How to Visit Aoraki Mt Cook on a Budget
Seeing the highest mountains and the longest glaciers in New Zealand doesn’t have to cost you a bomb. The joy of Mt Cook is the immersive scenery viewed from a myriad of angles, which incidentally can be accessed on a myriad of walking trails. Learning about the national park and the surrounding Te Waipounamu World Heritage Area and International Dark Sky Reserve doesn’t require you to go on expensive tours, as there are two museum-like attractions in town. Although Mt Cook does have some budget accommodation, however, it’s very limited, so if you plan to stick around be sure to get your bookings done early.
With all that out of the way, we’ll offer you more ways to visit Aoraki Mt Cook on a budget with this complete budget guide to Mt Cook!
Budget Tips for Mt Cook
- Mt Cook’s budget accommodation is extremely limited so book as early as possible, no matter the season, to avoid disappointment
- Restaurant and cafe prices are at a premium in Mt Cook Village, so save money by staying in self-catering accommodation and bringing your own food supplies (there is no supermarket in the village)
- While most of the main trails in Mt Cook are open in winter, note that some like the Mueller Hut Track will have snow in winter and unsafe to hike
- Consider visiting in the off-season (May to September) to see discounted motel, hotel and activity rates – note that some tours, like those on the Tasman Glacier Lake, do not operate in winter
- Be choosey about what paid activities you do – check out the 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Mt Cook to do some research
- Fill up the rest of your time with the free things to do in Mt Cook, like all of the wonderful walks!
For more general budget advice, see the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Mt Cook
Tie up your hiking shoes because almost all of the free things to do in Mt Cook are walking and hiking trails. One of the most popular hikes in the Hooker Valley Track (3 hours return) boasting tremendous views of the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Lake and Aoraki Mt Cook on a well-maintained and easy trail made up of boardwalks, three swingbridges and gravel.
Another scenic walk worth checking out is the Red Tarns Track (2 hours return), which climbs steeply to a tarn pond with breathtaking panoramic vistas. For something a little easier, try the Governors Bush Walk (1-hour loop) through beech forest. More information on all of these walks and more can be found in the 10 Must-Do Hikes Around Mt Cook, as well as in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.
For something a little different, head to the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre, which although doesn’t sound too exciting, it’s actually more like a museum. You’re welcomed into the free attraction to the sight of spectacular Maori carvings and artwork. Check out an array of exhibitions about the national park’s flora, fauna and landscape, including videos and interpretation panels.
While there are stargazing tours in Mt Cook that are well worth checking out, if you don’t have the budget for it, just head outside on a clear night and look up! Mt Cook is in the middle of an International Dark Sky Reserve, meaning it has some of the darkest skies in the world for the best stargazing experiences. Choose a clear night and try to get away from artificial light to enhance the view of the stars. See What to Look for When Watching the Stars in New Zealand for astronomical features you may see.
Need more inspiration? Check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Cheap Activities in Mt Cook
Admittedly, there aren’t a lot of cheap things to do in Mt Cook. One attraction that breaks the mould, however, is the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. This museum in The Hermitage Hotel is a tribute to the New Zealander who was among the first to summit Mt Everest. Learn about his life and his mountaineering training in this small museum, which also houses historical transport and hotel memorabilia from Mt Cook. There’s also a 2D and 3D Dome Planetarium which has regular showings on the flora, fauna and night sky in the national park. Entry is typically NZ$20 each, but the museum has been known to have free entry occasional, so you could be lucky.
Check out more activities in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Mt Cook.
Cheap Eats in Mt Cook
As an isolated tourist village, you’ll struggle to find cheap eats in Mt Cook Village. We recommend staying in self-catering accommodation and bringing your own food supplies, as there is no supermarket in the village.
Nevertheless, you can try the Tasman Delta Cafe at Glentanner Park on your way to or from Mt Cook, which offers the usual cafe breakfasts and lunches, as well as fish and chips, at a cheaper price than what you’ll find in Mt Cook Village.
For more advice on budgeting for food, see the 11 Tips to Save Money on Food in New Zealand.
More About Mt Cook
- 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Mt Cook
- Aoraki Mt Cook National Park – Guide for Backpackers
- 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Mt Cook
That’s it from the travel guide to Mt Cook on a budget. Check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget.