Hanging in the Hooker Valley

August 2022

What a start to a trip 🤦🏻‍♀️ … a few months ago, one of the ladies I had been doing some weekend walks with suggested that we do a walk to overnight in the Hooker Hut, a lesser known hut on the very popular track near Aoraki Mt Cook.  

Despite it being not very well know, it only sleeps 8 people, so is often booked up, particularly in the weekends and so we could only get 3 beds on a Friday night in August – I was one of the lucky 3 who got a spot!!

I was really excited about this mini getaway and I had been tracking the weather from as far out as you could and it was looking good. Sunny (and freezing) after a good dumping of snow earlier in the week.  I had also spent way too much money on a new sleeping bag and walking poles (both of which I hope I will get good use out of).  Have I said I was excited about this lol.

We were heading off early with Heidi, who lived the furthest north driving and doing the pick ups as she headed south – great plan … until her car would not start!  She waited 10-15 minutes and it still would not start 🤦🏻‍♀️ unfortunately she really wanted to drive herself and had to call AA, so it was decided that Katherine and I would head off together and Heidi would join us if/ when she could!!

It was a beautiful day and lots of snowy vistas made it an easy drive.  After a quick stop in Geraldine and Tekapo and of course the obligatory photo stops, we arrived at the White Horse Campground in Aoraki Mt Cook national park just after midday.   (If you are a regularly reader, you will know that this was the site of a rainy camping trip between Xmas and new year at the end of last year.)

We had lunch and kitted up, ready for our walk which started along the wonderful Hooker Valley track.  This was the 3rd time I had done the walk and the first time I could actually see Mt Cook – it was such a stunning day.

Quite a few people we passed, asked us where we were going as we had bags much bigger than was necessary on the easy 2-3 hour walk – it didn’t help that I had a kettle hanging off the back of my bag (as Heidi was supposed to bring a pot and with her not coming, it was a last minute addition).   Not one of those who asked even knew that there was a hut there and one guy even point blank told us that we were wrong and that there was no hut!!! That’s how much of a hidden gem it is!

Even the instructions to get to the hut on the official Department of Conversation website were vague and luckily I had printed off someone’s blog which gave step by step directions.

We stepped off the track just after the picnic table on to a slightly trodden path through the tussuck.  It turns out there is now a small arrow on the boardwalk pointing to it but it is probably not something you would notice unless you were looking for it. 

Thankfully, it also seems they have put more orange marker posts out now, than there were when the blog writer did the walk, but you still had to keep a good eye out for them in the tussock as the track was not well  formed and it is definitely not a hut you could stumble across accidentally (which makes all the more special). 

It was a great sight to see the cute green and orange hut with the surrounded by the most stunning view of Aoraki Mt Cook – I would definitely get a heart full of mountain views on this trip.

The Hooker Hut has existed in its current state and location only since 2021 when it was placed there, fully refurbished, but it’s interesting life began in 1910.  At that time it was located on the moraine wall beside the Hooker Glacier.  By 1948 it was in very poor condition due to the severe alpine weather and lack of maintenance.  Its demise hastened by the receding of the glacier which created cracks in the building. 

And so started its numerous relocations.  First uphill from its original location (by plane and parachuted to the new site) in 1961 and then again in 1994 as the moraine wall cracked further.  Not long after its second move, heavy rain washed out the track to access it, and then, the final straw was an avalanche striking the hut in 2004.

In 2015 it was dismantled, flown in sections to nearby Twizel where the restoration took place.  Covid 19 lockdowns and weather delayed the reassembly but finally in 2021 the hut was back in its new location.

The hut sleeps 8 (in bunks with mattresses), and has a wood burning fire (with a good stock of wood onsite) and a gas cooker – it is actually pretty well kitted out for a DoC hut.  The toilet is a nice long drop (if you can use nice and long drop in the same sentence) set a little way away from the hut.  Everywhere has an amazing view – the picnic table on the deck, the bedroom, the kitchen/dinning room and of course the toilet. 

As the first people to arrive for the day, we got our pick of the beds, we set up our sleeping bags etc. and put the kettle on for a cuppa and a relaxing afternoon admiring the views.

The temperature dropped quickly as the sun started to go down and we soon were ready to try and light the fire.  It took a few attempts and we were grateful (for the second time) for the blog I had printed out as we used the paper it was printed on to help start the fire 🤣

By the end of the day our hut mates had arrived, a Japanese family (living in Christchurch) and a French guy in New Zealand on holiday for 1 month.  (We were more and more grateful him as the time went on – you will see why.)

We were quick to get the kettle on the boil to rehydrate the dehydrated meals and lots of cups of hot fruit tea as the sunset and the temperature continued to drop (apparently to -7 overnight)!  The meal was not amazing but it was ok and it filled a hole.

Thankfully, the family took over the fire care so we could just relax and enjoy the sunset and headed to the warmth of our sleeping bags to wait for the moon and stars to rise.  The moon was a huge full moon and long before it rose above the mountains, it lit the snow covered mountains around us and they glistened in it’s light – it was incredible.

Finally the moon rose above the mountains (just after 9pm) and by 1.30am when I got up to go to the toilet, the night was almost as bright as day – no torch needed. It was so bright that the only star visible to the naked eye was a planet – Neptune (thanks to my star walk app)

It was just so surreal being surrounded by the glowing snow, the bright moon and hearing avalanches crackling off in the distance (this was basically happening every hour or so around the valley).

And let’s not forget our possum friend. A huge friendly possum who clearly had no fear of people, coming right up on to the deck to see what food scraps he could find!!  Of course, I had to explain to all the foreigners how terrible they are for New Zealand despite their cuteness.

I did not have a terrible night’s sleep and was nice and cosy in my new sleeping bag.  It helped that the French guy volunteered to get up every couple of hours to put more wood on the fire to keep the hut warm (first ‘grateful for the French guy’ moment).   As always, I woke up early, got up just after 7am and headed off to the Hooker Lake at the end of the track before all the day walkers came in.  It was just beautiful sitting in silence by the frozen lake, watching the rising sun hit the tips of the peaks around us.

We headed back to the hut for coffee and breakfast but discovered that the water tank had frozen over (should have thought about that knowing it was going to be so cold)!  Thankfully French guy to the rescue (wish I had asked him his name lol).  He had to climb to the top and break the ice from the top to fill out kettles and water bottles.  (‘grateful for the French guy’ moment two)! 🤣

It was such a wonderful night and I will definitely book again for next year – it’s truly a million $ view with a $25 per person price tag 👍🏻

On our way back to the main track we passed some guys kitted up with skis and climbing gear – they were going to climb up one of the mountains and ski  down – and I thought I was being adventurous spending the night in the hut 🤣 – they put me to shame.

Back at the car park it was nice to de-backpack and take off some layers before heading over to the next valley to see the Tasman Glacier and Lake (where I went on a boat in December).  We went up to the look out to see the ‘blue lakes’ which today are decidedly green.   Accordingly to the sign, they were named in mid 1800’s when they were filled by the glacial meltwater making them that wonderful turquoise blue.   Unfortunately today, as the glacier has receded so much, the meltwater no longer flows in to the lake and the lakes are predominately filled by rain water which supports the growth of green algae – making the lakes … well … green lol.

From the Blue Lakes look out we continued on to the look out over Tasman Lake and the Tasman Glacier – it was a bit of a walk up it was worth it.

By this time we were ready for some proper food, so we headed up to the Hermitage for lunch before heading back to Tekapo to meet up with Heidi, the 3rd member of our party who finally made it to Tekapo after missing the hut last night.

I thought we had had enough ‘wows’ for one weekend, but Tekapo was putting it on for us too.  We were staying in a cabin by the lake and it we had such a great view of the snow covered mountains reflecting in the lake.   And we all know I do love a good reflection.

After a soak in the hot pools we had a lovely dinner and I stopped to admire the huge moon again, this time shining over the lake.   

The night time view was not to be outdone by the dawn.  I was lucky to wake up just in time as I headed down to the toilet at 6.30am, just when the sky was the most stunning pink and purple hues overs the lake.  It was perfect timing as it did not last long and the pink hues soon turned to yellow/orange. 

After a beautiful morning walk along the waterfront and breakfast as my favourite Tekapo spot (the Greedy Cow Café) we jumped in the car for the 3 hour drive home.  What a weekend – I don’t think I have said ‘this is perfect’ or ‘just stunning’ so much in 2 days in a long time 😂 (I should probably mention that Heidi’s car was making strange noises so we left her in Tekapo – waiting for the AA again!)