The Hooker Valley Track: The Best Half-Day Hike in New Zealand?

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After wanting to kill myself after the first hike I did with my friend Liz in New Zealand, I was extremely skeptical about doing a second.

But, she assured me this track would be much easier. Mostly flat, she promised, and with some even more epic views than the Rocky Mountain Track.

I tentatively said yes for two reasons. One: because the hike would get us within view of Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain. And two: because there was a glacial lake with icebergs involved. Icebergs!!

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

The hike was the Hooker Valley Track — one of the most popular short hikes in New Zealand (some might say the best half-day hike in the country). The 5-kilometer track takes 3-4 hours to complete, and is so easy it's considered a “walking track” — meaning perfect for a hiking pansy like me. It also comes complete with some epic mountain views. And I am never one to turn down epic mountain views.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

We kept an eye on the weather, and decided to make the trip to Mount Cook on a day that was predicted to be perfectly clear and warm. Our goal was to start the walk around 10 a.m. so that we would have different light for different parts of the track (and hopefully hit a time that would give us sun on Mount Cook).

Getting to Mount Cook from Wanaka by 10 a.m. shouldn't have been a problem. But when you factored in coffee breaks and far too many stops to photograph lupins along the way, we didn't even get to Aoraki village until noon. Add in lunch and some more coffee, and we didn't hit the trail until about 1 p.m.

But it ended up working out perfectly. Most of the morning hikers were already headed back to the village by then, and the light was absolutely perfect for photographing the as-advertised epic mountain views.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

If you're looking for an easy hike in New Zealand, Mount Cook is actually a great place to look. There are quite a few trails in the area that don't require mountaineering experience and only take a couple of hours to complete. And… did I mention the views?

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Neither Liz nor I had done the Hooker Valley Track before, so we didn't really know what to expect. What we found was an easy, mostly-flat gravel trail that is one of the nicest and most well-kept tracks that I've seen in all of New Zealand. Probably due to the fact that this walk is so popular.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The first portion of the hike has you crossing a few big swing bridges over the Hooker River — they're a bit bouncy (which is fun) and make for some great photo ops.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The second half sees you entering the Hooker Valley, and gives you some fantastic views of Mount Cook. The landscape changes slightly along the way, which is great for someone like me who hates seeing the same old thing for hours on end.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

We were lucky to be walking the Hooker Valley Track on a PERFECT day. It was sunny but not too hot. And, since it was springtime, there were plenty of Mount Cook buttercups blooming, yet still lots of snow on Mount Cook.

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

And have I mentioned the epic mountain views?

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

The Hooker Valley Track ends at the Hooker Glacier lake, where you can usually find some icebergs from the Hooker Glacier floating with Mount Cook looming impressively in the background. Liz and I headed down to the “beach” for a rest and to snap plenty of photos (but no, no hooker photos — even though we thought about it).

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

Hooker Glacier Lake at Mount Cook

Licking Hooker Glacier ice

Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook
Happy bloggers at Mount Cook!

As we headed back to the village nearly an hour later, I admitted to Liz that I had actually LIKED this hike. My only battle wound was a sunburn on my arms (I stupidly didn't put sunscreen on them, even though I KNOW that New Zealand basically has no ozone layer), and there had been no wheezing lungs, sweating kneecaps, or pleas for death on the trail.

I'll definitely call that a success.

Hooker River in New Zealand

Hooker Glacier Lake

While the Hooker Valley Track certainly didn't convert me into a hiker, it IS a hike I'll always remember.

New Zealand, you never fail to impress!

What you need for this hike

Even though the Hooker Valley track is nice and flat, it IS 2.5 kilometers to the lake and 2.5 kilometers back. It will take at least a couple of hours, so you want to make sure to be prepared. I recommend bringing:

  • Good walking shoes – You don't necessarily need hiking boots for this track, but I would still recommend comfortable shoes that you can walk on gravel for a couple hours in. I love my Merrell Moab waterproof boots.
  • Sunscreen – There's virtually no ozone layer over New Zealand, meaning you'll get burnt fast.
  • Layers – Mountain weather can always be a bit fickle, so it's never a bad idea to wear layers. I'm not opposed to a pair of convertible hiking pants for a walk like this.
  • Water – Make sure to bring water! Even if it's not hot, you'll still need to drink after walking for a few hours. I like my CamelBak Chute reusable water bottle. Many people will also bring a picnic snack to have at the end of the trail, in sight of Mount Cook.

 

Is this a trail you would want to hike in New Zealand?

 

Hiking the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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46 Comments on “The Hooker Valley Track: The Best Half-Day Hike in New Zealand?

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  1. I have a love/hate relationship with hiking — especially if the hikes are hard. But Hooker Valley sounds like my kind of hike. Plus it’s called Hooker Valley! How can you not hike that!

      Oh I usually despise hiking. But this was more of a scenic walk, so I actually loved it! (The warm weather and blue skies definitely helped, though…)

    When I saw hiking in the title of the post, I was thinking “doesn’t Amanda hate hiking?!” haha…The trail looks beautiful and definitely worth the effort!

      Hahaha, well, “hiking” sounded better than “walking.” 😉 But yes, this was my kind of hiking trail for sure!

    Just focus on the view and the hikes get easier. It wouldn’t matter what hike I was doing its hiking in New Zeland. Enough said.

      You clearly don’t know how much I despise hiking. 😉 But yes, generally hiking in New Zealand will guarantee you some amazing views!

    Love the Hooker Valley trail, I don’t think there’s another hike in NZ that you get so much reward for so little effort. It’s such a fantastic surprise 🙂

      I totally agree! Just about anyone can handle it, and the views (especially on a nice day) are just spectacular!

    The Hooker Valley track is a spectacular, very manageable hike for hikers of all levels. I did this hike a few years ago as well as the Tongariro Crossing and the Milford Track. NZ has so much to offer for hikers and it’s one of the best places in the world to go trekking. I was so inspired by my experiences in NZ that I went trekking in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas not to long ago! Great post. Your photos take me down memory lane.

      The Tongariro Crossing is definitely on my list, even though I know it’s a more challenging hike. If any place could turn me into a hiker, it would be New Zealand!

    Wow. Those photographs make me think I need to go back to New Zealand just for this walk. So beautiful!

      Any reason is a good reason to go back to New Zealand. 😉

    This trek is incredible looking! I wish I had taken the opportunity to do more treks while in NZ, I was going to do the Tongariro Crossing but the conditions were too bad, so we did the circuit at the bottom of it. Loving that last photo too!

      I’ve been to NZ 4 times now (including living there for a while) and I STILL haven’t done the Tongariro Crossing! Mostly because I’ve mostly visited in fall/winter when the conditions wouldn’t have been good. Next time, next time…

    I like the fact that the trail is not that steep. Although that bridge can be quite scary, the place looks good especially since the trail is exposed to nature all around.

      The trail isn’t steep at all! Which was great news for someone like me who doesn’t really love hiking!

    Wow! This looks fantastic and so wonderful to see you and Liz hanging out. We didn’t do this track while in New Zealand, but I wish we did. It looks gorgeous!

      It’s a good one, for sure – I’m so glad I let Liz talk me into it!

    Those mountains are just flawless. Looks like one incredible hike – glad you took a chance on hiking round two 🙂

      Definitely an incredible place – and we really lucked out with the weather, too!

    Hi there!

    Nice blog with loats of beutiful pictures! Looks like New Zealand is really beautiful, the views are just fantastic and increadible. Look at these mountains! I always wanted to go there but its a bit difficult and expensive to travel from where I live – Spain. Nowever I still hope one day I will visit both: New Zealand and Australia 🙂

    Thanks
    Kris

      NZ is expensive to travel to from just about everywhere! But I promise that it’s worth it. I hope you make it there someday!

    Fantastic photos Amanda. ‘Makes me want to leave and come over right now! And I would you know, but I’ve had enough of snow so it’s time for the early blooms that I saw previously. The photos are really lovely though. Well done!

      Haha, well, not to fear – it was quite warm on this hike, even though there was still snow on the mountains. Perfect weather!

    Ooh, another NZ hike to add to my list!

      This one is definitely a must!

    […] Standing at 12,218 feet, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain. On clear days, you can see the mountain from miles away across Lake Pukaki. But it’s worth driving to Aoraki/Mount Cook viallage to see the mountain up close, too. If you have time, consider one of the walking tracks in the area — my favorite is the Hooker Valley Track. […]

    This looks like a lovely hike and reminds of the ‘Tongariro Crossing’ hike also in New Zealand! Have you tried it? It’s in Tongariro national park in the North island. It took us a full 8 hours and was pretty tough towards the end but well worth it for the incredible views! We got lucky with a lovely clear sunny day however totally recommend it too! 🙂

      I haven’t tackled Tongariro yet, but it’s definitely on my list!

    Which month did you travel Mount Cook, it seems like the whether are so nice, can see a lot of iceberg floating as well?

      I was there in early December – so *right* at the beginning of New Zealand summer.

    New Zealand’s always been a place that I’ve wanted to go, but especially after I saw “Lord Of The Rings.” I have two really good friends there who I’ve never met in person but we’ve gotten to know each other quite well over the years. This trail you talked about in this post has been on my list of To-Visit-Spots for a while, but now that I’ve read your post about it, I want to go even more. Thank-you so much for sharing your story of it & your gorgeous photographs. 🙂

      Great to hear it, Michelle! I hope you get to visit New Zealand soon!

    This is a gorgeous place, and while it would be difficult to do NZ justice in a single post, your entry does a very good job. Am heading to Mt Cook in the autumn season, and this certainly whets my appetite 🙂

      Great to hear it, Harrison! Autumn is a lovely time to be in New Zealand.

    I definitely want to do this hike when I return to New Zealand. Great post and awesome pics! Where did you get your compass??!

      It’s definitely a must-do hike in New Zealand! (And the compass pictured in this post wasn’t mine – I think the owner bought it on Etsy, though!)

    These are fabulous pictures which I really appreciate because I hiked this trail on a cloudy, cold, windy, snowy, hail-filled day! Nonetheless, the views were spectacular with or without precipitation. But a sunny day cannot be beaten. Want to go back right now!!

      Sunshine definitely can make all the difference sometimes! I was so lucky with the weather. Though moody skies can be cool, too!

    Hi Can you send or post info about how to sign up for this hike?

    Cheers

      You don’t need to sign up for it – just show up and hit the trail!

    Beautiful photos Amanda ! I’m planning to walk the Hooker Valley Trail later this year and your lovely pics have me super excited for it 🙂

      It’s such a nice walk – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

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