The Maori name for Mt. Cook, “Aoraki“, which literally translates to “cloud piercer” is so apt and beautiful. At 3,724 metres, Mt. Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. Mt. Cook is also where Sir Hillary practised before he scaled Mount Everest.
At the base of Mt. Cook is Mt. Cook Village. And whether you’re planning on scaling Mt. Cook or simply driving around the South Island and looking for a place to stay while visiting Lake Pukaki, we highly recommend spending a night at Mt. Cook Village.
How to reach Mt. Cook Village?
The closest commercial city to Mt. Cook Village is Queenstown, which is a 264 km drive. The drive is quite scenic with a few interesting highlights along the way.
For us, Lake Dunstan, Lindis Pass, and Lake Pukaki were the main highlights along the drive between Queenstown and Mt. Cook.
Lake Dunstan is a man-made lake with a slightly controversial past, but still worthy of a quick stop.
Lindis Pass on the other hand is out of this world! It is an alpine area of tall, tussock-covered mountains that looks stunning!
And of course, Lake Pukaki is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, if not the most beautiful lake in New Zealand!
The drive to Mount Cook was spectacularly beautiful with quick scenery changes. From lush green fields to barren hills, snow-capped mountains, and glacial lakes.
Our night at Mt. Cook Village
We spent our night at Mt. Cook Village as part of our itinerary for visiting Lake Pukaki. We didn’t want to just spend a few hours at the lake but instead spend a night in the region.
And so, from among the options we had, we decided to stay at Mt. Cook.
In the one day that we spent at Mt. Cook Village, we felt the majestic presence of Aoraki and the beauty of the park that surrounds it!
Mt. Cook Village Hotels and Accommodation
Mt. Cook Village provides a range of accommodations from premium hotels and motels, to budget-friendly options for backpackers and camping. But despite that, it can prove to be a challenge to book a room at Mt. Cook, especially during peak season.
We stayed at the Aoraki Court Motel, which was absolutely fantastic! We had a room on the ground floor that had lots of space in the back which was very helpful when we were stargazing at night!
And speaking of hotels, we recommend a meal at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre Café and Bar. It is one of the cosiest restaurants that I’ve ever eaten at.
The view of Mount Cook outside, covered in clouds, was a sharp contrast with the warmth inside. Not to mention that the food was amazing and the salmon was some of the freshest we’ve ever eaten!
Mt. Cook Activities
Mt. Cook offers numerous outdoor activities for visitors who wish to immerse themselves in nature.
Visitors can pick from 4WD safaris, boating on the glacier lakes, fishing, scenic flights and hikes. And during the winter, Mt. Cook also offers ski experiences onto New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman.
But if you have limited time, here are some of the must-do activities at Mt. Cook.
Visit the surrounding lakes
Mt. Cook Village is surrounded by numerous lakes, from large to small, from white to blue!
The most famous lake next to Mt. Cook is Lake Pukaki. Lake Pukaki is known for its turquoise-blue colour that dazzles every single person visiting it for the first time!
But located much closer to Mt. Cook Village, are three more lakes – Tasman Lake, Hooker Lake, and Mueller Lake.
During our stay, we visited Tasman Lake as was recommended by our hotel staff.
We braved the biting wind and rain to see Lake Tasman the day we arrived, and it did not disappoint! As it wasn’t tourist season yet, we were the only ones at the lake. It was so surreal and calm looking at the still enamel-coloured waters with chunks of floating glacial ice.
Stargaze at night
Mt. Cook is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to see the Milky Way. It might just be the best place in the southern hemisphere!
Given the absence of light pollution in the area, you’ll be greeted with a star-studded sky every night!
During our stay, the weather didn’t play along that evening. The incessant rain and the overcast sky really put a damper on our mood. So, after a sumptuous dinner, we returned to our room with no hope of stargazing.
But thankfully, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared up later that night and we were treated to a sky full of stars so majestic that I forgot that I wasn’t appropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures!
We couldn’t believe how clearly we could see the Milky Way from our room and lost count of shooting stars that night!
Go on a hike
Mt. Cook National Park also has some of the most amazing hiking trails that are easily accessible from Mt. Cook Village. There are trails for every hiker, no matter their level of experience.
The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular hikes in the park that heads up the Hooker Valley towards Aoraki/Mount Cook. The track passes close to the Alpine Memorial, a great viewpoint, and is a 4-hour excursion (including the return) from the village.
More details about the Hooker Valley Track and other hikes in the area can be found on the official Mt. Cook website.
Experience the beauty of Mt. Cook National Park
The topographical landscape of Mount Cook National Park is extremely conducive to rainfall. So, when we woke up the next morning, rain-bearing clouds had returned and were passing quickly in front of the rising sun. They brought with them short bursts of rain that lasted 2 minutes and then cleared up.
This led to a series of rainbows after every patch of rain that morning!
It was so mesmerising and surreal that we found it difficult to leave Mt. Cook.
And as we began driving out of Mt. Cook Village, another rainbow appeared right next to us! And this was the biggest and brightest rainbow we had seen all morning!
I strapped the GoPro to the side of our car to try and capture the moment.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
Anyway, we hope we managed to convince you to spend a night at Mt. Cook during your tour of the South Island or if you’re around Lake Pukaki. If you need help baking it into your itinerary, feel free to check out our 2-week, self-drive South Island itinerary.
Also, if you liked this post, please remember to share it on the social media platform of your choice.