Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park
Twenty-two of the country's highest mountains stand in the park, including the mighty 12,217-foot-high (3,724-meter-high) Mt. Cook, the tallest of them all. Scenic day trips from Queenstown and Christchurch often include a guided hike followed by a meal served at the Heritage, the region’s most famous hotel. Some tours stop en route at Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki; private tours are more likely to customize the itinerary.
Things to Know Before You Go
Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park draws active hikers and skiers to the outdoors, but it’s easy to stroll around Mt. Cook Village.
The Hermitage Hotel is an ideal setting for food, drinks, and photos of mountain peaks.
A visitor center operated by the Department of Conservation (DOC) shares info on hiking tracks and natural attractions.
How to Get There
Mt. Cook Village is the park's main base, 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) from Mt. Cook's snowy summit. Buses run here from Christchurch, Queenstown, and elsewhere on the South Island. If you’re driving your own vehicle, it’s roughly 45 minutes from Twizel via state Highway 80. Coach tours often takes passengers directly to hotels.
When to Get There
Summer peak season at Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park runs October to April, and winter off-peak season runs May to September. Visitor center hours are daily 8:30am–5pm (until 4:30pm in winter). The climbing season typically runs from late October to mid-January. Book accommodations well ahead of time, especially during high season.
From the Air
Perhaps the best way to take in the scenic grandeur of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park is on a helicopter tour. Combine your flight with a snow landing or extend an aerial tour of the Southern Alps to include Milford Sound and Westland National Park. A ski-plane tour that showcases the Tasman Valley may land atop Tasman Glacier. All are worth the expense.