How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

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Last updated Apr 1, 2024

Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in the Southern Alps and a breathtaking sight in New Zealand stands as one of the country’s most popular attractions. Spending two days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook allows ample time to immerse yourself in the park’s wonders. However, even with more than two days at your disposal, the experience remains enriching, promising new adventures and discoveries.

There is a lot to do in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park in two days. Just driving into the park is a stunning experience. There are many day walks in the park ranging in length and difficulty providing different views and experiences. Other options include scenic flights, boat adventures to the glaciers, or kayaking in the glacial lake.  

We spent most of our time exploring the beautiful park on foot but will provide other adventure options. 

Where is Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park? 

Anoraki/Mt. Cook is situated in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island, accessible solely by road from the easter side of the island. Similar to many of New Zealand’s remarkable locations, access is limited to one route in and out, which occasionally leads to traffic congestion and delays.

Where to Stay in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park? 

Accommodation options within Mt. Cook Village are limited and tend to fill up rapidly. As a result, many visitors opt to stay in Lake Tekapo or Twizel and commute to the park daily. During our visit, we chose Lake Tekapo as our base.

If driving is not your thing, you can book a tour bus. We have seen them come from as far as Queenstown. However, having your own car or camper van gives you more flexibility. 

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park Logistics 

Access to the park is primarily via Highway 80, the sole entry and exit route. Unfortunately, in the event of an accident or road closure, there are no alternative routes available.

The park features three main parking areas: one near Mt. Cook Village, another at Hooker Valley Rd., and a third at Tasman Glacier Rd. Due to high visitor numbers, parking spaces fill up quickly, often resulting in roadside parking. In some cases, visitors may need to walk an additional 0.5-1.0 miles to reach trailheads.

Restroom facilities are available at the parking lots, although queues are often long. It’s worth noting that there are no entrance fees for New Zealand’s national parks, which are meticulously maintained to preserve their natural beauty.

How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

How To Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

This short guide is based on having your vehicle, this gives you the most flexibility. And hopefully, you will be blessed with clear skies. The weather is completely unpredictable here. On our second day, leaving Lake Tekapo and all the way into the park clouds were covering everything you could barely see the road. But once we got there, the skies cleared completely, and turned out to be a brutally balmy day. Such variability is typical in this region.

The drive from Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park typically takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes. However, with clear skies, you’ll likely find yourself stopping frequently to admire the breathtaking views along Lake Pukaki, with Mt. Cook dominating the skyline.

Day 1 in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

Once in the park on day one, look for a parking spot at the end of Hooker Valley Rd, the starting point for several trails including the Hooker Valley Track, Sealy Tarns, Kea Point and Mueller Hike start from. And it fills up quickly with vehicles lining up on both sides of the road.  

The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hike in the park however, the crowd tends to thin out further along the trail. The Hooker Vally track offers a stunning walk through the valley, surrounded by mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes and waterfalls. Finishing at the Hooker Lake with Mt. Cook in the backdrop. 

The hike is 6.5 miles long, in and out, with minimal elevation gain, this is hike relatively easy and enjoyable. There are 3 suspension bridges on this hike. The first one was packed with visitors however, by the time we got to the third suspension bridge there was barely anyone on there. At the end, you will be able to walk down to Hooker Lake and enjoy amazing views of the glacier and Mt. Cook. This is a good spot to take a snack break and enjoy the view. 

New Zealand Itinerary
End of Hooker Valley Track | How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

Following your return from Hooker Valley Track, you can take another short walk, only 15-20 minutes, to Kea Point. Kea Point offers a different perspective of Mueller Lake with mountain peaks and glaciers in the background. 

For the rest of the day, you can head to the Mt. Cook Village for some refreshments and just enjoy the views. Or take one of the scenic flights. If comfortable with small planes/helicopters, we hear this experience is worth enjoying. Additionally, do not miss the opportunity to stop at the Lavender Farm on your way out of the park and treat yourself to lavender ice cream and walk through the lavender fields.

How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 
Lavender Ice Cream | How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

Day 2 in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

For day two, you can either do a challenging hike to the Mueller Hut or a few shorter trails. While the Mueller Hut Hike offers breathtaking views, it’s essential to consider timing, weather and your overall condition that day. We started the day with every intention of making it to the Mueller Hut, but our bodies were just not up to it and we cut it short at Sealy Tarns. Sealy Tarns is a half point to Mueller Hutt and offers equally stunning views of Hooker Valley from up above. It is not an easy hike.  

How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 
View From Sealy Tarns | How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

One thing that was common in New Zealand is that most hikes don’t offer any tree cover exposing hikers to the weather the entire hike and day two was brutally hot. Also, the steepness of some of these hikes is underestimated. The steepness of Sealy Tarns reminded me a lot of climbing out of the Grand Canyon

If you decide to go all the way up to Mueller Hut, that will take most of the day and is probably the only thing to plan for day two. However, if you are only going to Sealy Tarns, that gives you the rest of the day to explore the areas around Tasman Glacier. 

You can choose to do a couple of short hikes, Tasman Glacier Viewpoint, Blue Lakes Track (no longer Blue), or leisurely stroll to Tasman Glacier Lake. Alternatively, consider going kayaking on the lake or taking a boat tour with Glacier Explorer.  

How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 
Tasman Glacier Viewpoint | How to Spend Two Days in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park 

Any of these adventures would be amazing to experience. Aoraki/Mt. Cook is an adventurers’ wonderland and one of the must-visit destinations in New Zealand. 

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