AORAKI Mt Cook National Park: Hiking Trails

Share inspiration
Aoraki Mount Cook Sunrise Lake Pukaki Glentanner Landscape New Zealand South Island Photograph image
Sunrise Glentanner Holiday Park, Aoraki

Glentanner Holiday Park, Mount Cook Aoraki

We were greeted on our first morning by a glowing beetroot red and scarlet sunrise amongst a beautiful silence, only interrupted by the bounding of white tailed rabbits outside our bedroom window. This being my third visit to Aoraki National Park, I was excited to have a glimpse of Mount Cook this time as my previous visits were cold, rainy and misty.

Red Tarns Track

My very close friend from high school, Pip, now lives in the National Park and manages the local Alpine climbing lodge. Pip very kindly introduced us to the walking trails by taking us on the Red Tarn track with an extra ‘wee’ climb above the lookout to a local secret picnic spot. Mmmmm……. after an hour of climbing steps in the full sun, we finally reached the Red Tarns (lakes). Their redness is due to the pretty red algae growing throughout the water. The view to Mount Cook and other peaks was really worth all those steps.

Red Tarns Track Mount Cook Aoraki National Park hiking walking trail New Zealand Landscape image photo
Red Tarns (Lakes), Aoraki National Park
Wild berries Aoraki National Park Red Tarns track hiking image photo
Snow and red berries growing throughout the Aoraki National Park

Along many of the walking tracks within the park, there are many wild berries growing. However only the white and scarlet red are edible, the black dark red ones are poisonous………John tried to slip me some hoping I wouldn’t notice. He always does get a bit cranky around mountains.

I pretended to be taking lots of photos so I could catch my breath before the final ‘wee’ climb to our picnic spot…..

Hiking the Red Tarns track Aoraki National Park Mt Cook New Zealand landscape image photo
Above the Red Tarns at Aoraki National Park

This is a sign of true friendship, after we scrambled up to our picnic location, Pip pulls out of her pack a burner to make coffee and tea to go with the peanut butter brownies she had just made…….

Red Tarns Track hiking Aoraki mt Cook National Park New Zealand landscape image photo
Picnic overlooking Tasman and Hooker Valleys

And the views were unbelievable………more lakes, only blue this time.

Hooker and Tasman Valley Aoraki Mt Cook National Park hiking trails landscape image photo
Looking down the Hooker and Tasman Valleys of Aoraki

The walk inspired a few watercolour studies. We also repeated the walk a few days later at dusk in the hope of seeing some Keas, a local native bird…………we got lucky!

Watercolour painting Aoraki Mt Cook National Park original art Leonie Walton
Watercolour study of our fabulous picnic spot above the Red Tarns
Kea native birds Red Tarn track Aoraki Mt Cook National Park New Zealand wildlife image photo
Look at these beauties
watercolour painting Kea native bird Aoraki National Park original artwork Leonie Walton
Watercolour study Cheaky Kea, Red Tarn track
Sunset red tarns track Mt Cook Aoraki national park hiking landscape image photo
Last sun rays on mt Cook at the Red Tarns Lookout

Tasman Glacier, Tsunami

The short walk to the Tasman Glacier is also a lovely one. The glacial lake is walled on both sides with loose rock and rubble rising up to 150 m where the glacier once sat, but has since receded by melting into the lake. During our stay, a 200 metre section of the glacier broke away and plunged into the lake causing a small Tsunami which washed away the boats on the shore. We couldn’t resist walking the track again to see the lake full of icebergs………..we don’t see that on the Sunshine Coast. It is difficult even when you are there to comprehend the scale of everything. The far edge of the lake where the glacier ends is 5 km away and about 30 m high. I thought it was only 200 m away.

Tasman Glacier Tsunami lake with icebergs Aoraki Mount Cook National Park New Zealand landscape image photo
Tasman Glacial Lake after Tsunami with icebergs remaining

Sunsets and Lake Pukaki

For our two week stay at Aoraki National Park, the weather was warm and sunny and the clear nights resulted in some of the best sunsets we have ever seen. As the light faded and the cloud formations changed, we were treated with some spectacular fireworks in the sky.

sunset Glentanner Aoraki Mt Cook national park landscape image photo
Fiery skies over Aoraki national park
Sunset Glentanner Aoraki Mt Cook National Park landscape image photo
Sunset over Glentanner Holiday Park Aoraki
Sunset Aoraki Mount Cook National Park landscape image photo New Zealand
Sunset over Aoraki Mount Cook
Sunset dusk Glentanner Aoraki Mt Cook National park image photo landscape
Dusk at Glentanner Holiday Park Aoraki

I have never seen so many clear sunny days in New Zealand before, the best way to view Lake Pukaki with its very surreal turquoise waters. The temptation to paint was too much….

Lake Pukaki Aoraki Mt cook national park landscape image photo
Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki watercolour painting original artwork aoraki national park mt cook Leonie Walton
Watercolour study of Lake Pukaki Mt cook

Sealy Tarns & Mueller Track

After hearing that the walk up to the lookout of the Mueller Track would be 8 hours return, we decided that if we had had enough at the halfway point at the Sealy Tarns, then we would be happy to have experienced that and return home. It was a misty morning so the air was refreshingly cool when we started our journey of the 2,200 steps up to the Sealy Tarns. Shaded by the low clouds, we enjoyed the walk and reached the lookout of the Sealy Tarns in an hour. We stopped by the lakes and ate half our lunch while enjoying the incredible views down the Hooker Valley beneath the clouds.

Sealy Tarns track Aoraki Mt Cook Mueller track hiking landscape image photo
Sealy Tarns Lookout
Mueller Track hooker valley aoraki Mt Cook national park hiking landscape image photo
View down the Hooker Valley from Mueller Track

Stupidly feeling confident after reaching the halfway point at the top of the stairs, we decided we would head on up to the top. Looking very much like Lord of the Rings, we began our climb into the clouds, where the track became a climb over boulders, whichever way looked easiest to us.

Mueller track hiking aoraki national park landscape image photo
Mueller track looking up from the Sealy Tarns

We checked the view while it was still visible, the Mueller lake, Hooker River from the Hooker Glacial lake…… was an incredible sight.

Glacial Lakes Mueller track hiking Aoraki Mt Cook National Park image photo landscape
Looking through to the Glacial Lakes from Mueller track

I think we were lucky that the clouds were obscuring our view of the top, because we probably wouldn’t have gone very much further. After another 45 minutes of climbing we looked down into the abyss……..

Mueller track hiking clouds aoraki mt cook national park landscape image photo
Lord of the Rings setting in the clouds

After another half hour of climbing we knew we were getting close, but the climbing over boulders had become a very steep scramble over loose scree…….We were feeling our legs and also the heat from the sun trying to burst through the misty atmosphere. I was not feeling sure about my footing anymore and knew we still had a big climb down again. Resting on a rock to finish our lunch immediately lifted my mood, before we made a decision whether to push on up the last 15 minutes to the lookout at 1800 m.

Mueller track hiking Aoraki Mt Cook National Park landscape image photo
Steep final scramble on the Mueller track

We were even happier when a hiker coming down said that there is no view at the lookout because the cloud was lifting and obscuring what was clear earlier. Decision was made…..we wimped out!! Our jelly-blubber legs managed to carry us to the bottom again. John said he was going to pack his bags and lock himself in the car for the rest of our stay so I couldn’t drag him up any more mountains. Next trip is across the Nullabor Plains for us. I think we found our limits today!

Hooker Valley Trail

Even though I had already walked the Hooker Valley twice before, it seemed like a nice flat option to end our stay at Aoraki National Park. It is a very pretty 3 hour round trip winding up the Hooker River to the Glacial Lake with views to the magnificent Mt Cook/Aoraki. This inspired another painting study of the Hooker River.

Watercolour painting Hooker River Valley Aoraki Mt Cook National Park hiking trail original artwork Leonie Walton
Watercolour study of the Hooker River and valley

It was such a privilege to stay in the Aoraki National Park for two weeks and really get a sense of scale of the mountains. I always find mountains very humbling; they make me realise my insignificance here and that we are a very minute part of existence, compared with a mountain’s seemingly infinite lifespan and grand presence.