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Along with Milford Sound, the West Coast Glaciers, Hobbiton and Lord of the Rings movie locations, Queenstown, and Wellington, New Zealand’s coolest Capital, Mount Cook should be your list of highlights in New Zealand.
Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. At 3,724m it looms amongst it’s neighbors and is well worth a visit. It is located in the middle of the South island in the Southern Alps. Mount Cook stands above Hooker glacier lake, fed by the Hooker glacier. It is not easy to reach it’s summit, so it’s no surprise that mountaineers use it to train to climb Mount Everest, or that Sir Edmund Hilary, the first man to reach the summit if Mount Everest in 1953 was a New Zealander who trained here.
The closest most people get to Mount Cook is the Hooker lake, which is a 3hr return, 10km total walking track from the car park. Expect it to take a longer if your family is young. The Hooker valley track is an easy walk along flat terrain however. So don’t be put off you’re traveling with babies or toddlers, just be prepared with a carrier, plenty of layers as weather can change quickly in the Mountains, food and drink. It’s free entertainment and the whole walk is beautiful there will be plenty to keep you and your children occupied with along the way.
Mount Cook is snow capped all year, but there is a noticeable difference between seasons. I have visited Mount Cook in both Sumner and Winter, but which is best?
Mount Cook in Summer
In summer you will find more tourists visiting Mount Cook. You should also gave warmer weather, however the mountains attract rain so clear view are never guaranteed and I recommend checking the forecast first.
Views of beautiful alpine terrain in the valley with snow capped mountains surrounding you make for some stunning scenery. The hooker river and glacial lake at the end of the hooker valley walk is likely to be at its bluest. Rain washes silt into the lake turning it a milky grey colour at other times.
There is likely to be icebergs floating on the lake still, and if you are lucky the Rocky lame show is a nautical place to relax and while away the time. Mount cook buttercups, the world largest buttercups, are in flower, allowing you to include this iconic native alpine plant in your Mount Cook photos.
Mount Cook In Winter
In Winter Mount Cook village reminded me of Christmas, despite it being August. In the dark, the village is a beautiful small collection of huts and the visitor center, lit up and surrounded by snow. It is a classic alpine village, although most of the building here are for occupation by tourists rather than locals.
Prepare for a much colder walk to the Hooker glacial lake and Mount Cook, the wind particularly can be biting. However, there will be way less tourists, and you will experience a cold, icy view from the lake shore. The sound of ice sheets tinkling like a thousand small bells, as the wind stirred them together is not one I am likely to forget, nor will you if you brave the cold. The views can be clearer in winter too, the West Coast and Southern Alps can actually have more clear weather in Winter than in Summer. We actually aborted my second summer visit to Mount Cook thanks to rain, cold, and a forecast that wasn’t likely to change for the next few days. The low cloud was atmospheric, but with no views it wasn’t worth doing the hooker valley track.
Ways To See Mount Cook
There are multiple ways to see Mount Cook, which as great as each offers a unique experience.
Hooker Valley Track
The 3hr return, 10km Hooker Valley track is most peoples choice for seeing Mount Cook. It’s an easy, flat walk and is suitable for all the family, including buggies and wheelchairs. It is free and offers fantastic views across Hooker glacier lake. Always check the forecast first, Mount Cook Visitor Centre in the village will have this for you. pack layers, food and water, especially if traveling with young children as the mountain weather can change quickly.
There are multiple helicopter flights to choose from, with most landing on Mount Cook for unforgettable views of the Southern Alps. Several include the Tasman Glacier also, which is the biggest glacier in new Zealand. If you can take the splurge then seeing mount cook from the air and landing on it will be more the most amazing experiences of your life. Children are cheaper, and infants often free but must sit on an adults lap for the flight.
Of course, the reality of when you will visit Mount Cook depends on when you visit new Zealand, and I think you would enjoy a visit to Mount Cook in summer or Winter. However, given the opportunity to visit Mount Cook in multiple seasons I would definitely take it! When would you like to visit Mount Cook?
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