Standing sentinel in the central South Island, Mount Cook – New Zealand’s highest peak – towers over turquoise lakes, glaciers and expansive countryside. It’s a part of New Zealand that is central to captivating Maori legends and the kiwi spirit of adventure.

Visiting New Zealand without seeing Aoraki Mount Cook would be a real shame. Its dazzling size, surrounded by golden tussock and alpine lakes, makes for unforgettable memories and spectacular photos. Located in a region that’s known for sunny days and incredibly clear, starry nights, Aoraki Mount Cook and its surrounds form a part of New Zealand that truly is the ‘Real Middle-earth’.

The mountain itself holds huge significance to the Ngai Tahu people, the local Maori tribe. The tribe’s famous legend of how the mountain was formed is fascinating, and a long-term reminder of how sacred the mountain will always be to local Maori. Aoraki Mount Cook and its surrounding peaks were also the training grounds of famous New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary went on to be the first person in the world to summit Mount Everest successfully, and in recent years Aoraki Mount Cook has gone on to challenge hundreds more ambitious mountaineers.

Ngai Tahu’s Legend of Aoraki Maunga

When Raki, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, came together to create the earth, both had already been married before and had children. After Raki left his first wife, Pokoharua-te-po, his eldest son Aoraki (meaning cloud in the sky) along his other sons came down from the sky to meet their new stepmother, Papatuanuku.

When the brothers realized they could not persuade their father to return to where they lived in the heavens with their mother, they decided to return immediately in their canoe to comfort her. Before leaving, Aoraki went to say a karakia (prayer), but he made a mistake. The waka containing him and his brothers failed to rise into the sky, tipping the brothers into the sea and stranding them there. As the brothers waited for rescue, legend has it that their hair turned white and they slowly turned to stone – becoming Te Tiritiri O Moana (the Southern Alps) with Aoraki being the highest peak. Aoraki Mount Cook is named after this legend.  

Sir Edmund Hillary

A kiwi icon, Sir Edmund Hillary went on to become one of the world’s most famous alpine explorers, but his mountaineering days began on the slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook. At 3,754 metres high, the ascent of the mountain’s difficult south face was the young mountaineer’s first great climbing achievement. The mountain then became a training ground for his Everest summit expedition years later. After Hillary died in 2008, the south ridge of the mountain was renamed the Hillary Ridge.

Today, Aoraki Mount Cook provides a challenging adventure playground for ambitious mountaineers. Part of a National Park that’s laced with hiking trails, sleeping huts and beautiful glaciers, the region continues to nurture the kiwi spirit of adventure that Sir Edmund Hillary represented.

Many of our MoaTrek small group tours explore the stunning Aoraki Mount Cook region – click here to find out more

Tours You’ll Love