Mountain Magic: Five of the Mackenzie’s Best Family Hikes

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The Mackenzie is an area I can’t say no to. Your heart beats a little faster at the first sight of Lake Tekapo. This amazing shimmering blue color in the sun brings excitement no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. Or it’s that feeling of anticipation as you drive around the corner, wondering if Aoraki/Mount Cook will be in sight today. Once you visit the Mackenzie you will be hooked.

There are a plethora of family-friendly walks that will help you get closer to this incredible landscape. From spotting kea, inspecting 500-year-old ice shards and listening to avalanches, it’s an experience for all the senses.

Hooker Valley Track (3-4 hours round trip)

Hooker Valley Track is one of the best day walks in the South Island.

Jennifer Parker

Hooker Valley Track is one of the best day walks in the South Island.

The Hooker Valley Track is the most iconic walk in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. If you only have time for one walk, then this should be it. As you walk along the boardwalk, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and Aoraki itself, you’ll know you’re where you’re meant to be.

The 10km return trail takes 3-4 hours to walk, but it’s a flat trail so it’s a leisurely walk. Bring your lunch or a thermos of hot coffee and relax at the picnic table, overlooking Hooker Lake. With Mt Cook above you, take a deep breath and enjoy the peaceful wonderland that is Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

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Hooker Valley Track is suitable for the whole family.

Jennifer Parker

Hooker Valley Track is suitable for the whole family.

Suitable for the whole family, kids will love bouncing on the three large swing bridges and listening to distant avalanches. If you’re visiting in cooler times, take them for a closer look at the icebergs in the lake. The ice is centuries old and clear as glass.

Red track of Tarns (2h A/R)

Red Tarns Track is a family friendly alternative in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

Jennifer Parker

Red Tarns Track is a family friendly alternative in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

There’s nothing better than having a trail to yourself, so choosing a lesser-known trail might earn you that honor. The Red Tarns Track starts at the back of Mt Cook village where you will climb a steep flight of stairs to a viewpoint over the village and Aoraki/Mt Cook.

What you can’t see from the ground is the plateau on the mountain which has a short walking loop through the wetlands to the Red Tarns. The Tarns are small alpine lakes and if you are lucky you will see reflections of Mt Cook there.

The small alpine lakes are named because of the red weed that grows inside them.

Jennifer Parker

The small alpine lakes are named because of the red weed that grows inside them.

Tell the children to keep an eye on the kea as they climb. This endangered alpine parrot is very vocal and extremely cheeky. They make a distinct “keee-aa” sound that echoes through the mountains. Be sure not to feed these curious birds.

Tasman Glacier Viewpoint (40 minutes return)

For families with young children who are just starting to walk or for those who have taken a short walk with a great view, the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint is ideal. Just a 20 minute walk you will cross a gravel path and climb the stairs to a great view of Tasman Glacier Lake.

Lake Tasman is often full of icebergs.

Jennifer Parker

Lake Tasman is often full of icebergs.

The lake is often full of icebergs and it can freeze over in the winter. What may interest you is that this lake did not exist in the 1970s and is now over 7 km long. The glacier is retreating at an incredible speed, so it’s time to marvel at its beauty.

It should be noted that you cannot access the lake from the viewpoint. You will need to backtrack and turn onto the Tasman River Track. This trail is rocky but flat and will take about an hour round trip. It is worth visiting if there are icebergs in the lake. Our kids loved inspecting the ice on the shore.

Lake Tasman stretches for 7 km.

Jennifer Parker

Lake Tasman stretches for 7 km.

Lake Tekapo Walkway (1 hour one way)

Sometimes an easy walk is all you need and the Lake Tekapo walkway is the perfect place to stroll and enjoy the view. Starting at the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, the path follows the edge of the lake to the hot pools at the foot of Mount John.

It is an easy path for children and adults. Grab a coffee in the township and stretch your legs before enjoying all that Tekapo has to offer. It’s a great place for young kids to practice on their balance bikes and an easy stroller trail too.

It will take about an hour to hike from one end to the other, but if you’re up for a bit more head to the Mt John Summit Track.

Mt John Summit Track (1.5 to 3 hours)

The Mt John Summit Track offers stunning views of Lake Tekapo.

Jennifer Parker

The Mt John Summit Track offers stunning views of Lake Tekapo.

You can’t miss Mount John. The large hill dominates the landscape of Lake Tekapo and is home to the Mount John Observatory, as well as the best views of the lake itself. There’s just something special about Glacial Blue Lake. From above, the color of the lake only intensifies, so you have to make the trip to the top.

The summit trail starts next to Tekapo Springs and goes through the forest and up the barren hill to the summit. You can stop at the Astro Cafe at the Observatory to warm up or head straight to the top.

It will take families about 45-60 minutes to reach the top. You can return via the lakeside trail, doing a 3 hour loop, or just return the same way you came.

Pic Ben Ohau (4-5 hours round trip)

Ben Ohau Peak is 8 km one way.

Jennifer Parker

Ben Ohau Peak is 8 km one way.

If you have energetic kids who are up for a challenge, then Ben Ohau Peak might be for you. You will jump off the beaten path to the small backcountry village of the Mackenzie region.

The Ben Ohau Peak walk will take around 4-5 hours round trip and climb approximately 800m. It’s a bit of a leg burner, but it makes the reward sweeter. The summit offers stunning views of the entire Mackenzie region. Spot Lake Ruataniwha, Ōhau, Benmore, and Pukaki from here.

It should be noted that this trail is best completed in summer and fall as it is often snow covered in winter.

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.

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