Hooker Valley Track | The Best Day Walk In Mt Cook

The Hooker Valley Track is arguably the most popular day walk in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, perhaps even the whole of New Zealand’s South Island. And as soon as you step onto the trail that weaves between soaring snow-capped mountains, crisscrosses a glacially fed river and ends at one of the best viewpoints for Mt Cook – the tallest mountain in New Zealand – we guarantee you’ll join the hype.

There are very few walks in the world where you’re able to witness such breathtaking landscapes with barely any effort, but the Hooker Valley Track allows just that. The relatively flat 3-hour return trail beckons to all explorers and is an absolute must-do walk in Mt Cook National Park.

In this trail guide, you’ll find all the information you need to experience the Hooker Valley Track for yourself, including the best time to visit, how to beat the crowds and inspiring images to fuel your wanderlust.

Sun rays beaming through the Hooker Valley above the first swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase of a product we recommend through one of our links, we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you! This helps to support our blog and enables us to continue providing you with helpful tips and exciting adventures, so thank you 🙂

Everything You Need To Know To About The Hooker Valley Track In New Zealand

Quick Statistics For The Hooker Valley Track

Distance
10.7 km return

Time
2.5 – 3.5 hrs

Grade
Grade 2

Elevation Gain
200 m

Highest Elevation
890 m 

Entrance Fees
None

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

Mueller Lake at the Base of Sivy Peak in Mt Cook National Park

Where Does The Hooker Valley Track Start?

The Hooker Valley Track begins on the eastern side of the public shelter at White Horse Hill campground in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, 5 minutes north of Mt Cook Village. A large day-use car park is located at the southern point of the campground, which is free of charge.

This is also where a number of the other hikes in Mt Cook begin and therefore, the car park often fills up quickly in summer. It’s best to arrive early if you’re visiting on a warm and sunny day to avoid having to park halfway down Hooker Valley Rd.

How To Get To The Hooker Valley Trailhead

The Hooker Valley trailhead is 3 hrs 10 minutes northeast of Queenstown and 4 hrs west of Christchurch. Its location at White Horse Hill Campground can be found at the end of Hooker Valley Rd, which forks from Mt Cook Rd just before you reach the village.

By Bus

While there is no permanent service that runs to and from Mt Cook Village, there is a bus service connecting Queenstown and Christchurch which stops at Twizel, the closest town to Mt Cook. From Twizel, you can jump on the shuttle service that runs to Mt Cook through the summer season.

By Tour

An alternative option to catching a bus is to join an active tour which either returns you to Christchurch or Queenstown or allows you to stay in Mt Cook. Below is a list of the best tour options that include enough time for you to complete the Hooker Valley Track.

By Car

The directions to Mt Cook Village are easy to follow as you’ll pass multiple signs along State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Rd) to prepare you for your turn-off onto Mount Cook Rd. The turn-off is 11 km north of Twizel and 49 km southwest of Tekapo and follows the eastern banks of Lake Pukaki.

The road to Mt Cook Village is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand’s South Island so we recommend allowing extra time for stops along the way. Especially don’t miss the famous Lake Pukaki Viewpoint for the best view of the snaking road and Mt Cook in the distance.

Click Here For Directions

Road Trip in New Zealand driving in Mt Cook Nation Park

New Zealand, The Road Tripping Capital Of The South!

The absolute best place to road trip in the Southern Hemisphere is New Zealand, the land of giant glaciers and vibrant lakes. And for the best deals on campervans, you can’t beat Jucy!

Who Is This Hike For?

The Hooker Valley Track is suitable for almost every traveller, even accommodating offroad wheelchairs until the first swing bridge. The walk has a gentle gradient throughout the 5 km trail and bench seats provide rest points along the way.

While the track does get very busy during the summer months, the wide path allows for plenty of space to walk at your own pace.

If you’re looking for a little more challenge, the Sealy Tarns track is another incredible hike which offers sensational views across the Hooker Valley.

What To Bring For The Hooker Valley Track

A small day pack filled with water, snacks and a warm layer is all you’ll need to walk the Hooker Valley track, which takes an average of 2.5 to 3.5 hrs to complete. At the end of the 5 km trail, you’ll arrive at Hooker Lake, which is the perfect spot for lunch and to while away an afternoon.

Best Time To Walk The Hooker Valley Track

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track in Mt Cook National Park in New Zealand

The Hooker Valley Track is accessible year-round, offering a new experience with each season. In winter, the snowline plummets to coat the surrounding mountains in white and Hooker Lake can freeze solid. In summer and spring, the world’s biggest buttercup – the Mt Cook buttercup – blooms along the path. Aside from winter, autumn can be one of the quietest times to visit and also provides a good chance of finding icebergs floating in the milky-blue lake.

The only time that the Hooker Valley track will close is when wind gusts exceed 80km/hr or during heavy rainfall. At these times, there will be a notice in the visitor centre and the gate before the first swing bridge will be shut.

Best Time Of Day To Walk The Hooker Valley Track

Sun rays beaming through the Hooker Valley in Mt Cook National Park
Hooker Valley in the soft morning light

There’s no denying that you’ll be sharing the Hooker Valley track with a host of other visitors, but you can avoid the majority of the crowds by getting up early or hanging back until just before sunset.

On top of having a quieter experience, sunrise and especially sunset are the best times of day to walk the Hooker Valley track to witness Mt Cook cloaked in soft shades of pink, yellow and purple.

The Hooker Valley Track Notes

White Horse Hill Car Park to The First Swing Bridge

Hooker Valley Track Trailhead at White Horse Hill Campground in Mt Cook

Your journey begins to the right of White Horse Hill Car Park, where you’ll find a wide gravel path (suitable for offroad wheelchairs) trailing northeast toward the trees congregating at the base of White Horse Hill.

The leafy canopy lasts only a few moments before you arrive at a short side track on your left that leads to Freda’s Rock. This famous rock is the location where Freda Du Faur – the first woman to climb Aoraki/Mt Cook on the 3rd of December 1910 – had her photograph taken to commemorate her accomplishment. You can learn more about her story in the visitor centre.

Hooker Valley Track alpine memorial of all the climbers and mountaineers who have passed

Continuing on for just 100 m, you’ll reach another short side track on your left that will take you to the Alpine Memorial. The pyramid-shaped memorial commemorates climbers and explorers that have lost their lives in Mt Cook National Park and also offers incredible views to the south.

Getting back on track, you’ll continue through the open shrubby landscape for a few hundred metres before the first swing bridge looms into view and a lookout beckons on the left. The Mueller Glacier viewpoint allows breathtaking views of Mueller Lake and glimpses of the retreating ice almost hidden in the northwest corner.

Mueller Glacier Lookout on the Hooker Valley walk in New Zealand

Note: From this point, off-road wheelchair accessibility becomes more difficult due to a few stairs scattered throughout the walk and the skinny swing bridges.

The First Swing Bridge To The Second Swing Bridge

Sun rays beaming through the Hooker Valley above the first swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

Leaving the lookout, the trail descends slightly as you arrive at the banks of Hooker River and wander in awe towards the first swing bridge that’s found 1.3 km along the track.

Crossing the bouncy bridge, the roar of the river beneath your feet drowns out the sounds of fellow walkers and you can begin to grasp just how much force this river holds as the milky-blue water surges towards the Tasman River. 

Once you plant your feet on solid ground once again, take your time absorbing the landscape as you walk between old moraine ridges and humps, listening out for the distant thunder of avalanches falling from Mt Sefton in the distance.

The Second Swing Bridge To The Third Swing Bridge

After another 1.3 km, you’re met with the second swing bridge which crosses an even more ferocious section of the Hooker River. Enormous blue/grey boulders stack upon one another and the roar of the rapids is even louder.

Note: In winds exceeding 80km/hr or significant floods, the second swing bridge will be closed due to its structural integrity being compromised after a damaging storm in 2019. But don’t worry, engineers have expressed that the bridge is safe in all other circumstances.

Hooker River Flowing down the Hooker Valley under the second swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

The trail continues to follow the banks of the Hooker River as you enter the wide tussock-filled valley flanked by 2,000m + mountains. It’s a humbling feeling walking between the formidable giants, that seemingly soar vertically from the valley floor, and watching the seasonal waterfalls flow from the snow-capped peaks.

But the real wonder is waiting just around the corner. As you move slowly through the valley, gaping at the surrounding landscape, Aoraki/Mt Cook will finally emerge from behind Mt Wakefield, displaying its sheer dominance over the already impressive mountain range.

Walking on the Hooker Valley Trail Boardwalk

Roughly 1 km past the second swing bridge, you’ll come to Stocking Stream Shelter where you’ll find a toilet block and bench seats. This is also where the turn-off for the Hooker Hut and Sefton Bivvy is found.

Continue along a mixture of gravel and boardwalk for another 700 m, inclining ever so slightly, until you arrive at the final swing bridge.

The Third Swing Bridge To Hooker Lake

Admiring mt Cook from the last swing bridge on the Hooker Valley Track

The ice-capped peak of Mt Cook stands majestically behind the third and final bridge along the Hooker Valley track, creating the perfect backdrop on a clear day. If you’re walking the trail for sunset, the river bank before the bridge provides an incredible spot to snap a photo of the iconic swing bridge and Mt Cook.

You’ll come across another side track 200 m after the bridge which takes you to Alpine Tarn. The 80 m return path isn’t all that exciting but on a clear day, the tarn can provide impressive reflections of the surrounding peaks.

A gentle climb ensues as you cover the last 600 m of the Hooker Valley track and finally arrive at the shores of Hooker Lake.

Hooker Lake

Hooker Lake glistening as Mt Cook stands mighty in the background with icebergs lining the lake

A collection of picnic benches are perched at the Hooker Lake viewpoint, allowing you to feast on the uninterrupted vistas of Aoraki/Mt Cook dominating the northeastern horizon and if you’re lucky, monstrous icebergs floating in the proglacial lake.

If you’ve been gifted with a lake full of icebergs, wander along the path to the banks of Hooker Lake for a better understanding of the colossal size of the giant ice formations. And if you’re visiting in winter, you might even be lucky enough to witness the lake frozen solid.

Returning To White Horse Hill Car Park

Mt Cook Village behind Mueller Lake from the Hooker Valley Track

Once you’ve finished exploring the shores of Hooker Lake and marvelling at the breathtaking views of the Southern Alps surrounding you, wander back to the viewpoint and return the way you came.

The way back allows you to absorb new vistas of the Sealy Range – look out for the Mueller Hut route zigzagging up the mountainside – and down into the deep valley towards Lake Pukaki.

Depending on how long you spent marvelling over the brilliant landscape at Hooker Lake, the return walk should take approximately 2.5 – 4 hrs to complete. We finished the Hooker Valley Track in 3 hours, including a lengthy break at the lake.

The best thing about the Hooker Valley Track is its easy nature that allows almost all walkers to participate. This makes it a great option for families or groups of friends with a wide range of abilities. And even though this walk is incredibly popular, the experience is undoubtedly worth it for all levels of hikers.

Best Alternative Walks For The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

Whether you’re attempting to avoid the crowds or the weather is prohibiting you to complete the Hooker Valley track, there are a number of alternative walks that provide almost as much awe. Below are our top three options that can replace the Hooker Valley track for a range of reasons.

Red Tarns Track

Sunset at Sealy Tarns with a perfect reflection of Aoraki, Mt Cook in the distance

If you want to get away from the crowds for a while, the Red Tarns Track is the ideal choice. This 2-hour return walk is highly underrated and offers sensational views across the entire Hooker Valley and into the Tasman Valley. If you happen to be gifted with a windless day, the tarns offer an incredible reflection of Mt Sefton and Mt Cook.

The Red Tarns Track is also a great alternative if the Hooker Valley track is shut due to flooding as it climbs 300 m above the valley floor.

Governors Bush Track

Governors Bush walk, a great short walk in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park

When the winds are howling and the dark clouds are hanging low, the Governors Bush Walk offers shelter under a canopy of beech trees. The 1-hour return walk takes you through a vivid forest that comes alive in the rain and provides fleeting glimpses of Mt Cook Village and the vast valley below.

This is an easy walk with barely any elevation, which also makes it a great choice if you’re searching for a beginner walk without crowds.

Kea Point Track

Kea Point Lookout on a stormy afternoon overlooking the Hooker Valley and Mt Cook

While the Kea Point track is only short and doesn’t offer quite the same experience as the Hooker Valley track, it does allow you to stand on the moraine banks of Mueller Lake and gaze out upon the monstrous hanging glaciers beneath Mt Sefton.

This is a good alternative if the Hooker Valley track is closed and you’re searching for a short and easy walk that will get you closer to the formidable glacial landscape beyond White Horse Hill.

Other Important Information For Walking The Hooker Valley Track

Leave No Trace

The Hooker Valley track is walked by thousands of people each year and that amount of traffic can do great harm to a fragile landscape. To help keep the Hooker Valley safe from unnecessary damage, stay on the track provided and carry out all your rubbish – including food scraps and tissues!

It’s each and every one of our responsibilities to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles so that we can continue to enjoy these wonderfully wild places for years to come.

Where To Stay Near The Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley trailhead is located a 5-minute drive north of Mt Cook Village, where you have plenty of options for accommodation. There is a range of accommodation styles to suit all budgets, from the YHA Hostel to the iconic Hermitage Hotel.

It’s important to note that other than a few restaurants, there aren’t any shops in the village so you must bring all your essential needs with you. The closest towns to Mt Cook are Twizel, 50 minutes south, and Lake Tekapo, 1 hr 15 minutes southeast. Lake Tekapo is our recommendation for places to stay outside of Mt Cook National Park as it’s the most scenic of the two and has the best vibe.

Want to find out more about where to stay in Mt Cook? Visit our guide to the best Mt Cook accommodation options for inspiration and advice.

Camping At Mt Cook

The cheapest way to explore Mt Cook National Park – and our personal favourite – is to camp at White Horse Hill Campground. The campground is run by the Department of Conservation and costs NZD$15 per person per night, year-round. It’s situated at the base of the Sealy Range and is equipped with a large indoor shelter and multiple toilet blocks.

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

There are no freedom camping options within Mt Cook National Park, meaning this is the only option nearby. If you’re road-tripping around New Zealand and plan to spend a lengthy amount of time at Mt Cook and at Milford Sound (which also has no freedom camping) then we suggest purchasing the DOC Campsite pass which allows you to stay at as many DOC campsites as you like for NZD$95 for a month pass or NZD$195 for a year pass – per person.

FAQs About The Hooker Valley Track

Is The Hooker Valley Track Worth It?

The Hooker Valley track is one of the most awe-inspiring day walks in New Zealand. The track winds through a valley of monstrous mountains covered in hanging glaciers and leads you over a vibrant ice-blue river to one of the best viewpoints of Aoraki/Mt Cook, which rises 3,724m from the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. There are few other tracks that offer such incredible scenery with barely any effort.

Do You Need Hiking Boots To Walk The Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track is predominantly constructed of a well-formed gravel path and a boardwalk, making it unnecessary to wear hiking boots. All you need is a comfortable pair of runners or hiking shoes. But be aware that the boardwalks might be slippery in icy conditions so a good amount of grip is recommended. 

Can You Swim In Hooker Lake?

While there’s no law against swimming in Hooker Lake, the water reaches a bone-chilling maximum of 3 degrees Celsius and the floating icebergs can break away and cause havoc without warning. You might want to stick with dipping your toes in on the banks of the glacial water instead.

Final Thoughts

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track at sunrise

While we knew The Hooker Valley Track was full of breathtaking scenery, the trail exceeded our expectations dramatically, leaving us breathless with every turn. No matter if you’re an advanced or beginner hiker, the Hooker Valley Track is one you won’t forget. 

But remember to check the track conditions at the visitor centre before departing to avoid being turned around at the first suspension bridge.

Have you had the good fortune of walking the Hooker Valley Track? We’d love to learn about your experience in the comments below. And if you still have a question that we haven’t answered, please feel free to reach out either via the comments below, email or on our Instagram @_trackslesstravelled.

Happy Hiking 🙂