We drove into Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park on December 6, 2017. We left our free camp spot just north of the town of Omarama Wednesday morning, it was an overcast and gloomy start of the day. As we approached Lake Pukaki, my heart and my mood sunk. I was so so excited for the drive into the park. I had read heaps of blogs saying that the views would absolutely take my breath away; the sight of Mount Cook as the backdrop to the bright blue waters of Lake Pukaki was supposed to be mesmerizing. Unfortunately for Kels and I – Mount Cook was hiding behind clouds and the lake took on more of a grey colour due to the clouds in the sky.
We tried to push our disappointment away and continued into Mount Cook Village where we found the information centre. I have this thing about info centres- I love them! I go in whenever possible and always come away with heaps of free brochures (aka roadtrip reading material). That being said, the Mount Cook Info Centre was definitely the best one we’d visited in New Zealand yet! They had binders full of information about hikes in the area and information about the history of the area. Kels and I sat on one of the couches inside and passed some time reading through them before moving on to the massive display on mountains, mountaineering, glaciers etc. The display had an entire room dedicated to the history of those who climbed Mount Cook (including Sir Edmund Hillary – famous Kiwi climber). There were informative boards with facts on glaciers and how much they have receded, animals living in the environment and it even had a section on avalanches. I’m not sure exactly how much time we spent in the building, but it was a lot. It was enough that by the time we exited it to return to our car, the clouds were disappearing and the sun was shining! Oh happy days!
We made our way to the campsite we planned to spend the next few nights at – White Horse Hill Campground. It’s a DOC (Department of Conservation) site, and you pay $13 per person, per night. It had flush toilets, filtered water and was the starting point for 2/3 hikes we did in the park!
We scoped the grounds for the perfect spot – sheltered from wind, views of the surrounding mountains, a picnic table to cook on, and of course away from people. I may be biased, but we snagged the best spot ever. We set up the tent and saw that the clouds had completely cleared. It was just about 11:00am so we decided to hit the Hooker Valley Trail.
It is by far the most popular walk in the area- it is said to be the best bang for your buck hike. Minimal effort for maximum views. At 10km return and an elevation gain of only 124m, we were rewarded with views of Mueller Lake, Hooker Lake, Hooker River and Mount Cook and the Southern Alps.
The trail is gravel and very well marked and maintained. We had on our hiking boots as well as our day bags with our 3L CamelBaks, rain jackets and sweaters plus peanut butter banana sandwiches and trail mix for a snack – and we were totally over prepared; but, our motto in the mountains is always better safe that sorry. It was a busy trail; we saw a range of people, from those in runners and sports clothes to walkers in dresses and flip flops. If your heading out I reckon you’d be fine in good sneakers and something you’re comfortable to sweat a bit in.
The trail takes you over three different swing bridges (which are fun to shake on unexpecting tourists, hehe). There’s a cute wooden boardwalk (look up Hooker Valley Track and I guarantee this is the photo you’ll see) with great views of Mount Cook in the background. It’s a super picturesque walk overall!
The end point of the hike (really more of a walk) is reaching the glacier fed Hooker Lake. There’s picnic tables when you first walk down the path- those were packed with people. Then, down to your left is a path that takes you to the shore and you could dip your toes (or more) in if you please. Kels and I veered to our right instead; we clambered over some rocks to reach a nice and big flat rock to relax on. We filled our bellies with our snacks and then lay on the rock and enjoyed the peacefulness of being in the mountains again. The sun was hot and the sky blue; we snapped some photos and then headed back to the car.
Next, we drove back out of the park so we could drive in again. I know this sounds silly and like a waste of time/gas; but, I REALLY wanted to see how blue Lake Pukaki could be. With the sun shining and the clouds cleared, we were blessed with the most perfect views. I was so pleased! To think it was grey and moody just a few hours earlier!!
We decided we had time to do the Tasman Glacier/ Blue Pools walk before heading back to the tent; so, we climbed the 300 or so stairs up. Again, a super easy little walk – no need for hikers. The steps were worth it- the glacier is the biggest in New Zealand and the lake itself is a beautiful milky blue.
We had taken the side trip to see the Blue Pools as we had heard there was good swimming – there wasn’t. The lakes used to be blue and glacier fed; but, now they are fed by rainwater and take on a much more murky and greenish hue.
After our walks of the day – we had worked up an appetite. We headed back to the tent to make ourselves dinner and prep for our big hike the next day: Mueller Hut.