Hiking the Hooker Valley Track on New Zealand’s South Island

Some days are perfect, start to finish.  This was, without a doubt, one of them.

The Hooker Valley track is something straight out of Lord of the Rings.  It’s got milky turquoise rivers and lakes, craggy snow-capped mountains, suspension bridges, wooden walkways, and some of the absolute best views—ending (mid-way point) at a glacier lake with floating icebergs.

Hooker Valley track, perfect hike in New Zealand, half day, good for most fitness levels

Even better, it’s only a few hours’ round trip walking, and pretty flat, so it’s a great track even for people who aren’t in great shape.  Unlike New Zealand’s Great Walks, which are generally multi-day affairs, this is doable in an afternoon.

Despite it being our first morning in New Zealand (and feeling the time difference), we hit the road early to make our glacier lake tour on time.

The drive from Tekapo to Mt. Cook/Aoraki

This is the view driving from Lake Tekapo toward Aoraki/Mount Cook…don’t see that every day.

Our glacier lake boat tour was in the morning, then we grabbed some lunch and warmed up before hitting the Hooker Valley Trail in early afternoon (probably around 1:00pm).  We knew to drive to the campground and park there, rather than walking from the Hermitage hotel in town.

Tip:  Start from the campground, not the Hermitage. This cuts off about an hour of walking and you don’t miss any scenery.  The real trailhead is at the campground.

The Hooker Valley trek takes you alongside the Mueller Glacier on your way to the Hooker Valley Glacier

About five minutes in you’ll come upon the Alpine Memorial, which memorializes mountaineers who have died in Mount Cook National Park throughout the years.  It overlooks the proglacial lake of Mueller Glacier, which you’ll then reach another ten minutes down the road.

The snow-capped peaks along the Hooker Valley trail

One of the great things about this being a pretty easy trail is that you can’t commit all your mental and visual energy to greedily drinking in everything around you—rather than looking down at the trail to keep from tripping or gasping your way up a hill.

If you're looking for a hike in New Zealand, the Hooker Valley Track (half-day) is absolutely perfect, good for most fitness levels

The Hooker Valley track has a few great bridges...I'm a sucker for a bridge

There are a couple of really cool bridges along the path.  Rather like lighthouses, I’m a sucker for a great bridge…

If you're looking for a hike in New Zealand, the Hooker Valley Track (half-day) is absolutely perfect, good for most fitness levels

If you're looking for a hike in New Zealand, the Hooker Valley Track (half-day) is absolutely perfect, good for most fitness levels

If you're looking for a hike in New Zealand, the Hooker Valley Track (half-day) is absolutely perfect, good for most fitness levels

About a mile and a half in, you crest a little hill and this is the view that greets you.

Hooker Valley Glacier and Lake, with a view of Mt. Cook/Aoraki

I mean, WUT.

The trail ends at Hooker Valley Lake, which the Hooker Glacier created and fed into.  The result is picture perfect.

Hooker Valley Glacier and Lake, with a view of Mt. Cook/Aoraki

A cocktail and a view of the Hooker Valley Glacier, on the Hooker Valley track

We all took gobs of pictures for a while, then busted out the little airplane-size bottles of whiskey and plastic cups we’d packed in.  That right there is whiskey over glacier ice we fished out of the water.  As cold and crystal-clear as it comes.

Assuming the weather is nice, it’s great to just sit here for a bit and soak in the glorious scenery.  We were blessed with a gorgeous day (always a crapshoot in early October, and it had been snowing and sleeting the day before), so we took full advantage and just sat for a while.  This view of Mount Cook (a.k.a. Aoraki) is unparalleled.

Enjoying the view at Hooker Valley Lake

The lookout point at the end of the track is the closest any walking track comes to Aoraki / Mount Cook, with completely unobstructed views of the highest mountain in New Zealand.

Doesn’t get better than that.

The Hooker Valley track is a must-do in New Zealand's South Island, suitable for most fitness levels

The Hooker Valley track offers snow-capped peaks, milky waters, and a glacier lake

Don’t forget to enjoy the walk back as well.  It was starting to cloud over and we were getting pretty tired, so we definitely walked quicker on the return trip, but the views were obviously slightly different and worth just as many pictures.

Hiking the Hooker Valley track is worth a day on any South Island itinerary

The wooden walkways of the Hooker Valley track

On a side note, these wooden walkways made me feel like a hobbit on an important journey…

What you need to know to hike the Hooker Valley Track

Logistics

  • The trail is 6.8 miles (11 km) round trip.
  • Start from the campground, not the Hermitage; this cuts about an hour off the trip and you don’t miss any scenery.
  • Assuming you start from the campground, the track is about an hour and a half each way (3-4 hours round trip, depending on stops).
  • The track is pretty much flat, only gaining about 100 meters in elevation total, so is appropriate for a range of fitness levels, rather than just serious hikers.
  • Dogs and bikes are not allowed on the Hooker Valley Track.
  • There isn’t a fee to enter the park and no permit is required for this track.
  • Address:  Hooker Valley Road, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Canterbury, 7999, New Zealand

What to bring

  • No matter what the weather is like when you leave, make sure you bring warmer clothes in case it changes.
  • The track is totally exposed so sunscreen is a must—New Zealand is under an ozone hole so the sun is much stronger even if the weather isn’t warm.
  • Bring plenty of water, and feel free to pack a lunch as well, the lake is a perfect picnic spot.
  • Bring a bit of whiskey or something else, and a couple cups, so you can enjoy a cocktail on ancient glacier ice.

What is your must-hike daytrip New Zealand track?  Let me know in the comments!

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Hooker Valley is a must-do hike in New Zealand...stunning half day, doable for most fitness levels

 

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