The 55km drive along the western shore of gorgeous opaque-blue Lake Pukaki towards Mt Cook Village is one of the most enjoyable sunnyday drives on the island. It’s the kind of picturesque scene that adorns many a guidebook cover and postcard rack. Every km brings you a little closer to Mt Cook’s jagged crest dominating the skyline ahead, while every corner of the road showcases another view down over the sweeping expanse of Pukaki’s unreal blue-ness. This drive is 100% pure NZ pleasure! Interesting to note is that when you’re in the Village, you are now closer to the Tasman Sea (40km) than you are to the far end of Lake Pukaki.
Arriving at Mt Cook Village you’ll find an epic sweeping alpine vista at every turn of your head. You’re only problem will be choosing which of the many walking options to venture onto first. Here are some insights, as everything depends on the cloud cover. It’s best to plan at least 2-3 days in the Village area to give you the chance to see the snow-capped peaks and glaciers in glorious sunshine. If Mt Cook is clouded-over, then bide your time and save the Hooker Valley walk and its Mt Cook views for a clearer day. Viewing the Tasman Glacier, doing the iceberg-boat tour, or walking some portion of the Ball Flats route are all good cloudy-weather options. When the sun shines, maybe climb to Red Tarn in the morning when you’re energized, then go up the easier Hooker Valley mid-day.
TRACKS: The Hooker Valley walk tops the must-see list. The track to Kea Pt is also super-worth it for a shorter outing (2km one-way, 170m elevation gain). The two “tarn” tracks—Sealy and Red—are both viewpacked as well, but both require steep ascents for their visual splendors. Sealy Tarns spurs off the Kea Pt track and climbs about 600 vertical meters to the above-treeline reflective tarns where you’ll get a birds-eye view of two glacial lakes, the entire Hooker Valley and gargantuan Mt Cook. The Red Tarn track is south of the Village and climbs about 300 vertical meters to a sweeping view encompassing the Village as well as the Mueller Glacier lake and Mt Cook.