As our stay in New Zealand began to draw to an end, we took one last dive into the heart of the south island to check out a walk near Mount Cook which had been recommended to us. I was expecting a pleasant mid-length walk but had not anticipated it would be as scenic and varied as this one was.
The Hooker Valley track (I know - you are totally the first one to have made that joke) is a 3-hour return walk winding along the valley floor amidst the snowy peaks of Mount Cook and its nearby peers. It is a one-way track as opposed to a loop which sadly means you have to backtrack along your original route but that is a small price to pay for an incredible sample of some of New Zealands prettiest terrain. Walking along the valley floor, there aren't any too aggressive uphill segments but it is still a moderate walk so maybe don't attempt it in flip flops (as an unhappy looking french lady who passed us on her way back had). Another small caveat - this walk is definitely all about the peaks so you really want to do it on a good day - we didn't have the misfortune to see it on a cloudy one but I would venture it would not be the same so keep an eye on the weather before you head out.
The track and it's namesake valley are thankfully quite easily found - it is signposted as 'Hooker Valley' just off the main road. Wind up the road with pretty much no turn-offs until you hit the carpark, DOC campsite and connected bathroom (yay - free bathroom break!). The walk should be signposted from the carpark.
Even as you drive towards the carpark you can start to get an idea of the scenery in store with the snowcapped mountains getting closer and closer.
The walk itself starts by winding towards those snowy peaks you'd seen from your drive and (if you were anything like me) already taken too many photos of. If you keep an ear out for rumbles or cracks you may even get to see a mini-avalanche on the distant slopes.
As the path meanders through the valley you cross swing-bridges (3 in total), over a bubbling river clouded grey by the glacier.
Rounding a bend in the valley you finally get to see Mt Cook and it's very triangular peak for the first time - standing almost in isolation at the end of the valley.
The track turns towards the mountain, ending finally at a glacial lake, with floating 'calves' of ice which have broken off the glacier which snakes down the valley below Mt Cook (it's a sneaky glacier covered with grey rock debris but if you look hard you'll see the icy cliffs of the snout as they meet the lake across from you).
When we scrambled down to the cobblestone beach on the edge of the lake where we found a small chunk of glacial ice bobbing within reach of the rocks. We can't recommend you do this but it is certainly possible to break off a chunk or two and use it to add some coolness to your water bottle if one were so inclined.
I have to admit that the walk back to the car is a little sadder - I am much more a fan of loop tracks as opposed to one-way tracks like this one. With your back to all the nicest scenes as you retread the path you just came on, it wasn't as good a walk back as it was on the way there. It may just have been us unfit people getting tired and cold as the sun left the valley floor but by the end we were a little happier than I wanted to be seeing the car.
All in all though - an incredible walk and one that will render many postcard-looking photos of New Zealand's trademark scenery. A massive recommendation from us both!
Just in case you are in a rush - we normally can get back to you in less than a day!