Looking back at our New Zealand trip, the 4 days we’ve spent at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park were definitely my favorite part of it. Aside from the magnificent views and the activities we’ve done, it was just a really relaxing time and a nice break from the busy places.
Most people only spend half a day at Mount Cook, as a stop-over on a Christchurch to Queenstown (and vice versa) journey. But we decided to stay longer because we haven’t really done that type of accommodation in the past. Like staying at a remote place in a long period of time, especially inside a national park.
With our activities, we had a lot of options on which day we wanted to do them. And since the weather was a little bit wishy-washy, we could move activities around depending on the weather.
How to get there by bus
The easiest way to get there is definitely by bus. You just buy a ticket and board at the station. Some people rent a car, which is great if you want to have a road-trip-like vacation. But for us, we had no choice because we don’t even drive! Lol
There is also an airport near Mount Cook Village. But according to Wikipedia, commercial flights stopped services because of lack of demands. Currently, it’s mainly used as a stargazing spot, and for charter ski planes and helicopter for glacier activities.
We took an InterCity bus from Queenstown which was en route to Christchurch. You could take the same bus the other way around and it will also stop at Mount Cook. My favorite part of the bus ride is that it’s a sightseeing bus. So aside from stopping at key touristic spots, the driver also has non-stop commentary throughout the ride.
There are different options on how to pay for an InterCity bus. We bought a FlexiPass which is an hour-based pass because we took other InterCity routes throughout the country. I explained better how we used our FlexiPass here. They also have other passes and you can also just pay normally online, check out their website for more info.
Where to stay
There’s not a lot of options for accommodation in terms of variety, but there is an option for every budget.
There is only one major hotel, The Hermitage, which is also the stop-over for InterCity buses. We didn’t stay here but we purchased a stargazing tour from them.
There are a couple of motels within the town, best if you need parking for a car and want to stay at a cheaper place. Some of them are not available online, but they have vacancy signs outside.
The cheapest option is the YHA Youth Hostel, which is where we stayed. It is also a stop before buses rest at The Hermitage. They have multiple room options from a dormitory to a double/triple room. You can also purchase tour packages from them, or ask for tips on activities and hiking trails. They are available to book online through different websites like booking.com/agoda.
Where to eat
Just like accommodation, the availability of restaurants is low and most are found inside The Hermitage. They have a cafe, a bar, and a buffet restaurant. We only got to dine at the cafe and they have plenty of options from fish & chips, pizza, sandwiches, and other snacks and drinks. Check out The Hermitage website for more details.
There are other cafes within the village but they’re not always open. It’s best to ask the receptionist at your accommodation what time the cafes open because they may vary depending on the day of the week.
For the most part, we cooked our own meals at the hostel. YHA has a huge kitchen with multiple stoves and freezers. Also, they sell basic grocery items at the front-desk like breakfast sets, some meat, pasta, canned food, sauces… enough for us to have a variety of food for the rest of our stay.
Things to do
- Kea Point Lookout
- While this trail is one of the easiest in the area, it still provides stunning views of the mountain and of Aoraki itself.
- One-way could take at most 50 minutes for beginners (like us), if you’re starting from the village. But you can also start at the White Horse Hill parking lot if you have a car, making the hike shorter. The starting point at the village is just across the road of The Hermitage.
- We did this track before sunset and the lighting was amazing. But since the area is surrounded by mountains, it gets dark quickly so make sure to bring flashlights or go earlier in the afternoon.
- Hooker Valley Track
- We were supposed to hike this but unfortunately, it was closed during our visit. So sad because I was really looking forward to the landscape based on the pictures I saw online.
- This is also an easy trail, but it takes longer than Kea Point at around 3-4 hours roundtrip. They both start at the same points that I mentioned.
- Will be looking forward to this when I get back to Mount Cook!
There are a lot more trails in the area but we didn’t get to do them because we’re not much of hikers. Walking around the village was a crazy sight for us already, so we were very satisfied just on our first day. But I took a pic of a guide on which hikes you can take around the area. Just make sure to ask someone/a local/hotel receptionist if there are closed tracks.
The village is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Which basically means that it’s an exceptional area for stargazing. You can even stargaze outside your hotel. There’s very little light pollution so it’s easy for our eyes to adjust to see stars.
Still, I recommend taking a stargazing tour that will take you to a small observatory with telescopes and hot drinks. Our tour guide was a total pro and really knows astronomy, even telling us some Māori mythology through constellations. We booked our tour at Big Sky Stargazing at The Hermitage.
Tasman Glacier Activities
There are usually 3 activities that are available year-round for tourists at Tasman Glacier. These activities require no prior training on anything. Although each activity may require varying fitness levels.
- Tasman Glacier Heli Hike
- A helicopter will take you to a remote part of Tasman Glacier and from there, you will hike through ice caves and snow.
- This is the easiest and has the least fitness requirement. And when we did this, there were even children on a separate group from us.
- This was a fun experience that’s definitely one of the best parts of our trip.
- Top of Tasman Glacier Hike
- Similar to the Heli-Hike, but this activity takes you on a ski plane to the higher area of the glacier.
- The hike takes longer which gives you more time to appreciate the stunning views.
- We were actually scheduled for this activity, but because of the weather, it was not advised to continue.
- Tasman Glacier Ice Climbing
- This will take you to the best ice climbing location in the Tasman Valley, and learn proper techniques from the expert.
- Obviously, this activity is the most physically challenging and takes the longest to finish.
- This is also the least popular and most expensive of the three.
We booked our activities through Klook which was facilitated by Mt. Cook Glacier Guiding. But you can also contact them directly through their website. We contacted them to schedule our free shuttle ride and for weather/cancellation updates.
Glacier Lake Boat Ride
A boat will tour you around Tasman Lake with beautiful views of the mountains. There’s also a closer look at icebergs with an opportunity to touch and taste them. This activity is only available when the lake is not frozen, usually around September to May, so consider that when planning your trip. You may book your tour through hotel reception or online.
Other Activities/Places to Visit:
- The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre
- Glacier Sea-Kayaking
- Mount Cook Heli-Ski
- Do your laundry while it’s raining outside!
Staying at Mount Cook definitely took us back to reflect on how amazing nature is. Especially on landscapes that we didn’t grow up in. Being from the Philippines, we’re so used to beaches, waterfalls, rainforests, that every little thing in Mount Cook was new to us. That feeling that we got while experiencing this place made our visit so, so special and memorable.