The 15 Best Things to Do in Mount Cook – Awesome Aoraki

Plan the trip of a lifetime with these amazing things to do in Mount Cook National Park.

Mount Cook National Park is one of the most gorgeous places in Aotearoa New Zealand. Every day countless keen travellers and locals visit to explore all that the national park has to offer. What thought is there to do there?

Whether you’re visiting for a few hours or planning to spend a number of days in the area, Mount Cook has a multitude of incredible things to do!

Join us as we share all of the best options for your impending South Island visit.

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The Best Things to do in Mount Cook National Park

1. Check out Mount Cook National Park from the Air

Located in the heart of the Southern Alps, Mount Cook really is best seen from the air. In fact, taking a flight through and above the snowcapped mountains, seeing it from a bird’s eye view, is what many consider a real bucket list experience.

Onboard you’ll experience extraordinary views of Aoraki Mt Cook and the Hochstetter Icefall as you fly up the Tasman Valley. Explore the longest glacier in all of New Zealand (the Tasman Glacier) with a snow landing and experience this unique alpine environment with 600m of glacier ice beneath your feet.

Whether you choose the ski plane or helicopter, it’s guaranteed it will be the flight of a lifetime. 

Book: Discounted ski plane and helicopter flights from Mt Cook.

2. Challenge Yourself with a Skydive

New Zealand is one of the greatest countries to go skydiving due to our clear, pollution-free skies, jaw-dropping scenery and impeccable safety history. 

If you are an adrenaline junkie, the question isn’t whether to jump or not, it’s where and how high.

Your answer is Mount Cook and as high as you can afford!

Mount cook boasts the most epic scenery in NZ. The national park offers up the highest mountain (Aoraki/Mt Cook), the longest glacier (Tasman Glacier) and the bluest lakes (Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo) as your view.

As far as height goes, choose from 9,000ft (with a 30-second freefall), 13,000ft (with a 45-second freefall) or 15,000ft (with a 60-second freefall). The freefall really is the best part of the skydive so we recommend going as high as your budget will allow.

For those brave enough, going skydiving at Mt Cook is a no-brainer.

Book: Discounted skydives in Mt Cook.

Book: A small-group guided tour including skydiving in Mt Cook.

A woman skydiving with a man behind him and a view of the whole landscapes, mountain ranges, rivers, and beautiful lakes.

3. Kayak Tasman Lake 

You may have been kayaking but have you kayaked on the icy glacier melt?

Located 700 metres above sea level, it is indeed possible to kayak on Tasman Lake.

The lake itself is a terminal lake for the Tasman Glacier. The magic part is that the glacier often breaks off a mixture of massive ice giants and smaller pieces (that you can hold as they float on the surface of the lake).

What makes Tasman lake even more unique is that it’s one of only a few in the world that contains icebergs!

We highly recommend taking to the water on this glacier lake – peaceful, serene and stunning – it’s an experience like no other.

So you know: Due to weather conditions, tour operators only operate during the warmer seasons – from September to May.

A couple paddling on a yellow kayak with chunks of glaciers and ice around them.

4. Jump Onboard a Boat on Tasman Lake

If you’re keen to see the Tasman Lake up close but would prefer not to kayak, there is also a boat option available

This trip requires very little from you, physically – making it accessible to a wide range of travellers. It’s a short scenic walk from the car park to the jetty and then once onboard, it’s really just a matter of sitting back and enjoying the scenery. 

As an added bonus, the entire duration of the tour is accompanied by an experienced guide – even during your ride to the car park and the walk to the jetty. So, buckle up and enjoy learning about the mountains and glaciers from a pro whilst you’re at it. 

Related: 10-day South Island itinerary.

Book: The Hermitage Hotel.

Tourists riding on a yellow boat exploring glaciers.

5. Marvel at the Nightsky

Just like Lake Tekapo, Mt Cook is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

Formally recognised as a dark sky reserve in 2012, the region is free from light pollution. This means it provides the perfect backdrop for astrophotography and stargazing.

There are only eight places in the world that hold the title of Dark Sky Reserve. This, of course, is one of them and the only one in the southern hemisphere. Hence, the region can claim one of the clearest skies in the world. 

Fantastic stargazing can be organised with The Hermitage. The telescopes are conveniently located near the hotel itself which is particularly convenient if you are already staying there. 

Related: The best things to do in Tekapo.

Pro tip: Stargazing is very weather dependent – you’ll need a clear sky to be able to see the stars. Just in case, we suggest you arrange to stay a few nights in Mt Cook/Tekapo to give yourself a clear shot at stargazing.  

The stars lighting up the sky.
Photo: Jeremy Thomas

6. Take on a Tasman Glacier Heli Hike

New Zealand is the only place in the world where it’s possible for the public to catch a ride on a helicopter before hiking on a glacier – and we highly recommend doing so in Mount Cook National Park.

After getting geared up and trained, you’ll take to the skies in a helicopter and land on the largest glacier in New Zealand.

Your experienced and highly skilled guide will be waiting on the glacier, having already checked the track and paving way for your group. They’ll lead you across the glacier and into a large, deep cave. Incredibly, each cave and crevasse is unique in shape – even from day to day – thanks to changes in climate and weather.

A heli hike is accessible to most people. You’re not required to have a high level of fitness for this adventure – as long as you can walk for a couple of hours, climb some stairs and do little jumps then you are good to go. But do check with the local guides as they are the experts. 

The hike takes roughly up to 1.5 hours and really is one of the best things to do at Mount Cook. 

Book: Your heli hike experience (once at Mount Cook).

Book: Top of the Tasman Glacier hike in Mount Cook (accessible via ski plane).

Book: Small-group guided tours departing from Queenstown including a Mt Cook heli hike.

Book: Tasman Glacier heli hike with flight transfers to/from Queenstown – the ultimate experience!

Did you know? In Aotearoa, heli hiking is available on Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier or the Tasman Glacier. The Tasman Glacier is the largest and longest glacier in New Zealand. Unlike Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, where you’ll be high up on top of the mountains, heli hiking the Tasman Glacier will see you hidden away within a valley in Aoraki. 

7. Explore the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Sir Edmund Hillary, the most famous mountaineer New Zealand’s ever known (and the first in the world to conquer Mount Everest) spent a number of years testing his capabilities the in the mountains of Aoraki.

Unsurprisingly, a special alpine centre (which is dedicated to his experiences and achievements) has been named in his honour.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is situated on the ground of the Hermitage Hotel. It features 2D and 3D films in the theatre and also serves as an operational planetarium with regular screened programmes. 

If you happen to stumble upon the hotel or are staying at there, the Alpine Centre is worth a visit.

Likewise, if you are into mountaineering, you’ll be especially interested as it also displays a fair amount of information on mountaineering around the area.

Mount Cook National Park, 89 Terrace Road, Canterbury 7999

Related: The best accommodation in Mount Cook.

Did you know? Sir Edmund Hillary features on the New Zealand $5 note. Keep your eyes peeled for him on our currency as you travel around New Zealand.

8. Check out the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre 

When you stumble upon somewhere as beautiful as Mount Cook, you might wonder why you’d want to spend time cooped up inside? The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre is well worth a visit though (and it’s the perfect place to shelter from the rain if you do get caught out).

The visitor centre includes two floors, displaying Māori heritage, information about the plants and animals around the area, a fantastic art collection and information about the mountain and tracks.

Even the building itself is an attraction!

1 Larch Grove, Canterbury 7999

9. Lap Up Lake Pukaki

As you drive into Mt Cook National Park, you’ll find beautiful Lake Pukaki on your right. In fact, you’ll drive alongside it for about 30 minutes!

Just like Lake Tekapo, Pukaki is always flowing with that beautiful, creamy, turquoise glacier melt. But unlike Lake Tekapo, Pukaki is bigger and less crowded. The colour of the water is even more intensely blue too!

Pro tip: If you love salmon, be sure to stop off at the Alpine Salmon shop right on Lake Pukaki. They serve the best salmon sashimi in the country!

Backpackers mountain biking on a trail beside a calm lake.
Yes, the water really is that stunning in person! Photo: Miles Holden.

10. Snap a New Profile Pic at the NZ Alpine Lavender Farm

The bluest lake, snow-capped mountains, green hills and bright purple lavender bushes – what a stunning colour combination!

From December to March (our warmest months), you’ll find the NZ Alpine Lavender Farm in full bloom. That’s when their doors open for visitors. 

The New Zealand Alpine Lavender Farm is actually the largest certified organic lavender farm in the Southern Hemisphere. Not only do they produce some of the purest and most potent lavender oil, but they also make the best lavender soft-serve ice cream. 

657 Mount Cook Road, Ben Ohau 7999

A huge farm with lavender flowers.

11. Hit the Trails on a Day Walk

Day walks are amongst the most popular things to do in Aoraki Mount Cook. With a number of world-class hiking trails available at no charge, it really is a must-do activity whilst visiting.

We recommend the following trails:

  • Hooker Valley Track. This 3-hour return walk is fairly flat and well-pathed. With 3 bridge crossings and the most spectacular scenery, it is one of the best short walks in MCNP and is popular for a reason! At the end of the walk, you’ll find yourself at Hooker Lake where you’ll often find icebergs floating in the water and spectacular views of Aoraki Mount Cook. If you have the time, the Hooker Valley Track really is unmissable.
  • Sealy Tarns. Another favourite hike, Sealy Tarns is nicknamed the ‘stairway to heaven’. With 2,200 steps that will guide you up to the freshwater lakes of Sealy Tarns, it’s hard work but well worth the effort. Allow approximately 3.5 hours to complete this return walk.
  • Kea Point Walk. Perfect if you’re short on time, the Kea Point Walk takes only an hour return from the campsite. After winding through subalpine grasslands and scrub to the Mueller Glacier moraine wall, you’ll find yourself at a viewing deck that provides beautiful views out to Hooker Valley, Mount Sefton, The Footstool, the Mueller Glacier Lake and Aoraki/Mount Cook.
  • Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View. Another great walk if you’ve got limited time, the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walk takes only 40 minutes return. This trail gradually increases in altitude, including some rock steps along the way. At the end, you’ll enjoy good views of the lower Haupapa/Tasman Glacier along with lake views, icebergs and the Southern Alps. In the summertime, we suggest making a side trip to the Blue Lakes for a chilly dip. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for NZ’s smallest bird, the rifleman too. Should you wish, it’s also possible to add the Tasman Glacier Lake track to this hike (though you will need to allow more time).

Book: A discounted small-group guided tour to Mt Cook (including time to hike the Hooker Valley Track).

A man standing on the banks of the glass-like waters of a lake that reflects the mountains and sky.
Sealy Tarns viewpoint.

12. Take on an Overnight Tramp to Mueller Hut

If you’ve got time on your hands and you’re a keen hiker, we recommend hitting the trails for a multi-day tramp.

Though there are many overnight tramps in the area, most require significant technical knowledge and gear (like crampons and ice picks year-round).

Mueller Hut is the one exception, however.

On this trail, you’ll enjoy incredible 360-degree panoramas of ice cliffs, glaciers, vertical rock faces and the country’s highest peaks.

Sitting high on the Sealy Range, the views at the end from Mueller Hut are spectacular, making them a real highlight in the national park. What’s more, you’re able to sleep in this hut and wake up to a memorable sunrise the next morning.

Allow approximately 4 hours one way for this 5.2km track – longer if you plan to stop for lots of photos and/or breaks. The trail returns via the same path.

Did you know? If you’re a fit and able tramper, it is possible to hike to and from Mueller Hut in one day. We recommend you plan to spend the night though, making the most of the experience. In the summertime, you will need to book your hut stay in advance.

A red structure in the middle of the snowy plains.
Photo: Julia Hoddinott.

13. Enjoy a Meal at Mount Cook

With all of these amazing things to do in Mt Cook, you’ll no doubt work up an appetite!

If you’re looking for kai within the national park, we suggest checking out the following favourites:

  • The Old Mountaineers’ Cafe. This cafe is a fan-favourite in Mount Cook (and is the only eatery to have been opened by Sir Ed). Sit by the roaring fire or enjoy stunning views out over the national park whilst enjoying pub grub, great coffee and a range of alcoholic bevvies.
  • The Panorama Restaurant. Located inside the Hermitage Hotel, the Panorama Restaurant offers amazing views out over the national park and a high-end dining experience. They focus on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and are open for dinner services. Bookings are required.
  • The Alpine Restaurant Another Hermitage eatery, the Alpine Restaurant offers more affordable dining to guests. They also host a fantastic buffet. Bookings are recommended.

14. Ski or Snowboard the Tasman Glacier

If you’re a snow-bunny, then heli skiing or snowboarding up on the Tasman Glacier surely is top of your bucket list.

After being flown in, you’ll enjoy a fresh, untouched run on the Tasman Glacier (8-10km in length). These blue runs are moderate meaning they’re family-friendly and great for first-time backcountry skiers.

When you’re finished with your first run you’ll hop back in the helicopter and fly up again for a second (new) run!

This really is one of the most memorable things to do whilst visiting New Zealand.

Related: Love skiing? Check out our guide to the ski fields near Queenstown and Wānaka.

Tourists with their trekking poles passing a wide pathway between blocks of glaciers.

15. Take a Photo from Peter’s Lookout

As you’re leaving Mount Cook National Park (or perhaps as you arrive), we suggest stopping off at carpark at Peter’s Lookout.

A short walk down to the road provides the perfect location to take photos looking out at Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook.

It really is the perfect way to say goodbye to this beautiful part of New Zealand.

A road that passes beside a lake and a view of the snow-capped mountains.
Mount Cook from Peter’s Lookout. Photo by Chris Gin.

With so much beauty and adventure at Mount Cook National Park, it really is an essential stop on any South Island itinerary.

Allow plenty of time and ensure your camera is fully charged – you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use it!

By Heidi Chil

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