Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park

The Hooker Valley Track crosses suspension bridges over the Hooker River before reaching a lookout above Hooker Lake for a close view of Mount Cook.

The Hooker Valley Track is one of those trails on which you will be constantly asking yourself, “How much longer? How much farther?”

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To some it may feel like a long and boring walk, while others may enjoy the length of the walk to either be with their own thoughts or have a good conversation with whomever has joined them on the walk.

The Hooker Valley Track is one of those walks you will either love or hate, but in the end, you will be rewarded with a close view of Mount Cook and Hooker Lake.

The most interesting and fun part of the Hooker Valley Track is crossing three suspension bridges that have been put in place to cross the Hooker River.

The trail runs along the Hooker River, which makes a continuous rumbling noise. You are surrounded by mountains all along the way until you reach Hooker Lake.

This track is a very popular track, so do not expect to be on it all by yourself.

How to get to the Hooker Valley Track

The Hooker Valley Track is located in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand.

The quickest way to get to Mount Cook National Park is to fly to Queenstown and then drive to Mount Cook National Park. This driving journey would take approximately 3 hours and note that it would also have you go through Lindis Pass, which may or may not be impassible in winter.

Another option would be to fly to either Dunedin or Christchurch. The drive from Dunedin would last about 3 hours and 45 minutes, while it would take about 4 hours to drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook National Park via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.

Once you reach Mount Cook National Park, follow Hooker Valley Road to one of the several parking lots at the end of the road near the start of the walk.

For more driving distances and times from other locations on the South Island to Mount Cook National Park, consult the South Island driving distances and times page.

The Hooker Valley Track walk in Mount Cook National Park

The walk described here starts at the end of the Hooker Valley Road. You could also start walking from Mount Cook Village but would then have to add one hour return to the walk.

Mount Cook Village and the Hermitage as seen from the Hooker Valley Track on the South Island of New Zealand

A Department of Conservation sign at the start of the Hooker Valley Track lists the following times:

The walk starts out pretty flat. While you will be gaining elevation, you will not notice much of it because the trail climbs only about 80 meters (262 ft) over 5 km (3.1 mi) so can be seen as a very gently climb.

The trail is a gravel trail, but because many people have gone before you, the gravel is quite compact.

Shortly after starting the walk, you should come across a sign for Freda’s Rock and then after about 5 minutes of walking, you should see a sign and a trail going off to the left, up to the Alpine Memorial.

The Alpine Memorial perched on top of a hill in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

After about another 10 minutes of walking, you should reach a junction where you can go left to the Mueller Lake Lookout or right to the Hooker Valley.

The Mueller Lake Lookout offers views of the Hooker River down below, the first suspension bridge, Mueller Lake, and Mount Sefton.

Mueller Lake Lookout on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

Mueller Lake is the result of the Mueller Glacier retreating. A hundred years ago, the Mueller Glacier filled the valley floor. These days, the glacier is hidden up the valley. Glacial ice was left behind and is still visible at the far end of Mueller Lake. Piles of rock rubble (moraine) dropped by the glacier mark its past extent.

After you leave the Mueller Lake Lookout, go left to continue on to Hooker Lake and Mount Cook. You will almost immediately descend a couple of steps and then reach the first suspension bridge, which is located about 1 km (0.6 mi) from the start of the walk.

First suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

The trail becomes undulating and once in a while you will be walking on boardwalks. In the past, it was possible to climb a pile of rocks and sand near Mueller Lake, but the trail was changed to avoid that route.

Now you can walk up steps to a high viewpoint and still get a good view of Mueller Lake about 10 to 15 minutes after you cross the first suspension bridge.

After about 40 to 45 minutes, you should reach the second suspension bridge – the Hooker Bluff Bridge – to cross the Hooker River again. The second suspension bridge is located at about the halfway point so 2.5 km (1.6 mi) from the start of the walk.

Second suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

About 5 minutes after passing the second suspension bridge, you should start to get good views of Mount Cook in the distance down the valley.

After about 1 hour and 5 minutes or 3.5 km (2.2 mi) after starting the walk, you should reach a small wooden bridge that crosses the Stocking Stream. There is also a shelter and toilets nearby.

At this point, you are not far from a wide area with open tussock (grass) where you will have to walk on a very long boardwalk. Once you reach this area, you are on the final stretch of the walk. The valley is quite open and you can get good views of Mount Cook from here.

Boardwalk on open tussock on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand (looking toward Mount Cook)

Continue walking until you reach the Upper Hooker Bridge, which is the third and last suspension bridge on the trail. It should take about 20 minutes after crossing the Stocking Stream to reach the bridge. The Upper Hooker Bridge is located about 4 km (2.5 mi) from the start of the walk.

Third suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

Not far from the start of the bridge, you will hopefully see a sign on your left at a junction where you could continue walking straight ahead to Hooker Lake and wind up on the western side of the lake or go right to cross the third suspension bridge and follow the Ball Pass Route.

If you choose to cross the bridge, you will wind up on the eastern side of Hooker Lake. The eastern side is much higher and provides better views of Mount Cook and Hooker Lake.

Crossing the third suspension bridge on the Hooker Valley Track in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

Go right and cross the bridge. Shortly after crossing the bridge, you should reach a junction where there is a sign for an alpine tarn. The alpine tarn is just a small body of water with a green color. You can visit it if you wish.

From this point, it should take you about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the end of the walk and a lookout that offers views of Mount Cook and Hooker Lake. The final stretch of the walk climbs up so may be a bit exhausting. In addition, the gravel is rougher and the stones are larger than in the first part of the walk.

Looking south from the lookout above Hooker Lake in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand

After you reach the lookout, you can follow a trail that descends toward Hooker Lake and even cross over to the other side if you wish to get a different view of Hooker Lake and Mount Cook. You might even see some ice floating on Hooker Lake.

Mount Cook and Hooker Lake on the South Island of New Zealand

Basic info for the Hooker Valley Track walk

Trail length: 5 km (3.1 mi) one-way from the end of Hooker Valley Road to a lookout over Hooker Lake
Walking time: The Department of Conservation lists 3 hours as the total time to walk this track and return with an extra hour added if you are starting from Mount Cook Village. This time should be comfortable enough to complete the walk because it took me 2 hours and 50 minutes in total (1 hour and 35 minutes out and 1 hour and 15 minutes back) to do this walk. My walking speed is slow.
Difficulty: Medium
Trail type: The trail is a combination of gravel, steps, suspension bridges, and boardwalks.
Trail condition: Good and well-maintained. There are parts where you have to walk uphill and downhill. The parts where you have to walk uphill are not too steep and where the trail is very steep, steps have been created to make it easier for you to ascend and descend.
Fitness level: Moderate. The difficulty of the trail lies in the fact that it is quite long. It can be taxing on the legs when you have to walk uphill or up steps, but those sections of the trail are not extremely long so should not be too exhausting.
Best time to walk: It is difficult to capture Mount Cook from the Hooker Valley Track because the sun is almost always shining right in your face during midday hours when the valley is lit. The best season to do this walk would probably be summer when the sun is in a more favorable position (so more south than north) and during late morning to early afternoon hours.
What you’ll see: Scenic views of Mount Sefton, Mueller Lake, Hooker River, Hooker Lake with perhaps some ice drifing on it, and Mount Cook. There is also a small alpine tarn you can visit on your way to the lookout over Hooker Lake.

The following map shows the location of the start of the walk (the star symbol) if you start walking from the parking area at the end of Hooker Valley Road and the location of the lookout over Hooker Lake (the flag symbol). The route you’ll have to follow to the lookout is shown as a red line.

Use the plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out of the map and to see more or less detail on the map. Click the Satellite button to see more of the actual trail itself.

Figure 1. Map of the Hooker Valley Track walk in Mount Cook National Park.

Video of the Hooker Valley Track walk near Mount Cook

The following 3-minute video gives you an impression of what to expect on this scenic walk on the Hooker Valley Track that leads to a lookout above Hooker Lake that offers a close view of Mount Cook in Mount Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand.

 

Note: Walking tracks and trails can be changed or get closed. The information presented here was accurate when it was gathered.

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