The Hooker Valley Track: The Best Half-Day Hike in New Zealand?

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook
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After wanting to kill myself after the first hike I did with my friend Liz in New Zealand, I was extremely skeptical about doing a second.

But, she assured me this track would be much easier. Mostly flat, she promised, and with some even more epic views than the Rocky Mountain Track.

I tentatively said yes for two reasons. One: because the hike would get us within view of Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain. And two: because there was a glacial lake with icebergs involved. Icebergs!!

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

The hike was the Hooker Valley Track — one of the most popular short hikes in New Zealand (some might say the best half-day hike in the country). The 5-kilometer track takes 3-4 hours to complete, and is so easy it's considered a “walking track” — meaning perfect for a hiking pansy like me. It also comes complete with some epic mountain views. And I am never one to turn down epic mountain views.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

We kept an eye on the weather, and decided to make the trip to Mount Cook on a day that was predicted to be perfectly clear and warm. Our goal was to start the walk around 10 a.m. so that we would have different light for different parts of the track (and hopefully hit a time that would give us sun on Mount Cook).

Getting to Mount Cook from Wanaka by 10 a.m. shouldn't have been a problem. But when you factored in coffee breaks and far too many stops to photograph lupins along the way, we didn't even get to Aoraki village until noon. Add in lunch and some more coffee, and we didn't hit the trail until about 1 p.m.

But it ended up working out perfectly. Most of the morning hikers were already headed back to the village by then, and the light was absolutely perfect for photographing the as-advertised epic mountain views.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

If you're looking for an easy hike in New Zealand, Mount Cook is actually a great place to look. There are in the area that don't require mountaineering experience and only take a couple of hours to complete. And… did I mention the views?

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Neither Liz nor I had done the Hooker Valley Track before, so we didn't really know what to expect. What we found was an easy, mostly-flat gravel trail that is one of the nicest and most well-kept tracks that I've seen in all of New Zealand. Probably due to the fact that this walk is so popular.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The first portion of the hike has you crossing a few big swing bridges over the Hooker River — they're a bit bouncy (which is fun) and make for some great photo ops.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The second half sees you entering the Hooker Valley, and gives you some fantastic views of Mount Cook. The landscape changes slightly along the way, which is great for someone like me who hates seeing the same old thing for hours on end.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

We were lucky to be walking the Hooker Valley Track on a PERFECT day. It was sunny but not too hot. And, since it was springtime, there were plenty of Mount Cook buttercups blooming, yet still lots of snow on Mount Cook.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

And have I mentioned the epic mountain views?

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The Hooker Valley Track ends at the Hooker Glacier lake, where you can usually find some icebergs from the Hooker Glacier floating with Mount Cook looming impressively in the background. Liz and I headed down to the “beach” for a rest and to snap plenty of photos (but no, no hooker photos — even though we thought about it).

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

Licking Hooker Glacier ice

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Happy bloggers at Mount Cook!

As we headed back to the village nearly an hour later, I admitted to Liz that I had actually LIKED this hike. My only battle wound was a sunburn on my arms (I stupidly didn't put sunscreen on them, even though I KNOW that New Zealand basically has no ozone layer), and there had been no wheezing lungs, sweating kneecaps, or pleas for death on the trail.

I'll definitely call that a success.

Hooker River in New Zealand

Hooker Glacier Lake

While the Hooker Valley Track certainly didn't convert me into a hiker, it IS a hike I'll always remember.

New Zealand, you never fail to impress!

What you need for this hike

Even though the Hooker Valley track is nice and flat, it IS 2.5 kilometers to the lake and 2.5 kilometers back. It will take at least a couple of hours, so you want to make sure to be prepared. I recommend bringing:

  • Good walking shoes – You don't necessarily need hiking boots for this track, but I would still recommend comfortable shoes that you can walk on gravel for a couple hours in. I love my .
  • Sunscreen – There's virtually no ozone layer over New Zealand, meaning you'll get burnt fast.
  • Layers – Mountain weather can always be a bit fickle, so it's never a bad idea to wear layers. I'm not opposed to a pair of for a walk like this.
  • Water – Make sure to bring water! Even if it's not hot, you'll still need to drink after walking for a few hours. I like my reusable water bottle. Many people will also bring a picnic snack to have at the end of the trail, in sight of Mount Cook.

 

Is this a trail you would want to hike in New Zealand?

 

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

 

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