How to Visit Mount Cook National Park in One Day: Best Things to Do
Mount Cook National Park features breathtaking hiking trails, vast glaciers, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and countless adventure activities. Due to its remote location it can be hard to get to, so it’s important have a good plan for your day in Mount Cook National Park. Keep reeading this guide for the best things to do in Mount Cook National Park in one day.
How to Get to Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook National Park takes some time to drive to as there is only one road to get there, on Mount Cook Rd beside Lake Pukaki. The drive to Mount Cook National park takes about 2.5 hours from Wanaka and 3 hours 15 minutes from Queenstown.
It is possible to visit Mount Cook National Park as a day trip from Wanaka or Queenstown as long as you keep in mind the driving time. We decided to visit Mount Cook National Park as a day trip from Wanaka. As food and accommodations can be expensive in Mount Cook Village, you can save money by visiting Mount Cook National park for just one day.
Where to Stay When Visiting Mount Cook National Park
You can visit Mount Cook National Park in one day from Wanaka or Queenstown. If you want to spend more than a day at Mount Cook National Park you should consider closer accommodations. There are places to stay in Mount Cook Village and the nearby town of Twizel.
In Mount Cook Village there are a small number of accommodation options to choose from. Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Lodge offers a range of rooms to choose from including a twin room, a family room, a studio, and even an apartment. Another option is Aoraki Court Motel where every room has a kitchenette and some have a full kitchen. Since there are only a few restaurants in Mount Cook Village they are expensive so having a kitchen will be helpful. Just make sure to buy food before you get here, as the closest grocery store is in the town of Twizel. If you plan to stay in Mount Cook Village you will want to book a place to stay far in advance because there are limited options.
The closest town to Mount Cook National Park is Twizel which is about 45 minutes away. Here you can find more accommodations and restaurants and it is cheaper than staying in Mount Cook Village. Staying here is a good option if you are going from Wanaka or Queenstown to Christchurch (or the other way around) and stopping at Mount Cook National Park on the way.
Planning a trip to New Zealand? You will want to save this guide: Guide to Visiting Milford Sound
What to Bring for One Day in Mount Cook National Park
- Warm clothes for the helicopter alpine landing including a coat, hat, gloves, and shoes for snow: If you want to do a helicopter flight with an alpine snow landing you should bring a warm coat, gloves, and a hat as it can get very cold up there! You will also need to wear shoes that will stay dry in the snow if you want to explore during the landing. I used an older edition of these Salomon hiking shoes on the trip which were perfect because they are light and waterproof.
- Comfortable walking shoes: You don’t necessarily need hiking shoes for the hikes in this Mount Cook guide, but make sure to wear shoes that you are comfortable walking several miles in.
- Daypack: Make sure to bring a comfortable hiking bag to carry your snacks and water for the hikes. I recommend this REI Co-op 25 pack because it’s the perfect amount of space for a day trip.
- Hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses: There is no shade on the popular Hooker Valley Track so be prepared with sun protection in case it is a sunny day.
- Camera: While your phone is always convenient, a camera can capture Mount Cook National Park on another level. You can probably tell which photos in this guide were taken with a camera vs a phone. I used the Sony A7RIII with the Tamron 28-75 lens on our New Zealand trip.
Best Things to Do in Mount Cook National Park
Helicopter Flight With Alpine Snow Landing
The best way to see Mount Cook National Park in one day is on this 40-minute Mount Cook Mountains High Helicopter Flight with an alpine snow landing. On the helicopter flight we got to see breathtaking views of Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, and Tasman Glacier. Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 12,217 ft above sea level and Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand at 23 km. The pilot was very informative about the landscape and provided details on what we were flying over. Note that the route the helicopter takes can sometimes vary depending on the weather.
The landing on Tasman Glacier was a unique experience where we got to spend about 10 minutes walking around and enjoying views of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountain landscape. It was very windy on the glacier so it was the perfect amount of time to spend up there before we got too cold.
It is important to book the 40-minute Mount Cook Alpine Vista Helicopter Flight on Viator ahead of time so you don’t miss out! By booking through Viator you have the flexibility to cancel up to 24 hours in advance of the experience for a full refund, so there is no need to stress if your schedule changes.
Reminder: Make sure to call and confirm your flight 24 hours before and check again the morning of the flight because flight tours can be impacted by the weather. Try to book a morning time so that if the weather isn’t great you can get rescheduled to a flight later in the day. Having good weather makes all the difference because you get to see much more!
We had initially booked this shorter 20-minute flight tour (Mount Cook Alpine Vista Helicopter Flight) to save money but when we arrived to check-in we were made aware that this shorter flight doesn’t bring you near Mount Cook or Tasman Glacier, instead flying over the Ben Ohau Mountain Range. I recommend spending the money on the 40-minute flight tour if you want to fully experience Mount Cook National Park and see the best views. We are so happy we changed to the 40-minute flight tour because it was one of the highlights of our New Zealand adventure.
Hike Hooker Valley Track
A day trip to Mount Cook National Park isn’t complete without hiking the Hooker Valley Track. This trail is about 6.5 miles and mostly flat, with a total elevation gain of about 600 ft. It guides you through the valley to Hooker Lake with Mount Cook towering above. At the end of the trail you can spend time on the shore of the lake where you can see icebergs floating in the water during warmer months. The trail has no shade so make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen on a sunny day. The trail can get busy so try to arrive early and add extra time to find parking and walk from the parking lot.
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Hike Tasman Glacier Lookout
A trail that you must do during your day at Mount Cook National Park is Tasman Glacier Lookout. This 0.8-mile round trip trail is short but steep. After hiking up about 300 steps you will see astonishing views of Tasman Lake and surrounding mountains. Make sure to bring water and a hat because there is no shade and it can get hot climbing up the steps. I highly recommend saving about 40 minutes for this short hike.
This is another incredible hike in New Zealand you can’t miss: Guide to Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand
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