Tasman Glacier Walks | Your Ultimate 2024 Guide

The intoxicating landscape of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park holds many incredible wonders. But none are quite so accessible or mind-blowing as the Tasman Glacier and the splintered icebergs that can be experienced up close on the Tasman Glacier walks.

Multiple trails weave towards the banks of Tasman Lake, the two main ones being the Tasman Lake Track and the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Viewpoint Track. But no matter which you choose (and you can easily do them all) you’ll gain a unique perspective of the Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand, and of the majestic Southern Alps that draw a jagged line across the distant horizon.

We visited Tasman Lake for sunrise and were blown away by the surreal experience of watching icebergs crumble and surge toward the Tasman River as the light began to filter through the creases of the surrounding mountains.

This was by far one of our favourite experiences in Mt Cook and in this post, you’ll find everything you need to know about the Tasman Glacier walks, including the best time to see the icebergs, additional sneaky side trips you can take and our favourite location for sunrise photography across the milky-blue lake.

Tasman Glacier on a moody sunrise in New Zealand

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Everything You Need To Know To About The Tasman Glacier Walks

Quick Statistics For The Tasman Glacier Walks

Entrance Fees: None
Facilities: Toilets, untreated water, car park, walker’s information sign

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Viewpoint Track

Distance: 2.7 km return
Time: 30 – 50 mins
Grade: Grade 2
Elevation Gain: 100 m
Highest Elevation: 806 m

Tasman Lake Track

Distance: 3.6 km return
Time: 30 – 60 mins
Grade: Grade 1
Elevation Gain: Flat
Highest Elevation: 740 m

Where Do The Tasman Glacier Walks Start?

The Tasman Glacier walks all begin from the same point, at the Tasman Glacier car park (aka Blue Lakes car park) that marks the end of Tasman Valley Rd. The car park sits in the deep Tasman Valley, bordered by Mt Wakefield in the west and Tasman Lake in the east –  hidden from view by tall moraine walls.

The Tasman Glacier car park, located 12 minutes northeast of Mt Cook Village, is equipped with a toilet block, undercover shelter and untreated water. The car park is designed to cater for many visitors, with an overflow section found to the north.

Stone hut at the trail head to the Tasman Glacier Walks

How To Get To The Tasman Glacier Walks Trailhead

The trailhead for the Tasman Glacier walks is 3 hrs 40 minutes northeast of Queenstown and 4 hrs 15 minutes west of Christchurch. Aside from driving yourself, you can also join a day tour from either of these two towns or catch public transport – though public transport can be an arduous task.

By Bus

To reach the Tasman Glacier walks trailhead, you can catch the InterCity bus that connects Christchurch to Queenstown and hop off at either Twizel or Lake Tekapo. From either of these two towns, you can then book a shuttle to Mt Cook Village with The Cook Connection, however, they only operate during the summer season.

Once you arrive in Mt Cook Village, the best option is to rent a bike to get around to the various hikes in Mt Cook that mostly start outside of the village.

If you’re visiting in winter, there are no shuttle options from Twizel or Lake Tekapo and your only real option is to rent a car or join a tour. We’ve listed the best Tasman Lake tours below that will allow enough time for you to explore the multiple trails.

By Car

The Tasman Glacier walks begin at the end of Tasman Valley Rd, which veers right off Mount Cook Rd just before Mt Cook Village. To reach Mount Cook Rd, you’ll branch north off State Highway 8 (Tekapo-Twizel Rd) approximately 11 km north of Twizel and 49 km west of Lake Tekapo.

Click Here For Directions

Note: While DOC calls the car park for the Tasman Glacier walks the Blue Lakes car park, Google Maps refers to it as the Tasman Glacier car park. 

Who Are These Hikes For?

HIking along the Tasman Lookout walk

It’s not often you can enjoy such incredible natural wonders with such little effort, but that is exactly what you’ll get when you walk the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Viewpoint Track and the Tasman Lake Track. 

We believe that the Tasman Glacier walks are an absolute must for anybody visiting Mt Cook National Park – and we have no doubt you’ll agree once you’re standing on the edge of Tasman Lake looking out across iceberg-speckled water.

Both walks are easy and short, allowing access for the whole family – even accommodating off-road wheelchairs on the Tasman Lake Track (though not without a little challenge due to the rocky path). You’ll encounter a few steps for the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Viewpoint Track, but nothing crazy like the 2,200 steps to reach Sealy Tarns!

What To Pack For The Tasman Glacier Walks

Hiking up to the Tasman Glacier Lookout on the many walks to the Glacier

Visiting Tasman Lake and wandering along the Tasman Glacier trails is a half-day adventure that requires very little other than a small day pack with water and a snack – perhaps even a picnic to enjoy at the lake.

The walks are mostly on well-maintained gravel paths, with optional rock scrambling sections as you near the lake, making trail runners or hiking shoes the ideal choice. That said, the trails can become covered in ice or snow throughout winter so waterproof hiking boots are recommended through this time.

However, even though you stay relatively low in elevation, this is still an alpine region and the weather can change drastically without any warning. Therefore, we recommend packing a rain jacket and bringing along a warm layer even in summer. Our go-to layer for summer is a fleece jacket and for winter, a down jacket.

Best Time To Visit The Tasman Glacier Viewpoints

Tasman Glacier on a dark eerie sunrise photoshoot

The Tasman Glacier walks are accessible year-round, offering a vastly different experience from summer to winter. In summer, icebergs fill the lake, bunching together at the lake’s terminal that filters into the Tasman River. In winter, it’s very common for the lake to freeze over and the surrounding moraine walls to be covered in snow.

Ultimately, which season is best depends on your preferences. If you want to beat the majority of the crowds, choose autumn or winter. If you want the highest chance of good weather, late spring and summer are your best bets.

Best Time Of Day For The Tasman Glacier Walks

Sunrise over the tall peaks above the Tasman Glacier

There is no debate that sunrise is the absolute best time of day for the Tasman Glacier walks. The lake is situated perfectly to provide sensational views of the soft morning light filtering through the rugged valleys and lighting up the snow-capped peaks encompassing Tasman Lake.

Plus, you’ll beat some of the crowds by waking early – but not all as this is one of the most popular sunrise photography spots in Mt Cook.

Best Tasman Glacier Viewpoint For Sunrise

The lake’s terminal is arguably the ultimate spot to watch the sunrise and it’s safe to say you won’t be alone if you choose this location. But it’s worth sharing as you’re able to enjoy a full view of Tasman Lake, Aoraki in the distance and you’ll often be gifted with a sensational reflection of the pink-hued peaks in the milky-blue water.

Icebergs floating in the Tasman Lake at the river mouth
Sunrise photoshoot at the Tasman Lake river mouth

To reach Tasman Lake’s terminal, begin walking along the Tasman Lake Track and keep right at both track junctions you pass. The trail will eventually lead over the moraine wall and a final scramble across boulders will lead you to the water’s edge.

Blue Lakes And Tasman Glacier Viewpoint Track Notes

Tasman Glacier Car Park To The Steps

Hiking to the Tasman Glacier Lookout in Mt Cook National Park

Beginning on the eastern side of the car park, you’ll pass by the shelter and toilet block as you start your walk along the wide gravel path. After just 200m, the trail forks and a sign will inform you that the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View are to the left and the Tasman Jetty and Tasman River (Tasman Lake Track) are to the right.

Taking the left track, you’ll continue east and almost immediately begin to climb the man-made steps that lead to the moraine wall. As you ascend, the wide-open landscape and increasing elevation allow you to look back and admire the braided rivers coursing through the deep valley, adding a splash of colour to the tussock grassland.

After 400m and roughly 5 – 10 minutes, you’ll arrive at the turn-off for the Blue Lakes to the left. Leaving that for later, continue straight ahead as the trail to the viewpoint continues to climb. If you look over your shoulder, you’ll get a sneaky preview of the Blue Lakes as you zigzag up to the moraine wall.

The Tasman Glacier Viewpoint

Tasman Glacier Lookout at sunrise on a dark and moody morning

Once you arrive at the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint, approximately 600m and 10 – 15 minutes after beginning the walk, you’ll finally get your first glimpse of the magnificent Tasman Lake below and the receding glacier in the north.

Even though the Tasman Glacier is over 5km away, you can still get a grasp of its colossal size as it sits wedged between two soaring 2,200m+ peaks, spanning 1 – 2 km in width, 23km (as of 2024) in length with a thickness of roughly 200m at the glacier terminus!

Looking to the south, you’re also afforded breathtaking vistas of the vivid silver-blue water of Tasman Lake funnelling into the river, which carves its way through the sweeping valley towards Lake Pukaki.

Tasman River running through the Hooker Valley in to Lake Pukaki

When the lake isn’t frozen in winter, you can expect to see icebergs congregating at the river mouth after having made their slow journey from the Tasman Glacier. A collection of information signs at the viewpoint provide interesting facts on the landscape and demonstrate just how much the Tasman Glacier is receding.

Once you’re finished exploring the moraine wall and reading up on the Tasman Glacier, return down the steps towards the Blue Lakes turn-off.

The Blue Lakes

The Blue lakes near the Tasman Glacier in Mt Cook

Arriving back at the trail junction and stepping onto the Blue Lakes Track, you’ll continue along the gravel path for a brief moment before the first lake comes into view.

You’ll quickly notice that the Blue Lakes are in fact green. This is because they’re no longer fed by the ice-blue glacial meltwater as the glacier has receded too far. The warmer rainwater that now keeps them full supports green algae, resulting in a green lake rather than blue.

The Second Blue Lake

After inspecting the water’s edge, follow the trail as it curves around to the southeast side of the lake and dips in and out of overgrown shrubs as it leads you closer to the second Blue Lake.

More akin to a pond, the second Blue Lake doesn’t offer much to write home about, but if the water isn’t too high, you can force your way through the thick scrub bordering the western banks to continue along the trail to the final and most impressive lake.

The Blue Lakes near the Tasman Glacier

The Largest Blue Lake

Once you emerge from the thick scrub encompassing the second Blue Lake, you’ll follow the trail as it flanks the eastern banks of two small ponds (that are often dried up) before veering slightly left to arrive at the southern point of the final Blue Lake.

When the weather is calm and clear, the final and largest of the Blue Lakes offers beautiful mirrored reflections of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. In summer, don’t forget your swimmers as this is the best lake to swim in due to its considerably warmer water compared to any other lake in Mt Cook!

Returning To The Trailhead (Two Options)

There are two options for returning to the trailhead from the last of the Blue Lakes. The first option is to continue north through the bushes to join Ball Hut Rd and walk south on the 4wd track until you arrive at the car park. This is approximately a 1.3km half loop from the track junction to the car park.

The second option is to return the way you came, meet back with the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint track junction and walk back along the wide gravel path to the car park. This makes the Blue Lakes a 1.4 km detour roughly.

Road Trip in New Zealand driving in Mt Cook Nation Park

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We didn’t get past the second Blue Lake as the water was well and truly lapping at the ankles of the flanking trees. Therefore, we can’t comment on the conditions of the trail to the largest Blue Lake and from there to Ball Hut Rd. 

That said, it’s quite an open area with stunted trees and scrub so if you’re comfortable with navigation, there’s no reason you can’t attempt to make it to the largest Blue Lake and simply return the way you came if the trail is too overgrown.

Alternatively, you can always begin your walk to the Blue Lakes via Ball Hut Rd and search for the track branching right after roughly 500m. This way results in only needing to walk approximately 100m through the bush to get to the lake.

Tasman Lake Track Notes

Tasman Glacier Car Park To The Track Junction

Beginning in the same fashion as you did to visit the Blue Pools and Tasman Glacier Viewpoint, you’ll wander past the shelter and toilet block and continue along the shared trail for 200m until you reach the first track junction.

This time, follow the signs to the Tasman Lake Jetty and the Tasman River (aka the river mouth of the Tasman Lake) that will lead you south. The flat and wide gravel path weaves through barren rocky terrain, allowing unobstructed views of the enormous peaks flanking the Tasman Valley.

Tasman River Walk at sunrise with the peaks and waterfalls glowing in the distance

After another 800m and roughly 10 minutes, you’ll arrive at the second track junction. This time, the left trail will take you to the Tasman Lake Jetty and the right track will lead you to the banks of the Tasman River Mouth.

We suggest starting with the Tasman Lake Jetty if you’re interested in seeing both viewpoints, as the river mouth affords much better vistas. That said, if you’re visiting the lake for sunrise, make a beeline to the rocky edge of the Tasman Lake (following signs to the Tasman River).

Tasman Lake Jetty

Continuing onto the jetty, the track begins to curve around an old terminal moraine before weaving between the dark grey rocks that litter the banks of the lake. After 400m, you’ll reach the jetty where the Glacier Explorers boat tour departs.

Take your time wandering along the current moraine wall and admiring the various viewpoints nearby before returning to the path and backtracking to the track junction.

Alternatively, you can link the jetty to the river mouth by walking along the moraine wall. This does require some extra rock scrambling and the ridge is quite skinny, but if you’re a confident walker then this is considerably more exciting and picturesque.

Tasman River Mouth

Standing at the Tasman Lake River Mouth

If you chose to stick to the trail, turn right at the track junction and continue along the cruisy path towards the Tasman River. After roughly 250m, you’ll walk over a crest to the most magnificent panorama of the Tasman Lake funnelling into the coursing river.

From this point, you’ll leave the groomed trail behind and hop across broken boulders for 50 or so metres to the lake’s edge. If you’re lucky, you’ll now have the chance to get up close and personal with the icebergs crowding the river mouth.

Icebergs in the Tasman Lake during a moody sunrise over the Tasman Glacier Walks

When we visited the icebergs were very active, breaking away and creating waves as they glided towards the river. It was an incredible sight to witness but also a huge reminder of how climate change is affecting the planet and especially the glaciers.

If you’ve braved the early morning wake-up call, this is the perfect location to witness the sunrise casting brilliant shades of pink, purple and yellow across the rugged landscape. Though you certainly won’t be alone as this is a very popular spot for photographers!

Returning To The Trailhead

Once you’ve finished exploring the banks of the river mouth, hop back across the wobbly boulders to the path and begin your return to the trailhead. As you’re walking back, enjoy the captivating views of Mount Wakefield filling the landscape and the many waterfalls flowing through the gullies.

It’s easily doable to include all four viewpoints in a half-day adventure to Tasman Lake. We suggest allowing at least 2 hrs to wander along every trail and perhaps a little extra time for either swimming in the Blue Lake or picnicking at the Tasman Lake river mouth. 

Jaggered mountain peaks glowing in the soft morning  light in Mt Cook National Park

Other Important Information For The Tasman Glacier Walks

Leave No Trace

The Tasman Glacier is receding at a rapid rate, showing very real signs of the effects of global warming. We need to all do our part to ensure we aren’t adding to the stress our magnificent mother nature is facing.

It’s as easy as following the 7 Leave No Trace Principles and leaving a destination how you found it – or better. When you’re visiting the Tasman Glacier walks, please keep your rubbish with you (including food scraps and tissues) and stick to the trails where applicable. There are toilets located in the car park but no rubbish bins.

Where To Stay Near Tasman Lake, Mt Cook

Hooker Valley and Mt Cook Village on a beautiful clear day

Mt Cook Village is the ultimate place to stay near Tasman Lake and with various accommodation options, you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to suit your needs – although they do book out fast in the summer.

Our second favourite place to stay near Mt Cook is Lake Tekapo, located 1 hr 20 minutes southeast of the Tasman Glacier walks. This picturesque town offers an intoxicating alpine ski village vibe and is set on the banks of the incredibly blue Lake Tekapo.

If you’re after more advice on accommodation options, check out our guide to the best places to stay in Mt Cook and the surrounding country towns.

Camping At Mt Cook National Park

White Horse Hill Campsite, a DOC Campsite in Mt Cook National Park
White Horse Hill Campsite

Unfortunately, there is no freedom camping allowed within Mt Cook National Park with the only option being the DOC-run Whitehorse Hill Campground. While this does cost NZD$15 per person per night, its location is absolutely stunning and provides direct access to the Hooker Valley track and Mueller Hut Route.

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

FAQs About The Tasman Glacier Walks

How Long Is The Walk To Tasman Glacier?

No matter which trail you choose, you’ll arrive at the banks of the Tasman Lake which looks out towards the Tasman Glacier within 10 – 15 minutes. For the best view of the glacier, choose the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint track.

How Do I Get To The Tasman Glacier Viewpoint?

The Tasman Glacier Viewpoint track begins from the Tasman Glacier car park, located 10 minutes west of Mt Cook Village. You can either drive to the car park to start the walk or you can rent bikes from The Hermitage in the village and ride to the beginning of the trail.

How Many Steps Are There In The Tasman Glacier?

The walk to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint is quite easy, only requiring you to climb roughly 300 well-designed steps to reach the moraine wall.

How Long Is Tasman Lake?

Tasman Lake only began to form in the late 1980s and as of 2024, Tasman Lake is roughly 5km long. The lake continues to grow as the Tasman Glacier continues to recede at a rate of approximately 180m each year.

Final Thoughts

Tasman Glacier on a dark eerie sunrise photoshoot

Tasman Lake is hands down the best place to watch the sunrise in Mt Cook – excluding Mueller Hut of course but that isn’t an adventure for everyone! We highly recommend arriving as early as possible to complete the Tasman Glacier walks, not only to see the beautiful light but to also avoid the majority of the crowds.

Have you completed the Tasman Glacier walks? We’d love to hear about your experience below. And as always, if you have any questions regarding the walks or Mt Cook in general, please feel free to leave a comment and we’ll respond as soon as possible.

Happy Hiking 🙂