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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

  •   4.70 out of 5 (from 266 reviews)

    Nov 5 2016 Kiwi with Nick B and Jess

    Active Adventures allowed me to experience the breathtaking beauty of the South Island, New Zealand. I had so much fun. I had really high hopes for the trip of a lifetime before we left. My expectations were not only met but surpassed. Nick and Jess were great as was our small group of fellow travelers. The Active Adventures team were responsive to needs and made the trip care free. I would highly recommend the Kiwi trip and would do it again in a heartbeat. I would also look to do Active Adventures other trips when we go to travel again. At the conclusion of our trip, my wife and I asked ourselves what would we do differently if doing it again. Both of our answers was nothing different.
    Mitch Pfeiffer Review Image
    – Indiana, United States
    Kiwi, December 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4982 reviews)

    It doesn't get much better!

    What a fantastic time traveling with family and new-found friends! New Zealand is an absolutely beautiful country, with thrills and adventure around every corner (and there a lot of them)! Our guides Ken and Elder were as good as they come; from their knowledge of the country, to their welcomed encouragement on the trail and the water. Oh, and did I mention their wholesome and delicious cooking?!?
    I would not hesitate to travel with Active Adventures again. Their organization, communication and willingness to please were simply over the top. Next year in Patagonia perhaps???
    Dean Altaras Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, February 2017
  •   4.64 out of 5 (from 565 reviews)

    I wasn't ready for the trip to end!

    I don't even know where to begin...so let's start at the beginning. I spent the last year dreaming about going to New Zealand, trying to talk just one friend into going with me, and finally, with some encouragement from family, booking this trip as a first time solo traveler. And let me be clear- that was the best decision I could have made! I enjoyed every single minute of my trip and wouldn't change the experience of traveling solo for anything. From the moment I met Gary and Mel, I knew that I had made the right decision. They were welcoming, to all, from the moment they met us. Right away I knew I had nothing to worry about, and worry I did prior to the start of the trip. I could not have asked for a better group of travel mates; it was as if you had hand-picked who should be on the trip together. They were amazing! The experiences on the trip would not have been nearly as amazing if it wasn't for these awesome people with whom I had the good fortune to travel.
    Gary and Mel were kind, patient, and so easy to be around. They answered every question a novice like myself asked, without ever making me feel like an idiot. Gary was witty, kept us going, and a super safe driver! ( I am not a big fan of mountain roads with cliffs on the edge that lead to instant death and not once did I fear for my life.) Mel's cooking...holy smokes was it good; so much so that the pounds I was so sure I would lose on the trip didn't happen. She has even inspired me to try to cook a couple of her dishes this winter. She made it look so easy, even with the varied diets of the group. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had chatting with both Gary and Mel wherever we were: on the bus, hiking, eating or playing cards. They brought us all together.
    Now, for the adventures! Every day was different from the day prior. I saw and experienced so many new things that I can't stop talking about it. I loved the really challenging hikes (Sealy Tarns and Alex Knob) and the slower paced treks through the rain forest and valleys. The night sky at Mt. Aspiring Hut is indescribable! While we were unable to go on the second overnight hike due to weather, Gary and Mel didn't miss a beat. We were so busy and had so much fun, even in the rain, that you would never have known that we were doing almost 3 days of alternate activities. Major kudos to them for this! I could keep going on how much I enjoyed every aspect of my trip. This was the first vacation I have been on where I didn't want it to end and it truly was the trip of a lifetime. I can't wait to book my next trip with Active Adventures!
    Melissa Munno Review Image
    – California, United States
    Winter Rimu, August 2016
  •   4.48 out of 5 (from 297 reviews)

    Wonderful Adventure around the South Island

    We do a lot of travelling and this was one of the best trips we have ever done. the guides - Elder and Nick - are top notch. Their attention to detail, sense of humour and advanced cooking skills made the trip. The weather made it a bit of a challenge, particularly on the west (wet) coast, but they kept our spirits up and all of us safe and sound. I highly recommend this trip to anyone who wishes to see and experience the most of what the South Island has to offer. In slightly less than 2 weeks. If you are mentally prepared for some coolish, wet weather, so much the better. This was an active trip, with many options for additional cycling and hiking, which we took advantage of - which made it all the better. Fitness helped a lot. A must do.
    Murray Beare Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Weka 13-day, February 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4982 reviews)

    Exceeded Expectations

    In planning my trip to New Zealand I specifically signed on to the Rimu trip to achieve 3 goals: first to see as much of the South Island as possible in 2 weeks, second to get outdoors and get a feel for the environment and third to have fun with a group of people. My Rimu experience accomplished all three goals and then some. The mixture of driving, and daily activities was perfect. It allowed us to cover lots of terrain while getting us out and active every day. Our guides, Ben and Emma, were terrific. They were tireless workers who not only made us comfortable but created a positive group dynamic that helped bring complete strangers together into a cohesive group. Ben was great at sharing his knowledge of NZ culture and natural history. Emma was a fantastic cook who kept us well fed even at a hut at 1300 meters. Everything about the trip was well organized and well planned. Thank you for such a great experience.
    Tim Reed Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Rimu, January 2018

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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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