Sample the high life on a grand scale, in the midst of a breathtaking glacial park – New Zealand’s most elevated playground.
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park has the greatest concentration of mountains in the country. There are 19 peaks over 3,000 metres including our highest, Mt Cook, or Aoraki, as it is also known.
The park encompasses the main divide of the Southern Alps, and the Cook, Two Thumb, Leibig and Ben Ohau Ranges. Over a third of the area is in permanent snow and glacial ice. The 28 km Tasman glacier is the largest in the country. Since Mt Cook was first climbed in 1894, the region has been the main focus of climbing in New Zealand. It was the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary and other famous mountaineers. This national park is part of Te Wahipounamu – South Westland World Heritage Area, in recognition of its outstanding natural values.
Mt Cook (3,755 metres) has an irresistible pull that draws climbers and visitors from around the world. Its tent-shaped summit and triple peaks present a grand spectacle when viewed from the Hermitage Hotel in Mt Cook Village. But a photo stop is not enough to do justice to the beauty and power of Mt Cook. Take time to do the local walks, particularly the superb lookout at Kea Point and the stunning Hooker Valley. Experienced trampers can tackle alpine routes such as the Mueller, Copland and Ball Passes. Guided heli-ski trips can be taken down the mighty Tasman Glacier, and scenic flights operate over the high peaks and glaciers.
The immensity of this glacial park is impressive. But so too are the small dainty plants that grow in the alpine tussock fields. See the profusion of mountain daisies and beautiful Mt Cook buttercups. Marvel at the antics of the daring and mischievous alpine parrot, the kea. Also visit the nearest town of Twizel and view the rare black stilt on the stony Waitaki River.
Whatever you do don’t bypass Mt Cook – it’s a fascinating landscape of frozen beauty that should not be missed.