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New Zealand: Short Walks in Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is on the absolute top of New Zealand’s South Island. We hiked to Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake and afterwards to Kea Point and really enjoyed our short walks to glaciers and lakes .

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park has New Zealand’s largest glaciers and highest mountains that have a round the year snow cover.

There are icebergs floating on glacier lakes and those lakes shine in different colours – under what is said to be the clearest skies of Southern Hemisphere.

Tasman Glacier Walker

On the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier hike, Mount Cook National Park

Mount Cook National Park was a part of our New Zealand South Island campervan trip. You will find the other posts and a map of our whole itinerary on my New Zealand South Island main page: New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park covers more than 70,000 ha of stunning alpine landscape: high peaks, lakes and rivers, snow and ice.

There are 140 peaks that are more than 2000 meters high and round 20 that are over 3000 m. The Mount Cook mountain itself is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3754 m.

Mount Cook in autumn

Aoraki Mount Cook,  3754 m, New Zealand’s highest mountain

Glaciers cover 40 per cent of the national park. There are 75 glaciers in all and the five big valleys of the national park have glaciers that are the largest in New Zealand.

The five big glaciers are the Tasman, Mueller, Hooker, Godley and Murchison Glaciers of which we visited two, the Tasman and Mueller Glaciers.

In addition we saw smaller glaciers, blue and green lakes, glacier moraine walls and a lot more.

Tasman Glacier and Lake Aoraki Mount Cook

This is Tasman Glacier beyond Tasman Glacier Lake.

The name Aoraki Mount Cook comes from the mountain’s original Maori name Aoraki and its European name Mount Cook. The official name is Aoraki/Mount Cook.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on the Map

 

This is a map of the South Island of New Zealand. Aoraki Mount Cook is located almost in the center of the South Island, at a distance of 300 km (4 hours drive) from Christchurch and at 250 km (3 hours) from Queenstown.

But now the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier walk:

Two Short Walks in Mount Cook National Park

We hiked two short walks in Mount Cook National Park. The tracks were the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake View Walk and the Kea Point Track to Mueller Glacial Lake.

As we were touring New Zealand with a campervan  and a lot to see there was no time for a longer stay in the national park. But we think we saw the best parts of it. Tasman Glacier, Blue Lakes and Kea Point tracks were really nice.

1. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Mount Cook

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Mount Cook 

To get to Tasman Glacier Lake you have to take a short 40 min return walk from the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk car park. To get to the car park you will drive along the scenic Tasman Valley that has mountain peaks on each side and tussock grassland and Tasman River in the middle.

Tasman River flows from Tasman Glacier to Lake Pukaki through the grey-colored Tasman Lake that you can see above.

Tasman Glacier road

Mount Cook car bridge

Tasman Valley drive

In the valley there is a river crossing that looks like this. This is a typical New Zealand bridge, old, narrow and a scary, at least when you’re driving with a big vehicle. Will the bridge hold and hope nobody else is there when we are…

Tasman Valley Glacier Trip on the Map

 

The map shows the driving itinerary to the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk car park where the walk begins and the walk is also visible on the map.

So you can drive all the way through Tasman Valley and only walk the last bit. The road used to be in a bad condition but has improved a lot and is now surfaced.

Let’ now look at the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk.

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Mount Cook

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk, Mount Cook 

The well marked Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk leads from the Blue Lakes car park up to a viewpoint on a stony moraine wall. Here you can see some people walking on the path.

It’s a short and easy walk but the ground is rocky so you need to watch your step. The moraine has gathered here from the melting glacier. The photo shows how rough the track was in places.

Views from Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk

Tasman Glacier Lake

Tasman Glacier View

Tasman Glacier Lake, Mount Cook National Park

Once you get up to the viewpoint the views really take your breath away. Below you have the large Tasman Glacier Lake that comes from the ice-melt of Tasman Glacier.

The lake has a beautiful grey colour and icebergs from Tasman glacier are slowly floating on the lake. In these photos you can see some pieces of ice in the grey water.

 

On the opposite side of the lake you can see another moraine wall. The lake is big and it has been growing lately. It is today 7 km long.

Tasman Glacier Lake Mount Cook National Park

Tasman Glacier Lake  

Beyond the glacier lake you can see the partly white, partly grey Tasman Glacier that is by far the largest single glacier in New Zealand.

Tasman Glacier is 24 km long (measured in 2011) and up to 3 km wide. In its center the glacier ice is 600 m deep.

Tasman Glacier and Lake Aoraki Mount Cook

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk

But the lake is getting bigger since Tasman Glacier is melting more than it used to do. In 1890 the glacier was 29 km long and by 2027 it’s expected to be only 20 km. And the glacier also gets lower.

Mount Cook walking

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake viewpoint

So our grandchildren will have different views from this viewpoint than what we can enjoy today.

After a long while in this stunning place we took the rocky path back.

The Blue Lakes of Mount Cook

Mount Cook green lake

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk: a green lake

The Tasman Glacier View Walk also has a Blue Lakes viewpoint. It’s half-way back from the Glacier Lake viewpoint.  From the Blue Lake viewpoint you can see a row of small mountain lakes. But the first lake you see is not blue, it is green!

There are two green lakes in a row and first behind them comes the Blue Lake.

Tasman Glacier View green lakes

A row of green and blue lakes

The blue water is meltwater that is older than the grey water in the lake. Grey water has large amounts of ground-up rock and when the rock flour finally settles the water becomes blue. In that stage there are fine rock particles left that make the colour.

And the green water? That’s rain water, not from the glacier. So now we know that in New Zealand rain water can be green.

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk,: blue lake

Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk: the Blue Lake

If you want to see more of the Glacier Lake, there is one more walk, from the car park to another viewpoint where you can see the Tasman Glacier terminal lake at the lower end of the lake. It is the place where the Tasman River begins. That walk is about one hour return.

But we didn’t take that walk. Instead we headed back to the village and took a second Mount Cook National Park walk, the Kea Point Track to Mueller Lake.

2. Kea Point Walk to Mueller Glacial Lake

Short Walks in Mount Cook National Park Mueller Lake

Blue waters of Mueller Glacial Lake, Kea Point Track 

Kea Point Track starts from the White Horse Hill campground and car park and it is a 2 hour return walk along an easy path, not as rocky as the other track was.

You can see the track and the campground in these photos.

Track to Mueller Lake Aoraki Mount Cook

Kea Point Track

The Kea Point track first passes through grasslands and then starts ascending a moraine hill. The walk leads to a viewpoint that gives splendid views of Mueller Glacier Lake. On the track you can also see alpine birds and flowers. Altogether there are 750 different native flowers in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

 

Views from Kea Point Track to Mueller Lake,  Mount Cook

Map of Kea Point Walk

 

This is the Kea Point walk map. You first take the road to the White Horse Hill car park where you will start the walk or you can walk all the way from the Aoraki Mount Cook Village. It’s not a long distance.

Mueller Lake

Mueller Glacial Lake

The blue Mueller Lake

This is the dramatic blue Mueller Lake. And as we already know its turquoise water colour comes from glacial melted water that contains ground rock.

The turquoise Mueller Lake Aoraki Mount Cook

Melting snow and ice of kMueller Lake

From the Kea Point viewpoint there also is a direct view to Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand and to the deep Hooker Valley in front of Mount Cook.

 

And we could also see the huge Mueller Glacier hanging from the cliffs right in front of us, it’s the clean turquoise ice in the small photo left.

As we stood there we saw parts of the glacier break and fall down so Mueller Glacier is melting too. Some more strong-coloured melt waters:

The turquoise Mueller Lake

Mueller Lake from Kea Point Track

After we had finished the Kea Point Track we still walked along the Hooker Valley Track just to get a view of Mueller Lake from the other side. The track was nice to walk but Kea Point gave us a much better view of Mueller Lake.

Mount Cook picknic

Picnic lunch in Mount Cook National Park

Then, after all these short walks in Mount Cook National Park we were hungry and there were no restaurants nearby. In fact we hadn’t seen any place to buy food and drink  on the whole day.

But no worries, we had a complete kitchen with everything we could need in our campervan. So we only needed to take out our picnic tables and chairs and enjoy our self made lunch on the dry tussock grassland of Mount Cook National Park.

Where to stay in Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village is a good base for exploring the National Park.

The small village offers National Park visitors budget and luxury accommodation. Yet the number of beds is very limited and Aoraki Mount Cook has not become a mass tourism destination which of course is good.

A range of mountain based activities is yet offered in the village. You can book climbing or walking tours, go mountain biking or you can fish or kayak or take a scenic helicopter flight.

Mount Cook campsite frost

Frost in the morning

This is frost in the morning in Glentanner Park Centre Mount Cook where we stayed. And below you can see what it looks like on the road to Glentanner.

 

Glentanner Park Centre Mount Cook is the closest camping to Mount Cook, it is on the roadside 18 km before the national park centre. Of course there is the White Horse Hill Campground too but that’s more like a basic campground where no such services as powered campervan sites exist.

Glentanner Park Centre

Glentanner Park Centre, Mount Cook

Glentanner also was one of the few places in the New Zealand countryside where we met any foreign visitors. Normally we were the only ones.

Our campervan had run out of gas so we cooked our dinner in the common kitchen together with Chinese families, Swiss climbers and German kayakers, some of them to mention.

Lake Pukaki Mount Cook

 

This was Aoraki Mount Cook and the walks to Tasman Glacier Lake, Blue Lakes and Kea Point. From here our journey continued to Lake Tekapo and on to Christchurch which I will tell about in my next post New Zealand Drive: Mount Cook to Christchurch.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

More on New Zealand Travel

This post on Short Walks in Mount Cook National Park was a part (post number 8) of our New Zealand South Island round trip. You will find all other posts on my New Zealand road trip main page:

Crown Range Summit road

New Zealand South Island by campervan

More about Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

You can read more about the national park on their official website:

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