We reckon the day hikes at Mount Cook are some of the best in the world and we don't say that lightly. The views even on the flat walks are exquisite. There's also a lot of variety, if you don't like anything too strenuous try the Hooker Valley track and if you like a good work out go for the Sealy Tarns.
Another great thing about this area is that all the walking tracks are really close to the village so you can fit a couple in one day if time is tight.
We loved the area so much we did most of the walking tracks but if you don't have the time choose one from our top three below.
1. Hooker Valley Track - 10km return
This easy track is possibly the best day hike you will ever have the pleasure of walking in your life. It's almost entirely flat but with the kind of views you'd often have to walk days to experience. Leave time for this one, as though it's easy, your camera will be permanently in use. It's also pretty popular so start out early or late to experience the track at it's best. We walked it in Summer and started at around 5 pm, the beginning section was quite busy but the latter sections were empty, heaven!
You follow the Hooker river through open tussock and over three very photogenic swing bridges until you reach the glorious hooker lake, complete with floating icebergs. The views are out of this world the whole way through this track. It was stunning in Summer but it is probably even more magical if you are lucky enough to be there in Winter.
The Hooker Valley track is just an eight-minute drive from the village.
2. Sealy Tarns Track - 5.8km return
Views views views. This track is short but steep and all about the views. You start to ascend almost immediately and cover around 580m elevation over a short distance. You start to feel the burn pretty quickly but literally, every step is rewarded with an even greater vista. If you are there on a clear day the sight of Mount Cook right before your eyes is memorising.
It's approximately 2200 steps to Sealy Tarns lookout but it is worth every last one of them. The weather can change really quickly so if it's clear make sure you take lots of photos, don't risk waiting to the top as it might have completely clouded over. We were actually aiming for Mueller Hut on this walk and started the day with brilliant blue skies. By the time we had walked up most of the ridge after Sealy Tarns a blizzard had swept in and everything became really slippery with low visibility. We sadly had to turn back and leave it for another trip. If you have the time we definitely recommend trying to get up to Mueller Hut, apparently the view is even better, which we find hard to believe!
Sealy Tarns is steep but it is also a really well-formed track with stairs so it's not a slippery scramble like the route to Mueller. Don't miss this hike, if you're not used to steep inclines just take it slow as you would not want to miss this one!
You access this track from the same place as the Hooker Valley track, eight minutes from the village.
3. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk - 2.6km return
The Tasman Glacier lake walk is a really short track that branches off the Blue Lakes trail. There's nothing particularly special about the track itself, it's just walking along gravel (albeit with spectacular views, as all the tracks in this area have) but the lake you come out to at the end is ridiculously beautiful. We had this spot to ourselves and it was amazing to watch the icebergs floating in the glacial water. We loved this spot so much that we used it as the cover photo for our website.
The Blue Lakes section of the track is predominantly a series of steps leading up to a beautiful look out point. On the way up you can branch off left to take a look at the blue tarn (it looked more like a green tarn on our visit) but the real highlight is definitely the panoramic viewpoint at the top. You can see the whole mountain range and the beautiful glacier lake that you see at eye level on the Tasman Glacier Lake track.
Where we stayed: It had been a dream of mine as a huge Edmund Hillary fan to stay in the Hermitage Mount Cook for so many years, and I finally got to do it on this trip. We couldn't resist booking a mountain view room and woke to watch the sunrise over Mount Cook herself. Definitely one to remember.
We were glad that we'd decided to spend three days in this area as the first couple was completely foggy and we never saw Mount Cook. On the third day, the weather cleared and we were treated to the views we'd been hoping for. Unless you really can't stay longer don't just come for one day, we met lots of people who left disappointed.
Where to eat:
Our go-to was the Old Mountaineers Cafe, spectacular views aside, it did good hearty meals, think curry, pasta, pie etc, perfect after a day's hiking. All the food in this area is fairly expensive as it has to be transported so far but this was definitely cheaper than at The Hermitage.
As a special New Years treat we had one meal in the Panorama room at The Hermitage. Make sure you book a window table in advance. The food and wine were good but it was the view that made the whole experience.
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Have you been hiking at Mount Cook? Which was your favourite track? Let us know in the comments.