Aoraki/Mt. Cook Hooker Valley Track - Mitch Henderson

I once read a brief statement that said this hike had the highest reward to effort ratio, and I don’t think I can fault that opinion.

New Zealand, especially the South Island, is full of beauty everywhere you look. Jagged peaks, rolling hills, dense rainforests, beautifully coloured lakes and crystal clear streams are plentiful throughout the country. As you wind your way south from Christchurch, or north from Queenstown, you’ll eventually notice a peak that continues to stand out from the rest, and dominate its surroundings.

If you weren’t already aware, Aoraki/Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, and although it’s beautiful when viewed from afar, nothing beats getting up close and personal with this giant snow-capped peak. And to do just that, a small amount of effort is required, but in return, you will have a smile stretched across your face from ear to ear.

To access the phenomenal Aoraki/Mt. Cook viewing point near the shores of Hooker Lake, you will first want to make your way towards the small townsite of Mt. Cook Village. Reaching this part of New Zealand is an incredible journey in itself, and as you will learn, you’ll want to have your camera ready at all times. The drive towards Mt. Cook will wind its way along the western shore of the incredibly blue Lake Pukaki, before passing a small townsite (with a store for replenishments) and arriving at the car park adjacent to the White Horse Hill Campground.

From there, you will want to make sure you have adequate water and snacks (drinking water facilities are provided near the amenities block at the trailhead), and start your journey along the Hooker Valley Track. The trail is well signed and meticulously maintained throughout the warmer months, so you should have no problems navigating your way to the right place. More often than not, other adventure seekers will be heading to the same destination, so don’t hesitate to ask around if you are unsure. Please note, in the winter time, the trail can become covered in snow and ice, and consequently become quite slippery. If you intend to hike the trail during winter, arrive prepared with appropriate footwear.

Outside of winter, the Hooker Valley Track is an easy 10km return hike, with a very modest elevation gain of approximately 120m. In terms of accessibility, there is only a handful of man-made steps in various sections, and a predominantly level surface for the majority of the track, making it extremely accessible to people of varying fitness levels. The track itself will lead you through beautiful vegetation and over three suspension bridges, all with incredible views, and the possibility of seeing and hearing the rumbling avalanches on the distant Mt. Sefton. For an extra special experience, I would highly recommend starting your hike first thing in the morning, as you will often be rewarded with incredible glowing peaks and calm conditions as the sun begins to rise.

Once you have witnessed the surrounding vegetation changes, and the transition to a wider valley floor, you will soon cross the third suspension bridge, and be closing in on the sight of an incredible iceberg-speckled Hooker Lake with the giant Aoraki/Mt. Cook towering above. Nearing the end of the trail, there is an incredible viewing point with multiple tables and chairs for picnics and day use, or you have the option to carry on hiking down to the lakeshore itself, where you will find yourself up close and personal with the astounding icebergs that have recently calved off the distant glacier.

In the winter time, the lake can freeze over and the icebergs become frozen in place, whereas throughout the warmer months, the icebergs move more freely, often coming ashore or drifting towards the southern outlet into the Hooker River. Regardless of when you visit, the scenery is incredible and well worth the effort. The views are astonishing, and the Hooker Valley Track can be a great introduction to hiking, and an awesome place to trial new gear before attacking a bigger trip. Depending on how long you wish to stay at the lake gasping in its glory, you should allow 3 hours for the return trip if you plan to go at a moderate pace.

Given the alpine environment in which the Hooker Valley Track is located, it is important to be prepared for rapidly changing weather at all times of the year. With strong wind, heavy rain & snow, and rapid changes in temperature all a possibility, it is important to pack accordingly. A waterproof/windproof jacket is essential, and a synthetic or down insulating layer is highly recommended. Warm, comfortable footwear, a hat and/or beanie, and insect repellent will likely make your journey far more enjoyable should conditions differ from those originally expected.

 

About the Author:

Mitch is passionate about creating a healthier environment, and supports companies and organisations who aim to do better, and be more sustainable and environmentally friendly throughout their production process.Mitch Henderson is a freelance photographer based on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, however his creative craft often has him travelling to beautiful destinations the world over. He is continuously seeking adventure, and his aim with photography is to create a sense of awe in his imagery and to inspire others to actively experience nature first hand.

 

To keep in touch with Mitch and his adventures, follow along on Instagram @just_mitch

 

 

 

 

 


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