We took some short walks in Mount Cook National Park, on the top of New Zealand, the place for New Zealand’s highest mountains, largest glaciers and spectacular glacier lakes.
To see the Mount Cook glacier lakes we took two short hikes: the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk and the Kea Point Track to Mueller Glacial Lake. These walks take you to some of the most amazing places of the Southern Alps of the South Island.
What would you say about icebergs floating on glacier lakes, lakes shining in green, turquoise and grey – under what is said to be the clearest skies of the Southern Hemisphere?
Photographing under the clear skies of Aoraki 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 the road trip main page: New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park in the center of the South Island covers more than 70,000 ha of stunning alpine landscape: high peaks, lakes and rivers, snow and ice in different shades.
There are 140 peaks more than 2000 meters high, 20 of which are over 3000 m. The mountain Mount Cook itself is New Zealand’s highest peak at 3754 m:
Aoraki Mount Cook, 3754 m, New Zealand’s highest mountain
Almost a half of the national park is covered by glaciers. There are 75 of them existing in the park’s five big valleys, among them the largest glaciers 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.
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.
We have also been on the other side of Mount Cook and walked to Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. To them the only access is from the West Coast: New Zealand: Hiking to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on the Map
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park on the map
This is a map of the South Island of New Zealand. Aoraki Mount Cook is located in the very center of the South Island, at a distance of 300 km (4 hours drive) from Christchurch and 250 km (3 hours) from Queenstown.
But now I will show you where we walked:
Two Short Walks in Mount Cook National Park
One of the short walks in Mount Cook National Park
Of the walks available in the national park we chose these two: the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake View Walk and the Kea Point Track to Mueller Glacial Lake.
As we were on a New Zealand road trip there wasn’t more time than just one day for this mountain paradise. To get out the best of it, we studied hiking maps to get an idea where we should go.
As is looked like the Tasman Glacier, Blue Lakes and Kea Point tracks met our wishes, there we went:
1. Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk
On the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk
This was our first walk. To get to Tasman Glacier Lake you will need to walk 40 min return from the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk car park. And to get to the car park you will first have to cross the long, flat Tasman Valley by car. It’s a very scenic drive with white snow-capped peaks on each side and a plain with tussock grassland in the middle, including the Tasman River.
The Tasman River takes water from the Tasman Glacier to the grey-colored lake with the same name, and then on to Lake Pukaki lower down on the plains.
This is what the Tasman Valley looks like:
Drive through the Tasman Valley
A narrow Tasman Valley bridge
In the valley you will cross the river and the bridge looks like this. It’s a most typical New Zealand bridge, old, narrow and a scary, at least when in traffic with a huge campervan.
Will the bridge hold, is there going to be meeting traffic on the way, and what if we have to reverse long ways?
The Tasman Valley Glacier Trip on the Map
The map shows the driving itinerary to the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk car park, the place where the walk begins, and the walk from there to the viewpoint.
So you will drive all the way through the Tasman Valley and only walk the last bit. While in recent years the road has been in a terrible condition, it has improved a lot and is now surfaced.
Now the walk:
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk
Short walks in Mount Cook National Park: Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk
The well marked Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View Walk leads from the car park up to a viewpoint on a long, stony moraine wall. Here you can see some walkers on the path.
It’s a short and easy walk, but as the ground is rocky you need to watch your step at the end. The moraine wall has slowly gathered here in the course of time when water from the melting glacier has brought morain with it. The photo shows how rough the track is in places:
Hiking to the see a glacier lake
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Walk sign
Tasman Glacier Lake
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, created by the melt ice of the Tasman Glacier.
The lake has an exceptional dark grey color and icebergs and ice blocks floating here and there:
Ice floating on the grey glacier lake
On the opposite side of the lake is another similar moraine wall, also brought down by flowing water.
Lately, Tasman Lake has been growing bigger and bigger, and at the time we were visiting it was 7 km long.
Tasman Glacier Lake
Above the glacier lake you will clearly see the partly white, mostly grey Tasman Glacier, by far the largest single glacier in New Zealand.
Measured in 2011 the Tasman Glacier was 24 km long and up to 3 km wide. In its center part the glacier was 600 m thick.
Tasman Glacier, the biggest in Mount Cook National Park
Why is the lake growing? Because the glacier above it is melting, and a lot more than it used to.
Measured in 1890 the glacier was 29 km long and by 2027 it’s expected to have shrunk to 20 km. At the same time it’s also losing width and height.
Sitting on the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake viewpoint
So our grandchildren will have a different view from this lookout than what we have now.
We just had to sit down and look, and after a long while in this exiting place we took the rocky road back:
The Blue Lakes of Mount Cook
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier Lake Walk: a green lake
The walk has one more viewpoint, the one where you can see the Blue Lakes. It’s half way back from the Glacier Lake viewpoint. From the Blue Lake viewpoint you can see of a whole row of tiny mountain lakes. The first of them, however, is green, not blue.
In fact there are two green lakes in the row and first after them comes the Blue Lake that gave the place its name.
A row of green and blue lakes
Where do the lake colors come from? When meltwater from the glacier gets a bit older, it gets blue. So the blue pool is older than the grey one…. Why?
Grey water has large amounts of ground-up rock in it. Then, when the rock ingredient finally settles the water becomes blue. And the blue color comes from the finest rock particles that still exist in the water.
And the green water then? That’s rain water, not from the glacier at all. So now we have seen green New Zealand rain water.
Blue glacier lakes are older than the grey ones
Then, if you want to see more of the Tasman Glacier Lake, there is one more walk for that. It goes to a viewpoint where you can see the Tasman Glacier terminal lake at the lower end of the lake, starting from the car park.
That’s the place where the Tasman River begins. The walk to the terminal lake is about one hour return.
We, however, skipped that and headed back to the village for the Kea Point Track to Mueller Lake:
2. Kea Point Walk to Mueller Glacial Lake
Icy water of Mueller Glacial Lake seen from the Kea Point Track
The Kea Point track starts from the White Horse Hill campground and car park and is a 2 hour return walk on an easy path, at least not as rocky as the other track.
You can see the track and the campground below in the photos.
Kea Point Track in Mount Cook National Park
The Kea Point track first passes through grasslands and then winds up a moraine hill. At the end it climbs up to a viewpoint where you get stunning views of the partly frozen glacier lake below.
On the track you can also hear alpine birds sing and get a good sample of the 750 different native flowers that exist in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.
An Aoraki Mount Cook campsite
Camping in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Map of Kea Point Walk
Here is a Kea Point walk map. To find the walk, first drive to the White Horse Hill car park where the track starts. Or you can walk all the way from Aoraki Mount Cook Village. It’s not a long distance.
The blue Mueller Lake
This is the dramatic blue Mueller Lake. And as we already know, the turquoise color comes from glacial melted water that contains small particles of ground rock.
Melting snow and ice in the glacier lake
Mount Cook beyond the Hooker Valley
The Kea Point viewpoint also gives a direct view to Mount Cook itself, the highest peak in New Zealand. In front of it is the water-filled Hooker Valley.
The huge Mueller glacier hanging from the cliffs
Right above us we could see the massive Mueller Glacier hanging from the sharp cliffs. Mueller Glacier, a huge turquoise ice block!
As we stood there we saw parts of the glacier break out and fall down. So this big glacier keeps melting as well.
Some more melt waters:
Mueller Lake from Kea Point Track
After we had finished the Kea Point Track we still walked along the Hooker Valley Track, just to see a glimpse of Mueller Lake from the other side. That track, too, was a nice one but the Kea Point gave us a better scenery.
Having a picnic lunch in Mount Cook National Park
Then, after walking most of the day we noticed we were super hungry. As no restaurants existed nearby, not even a place to buy food and drink, we turned to our own kitchen.
In this kind of places it’s good to have a campervan with a complete kitchen.
Nothing beats a self made lunch on the dry grass of Mount Cook National Park!
Where to stay in Aoraki Mount Cook
Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village
As Mount Cook National Park is far from everything, there one is village, the tiny Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village.
It’s a good base for hikes in the national park. The small village offers both budget and luxury accommodation, yet the number of beds is limited. Aoraki Mount Cook has not become a mass tourism destination which of course is a very positive thing.
In the village you can also book a range of mountain based activities like climbing or walking tours, mountain biking, fishing or kayaking, or take a scenic helicopter flight.
Frost in the morning
This is frost in the morning at the nearby Glentanner Park Centre Mount Cook where we stayed. And below you can see what it looks like on the road from Aoraki Mount Cook Village:
Lake Pukaki countryside
The road to Mount Cook National Park
Glentanner Park Centre Mount Cook is the closest serviced camping area to Mount Cook, located on the roadside 18 km before the national park.
The other option is the White Horse Hill Campground we already saw, but that’s more like a basic campground where no services like powered van sites exist.
Glentanner Park Centre, Mount Cook
Glentanner was one of the few places during our whole New Zealand trip where we met foreign tourists. In all other places it looked like 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, great fun that too.
Short hikes in Mount Cook National Park: Lake Pukaki
This was the stunning Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the lovely short walks to the Tasman Glacier Lake, Blue Lakes and Kea Point.
Our journey continues to Lake Tekapo and on to Christchurch, which I will tell you about in the post New Zealand Drive: Mount Cook to Christchurch.
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo
More on New Zealand Travel
The story about the walks in Mount Cook National Park was a part (post number 8) of our New Zealand South Island road trip. You will find the other posts on the road trip main page:
New Zealand South Island by campervan
More about Aoraki Mount Cook National Park
Read more about the national park on their official website: