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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart

HIKING THE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK MOUNT COOK - YOUR COMPLETE PHOTO GUIDE

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook New Zealand

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook and all the photos (including the Hooker Hut)


The Hooker Valley Track nestled in New Zealand's Aoraki Mount Cook National Park was one of the first hikes I ever attempted for photography when I visited the South Island.


Hooker Valley Trail Mount Cook
Looking towards Mount Sefton and the Southern Alps along the Hooker Valley Trail

This iconic trail, filled with snow capped mountains and glacial rivers, carves its way through the alpine tussocks and rocky terrain of the Hooker Valley with the prize destination being Hooker Lake. This incredibly beautiful lake sits at the foot of the magnificent Aoraki Mount Cook and on a perfect windless day the reflections are other worldly.


Hooker lake sunset winter Mount Cook
Hooker Lake at sunset during winter (ISO100, 19mm, F9, 1/4 sec)

Each step along the Hooker Valley Track unveils a new frame worthy moment for any landscape photographer, from the iconic swing bridges, the Hooker Hut, glacial rapids, the perfect milkyway shots and of course the magical Hooker Lake.


In this blog, we will delve into the unique photographic opportunities that unfold along the Hooker Valley Track, exploring the interplay of light and landscape that makes this journey an unforgettable canvas for any photographers lens.


Hooker Hut Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook
Looking towards Mount Cook from the new Hooker Hut location

I have hiked the Hooker Valley Track around 15 times now (!!!) and each journey as brought a completely new experience. I've ventured through this part of Mount Cook in Winter, Summer, Spring and Autumn, and each time it looks completely different and I come away with a new appreciation for the alpine environment. I've gathered all my experience and information just for this blog so that you can go out and have fun on your own adventure with my 'Hiking The Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook Complete Photo Guide'.


For ease of use and exact locations you can download my New Zealand Map and Guide, plus have access to travel itineraries and over 400 epic New Zealand photo locations, activities and places to stay.


NZ guide and map

 

CONTENTS



 

QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK IN MOUNT COOK


Hooker Valley Track Map Mount Cook

Map from DOC Website


Distance: 10km return


Location: Start from the Whitehorse Hill Campground Mount Cook


Time: 3 hours return


Elevation gain: 124 metres


Difficulty: Easy (the Hooker Valley track is a well graded trail most of the way with very little elevation)


Hut booking: You can book the Hooker Hut and stay right in the heart of the Hooker Valley for the night (great if you are planning on astrophotography especially during winter).


Facilities: Toilets are available at the beginning and then around half way along the track, and there is a toilet at the Hooker Hut also.


Safety: The track can become very icy during winter, and because you are entering an alpine zone it is recommended you check the weather forecast and take extra warm clothes just in case you get caught out. During the summer be sure to take plenty of sunscreen and water as there is no shade or water supply.


Dogs: No


 

WHAT CAMERA GEAR I TOOK


Canon R5 body


Canon 16-35mm lens


Tamron 70-200 lens


Nisi Filters (10 stop, 6 stop and 0.9nd grad)


Lightweight travelling tripod


Spare battery x 2, charger and spare memory card


 

MOUNT COOK ACCOMMODATION


HOOKER HUT BOOKING, HOOKER VALLEY TRACK


In 2020 the historical Hooker Hut was fully restored and relocated to a new location in the Hooker Valley. It is the oldest hut in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park but with its new paint and renovations it's one of the best little huts in New Zealand in my opinion.


Hooker Hut booking Mount Cook New Zealand
The newly restored Hooker Hut originally built in 1910 can be booked through the DOC website.

The Hooker Hut not only offers a comfortable and scenic resting place but also an immersive experience amidst some of New Zealand's most stunning alpine scenery. Positioned with a panoramic view of Mount Cook, the Hooker Hut provides an ideal spot for either a little side trip off the Hooker Valley Track for lunch, or you can stay overnight and take advantage of the dark sky and be ready to go for sunrise.


Hooker Hut Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track
The dining area inside the Hooker Hut Mount Cook

The Hooker Hut has a fireplace and gas cooker, and there is a detached toilet. For bookings check out the DOC website.


WHITEHORSE HILL CAMPGROUND MOUNT COOK


Nestled right in the heart of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and with easy access to walking tracks like the Hooker Valley Track, Kea Point, Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut, the Whitehorse Hill Campground serves as the perfect gateway to explore this area.

Fees are super reasonable ranging from $15 - $18 per adult depending on the season, and this spot is great one for campervans. Bookings must be made prior via the DOC website.


During winter (from June to August) there are reduced facilities with long drop toilets only and no running water.


OTHER MOUNT COOK ACCOMMODATION


If you want the comfort of a hotel/motel, hot shower and a nice warm bed from personal experience I have stayed at the following Hotels and Motels in Mount Cook Village and can vouch for them.



New Zealand Prints and Canvas

 

MOUNT COOK WEATHER


Aoraki Mount Cook's weather is famously unpredictable, offering both challenges and rewards for photographers. The climate in this alpine region can shift rapidly, with clear, sunny skies giving way to sudden snowstorms or heavy rain, even in the summer months. It's always considered an absolute bonus if you visit Mount Cook and actually get to see it, and you have to consider yourself lucky in the presence of this fickle mountain!



The dynamic weather in the mountains does provides a unique opportunity to capture a wide range of atmospheric conditions, from the serene beauty of snow capped peaks under a blue sky to the dramatic interplay of light and shadow during a storm.


If you're prepared to embrace the elements, Mount Cook's ever changing weather ensures a diverse and captivating portfolio of photographs, showcasing the majestic and volatile nature of New Zealand's highest mountain.



My favourite time to visit Mount Cook is in the winter. Crisp cold mountain air actually draws less cloud at this time of year and you might have a better shot at seeing this incredible mountain without it being covered in cloud.


 

GETTING TO MOUNT COOK



There are several scenic routes to choose from to reach Mount Cook depending on where you're driving from in the South Island. The Road to Mount Cook aka State Highway 80 is one of the best drive's in New Zealand and full of amazing photo opportunities.


If you're driving from Christchurch, a 4.5 hour journey takes you through picturesque landscapes, including the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.


From Queenstown, a 3.5 hour drive offers stunning views as you pass through charming towns like Cromwell and Twizel.


Public transport options include regular bus services from both Christchurch and Queenstown to Mount Cook Village.


NZ Travel Map and Guide

 

HOOKER VALLEY TRACK PHOTO SPOTS


As mentioned above, the Hooker Valley Track is an easy walk with a well maintained track that carves through some of the most stunning landscapes in the Southern Alps, ending with one of the best views of Mount Cook in the region.


Second Swing Bridge Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook
The second swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track during winter (ISO100, 32mm, F8, 1/80 sec)

Starting at the Whitehorse Hill Campground, the trail follows the Hooker Valley, with incredible views of Mount Sefton, The Mueller Glacier and Mueller Lake, the mountain ranges of the Southern Alps, while crossing several swing bridges that hover above thundering glacial rapids, with countless opportunities and unique angles for dynamic shots.


As you progress, the landscape changes from rocky terrain to tussock filled fields, back to rocky contours all the while unfolding the dramatic peaks of the Southern Alps. The journey culminates at the awe inspiring Hooker Lake, with its floating icebergs and the majestic Aoraki/Mount Cook reflected in the crystal clear waters.



My favourite time to walk and shoot the Hooker Valley track is in the late afternoon reaching Hooker Lake in time for sunset. The light is beautiful during this time and you'll also capture the last of the suns golden rays on Mount Cook's peak.


Having said that, the first section of the Hooker Valley Track (Mueller Lake and the Hooker River) is just as beautiful at sunrise .. so if you have the time, try visit at both times if you're solely there for landscape photography.


Below are some of the notable photo spots to get the camera ready for along the trail. All the best and have an epic time exploring the Hooker Valley Track.


NZ Prints and Canvas

 

1. MUELLER LAKE LOOKOUT HOOKER VALLEY TRACK


Mueller Lake Lookout Hooker Valley Tract Mount Cook
The view from the Mueller Lake lookout during early winter (ISO160, 24mm, F10, 1/160 sec)

The Mueller Lake Lookout offers a spectacular vantage point to capture elevated views over the glacier fed Mueller Lake, with its brilliant blue waters contrasting starkly against the rugged, ice clad peaks of the Southern Alps and Mount Sefton in particular.


You will see a sign to this lookout early on along the track (about 850m in) just before the first swing bridge.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best at sunrise. Amazing in winter with snowy mountains as your backdrop.


 

2. MUELLER LAKE RIVER RAPIDS


Hooker River Rapids Mueller Lake Mount Cook
River rapids near Mueller Lake from the first swing bridge at sunrise (ISO640, 16mm, F10, 1.6 sec)

As you approach the first swing bridge you will see that there are some small tracks that lead down to the rocks that follow the river rapids flowing from Mueller Lake.


This is a great spot to get up close to the water and have Mount Sefton and the swing bridge as the main focal point of your image with Mueller Lake and then the rapids in your foreground.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and best at sunrise. Try a slow shutter speed to smooth out the rapids to create a dreamy effect on the water.


 

3. THE FIRST SWING BRIDGE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK


First Swing Bridge Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook
View over the first swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track from the stairs (ISO160, 29mm, F10, 1/160 sec)

The first swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track is 1km in and amazing as it crosses the Hooker River with the thundering glacial water below.


You can frame Mount Sefton and Mueller lake from the middle of the bridge above the rushing rapids below, or try take a shot just as you come down towards the bridge from the stairs before you reach the crossing point of the bridge.


Mueller Lake and Mount Sefton first swing bridge Hooker Valley Track
Looking towards Mueller Lake and Mount Sefton while standing on the first swing bridge (ISO160, 24mm, F10, 1/200 sec)

Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm). My favourite season to shoot this location is during the winter (June to August)


New Zealand Travel Guide and Map

 

4. SECOND SWING BRIDGE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK


Second Swing Bridge Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook
The second swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track (ISO160, 24mm, F10, 1/160 sec)

A further 1km past the first swing bridge, the second swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track offers a spectacular midpoint view to capture the evolving beauty of the valley. Stretching across the fast flowing Hooker River, this bridge provides a perfect frame looking towards the Southern Alps.


Crossing the second swing bridge Hooker Valley Track
Crossing the second swing bridge (ISO160, 29mm, F10, 1/160 sec)

Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm). My favourite season to shoot this location is during the winter (June to August).


 

5. HOOKER RIVER CASCADES AND ROCK POOLS



The Hooker Track Boulders and reflection pools are by the Hooker River a few hundred metres after you have crossed the second swing bridge. You will see a small track that leads out onto the boulders which you can explore for reflection pools and water flowing over the rocks creating mini waterfalls.


Hooker River sunrise Mount Cook New Zealand
Mount Cook reflections by the Hooker River at sunrise (ISO100, 16mm, F10, 46 sec)

Photo tip: Take your wide angle and zoom lens with you and if you want the best light I would suggest going at golden hours around sunset and sunrise. These two shots were taken at sunrise during winter.


 

6. HOOKER HUT HOOKER VALLEY TRACK


As mentioned above, in 2020 the historical Hooker Hut was fully restored and relocated to a new location in the Hooker Valley.


Hooker Hut Winter Hooker Valley Track Mount Cook
The Hooker Hut just off the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook early winter (ISO125, 35mm, F11, 1/160sec)

Just before you reach the Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk and just past the toilets, you will see a small orange marker pole just off the boardwalk to your left and a thin trail.


Follow that track and the orange marker poles through the tussocks for about 30 minutes and then you will reach the hut.



This is a side track to the Hooker Valley Track so you will come back the same way as you went in.


The photos and views of Mount Cook from the hut are amazing and it's such a nice spot to have some lunch.


For bookings check out the DOC website.


Hooker Hut Mount Cook
Scouting for photos near the Hooker Hut Mount Cook

Photo tip: Take your wide angle and zoom lens with you and if you want the best light I would suggest going at golden hours around sunset and sunrise. If you want to make the most of the dark sky and astrophotography definitely book a night in the hut.


New Zealand Photo Prints

 

7. HOOKER VALLEY TRACK BOARDWALK


Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk Mount Cook
The Hooker Valley Track Boardwalk (ISO50, 17mm, F11, 20 sec)

One of the more famous photos from the Hooker Valley Track is the boardwalk that you'll approach not long after the second swing bridge and the toilets (about 3km into the trail from the start).


The boardwalk creates a beautiful leading line towards the mountains and Mount Cook in particular.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm). My favourite season to shoot this location is during the winter (June to August) and spring (November/December) when the Mount Cook lillies are flowering.


Mount Cook Lilly Buttercup Hooker Valley Track
The Mount Cook Lilly / Buttercup along the Hooker Valley Track

 

8. THIRD SWING BRIDGE & THE HOOKER VALLEY TRACK TARN


Third swing bridge hooker valley track Mount Cook
The Third Swing Bridge on the Hooker Valley Track (ISO50, 17mm, F11, 20 sec)

Not too far past the third swing bridge you will see a small sign on your right and another thin trail that leads to an off track alpine tarn. This small body of water reflects Mount Cook so beautifully and it is well worth the 2 minute side trail!


Hooker Valley Track Alpine Tarn Mount Cook
Hooker Valley Track Alpine Tarn (ISO50, 17mm, F11, 30 sec)

Photo tip: I have only photographed the tarn during the day but it would be beautiful during golden hour at sunset. Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm).


 

9. HOOKER LAKE MOUNT COOK


From the alpine tarn there is only around 700 metres to go until you reach Hooker Lake.



In my opinion Hooker Lake is the absolute peak of an already amazing experience. Nestled at the end of the Hooker Valley Track, Hooker Lake, often dotted with floating icebergs, provides an incredible foreground against the imposing backdrop of Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak.


The often blue milky glacial waters mirror the surrounding snow capped mountains and Mount Cook creating perfect opportunities for reflective shots.


Hooker lake Mount Cook reflection
Hooker Lake during blue hour after sunset (ISO640, 16mm, F11, 30 sec)

My favourite time to be here at Hooker Lake is sunset and blue hour just when the stars are starting to appear in the sky. The last light on the tip of Mount Cook is such a beautiful scene and during winter with snow and icebergs it's one of the most magical landscape photos you can capture in New Zealand.


Photo tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for close up shots of Mount Cook. My favourite season to shoot this location is during the winter (June to August).


 

SO IS THE HOOKER LAKE TRACK MOUNT COOK WORTH IT?


A 100% yes. This is one of the best tracks in New Zealand for photography and its also one of the easiest. If you're coming to New Zealand and in particular the South Island then this one is an absolute must do.



NZ Travel Map and Guide

 

If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.



1 Comment


Guest
Jun 12

Excellent job with the blog Rach. The photography tips are detailed and informative.

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