So you’ve made the long trek to South Island, and if you’re like most, you’re probably staying in Queenstown and getting flooded with activity options at every corner. Though the allure of bungee jumping, jet boating, and paragliding might be sufficient to keep you anchored to the city, I would encourage you to venture outward, and take a trip to Mount Cook.
Full disclaimer – this drive won’t be for the faint of heart, as Mount Cook Village is about a 3-hour drive away from Queenstown (~265km). Additionally, when we were in South Island, we travelled around in a campervan and had the option of choosing to spend the night near Mount Cook after our full day, which made the journey much less daunting (read about my obsession with the campervan life here). If you’ve already booked your full set of hotel stays in Queenstown, you may be a bit tired on the return journey, so that’s important to keep in mind. With that said, let’s get into the top 3 things to do once you’re at Mount Cook.
1. Heli Hike on Tasman Glacier
If you’ve done any research on TA for things to do in South Island, you would have come across glacier hikes / heli hikes which are extremely popular among visitors. A Heli hike will consist of taking a helicopter up to the top of the mountains to the glaciers, and in a small group setting, taking a guided hike across the glacier plains. Being surrounded by the massive glaciers present even during the peak of summer is quite surreal, and the entire experience is truly unique and memorable. Advanced booking is highly recommended, and you will have several options in terms of provider, location, and duration. For a bit more information on what to expect and pro-tips for planning your own heli hike, check out my other post for a detailed walkthrough.
2. Traipsing through Hooker Valley
South Island has a wealth of hikes scattered throughout its massive national parks, but the trouble is a lot of them are 3-4 hours each way. Although for those quite actively inclined this may not be an issue, but as a man on a vacation, this is where I run into issues (in my defense, I did convince my knees once to endure through a ~6 hour hike on Roy’s Peak – read about my experience here). This is why Hooker Valley at Mount Cook Village was perfect, as the entire hike is about 3 hours from beginning to end, and takes you through a beautiful valley laden with picturesque creeks and Instagram-able walkways, all the while surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
3. Photoshoots along the Road / Lake Pukaki
Try searching for #mountcook on Instagram, or any photo blog, and you’ll find that the drive to Mount Cook is one of the most picturesque journeys you can take. In addition to the various lookouts points along the way, the combined setting of grassy fields, hills of wildflowers, shimmering lights of Lake Pukaki, and the snow-capped mountains in the backdrop are more than enough to warrant pulling over to snap a photo, or two, or thirty. Let your creativity shine here as you determine the optimal shot, but here are some starting points that can hopefully inspire you!