Hooker valley track, Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook viewMount Cook from the Hooker Valley trail

Key Facts

Location: New Zealand
Distance: 11 km (round trip)
Days: 1 day
People seen: Many
Difficulty: 1/5
Guidebook: The Rough Guide to New Zealand

The Hooker Valley Track to Hooker lake is a relatively flat and easy trip in New Zealand’s Mount Cook National Park. From the lake there are magnificent views of Mount Cook and the Hooker glacier. Hooker lake is one of three glacial lakes which can be easily accessed from the Department of Conservation’s White Horse Hill campsite (the other two being Tasman Lake and Mueller Lake). The 12 km return trip to Hooker Lake can be completed in three hours or less. This makes it an excellent option for a late afternoon hike after arriving, or a morning hike before leaving.

The track to the lake itself is easy to find and follow. Starting from the DOC’s White Horse Hill campsite, it is clearly sign posted and there are no junctions at which you could take the wrong path. The track generally gains height as it heads towards the lake, but the incline is very gentle. There is a small hut about halfway along the valley where you can shelter from the elements.

An interesting stop in the first ten minutes of the hike is the Alpine Memorial. Just off the main trail, this stone cairn remembers those who have lost their lives climbing Mount Cook.

Alpine memorial on Hooker valley trail

Mount Cook alpine memorial

Other highlights include the three bridges across the Hooker River. In summer months the river rages below, swollen with snow melt and rain water. In a gale crossing these bridges can be interesting!

On a clear day the viewpoint at the head of Hooker Lake offers views of Mount Cook’s west and south sides, the Hooker Glacier face, and even icebergs floating in Hooker Lake. In the other direction, Mount Sefton can be seen looming over the Mueller valley.

Hooker valley icebergs

Icebergs in Hooker lake with Mount Cook in the distance

The Hooker Valley track is great when visited at sunset. Although Mount Cook is often covered in cloud, it is not unusual for this to clear in the last 10 or 15 minutes before sun down. In other words, it is worth setting off for a view of the mountain, even if you cannot see it at that time. By the time the cloud does clear, you will have very little time to get to a good viewing position before it gets dark!

Speaking of dark, the whole of Mount Cook National Park is an international dark sky reserve. On a clear night the views are absolutely outstanding. Previously I thought myself lucky to see the faint cloud-like structure of the Milky Way with the naked eye, but at Mount Cook I could clearly see more detail than ever before. I was even luckily enough to spot the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) – all with the naked eye. The start of the Hooker Valley trail is a good place to come to get away from the very minimal light pollution of the DOC campsite, and the surrounding mountains provide excellent backdrops to the heavens above.

As always, the New Zealand Department of Conservation have excellent information about Mount Cook / Aoraki on their website.

Milky Way viewed from Hooker Valley trail

Mount Cook’s skies are some of the darkest in the world

View more photos from the Hooker Valley track:

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