Ten ways to see Mount Cook
Avalanches crash above you, glaciers dump chunks of ice into cloudy lakes...
Mount Cook isn’t just New Zealand’s highest mountain, it’s one of the most striking and dramatic places you’ll ever visit.
The whole region is remarkable. Avalanches crash above you, glaciers dump chunks of ice into cloudy lakes and craggy jagged mountains soar into the sky everywhere you look. Yet among all these summits Mount Cook (Aoraki) is very obviously the king. It pokes even further towards the sky forming the centrepiece of a hostile environment.
To visit New Zealand and not see Mount Cook is like visiting Rome and ignoring the Colosseum. This country doesn’t need grand buildings for instant identity. Nature has already placed monuments of outstanding grandeur across the two islands, and none more iconic than Mount Cook. And whether you’re willing to expend energy or not, there are so many ways to enjoy it:
The drive along the western shore of turquoise Lake Pukaki gives you your first look at this great mountain. Be sure to stop at Peters Lookout on route for the picture postcard shot of Mount Cook/Aoraki , towering over the far end of the lake. The road leads to Mount Cook Village where the visitor centre actually has the mountain framed in a giant diamond-shaped window – the first thing you see as you walk through the main entrance.
Sir Edmund Hillary used to train for his Everest ascent on these slopes, so hiking can be as tough or technical as you wish. A popular trek is the steep Mueller Hut Route. The views of hanging glaciers, the giant Mueller Glacier and the Hooker Valley leading to Mount Cook are the type you only get from high vantage points such as this. The return hike can be completed in a day but Mueller Hut itself is a great place to stay. There’s normally snow up here, even in summer, so make sure you’re well prepared.
3. Boat ride
Trips on Tasman Lake, where you ride among drifting ice bergs, can be booked in Mount Cook Village. The Glacier Explorer Tours allow you to get face-to-face with these fallen chunks of ice and to observe the base of the Tasman Glacier. Perfect if you fancy trying something a little different without the threat of lactic acid in your joints and icy water around your bum.
Getting close up and personal to the drifting ice bergs on Mueller Lake is an exhilarating experience. Guided trips will take you straight from Mount Cook Village to the cloudy and somewhat bracing glacial water.
Head up the Tasman Valley along tracks the average vehicle could only dream of conquering. As well as being an experience to loosen the joints, your 4WD adventure will stop at various vantage points to enjoy the Tasman Glacier and its terminal lake.
If you’ve got the money, there’s no better way to explore the awesome landscape than by scenic flight. Numerous planes and helicopters fly up to, and around Mount Cook keeping enticingly close to the valley walls. Many include a snow landing so you can enjoy the views from near the top of these enormous summits.
There are no official ski runs in this part of the country but with heli-skiing your guides will fly you to the top of a wilderness run for one of the best ski or snowboarding experiences of your life.
8. Snowshoe on a glacier
Guides will fly you to the Tasman Glacier and teach you the basics of snowshoeing before leading you down the gentle gradient of New Zealand’s longest glacier. Expect to see ice caves, giant crevasses and ice-falls on the way before being lifted back to civilisation.
There are several short walks from the village, each achievable regardless of fitness levels. Two of the most popular are Hooker Valley Track and the Kea Point Walk. The Hooker Valley Track crosses two impressive swing bridges, weaves through moraine and heads straight towards the mountain. It ends at the cloudy Hooker Lake with its ice bergs almost within touching distance of the shore, the Hooker Glacier at the other end and Aoraki behind. Kea point Walk is shorter and lightly uphill to a spectacular lookout over the barren Mueller Lake and glacier with Mount Cook in the background.
10. Wake up
The easiest of the top 10! If you park yourself in the right bed, you need only open your eyes after a good night’s sleep to see New Zealand’s highest summit glaring straight back. The Hermitage Hotel boasts rooms with stunning views of the mountain. In addition to impressive views from the bar and dining areas, they operate many of the best activities in the area.
How to get there:
Just over four hours from Christchurch along SH1, SH79, SH8 and SH80. From Queenstown it’s just over three hours using SH6, SH8 and SH80.
One-way trips from Christchurch and Queenstown cost $69 with InterCity. Phone: 03 3651113
One-way trips using The Cook Connection shuttle buses are $20 from Twizel and $28 from Lake Tekapo. The company also offers connections from Christchurch and Queenstown. Phone: 0800 266 526