Hiking the Hooker Valley trail and Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

It’s quite the accolade in such a land of seemingly endless aesthetic wonder as New Zealand, but today I am crowning Mount Cook National Park the most beautiful in the whole of the country.

Along with two cheeky young men from the Netherlands that I met in a hostel in Queenstown, I travelled to this area of the South Island for several days to do some hiking. On the first day, we mainly drove around and had some good singalongs in the car as we looked out at the scenery.

Beautiful Lake Tekapo on a sunny day
One of many bridges on the Hooker Valley trail

The Hooker Valley trail is flat and easy, taking about three hours to walk. It was a bit cloudy the day we did it, but luckily didn’t rain much and we still got a good view of the lake (even if Mount Cook’s summit remained stubbornly hidden).

Mount Cook obscured by clouds!
Icebergs floating in the Hooker Lake

The Mueller Hut hike is a different ball game altogether. Ascending about 1,200m in a single hike, there are options to stop along the way, but we went for the whole thing. The first half consists of hundreds of steep wooden steps cut into the rock, followed by a difficult scramble over many loose rocks, before a final push across some boulders (thankfully less steep by this point) to reach the hut itself.

The whole walk, to the hut and back, took us over six hours. Probably the others could have done it faster than me, but we had a good amount of breaks to eat and catch our breath. It is not an easy walk!

Jurassic Park-like valleys which the glacier used to fill
The team!
Coming down – and going up – the second part of the Mueller Hut trail is a bit of a scramble over rough rocks.
The views of the glacial lakes are astonishing on a clear day. Their milky white colour comes from a substance called “glacial flour”.
Finally! There’s the summit of Mount Cook in the top left corner.

On a different day, we visited some strange sandy structures that rise out of the mostly flat plain. Dusty and scree-like, you can clamber up between them and get a great view out over the river and landscape below.

We also had a great time visiting a local salmon farm, the little town of Twizel, and getting stuck in a traffic jam behind someone who had a HUGE hunting haul. It was a great road trip that gave me a dose of that camaraderie and adventure I’d been craving, with beers in the late afternoon sun, care, and friendship.

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