The park is adjacent to Tai Poutini National Park, and is home to Aoraki/Mount Cook, which is New Zealand’s highest mountain, as well as the Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.
While the park was officially gazetted in 1953, it consists of reserves that were established as early as 1887.
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is an alpine park in every sense of the word.
The park boasts skyscraping peaks, glaciers, permanent snowfields, and high elevation vegetation.
Mountaineers regard the park as the best climbing area in the Australasian region.
The Maori people have a legend explaining how the area came to be created.
They say that Aoraki and his three brothers, all of whom were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father, were on a sea voyage when their canoe was overturned on a reef.
The brothers then climbed on top of the canoe to sit on the overturned boat only for the freezing south wind to turn them to stone.
According to the legend, the canoe became the South Island and the brothers became the Southern Alps.
The Southern Alps and the area around the park remain very important to the Maori, both spiritually and for its natural resources.
Mount Cook National Park What to Do
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park has no shortage of entertainment options for visitors. Mountaineering and climbing is one of the primary attractions to the park.
Aorake Mount Cook is home to the best climbing in the Australasia region.
Obviously, the ultimate challenge in the park is climbing the towering Mt. Cook.
However, with 23 peaks reaching over 3,000 metres in elevation, there are a variety of other opportunities for experienced climbers, including Tasman, Malte Brun, Elie de Beaumont, Sefton, and La Perouse.
Those travelling to the park for climbing purposes should keep the following things in mind:
1) While you do not need a permit to climb within the park, climbers are requested to complete a trip intentions form at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre.
2) There are a number of local guides available for climbing, walking, and glacier skiing. The guides are knowledgeable about all the popular peaks in the park.
3) While visitors can climb within the park during the winter, the conditions can be very extreme and it is only recommended for well-prepared, expert level mountain climbers.
4) The weather can fluctuate very suddenly. Climbers should come prepared for snowfall, heavy rains, or strong winds at any moment.
The park is also home to a number of glaciers that are great for a variety of activities.
There are a number of plane tours that allow visitors to enjoy the sights of the glaciers from high above. The glaciers also make for some excellent glacier skiing.
The Tasman Glacier is great for intermediate level skiers while the Murchison, Darwin, and Bonney Glaciers are fantastic for advanced skiers.
If skiing isn’t for you, from October until May, you can cruise the Tasman Glacier’s terminal lake by boat.
There are a variety of walking tracks within Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Here is a quick guide to walking within the park.
1) Governors Bush Walk: This 1.5 kilometre walk starts and finishes at the public shelter at Aoraki Mount Cook Village and takes walkers through silver beach forest. The track has a variety of birdlife and a viewing area. Difficulty: Easy.
2) Kea Point Walk: This is a 2.8 kilometre walk that travels through sub-alpine grassland towards the Mueller Glacier moraine wall.
The walk ends at a viewing deck that boasts stunning views of Mt. Sefton and Footstool, the Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake, and Aoraki Mount Cook. Difficulty: Relatively easy.
3) Glencoe Walk: This walk takes about 30 minutes and zigzags through totara trees before emerging near the water tanks above the famous Hermitage Hotel.
Walkers will enjoy an elevated view of the village below and beyond to the Hooker Glacier and Aoraki Mount Cook. Difficulty: Relatively easy.
4) Hooker Valley Track: This is a slightly long walk that can take up to 4 hours. It is also one of the park’s most popular walks.
The track runs up the Hooker Valley towards Aoraki Mount Cook. The Alpine Memorial is located on the track and it offers a wonderful lookout point.
The track boasts wonderful views throughout as well as multiple swing bridges. Difficulty: Moderate.
5) Sealy Tarns Track: This 3-4 hour walk provides stunning views of the Hooker Valley and Aoraki Mount Cook.
In the summer, walkers will also be treated to an abundance of alpine flowers. Difficulty: Moderate.
6) Ball Pass Route: This walk is about 4-hours each way.
It follows the old Ball Hut Road along the Tasman Glacier.
It offers wonderful views of the glacier and the surrounding peaks. Difficulty: Moderate.
In addition to these walks within the park and around the mountains, there are also a number of excellent tracks in the surrounding Mackenzie Region, particularly around Burkes Pass, Fairlie, Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo, and the town of Twizel.
If you are really up for a challenge, the Te Araroa Walkway, which runs the length of New Zealand, passes through the region.
Mount Cook National Park Accommodation
There are a variety of housing options for visitors to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. The New Zealand Department of Conservation provides 17 huts in the park.
These huts are ideal for those visiting the park for mountaineering purposes and you will certainly need a certain amount of mountaineering ability in order to reach them.
If you are not travelling to the park for climbing purposes, Aoraki/Mount Cook Village offers a wide range of accommodation options, boasting everything from backpacker’s lodges and campgrounds to upscale, luxury hotels.
The nearby towns of Twitzel and Lake Tekapo also offer a broad range of cafes, restaurants, and accommodation options.
Travelling from Abroad?
The park is located almost exactly in the middle of the South Island. It is about 2.5 hours south by car from Christchurch and 2.5 hours driving north of Queenstown.
Both Christchurch and Queenstown have international airports. However, if you have a larger budget, charter flights are available to the airstrip located within Aoraki Mount Cook.