in some provided crampons. No two tours are the same in this ever-changing river of ice, with ice caves to explore, crevasses to peer into and much more. Learn more about New Zealand’s glaciers in 10 Facts You Did Not Know About New Zealand’s Glaciers.

Location: Mt Cook Airport, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

6. Go Boating on the Tasman Lake

One of the best ways to “get” the scale of Mt Cook is to get below it. The Tasman Lake is where the Tasman Glacier terminates, releasing huge icebergs into the lake. Get up-close to these ice giants on a boating tour on the lake! Tours with Glacier Explorers involve a drive and short walk to the lake where you’ll then board a small boat for a trip on the vibrant turquoise glacial lake that is ever-changing. In fact, the lake only formed in 1989 and has been expanding ever since. Be aware that lake activities are seasonal and are only available between early September and late May.

Location: Terrace Road, Mt Cook Village.

Avenue on Wikipedia© Avenue on Wikipedia

7. Stargaze in the Aoraki Mt Cook International Dark Sky Reserve

Aoraki Mt Cook is part of the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, meaning that it is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. It has been given international status and protection to produce as little light pollution as possible to keep views of the night’s sky super clear. On a clear night, enjoy the views of the night sky from one of the campgrounds or even one of the roadside rest stops away from the artificial lights of Mt Cook Village for the best views. If you want more context to what you’re seeing, join a stargazing tour from the Hermitage Hotel, starting with an orientation in the planetarium. You’ll then be taken to a stargazing facility away from the artificial lights of the village where you’ll get the chance to look at the night’s sky through powerful telescopes.

Location: Tours depart from 89 Terrace Road, Mt Cook Village.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

8. Visit the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Learn about the national icon, Sir Edmund Hillary, who was one of the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest, at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. This mini-museum in the Hermitage Hotel displays relics from early alpine exploration, has heritage displays from everyday life in Mt Cook Village through the ages, and a 3D cinema and planetarium. Check out more indoor attractions like this in the 6 Things to Do in Mt Cook on a Rainy Day.

Location: Hermitage Hotel, 89 Terrace Road, Mt Cook Village.

© NZPocketGuide.com

9. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight Around Mt Cook

As you might have guessed by thing point in our list of the best things to do in Aoraki Mt Cook, taking to the skies is kind of a big deal here. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to flight options in Aoraki Mt Cook, but whatever you choose it will be nothing short of spectacular. See highlights like the Hochstetter Icefall close-up, fly through glacier valleys and learn about this majestic area through your pilot’s commentary. We recommend the 40-minute flight with The Helicopter Line (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or the 60-minute flight with INFLITE Experiences.

Location: Mt Cook Airport, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

© The Helicopter Line

10. Kayak on the Tasman Glacier Lake

Venture onto a lake produced by the Tasman Glacier on a guided kayak tour with Southern Alps Guiding. In a sea kayak, you’ll get to paddle among giant icebergs while surrounded by a tremendous valley and mountain scenery.

Location: The Old Mountaineers Cafe Bar, Mt Cook Village.

© Southern Alps Guiding and Aoraki Mount Cook Guiding

11. Go on a 4WD Safari

Get to those hard-to-reach places around the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park on a 4WD adventure. Tasman Valley 4WD Tours gets to see different perspectives of the Tasman Valley and includes a walk to the top of a moraine wall with picture-perfect views over the Tasman Glacier Lake. You’ll also get to learn more about this fascinating area and its history from your guide.

Location: Hermitage Hotel, 89 Terrace Road, Mt Cook Village.

© Tasman Valley 4WD Tours

12. Experience Snowshoeing

Explore snowy plateaus and breath in the fresh mountain air on a snowshoe tour with Alpine Guides or Mt Cook Glacier Guiding. Your guide will lead you on a relaxed tour on a remote mountain only accessible with a scenic helicopter flight.

Location: Alpine Guides – 98 Bowen Drive. Mt Cook Glacier Guiding – Mt Cook Airport, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

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13. Check Out the Exhibitions and Artwork at the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre

A good go-to on a rainy day or if you want to learn more about the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park (for free, might we add?) is the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre. It’s better described as a museum and an art gallery than a visitor centre, showcasing all kinds of captivating Maori carvings and artwork of the surrounding area. You’ll also learn about the flora, fauna and geography of the national park through various exhibitions, some with videos to watch. See more activities like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.

Location: 1 Larch Grove, Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© NZPocketGuide.com

14. Indulge in a Spa Day

Hit the pause button and do some of the more relaxing things to do in Mt Cook, like indulging in a spa day. Mt Cook’s luxury lodges like Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat and Lakestone Lodge can help you out there, offering relaxing treatments where incorporating the view of the brilliantly blue Lake Pukaki is a core part of the experience. Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat offers wellness programs, as well as a private day spa complete with a cedar hot tub, sauna, massage and fitness rooms. See more experiences like this in the 9 Most Romantic Things to Do in Mt Cook for Couples.

Location: Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat – 86 Mt Cook Road, Lake Pukaki, approximately 53km (33 miles) from Mt Cook Village. Lakestone Lodge – 4589 Tekapo-Twizel Road, Lake Pukaki, approximately 59km (37 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© Pixabay

15. Feel the Adrenaline on a Scenic Skydive

Yet another way to hit the skies over Mt Cook is to combine a scenic flight with a must-do for adrenaline-seekers in New Zealand, skydiving! Departing from Pukaki Airport in Twizel, your flight with Skydive Mt. Cook ascends to 9,000ft, 13,000ft and even as high as 15,000ft before you take the leap with your professional tandem master for the jump of your life. After a thrilling freefall, your tandem master will release the parachute where you’ll then have the opportunity to soak it all in; the vibrant blue waters of Lake Pukaki and the backdrop of Aoraki Mt Cook and the snowcapped Southern Alps. See how the experience compares to the 11 Best Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.

Location: 2 Swallow Drive, Pukaki, approximately 61km (38 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© INFLITE Experiences

16. Do Some Epic Backcountry Skiing

During the winter season (July to September), the ski season is on across the country, but nowhere is as blissfully uncrowded yet accessible as the backcountry slopes of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Alpine Guides, along with INFLITE Experiences‘ ski plane or The Helicopter Line‘s helicopter, offer access to fresh and untouched powder among New Zealand’s highest peaks. Lunch is included in the experience and there are always options to do more runs if you can’t get enough!

Location: Either from Mt Cook Airport, Mt Cook Road, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Mt Cook Village, or Glentanner Park, approximately 22km (14 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© NZPocketGuide.com

17. Tackle the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

Aoraki Mt Cook also marks the start of the 300km (190-mile) Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, a premium multi-day bike trail from the slopes of Aoraki Mt Cook to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Oamaru. While the whole trail is an inspiring and rewarding journey, you can simply soak in some of the best trail scenery on a day ride instead. The first part of the trail begins at the White Horse Hill Campground and includes crossing the Tasman River via helicopter, provided by operators at the Mt Cook Airport. Then it’s 11km (9 miles) of off-road cycling until you meet the quiet Hayman Road alongside the vibrant waters of Lake Pukaki. Bike hire and shuttles can be organised with The Jollie Biker in Twizel. Learn more about organising a mountain biking trip using Mountain Biking in New Zealand: A Complete Guide.

Location: The start of the trail starts at White Horse Hill Campground, end of Hooker Valley Road, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Mt Cook Village. The Jollie Biker offer pick-ups from local accommodations.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© NZPocketGuide.com

18. Hike the Mueller Hut Route and Stay in New Zealand’s Most Scenic Hut

Definitely one of the most challenging hikes in the area, the Mueller Hut Route takes you 1,800m (5,900ft) up the Sealy Range providing rewarding panoramic views for those who make it the whole way. The hike can be attempted between December to April, but still take some warm and waterproof clothing (and lots of water and snacks) even in the height of summer. At the top is the striking red Mueller Hut, which you can stay in overnight (bookings required with the Department of Conservation) or you can make your way down the same way you came. Learn more about staying in a hut in our guide, New Zealand Hut to Hut Hiking: What is it Like to Stay in a Hut?

Location: Start on the Sealy Tarns Track. Mt Cook Village start – Mt Cook Road just before the turn-off to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre. White Horse Hill Campsite start – End of Hooker Valley Road, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© Miles Holden - Tourism New Zealand

19. Hike the Kea Point Track

Need more spectacular glacier and mountain views in your life? The Kea Point Track is another worthy walking option, which can be walked from either Mt Cook Village, taking two hours to do the return walk, or from the White Horse Hill Campsite, which is one hour return. Either way, you’ll meander through grasslands until you reach a viewing deck overlooking the Mueller Glacier’s moraine wall – stunning!

Location: Mt Cook Village start – Mt Cook Road just before the turn-off to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre. White Horse Hill Campsite start – End of Hooker Valley Road, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Mt Cook Village.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© The Hermitage - Tourism New Zealand

20. Dine with a View

Welcome to some of the most striking architecture to lap up the views that you’ll find in New Zealand’s dining scene. Mt Cook’s restaurants and cafes all capture the commanding scenery of Aoraki Mt Cook and the Southern Alps where floor-to-ceiling windows are a staple. None quite capture the views quite like fine dining at The Panorama Restaurant of The Hermitage Hotel Mt Cook, with panoramic windows encircling a large dining room. Other dining options in Mt Cook, while more casual, include the Old Mountaineers’ Cafe, pouring organic coffee, cold beer and wine. And then you can go back to The Hermitage Hotel to dine at The Alpine Restaurant, another of their collection. Depending on the season, they’ll have a buffet to indulge in for dinner or choose from their a la carte menu.

Location: The Hermitage Hotel – 89 Terrace Road, Mt Cook Village. Old Mountaineers’ Cafe – 3 Larch Grove.

12 Best Things to Do in Aoraki Mt Cook© Unsplash

More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Mt Cook

That’s it for our ultimate list of things to do in Mt Cook but by no means the end of all our Mt Cook advice! Check out more activity listings in the following guides:

Finally, plan more experiences across the South Island and New Zealand with the 51 Best Things to Do on the South Island and 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.

Author

Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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