12 Interesting Facts About Mount Cook

This famous mountain is the highest peak in New Zealand.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Mount Cook, also known as “Aoraki.”

1. Aoraki is the highest mountain in New Zealand

Mount Cook is also referred to as “Aoraki” and is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It stands 3,724 meters (12,218 feet) above sea level.

It’s also a relatively isolated mountain with total isolation of 3,140 kilometers (1,950 miles).

facts about Mount Cook

2. The mountain has 3 summits

The mountain consists of 3 different peaks referred to as:

  • Low Peak (3,593 meters or 11,788 feet)
  • Middle Peak (3,717 meters or 12,195 feet)
  • High Peak (3,724 meters or 12,218 feet)

These peaks run from south to north.

Mount Cook summit peak
Aoraki Peak / James Riden / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

3. It’s part of a huge mountain range on the South Island

The mountain is located in the most prominent mountain range in New Zealand, the so-called “Southern Alps,” and runs all across the South Island of the country.

The mountain is located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand and covers an area of about 44,508 square kilometers (17,185 square miles).

Mount Cook interesting facts

4. It’s located in a National Park named after it

The mountain is the most popular attraction of the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park, a park established in October of the year 1953.

One of the most fascinating facts about Mount Cook is that this park, together with Westland National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park, and Fiordland National Park, has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mount Cook fun facts

5. There’s a village just south of the summit

There’s a village located within the park that lies just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) south of the summit of Mount Cook. It’s located literally at the end of Highway 80, the only highway that allows visitors to reach the park.

The Mount Cook Village serves as a base camp for visitors and even though there are some hotels and motels, doesn’t have a grocery store or supermarket.

It’s also not possible to own property in the village, so just a few 100 people working in the hotels stay here year-round.

Mount Cook village
Mount Cook Village /

6. It’s bounded by multiple glaciers, including the largest in New Zealand

One of the most fascinating facts about Mount Cook is that it’s surrounded by 72 glaciers, located within the national park. They cover about 40% of the 700 square kilometers (170,000 acres) of the park.

Some of these astounding glaciers are huge, and the largest glacier in New Zealand, the Tasman Glacier, is located on the east flank of the mountain.

The heavy precipitation that falls on the mountain every year feeds these glaciers, with some areas receiving over 10,000 millimeters (394 inches) of precipitation annually.

Mount Cook Tasman Glacier
Tasman Glacier / Avenue / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

7. The temperatures in the area vary a lot during the year

While the rainfall can be heavy, the temperatures can vary a lot based on the elevation. A large area of the mountain is covered in snow all year round and a semi-permanent cover of snow can be found above 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).

The average temperature in Hooker Valley at the base of the mountain varies between −13 °C (9 °F) to 32 °C (90 °F) and lowers by 1 °C for every 200 meters of altitude.

Mount Cook Highway 80

8. Mount Cook still grows every year

One of the most remarkable facts about Mount Cook is that it still grows with an average of 7 millimeters (0.28 inches) each year. That’s because the Southern Alps are located right on the Alpine Fault, a 650 kilometers (450 miles) long active fault line.

This results in the tectonic plates that are pushing each other, which created the Southern Alps, are still doing so and continue to push the mountains up higher.

The fact that the height of the mountain dropped by 30 meters was caused by the collapse of an ice cap near the summit in the year 1991.

Mount Cook summit

9. The first successful ascent happened in the 1890s

The first attempt to climb Mount Cook happened in 1882 when Irishman Rev. William S. Green and the Swiss hotelier Emil Boss and the Swiss mountain guide Ulrich Kaufmann attempted to reach the summit via the Tasman Glacier. This nearly succeeded but not completely, stranding at about 50 meters from the summit.

The first successful ascent happened over a decade later on Christmas day, December 25, 1894. New Zealanders Tom Fyfe, John Michael Clarke, and George Graham reached the summit via the Hooker Valley and the north ridge.

Mount cook peak in the clouds

10. Mount Cook is not the easiest mountain to climb

Aoraki is the most popular mountain to climb in New Zealand, but it’s also one of the most dangerous. A lot depends on the weather conditions, and some parts are very technical, meaning only experienced mountaineers can reach the summit.

Over 80 people have lost their lives in the mountains and a casualty is reported just about every year, mainly because of the glaciers that make some parts extremely tricky.

The climbing season runs from November to February each year.

fun facts about mount cook

11. The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular hiking track

The Hooker Valley Track is the most popular track for hikers who want to enjoy a nice nature walk. That’s because it’s relatively short at only 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and only has an elevation of about 100 meters (330 feet).

This makes it achievable for just about everybody with a decent level of fitness to enjoy the amazing scenery of the mountain, and how amazing it is!

Mount Cook Hooker Valley Track
Hooker Valley Track / Pseudopanax / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

12. The mountain is a frozen young boy according to Māori legend

According to a fascinating Māori legend, the mountain is a young boy named Aoraki who, together with his 3 brothers, got stuck with his canoe. They were the sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father.

As they got stuck, they climbed on top of their canoe but the strong wind from the south froze them into position. Their Canoe became the South Island, the brothers of Aoraki formed the Southern Alps, and Aoraki became Mount Cook.

This is why Mount Cook is also known as Aoraki!

Mount Cook South Wind