Home » Aoraki/ Mount Cook » Hiking the Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track Hike – All you need to know

by Nikos Taskos
20 minutes read

Glacier lakes, check. Floating icebergs, check. Swinging bridges, check.

Hooker Valley Track is a wonderful hike ideal for those who don’t have much time and are looking for an easy half-day hike with spectacular views.

mount cook reflecting on hooker lake with icebergs floating
(Credits: Kerensa Pickett, Unsplash)

This travel story includes an overview of the track, tips & important info and some incredible photos of Hooker Valley Track.

the glacier mueller lake with Aoraki/ Mt. Cook in the background
The huge moraine walls hide Mueller Lake from Aoraki (Credits: Michal Klajban, Wikipedia)

Overview of Hooker Valley Track

  1. White Horse Hill Campground (the start of the trail) – a shelter with information, directions & toilets
  2. Alpine Memorial (5 mins) – a memorial dedicated to mountaineers who died in Mt. Cook National Park
  3. Mueller Lookout (15 mins) – breathtaking views of Muller Glacier Lake and Hooker Valley
  4. Lower Hooker Suspension Bridge – 1st bridge over Hooker River (downstream of Mueller Lake)
  5. Hooker Bluff Bridge – 2nd bridge over Hooker River (upstream of Mueller Lake)
  6. Stocking Stream Shelter – the remains of a shelter with self-composting toilets
  7. Upper Hooker Bridge – 3rd bridge over Hooker River (downstream of Hooker Lake)
  8. Hooker Lake (75 mins) – picnic tables, a glacier lake beach and the most amazing views of the hike
  9. Return trip – return on the same track enjoying different views of the valley and the Southern Alps
map of hooker valley track hike
A map of Hooker Valley Track Hike (Credits: graficana.gr)

Where is the Hooker Valley Track?

The walk is located on the South Island of New Zealand as part of Mount Cook National Park. The start of the hike is a 6-mins drive from the nearby Mount Cook Village.

How difficult is the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley trail is easy to complete for people of all ages and reasonable fitness levels.

Additionally, it is well-maintained & easy to follow, with a mixture of flat wooden boardwalks & gravel paths. At some points, the trail has a few stepped mild inclines.

New Zealand’s DoC describes it as a gentle walk for people who can simply walk 10 km in a city or at a park. The track is clearly signposted, streams & river crossings are bridged and track markers (orange triangles) are available.

mount cook national park with aoraki in the background
Mount Cook National Park; an ancient iconic peak and a sacred Māori valley (Credits: Kewl, Pixabay)

How long does it take to do the hike?

It takes around 3 to 4 hours to hike the entire trail including photo stops and admiring the views.

Is the Hooker Valley Track open all year?

Yes, the track is open all year round. However, sometimes the walk is closed either due to bad weather conditions or for maintenance. The most reliable source of information about the trail’s status is the Department of Conservation.

Hooker Lake & Hooker Glacier Under the Shadow of Mt. Cook
The pixel-perfect reflection of Aoraki/ Mt. Cook over Hooker Lake (Image © Miles with Vibes)

How to get to Hooker Valley Track?

To reach the hike simply follow State Highway 80 to the north along Lake Pukaki. The start of the hike is at the end of the highway. Be mindful of the many one-laned bridges along the way.

From Queenstown, the best way to reach Hooker Valley Track is by renting a car and making the 3-hour trip (264 km) at your own pace. After doing it myself I can say that there are several interesting stops on the way from Queenstown to Mt. Cook National Park.

Do you need special equipment?

Technically, no. However, most of the tramps in New Zealand are within alpine environments. That means that weather conditions can change without any warning and you can experience strong wind, high rainfall, dense fog, drops in temperature etc.

Packing list
  • plenty of drinking water & snacks
  • walking shoes or hiking boots
  • a fully charged mobile phone
  • sunscreen protection
  • windproof jacket, hat & gloves
  • a torch
  • layered clothing

Best time to visit Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular half-day walks in New Zealand, so expect company.

Both early mornings & late evenings are ideal to enjoy the views and avoid the crowds. In addition, they offer better light for photographs. The peak time is from 09:00 in the morning to 17:00 in the afternoon.

What’s the best time to do the walk depending on the season?

Winter – Autumn: Start as early as possible for smoother weather, better sunlight & fewer walkers. Early risers will catch some stunning views of the first sun rays creeping over Mt. Cook. So wake up at 07:00, grab your favourite hot drink and hit the road!


Summer – Spring: Not a morning person? Depending on the exact sunset time you might be able to walk the track after 17:00. Make sure to start the hike at least 3 hours before sunset to leave some daylight time for your return trip.

Highlights of the Hooker Valley Track

Hooker Valley Track is one of the most scenic hikes in New Zealand.

Here are some highlights of the tramp*:

  • Glaciers and glacier lakes with mini-icebergs
  • Suspension bridges (yes, you can bounce on them)
  • Amazing views over Aoraki/ Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps
  • Alpine valleys with tussock vegetation
  • Endangered species and endemic wildflowers
*What does tramping mean?

What different countries call hiking, trekking, rambling, backpacking or bushwalking, Kiwis name it tramping. It basically means going for a hike.

Mueller Lookout

The first awing moment of the hike is the breathtaking view of Mt. Sefton towering at 3.151 metres above the proglacial Mueller Lake.

Mueller Glacier Lake and Mount Sefton
Mueller Lake & Mt. Sefton seen from Mueller Lookout (Image © Miles with Vibes)

What about the eerie colour of the lake?
Ground sediments (debris) suspended by neighbouring glaciers transformed the colour of Mueller Lake to that unusual milky blue-grey.

Moreover, colossal moraines surround the lake – chunks of rock & soil reaching up to 100m. left behind by the retreating glacier.

All those, along with the surrounding snowy mountains turn the landscape into a dramatic work of art.

Take a moment to remain silent and you’ll hear the rocks & snow tumbling down from the mountains. “This is the sound of change”, a local guide said. “There are signs of change all around you – the glaciers are retreating and the mountains are being torn down by water & ice”.

Listen to the rumbling of avalanches from Mt. Sefton and spot them before they crash into Muller Lake below.
The moraine walls of Mueller Lake and the surrounding southern alps
Better get that camera tripod ready (Image © Miles with Vibes)

It’s incredible that a hundred years ago Mueller Glacier was so big that filled the valley floor.

Turn your back to Mt. Sefton and indulge in the extraordinary scenery; Lake Pukaki with its vibrant blue waters can be seen at some distance.

Hooker Valley and Lake Pukaki as seen from the track
Hooker Valley and Lake Pukaki (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Bouncing over the suspension bridges

Hooker Valley Track is famous for its iconic swinging bridges. So, bouncing your way through them adds to the experience.

Right after Mueller Lookout is the first swinging bridge of the hike, the Lower Hooker Suspension Bridge.

Lower Hooker Suspension Bridge at Hooker Valley Track
Lower Hooker Suspension Bridge (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The bridge didn’t look scary or dangerous. However, a sign stated that no more than 20 people should use it at a time.

While crossing the bridge I could feel the roaring Hooker River rushing underneath on its way to Lake Pukaki down the valley.

Hooker River as seen from Lower Suspension Bridge
Hooker River as seen from Lower Suspension Bridge (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The bridge’s height and the occasional bouncing got me a bit dizzy; however, I took a big pause in the middle of the bridge. The rushing river below was hypnotizing to watch and the view was simply mesmerizing.

Mueller Lake and Mount Sefton
Mueller Lake and Mount Sefton (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The trail then skirts further into the valley with great looks of Mueller Lake on your left.

Hooker Bluff Bridge, the second suspension bridge, follows closely. This is a great spot to examine Mueller Lake up close. Its colour, along with the gigantic moraine walls are such an alien sight.

Mueller Lake as seen from Hooker Bluff Swing Bridge
Mueller Lake as seen from Hooker Bluff Swing Bridge (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The track turns away from Mueller Lake and continues north, through the sacred Tōpuni area of Hooker Valley, following the river upstream.

The tallest mountain in New Zealand

After crossing the first two swing bridges, the path leads north, across tiny hills & valleys. It’s time to meet Mt. Cook (Aoraki in Māori), the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

Standing firm and massive, often hidden behind a thick veil of mist as if coming from an imaginary clay pipe, the great elder chief, Aoraki, in all its majesty, dominates the 2nd part of the hike.

First Views of Mount Cook from Hooker Valley Track
First Views of Mount Cook from Hooker Valley Track (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Standing at 3,724 metres, it’s considered by the Māori to be the link between the worlds of nature and the supernatural.

Did you know?

It was on Mt. Cook that Sir Edmund Hillary perfected his mountaineering skills before conquering Mt. Everest itself, the tallest mountain in the world.

Mount Cook is dominating the horizon during the second part of the hooker valley track hike
Mount Cook is dominating the horizon during the second part of the hike (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The sacred valley

This part of the Hooker Valley hike is mostly on wooden boardwalks over the swampy vegetation. You will be hiking right into a meadow surrounded by alpine tussock grass with panoramic views of the Southern Alps. Aoraki remains visible through that part, silently monitoring your every move from its throne.

Did you know?

Mount Cook actually consists of three summits – the Low Peak (3.593 m), the Middle Peak (3.717 m) and the High Peak (3.724 m).

Hooker Valley Track - Heading towards the glacier lake
Hooker Valley Track – heading towards the glacier lake (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The track continues into the wide flat valley floor before crossing Hooker River for a final time. Suspension bridges serve as good milestone points on your way back.

As soon as you bounce your way across Upper Hooker Bridge, you’ll be right below the moraine walls of Hooker Lake.

Looking over Upper Hooker Bridge you’re in line for views on the ridgeline extending southwest from Mount Sefton above Mueller Glacier
Looking over the bridge you get some amazing views of the surrounding mountains (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Turn back and look at the amazing scenery – Mount Thompson at 2.642 m. and Mount Brunner at 2.643 m. will proudly greet you.

Hooker Lake & Hooker Glacier

After climbing over the moraine the most picturesque surprise awaits. Standing under the shadow of an imposing Mount Cook you will face the ancient Hooker Glacier itself.

The intense mint colour of Hooker Lake along with a foggy Mount Cook in the background created a surreal environment.

Weird Fact

Aoraki’s height decreased to 3.724 m. (from 3.764 m.) due to a rockslide in 2014.

Floating icebergs within Hooker Glacier Lake
Floating icebergs within Hooker Lake (Image © Miles with Vibes)

To be honest, I expected Hooker Glacier to be icier. However, after having a closer look I could easily distinguish a body of dense ice mixed with rock and debris accumulated as the glacier kept collapsing over the years.

As Hooker Glacier started slowly melting, Hooker Lake formed sometime in the 1970s.

The Hooker Glacier Terminus at Hooker Lake
The Hooker Glacier Terminus at Hooker Lake (Image © Miles with Vibes)

The lake’s surface was calm, perfectly reflecting the surrounding snowy mountains upon its surface.

Have you ever seen floating icebergs?

The viewpoint above Hooker Lake is where the trail ends, but I wasn’t done exploring yet.

I noticed a short path leading down to a rocky beach; a great chance to get closer and feel the icy water. I also had the chance to touch some icebergs that strayed on the shore, having broken off from the nearby glacier.

If the lake is frozen enough you can even walk on its surface. However, make sure to avoid getting close to the icebergs; even the slightest movement around them may cause the ice to break.

Hooker Lake's rocky shore
Hooker Lake’s rocky shore on the left (Image © Miles with Vibes)

I sat on a flat rock and admired the scenery in complete silence. I was so privileged to stand on the shore of an iceberg-speckled lake facing an ancient glacier under one of the most iconic peaks of the globe.

As the icebergs were slowly drifting on the lake I was able to catch some magnificent reflections of Mount Cook and the surrounding Alps over the icy surface.

Environmental impact

Sadly, the seven-mile-long Hooker Glacier is melting rapidly, as a result of global warming. Therefore, the lake will grow in length as Hooker Glacier retreats further up the valley. That little shore won’t exist in some decades.

Hooker Valley Lake and Hooker Glacier under Aoraki / Mount Cook
That view alone is worth the trip from Queenstown (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Other key points of Hooker Valley Track

The beginning of the hike is at White Horse Hill Campsite next to the car park. For the most part of the tramp, you will be walking along the Hooker River. The trail starts out pretty flat between open grassland.

Hooker Valley Track Hike surrounded by snowy mountains
Hooker Valley Track is surrounded by the Southern Alps (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Conquering Mt. Cook in a Victorian dress

Near the start of the track, on your left, there is a short trail leading to a boulder known as Freda’s Rock. Emmeline Freda Du Faur was photographed here, in December 1910 after being the first woman to climb Mount Cook.

The self-taught mountaineer challenged the social norms of the time by climbing in long Victorian dresses, which was standard clothing for women while wearing her leggings and hob-nailed boots underneath.

Long gone but never forgotten

Next, is the Alpine Memorial, honouring all those explorers who perished in the Southern Alps.

To the memory of mountaineers and guides lost to the hills.

Reading the sign, I kept wondering whether reaching the summit really outweighs all the potential risks. What’s so captivating about Aoraki that makes alpinists risk their lives to summit it?

One of the plagues read “I am not gone – I am in these mountains, I am in the stars, I am all around you, always near, never far”.

Into the realm of Lord of the Rings

As soon as the landscape opens up and the snowcapped Southern Alps loom in the background the scenery is nothing less than epic. Going deeper into the lush valley it’s easy to start imagining you are somewhere around the White Mountains of Middle-Earth.

Hooker River along with a clouded Mt. Cook
One of the most famous shots of the Hooker Valley Track hike (Image © Miles with Vibes)

I was sure I heard some goblin screams; all caves inside those mountains must be swarming with them. But I definitely felt safer when I caught a glimpse of a dozen Longbeard dwarves dressed in steel mails, double axes on hand.

For all those LOTR fans out there, this is one of your many chances in New Zealand to walk right into Tolkien’s fantasyland.

the third swinging bridge in hooker valley track with mountains in the background
Can you spot the Orcs hiding in the bushes? (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Keep an eye out for…

…the “clown of the mountains”, the endangered Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world. Their notorious urge to explore, destroy and manipulate made the bird famous among residents & tourists.

Did you know?

There was a long controversy about whether the Kea prayed on sheep, lasting from the mid-1860 up to 1992 when it was finally captured on video. That was one of the reasons the kea was killed for bounty until 1986.

green kea parrot standing in a rock
Watch out for this one and make sure to keep an eye on your stuff (Credits: Tomas Sobek, Unsplash)

Along the route, you will see the largest species of buttercup, an endemic wildflower species called Mount Cook lily.

Mount Cook buttercup or Mount Cook lily
Mount Cook buttercup or Mount Cook lily (Credits: Krzysztof Golik, Wikipedia)

The return trip

On the way back you can enjoy more views down the valley and across Sealy Range from a totally different perspective. I have to admit that the scenery was equally impressive and interesting especially as the clouds were descending lower.

Muddy path in Hooker Valley Track with clouds
The way back – it gets even greater when the clouds go lower (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Luckily enough I had the track to myself so I made several photo stops. The silence around me was only interrupted by the constant rumbling of the Hooker River.

Crossing the Upper Hooker Bridge
Crossing the Upper Hooker Bridge (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Random encounters with cheeky Keas, a couple of blackbirds and several rabbits made the return trip more fun. I have also spotted many different wildflowers along the way; celmisia and kōpukupuku, the world’s biggest buttercup.

Lower Hooker suspension bridge
Lower Hooker suspension bridge (Image © Miles with Vibes)
Discover the track’s Easter Egg

Right before you get back to the car park try locating a secret code to claim your Kiwi Adventure Medal – a real medal to remind you of that extraordinary hike. Look for a signpost!

Waving goodbye to the Great Chief

Up until the last moment I got into the car I was really hoping that the clouds would part so I can have a glimpse of Mount Cook.

Unfortunately, every time my hopes were confronted by mist and clouds – the “Cloud Piercer” definitely didn’t live up to its name that day.

Driving off Mount Cook National Park through the highway, I kept peeking in the wing mirror. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t get Aoraki off my bucket list – I was so close!

And then, the peak was revealed!

Aoraki / Mount Cook as seen from State Highway 80
Aoraki / Mount Cook as seen from State Highway 80 (Image © Miles with Vibes)

Even if it lasted a couple of minutes, I didn’t miss the chance to pull over and capture it.

There I was, standing in the middle of the highway, miles away from home, staring Aoraki eye to eye. It was as if the Great Chief was waving goodbye.

Verdict: Is Hooker Valley Track worth a visit?

Surreal, milky lakes, spectacular glacier views, lush valley meadows, picturesque icebergs, fast-flowing rivers and swing bridges. The scenery is truly breathtaking and will have you reaching for your camera at every turn.

Besides, you have the opportunity to spot some of Aotearoa’s most unique alpine flora and fauna.

All those make Hooker Valley Track one of the most epic short hikes in New Zealand and a must-do for all first-timers on the South Island.

Don’t get discouraged

It’s common for Aoraki to be hidden behind clouds or thick layers of fog. Give it some time and perhaps you’ll get your chance to meet the great chief.

view of aoraki mount cook from State Highway 80
The view of Aoraki/ Mt. Cook from State Highway 80 (Credits: Jean Pierre Brungs, Unsplash)

Know before you go

Is Hooker Valley Track difficult?

Hooker Valley Track is quite easy, and great for people of all fitness levels & ages. Learn more about the difficulty of the trail here.

Is any equipment needed?

Hooker Valley Track is a trail inside an alpine environment and weather conditions can change without warning. This is the packing list you are going to need.

How long is Hooker Valley Track?

The total length of the track is 10 km (6.2 miles). That is the distance you will cover both ways. Learn how much time it takes here.

How much time does it take to complete the hike?

Allow 3 to 4 hours to complete the walk. That includes taking pictures, stopping by to admire the views and even having a quick bite by the lake. Find more info about the track here.

What is the best time to visit Hooker Valley?

Both early mornings & late evenings are ideal to enjoy Hooker Valley Track. Learn more about the best time to visit to avoid crowds.

Where can I get a Hooker Valley Track map?

The Department of Conservation has published an online map of the trail, with a printable version available. Click here to view a detailed map.

Are toilets available in Hooker Valley Track?

Yes, toilets are available at White Horse Hill Campground (the start of the trail) and at the Stocking Steam, in the middle of the track. Click here to view a detailed map.

Is parking available nearby?

Yes, parking for around 200 vehicles is available at White Horse Hill Carpark at the end of State Highway 80. Find more info about the track here.

Are dogs and bikes permitted on Hooker Valley Track?

Dogs are not allowed on any tracks in Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park. Similarly, bikes are forbidden on Hooker Valley Track but there are other trails in the area allowing them.

Is Hooker Valley Track kids-friendly?

Yes, the trail is easy to complete by kids. Learn more about the difficulty of the trail here.

Where is the Hooker Valley Track?

The track is in Mount Cook National Park, on New Zealand’s South Island.

photo of aoraki mount cook with snow on the peak
The snow-peaked Aoraki (Credits: photosvolvob12b, Flickr)

Best season to visit Hooker Valley Track

Spring is hands down the best time to do the hike. I visited Hooker Valley in late October, which is considered to be mid-spring in New Zealand. It was such a great time since I got the best from both seasons, winter and summer.

Advantages of doing the tramp on spring:

  • you still get snowy peaks, icebergs and the dramatic scenery
  • the hike is easy to complete without any fear of slippery ice
  • you will witness the blooming of mountain wildflowers
  • it’s one of the least busy months for tourism in Mt. Cook

October in Hooker Valley Track has an average high of 14.2°C during the daytime and an average low of 3.6°C at night. So make sure to pack layer clothing.

Staying near the Hooker Valley Track 

Even if Hooker Valley Track is the perfect half-day hike and won’t take more than 4 hours to complete, if possible, get accommodation nearby. Doing so will help you maximise your time in the area and start the walk either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The nearest towns are:
  • Mount Cook Village (3 km)
  • Twizel (68 km)
  • Lake Tekapo (105 km)

Mount Cook Village is the most convenient location, in terms of distance from the trail, but there are only a handful of accommodation options available. Most of them are booked out in advance, so make sure to book ahead.

The view of Mount Cook Village and Aoraki/ Mt. Cook National Park from Sealy Tarns
The view of Mount Cook Village on the flat valley floor

A more flexible (and adventurous) option for those with campervans, caravans or tents is White Horse Hill Campground. The campsite is conveniently located at the start of Hooker Valley Track. With basic amenities like drinking water, a shelter for cooking, toilets and fees starting from 15 NZD per person, per night it is an excellent choice.

You don’t get the chance to camp beneath magnificent alpine scenery often so I definitely recommend it.

More info is available on the official DoC website.

All images are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Hooker Valley Track at a glance

Total Distance: 10 kmDifficulty: Easy
Trail Type: Out and backActivity: Walking & tramping
Estimated Time: 3-4 hours (return)Elevation Gain: 124m
Permit: Not requiredSurface: Gravel & boardwalks
Highest Point: Hooker Lake (877m)Weather info: Dept. of Conservation


Are you planning to do the Hooker Valley Track? Leave your thoughts below!


6 thoughts

Lisa Kelly 30th Oct 2021 - 08:43

I really enjoyed this blog post and seeing your amazing photos from each leg of the walk was so helpful. I’m wondering if I can ask your advice. I would like to do some of the walk, not all due to lack of fitness and a bit of a time crunch. Would it be worth it still to just walk to the first suspension bridge? Your photos in the lead up look beautiful and I just wondered if it would be enough to give me a taste? Or is there a point somewhere past there but before the second bridge the it would be worth pushing myself to?

Also approx. how long do you think it takes to walk to that first bridge? I really appreciate any and all advice.

Reply
Nikos Taskos 30th Oct 2021 - 12:44

Hello Lisa! I am glad you enjoyed the article but photos are not even close to depicting this awesome place! You’ll see :)
The time needed to get to the 1st suspension bridge is around 20 mins. Along the way, you can see the Alpine Memorial and enjoy some great views of Mt. Sefton and Mueller lake from Mueller Lookout (which is impressive). If you also look back you can see an amazing view of the valley, all the way to Lake Pukaki. So, yes you certainly get a great taste of the walk.

However, for me, the best part of the hike was Hooker Lake, in the end. Icebergs floating, the snowy Mt. Cook, the shore by the lake (you can actually go there), and the Glacier on the far side of the lake.

Aaaand no, there isn’t any special point between the 1st and the 2nd bridge that’s worth the extra effort. So I would suggest that you either walk until the 1st suspension bridge or go all the way to the end of the walk (which is totally awesome)!

Let me know if you loved it :))

Reply
Diana Southern 2nd Mar 2020 - 17:57

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog to chat about New Zealand. We loved our visit there, campervanning around both islands. The scenery was spectacular!

We would have loved to spend more time at Mt Cook. We only drove to the park and took a few photos on a short hike, but it seemed like there were some pretty epic hiking opportunities around there. Something for next time!

Reply
Nikos Taskos 2nd Mar 2020 - 19:07

I would love to do the Kea Point Track the next time, I have been told that the scenery is epic from up there!

Reply
Lizzy 18th May 2020 - 01:58

Awesome blog about mount cook- cant wait to do it next week now!
Did you do another other hikes in the area whikst you were there?

Reply
Nikos Taskos 19th May 2020 - 21:08

Thanks, Lizzy! You can also try the Kea Point Track; it’s short, sweet, and has some incredible mountain views!

Reply

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