Home Ice bergs Adventure Travel: Is the Hooker Track New Zealand the easiest day hike?

Adventure Travel: Is the Hooker Track New Zealand the easiest day hike?

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The Hooker Track is an easy day hike that takes you across three swing bridges, all with stunning views. Photo / Provided

Grandeur surrounds the Hooker Track and – on a good day – it’s an easy couple of hours walk, writes Steve Dickinson

The sound of what sounds like a bomb going off instantly makes you look up.

Then, as if in slow motion, masses of snow and ice roll down the mountain followed by clouds of mist, then . . . nothing. Just silence. If you’ve never seen or heard an avalanche, it’s impressive but, even from a distance, it’s still a disturbing experience.

Aoraki, Mt Cook, is steeped in New Zealand history. It is our highest mountain and the one that has cost the most lives. It exudes grandeur, like an alpine sentinel overlooking the mountains and valleys below. But as long as you stay on the Hooker Track, you are not in avalanche danger. DoC states that the trail was designed for avalanche safety. Venture out, and you do so at your own risk. (Don’t venture there).

Aoraki’s approach is spectacular. As the road winds and turns, you get visual snapshots of the mountain – the highest peak in the range – in the distance, getting bigger and more eerie as you get closer. After passing the village of Mt Cook, from the trail parking lot, the Hooker Valley stretches out before you.

There are a range of other hobos and huts in the area, but the Hooker Track is the most used. This is a great day hike for people of all skill levels. We hiked the track recently and one of our party injured his knee but was determined to make it and thanks to the quality and ease of the 11km track, made it round trip. The trail is easy to follow and groomed, and along the way we encountered families with young children, even someone pushing a stroller (although that’s probably not a good idea).

HOW TO RIDE THE HOOKER TRACK

From the parking lot, you cross the Hooker River, and the trail passes between ancient morainic ridges and bumps. (A moraine is a fancy name for the material left behind by a glacier).

Near the start, but off the main trail, there are stone steps leading to the Alpine Memorial, a stone structure covered in metal plaques honoring fallen mountaineers in the Southern Alps. There’s a lot. It is sobering that, surrounded by all this grandeur, so many people have lost their lives among these peaks. A quote stuck out to me: “I haven’t left – I’m in these mountains, I’m in the stars, I’m all around you, always near, never far”.

Just beyond the monument there is an eerie view of Mount Sefton, 3151m covered in snow, glaciers and dark, steep cliffs in summer and winter alike.

Further along the Hooker Track there are three large swing bridges over the river or valley floor. If conditions are bad, the second of these bridges may be closed – but if the weather is bad, you shouldn’t hike this trail anyway.

On the other side of the first swing bridge, you have a view of Lake Mueller bordered by Mount Sefton, which notoriously drops avalanches crashing into the glacial lake below.

The views of Aoraki Mt Cook are awesome, but the Hooker Track is an easy and rewarding day hike.  Photo / Provided
The views of Aoraki Mt Cook are awesome, but the Hooker Track is an easy and rewarding day hike. Photo / Provided

Going up the track, which winds to the right over a small stream, you cross a rocky notch, which looks like a doorway to a surprise. You then descend to Lake Hooker, which stretches out before you, icy green-brown, with icebergs as big as houses floating in the shallow water. The flotilla of warped icebergs fills the creamy brown glacial water and if you look down at the lake you will see the ice cliffs where the lake meets the Hooker Glacier

There are tables to sit and enjoy it all or you can head to shore and swim with the icebergs if you are brave enough. Not a popular option – the water is cloudy and, as you would expect, freezing.

The full trail is an easy couple of hours walk, but be aware that conditions can change very quickly. You are in an alpine environment and there are risks. A friend and his teenage family once went on a hot sunny day with light, warm winds to walk the trail. But when they returned, in just 90 minutes, the weather changed – a massive drop in temperature and they were buffeted by freezing winds so strong they could barely stand. The wind can descend into the valley and cause the temperature to drop rapidly. Ease of access and a large parking area can give a false sense of security – so be sure to check the weather or check with DoC before you go.

Hooker Track Fact Sheet:

Location: Aoraki/Mt Cook, South Island New Zealand
Distance: 10km
Necessary time : 3 hours return
Difficulty: Easy
Mountain bike: No
Wheelchair access: No
Road: Collapse
Elevation: 877m
Wet feet: No
Bathroom: No
Dogs: No
Mobile coverage: Mobile phone connection is possible for most of the trail

For more travel inspiration, visit newzealand.com/nz.

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