Day 3 – Mt. Cook, Hooker Valley Walk

Mount Cook has two main valleys which can be explored on day walks, one is the Hooker Valley and the other is the Tasman valley. The Hooker Valley is the most famous and well-known option for a half day walk, while the Tasman Valley is where the glacier explorers tours take place. There are also some shorter walks nearby Mount Cook village. But if there is only one walk that you can do, then it must be the Hooker Valley walk. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to do the walk and return, and you can go all the way up to the terminal lake point from where the Hooker glacier melts and becomes a lake.

The Hooker Valley walk is extremely well maintained with walking boards, swing bridges, and clearly marked pathways. There are multiple photo points along the way. The terrain is a bit hilly, but not too steep. There are some sections where you have to climb steps. But overall, the difficulty level is not very high and anyone can do this walk. I saw people of all ages during the walk. The hallmark of this walk is the swing bridge. There are in fact three swing bridges that you have to cross before you get to the terminal lake. The greenery of the valley reminds you of Switzerland and the gushing water flowing below the swing bridges gives you a feeling of the river Ganga in the Himalayas. If you are going in the summer months, make sure you take plenty of water, wear a hat, and carry sunscreen.

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                    (start of the Hooker Valley walk)

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                              (initial part of the walk)

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                    (looking back towards Lake Pukaki)

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   (the blue tinge of Lake Pukaki visible from the Hooker Valley)

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                         (first of the three swing bridges)

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                 (glacial water from the terminal lake)

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                                       (stunning Mount Cook)

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                        (walking in late summer sunshine)

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                         (at a view point along the way)

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                                           (glacial water)

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                    (view from one of the swing bridges)

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                        (crossing the second swing bridge)

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                   (another fantastic view of Mount Cook)

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                      (a hut and a couple of toilets for campers)

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                   (well maintained walkway at Hooker Valley)

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                                       (third swing bridge)

We reached the terminal lake point after about 2.5 hours of walking and were quite exhausted (after all we were sightseeing since morning – read p1 and p2). The terminal lake point is an incredible place, it is calm, quiet and has good vibes about it. It is also the closest you can get to Mount Cook (unless you are doing a heli-hike) and appreciate just how big and tall the mountain really is. One feels at ease sitting by the terminal lake. It is a good place to get some rest and collect your energy before making the return journey to Mount Cook village. We decided to sit on one of the rocks close to the shore of the lake and dip our toes in the water. The water of the lake was a bit muddy and freezing cold! We could see small pieces of glacial ice melting under the afternoon sun, as they disintegrated from one large floating piece into smaller pieces. One of the smaller pieces somehow managed to float towards the shore. This intrigued a few Chinese tourists, who grabbed the piece and started taking pictures holding the block of ice. This glacial ice is actually quite dense and heavy. It is 7 times denser than household ice!

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                                           (Hooker glacier)

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                  (glacial ice floating on the terminal lake)

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                            (Hooker Valley terminal lake)

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        (we sat on top of one of these rocks, but near the shore)

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                (view of hills surrounding the terminal lake)

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                    (glacial ice melting in the afternoon sun)

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       (the blue colour on the underside is due to high density)

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                                   (majestic Mount Cook)

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                     (sunlight shining on the lake water)

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                           (some pieces of hard dense glacial ice)

After relaxing and taking a few pictures, it was time for us to head back to Mount Cook village. On returning, we were exhausted and hungry. Our shoes were covered with a whitish-grey dust, picked up during the long walk. We headed straight to the Old Mountaineers Cafe, a cafe run by a renowned climber Charlie Hobbs. The place is a bit of a mess, with two servers having to bring food and seat people at the same time. The chaos was the cause of a huge queue outside the cafe, and vacant tables inside. As we went early to eat (around 6:30 pm), we were lucky to get seated without much trouble. We ordered a vegetarian pizza and veggie nachos. We were so tired and hungry from the Hooker valley walk, that we did not care how good or bad the food was. We were just happy to dig into a fresh hot meal. That was the end of a long but memorable day, filled with some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Mount Cook is officially one of our favorite spots on the South Island.

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