Home How To Do Hooker Valley Walk in 3 Hours! An Easy Mt Cook Walk!

How To Do Hooker Valley Walk in 3 Hours! An Easy Mt Cook Walk!

by TheWanderingQuinn

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The Hooker Valley Track in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is one of the most scenic short hikes in New Zealand and easiest Mt Cook walks. The Hooker Valley Walk is one of the best recommendations I would give to anyone visiting the South Island

The Hooker Valley Trail is surrounded by incredible alpine scenery thanks to its location in the middle of the Southern Alps mountains.

Nestled in between the snowcapped Sealy, Aroarokaehe and Kirikirikatata Ranges, the Hooker valley hike offers amazing panoramic views over glaciers and lakes as it makes its way through alpine tussock and across three swing bridges over glacial rivers. 

The trail culminates at the edge of Hooker Lake with breathtaking views out over the iceberg-filled lake and up to Aoraki/Mt Cook – the highest peak in New Zealand.

With so many amazing hikes to choose from in the Southern Alps, the Hooker Valley Track is only about 3 hours and 10km return and on a well-formed, flat track, making it a great option for families and those who want to see the best of the national park with limited time.

This post contains all the details for planning your Hooker Valley Track Walk including a Hooker Valley Track map, information on the Hooker Valley weather, Hooker Valley parking, other Mt Cook walking tracks in the area, and Aoraki/Mt Cook accommodation and places to eat nearby so you can turn this into a brilliant Mt Cook day out!

Hooker Valley Walk

Hooker Valley Walk,
Keep reading for how to do the Hooker Valley Walk!

This guest post was written by Laura from Laura the Explorer, a kiwi travel enthusiast with a love for hiking and adventures in the great outdoors. Check out her blog for more guides and advice on some of the best hikes in New Zealand, like the Cape Brett Walkway.

Hooker Valley Track Map

This map contains all the places to help with planning your Hooker Valley Track hike:

Hooker Valley Walk, nd aoraki mount cook tallest mountain
Aoraki/Mt Cook – the tallest mountain in New Zealand!

Getting to the Hooker Valley

Travelling by private vehicle is by far the easiest way to reach the Hooker Valley Trail.

Coming from Queenstown in the south or Lake Tekapo in the north, take the turn off at the edge of Lake Pukaki on to Mount Cook Road. 

About 10 minutes along, definitely stop at the clearly marked viewpoint for the most amazing lake views with the unbelievably blue glacial waters with Aoraki/Mt Cook shining in the distance.

This stretch of road is one of the most picturesque drives in all of New Zealand, and it follows the edge of the lake all the way along its length to arrive at Aoraki/Mt Cook Village.

Hooker Valley Walk, d aoraki mt cook lake pukaki
The unbelievably blue glacial waters of Lake Pukaki with Aoraki/Mt Cook in the distance.

Hooker Valley Track Parking

The Hooker Valley Trail officially starts from the White Horse Hill Campsite and parking lot, but can also be accessed from Aoraki/Mt Cook Village – though this will add an extra 1hr to the journey.

From White Horse Hill:

The White Horse Hill carpark is located at the end of Hooker Valley Road, which is accessed just before Aoraki/Mt Cook Village.

The parking area is broken into two zones, a free general parking area for those just visiting for the day and White Horse Hill Campground, a paid overnight camping area for those staying the night in a tent or campervan. 

The campsite costs $15/adult and $7.50/child for a night and must be booked in advance. 

Both the general parking area and the campground are extremely popular over the summer/hiking season, so get there early for a spot in the general parking area or reserve a campsite in advance.

From Aoraki/Mt Cook Village:

Starting from the village is really convenient for those staying at any of the village accommodations.

The trail starts from Mount Cook Road, down in front of the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, where signage and a map are located. The trail is also the start of the Kea Point track.

Hooker Valley Walk

The best time to walk the Hooker Valley Track is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s less busy. It’s also an incredible place to watch the sunrise or sunset as the last beams of light illuminate the snowy peaks.

When it comes to the Hooker Valley routes, there is generally one main walking route which is what I will explain now.

Starting from White Horse Hill, the trail passes through low scrub before shortly reaching Freda’s Rock, named for the famous mountaineer Freda du Faur who was the first woman to scale Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1910. 

A little further along the trail is the first viewpoint, the Alpine Memorial, where there are incredible views both up and down the valley. The stunning views are a memorial for those who have perished on the mountains and are a good reminder of the respect these mountains require. 

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mt cook lake mueller swing bridge
The view from Lake Mueller Lookout featuring the first swing bridge.

Continuing on amongst the tussocks, the trail arrives at Lake Muller Lookout, an observation deck with amazing views over glacier-water filled Mueller Lake and the glacier moraine wall.

The moraine wall is made of rock rubble – left behind by the glacier when it extended this far down the valley.

The track then drops a short, wide staircase to the first swing bridge of the track. This long bridge crosses the Hooker River where the water pounds the rocky river bed as it drains from Mueller Lake.

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mt cook lake mueller moraine wall
Lake Mueller and the moraine wall.

Follow the trail as it passes over the old moraine wall along the edge of Mueller Lake to reach the second swingbridge of the hike, this time crossing the Hooker River as it enters the side of Mueller Lake.

Keep an eye out for Sefton Bivvy – you might be able to spot the little red hut nestled high up in the mountains ahead.

From here, the trail follows the Hooker River along the valley, where the trail alternates between the gravel path and a nice flat boardwalk, installed to avoid damage to the vegetation in this area – you’ll also start getting your first glimpses of Aoraki/Mt Cook now.

Keep an eye for the Mount Cook buttercup (kōpukupuku), this native flower is the world’s largest buttercup!

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mount cook hooker river valley
A glimpse of Aoraki/Mt Cook over the Hooker River.

About half way between the second and third swingbridge there is a small footbridge over Stocking Stream and there is a toilet available here.

Note that this toilet is not the flushing variety, it’s what we call a long drop in New Zealand – don’t stow your phone or keys in your back pocket or they might disappear forever!

Head over the third and final swing bridge and say a temporary goodbye to Aoraki/Mt Cook as the trail curves behind the old Hooker Glacier moraine wall – more evidence of the former extents of the majestic icy rivers that used to dominate the valley.

After a predominantly flat path, there is a short, easy ascent here.

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mount cook hooker river swing bridge valley
The third swing bridge of the Hooker Valley Track – almost approaching Aoraki/Mt Cook!

Hooker Valley Glacier

Now it’s time for the main event of the trail! 

Up and over the edge of the moraine wall you’ll arrive at the edge of Hooker Lake.

Flanked by snow capped mountains, the incredible views showcase the Hooker Glacier curling around the foot of sparkling Aoraki/Mt Cook, while icebergs break off the glacier and drift down the glacial waters in front.

At the end of the trail are a bunch of picnic tables and bench seats, perfect to stop and have lunch or just relax and enjoy being amongst the majestic Southern Alps.

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mount cook lake glacier mountains valley
Icebergs reach the end of Hooker Lake, with the glacier and majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook beyond.

For a slightly different viewpoint, a side track leads down to the rocky water’s edge – it’s the best place to get up close to the icebergs as they reach the end of the lake.

Take in the surrounding mountains, where waterfalls cascade down into the lake – you may even hear the thunder of a snow drift or mini avalanche high above as they break off and crash down the rocky mountain faces.

After spending some time by the lake, return to the carpark via the same route.

Travelling in this direction will include views over the Sealy Range where picturesque Mueller Hut is located, and also the main Mueller valley and Aoraki/Mt Cook Village.

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand aoraki mount cook hooker valley lake pukaki
Looking back down the valley towards the start of Lake Pukaki.

Hooker Valley Track FAQ

How long does the Hooker Valley Track take?

You should be able to comfortably finish the Hooker Valley walk in about 3 hours. Of course the Hooker Valley Track time may take longer if you decide to sit and enjoy the views for longer.

How Difficult is the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track is an easy trail with a flat gradient. Overall, the trail climbs less than 100m over the 10km length, so while it is a little long, it can be completed with a low level of fitness.

It is definitely suitable for families, however as there are some stairs, off-road strollers would be needed and the trail isn’t suitable for wheelchairs.

Should I do the Hooker Valley Track?

Absolutely! The Hooker Valley Track regularly tops the best walks in New Zealand list and in terms of an effort to reward ratio – they don’t come much better than this!

The hike takes in the most incredible scenic views that New Zealand is most famous for, all in an easy 3hr stroll. If you’re going to do any walk whilst in New Zealand, make it this one.

Do I need walking boots for the Hooker Valley Track Walk?

Probably not! Unless there is snow on the ground, trainers or runners are perfect for this trail. Hiking boots will help in wet or snowy conditions, but they’re not required. 

What to pack for the Hooker Valley Track?

To adapt to any quickly changing conditions, carry a small day pack with the following items:

  • Lots of drinking water.
  • Snacks or lunch to enjoy next to the lake (carry any rubbish with you).
  • A warm windproof/waterproof jacket – the icy wind can whip down the mountains into the valley!
  • A hat, gloves and an extra warm layer of clothing.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat – New Zealand has a notoriously strong sun and protection is required, especially with the snow glare.
  • Cellphone/mobile – most of the trail will have reception.
  • Headlamp/torch if heading out for sunrise or sunset.
Hooker Valley Walk, unt cook swing bridge river sunny
The Hooker Valley Weather can change quickly so bring a range of clothing to be prepared!

What’s the Hooker Valley Track Weather like?

As this hike is in an alpine environment, conditions can change quickly so it’s best to be prepared for any type of weather at any time of year.

We walked this track over the Christmas/New Year period (which is summer time in New Zealand) and had sub-zero temperatures and hail at the campground the night before, though sunny blue skies with a bitter cold wind for the hike the next morning!

The Hooker Valley Track in Winter will be much colder.

Is the Hooker Valley Track dangerous?

This trail is an alpine environment so conditions can change quickly.

Check the weather forecast before heading out, or pop into the Department of Conservation Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre for up to date information about both the Hooker Valley weather and Hooker Valley Trail conditions before heading out.

When on the trail, stick to the formed pathways. The trail is designed to avoid avalanche pathways so avoid going ‘off-piste’.

Other Mt Cook Walks

The National Park is an outdoor adventure playground, with a plethora of trails to explore by foot or cycle. Here are some other recommendations:

Kea Point Track – a short walk that’s only 1hr return from the White Horse Hill carpark. The trail winds to a viewpoint with views over the Mueller Glacier moraine wall with Aoraki/Mt Cook behind. Perfect for kids or those with very limited time.

Blue Lakes & Tasman Glacier View Track – a short that’s 40m return, more or less up and down a staircase. There is a viewpoint at the top of the moraine wall with panoramic views of Tasman Lake and the receding Tasman Glacier beyond. There’s usually icebergs floating down this lake also.

Hooker Valley Walk, new zealand tasman lake glacier mountains
Milky blue glacial waters of Tasman Lake, with the Tasman Glacier beyond.

Mueller Hut Route – a 3-5hr tramping track up past Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut. The views from this hut are simply epic, particularly at sunrise and sunset, and definitely worth the hard climb to get there and do the Mueller Hut Track.

The hut is popular and must be booked in advance over the summer season. Over the winter, it should be attempted by experienced, avalanche trained mountaineers only. Anyone undertaking an overnight hike in the National Park should register or sign in at the DOC Visitor Centre in the village.

Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Museum – this centre is a tribute to one of the world’s greatest explorers, Sir Edmund Hillary. Way back in 1953, Hillary and Nepalese sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first climbers to ever reach the summit of Mt Everest.

He completed many of his training climbs in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park before heading to Nepal, including ascending the south ridge of Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1948. The museum features exhibits on climbing memorabilia, the aviation history of the area, as well as Sir Edmund Hillary.

Fun fact: You’ll also find Sir Ed on New Zealand’s $5 bank note – and the mountain in the background is not Everest – it’s Aoraki/Mt Cook!

Mt Cook Places To Eat

Aoraki/Mt Cook Village has a range of places to eat, from quality cafes to cozy cocktail bars, and best of all –  most of them also serve up stunning views of the mountains too!

Old Mountaineers Cafe: Located in Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, this a great place to soak in the mountain views and reward yourself with a burger or pizza after the Hooker Valley Track. They also have a takeaway cabinet if you’re looking to pack a snack for the hike (all packaging is sustainable and plant-based).

Hermitage Hotel: if you’re staying the night in the village, the Hermitage Hotel has many dining options, including the set-menu Alpine Restaurant and the Snowline Bar for cocktails and wine in the evenings. The Alpine Restaurant also serves a full breakfast in the mornings. Full height windows in these spaces provide amazing views of Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Groceries and Supplies: If you’re going to camp in the National Park, grab some supplies from either Twizel or Lake Tekapo before driving down Mount Cook Road (the closest is at least 45 minutes drive away), as there are no grocery stores in the village.

Mt Cook Accommodation

Aoraki/Mt Cook Village has accommodation options to suit all budgets.

Budget Mt Cook Accommodation: 

White Horse Hill Campground is run by DOC and provides campsites for up to 60 campervans or tents. Cooking and cleaning facilities, fresh water and WCs are available.

The YHA Backpackers is a cosy, log-cabin inspired accommodation with a mix of dorm rooms and private rooms with shared bathrooms. The hostel is also solar powered!

Mid-range Mt Cook Accommodation: 

There are no Airbnb options in the village however there are a few lodges to choose from. The Aoraki/Mt Cook Lodge features mountain views from all rooms.

Luxury Mt Cook Accommodation:

The Hermitage Hotel is a luxurious alpine hotel and the centre for tourism in the village. The mountain retreat includes many restaurants and bars, along wiht the Sir Edmund Hillary Apline Centre. All rooms in the hotel feature sweeping views of Aoraki/Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains.

WHO IS ‘DOC’?

Not just one of the seven dwarves or a Looney Tunes character, in New Zealand ‘DOC’ refers to the Department of Conservation (Te Papa Atawhai). They are the government agency responsible for protecting and conserving the natural environment here in New Zealand. Along with monitoring, managing and restoring the local flora and fauna, they also look after many natural attractions and trails across the country, including campsites and camping huts. 

HOW DID AORAKI/MT COOK GET ITS NAME?

The Māori name Aoraki was given by local iwi (tribe) Ngāi Tahu, the first people to settle in the South Island of New Zealand, and is named after their most sacred ancestor. The English name Mt Cook was given by a ship captain as he sailed down the West Coast of the island, in honour of Captain James Cook, the British explorer and cartographer who circumnavigated New Zealand in 1770. Following agreement between the Crown and Ngāi Tahu in 1998, the mountain is officially known as Aoraki/Mt Cook.

I hope this post helps you plan and do the Hooker Valley Walk!


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