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Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

The legend of Aoraki

Aoraki (the Maori name for Mt Cook) is New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3754 metres or 12,316 feet. Mt Cook National Park lies in the Canterbury region of the South Island and is home to many of New Zealand’s highest mountains and largest glaciers, including its namesake. According to Maori legend, Aoraki, the eldest son of Raki (Sky) was travelling with his brothers in a waka (or canoe), when it ended up running aground on a reef and fell to one side. Aoraki and his brothers climbed to the high side of the waka and sat on the wreckage. The freezing south wind then turned them into stone, creating the Southern Alps. Aoraki was sitting higher than all the others, and if you look at Mt Cook (from a passenger jet say) it is indeed noticeable higher than other peaks in the Southern Alps.

Geologically, the mountain is higher than others because roughly the top third of the mountain has been pushed up along a major fault line (called the Main Divide Fault), creating a kind of small mountain sitting on top of a big mountain. Because Mt Cook is higher than any others, it’s often capped by cloud when other peaks are clear, hence its name ‘cloud piercer’ in Maori.

mt cook 1

The peaks and glaciers of Mt Cook National Park

There are 19 peaks over 3000 metres (9840 feet) in the park (so it must have been a pretty large waka!) and most of them rise up from near sea level. Upon entering Mt Cook village, at the entrance of Mt Cook National Park, you definitely feel a sense of being dwarfed. In a valley amongst these giants is the Tasman Glacier, there to greet you when you turn off the main highway; it’s New Zealand's largest glacier at 27 kilometres (17 miles) long. Due to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park’s rugged terrain (over 40% of the park’s land surface is covered by glacier), there is almost no forest, but instead hikers are greeted with an abundance of alpine plants including the spectacular mountain buttercup (Ranunculus lyallii), which is also known as the Mt Cook Lily. Although it’s not technically a lily, it is the largest buttercup in the world. A couple of other highlights of the park include the kea, an inquisitive alpine parrot often encountered on our Active Adventures trips, as well as the jeweled gecko, a little fellow that is very secretive and rarely seen.

mt cook 2

Hiking near Mount Cook

The park is most well known for its fantastic hiking opportunities that range from half-day hikes along trails that are well marked and suitable for all ages, through to steeper quite iconic New Zealand hiking routes like the Ball Pass Crossing and the Mueller Hut hike. The Mueller Hut hike is a highlight on our Rimu and Manuka adventure tours – sitting at 1800 metres (5900 feet) elevation on the Sealy Range, the hut provides a 360-degree panorama encompassing glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces and New Zealand's highest peaks. Trekking to the hut through the alpine scrub, herb fields and scree slopes is a pretty big achievement in itself, but is also a stepping stone for mountaineers who for decades have used this route to attack some of the formidable peaks in the area.

Hiking Mount Cook

Sir Ed and the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre

Talking about New Zealand’s most mountainous national park wouldn’t be complete without reference and tribute to New Zealand’s most famous climber and ambassador, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit (and successfully descend) Mount Everest. Sitting adjacent to the Hermitage Hotel is the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre an awesome facility designed to educate and entertain keen adventurers. The centre features a state-of-the-art 3D movie that doubles as a full-dome digital planetarium, photo gallery and a museum that documents the pioneering heart of the region. Also, in August 2011, the South Ridge of Aoraki Mt Cook was renamed the Hillary Ridge in recognition of Hillary’s achievements, including the fact that Hillary and three other climbers were the first party to successfully summit the mountain via this ridge in 1948.

mt cook 3

Trip Reviews

  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Excellent way to see New Zealand

    My husband and I went on the Kauri trip in November 2017. This trip had been on our bucket list for a while and we decided to go with Active Adventures as they were offering the type of travel and activities we wanted to do in New Zealand. Our two awesome guides, Andy (encyclopedia of knowledge) and Jo (excellent cook) made us feel at home and have shown us the beautiful country of NZ while ensuring everyone had fun. We had an amazing time on the North Island and I highly recommend this trip if you enjoy outdoor activities.
    Claire Barrette-Remy Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Kauri, December 2017
  •   4.48 out of 5 (from 297 reviews)

    Best Guides ever!!!

    We didn't have the best weather on this trip, but Nick and Elder were able to bring out the best in all of us. Their energy was boundless, their cooking was superb, and their humor and good natures made every day a pleasure.
    Sherry Malone Review Image
    – New Mexico, United States
    Weka 13-day, January 2017
  •   4.44 out of 5 (from 908 reviews)

    2017 Manuka

    Went into the trip not knowing what to expect. Took the trip solo. Was hesitant on taking a guided tour. Felt like i wouldn't have the freedom to do things at my own speed. Not the case at all! Had virtually no restrictions on the hikes. Amanda and Holly let us move at our own paces. Overall trip was a blast! Couldn't have wished for more. Great hikes, great food, good sleeping accommodations, hard charging guides, everything was taken care of, didn't have to lift a finger. I will be back.
    Dan Baker Review Image
    – APO/FPO AP, United States
    Manuka, May 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Amazing Trip

    This trip was amazing - the hikes took us to beautiful vistas, the guides were knowledgeable and fun, and the food was never in short supply ("Food is Fuel!" as one of our guides kept restating).

    Koru and Kim were great guides throughout and everyone had so much fun! I was traveling solo but 2 of the other 4 on my trip were as well, so nobody was ever left out! Having such a small group made the activities much easier to enjoy.

    The hikes, like I mentioned, were truly unbelievable, though somewhat more difficult than I expected. Everything was talked as 'full-on' or by time, but know that NZ hikes are up mountains then back down, so work on hills more than distance before you go! Even some of the small walks we did (Blue Pools, only 5 minutes from the road & the Chasm, 10 minutes from the road) were breathtaking. Kayaking the Milford Sound was another once in a lifetime experience we got to have on this trip.

    The only thing I would have liked (and got jokingly by the end of the trip) were straight communication prior to the hikes about how long they were updates mid-hike about how much longer/further. There was one day with miscommunications leading me to think the hike would be another 3+ hours uphill (nearly inducing panic) but was really only 30 more minutes.

    Overall, I really loved this trip!
    Taylor Ceithaml Review Image
    – California, United States
    Tui, November 2016
  •   4.68 out of 5 (from 244 reviews)

    New Zealand and Kiwis are the Best!

    It would be difficult to overstate how impressed I was with our Active Adventure tour. Mel and Claire were absolutely incredible!! Steve was great too, but he was only with us for the hike up and back from the Aspiring Hut. Plus, he was weighed down by a rock he so generously carried up the hill for Mel.
    Anyway, Mel and Claire made Active Adventures (and New Zealand) look so good! They were EVERYTHING I could hope for: friendly, funny, knowledgeable, professional, hard-working, kind, easy-going, energetic, .... Thank you for one of the best 2-week periods of my entire life!
    Mike Schimpf Review Image
    – California, United States
    Kea, January 2017

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Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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