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Mount Cook

Photo © sarahkeebs

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia New Zealand South Island Mount Cook

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Introduction

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

© All Rights Reserved Reece Sanford

First climbed in 1894 by New Zealand climbers George Graham, Tom Fyffe and Jack Clarke, Mount Cook or Aoraki which means "cloud piercer" is, at 3,754 metres the highest mountain in New Zealand. The mountain is situated in the Southern Alps between the Westland/Tai Poutini and the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Parks to the south of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. On the southern and eastern sides of the mountain are found the Hooker Glacier and New Zealand's largest, the Tasman Glacier. Spectacular close up views of the ice can be had from relatively easy walks.

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Geography

The mountain is in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, in the Canterbury region. The park was established in 1953 and along with Westland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park forms one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park contains more than 140 peaks standing over 2,000 metres and 72 named glaciers, which cover 40%of its 700 square kilometres.

The peak is located at the northern end of the Kirikirikatata / Mount Cook Range, where it meets with the main spine of the Main Divide, forming a massif between the Hooker Valley to the southwest and the Tasman Valley east of the mountain. These two valleys provide the closest easily accessible view points of Aoraki / Mount Cook. A lookout point at the end of the Hooker Valley Track located only 10 kilometres from the peak offers spectacular views of the entire mountainside.

The settlement of Mount Cook Village, also referred to as "Aoraki / Mount Cook", is a tourist centre and base camp for the mountain. It is 7 kilometres from the end of the Tasman Glacier and 15 kilometres south of Aoraki / Mount Cook's summit.

On clear days, Aoraki / Mount Cook is visible from the West Coast as far north as Greymouth, some 150 kilometres away, and from most of State Highway 80 along Lake Pukaki and State Highway 6 south of Lake Pukaki. The near horizontal ridge connecting the mountain's three summits forms a distinctive blocky shape when viewed from an eastern or western direction. Another popular view point is from Lake Matheson on the West Coast, described as the "view of views", where on calm days, the peaks of Aoraki / Mount Cook and Mt Tasman are reflected in Lake Matheson

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Weather

Aoraki / Mount Cook receives substantial orographic precipitation throughout the year, as breezy, moisture-laden westerly winds dominate all year-round, bringing rainclouds from the Tasman Sea with them.

Annual precipitation around the mountain ranges varies greatly as the local climate is dominated by the eastward movement of depressions and anticyclones from across the Tasman Sea. The Aoraki / Mount Cook massif is a major obstacle to the prevailing westerly winds as they push depressions and associated cold fronts of moist air from the subtropics in the northwest against the mountain range. As the air rises towards the peaks, it expands and cools, and forms clouds. Rain and snowfall is often heaviest around the 1,200 metres level and can last for several days if the front is slow-moving.

As a result of the local weather patterns, the western slopes of Aoraki / Mount Cook can receive well over 10,000 mm of annual precipitation, whereas the nearby Mount Cook Village, only 15 kilometres south of the mountain receives 4,484 mm of rain or snowfall. While the weather on the eastern side of the mountain is generally better, rain or snow can quickly become widespread on that side as well if the wind turns to the south or southeast. This brings with it a rapid drop in temperature and poor visibility,[8] adding to the difficult climbing conditions on Aoraki / Mount Cook.

Temperatures at the mountain's base in the Hooker Valley around 800 metres range from -13 °C to 32 °C, and generally fall just over 1 °C for every 200 metres of altitude.

From about 1,000 metres and higher, semi-permanent snow and ice fields exist during winter. Winter and spring are usually less settled than summer and autumn. Anticyclones often bring days of settled weather in summer, or clear cold conditions in winter with severe frost

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Main Centres

  • Mount Cook Village
  • Franz Josef Glacier
  • Fox Glacier

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Sights and Activities

Mount Cook Village has a visitor centre which provides detailed information on the area and there are numerous walks of varying difficulty starting from here. The Red Tarns and Kea Point tracks lead easily to viewpoints while longer trails wind into the Hooker Valley. Please note that some of the routes from here such as the Sefton Bivouac and Copland Track venture into mountaineering territory and should only be attempted if you have the relevant experience. The visitor centre will advise on suitability of a route or hiring a mountain guide if necessary. Climbing Mount Cook is a serious mountaineering venture.

Glentanner Park, a few miles down the valley offer other activities such as horse trekking and flights up over the mountains and icefields can be booked here too.

The other side of the peak is cloaked in dense native bush on its lower slopes owing to the much higher rainfall of the west coast. This is in marked contrast to the Mount Cook Village side which is an open alluvial plain surrounded by bare rocky peaks and glaciers. The main centres on the Westland side are Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Both of these are visited more to view close up the glaciers of the same names which extend right down from the Alpine zones into the temperate rain forest. Highly recommended is a flight over these glaciers from Fox or Franz Josef. There's a choice of conventional plane or helicopter and the glacier landings are not to be missed!

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Weather

As with virtually the whole length of the Southern Alps, there is a marked change in weather and climate between east and west. This is nowhere more pronounced than in the Mount Cook region. To the west is a region - Westland - which has consistently high rainfall and is consequently swathed in temperate rainforest. The east in the rain shadow is much drier - almost arid in places - and the landscape is typified by open grasslands.

It is common for it to be raining at Franz Josef Glacier and sunny at Glentanner or Twizel though the west is spared some of the colder winter temperatures of the eastern valleys. Summer can bring high temperatures to the east. As with any mountain region the altitude determines temperature and the high peaks of Mount Cook and Tasman are almost permanently frozen with virtually all precipitation falling as snow.

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Getting There

By Plane

Mountain Cook Airport does exist, but the main airports are further away, mainly in Christchurch and Queenstown.

By Car

Situated in the centre of the Southern Alps, Aoraki/Mt Cook Village is near the popular tourist spots of Lake Tekapo, Omarama, Twizel and is a 3 or 4 hour drive from Queenstown and Christchurch. From Twizel there is an all-weather sealed road to Mount Cook Village. Glentanner Park Centre is located 15 minutes drive from Mt Cook Village on the main road into Mt Cook.

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Getting Around

Walking is a popular way to get around the park. There are a number of formed tracks and recognised walking routes.

For those who want to see or ski the mountains, there are light aircraft and helicopters that can get you to places in minutes that would otherwise take hours or days of walking.

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Eat/Drink

  • Old Mountaineers Cafe, Bar and Restaurant (next to the DOC Visitor Information Center). 11:00am till late.
  • Glentanner Park Centre (on the main road into Mount Cook approx 15 mins drive from Mt Cook Village), ☎ +64 3 435 1855, e-mail: info@glentanner.co.nz. The cafe/restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch all year round with evening dining in summer.
  • The Hermitage

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Sleep

There is a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite in a spectacular location just beyond Mount Cook Village and another with more facilities back down the valley near Glentanner where there is more choice of accommodation than at Mount Cook Village. In Westland, both Fox and Franz Josef have plentiful tourist accommodation including both hotels and campsites. A personal choice was the Rainforest Retreat campsite just outside Franz Josef.

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
YHA Mt CookCnr Bowen & Kitchener DrivesHostel90

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Accommodation in Mount Cook

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Mount Cook searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Mount Cook and areas nearby.

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This is version 11. Last edited at 8:53 on May 19, 17 by Utrecht. 5 articles link to this page.

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