Hiking the Hooker Valley Track

Often, when we are on a road trip or exploring a new area one of the first things that I do is check for the best, short hikes in the area.  While exploring New Zealand you would ideally have enough time, energy, and fortune with weather and permits to do all of the Great Walks, but if you have a measly three weeks to explore both islands (still not anywhere close to enough), then you have to search for the “Best Bang for your Buck” type hikes.  My criteria is typically to find something under 5 miles roundtrip with little regard for elevation gain.  Actually, some of my personal favorites are of the short and vertical variety.  Skip the gentle switchbacking approach.  Let’s just cut to the chase and go straight up.  If you’re looking for something like that and also one of my all-time favorite hikes that we did in New Zealand then check out the Mueller Hut, which conveniently starts from the same campground as the Hooker Valley Track.

But enough with the chit chat.  You want “Best Bang for your Buck”?  This hike is for you.

Details

  • Distance – 6.8 mi.
  • Elevation Gain – ~400 ft.
  • Rating – 5/5

Getting There

Drive next to the absolutely stunning turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki for approximately 30km on Mount Cook Road. If you like camping, there is a dream spot right on Lake Pukaki that we’ll share with you later.

Mount Cook 10

Once past the lake, you continue heading toward the back of the valley another 20’ish km following Mount Cook Road and then the Hooker Valley Road.

Mount Cook road 1

Mount Cook road 2

We planned our day so that we arrived at the campground around midday, set up our tent, and then did the Hooker Valley Track in the afternoon.  If you only have one day, I suppose you could try to do the Mueller Hut and Hooker Valley in the same day, but I would advise against it, as you wouldn’t be able to soak all of the beauty in and you would miss out on the best view of the Milky Way you’ll ever have in your life from the comfort of your tent or the Mueller Hut.

The Hike

The hike itself takes shape in the form of a comfortably wide, gravel path that rambles gently around small burrows scattered with boulders and bushes for a return trip of 11km (6.8mi) and a measly 120m of elevation gain.  You quickly find yourself near the Hooker River and cross a total of three suspension bridges that guide you over the silty glacial melt that is tumbling below.

436 B&W

Bridge 1

River 2

Bridge 2

The entire time you are trying to keep from wandering off the path as you stare at the impressive and imposing Mount Sefton and its accompanying glaciers to the West.

Glacier 1

Shortly after crossing the second bridge you around a corner and are confronted by the king of the park, Mount Cook.

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A distant crack and rumbling off to our left pulled our attention back to the glacier and we futilely scanned for signs of ice and snow cascading down.

Soon, the gravel trail turns into a boardwalk that zig zags through tussocks of grass as it leads you ever closer toward the rising giant.

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The hardest part about this trail was my desire to take a thousand pictures of the same subjects from only slightly different positions along the path.  If a picture is worth a thousand words and I take a thousand pictures…not a bad problem to have I suppose.

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After a few more minutes of drooling as you walk you realize that you’ve arrived at the lake!

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From the overlook, soak in the impressive views of Mount Cook and the dirty glacier that runs into the far end of the lake and then ditch the crowds and head down the slope to the shore of the lake on your left.  If you’re lucky, there may be some chunks of ice that have fallen off the glacier and are slowly floating around the lake.

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Enjoy the solitude for as long as you can before heading back, and don’t forget to check out the views behind you before you leave!

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Walking back to the campground provides ample opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Mount Cook and to further marvel at the scenery all around you.

What a fabulous hike!

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