Governors Bush Walk | The Best Mt Cook Walk In Rainy Weather

Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a place of never-ending beauty, of bare rugged mountains soaring from deep sweeping valleys filled with ice-blue braided rivers. It’s a place of contrast and wonders hiding in every mountain crease and around every curve. But one thing that’s rare to come by in this region is lush native forests.

The Governors Bush Walk weaves through one of the last standing silver beech forests that once engulfed the foothills of the Sealy Range, allowing you a unique experience compared to the many other walks in Mt Cook which feature very few native forested areas. 

We recently visited Mt Cook National Park and in true alpine fashion, spent our first few days attempting to escape the relentless rain. We sought refuge under the dense canopy covering the Governors Bush Walk and truly enjoyed an afternoon exploring the verdant forest.

The Governors Bush Walk is the best trail in Mt Cook for when the weather is persistently gloomy and the cloud cover is hanging low. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this short circuit, including what to expect and how to extend the walk to include another favourite – the Red Tarns Track.

Mt Wakefield from Governors Bush Walk in Mt Cook National Park

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Everything You Need To Know To About The Governors Bush Walk

Quick Statistics For The Governors Bush Walk

Distance
1.6 km circuit

Time
30 – 60 minutes

Grade
Grade 2 – 3

Elevation Gain
100 m

Highest Elevation
834 m 

Entrance Fees
None

Facilities
Trailhead: Toilets, shelter with untreated water, car park, walker’s information sign
Along the track: bench seats, information signs

Where Does The Governors Bush Walk Start?

Governors Bush Walk Trail Head

The Governors Bush Walk circuit begins and ends beside the Mt Cook Village Public Shelter that nestles into the foothills beneath the Sealy Range in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. The Mt Cook Village is located in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, 3 hrs 15 minutes northeast of Queenstown and 4 hrs 10 minutes west of Christchurch.

The public shelter is equipped with an undercover BBQ area with plenty of seating, toilets and coin-operated showers ($2 coins needed or free for a cold shower) and a moderately sized free car park. If the car park has filled up, you can also park at the visitor centre car park located a 5-minute walk north of the shelter.

How To Get To The Governors Bush Walk Trailhead

The main roads around New Zealand’s South Island are very well signposted and provide plenty of direction for iconic destinations like Mt Cook National Park. This makes navigation a breeze if you’re travelling from one of the major towns nearby.

Our only advice is to allow extra time for the drive. Once you turn onto Mount Cook Rd, the landscape will undoubtedly cause you to stop multiple times at the many lookouts along the way. Plus, the road into Mt Cook Village and ultimately, the Governors Bush Walk trailhead, is quite windy and can get icy in winter.

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By Public Transport

It is possible to catch public transport from either Queenstown or Christchurch for your trip to Mt Cook, however, it isn’t completely straightforward. If you can, we highly recommend renting a car instead of taking the bus – or jumping on a tour that includes a visit to Mt Cook National Park.

To use public transport, you can jump on the InterCity bus that connects Christchurch to Queenstown and get off at either Twizel or Lake Tekapo. From there, the Cook Connection shuttle bus will take you to Mt Cook Village – but only during the summer season

Note: In winter, the Cook Connection doesn’t operate and therefore, your only real option is to embark on a tour or rent a car.

By Car

Mt Cook Village is located at the end of Mount Cook Rd, which branches off State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Rd), 49km west of Lake Tekapo and 11km north of Twizel. You’ll continue on Mount Cook Rd (State Highway 80) for approximately 40 minutes until it terminates at Mt Cook Village. Turn left once you arrive at the village and follow Bowen Dr until you reach the Mount Cook Village Public Shelter.

Click Here For Directions

Who Is This Walk For?

Walking on the groomed path in the thick forests of Mt Cook

The Governors Bush Walk holds many hidden wonders within the dense silver beech forest, all of which can be enjoyed via an easy gravel path that traverses the mountainside. The walk is short and requires only a little elevation that is aided by man-made stairs and a gently sloping gradient. 

There’s no denying that the views you’ll witness from the Governors Bush Walk aren’t quite on the same pedestal as those you can admire from the Hooker Valley Track or Sealy Tarns. But what you’ll get instead is a quiet and peaceful nature walk through a beautiful native forest that can be enjoyed at the end of a day to stretch your legs or by the whole family.

What To Bring For The Governors Bush Walk

Lowa Hiking boot on wet trail

The Governors Bush Walk takes an average of 30 – 60 minutes to complete and requires very little preparation. All you need is a reusable water bottle, a comfortable pair of shoes (runners or walking shoes are recommended) and maybe a rain jacket if the weather is threatening to unleash.

Note: In winter, the trail can get a little muddy or icy so we recommend wearing a waterproof and warm pair of hiking boots instead.

Best Time To Complete The Governors Bush Walk

Waterfall trickling through the trees on Governors Bush Walk in Mt Cook

The low elevation and protected nature of the Governors Bush Walk allow you to enjoy the short circuit any time of year. The forest surrounding the Governors Bush Walk offers a new experience with each season. In winter, the landscape often transforms into a white wonderland and in summer and spring, the forest comes alive with new growth and beautiful wildflowers.

Best Time Of Day To Walk The Governors Bush Track

Due to the dense forest surrounding most of the Governors Bush circuit, there isn’t necessarily a best time of day to visit. However, early mornings are when the birds are most vocal and you’ll still get to enjoy the soft glow of the rising sun filtering through the trees.

The Governors Bush Walk Notes

While the Governors Bush Walk can be completed in either direction, we walked it anti-clockwise and found that ending with the stunning views and additional exploration options at Black Birch Stream was a perfect choice. Not to mention, walking anti-clockwise also allows you to descend the short collection of steps rather than climbing them.

Mt Cook Village Public Shelter To The Lookout

Walking past the trailhead sign on the Governors Bush Walk

Leaving the car park at the Mt Cook Village Public Shelter, you’ll find signs for the Governors Bush Walk leading either south or west. Follow the signs west to walk the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction

The trail almost immediately disappears into the treeline bordering the western side of the public shelter, engulfing you in a sea of vivid green. You’ll follow the wide gravel path northwest for just over 100m before it abruptly swings to the left and begins to gently ascend the mountainside.

Walking up the man-made stairs on the Governors Bush Walk

Fern-laden walls and moss-covered trees flank the path, with small plaques scattered among the silver beech forest indicating the names of native plants and trees found along the trail. Take your time wandering through the dense and thriving forest, keeping a lookout for rare flowers and attempting to spot the myriad of birds that call the foothills home.

Wakefield Ridge And Aoraki/Mt Cook Lookout

Lookout over the Hooker Valley on the Governors Bush Trail

After approximately 500m, you’ll arrive at the highest point of the trail where a small opening in the forest allows you to gaze down at the Hooker Valley below. From this relatively close, yet higher vantage point, you’re able to notice the veins running through the valley that hold the excess water from the swollen Tasman River in spring.

Continuing on briefly, the track begins to descend and slightly dip behind the small rise, allowing you to gain an almost unobstructed view of Black Birch Stream flowing through the deep gully carved between Mt Sebastopol and Mt Kitchener’s long spur.

Descending To Black Birch Stream

Descending down to Black Birch Stream

Once you’ve finished exploring the various viewpoints at the highest section of the Governors Bush Walk, continue along the trail as it begins to descend towards the banks of Black Birch Stream.

The thriving forest comes alive as you move closer to its water source, with ferns infiltrating the trail and moss covering anything that lays still for long enough. Well-placed steps assist in descending the zigzagging track, which allows your mind to concentrate on the forest that intermittently opens just enough for you to view the ice-blue stream tumbling over grey boulders as you walk.

Before you know it, you’ll have arrived at the track junction where you can either continue the circuit north and back to the public shelter or take the trail leading south which will connect you to the Red Tarns Track.

Black Birch Stream Flowing fast after heavy rain
Black Birch Stream

Whether you choose to include the Red Tarns Track in your walk or not, we recommend veering south and wandering over to Black Birch Stream to explore the banks – when the river isn’t surging of course. For the best vantage point of the stream backed by the dominating Sealy Range, walk onto the Black Birch Stream Bridge.

Continuing Onto The Red Tarns Track (Optional)

Sunset at Red Tarns in Mt Cook National Park
A beautiful sunset at Red Tarns

If your hiking appetite is not quite satiated, you can continue across the bridge and follow the Red Tarns Track as it ascends to a small collection of tarns sitting on a ledge beneath Mt Sebastopol.

The location of the Red Tarns affords mesmerising vistas of the sprawling Hooker Valley and the mighty Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Sefton that command the northern horizon. This hike will roughly take an additional 2 hours to complete and ascends 300 m to the tarns. For more information on the trail, check out our detailed guide to the Red Tarns Track.

Returning To The Mt Cook Village Public Shelter

Footpath leading into Mt Cook Village with Mt Sefton standing mighty in the distance

Once you’re ready to return to the Mt Cook Village Public Shelter, walk back to the track junction and continue following the wide path north. 500m later, you’ll arrive at the south side of the public shelter and the completion of the Governors Bush Walk.

The Governors Bush Walk took us roughly 40 minutes to complete, which included spending a lengthy amount of time at the lookouts and wandering the banks of Black Birch Stream. While we wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a must-do walk in Mt Cook, if you have a spare morning or the weather is grim, then the Governors Bush Walk is well worth your time.

Other Important Information For The Governors Bush Walk

Leave No Trace

The Governors Bush Walk is located within an iconic destination that receives hundreds and thousands of visitors each year. This can have detrimental effects on the landscape, especially if visitors don’t respect the wildlife or their natural surroundings.

To help avoid any unnecessary strain on Mt Cook National Park, follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles and ensure you’re leaving the trail how you found it – or better. It’s as easy as staying on the dedicated trail, taking your rubbish with you and using the toilets at the public shelter.

Where To Stay Near The Governors Bush Walk

Hooker Valley and Mt Cook Village on a beautiful clear day

While it is possible to complete the Governors Bush Walk on a day trip to Mt Cook, for the best experience we highly recommend staying in Mt Cook Village or in one of the nearby country towns – Lake Tekapo is our favourite choice after the village.

To find a list of our top recommended accommodations in Mt Cook and the surrounding regions, check out our guide for the best places to stay in Mt Cook for any budget.

Camping At Mt Cook National Park

Many vans camping at Whitehorse Hill Campsite in Mt Cook National Park at Sunrise

There is no freedom camping within Mt Cook National Park but there is a fantastic DOC Campsite located right at the base of the northern slopes of the Sealy Range, 5 minutes north of Mt Cook Village.

White Horse Hill Campground is equipped with toilet blocks, large spacious sites that can accommodate tents or campervans, and a large enclosed shelter with running untreated water. The fee is NZD$15 per person per night and must be booked online in advance.

For the best value for money, we recommend purchasing the DOC Campsite Pass if you plan to spend more than 8 nights in any DOC campsite within New Zealand.

Final Thoughts

The Governors Bush Walk is a beautiful nature walk that can be enjoyed by the whole family. While it doesn’t provide the same level of wonder compared to other Mt Cook walks such as the Hooker Valley Track and the Mueller Hut Route, it’s a great alternative when the weather is miserable or when you want to simply stretch your legs on an easy walk.

We hope that this guide has helped you decide whether the Governors Bush Walk is the right trail for you. Please feel free to drop any questions you still have on the walk in the comments below.

Happy Hiking 🙂