Southern Alps: Mt Cook, Tekapo

“Anytime I think of a mountain anywhere in the world I think of Mt Cook. Its shape is so symbolic of mountains, it’s huge. It’s dangerous, I guess the fact that it’s the highest one in New Zealand… we’re just lucky.”

Mountaineer Jim Wilson

Yep, Lucky. Mt Cook’s peak is typically hidden by clouds, but our drive to the park started with a clear day at Lake Pukaki. The lake’s milky blue color is due to dissolved minerals – “glacier flour”. We stopped over and over for photo after photo.


The first stop in the park was a short hike to the Tasman Valley Glacier.

Hooker Valley Track

A easy 10k walk that prompts you to shriek “Look! Look at that! Oh my!” to complete strangers. Three suspension bridges, boardwalks, and rocky tracks to a glacier lake at the base of Mt Cook – the closest any walking track comes to Aoraki / Mount Cook. Unobstructed views of the highest mountain in New Zealand, with Hooker Glacier in the valley. Allow about 3 hours.

Flight Seeing from Tekapo

We flew Air Safaris “The Grand Traverse” to the glaciers and Mt Cook, NZ’s highest peak at 12,218 feet (3,724 meters).

The Enormity was Thrilling

A Work of Art From the Air

Lake Tekapo is a Jewel

The town of Lake Tekapo has about 600 residents. The walk around the lake is exquisite and its clear nights and lack of light pollution make it a destination for night sky/star viewing.

The Name – Aoraki/Mt Cook – Means Sky Piercer

The Māori name for the mountain is Aorangi or Aoraki, meaning cloud piercer. The English name honors Captain James Cook who surveyed the NZ islands in 1770 (but never saw the mountain).

And That Was That!…Or So I Thought

Due to Covid-19 travel pauses, NZ Immigration gave us the gift of time with visa extensions. It was another gift to return to South Island 11 months later in January, 2021 to repeat these walks, and add two more.

Kea Point

An easy short hike to a spectacular lookout in an alpine basin and the terminus of Mueller Glacier. Looming above is Mt Sefton with its slopes holding the Huddleston Glacier. The return walk offers great views down the glacier carved Tasman Valley.

Sealy Tarns Track

Off Kea Point Track is Sealy Tarns Track aka ‘stairway to heaven’. A string of steep staircases zig-zag up the mountainside – 2,200 straight-up box and rock steps. Looking up is a bid to losing heart, so look out at the long view and listen for the glacier booms.

Beyond this point is the route to Mueller Hut – no wooden staircases, a more primitive trail. With a storm brewing and crazy winds forecast, I can say that not only was I not tempted to go on, it wasn’t wise.

Red Tarns Trail

A shorter hike with deep valley views. (Disclosure…this is the trail I MEANT to take – sounded easier – but I mixed up my “tarns”.)

Red Tarns TrailSealy Tarns Trail
Length: 4KM / 2.5 Miles
Time: 2 Hours
Elevation Gain: 300 Meters / 984 Feet
Difficulty: Intermediate
Trail Type: Lots of Stairs (1750)
Length: 5.8 KM / 3.6 Miles
Duration: 3-4 Hours
Elevation Gain: 600 Meters / 1,969 Feet
Difficulty: Intermediate/Hard
Trail Type: Gravel/Dirt Stairs (2200)

And that was it!

The Crescendo – The highest point reached in a progressive increase of intensity; however, on the South Island, around every curve, beyond every switchback and over every hill is a BIG scene. Distances are not long, but changes in vistas are astounding.

Looking back at Mt Sefton and the Huddleston Glacier.

Mapping Mt Cook and the Walking Tracks

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7 thoughts on “Southern Alps: Mt Cook, Tekapo

  1. It was incredible the first time around, but I’m so glad you got to go back and a few more beath-taking (literally!) experiences. Those stairs – wow. Not for the faint of heart!

    1. As you well know..not on,yo is a must do…but a must re-do as well.

  2. The photos are incredible! And who would know the 2020 Australian wild fires would result in brown snow. Incredible journey. Thanks for sharing💖

  3. The experience and the company you keep makes the journey surreal! What a lifetime of memories! So glad we get to see the virtual journey version. Your photos are absolutely stunning!

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