Is the Hooker Valley Track New Zealand’s best day hike?

September 9

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Everything is bigger and better on the Hooker Valley Track: big views, big flowers, big icebergs, big mountains, big skies and big glaciers. The Hooker Valley Track in the Southern Alps is everything you could hope for from a New Zealand alpine walk.

Is the Hooker Valley in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park worth hiking?

Yep! The Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park is one of New Zealand’s most popular short alpine hikes for a good reason.

The Hooker Valley Track is a nicely-graded flat track with three swing bridges (that’s Kiwi for suspension bridges), a board walk, picnic tables, a significant river, and amazing views of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana and Aoraki / Mount Cook, which gets closer as you hike up the Hooker Valley.

Perched at the western edge of Canterbury’s Mackenzie Country, the Hooker Valley Track is in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park.

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Established as a national park in 1953, it’s an icy and rocky recreational playground that includes 19 mountain peaks that are more that 3000 meters in elevation and five significant valley systems: Godley, Murchison, Tasman, Hooker and Mueller.

Glaciers cover 40% of the park and it’s a place with some of the best scenery in the world.

Along the way up the Hooker Valley, there are views of the Mueller Lake and the ancient snow fields of the Mueller Glacier, the Hooker River, Aoraki / Mount Cook and the ridges left behind thousands of years ago in the form of glacier moraine. Look for these at the second swing bridge. They= ancient debris can reach up to 100 metres high.

The suspension bridges cross the Hooker River, which has a bluey grey colour thanks to “glacier flour”, fine ground up rock created by the sandpaper effect glaciers on the move – except it’s ice-paper. It’s cold, and it looks very cool in photos, no filter needed!

The end of the track up the valley rewards with amazing views from a lookout over Hooker Lake. It’s a glacier lake and you can often see icebergs bobbing on its surface. This lake lookout is the closest you can get to Aoraki / Mount Cook from a walking track.

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Wow. What else will I see on the Hooker Valley Track?

Other highlights of the Hooker Valley Track include the Mount Cook buttercup – it’s the world’s biggest buttercup, and worth having a search for. Also known as the Mount Cook lily, it can grow to over a meter tall and its has huge cup-shaped leaves that collect water. Trampers sometimes stop to take a drink from them.

There’s also the Alpine Memorial, dedicated to “the memory of mountaineers and guides lost to the hills”, and also Freda’s Rock, named for Freda du Faur. She was the first woman to climb Aoraki/ Mount Cook in 1910, with the guides Alex and and Peter Graham. In 1913, Freda completed the first Grand Traverse, a route across all three peaks of Aoraki / Mount Cook.

 

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Top tip for your trip: Hike the track at dawn to see one of the best sunrises in New Zealand, with views of the sun appearing over New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki / Mount Cook.

How long does it take to hike the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track is a 10-kilometer out and back hike.

It’s a trail that’s graded ‘Easy’ by the Department of Conservation, which means it’s all good for people with low to moderate fitness and abilities. It’s fairly flat and all stream and river crossings are bridged.

Find the track head at the White Horse Hill Campground and car park at the end of Hooker Valley Road, or two kilometers north of Aoraki / Mt Cook Village,

Can you bike the Hooker Valley Track?

No, but the White Horse Hill Campground at the start of the Hooker Valley Track is also the starting point for the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, New Zealand’s longest cycle trail. The A2O covers more than 300 kilometers all the way from the Southern Alps all to the Pacific Ocean and Oamaru.

The Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) is divided into eight sections, and the first section is down the Tasman Valley from the campground to the Mt Cook airport, where cyclists catch a helicopter trip across the Tasman River.

Can you camp near the Hooker Valley Track?

Camp at the White Horse Hill Campground for a spot with the ultimate alpine scenery. Get some photos of your tent framed by Mt Sefton and go to sleep lulled by the sound of distant avalanches. It’s well worth the $15 per person per night.

What do you wear to a Hooker Valley Track?

‘Easy’ doesn’t mean you should show up for your trip in your jandals. Wear comfortable walking shoes or light tramping / hiking boots. It’s a flat trail, but a swing bridge does swing so you want to be sure of your footing, you may encounter ice and it’s a long walk up the valley.

And you are in an alpine environment (the lowest point is still 760 meters above sea level) so be sensible – the walk can take 3 to 4 hours, and thing can change drastically in that time.

Dress for sudden changes in weather like drops in temperature, wind, rain, or even snow. Remember, this track leads to a glacier lake!

You don’t need to have the fitness of a mountaineer, but you should still prepare like one. The Hooker Valley Track is in the alps and the weather can include four seasons in one day. Bring suitable headwear, extra warm clothing and a waterproof jacket.

How do I get to Mount Cook National Park?

There is only one way to and from the park in a car is along State Highway 80. You can drive there from either the north (the direction of Christchurch), or the south (Queenstown and Dunedin). The turnoff is well signposted.

There are also buses from Christchurch, Queenstown and Wanaka.

And you can fly into the Mt Cook from places like Queenstown and Lake Tekapo for a scenic day trip.

Is the road to the Hooker Valley sealed?

The Hooker Valley track starts at  the end of the sealed Hooker Valley Road off State Highway 80, which hugs the amazing Lake Pukaki, a beautiful glacial lake that has been turn bright blue by the same “flour” that colours the Hooker river.

Lake Pukaki is the largest lake in the region, and there are many viewpoints along the way where you can stop for photos of Aoraki / Mt Cook.

Find the turnoff to State Highway 80 about three hours from Canterbury to the north, or Queenstown to the south.

As well as taking your to the start of the Hooker Valley trail, this is also the main road to Aoraki Mt Cook Village.

Why is it called the Hooker Valley?

No, it’s not a rugby reference.

The Hooker Valley was named for by the Canterbury geologist Julius von Haast for William Hooker, an English botanist. He was an assistant surgeon and naturalist on James Clark Ross’ 1839 Antarctic expedition, serving on the ship Erebus. He had a lifelong correspondence with Charles Darwin. And, speaking of survival of the fittest, Hooker once survived the bite of a venomous adder snake.

What else is there to do in Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park?

What can’t you do? There are walks ranging from 10 minutes to several hours to overnight tramps. The glaciers off ski touring, heli skiing, scenic flights, and, famously, plane-accessed skiing on Haupapa / Tasman Glacier. It’s New Zealand’s widest (three kilometres) and longest (27 kilometres) glacier. The ice on the glacier is 600 metres deep near the Hochstetter icefall.

At 4367 square kilometers, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve is the world’s largest Gold Status International Dark Sky Reserve.

It’s at a high elevation and light pollution is strictly controlled. You can explore the southern stars on a stargazing tour through the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. They have a purpose-built platform made for looking at the sky. Cloudy night? No problem, there’s also a 360-degree digital Dome Planetarium inside.

The Hooker Valley Track – what you need to know for your trip

Technically the Hooker Valley Track is in Canterbury, but it’s more than a three-hour drive from Christchurch to the car park at the start of the trail.

Check the weather before your trip – it can change quickly, even in summer. It’s not an alpine route, but here is more than one bridge and it’s a long walk.

No bikes, just hiking, but the Alps 2 Ocean trail is right there.

Wear appropriate shoes for hiking a trail that’s at a high elevation and crosses several swing bridges.

The White Horse Hill Campground has amazing scenery, and is on the doorstep of the Hooker Valley Track.

It’s free to walk the track.

Nearby Aoraki Mt Cook Village has a fascinating visitor center packed with stories about the history and geology of the region. It’s where Sir Edmund Hillary honed his alpine skills as a young climber.

The scenery is amazing. Take lots of photos, leave only memories.


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