Exploring Aoraki Mount Cook New Zealand: 5 places you must see
Updated: Mar 16
I have been fortunate enough to have spent a fair amount of time in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park over the past 3 years, and with each visit I take away new things I have learnt, new experiences, and new images for the photography portfolio.
Aoraki (Maori name given by the Ngai Tahu tribe) is New Zealand's highest mountain standing at 3,724 metres (12,218 feet) and lies in the Southern Alps mountain range which runs the length of the South Island.
Driving out of Mount Cook after my first visit left me with a sense of sadness as I wasn't sure when I would see it again .. that first visit had such an impact on me and a deep appreciation for these mountains was formed which as time goes by never dims or goes away. I am sure many many of you can relate and if anything that appreciation gets stronger day by day!
So after many sojourns to Mount Cook I feel like I might now know just enough to share with you a few places which are a must see. These spots are personal favourites of mine, and also ones that I have found to be incredibly photogenic (actually quite hard to find at spot that isn't in Mt Cook). They are in no particular order and equally as beautiful as each other.
I hope you enjoy and can make your own journey to this incredible part of New Zealand some day.
Tasman Lake is the terminal lake formed by the retreat of the Tasman Glacier. It's an incredible sight, if not quite a sad one. The Tasman Glacier is New Zealand's longest glacier, and also one of the worlds fastest retreating ones. The impressive icebergs that often fill the lake are a very real sign of the effects of global warming. In 1970 this lake did not exist, yet now it is approximately 8 kilometres long and growing fast.
Sunrise at Tasman Lake
Sunrise reflecting at Tasman Lake
The large expanse of the Tasman Lake
Frosty morning at Tasman Lake
Sealy Tarns are two small alpine lakes which sit flat on the Sealy Range in Mount Cook National Park. The track up to the tarns requires a fair bit of stamina as you climb up to 1300 metres and over 2,200 stairs, but the view is most definitely worth it! If you were to carry on past the tarns and climb another 600 metres you would arrive at Mueller Hut, one of New Zealand's most popular tramping huts. Please note: during winter months there are heavy avalanche warnings associated with this track .. always check first.
The view of Mount Sefton and Mount Cook from Sealy Tarns
Sunrise at Sealy Tarns looking back over Mount Cook National Park
The view from Sealy Tarns looking towards Mt Cook and the Hooker Valley
A reflecting Mount Cook as the sun sets at Sealy Tarns
Flight over Mount Cook National Park
If you can stretch the budget at all I would highly recommend taking a scenic flight above Mount Cook National Park and Southern Alps as it really is an experience of a life time. You will see Mount Cook in all its glory, you will fly over glaciers, you'll look out over the vast expanse of mountains and rivers and land that stretches out to the ocean, all from a birds eye view.
Flying over the Tasman Lake with Mt Cook on the right
Flying over the Hochstetter Ice Fall, Mount Cook
Flying over Mueller Lake at sunset
Flying over the braided rivers of Mount Cook National Park
Flying over Tasman Lake at sunrise
There are many operators within Mount Cook that offer aerial flights both by plane and helicopter. I personally have flown with Mt Cook Ski Planes and Heli on each occasion and it has always been a breathtaking experience.
Hooker Valley and Hooker Lake
The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular and easiest day walks you can do in Mount Cook National Park. The track is approximately 4km one way on an easy gradient (1 1/2 hours one way), and when you reach your destination you are standing at the foot of Hooker Lake and Mount Cook (above). Enjoy unobstructed views of Mount Cook the entire way, and many photo opportunities including the Hooker River, Mount Sefton, Mueller Lake and Hooker Lake. I highly recommend this one if you want to be right in amongst the mountains but don't want to work too hard for it.
Mount Cook and the Hooker River
Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk
Alpine Tarn on the Hooker Valley Track
Twilight at Hooker Lake
Sunrise along the Hooker Valley river
Lake Pukaki is the stunning blue glacial fed lake which you follow alongside as you take the drive into Mount Cook. Anyone who has ever experienced and seen Lake Pukaki will agree it is truely one of the most beautiful natural sights you will ever see. The lake is fed by the Tasman River which in turn is fed from the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. Its distinctive blue colour comes from finely ground glacial rock particles which settle in the lake. You can enjoy stunning views of Mount Cook from many different vantage points around the lake and if you're lucky it will be reflecting also.
Lake Pukaki and the Road to Mount Cook
Lake Pukaki reflections
Lake Pukaki during Spring time
Lake Pukaki Twilight
As always, Leave No Trace & Keep NZ Beautiful
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All photographs taken by Rach Stewart ( bar Sealy Tarn and Tasman Lake self portrait taken with the help of Geoff Reid @geoffreidnz)
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