Hooker Valley Track Aoraki Mount Cook National Park Hike New Zealand Walk to Hooker Glacier Lake

Hooker Valley Track is among the most popular walking tracks in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the reasons why are obvious. This 11-kilometer (6.8-mile) round trip hike has non-stop mountain views and the destination is incredible. The track ends at the edge of Hooker Lake, where you can watch icebergs that were set adrift from Hooker Glacier, glide across the water below Aoraki/Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in the Southern Alps. The fun track crosses three swing bridges and several viewpoints. While this hike takes much of the day, it only has 120 meters (400 feet) of elevation change, so it is far less steep than tracks ascending into the area’s mountains.

The trek begins from a car park alongside White Horse Hill Campground at the end of Hooker Valley Road, 2.5 kilometers from Mount Cook Village. Head east on paths next to a day shelter that quickly come together. Signs at the start list a few destinations: 5 minutes to Alpine Memorial, 15 minutes to Mueller Lookout, and 1 hour 35 minutes to Hooker Lake.

After 200 meters, the track passes a short spur on the left leading up to a boulder called Freda’s Rock. In December of 1910, Freda du Faur became the first woman to climb Aoraki/Mount Cook, just 15 years after the first men reached the top. Afterward, she posed in front of this boulder and was photographed to commemorate the historic climb. This became the most recognized photo of the mountaineering pioneer.

Return to the main track, turn left, and stroll up Hooker Valley Track for another 200 meters to a second spur on the left. Break from the main track again and take stone steps up to the Alpine Memorial, a stone structure covered in plaques honoring mountain climbers that have died in the Southern Alps. The plaques are full of names, dates, and stories that should instill added respect for the dynamic mountains around you. The plaques include remembrances and quotes like, “I am not gone – I am in these mountains, I am in the stars, I am all around you, always near, never far.” Step out onto the rocks above the memorial for a bold view of Mount Sefton, the dominant 3,151-meter tall mountain just to the northwest that is covered in snow, glaciers, and sheer dark cliffs.

Mount Sefton Hooker Valley Track
Mount Sefton from Alpine Memorial

When you turn around and return to the main track, you’ll be facing southeast for another nice perspective, looking down the valley floor framed by steep mountain ridges. Make a left to continue east on Hooker Valley Track, which remains wide, well graded, and level as it approaches another early attraction. At 1.05 kilometers from the start, bear left on a 50-meter long spur up to Mueller Lake Lookout.

Mount Sefton and Mueller Lake View
Mount Sefton and Mueller Lake from Mueller Lake Lookout

Mueller Lake Lookout has a bench and a stone landing where you can gaze across Mueller Lake, a cream-colored lake below Mueller Glacier, which occupies the ravine below Mount Sefton. Across the lake, you may see and hear ice and rocks falling from the side of the mountain as the landscape evolves. On the right side of the lake is Mueller Lateral Moraine, a rocky wall created by Mueller Glacier when it was much larger. Hooker Valley extends beyond the moraine. A panel at Mueller Lake Lookout describes how the landscape has changed:

A hundred years ago, the Mueller Glacier filled the valley floor. You could have walked onto the glacier from near here. Today, the glacier is all but hidden up the valley. Glacial ice left behind is still visible at the far end of the lake. Piles of rock rubble (moraine) dropped by the glacier mark its past extent.

To your right, you can look down on a swing bridge crossing Hooker River below the outlet of Mueller Lake. Head there next. Leave Mueller Lake Overlook, return to Hooker Valley Track, and turn left. The track turns downhill toward the hike’s first swing bridge. Walk down steps and make your way to the long, suspension bridge that comes 1.3 kilometers from the start.

Hooker Valley Track Swing Bridge
Looking down on the first swing bridge on Hooker Valley Track

The bridge is a good spot to observe the river. Look up the frothing water toward Mueller Lake and the glacier and mountain beyond. Across the bridge, Hooker Valley Track turns north and runs parallel to the lateral moraine beside Mueller Lake. The views are expansive, and you get a chance to gaze even farther from a viewpoint along the track. At 2.2 kilometers from the start, wooden steps on the left lead to the top of a bump in the moraine. This spur is only about 15 meters long and has rewarding views (just like the rest of the track). Get a broad perspective across Mueller Lake toward Mount Sefton and the Sealy Range. Looking down the valley to the south, you’ll catch a glimpse of the vibrant turquoise water of Lake Pukaki.

Mount Sefton above Hooker Valley Track
Mount Sefton above Hooker Valley Track

Continue up Hooker Valley Track to the second swing bridge, Hooker Bluff Bridge, crossing it 2.75 kilometers from the start. Below the bridge to the left, you can watch milky rapids tumble into Mueller Lake. To the right, the river bends along the steep wall of the valley, forming a short gorge. Snow-covered mountains straight ahead complete the view from another scenic swing bridge crossing.

Hooker Bluff Bridge
Crossing Hooker Bluff Bridge

The track borders Hooker River as it proceeds up the valley toward Hooker Lake. Looking upstream, you’ll see Mount Cook, which rises above the rest at 3,724 meters tall. This is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. It was called Aoraki by the Ngāi Tahu that inhabited the area before Europeans arrived, and named Mount Cook by those who came later, both titles are now used for mountain known as Aoraki/Mount Cook.

At 3.7 kilometers from the start, a footbridge crosses Stocking Stream. Just across the bridge on the right, a path leads to the Stocking Stream Shelter, a day use shelter that is accompanied by toilets (the only toilets on the track).

Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track
Boardwalk on Hooker Valley Track

Views of Mount Cook get increasingly inspirational as you walk farther up the wooden boardwalk and gravel path on Hooker Valley Track.

Come to Upper Hooker Bridge, the third and final swing bridge on this hike, at 4.4 kilometers from the start. Cross to the right side of the river for the last push toward Hooker Lake. Looking back over the bridge as you cross, you’re in line for views of Mount Thompson (2,642 meters), Mount Brunner (2,643 meters), and other points on the ridgeline extending southwest from Mount Sefton above Mueller Glacier.

Across the bridge, head east around the moraine at the end of the lake, which offers evidence of the glacier’s former size. At 250 meters past the bridge, a spur breaks off to the right out to a tarn just off Hooker Valley Track. Seeing Mount Cook reflected in the shallow pool is worth the extra bit of the effort, as the spur is only about 60 meters long.

Tarn Hooker Valley Track
Mount Cook reflected in a tarn off Hooker Valley Track
Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track crosses the moraine below Hooker Lake

Proceed up Hooker Valley Track, which curves to the right above a small creek. A tapered ascent leads to a gap in the moraine. Pass through the notch and turn downhill toward Hooker Lake, which comes into view as you approach an overlook above the side of the lake with a few picnic tables. A rare and wonderful sight is in front of you now. A flotilla of misshapen icebergs fills the creamy, brown water of Hooker Lake. Looking up the lake, you’ll spot ice cliffs, where the lake meets Hooker Glacier. Beyond that, the iconic mass of Mount Cook (aka Aoraki) rises high. Take a selfie, bust out a sketch pad, or do whatever will help you help preserve this awesome view. They don’t come much better than this!

Hooker Glacier Lake Viewpoint
A viewing area above Hooker Lake

The viewpoint above Hooker Lake is 5.35 kilometers from the start of Hooker Valley Track, but the trek doesn’t have to end here. Make a hard left to follow the track another 150 meters to its terminus at the rocky shore at the south end of Hooker Lake. Sit on the shore at the same level as the icebergs, watching them slowly drift and turn on the lake. When the water is still, you can catch reflections of Mount Cook and the surrounding mountains cast upon the lake. To the west, watch a waterfall flow from a glacier near the top of Cadogan Peak, a 2,449-meter point on the ridge running northeast of Mount Sefton.

Hooker Lake Icebergs Mount Cook
Mount Cook above icebergs on Hooker Lake

The shore of Hooker Lake is an amazing place to be. If you packed lunch, eat it here before hiking back. Hooker Valley Track is approximately 11 kilometers round trip when the various spurs are explored. The track is completely exposed, so wear sunscreen. Recent work on Hooker Valley Track has made the path very well established. Dogs are not allowed on tracks in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Bikes are also forbidden on Hooker Valley Track (although a cycleway by the same name that borders Hooke Valley Road does naturally allow bikes). No permit is required to hike Hooker Valley Track and the national park has no entry fee, so get out and enjoy!

Directions: Take State Highway 8 to State Highway 80 (Mount Cook Road), at the south end of Lake Pukaki. Drive north on SH 80 for 54.5 kilometers. Before reaching Mount Cook Village, turn right on Hooker Valley Road. After 2 kilometers, the road ends at White Horse Hill Campground. Day use parking is available in front of the campground on the left. Hooker Valley Track begins from a few points on the right.

Trailhead address: Hooker Valley Road, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Canterbury, 7999, New Zealand
Trailhead coordinates: -43.7187, 170.09315 (43° 43′ 07.31″S 170° 05′ 35.34″E)

Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding New Zealand tracks, campgrounds, and lodging.

Photos

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These photos were taken in March of 2014. Click to enlarge.
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Tagged with · Free Trails · Glacier Lakes · Glaciers · Memorials · Mount Cook · New Zealand Department of Conservation · New Zealand National Parks · Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Distance: 11 kilometers / 6.8 miles · Elevation change: 120 meters / 400 feet

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