Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is located on the South Island of New Zealand. It was declared a national park in 1953 to protect and preserve the landscape. The park is home to the country's highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook. In Maori, Aoraki means, "cloud piercer", and the English name, Mt Cook, refers to the navigator James Cook, who discovered New Zealand in the 18th century. Mt Cook was the training location for Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to summit Everest in 1953. Other peaks in the park include Mount Tasman, Mount Sefton, and Mount Hicks. Not only can you find lush greenery all over the park, but also, glaciers cover 40% of the parks area.
Hooker Valley, Mount Cook National Park
The whole park in itself is a sight to see. Mount cook towers in the background of many miles of lush green landscapes. Although it can be expensive (but so are most things in New Zealand) seeing the park from above is a truly amazing experience. Air Safaris is a great company that offers a scenic flight over the park. You can do it in a small plane or a helicopter.
Mount Cook National Park and the regions surrounding it were recognized as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, so stargazing is definitely a must see while visiting this park. This area is almost completely light-pollution free, making the night skies some of the clearest you will ever witness.
Alternatively, as you approach the park, from the main highway you can see the Tasman Glacier, which is 27 kilometers long.
Lastly, there are many different types of birds and wildlife in the park to look out for. From Kaki/Black Stilt birds to black alpine Weta, you will most likely see one of these birds while there. Beware of the Kea birds though; these are mischievous parrots that always up to no good!
The town of Twizel is near the national park. You will most likely be passing through here before entering the park. There are three lakes in the region as well: Lake Pukaki, Lake Tekapo, and Lake Ohau. These are known as the bluest lakes in New Zealand. There are many campsites and accommodations in these areas if you choose to make a stop before actually heading into the park. For those Lord of the Rings fans, Lake Pukaki was the filming location for Lake-town' in The Hobbit. The set was created at the Tasman Downs Station, which is on the shores of Lake Pukaki.
Tons of outdoor activities are available in Mount Cook National Park for all levels of fitness. These activities include walking, trekking, mountaineering, ice climbing, cycling, and many more. If you plan on climbing Mt Cook, it takes a lot of preparation in advance, and you will need ice-climbing gear.
The Department of Conservation website for New Zealand has information on all of the walks and treks in the area, so this is a great resource for travelers that are looking for that sort of activity. You can also ski on the Tasman Glacier!
A great activity for cyclists is the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. The trail is 300 kilometers long and it starts at the Southern Alps in the park and ends at the Pacific Ocean in the town of Oamaru. This is a great way to see as much of the beautiful New Zealand scenery as possible, but is probably not for beginner cyclists.
Food and Dining
There are two main restaurants in the park, but both are pretty expensive. The first is called the Old Mountaineers Café; it is next to the DOC Visitor Information Center. The other is located in the Glentanner Park Centre, about 15 minutes away from Mt Cook Village. This one is a bit less expensive. You can always just buy food from the grocery store to cook yourself if you have the proper camping/cooking equipment!
You will most likely be passing through Twizel to enter the park, and this road takes you right into Mount Cook village. There is an airport down the road as well, called Mount Cook Airport. The best way to get here would be to rent a car and drive, that way you can navigate all throughout the park. Once you are in the park though, you can also walk! It is such a beautiful park that walking around it to get to trail heads or campsites really just feels like another scenic hike.