As a landscape photographer, I truly enjoy how unpredictable and full of surprises nature can be. It’s amazing how sometimes you find beauty where you never quite anticipated it. Moraine Ridge Walk at Lake Tasman in Mount Cook National Park is exactly that type of place. We expected nothing more than a pleasant stroll to the lakeshore, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to New Zealand.
Hiking the Tasman Lake
Mount Cook National Park is well known for its abundance of incredibly beautiful hiking routes of varying difficulty. You might have heard of the famous Hooker Valley Track or the Sealy Tarns trail. Chances are, however, that Moraine Walk at Tasman Lake doesn’t quite ring a bell. Indeed, it’s a not a widely recognized hike at all, and that’s a big part of what makes it so incredible. But we’ll get to that in a second.
Moraine Walk is essentially an unsigned off-trail route that connects the Tasman Lake Viewpoint and the Tasman Lake outlet into a single loop track. Department of Conservation suggests climbing to the viewpoint first, then retracing your steps and taking a completely different road down to the river. What you can do instead, though, is continue past the Tasman Lake Viewpoint onto a moraine ridge. There, a barely visible path will lead you to the riverbank. You get to see the Tasman River and the lake icebergs up close. Then, take a paved walk back to the parking lot, completing the circle.
This creates, in my opinion, a much more diverse and entertaining route. Moraine Walk is great fun and brings you closer to all the good stuff that Tasman Lake has to offer.
Tasman Lake Viewpoint
The journey starts at Tasman Glacier Car Park. From here, a short 15-minute climb leads to the Tasman Lake Viewpoint. In my opinion, this steep ascent is the most difficult and boring part of the hike. Basically, it’s stairs after stairs until you reach the top. Along the way, you’ll encounter a side-trail heading towards the Blue Lakes. Despite the appealing name, these are just small ponds of green water. Blue Lakes used to be blue a long time ago, but have since changed their color as the glaciers retreated. These days they are rather unremarkable, so feel free to skip them. The viewpoint at the top is the real goal here and let me tell you – it is well worth the effort.
As you emerge at the observation area, you are treated to a sweeping panorama of the Tasman Lake below and the surrounding mountains. On a clear day you can even see Mount Cook in the distance. The deep turquoise color of the water is truly otherworldly. Honestly, I would’ve had a hard time believing the image above, had I not taken it myself. This sight alone is totally worth the trip, so take a moment here to enjoy the surrounding beauty. This place does deserve it.
This is as far as most people go. They turn back thinking they’ve seen all of it. Little do they know that the best part hasn’t even started yet. The next bit is where the fun truly begins. Welcome to the Moraine Walk.
The Moraine Walk
The Moraine Walk trailhead can be found to the right of the viewpoint. The track is barely visible and unmarked, so it’s easy to miss unless you know to look for it. The path instantly dives into a seemingly endless boulder field in between the observation area and the lake, occasionally disappearing from sight. Don’t worry about losing your way, however. Just follow the most obvious route down and you will soon find yourself on the trail again.
Moraine is glacial debris, and that’s essentially what this walk is all about. The path follows the ridge down to the lakeshore, making its way through rocks and rubble. Why is that so exciting, you might wonder. Well, for one, there are incredible vistas of the Tasman Lake all along the way. A little further down it also offers an amazing view over the Tasman Valley to the right. The boulders too provide endless photo opportunities, especially if you have a model to place against the backdrop of the lake. But, cool as it is, that’s not what makes this hike so remarkable and unique.
The best thing about the Moraine Walk is that you will probably have it all to yourself. No tourists, no other hikers, just incredible New Zealand nature all around. It’s hard to describe, but it truly is exceptional. Here is how Scott Cook has put it in his NZ Frenzy book: “Once you leave the tourist horde of happy snappers at the lookout, the surprisingly well-trodden ridge delivers solitude and a DIY adventure, accompanied by some of the finest views in all New Zealand”. And honestly, I’m not sure if I could’ve described it any better. Seriously, it’s that good.
Down at the Lake
The Moraine Walk ends at lake outlet where the Tasman River originates. The outlet offers a different view of the Tasman Lake and the mountains in the background. Much like the viewpoint above, it is a place to simply take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Have a rest, watch the icebergs flow by and immerse yourself in a true New Zealand experience.
This is also a very popular photography spot, especially at dawn. Unfortunately, I don’t have a sunrise image myself, as it has been raining almost non-stop for the two days that I spent in Mount Cook National Park. But if the weather looks promising, definitely consider coming here in the morning. It’ll mean an early start, for sure, but the views will be absolutely lovely. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself!
At this point, our little adventure is almost over. Spend some time at the lakeshore, then return to the parking lot via a paved marked road. An easy 20-minute or so stroll will lead you back to where we started.
I really enjoyed hiking the Tasman Lake and the Moraine Walk. To me, it represents what a true New Zealand experience should look like. I had a great time there and I’m sure you would too. To those still reading at this point, I also highly recommend the NZ Frenzybook by Scott Cook. I cited it earlier in the article and it’s where I learned about the Moraine Walk in the first place. It’s a great source of information for anyone traveling to New Zealand and amazing for finding these kinds of off-the-beaten-path spots. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them down below and I’ll do my best to respond!
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