No adventure to New Zealand can be complete without a visit to the Mount Cook Village. New Zealand is all about adventure, adrenaline, secluded spaces and raw nature. Nothing screams amazing more than Aoraki / Mount Cook, an impressive 3724 metres mountain, the highest in New Zealand.
Mount Cook has plenty of stories to tell. With an impressive track of famous climbers who succeeded to conquer its peak, many have been lured in by previous successes and attempted to ascend New Zealand's top themselves. Amongst its most celebrated hikers, Sir Edmund Hillary made the ascent on the South Ridge to the Low Peak. Today, Mount Cook's South Ridge bears Sir Hillary's name since August 2011.
An adventurer at heart, it's easy to see why I couldn't skip climbing on the Mount Cook myself, since I already endeavour to discover all New Zealand's southern secrets. I strategically timed for our Aoraki adventure in the last week of travels around New Zealand. I wanted to drive, relax, learn the country, understand its terrain before taking on such great adventure. I wanted to connect with the place. I hiked the Queen Charlotte Track, The Abel Tasman Coastal Track, lazed in sunny Nelson and discovered Hokitika's best kept secrets. I continued further South to Wanaka via Franz Josef glacier, drove on New Zealand's best road to Queenstown and enjoyed one of the most remote places on the South Island: The spectacular Milford Sound. What better way to end such epic adventure but with conquering New Zealand's mother of mountains: Aoraki.
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Where to stay in Aoraki
Whether you wish to climb or enjoy seclusion and take day hikes, I would say the best place to base yourself is the Aoraki Village. I stayed in Aoraki court motel, an impressive apart-hotel which looked outstanding. Imagine waking up and seeing a crazy cool mountain range as first sight and located just a short walk away from the first impressive vista point of Mount Cook.
Prepare for your stay in Aoraki
It's important to remember that Aoraki Village is secluded. Although there are a couple of restaurants, few hotels and a tourist information info, there are no supermarket nor convenience shops.
It is imperative that you come prepared. We stopped in Twizel to fuel up and buy enough groceries, snacks, drinks and food to lasts us for days. Remember you will need a lot of protein and water if you attempt a climb (even for the day hikes). Better to have more food than you can eat, than to run out of supplies. You can, of course, drive back to Twizel but it takes 2 hours return. There are better ways to spend your time: like being out in nature.
What can you do in Aoraki
The possibilities are quite endless. You can, of course, take day hikes. There are a few you can do. The most popular is a return track to Hooker Valley. It's a well defined, easy to do the trail. It takes about three hours and during off-peak season it's really quiet and remote.
It's rather nice to feel alone right in the heart of New Zealand's Alps. You can also challenge yourself with more demanding hikes.
Remember you should always check with the local tourist information before going on a hike. They will know the weather, possible avalanche warnings and other potential dangers. We hiked at the end of March and from time to time we could hear massive bits of ice breaking from the mountains. It sounded terrifying (but awesome). Safety first, always! Here is a useful list with all the hikes you can take.
Governors Bush Walk - 1 hour return
Bowen Bush Walk - 10 minutes return
Glencoe Walk - 30 min return
Red Tarns Track - 2 hours return
Kea Point Track - 2 hours return from the Aoraki Village
Hooker Valley Track- 3 hours return
Sealy Tarns Track - 2 hours from the Village
Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut - 2 hours
Mueller Hut to Village - 3 hours
Ball Hut Route - 6-8 hours return
Aoraki Climb (the real deal) - 6 days
The most common guided route is the Linda Glacier and the NE Ridge from Plateau Hut. You have to be aware that this is a long and strenuous climb and should not be underestimated. Because the mountain is mainly covered in snow and ice, you shouldn't attempt Mt Cook as a first-ever mountain climb.
You need to prep and exercise for quite some time before being able to do this. Although not as high as other mountains around the world, this is actually quite a difficult climb, due to its terrain and unpredictable weather conditions. As tempting as it may be, safety first!
Best to hire a company which has plenty of experience and are happy to guide you through your climb. You will also get your gear included which makes things a lot easier. Saves a lot of money and luggage space when travelling around New Zealand. Have a look at alpine guide for example, they have been recommended to us by other locals.
Over 80% of climbers take the Linda Glacier route because it is most straight forward. You have two options. You either track it to Plateau Hut for about 1.5 days, or take a helicopter ride there. You should allow about 6 days for this hike although in best case scenarios this is being done within 2-3 days.
The best night sky
Most people come to Aoraki for 2 reasons: to either relax in the mountains or conquer them. But what many don't know is that the Aoraki area is blessed with some of the world's darkest night skies. This means you will be able to really see an abundance of stars and the milky way.
Before our first climb, we drove to a nearby field, grabbed a blanket and lied on top of the car (how cheesy, I know). It was cold so make sure you come prepared even if you do this during the summer months. Boy, wasn't this the best night sky I have ever seen. At the time I didn't have a great camera lens for night photography, and I so regret not being able to capture all that vast, shiny wilderness. It made us really connect with nature, with the universe, and feel big and small at the same time. It was beyond anything I have ever experienced.
So whether you want to conquer New Zealand's highest mountain, wake up to a crazy beautiful view, or hike in the wild, Aoraki is sure to steal your heart and make you fall in love with its natural beauty. Rugged terrain, wildflowers, glaciers and impressive mountain tops are just the starter of a few days adventure of a lifetime.
What interests you most about Aoraki? Do you want to conquer Mt Cook, see the best starry sky or retreat in the mountains? Tell me all about your plans in the comments section below.