Hooker Valley Track with kids

The Hooker Valley Track: New Zealand’s best family friendly day walk?

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Walking the Hooker Valley Track with kids is a great choice. It is often argued to be the South Island’s most scenic and family-friendly day hike. The whole trail takes around 3 to 4 hours and includes two glacier lakes, frozen icebergs, three suspension bridges and incredible views of Mount Cook covered in snow. That’s a pretty good haul of highlights for a half day hike!

If you are looking for an easy walk for the whole family – with spectacular scenery – I recommend the Hooker Valley Track.

Contents

Walking the Hooker Valley Track with kids.
The first of three suspension bridges on the track to Hooker Lake.

About the Hooker Valley track

  • Total Length: 10 km (6.2 miles)
  • Distance to Hooker Lake: 5 km (return via same track)
  • Trail difficulty: Easy
  • Walking time: 3 – 4 hr return
  • Elevation gain: 124m (407 feet)
  • Fitness level required: Low to moderate

Walking on the track

The track is often advertised as New Zealand’s best half day walk, and I agree. The pathway is well-maintained and reasonably flat. The trail follows the river up the sacred Tōpuni area of the Hooker Valley, and is a combination of boardwalks, bridges and tidy gravel track.

The first of the three suspension bridges crosses the Hooker River with impressive views of Muller Lake. This is where we started to hear the rumble of avalanches in the distance on Mount Sefton!

Beautiful views over Lake Muller with Mount Sefton in the background.

After the second swing bridge the vegetation changes and there is a long boardwalk over open tussock through the wide valley floor.  The track here is flat and easy.

From the third bridge it is only one kilometre to go to reach the lookout where the track ends overlooking icebergs floating on the impressive Hooker Lake. The view is spectacular with Aoraki/Mount Cook and the Southern Alps right behind it.

There is a picnic area at the lookout above the lake, and a less maintained single file pathway down to the lake shore.

Looking over Hooker Lake; Hooker Valley Track with kids.
First views arriving at the lookout overlooking Hooker Lake.

The track then returns the same way for a total walking distance of 10 kilometres.

Walking the Hooker Valley Track in winter

We walked the Hooker Valley Track with the kids in winter. We were lucky weather-wise with a clear day in June.

If you are planning to walk the track in winter, I recommend keeping an eye on the weather forecast in the days prior. We could see ahead that there was a clear day forecast, with rain either side, and so made the decision to push on from Dunedin to Twizel especially. A good decision in hindsight.

It was cold starting out as the track is initially in shade in the morning. By midday the sun is out and we were peeling back a few layers and removing gloves.

Shady trail in the morning. Hiking the Hooker Valley Track with kids.
A shady start to the trail setting out in the morning.

Hooker Valley track with kids

The Hooker Valley Track with kids is a great option for a family day walk. Our kids were 5 and 7 at the time and didn’t find it hard. They particularly enjoyed the swing bridges, and were excited to know there were three on the trail.

The most exciting parts of the trail are a tie between hearing the distant rumble of an avalanche and trying to touch the icebergs floating on Hooker Lake!

On the suspension bridge walking the Hooker Valley track with kids.

I definitely recommend the Hooker Valley Track with kids. It’s an easy, interesting, and beautiful family day walk.


Know before you go

  • Shops: There are no shops or cafes by the track or in Mount Cook Village. There is one self-service petrol pump for emergencies in the village but plan ahead and stock up in Twizel beforehand.
  • Water: There is no drinking water available along the track so be sure to carry enough for the duration.
  • Toilets: There are two sets of toilets at White Horse Hill Campground at the start. Halfway along the track at Stocking Stream there are self-composting toilets.
  • There are two picnic tables just past the second swing bridge and at the Hooker Lake lookout.
  • Avalanches: From the track you can see and hear occasional avalanches in the distance from Mount Sefton. The track is designed to be safe from avalanches so stick to the track.
  • Shade: There is no shade along the track so be prepared with a sunhat and sunscreen.
  • Start early: This is the most popular day hike in Mount Cook National Park so if you want to beat the crowds, start early.

If you are unsure of the weather forecast you can check the track conditions at the Visitor Centre before starting out, or check online with MetService for Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park here.

What to bring

The Aoraki/Mount Cook area experiences very fast changes in weather. Plan ahead, dress accordingly and pack a day pack that is prepared for this.

  • Waterproof jacket/outer layer
  • Warm layers of clothing
  • Hat, gloves, sunscreen
  • Suitable footwear for walking
  • Plenty of drinking water
  • Snacks/lunch for the duration
  • Mobile phone
Exploring the icebergs, Hooker Valley Track with kids.
All layers on plus waterproof hiking boots, playing with icebergs at Hooker Lake.

Getting there

The nearest towns to the Hooker Valley Track are Aoraki Mt Cook village (2 km), Twizel (56 km) and Tekapo (96 km). The drive from Twizel took us approximately 45 minutes in our campervan.

On the way to Hooker Valley Track with the kids.
Pulled over to look the view and check out some sheep on the road to Mount Cook.

Parking for the Hooker Valley Track is at the White Horse Hill Campground and carpark at the end of Hooker Valley Road. Parking here is free.


Where we stayed

We stayed the night before and after doing the walk in Twizel, and drove the next day to Lake Tekapo. Twizel is a good option to use as a base for walking the Hooker Valley Track. There are paid and free options if travelling by campervan. We stayed in both.

TWIZEL: Lake Poaka Campsite (DOC Campsite)
Location: Turn off SH 8 (Tekapo Twizel Road) on to the private road on the north side of Pukaki Canal. Follow the road for 2.5 km to the campsite entrance.
Cost: Free
Facilities: Long drop toilet.

TWIZEL: Twizel Holiday Park
Location: 122 Mackenzie Drive, Twizel
Cost: From $30 per night with NZMCA membership

LAKE TEKAPO: Lake Tekapo Holiday Park
Location: 2 Lakeside Drive, Canterbury 7999
Cost: Lakeview, powered sites from $50 p/n.


The view of Mount Cook on the walk to Hooker Lake.
Iconic views of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps in the distance.

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What do you think? Is the Hooker Valley Track the best family friendly walk in the South Island?


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