How to hike the Hooker Valley Track

Snow-capped mountains, dramatic scenery and crisp morning air set the scene for the Hooker Valley Track. It’s one of New Zealand’s best walks and a must-do for anyone visiting the South Island. An easy spot to visit on a road trip, it’s the perfect addition any itinerary and a walk you won’t soon forget. To help you #TravelWell here’s everything you need to know to hike the Hooker Valley Track.

Watch us do the Hooker Valley Track in this epic video guide:

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Where is the Hooker Valley Track?

You’ll find the Hooker Valley Track located within the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand’s stunning South Island around 4 hours drive south-west from Christchurch. Named one of the ‘Best Day Walks in New Zealand,’ the trail winds through spectacular scenery, across swing bridges and over milky-blue water out to the Mueller Glacial Lake and uninterrupted views of Aoraki.

What’s the history of the region?

According to Ngāi Tahu legend, Aoraki and his three brothers were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father. While on a sea voyage, their canoe overturned on a reef. When the brothers climbed on top of their canoe, the freezing south wind turned them to stone. The canoe became the South Island and Aoraki and his brothers became the peaks of the Southern Alps.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

Forming part of the Southern Alps, which spans the length of the South Island, Aoraki is the highest peak in New Zealand. At a staggering 3,724 metres or 12,218 feet it’s a favourite among avid mountain climbers with three summits from south to north; Low Peak, Middle Peak and High Peak. Local guides operate expeditions to the summit which take 6 days to complete and require a very high level of fitness and proven climbing proficiency.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

Famously, the National Park was used as a training ground by Sir Edmund Hillary in preparation for his conquest of Everest in 1953 with sherpa mountaineer Tenzig Norgay. As the region is of such significance in Māori culture and history it’s important we, as visitors, treat the area with the same respect. You can read more about the significance of Aoraki here and you really must as it’ll help give context to just how special the region you’re visiting truly is and how lucky we are to be able to go there. Remember to leave no trace.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

How do I get there?

You’ll need to drive to the trailhead so a vehicle is essential. On our first visit we drove in our motorhome from Motorhome Republic and on our second visit we drove in our SUV from GO Rentals. You’ll need to set your GPS to either the White Horse Hill Campground or Hooker Valley Track.

Lake Pukaki © Little Grey Box

It should take around 1 hour and 10 minutes to get there from Tekapo or 45 minutes from Twizel. On both of our visits the carpark was busy but not so crowded we were unable to park. Just be sure to park in a proper parking spot, lock your vehicle and hide any valuables out of sight or carry them with you. We didn’t have any issues but best to be safe.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

Where does the trail start?

The Hooker Valley Track starts at the White Horse Hill Campground and car park located at the end of Hooker Valley Road. When you arrive you’ll see other vehicles in the carpark, a small hut and big green and yellow signs that say ‘Hooker Valley Track,’ with bright arrows pointing you in the right direction.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

There are toilets at the trail head but, be warned, you can smell them from a mile off so I would recommend using the toilet before you start, at a different location, if possible. The trail starts pretty uneventful as it winds toward the first swing bridge. It’s after then that things get increasingly beautiful! There are toilets further along the trail, toward the end too. It should come as no surprise these ones also have a very… distinct… scent.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

How long does it take to hike the Hooker Valley Track?

The Hooker Valley Track is a total 10km or 6.2 miles return with a recommended total time of 3 hours. I used the free app, Strava, to track our hike and it took us 4 hours return. We moved at a leisurely pace on the way out, stopping often to enjoy the scenery, take photos and film. We also spent a good amount of time at the end, sitting down with some snacks and a thermos full of tea to just be present and take it all in. On the way back, we moved pretty quickly.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

If you’re trying to figure out how to put it into an itinerary I’ve got some great insight for you! On our first visit we didn’t actually get to do it as the track was unexpectedly closed. Even if it were open, we didn’t leave nearly enough time to get it done as I’d only allowed 3 hours to complete it and then we had to drive to Wanaka. I simply didn’t allow enough time, I was trying to cram too much in!

On our second visit, I knew better and dedicated a full day to it just to be sure. If you can, I’d recommend doing the same. Ideally, you’ll want to have plenty of time to do it at a good pace and actually enjoy it. If you allow a full day and stay somewhere nearby you will still be left with time in the afternoon to go and see something else great (like Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki or the Omarama Clay Cliffs) and head back to your accommodation to relax and have dinner in the evening.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

How difficult is the Hooker Valley Track?

The track is very well maintained and, in my opinion, not challenging. It’s flat the whole way except for maybe a slight incline for a very short distance right at the end of the track. The only thing to consider is the length of the track. For some, 10km may be too far. If so, that’s okay! You don’t need to go the whole way to have a wonderful experience, just go as far as your body is comfortable and you’ll still see beautiful scenery and get to cross some of the iconic swing bridges.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

What time should I start?

The photographer in me wanted to start the trail as early as possible so we could get the best light. We ended up starting at around 9:45am and were very happy with how it worked out. As I mentioned, we visited in winter so it was very cold in the mornings. Starting at 9:45am allowed us to soak in the warmth of the sun once we got out of the shadows and, because the sun comes up later, we still had great light. If you’re visiting in winter like us, you could really do this walk at any time of the day. I would probably just be mindful of starting too late the afternoon as I wouldn’t want to be walking back to the carpark in the dark, cold evening.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

What should I wear?

We visited in July, winter in New Zealand, and found it was quite cold at the start of the trail. This is because the sun hadn’t come over the mountains yet so we were in the shade for the first little bit of the trail. Once we got into the sun we were lovely and warm.

With that in mind, I wore: Comfortable Lorna Jane activewear leggings with thermal leggings beneath, a thermal top, t-shirt and light jumper with a big ski/snow jacket over the top, a beanie, explorer socks and hiking boots. I was very warm and comfortable!

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

What should I bring with me?

Make sure you bring plenty of water with you as well as sunscreen and any important medication like an asthma inhaler, epi-pen etc. It’s important you apply sunscreen before you set off and reapply throughout the day. Don’t let the cool weather fool you – you can and will get sunburnt. You may also like to bring a good lip balm if you’re prone to chapped lips.

Once you arrive at the end, at Mueller Lake, you’ll definitely want to sit for a little while and bask in the beauty of New Zealand. I’d recommend bringing a thermos full of a nice, hot beverage if visiting in winter. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate should do the trick! You’ll also want to bring some food with you. Sandwiches, fresh fruit, muesli bars, yummy little cakes, baked goodies etc would all be perfect. Make sure you’ve got food to fuel your body – 10km is a long way!

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

Is the Hooker Valley Track safe?

Yes! The path and boardwalks are all very well maintained and the wooden boardwalks also have wire on them so, in icy weather, your shoes have something to grip onto. There were no points where it the path was steep enough to have to scramble or any spots where you may lose your footing. If visiting with little ones, you’ll just want to keep them close while wandering along the boardwalks and near the water as they don’t have guardrails.

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

There were lots of people there (not so many it wasn’t nice, just a steady stream of other visitors) so if you’re a solo traveller thinking of doing this track, you’ll be just fine. Be sure you’re mindful around Mueller Lake. During our visit, the top was frozen but that doesn’t mean you can or should walk on it. Don’t walk on it. Stick to the paths and areas designated for visitors. Lastly, while the swing bridges aren’t scary or super high, I know my mum would struggle with them so just keep that in mind if you’re travelling with someone who gets a little shaky on things like that. Take it slow and they’ll be okay, I’m sure!

Hooker Valley Track © Little Grey Box

Where to stay

We’ve visited twice and opted to stay in Twizel both times. Our first visit was part of a motorhome road trip so we stayed at the Twizel Holiday Park. We arrived late in the evening and left early in the morning, so didn’t spend a lot of time there but the time we did have was very enjoyable and the staff were friendly and helpful.

Our second visit was part of a regular road trip so we stayed at Highlands Farm Stay, an Airbnb located 5 minutes outside Twizel, in the Executive Barn. We absolutely loved Highlands Farmstay! The accommodation is very spacious and equipped with an en suite, seperate bedroom and a big, comfortable bed, a living room and fully-equipped kitchen.

There’s also a bathtub outside with more than enough room for two. You can fill it up with deliciously hot water and spend your evenings stargazing! If you love animals, there are plenty of friendly farm animals to feed and befriend, including Highland cows, goats, sheep, alpaca, chickens and more. We loved our stay here and would definitely recommend it! Book Highlands Farm Stay here.

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Little Grey Box

I'm a writer and presenter and my husband Matt is a videographer. Together, we run Little Grey Box; an award-winning travel blog and YouTube channel.

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