What was the plan: The plan was to walk the Mt Cook Hooker Vally track which should leads to Hooker Lake and a fantastic lookout point to Mt Cook peak.
What to expect: Well, you can expect fantastic scenery as the track takes you through multiple swing bridges, great lookouts along the way to small glaciers and other mountains surrounding the area.
Starting Location: By car, we started from Queenstown.
Drive Time: From Queenstown the drive, by car, to Aoraki Mt Cook village car park is about 4 hours. This includes time for quick stop. The earlier you leave from Queenstown, the more time you can spend around Mt Cook area. This also depends on the season, during winter, the sun sets earlier and road conditions may change with rain, snow or ice. While during the summer days, day light is plenty and road conditions are much better. We set off in winter but we have selected a sunny day (or we got lucky). Road conditions were great but it got foggy and rainy near Lindis Pass during the morning.
Where to park: Assuming you are driving a car, then you need to park in Hooker Valley car park using Hooker Valley road. There should be plenty of car parks available, however, it is not a big car park and during high season (I am not sure what is the high season to visit Mt Cook) the car park can get full pretty quickly.
What to take: There aren’t a lot of cafes and restaurant around Mt Cook Village so make sure you bring light food, fruits or snacks and make sure you bring your bottle of water. There is a restaurant in the Mt Cook Lodge, but depends which time you arrive, it may be closed. So better be safe than sorry. Oh, and don’t forget your cameras and photography equipments (tripods, remote shutter release, filters…etc). Be warned that the track is a bit lengthy so choose what you take wisely. I have seen people carrying heavy tripods and zoom lenses. Personally, being not a fit person, I selected a light weight tripod and Nikon D800 with single lens (24 to 70mm) and few Lee Filters (but I never got to use them, so they were just adding weight to my backpack). Comfortable pair of walking shoes are probably the most important item to bring. The trail is very well maintained but walking comfortably will bring a more joyful experience (you don’t want to end up with blisters in your feet). Sunglasses are also important. During winter, there are plenty of snow and ice around and if the sun is up, the light reflection and glare can be strong so it is important to bring your sun glasses. Ofcourse, your clothes must match the weather and season. Having layers of clothes works best as you can take off a layer or put on a layer as the weather gets hotter or colder. But in general, even in cold winter days, with the sun up, expect your body to generate heat from walking so it is no surprise to see some people walking with just a T-shirt on.
The trail: From the Hooker Valley car park, it took me 2 hours walking to reach the main Hooker Lake lookout. The 2 hours includes stopping for photo taking opportunities as there are plenty of places to stop and take on the surrounding vistas. Some even were having their snacks or lunch along the way. The trail takes you through series of swing bridges. If this is your first time crossing one of them, then you might get cold feet. However, these bridges are very safe, very strong and can handle enormous amount of weight. Try to follow the signs when you reach the bridges. The signs are there to ask only few people cross the bridge at a time. The bridges are narrow and expect to feel them move up and down as you cross them. This is normal movement and it is actually part of their design engineering. If you decide to take a photo from these bridges, my advice is to wait until no one is on the bridge or waiting to use the bridge before you take your photos as any one walking on the bridge can produce noticable shakes in your camera and, well, your final image might be a bit blury. There were plenty of other hikers and tourists around so you will not feel alone as you walk the trail.
The Lookout: Once you reach the lookup, you will find couple of picnic tables but most people wonder around the lake where you can find floating ice bergs and most importantly the view to Mt Cook peak. Be warned that to see the peak you will need a bit of luck as clouds come and go and they can obstruct the view to the peak. Some clouds linger for a long time so be patient.