Going forward, if anyone asks me what places in New Zealand I would consider a “must-visit”, I think Aoraki/Mount Cook is going to be at the top of my list. I’m incredibly blessed to have been born in this crazy beautiful country, and I’m glad I finally got to see the bits that so many people rave about.
A long day of driving from Dunedin – complete with stops in Moeraki, Oamaru, and Lake Tekapo – brought me to the stunning Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The sun was setting as I made my way down Mount Cook Road, my gaze flicking between the road and the incredible snow-capped mountains in the distance. I definitely recommend staying in the village for at least two nights if you are able to, so you’ll have at least one full day to explore, soak in the surroundings, and breathe the fresh mountain air.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park falls within an area that is the largest dark sky reserve in the world, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Needless to say, stargazing is phenomenal here, and there are numerous places along Mount Cook Road that are designated for pulling your car over to look at the stars. If you want to gaze a little bit closer at the Milky Way, perhaps go on a stargazing excursion from Aoraki/Mount Cook Village that gives you the use of telescopes and a guide to point out the best bits.
Arguably one of the most popular activities in the park is good old-fashioned hiking! From the famous Hooker Valley Track to more challenging, overnight tramps – there really is something for everyone. Unfortunately for me, the Hooker Valley Track was closed after the first swing bridge due to storm damage to the bridge itself. Thankfully, there are many other options in the park. I ended up doing the Governor’s Bush Walk, the Tasman Glacier Walk, and walked up to the first bridge on the Hooker Valley Track. Usually the water in the glacier lake is bright blue, however I assume sediment had been stirred up during the storm, giving it a beige colour that looked quite otherworldly among its surroundings. Take a packed lunch with you or take a break between hikes at The Old Mountaineer’s Cafe Bar & Restaurant in the village.