Mount Cook National Park is an amazing location for landscape photography, with literally endless opportunities for a good image. One could easily spend months in this part of New Zealand and never run out of good compositions. Unfortunately, we only had two days to explore this beautiful area. This means I had to think hard about where to go and what to shoot. So if you have limited time in the area, here are my top 5 locations for photography in Mount Cook National Park.
Lake Pukaki Viewing Point
The first spot is Lake Pukaki Viewing Point. Located directly on State Highway 8 between Wanaka and Tekapo, it’s the easiest one to access. You don’t even need to go into the national park!
This location is the furthest one from Mount Cook, so you’ll need a long lens. I suggest being at the viewpoint in the late afternoon, but it’s excellent for photography throughout the day. I just love the sight of Aoraki in the calm and sunny weather with some clouds. So, if you’re driving past, do a quick stop and capture that lovely photo. Oh, and a pro tip – make sure to try some salmon in the nearby Mount Cook Alpine Salmon, it’s absolutely delicious!
As you turn north towards Mount Cook National Park, you will soon be passing another great photography location. Peter’s Lookout features similar views but is far less crowded. However, it is much more popular among the photographers due to the unique composition that it offers. Peter’s Lookout is situated on top of a small hill whichallows usingthe road below as a leading line towards Mount Cook itself. This opens up a whole range of creative opportunities, from using cars as a foreground interest to adding light trails duringthe blue hour.
Peter’s Lookout is a perfect location for sunrise and I’ve seen some amazing images from there. Sunsets could work too, but a lot depends on the conditions on a given day. I’d say it’s less ideal due to the way the light is falling. Personally, I didn’t manage to get a good sunset photo there. After that, the weather had turned to worse, so I never quite had a chance to capture that epic morning shot either. Instead, I had to settle for a dark and moody image, but I still quite like the result.
There are countless hikes and viewpoints within Mount Cook National Park, but by far my favorite is the Tasman Lake. This beautiful glacial lake is incredibly scenic and very easy to access. A short hike will lead you to the shore where rocks, icebergs and the mountains in the background make for a perfect composition. It’s another sunrise spot, so best come early. But really, this location is excellent no matter when you’re there. Long exposures are the way to go here, so pack the tripod, some ND filters, and a polarizer. For further details, check out my article about the Tasman Lake and the hike here.
Hooker Valley Track
The Hooker Valley Track is the most famous hiking trail in Mount Cook National Park and for good reason. It’s incredibly beautiful and outstanding for landscape photography, especially when the weather is cooperating. This scenic 10 km track goes past the Mueller Lake, zig-zags through the valley and finally ends at Hooker Lake, another amazing glacial lake. Some people actually hike all the way to the Hooker Lake in the darkness to capture the sunrise. If you’re up for the challenge, by all means go for it, the image will be totally worth it. Personally though, I would recommend the Mueller Lake. It’s a much shorter walk and the views are no less epic.
For more information about the Hooker Valley Track, check out this post of mine where I describe the trail in more details.
Mount Cook Road
I was somewhat reluctant to include this last location in the list, as it’s not, strictly speaking, completely safe or responsible. But then, it’s a beautiful spot and I guess you’ve probably seen images of it on the web and on Instagram anyway. I’m talking about the Mount Cook Road of course. It’s an absolutely stunning highway and easily one of the most scenic in the country known for its scenic roads. As I said, though, I generally don’t recommend shooting on the roads. More often than not, it is not a good idea. If you still decide to go for it, you’re doing it at your own risk. Make absolutely sure to not endanger yourself or other people and always keep an eye on the incoming traffic. Ideally, have someone else watching it for you.
For the best shot, I recommend the last part of the highway, just before it makes a slight turn into the Mount Cook Village. The landscapes here are incredible and the road is level and straight, so you will easily notice the coming cars from far away. I suggest driving this section a couple of times scouting for compositions before finding a safe place to park. Early morning is probably your best bet, as there won’t be much traffic. A telephoto lens is an obvious choice here, as it compresses the background and gives the image a more dramatic look. And of course, it’s one of those locations where placing a model into the frame really helps to tell a story and make the photo shine.
The five locations above are of course just scratching a surface of what Mount Cook National Park has to offer. But it’s a start and, with some luck, you can walk away with a few stunning photos. I wish I had more time to explore this lovely part of New Zealand, but then again, that’s what I say about every place I’ve been to in this beautiful country. If you enjoyed the article, do check out my YouTube video covering Mt. Cook for a more visual experience. And as always, I’d be happy to hear from you. Share your favorite photography spots in Mount Cook in the comment section below and let’s have a chat!